This one came to me scraping raisins off the kitchen floor after breakfast…

ah to be
what would I take of me
at 23?

my boobs for sure
but not much more

not my brain
kinda insane

not my dating
left waiting...

not my bad back
that was whack
my bad back

not my job
oh good god
not that job

so I’ll take
with too much texting
and not much resting

with warm family relations
and working towards
peace among nations

with robust health
and right perspective

and 2 boys
who don’t take directive

these 2 boys
with all their toys

spread on the floor
there’s not much more

really it’s great
this 48

Pick It

How was your Independence Day? Mine was a terrific toggle between pooltime and mealtime, a game of Marco Polo with the cousins in the shallow end, followed by London broil and Nana’s strawberry-rhubarb cobbler on the patio, with the sun dipping below the orchard atop the Pochuck mountain.

But what’s a Newsom holiday without a few family fireworks between independent minds? It’s a big, barn-style house, but nowhere is big enough when we go at it. I take off on runs this long weekend. Despite that bully, my trick knee, ever threatening to pull a fast one, a crippling lock down, reducing my right leg’s range of motion from 90 degrees to 9, I’ve started running. I hate running. It’s pointless and boring. But I’m in the country this July 4th, separated from my sweat videos and the bully is well-behaved, biding his time…

7-04-14: Rewind to dawn - I let the poodle out to pee at 6:30 am. If green has a smell, this is it. Oaks, maples, black walnuts, cypress, silver birch, all in verdant gowns, edging the fields of the family farm. A soft summer breeze swells, a sigh from the south, but it doesn’t loosen these ladies’ leaves. By the end of the month, a gentle gust will start these same trees trembling, and the first leaves will fall, but for now, the dames are fully dressed.

I skip the stretch and I’ve got the wrong sneakers. No New Balance for me, I’m making do with Zumba dance shoes. They are, at least, a step-up from my Keds, with $2.99 cushion insoles from Duane Reade. I start out slowly, a lite jog uphill and down, running with traffic — except there’s no traffic this holiday morning. Not one car passes.

Instead, I share the road with wild turkey, Canada geese, squirrels, chipmunks, a juvenile buck. I’m Snow White with all my forest friends. Heel toe, heel toe, over small rises and around curves, past the “dirty farm” (my name for the not-so-bucolic barn overrun with crusty-eyed cats and cows flicking flies with muddy tails). I pant up to a bank of wild black raspberries, or “black caps.” Of the trio of berries that ripen in Orange County every summer, the black caps come first. The red raspberries, more abundant, follow in late July, and the blackberries in August. Each fruit has its window, and if you miss it, you’re shut out 'til next year. I know this. I abandon exercise and start fisting berries. Tart and crunchy with seeds, black caps have a bona fide berry flavor. The red raspberries are downright sour and the blackberries, bitter. None resemble their GMO cousins, those plump, sweet cheats in clamshells in the produce section.

Pic 4.JPG

Berry picking is synonymous with summer, and for me, it means I’m sunny in my solitude. Can you pull up a beloved activity from your pre-pubescent past, 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 years ago?  (Yes, dear, appreciated subscribers, you span these decades.)

Think back. What’s gathering berries for you? Pick It.

That solitary childhood experience where you weren’t lonely or bored; you were alone, sure, but lost in the woods of your pleasure. Maybe you let a sibling or parent in on your rapture now and then. I’m not asking for competitive sport stories, with winners and losers. (You’re more likely to remember losses anyway.) Over this holiday weekend, my 10-year-old played chess online, match after match, all going against him. He wouldn’t quit til he won. We’ve all had those experiences. I’m not talking about those.

Was it skateboarding in a cul de sac? Was it building a plywood and brick ramp, tying a bath towel around your neck and becoming the caped Knieval on your Schwinn with the angel handlebars and banana seat? Or maybe it was scouring the beach for shells after a nor’easter? Or the hypnotic motion of making dribble castles? Dipping your hand in the pail, scooping sand soup, and building a fortress where warrior mermaids guard pirate treasure...

I wonder what it will be for my sons, years from now? For William, age six, it may be compulsive money counting. Future chairman of the Federal Reserve, Nana predicts. Billy can count change for hours, maintaining Ziplocs of nickels, dimes, and quarters, baggies building steadily from lemonade stands and panhandling. Eventually, there’s enough to roll and bank. I watch him this 4th, stretched on his back on Nana’s Persian carpet, waving a five-dollar bill overhead. (Five easy bucks for accepting his cousin’s dare to down a cookie doused in hot sauce.) Yes, rolling pennies with Nana definitely might be what William picks.

Sated, I’ve switched from consuming to collecting, lucky to find a baggie, tucked in my waistband pocket.

There’s dimension to the avian symphony this morning. True, the song of the common sparrow dominates, but below that, the mew of the catbird, the warble of the warbler, the chirrup of the cardinal.  At bottom, percussive crickets, or is it the year of the cicadas?

The easy pickins are in the bag, I now go for the hard-to-get berries. I reach through sticky spiderweb to pluck a berry already claimed by a stinkbug.


To get the tender fruit I’ve got to brave hardship. I’ve got to roll down my sleeves and snake through a thicket of fine thorns that lodge in my fingertips and require tweezers and magnification to pry loose. I’ve got to pull away vines: wild grape, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, all intertwined with my luscious bramble of berries. A machete would help right about now. I don’t forget to look under leaves. That’s where I find a hidden cache of the best. They’re always there, if I remember to look for them. I find them. I fist them.

Have you thought of yours yet? For me, it started with those unsupervised afternoons spent picking raspberries around the Tarrytown reservoir when I was nearly nine. My brother and I were living with our grandparents in Westchester that summer of ‘74, having just moved north from New Orleans. We were between homes, waiting for the fall closing on our Brooklyn brownstone.

My brother might pick fishing for sunnies in that town reservoir that summer. Dunno. He was a kick-ass skateboarder too. That was the best summer. Formless days spent picking berries and wandering downtown to the public library, followed by evenings of clearing plates and playing crazy eights and jacks with Nana and Grandpa on the dining room table. Two Julys later our Nana would be gone, taken from us at 58 by late-detected colon cancer.

I’m getting hungry, I haven’t had breakfast yet, or coffee. The sun is getting hot. My baggie is full. Birdsong has given way to crickets. I notice a cluster of the biggest, blackest berries. These look so GMO.

Pic 12.jpg

But my bag is full and I almost spill what I’ve got reaching for them. It’s killing me. And then I notice another cluster, and another.

That’s when it hits me like a ray of Disney sunshine reaching me, Snow White, curled on the forest floor.

You have to leave some unpicked.

Those are the ones, I console myself, best left for the spiders and the stinkbugs, for the birds and the does and the elusive black bear. Those berries that I leave behind reseed, go back into the earth, and bear new fruit next July. I tell myself this. Then I walk away. I climb the gravel driveway to the homestead. I see moving forms through the front window. The family is up. Good. I can make out my brother fussing with the coffee pot. My baggie is bursting. I’ve got more than enough for everyone’s Wheaties.


What's Biting You?

Today’s weather does not match my menacing mood, like it always does in those bad British horrors from the ‘60s that I adore…

There are no studio-generated bolts of lightning, followed by thunderclaps of falling stock pots. No buckets of water splashed by a bored film grip against the French doors of Dracula’s virgin victim, asleep in her four poster bed, neck voluptuously exposed. Instead, it’s a cheery June afternoon that leaks into my gloom, the kind of day when brides raise veils to their grooms and graduates toss caps to the clouds…

It’s all wrong, this creepy scene on a breathtaking day. I am walking alongside Washington Cemetery on Bay Parkway, the skeletal tracks of the McDonald Avenue El in the distance. There is no one upright for blocks around, except me. Spooked by my surroundings, I stride quickly in my orange, stacked espadrilles, but there’s no escape…


Awareness of my mortality bites me, like fake fangs to the jugular. I’ve been sensing the shadow of Christopher Lee for some months now, visualizing his widow’s peak approaching my nape:  I turn 50 in a week.


My breath catches under my collarbone. I swoon, my falling form very filmic, sheathed as it is in billowy Dacron polyester. I recover, and peer over the graveyard fence. Tombstones crowded, any which way, like afterthoughts, like Williamsburg architecture. Then, in the way that a phony Hammer Studio storm stops abruptly at dawn, my fear evaporates in the sunshine of my defiance. Arms raised to shield his bloodshot eyes from the rising sun of my resolve, the prince of darkness cowers before the garlic garlanding my rising ire.

“Back up you bloodsucker!” I cry.

But I’m overacting. It’s not so much my mortality that’s bugging me on this spooky stroll. The prospect of death is a familiar, annoying awareness which comes and goes, like a wedgie in my Levis. It’s not death, it’s aging, and specifically, the resentment I have with this term: aging gracefully, that lurks in the catacombs under my hot-rolled heroine’s hairdo.

What exactly is graceful about aging? Diminishing eyesight and incontinence? Trick knees and night sweats? The slow and deliberate break down of collagen?  Granted, cradling my future grandbaby, swaddled in quilted cotton is a graceful vision for sure, as is the image of knitting needles dancing from my fingertips. I don’t knit btw. Not yet. Learning to knit a pancho would be cool, especially in the context of a groovy knitting circle with a barista foaming milk in the background.

But to most things I associate with aging I hold up crossed arms of resistance:  I hate chains on reading glasses, and comfortable shoes that defy all rules of aesthetics. I do find tea culture somewhat cozy, hand-mixed herbal teas in charming, mismatched china cups. But I’d much prefer to continue downing coffee heedlessly, if not for my already fitful sleep, due dwindling melatonin levels and those night time toilet runs...

I staunch the flow at the jugular, compose myself, and seek answers about aging from the family of obelisks I can just make out over the wall:

“Hey Rubins!” I call out. “Any suggestions on living well now, after 50, before I join you in eternity?”

No answer, which I take to mean that I should come up with my own damn bucket list.

So here it is, before I cross my hands over my punctured decolletteand pull the lid shut at dawn:

First and foremost the lofty list:

  1. reduce my carbon, espadrilled footprint.

  2. plant trees in barren neighborhoods

  3. repair ball hoops in playgrounds around the city

  4. plant tomatoes in illegal driveways

  5. repurpose clamshell containers in meaningful ways

  6. Love more deeply

  7. cultivate roses to recapture the real rose fragrance I remember from childhood

  8. close a freezer door so it stays shut

Those are my splashy drops in the pail...

The next three on my bucket list are unoriginal and wholly self-serving:

     9. return to Paris in springtime (and also in August, when the Parisians are    gone)

     10. eat pineapple pork, sway my hips, and swim with the dolphins on Waikiki Beach

     11. drag race on the autobahn

     12. surf in a storm at sea

And finally, number 13, because we have to end on thirteen. After all, this is a Hammer Studio production:

     13. I want to firmly, tenderly, hold the hand of a child, not my own, as she lurches tentatively on ice skates, all around the perimeter of a rink for the very first time.

If I can lose myself in a selfless act of patient love like that one, then I can close my false lashes and lock the lid for good.

Passing graveyards or not, each day presents an opportunity to ask yourself this question: What’s biting you?


Written by Maria Newsom On June 29, 2014

Revised Friday the 13th, 2017           



Daddy's A Player

I don’t play.

I cook. I sort darks from whites. I wash, dry and fold. I sign class trip forms. I lead the boys to the dental hygienist for bi-annual cleanings with chocolate toothpaste.

But I don’t play.

I don’t sit down for those strategy board games: Risk, Stratego, Axis & Allies, Africa Quest. I don’t build snowmen, play Wii or design treasure maps that lead to chests buried on the beach at dawn.  


Daddy does those things.

Oh, maybe I played in the beginning, a little. I hopped gingerbread men over the molasses swamp in Candyland and pushed the pawns of Chutes and Ladders. Maddening Milton Bradley classics, you taste victory, but inevitably lose these games which stretch out 'til dinnertime and end in tears. Mine.

For a while I tried to engage the boys in crafts: shamrock stamps carved from potatoes at St. Patty’s, hand turkeys at Thanksgiving, sugar cookie decorating at Christmas.

The sugar cookies were most popular due to, well, the sugar, but overall, the boys’ lukewarm response to crafting did not embolden me to crack craft books with 3-D diagrams and hard-to-find supplies.


Then it was cooking: dipping slippery chicken breasts in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. I was inspired. The boys weren’t. Breading cutlets left them cold.

I even pitched chores as play. Today the little one is competent at filling muffin pans with cupcake liners, watering African violets and dusting the piano with “lemonade spray” (Pledge). But he isn’t fooled. These are chores and little man gets paid for his time.

Then I just gave up.

That’s not quite right. It’s not that I went cold turkey on the hand turkeys.

I still sled. And the little one follows along to my old school Tae-Bo tapes, kicking at the TV and punching the air.

I still lead raspberry picking expeditions, but I was plucking black caps and red raspberries long before the kiddos came along. And I’ll carry on without them when they realize they can stay home and just wait for me to return from the thickets, sweaty, scratched up and eaten alive, swinging milk pails brimming with nature’s candy.

Notice a pattern?

Last weekend we were back at Lefrak Lakeside in Prospect Park with friends. The ice was thawed, the Zambonis sent to long-term parking. 50 bucks for a backache, I bent over for an eternity to lace 3 sets of roller skates. Then I failed to fasten wrist and knee pads securely and readjusted these for another eternity. Finally we hit the rink. The boys clung to me like invasive vines.

I felt a resentment coming on.

No one helped me learn to skate. I fell on my arse plenty until I was looping figure eights on the asphalt in front of my house. Learning to skate is just ugly, there’s no way around this. And no one can do it for you. Despite this obvious fact, the mom who got us here in the first place, hosted my parasites. Her trunk became the great oak around which my ten-year-old twined himself until I said ENUF! I wouldn’t let them attach themselves to the rink walls either. By day’s end the brothers had loosened their stranglehold on stable supports. Virginia creepers no more, they’d stepped up to roller derby robots with jerky limbs. Ugly. But they were on their way…


The pattern? The kids follow my lead now. They do what I want to do.

Here’s the question: How guilty do I feel that I don’t do stuff just for my kids anymore?

Here’s my answer: not very.

I must get this from Nana. Nana doesn’t play either. She picks the “family movie.” It’s never animated and never G. It’s usually PG-13, occasionally R. She likes those formulaic sports films. The ones  where — against all odds — the crappy team rallies to win the little league pennant (Bad News Bears) or state championship (Hoosiers) or exhibition game (Mighty Ducks) or almost wins an olympic medal (Cool Runnings) or where the hero becomes the first-round pick in the NFL (The Blind Side). Every year, usually around the All-Star Break, we watch the Bad News Bears. I cuddle up with my boys, a bowl of popcorn and (swoon) Walter Matthau. Ah, the foul slurs slipping from the side of his Schlitz-slinging mouth. Obscene, inappropriate and hilarious.

At bedtime, Nana reads to the boys from a unabridged, unillustrated volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. She extrapolates the moral and glosses over gruesome scenes of twisted sexuality and mutilated toes. On these nights I sit with the boys, rubbing their feet till they’re unconscious.

Daddy—by contrast— is a player.

  • Down in the sand

  • Up in the tree

  • On the toboggan

  • On the exercise mat

  • On the mini-golf course

  • Standing over board games

  • Running alongside bicycles

Daddy does like the tedious strategy games that take over the dining room table for weeks. But as for the rest of it, he’s doing it for them, not himself.  

He doesn’t get his kicks from running alongside the unstable two-wheeler of a hysterical 6-year-old. He hates being ambushed when he walks in the door. Still, he submits to 10-minute rounds of Attack Daddy by two sons whose combined weight approaches 100 pounds.  BRRRRRRING!! When the egg timer goes off he limps upstairs to change out of his work clothes.

The boyz love Daddy.

Daddy also reads to them. Every night. Chapter books that don’t give nightmares. Adventures, histories, mysteries. Where he gets them I’m not sure. Online? Tag sales? Used bookstores?  His mother’s attic? No matter. The boys love winding down with Daddy.

A few days ago, after supper and before Daddy got home, my big son asked: “Mom, can you play with me like you used to?”

I was floored. Playing is Daddy’s domain.

My son’s expression was hopeful. I inhaled deeply and stared straight into my son’s soul on the exhale. This was the spring we gave up little league baseball.

“Would you like to go out front and toss the ball around?” His face lit up. I hit a tree, a parked car and lost the ball in the bushes. He found it. I paused to chat up neighbors returning home from work. He didn’t seem to mind any of this.

We’ve been tossing the baseball pretty steadily ever since. The next rainy evening I’ll suggest a 3-minute word game. I can manage that: “qnyone up for a game of Boggle?”

This post is dedicated to all you Devoted Dads...

Who assemble impossible toys...

Who read aloud at bedtime, apply sunscreen, and delouse...

Who bring home the bacon and fry it up on Saturday morning...

Who eat the broken, slightly-burned cookies and

Leave the best ones for your kids!



Mother's Day (How it Unravels)

Hey Mamas! How was your Mother’s Day?

We’re you properly praised or pretty well punished?

Here’s how mine unravels...

It starts off alright...



My son wakes me with a homemade card. A triptych of him and his kid brother, with the senior poodle in between.

“It’s beautiful Theodore…”

We hug.

Then comes: “Can I play a game on your phone?”

The day plan is this:

We’ll enjoy a slow start. I’ll get in a long, scalding shower... The kind that dries the skin but feels so good... It will include shaving, shampooing and deep hair conditioning. The boys will scooter to MacDonald Avenue for an 11am birthday party at Kids ‘n’ Action (Chucky Cheese minus minimum wage earners in mouse suits). I will get to sit on my arse, drink coffee, eat powdered donuts and catch up with the mamas, while our kids scramble through tunnels like gerbils. Later, my parents will treat us all to a fancy French meal in Carroll Gardens.

Awesome sauce right?

Here’s how it plays out:


After 2 bites of bacon, Theodore returns to bed with an upset stomach. The moans of a ten year old, deeply resentful of personal discomfort, reach every corner of the small rowhouse. I dread stomach aches, my own and those of others. There is nothing to be done about belly pain: no analgesics, no balms, no band-aides. Even kisses cannot relieve nausea.

“Here,”  I say, handing him his wastepaper basket in bed. “Throw up in here.”

He glowers, turns his backside towards me and sticks his butt up in the air, same as he did a decade earlier, swaddled in his crib. As soon as I leave his room the groans resume and I return, helpless to offer relief, but I return anyway, again and again.


Unwashed and without make-up, I leave the house phone on Theodore’s bedside table and head out to the party with William alone.

Push buttons are problematic. The scooter handle refuses to slide down, so instead of resting comfortably at chest level, the handle nestles under Will’s chin where he grips it,
like a squirrel,
whose just scored a piece of pita,

dumped by a cabbie,
into the gutter,
at the end of his shift.
We set off.


We reach Ocean Parkway—halfway there—I walk the scooter across while gripping William’s hand. Razor scooters are meant to be ridden, not walked. As I reach the curb it swings around and nails me in the ankle. “Dammit!” Pain and anger radiate to my extremities.

I have a choice.

I make the wrong one, though I know the right one: to pause, breathe deeply of the exhaust generated by 4 lanes of traffic, and to carry on. Instead, I take my ankle agony out on my child. No holding back:

“That hurts! That really hurts!! William!!! Why did we bother taking the scooter? You don’t even like to scooter much DO you?? You’d rather bike! Can we sell the scooter???”

His response is justified:

“MOMMY!  You are sooooo mean!!  You ruined my day!!!  I’m not even going to the party now!!!!”

I deserve that.

“I’m sorry William."

“What does sorry mean??? I’m sorry. That’s just words mommy!!!”

Wow. Is this a six-year-old speaking?

He throws the scooter to the ground and plants his short legs on the peninsula jutting between Ocean Parkway South and its service road.

The metaphor is obvious: Ocean Parkway and an ocean between us. Choppy. Vast. Unfathomable. I don’t know how to help my child, or help myself, when he gets like this.

I have a chance to redeem myself.

I don’t take it.  Instead,  I PUSH.

“We’re going to the party William. Don’t you like birthday parties??”

“No. They give you very unhealthy food... like cake.”

“Didn’t you like Molly's party in Prospect Park? Rolling around the grass with Sam?”

“No, I hated it. He almost gave me lice.”

My phone rings. I fish around the bottom of my purse and catch the call just before it swims to voicemail.

“Speak up Theodore.  I can’t hear you. You’re brother is having a fit.”

“I’m feeling really sick.”

“Go to the toilet and throw up. You’ll feel a lot better.”


“Really, it’s the only thing that helps.”


“Okay, I’m just gonna drop William off and run home to you baby. Sit tight.”

No time for bridging symbolic bodies of water with skillful words and hugs; I pull the scooter—and William—the rest of the way.


Homeward bound to Theodore. I stop at the Uzbeki fruit stand to pick through the “dead produce” bin.  I fill a bag with squishy tomatoes at 19 cents/lb. I fill another with limp celery and sprouted onions.


Things are better at home.  Theodore has thrown up.

“Mom! Come clean up my vomit!”

“Did you rinse out your mouth?”

“Yes. Can I go on your phone?”

High Noon:

One child sick in bed, another at a party, what next?  I pull on debutante-length rubber gloves and clean the fridge—the right way—not my usual smear job. Hot soapsuds and scouring pads. I troll the depths for packets in tin foil, sniff and discard them all.


Still scouring the Amana, I eat lunch from the fridge door: an open kiddie yogurt and a boiled egg from Easter, rolling around the butter compartment.


I dump the Uzbeki tomatoes into a pot, get out the potato masher and make fresh tomato & basil sauce.

This is not the Mother’s Day I envisioned, but my mood is improving.  Mash, mash, mash.


I move on to making broth. I throw the sad onions and celery in the stock pot with water, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf.


I remember to call Nana.

“Happy Mother’s Day mom! Sorry, we can’t join you at the restaurant. Theodore is honking like a goose and hacking up oysters on the rug now. He’s too consumptive to travel.”

My parents had really wanted to treat me to lamb sausage and French lentils at Provence en Boite on Smith Street. Instead, they treat a childless friend to my lentils, or maybe she dines on Theodore’s steak frites. Or croque-monsieur. Dammit.

But wait, it’s cool that my parents pivot and salvage an unconventional Mother’s Day for themselves by sharing a meal in sparkling conversation that does not revolve around a ten-year-old’s lackluster piano practice nor his prospects for orthodonture.


William returns home with three goody bags and proceeds to open and sort them on the dining room table.  I watch him peel the wrapper off a Hershey Kiss.

A wave of gratitude rolls over me. The first of the day.


 I cave to gaming. Wii Mario something or other. I go upstairs to pack away winter sweaters in mothballs.


I hang tuff about not cooking on Mother’s Day (tomato sauce and veggie broth notwithstanding). The Good Taste delivers chicken and broccoli, long-live vegetarian, pork dumplings, fortune cookies, and 2 free sodas: Hawaiian Punch and Diet Coke.  I demonstrate how to use chopsticks and the boys stab away at their wontons like ice anglers after Yellow Perch.

Another wave.


The evening winds down with an episode of River Monsters on Animal Planet:

‘It’s scary Mommy.”

“Can I hold your hand William?"

“No Mommy, it’s annoying.”

We sit on the sofa, the boys and me, hands to ourselves, googling ghost sharks on my laptop between commercials.

William looks thoughtfully at the TV screen:

“I want to go to the Amazon cause there are lots of mangoes there.”

One more wave.

It’s an atypical Mother’s Day. No pink carnations and no dinners in restaurants with real napkins. It’s a day of stalemates with a six-year-old,  sickness and sacrifice with a ten-year-old. A day of small mouths with loud voices making remarkable observations. A day of take-out Chinese, and a day of vomit.

Actually, it’s a pretty typical day in the life of a Mother.


One week later:

We are walking that same route down Foster. We leave the scooters at home. William holds my hand and I notice he is tugging erratically. I look down and see he’s not walking. He’s skipping. Yes, gamboling like a lambkin in a field of buttercups. Straight out of a nursery rhyme. Theodore starts to snicker and I shoot him a look which says:

Don’t ruin this for us. Give me this mommy moment.

Soon enough the skipping will stop; about the same time Mr. Bear will no longer be needed to nod off to dreamland.

We turn onto MacDonald Avenue and sidestep a forklift, parked on the sidewalk, moving monuments from a truck bed through the open doors of a warehouse. The warehouse: a graveyard of helter-skelter tombstones piled high; all with photorealistic renderings of loved ones etched into the granite. Creepy.

“What are those mommy?”

Explaining mortality to a six-year-old, under the shadow of the el, is pointless.

“Let’s just enjoy this day boys. The next one isn’t promised to any of us.”

A woman, walking briskly ahead, overhears me and nods in agreement.  Without slackening her pace, she ascends the staircase to meet the approaching F.