Monday, September 10, 2012


Morning sun, downtown New York City, September 2012
When I was a kid, there were other girls in my neighborhood who went to Catholic schools and wore uniforms. From their knee socks and too-short pleated plaid skirts to the cardigan sweaters and shirts with Peter Pan collars, I found these outfits completely intimidating and their wearers scary and incomprehensible. Their clothes were required! And so old fashioned and so ugly! And here they were, parading around like everything was fine-- normal, even.  There was a girl my age who lived in the house catty-corner behind us, whose beautiful long blond hair hung down her back in two perfect braids and she had to wear this get-up to school every day. Though she and I shared a mutual friend, her next-door neighbor, my back-door neighbor, I found her terrifying. By 9th grade, we were at the same school, and at long last we became friends. We are friends today.
By the early 80s it was a desirable thing to find a thrift-store bowling team shirt with a name embroidered on a patch on the chest. One would never want one with one’s own name on it, of course, and if the name were old-fashioned (like “Roy,” or “Ethyl,” or “Mildred,”), all the better. Why these are not today a wardrobe staple is a complete mystery to me. I would like to design a Bowling Team shirt for all my friends to wear, and everyone could have a nickname. I might be “Margie.”
One of my earliest memories of being at the barn where I first learned to ride was seeing three specific teen girls in the office before or after their lessons. They were wearing the light tan riding pants which I had been instructed to buy, but pulled up over the legs of their breeches these girls wore knee socks. Clearly this was a way to contain their pants while pulling on tall boots or zipping on a pair of half-chaps over her paddock boots, but they looked very silly to me. Quickly, the silly outfit goes from embarrassing to conspicuous to normal, and even cool. Fifteen years later, I have certainly been seen wearing tall socks over my breeches, and I have been to the grocery store that way.
For a time I worked at a Catholic girls’ high school myself, and while there was no uniform, there was a dress code. One member of the administration was to be informed of violators, and she kept on hand some large and boxy polo shirts and out-of-date high-wasted pleated khakis for students to wear if they were dressed inappropriately. I always wondered if it would have been easier for the students to have a uniform, especially for the faculty. How easy to get dressed in the morning!
My youngest son has begun 9th grade at a private school in New York City, where they have uniforms and special dress-up days. The first day of school they all wore white shirts with the school logo, navy pants (or skirts) and the school tie. After my struggle of trying to tie a tie around someone else’s neck when I really cannot even do it for myself correctly, I was pleased to see he looked pretty great. As we marched to the subway, and saw other kids in the same uniform headed the same way, there was at least the sense of belonging, even though it was his first day at a brand new school in a brand new city. As we emerged from the subway near school, we could see his school mates funneling towards the front door, and we waved goodbye.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Ride

I was one of those horse-crazy little girls:  the kind of little girl that draws horses, and reads horse books, and rides a stick-pony.  My favorite books included the classic, “Black Beauty,” by Anna Sewell, “Justin Morgan Had a Horse,” and “Misty of Chincoteague,” by Marguerite Henry, and “The Horse and His Boy,” by C.S. Lewis.   I collected plastic Breyer model horses, often buying them with the money I earned babysitting.  If there was any chance to ride a horse while my family was on vacation, I would beg and whine and beg some more and sometimes be taken on a trail ride.  I would be so over-stimulated by the experience that I would beg to go again, and soon.  On more than one occasion my father would then promise riding lessons when we got back to St. Louis, and I vividly remember that my mother would clench her teeth and seethe at him.  As a kid, I understood this to mean that my mother was an essentially hateful person who intended to be an obstacle to my true happiness.  As an adult, once I took the time to revisit the question, I realized that my mother was not an essentially hateful person who intended to be an obstacle to my true happiness.  She was in fact frustrated with my father making a promise that she knew he could not or would not keep.
At the end of his life, when my dad was sick in the hospital and dying, I realized that being stuck on the stuff I did not get as a kid was unnecessary, since I had my adulthood to fix it for myself. I was 35 when I decided to learn to ride.  My goal was to learn how to do it and get it out of my system.
I made a few phone calls in the area, probably using the old Yellow Pages. Then, as now, most barns do not have a staff member sitting around waiting to answer the phone. Horse people are busy, all day, every day, tending to the enormous responsibility of horses (stalls needing picking, horses needing feeding and grooming and turning out and bringing in, barn aisles needing sweeping, and lessons needing teaching and tack needing finding or cleaning or mending and putting away, and farriers needing calling, not to mention the decision about whether to call the vet or ordering more shavings or hay and then did someone water and drag the ring?). Horse people tend to have a limited presence in their office and a limited presence online. Then, as now, word of mouth is the best way to find a place to take riding lessons. Somehow, I did manage to speak to someone about lessons at a barn not far from my home in Seattle. They taught adult beginners, and had a group lesson starting soon on Friday nights. I called my husband, the Relentless Troubleshooter, at work, to make sure that it would be ok if I made a Friday night commitment.
One thing you may not know about the Relentless Troubleshooter is that he is Hungarian, and was, in fact, born in Hungary.  Did you know that Hungarians invented everything? Hungarians have a thousand year tradition of horsemanship (which I did not then know), and his response was, “Riding horses is in my blood. Can I do it too?” He had sat on a horse twice in his life up to that point.
When I called the barn back, the owner thought I was crazy (she claims I said we’d make our riding lessons our date-night), but she did book us. While I was on the phone, I was overheard by my oldest child, who was just 8 years old. “That’s not fair,” he said.
And so it came to be that three of us started riding lessons in 1998.