the non-milestone birthday, continued

I generally try to keep my birthdays somewhat low key these days. While they used to be long-weekend all-singing-and-dancing productions, these days, they are more like me trying to hide from what I think is unmerited attention

After all, shouldn’t my mother be getting the credit for my birthday? I mean, it’s HER birthday tomorrow, and she likes to say I was her early birthday present, but honestly, she did the work to build me and should therefore get the celebration. (Ditto my son. Why am I not the one being celebrated every June?)

I thought I was getting away with a quiet birthday this year, with the celebration focus on my mother. On Saturday we all celebrated Mom’s birthday at the Oak Bay Marina restaurant, aka The Place We Have Gone On Fancy Occasions Since 1982. The big difference now, however, is that the kids meals are composed plates representing miniature versions of the adult meals, and not the dry hamburger I was so excited to get as a kid.

Ben and my niece Tate with their “kids” meals. I did check to be sure that was a kid sized fish and chips Ben is stabbing.

At the end of this delightful meal, we sang happy birthday to Mom, with only my son and nieces chiming in “AND YOU”, meaning me, at the end of each line. The focus remained on my mother and her milestone birthday!

I was also very quiet in my birthday party this year: I invited less than ten friends to just come get a drink at Bearded Lady around the corner. We had a really lovely time too: the conversation flowed well and the cocktails were exceptionally well crafted to match. But in my haste to get out of the office in time for said happy hour, I mentioned to my two group directors (with whom I form a triumvirate) that I was leaving early for my birthday. They asked why I didn’t say anything, and I grinned, and just explained that every year on a new job, I always manage to fly under the radar for my birthday. It was on Monday, but I thought I was safe!

Then today, I was dragged into what I thought was a Client Innovation Day planning meeting, only to be joyfully surprised by MY ENTIRE TEAM singing Happy Birthday…complete with Melissa’s Gluten Free Cupcakes and a birthday card and drawing:

I am sorry to say I was so surprised that I did tell the guys they were the worst for tattling on me, but I said it smiling. I really need to be more gracious when people throw me a surprise party. I did let them know I was teasing and then sent a separate thank you email telling them how grateful I was not only for today, but for every day. I do actually really love this team a lot – it’s a HUGE operation with no end of craziness but it’s really become a work family over the last few months.

So while I am no longer throwing crazy house parties, or taking a whole crew of people to Bats Day, I am still #blessed enough to have people who want to celebrate me even as I try to hide.

EDIT: I would have had this up half an hour ago, but I got distracted looking for Bats Day photos and ended up organizing Google photos instead for ten minutes, and then I clicked over to Facebook and ended up reading THAT aimlessly for twenty minutes. ALL THESE SITES ARE BAD NEWS.

the non-milestone birthday

So last year I had a milestone birthday. It was therefore somewhat anticlimactic to have a non-milestone birthday on Monday, that I celebrated with zero fanfare or expectations. (Also, we were fantastically jetlagged on Monday, so there was minimal celebration other than ordering Bareburger for pickup and passing out)

It is usually at my birthday that I take stock of my life and where I am in it, and I think this photo sums it all up:

THIS GUY SERIOUSLY

This is me with my goofball son, in BC last weekend. I am tired but joyful because I am with my baby – and my family. I don’t look pulled together , and I don’t particularly care. I do not need to look pulled together, I just need to be pulled together enough to engage with the people I love.

nostalgia fever

I recently read Ling Ma’s Severance, an apocalypse story in which there are parallels between survival and haunting, between being a drone and being a zombie, and between nostalgia and death.  Towards the end of the book, there are multiple scenarios when a weakness for nostalgia results in an individual contracting Shen Fever, the fictional ailment that causes individuals to repeat a motion or a routine, over and over, until their bodies actually disintegrate.  Ma draws a parallel between nostalgia and repetitive motion, between the false comfort of repetitive thought and the disease of action loops.  It is not entirely different from how I think of nostalgia myself, as a trap, as something to be caught in.

In the winter of 2017/18, I was working as a contractor on a client where I wandered like a ghost in the halls of the corporate headquarters, unacknowledged and unaccounted for.  I watched as events unfolded around me, unable to communicate or connect to impact the changes that took place in my work.  I would then indulge in nostalgia for the hour long ride back to Manhattan from the HQ in New Jersey, listening to Matt Good Band, pretending the lights of New Jersey were those of North Van, dreaming of a parallel reality in which NYC would become YVR.  There is a connection between a sense of disconnection and an addition to nostalgia, a need to ground oneself in not just comfort, but a place one knows by heart.  Perhaps that is why I do not feel a need for nostagia as much now as I did last year, when I was less .

And yet.  I am heading home to British Columbia in a few days, which I have not returned to in four years.  I have never left British Columbia for this long. However, with my mother and sister now in Toronto, going home to BC is not my priority, and while I will always see Victoria, randomly, in my thoughts and in my dreams, I do not need to visit it in reality. There is tremendous comfort in visiting a place I know by heart but the reality is, I know it by heart, I carry it with me. Indulging in nostalgia, to me, is a trap.

I still updated my Off the Island playlist this week to better chronicle my memories of who I was when I dreamed of leaving, and who I was when I left. Last Parade, from the “Vancouver” album, is my longterm Vancouver look back song, as, like most Matt Good Band songs, it strikes me as if it should be the soundtrack to a Douglas Coupland novel, and it has the one line, “black out, wake up foreign, wander home”. That is how I feel, still, some days: like I have woken up foreign in America, like I will, eventually, wander home through YVR.

The rest of the songs are the ones I identified with the most from about 1994 on, the mix of sorrow and hope and fear and love of the years after high school, from the Pacific Northwest dream of the Posies’ “?Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?” through the heartbreak of “Little Earthquakes”, all the way through the calm of “Halcyon & On & On”. My flip sides of the top Canadian music in 1997, the social optimism of “Clumsy” and the loneliness of “The Sound Of”. The sheer despair and hopelessness of “Strange Days”, which I wept to, living in Texas, far from home. My eventual return to UBC to finish my degree in “Nightswimming”, which I remember from the night REM played T-Bird Stadium, sitting on the stadium roof singing along with a half-dozen friends. My second attempt at taking on America in Los Angeles, the egotism of “Muzzle” and the quiet optimism of BT’s “Great Escape”. My goodbye to Victoria in “Goodbye”, the song I listened to the most the year my father died, and finally, the end of my journey Off The Island, and the start of my love story with my husband in SVIIB’s “Ablaze” (you told me all you saw was diamonds/you told me that ’till I believed).

I do not listen to these songs very often because I am afraid that the only verb appropriate for nostalgia is “to wallow in”. There must be a more dignified way to experience nostalgia, as something one daintily dips into, something one takes in as a controlled substance, not as an unpredictable, current-laden substance that knocks one off one’s feet and leaves one prone to ill events. I am, however, unable to think of that, and so, even my nostalgia playlists tell a story in which I exit that state and move on, in which I end the journey through my own memories and come out into the present, clear eyed and awake. The narrative leading into the now is my defense against the unpredictability of nostalgia, an inoculation against the fever.

I go home in two days and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it, or that I will ever be ready for it, as if I am a boat to be swamped, as if I can be overcome. The challenge will be to keep going without wallowing, as easy as wallowing may be. I’m not sure I will ever be ready for it, but Westjet’s check in notice reminds me, I am out of time to prepare. I have woken up foreign and will wander home, but at the end of it, I will pick myself up and remember: my real life is in Brooklyn, and that is where it will be good to be back home.

look alive out there

Tonight, I went to a BAM “Eat, Drink and be Literary” event to see author Sloane Crosley speak on humor and insight in her writing.  Sometimes, I just want to hear another slightly sarcastic forty year old white woman speak to experiences I can sort of relate to. Crosley is of the school of humor where she ties personal anecdotes and observations back to universal conditions, a synecdoche that I feel is representative of Generation Xennial.  We tend to speak in metaphors, in pop culture references and personal essays, in stories that represent the feelings we cannot allow ourselves to be insecure enough to voice.  We are the last generation before social media, the last to have come of age in a time before oversharing was common, and our personal essays therefore depend on circumstance as metaphor for emotion.

That said, I enjoyed all of Crosley’s books, and while reading them, I saw her as being a voice of my generation, using humor as a lens to examine what it means to live in New York City in the twenty-first century.  Yet I have trouble connecting to Crosley’s essays in the visceral way that I connect to, say, Lindy West.  Crosley’s work, and her voice, somehow comes across as too polished, too East Coast, almost academic.  Her wit is polished and slightly self-deprecating, but not in the passive-aggressive snarky way that I relate to as a Canadian.  Her essays are exceptionally well crafted, and exemplify, to me, what it means to be a New Yorker here and now: a sense of being polished and well spoken, of being quick witted and literary, of the inheritance of the legacy of hundreds of years of writers in this particular city.  I am not, however, polished and well spoken, at least not consistently, so my disconnect is entirely a personal one.

And yet, there was a period at the end where everyone was asking questions, and I did not.  I wanted to ask about how being a woman, and a woman of our age, impacted Crosley in her writing.  I thought about asking, do you feel you approach your work differently than you would have had you been born a few years later?  Were you better able to perfect your craft because you were first published in 2002, not 2012, and personal essays were not yet tarnished by a culture of oversharing?  I wanted to ask, how do you feel your voice is affected by being a woman?  Do you feel you write differently or approach humor differently than your male counterparts?  However, I felt like it would have been putting that author on the spot to ask about the differences in how women experience humor, especially since she has never written about the challenges of being funny as a female.  I felt like she was somehow disconnected from the challenge of being a woman in comedy because of her medium as an essayist, as opposed to being a woman comedian in a performance role.  I feel like we’re just not making progress in allowing women to be funny in America, and yet this was not the funny woman to ask about that particular topic (unlike again, say, Lindy West).

Still, I was riveted by Sloane Crosley, by how quick her wit is in conversation.  I appreciated hearing about the writer’s craft, about the intensity of fiction versus non-fiction, about the way creating a story out of memory impacts the original experience.  It’s so true, how crafting an anecdote impacts our perception of an event, as we select only the details that are most relevant to the concept we’re trying to convey, or that are most interesting to our audience.  The memories I’ve written about over the years are now one-dimensional, almost shellacked and preserved for posterity.  Some may have been lost otherwise, but others have been polished into representative tales.  It was interesting, to hear that perspective from an essayist who has given her own memories to her craft.

I even actually enjoyed the most awkward part of the evening, which was where I sat down at a table of total strangers.  The series format is a buffet dinner, at tables of 8 people, each table stocked with wine, thankfully, to help it along.  I took a seat at a table with two welcoming older people, who kindly told me where the empty seat was and then said the nicest thing possible, which was that they guessed my age at twenty-five.  They were lovely people who lived in Brooklyn Heights, and had been in Brooklyn for decades.

The rest of the table, once they returned from the buffet, also all turned out to all be closer to my parents’ age, retirees with time and means to engage in the arts.  They weren’t all familiar with the author, but they all came to every event in the series, whether or not they had read the books.  I quickly discovered that most of them were also long term residents of Brooklyn, going back to the seventies, a time unimaginable in Brooklyn to those of us who consider a pre-2008 home purchase to make one a pillar of the community.  Fortunately, I am fascinated by anecdotes of Brooklyn and New York City from the 70s, and they seemed interested enough in my anecdotes of being a Canadian.  We all got along just fine, and despite my initial nervousness, I found myself chatting away.  (Did I mention these tables also had wine?)

I found the whole experience immensely worthwhile: a chance to support literature, to support the National Book Foundation, to support BAM – but most of all, it was important to support myself.  I do not write essays, exactly, but I do write thousand word blog entries.  I would like to write those kind of essays, to be able to tell a story that encapsulates so much of the world around me, to be able to use non-fiction as a narrative that still manages to contain metaphor.  That, to me, is a high art.  This was also something I chose as my first “artists date“, part of the Artists Way project I’ve committed to doing this quarter as a way to reconnect with my own writing and creativity.  It was something that inspired me, that challenged me a bit, that gave me some concepts to mentally chew on – an idea right in line with the dinner party.  Maybe I’ll go back in a month for Min Jin Lee.

 

 

the scourge of rumination

I have always been prone to an unfortunate cycle: that of impulsive action, resulting in a negative response, followed by self-shaming and rumination.  In recent years, I’ve recognized this cycle, and begin the process of distancing impulsive and inappropriate behavior from my self-worth or my value as a person.  I Vaguebooked about one such incident and my mental process on Friday.

The problem is that I still have a lifelong habit of ruminating.  It’s a well-worn track in my brain, a habit that is hard to break.  It’s re-living and re-thinking through the Moment of Shame: the moment of realization I have where an external response causes me to re-contextualize my behavior as wrong and inappropriate.  I will then ruminate over the behavior and berate myself for it.  In my twenties, when these actions were bigger and clumsier, I could really self-shame myself. It’s why some of the emotion expressed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend resonates so strongly with me:

Now, it’s both better and worse.  The problem is better because whatever I did, it’s usually a small faux-pas, as I’m obviously much older and wiser and have been working on my social skills for years.   However, the problem is worse because my rumination isn’t limited to my own brain.  It now spreads out and colors the lives of my husband and son, or my friends, or my family.  It’s hard to be an attentive and loving wife and mother when the inside of your brain is busy regurgitating shame and anxiety all over itself.

I’ve also realized lately that this kind of rumination triggers a second narrative, which is that of a greater sense of self-doubt and failure.  Once my mind starts telling itself this story, and my brain recognizes the emotions, it starts referencing other similar incidents to create an entire negative narrative.  Whatever the context of the original mistake, be it social or professional, family or friends, day job or volunteer work, my brain will use the latest incident as a trigger to reference past incidents.  These become citations and proof points that I will never function in society as a successful human because I am not trying hard enough to develop and display behavior that would garner mutual like and respect.

The whole process then expands from one small incident into an entire Flowchart of Negativity:

rumination spiral

I suspect that the original rumination process was a coping mechanism I developed in my late teens and early twenties, a way of trying to make myself better so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life in the kind of social isolation I experienced growing up.  Originally, this was a way of trying to understand external response to my actions and correct the behavior so people would like me.  Over two decades though, it’s now expanded, like some kind of self-destructing grow in water toy.  There’s two additional boxes now on the original rumination track plus an entire new macro level track of negative thought that opens up from these kind of incidents.  Its a disproportionate response that in turn, can open up a depressive episode.

Lately though, I’ve started to realize that my response is not too far outside the spectrum of normalcy, which means there’s plenty of research and material available on this particular mental process.  I’ve read that this is especially common because of the way humans are programmed to need their tribes.  Without the tribe, one is vulnerable, and therefore we are overly worried about behavior that could cause one to be cast out of a tribe.  It turns out that I’m not special, I’m just human.  

Furthermore, rumination is a well-known negative mental process.  It is not something I need to further berate myself for.  I have made it a default behavior, which has made it stronger and harder to break from though.  Just as how I’ve developed the muscles for riding a bike (and killing it in spin class), I’ve also developed the mental muscles around negative thought.  Just like my quads though, these have grown stronger, and more developed, with time.  So just like how I can return to spin class and make progress quickly, it’s also entirely too easy for me to re-build the strength of these old mental patterns.

The strength & training metaphor also makes me realize that I also have control over the situation.  I used to say I wasn’t a runner, that I had developed my muscles for cycling, not running, and that I couldn’t run.  Years later, I run perfectly well – slowly, of course, but I am capable of running and getting faster over time.  I also used to think that the rumination and shame process was hardwired into my brain and that it was a function of my depression and anxiety.  What if it is actually just something that I need to re-train on, just like how I re-trained my quads to run?  MIND.  BLOWN.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a connection between self-shaming and depression – but the depression can be a function of rumination rather than the other way around.  That makes it more controllable.  I’ve observed and documented above how my self-shaming not only leads to rumination, but now opens up an entire additional track of negative thought.  That’s been studied and there are real, scientific brain connections between rumination and depressive episodes.  It’s still a bad thing that I have built connections in my brain between meaningless incidents and a conviction of failure, but it isn’t unique or extreme.  It’s a known quantity, and it’s possible to fix it.

Finally, knowing that this is a mental process happening to other people makes dealing with me so much easier.  It’s easier for me to feel compassion for people other than for myself, and I do not believe that anyone deserves to go through this kind of self-berating shame cycle.  Therefore, if I don’t believe that other people should do this to themselves, I should extend the same sort of compassion to me.  I need to let go of the “tough love” narrative I’ve used to justify berating myself over the years, telling myself that ruminating and the resulting suffering was necessary to make me a better person, one less likely to engage in the poor behavior in the future.  That rationale was a terrible story to tell myself, and one I would never encourage in others because it’s a needless source of torment.  I should therefore show myself the same compassion I would show any other human.

To that end, I’m looking into self-compassion solutions.  If I can stop the process at the original root – the Moment of Shame – I can keep it from branching out into a whole thing.  It turns out there is literally an entire center for this, and they have courses and books and all kinds of things I can use to upskill my brain.  I am a great believer in books, knowledge and training.  It’s also something a therapist is very likely to understand and support me with.

Figuring all this out is hard.  Admitting to it is harder – there’s also an element of lack of self-control here, a further berating for not getting over this years ago.  However, like most things, it is easier once I take it apart, break it down, build a flowchart and attack the problem at the root cause.

why i dislike holiday music in november

Christmas is a strange holiday for the the Western world.  It’s a weird mix of secular economic greed and religious fervor, layered over tribal European traditions. It’s a holiday in which our culture values a combination of iconography as representative of connections and sentiment.  It’s also a holiday that countless marketing campaigns have made nostalgic and emotional in order to better push the purchase of physical and material things.  And in order to give us all more time to buy those things, in America (and by extension, Canada) it’s now also an eight week holiday, an orgy of capitalism that starts the day after Halloween.

In these so called “modern” times, we have also re-tribalized ourselves in how we choose to celebrate the holiday.  In recent years, some media channels have leveraged outrage to ensure that individual celebrations of Christmas are aligned to identity politics.  And like all identity elements, people are very attached and emotional about how the holiday is presented in the public consciousness.  People are hurt and disappointed when their image of Christmas doesn’t match up to the Christmas they have “in their hearts”.  Hence, the false perception of the “war on Christmas” for those who associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus even though it is NOT Jesus’ birthday.

Image result for starbucks cups

It isn’t that they don’t say “Christmas”, it’s that these cups represent a seasonal money-grab of unhealthy sugary drinks that are based purely on olfactory nostalgia!  HUMBUG.

It will fully admit that it is my own identity association, and my own attachment to the two-week max Very English Christmas of my family and hometown that has forged my general dislike of the eight goddamn weeks we now have to spend on this overly commercialized capitalist holiday as an entire season.  I cannot grumble enough about how much I dislike hearing Christmas songs in November, or how unnecessary it is to have holiday cups appear at Starbucks at Halloween.  I cannot make enough statements about how unnecessary holiday movies seem to be, the vast majority of which rely on emotionally manipulative narratives to reinforce a “true meaning of Christmas” as being about “the people one loves”…right before there’s a cut to a commercial encouraging one to purchase more stuff for the people one loves.  Christmas has become an extended exercise in emotional selling for secular America, a holiday no one can escape.  To quote my father, “by the time Christmas gets here, we’re all bloody well sick of it.”

So I grumble because I do not want to be sick of Christmas by the time it gets here.  I quite like the holiday season!  I love celebrating our world’s version of the Feast of Sunreturn!  I love everything to do with kindling light, whether it be a menorah or a Yule log.  It’s the part of the holiday where I feel the two sides of my heritage have a common denominator, instead of just being from as far apart as you can get within Europe.  And I love classical carols, even if I do find the metal versions more fun:

My idealized holiday season is to celebrate Hanukkah, and then follow that with a traditional Yule coated in a thin veneer of Dickens.  This, unfortunately, does not fit with eight weeks of commercialized American Christmas.   I want my Christmas to be an actual special occasion, not an extended holiday media and shopping season.  I want it to be a few days of extended meditation triggered by the dark of the winter solstice, expressed by burning a Yule log and the celebration of not dying through some evergreen foliage.

Being grumpy about the extended American Christmas season is also a strong family tradition.  My father would cheerfully remark, when Christmas themed commercials came on in November, that it was all a bunch of American capitalist nonsense.  Everyone thinks I’m a lefty because my mother was a hippie, but I come by my socialist leanings honestly on both sides: it was my father who pointed out every year that Santa was a creation of Coca Cola and Rudolph and Frosty were just extra commercial fodder.  In his family, the holiday was compressed to a few days with minimal decoration and classical carols because that’s what my grandparents could do with the time and resources they had.  To extend the season would be preposterous and wasteful; to add extra gratuitious emotions to it would be downright un-English.  (I honestly do not get how Love, Actually came out of the UK; it seems to drip superfluous emotion in the most non-English ways possible)

Where exactly is the line though between celebrating the holiday in a way that is true to one’s cherished family memories and traditions and caving to the commercialized version we’ve adopted as the de facto extended holiday in America?  Is it fair for me to be cantankerous about Christmas music in November just because my Christmas is more aligned to a Very Minimalist Northern England Coal Miner and Steel Mill Worker tradition?  Or does this put me in the same identity-alignment camp as those who insist we are taking the Christ out of Christmas?  By insisting that everyone needs to pare down Christmas, am I being as willfully culturally blind as the individuals who insist that Jesus is the reason for the season?

Maybe.  After all, there are many people out there who adore the extended Christmas season, and who love all of the trappings of the modern extended capitalist American holiday.  Someone must be the audience for all those Netflix movies about Christmas, after all.  It is unfair for me to insist that other people’s traditions and seasonal enjoyment are wrong just because my family believes that society could have well done without continuing to reinforce stupid anti-feminist romance tropes in seasonal movie plotlines:

And yet – and yet – one has to ask if perhaps celebrating a shortened minimalist holiday is better for everyone.  Does it really make people happier to have an extended holiday season, or does it create additional emotional labor for women who are reminded at every step of the journey that they are supposed to be making it a goddamn magical season?  If we shortened the season down to twelve days, if we set more minimalist expectations, if we made it less about the magnanimity of Santa Claus and more about not incurring the wrath of Odin, would we appreciate it more?  If we kept to the Dickensian Christmas Eve party, in its echoes of the old Yule feast, would we be more grateful for the celebration instead of being overloaded?  If we only sang the classical carols instead of listening to Christmas radio, would we be more likely to sing for joy?  There is some logic – and possibly more gratitude – to a shorter, less ridiculous season that has been long forgotten in the commercialization and subsequent extension of the holiday.  After all, even the Who’s down in Whoville didn’t start singing until the day of the holiday:

 

 

mama-ben adventure day!

Many years ago, I came up with the model for Mama-Ben adventure days.  These were days in which we would pick one or two activities to do together, usually in Manhattan, hence the “adventure” part because you never know what kind of adventure would await those who brave the weekend subway! With Ben’s sports schedule though, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do a solid Saturday adventure together.  So yesterday, we decided that we would spend the day exploring and seeing things a little further from home, both in Manhattan and the Bronx.

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Ben is actually in the Bronx!

We started our day at the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit, at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West side.  This was a literal history of magic as seen through a Harry Potter lens: historical artifacts from magical practices over the last five centuries, intermixed with illustrations and notes from the books.  A friend and I bought tickets for this in April for our Pottermaniac children to see the exhibit together.

Harry Potter exhibit at British Library
This made the exhibit a smidge drier than expected, even for my self-identified Ravenclaw.  While he had mild curiosity around alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, and enjoyed the interactive elements (projections of Tarot cards were an especial favorite), not even the Natalie Dormer narrated audio tour could make this magical enough.  Individuals more into the magical aspects of the Harry Potter series, as opposed to the action elements, will get more out of this exhibit.  The exhibit was beautifully done, of course, with each room carefully crafted and designed to reflect the studies covered within.  I wish photography had been allowed.
We moved on from there to an impromptu lunch at Shake Shack: having run into another friend at the end of the exhibit with her two sons (the younger of which is also buddies with Ben), we decided to all get lunch together.  Believe it or not this was our first trip to Shake Shack!  Ben declared it the best burger ever.  We plan to test drive the method at home ASAP.
We headed from the Upper West Side to Orchard Beach after lunch, a half-hour drive across the Bronx and through the also unvisited Pelham Bay Park.  For the seven years we’ve lived here, we’ve clearly not prioritized visiting all the parks as we should.  Pelham Bay was lovely and huge, with an extensive shoreline that was austerely beautiful in the winter cold and grey.
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This reminds me of beaches in Victoria: it looks cold even in the photo
We had traveled out for seal watching with the NYC Park Rangers.  I am so grateful for the park rangers in this city: every single one of them has been amazing in their kindness, knowledge and in the joy they take sharing their love of nature and their parks.  For the seal watching, they had set up two high powered telescopes so we could see the dozen or so harbour seals lounging on the rocks just off the beach
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Ben is very fond of harbour seals: he bonded with the ones that live off the Oak Bay marina when he was just a toddler:

It was therefore meaningful for us to visit those seals’ New York cousins, even though I’m pretty sure that these Bronx seals were all WHAT’RE YOU LOOKING AT, PUNK.  Ben still enjoyed seeing them, and I appreciated the opportunity to show him seals that are not dependent on humans for food.  Ben is very concerned about the Victoria seals since the “no feeding” rules were enforced; these seals proved that even metro area harbour seals can survive without handouts.

From the seals, we stayed in Pelham Bay Park and went to the Turtle Cove golf center for mini-golf.  I was underwhelmed by the mini-golf course, which I suppose could be described as “minimalist”.  I suspect the positive reviews of the location are for the driving range, which looked quite nice.  However, we were the only people playing mini golf and they had a heater in the women’s bathroom so the experience was redeemed.  Also, Ben’s attitude towards mini golf is what most people say about pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still just fine.  It was hard for me to say no to a second round, even in the ocean-adjacent chill. Fortunately, that was when one of Ben’s buddies mom’s texted, asking if Ben could come see Ralph Breaks the Internet with her son, and I was able to leverage that as a reason to skip Round Two. Also, Ben only wanted a round two because I had beat him, 49 strokes to his 63, and he is very competitive about his mini-golf.

It was, chilliness aside, a lovely adventure day.  Ben is getting larger every day, and needs me less and less all the time.  I’m grateful when he genuinely wants to spend time with me, when in-city adventures with Mama are more important than playdates.  I’m even more grateful when I can find an activity that is special to both of us, like going out to see the seals.  I do not wish to appropriate the phrase “spirit animal”, but in my British Isles heritage, there is the myth of the selkie instead, which both Ben and I insist we are when there is a plate of raw fish involved.  However, we are coming up on teen years, and I’m running out of days when Ben will want to acknowledge the significance of marina mammals in our family narrative.  Some day, I will just get an eye roll and a muttered “seals are so lame, Mom.” from him.  Until that day comes, I need to better prioritize the time I do have him for adventures like this.