alexandra alger


Archive for the category “Life”

When a Child Loses a Parent

A few days ago I opened a recent middle-grade release by Laura Geringer Bass, The Girl With More Than One Heart.  


I bought the book a month or so ago and had forgotten what it was about. (Mortifying to forget such things, as I now routinely do.) But I was ready to go: It had a catchy title and a lovely cover that reminded me of cutting hearts out of construction paper for Valentine’s Day, and all that aside, I was going to be in Ms. Geringer Bass upcoming middle grade workshop at Stonybrook Southampton’s annual writer’s conference. That book was my destiny.

I opened it up and read this: “The day my father’s heart stopped…” No! I thought. One morning Briana, the main character, finds her dad slumped over his exercise bike. She’s not sure at first why he looks funny and his eyes are closed. No! I thought. During the funeral, in Chapter 3, I had to put the book down.

I was just at such a funeral. That is, at the funeral of a man who died too soon, before his children were grown. The man was a close friend of my husband’s. He died suddenly—not of a heart attack, felled by lung cancer—leaving three sons. Jeff’s cancer was inoperable; his prognosis, grim. Still we all hoped for the impossible. And no one expected him to die when he did. One moment he was at home with his family; the next he was in the hospital with pneumonia. He needed a ventilator. Still we held onto hope, a fragment of it, until the very end.

I returned to Chapter 3 and learned that Briana intended to speak at the funeral. I marveled at her strength and courage, at twelve, thirteen (I wasn’t sure of her exact age, but I knew she’d just begun eighth grade). She changes her mind at the last minute. I couldn’t fault her for that. At Jeff’s funeral, his sons weren’t on the program but at the end it was announced that his eldest son would say a few words. The three of them got up and went to the podium together. Jeff Jr., age twenty, spoke movingly about his dad, tears courses down his face.  

One day you have a father; the next, you don’t. How to make sense of it, how to live past it? I’ve tried to imagine being a widow with children at home and I haven’t managed it. The anticipated pain is too great. Ms. Geringer Bass is braver, and thank goodness she is, because we need her. I don’t think I’ve seen a fiction that addresses the sudden death of a parent, at least not for middle-grade readers. Not to say parents aren’t frequently absent in MG fiction; orphans are common, or common enough, and main characters are as likely to be raised by a single parent or a grandmother as a traditional mom and dad. But a parent doesn’t often die right in front of the main character (and the reader).

MG fiction reflect social trends. Americans are having children later in life. Thirty years ago, Briana’s parents most likely would’ve married and had kids ten years younger. Had her father had that heart attack at the same age, Briana might’ve been in her twenties, living on her own. Briana would still be heartbroken, she’d be devastated, but she’d be able to manage the grief far better than a girl starting eighth grade. 

In the next year, we’ll begin to see stories of middle-schoolers coping with a parent’s suicide. It’s horrifying that we need such stories, but such are the times we live in.


Feeling the power on Mother’s Day


May is finally here, and right along with it, Mother’s Day. I don’t want to care about it. It seems silly to care when my children are grown. Some people–many people–feel that Mother’s Day celebrates mothers of every age, but I can’t help feeling Mother’s Day properly belongs to those with young children, who need that one day to sleep in and receive, queen-like, extra hugs and hand-made cards from the grateful offspring, and with any luck, a short break from parental responsibilities. Of course this is only possible for those with partners who will uphold the unspoken rules of Mother’s Day, which fall under one general theme: One shall please Her.

My own mother, who is nearly 80, has become stunning indifferent to the rituals of the holiday. This year, when I asked if she wanted to go out for a MD lunch, she said, “When is it?” (MD, that is.) At her age, after something like 55 Mother’s Days, it might get old.

I’ve lived through half as many, and it’s not old for me yet. Nope. Not when on Mother’s Day, I get to call the shots and no one complains, argues or disagrees. It’s fantastic. Every other day of the year, I have to negotiate, wheedle and compromise. On MD, everything I say goes. Everything! Yes, we’re going to that museum. Yes, we’re going to the Italian place that only I love. The dishes? I’m not cleaning them. And I don’t feel guilty about it.

How can I surrender all this?

A better question might be, why don’t I have it more than one day a year? Why couldn’t there be days like MD—on a regular basis? Now that the kids are grown and my husband, Dan, and I have much more time to ourselves, we could take turns allowing each other free rein to make decisions on how we spend free time.

Would he go for that? It’s funny, I have no idea if he feels about Father’s Day the way I do about Mother’s Day. I like to think he finds FD pretty special, given that yours truly makes sure the day stays on track (reminding the offspring to buy FD cards, remembering to ask, “What do you want to do on Father’ Day?” well in advance of the need to plan meals, etc.). But how could he not be pumped if I said, “How about one Saturday we do everything you want to do, and on another Saturday we do everything I want to do?”

This could lead to some far more interesting Saturdays than cleaning out the attic or catching up on paperwork. Though it may mean I have to accompany him to the racetrack. He’s developed an interest in racing cars.  I’d be bored within minutes, probably. But I  should watch him, one of these days. I should share with him this new passion. That’s fair and right. What would I make him do that he might not do on his own?  He’s not good at sitting still, so possibly, spending an afternoon reading. Ha! I smile comes to my face, thinking of Dan resignedly picking up his book and settling down for a quiet afternoon. Not to suggest he doesn’t like to read–he does. But he doesn’t often give himself time to sink into a book. Of course, we wouldn’t have to spend every minute together during these “yours” and “my” Saturdays. I could give him a dispensation to do something else–go biking. Great! Since I’m still in control on “my” Saturday, I would take pleasure in giving him leave to do what he wants to do–while I’m doing what I want to do. I can’t wait to broach this idea with him!

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a MD dinner, prepared by Dan and the two kids. I’m doing the planning and probably the shopping, though come to think of it, couldn’t they do that, too? I may not be able to resist helping make dinner—it’s so hard to let go!—but I will not clean up. I will luxuriate in standing by and watching…or no, no—going upstairs and not watching.

If It’ s Tuesday, We’re in Tallinn


Actually, we were there on a Saturday, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration. Plus you know how it is when you’re doing one of those city-a-day trips. I’m on the tail-end of a cruise through the Baltic region with stops in Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm, Visby, Riga, Latvia and ending in Copenhagen. It’s been glorious, but here I am, sorting through my pics (uniformly mediocre… oh, well), and the trick is how to remember heart is didn’t about each city. They all have charming medieval old towns, complex intertwined histories, and, I couldn’t help noticing, pretty nice linens and knitted goods.

A stab at capturing each city in a few photos each.


Helsinki’s Senate Square. That’s good ole Mom, looking quite youthful for someone nearing eighty (I have no fear about giving away her age; the chances she reads this are roughly and precisely zero). I didn’t count how many steps there were, but I’m glad I huffed my way up them. Mainly I saw rooftops but the sense of being high above the city was oddly exhilarating. The cathedral is beautiful in an austere, Lutheran way– but guess what, I can’t remember any of its history.


Helsinki home furnishing store. The Finns put the fork and knife together on the right. And they eat this round bread that in centuries past was strung up on a rope in the home. They get really hard after a while. They look hard–inedible, really, but not to the Finns. Our guide Claimed he missed this bread when he spent time in the U.S.


Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The medieval core is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you can see why.


Charm abounds in the old town, where shops play up the medieval theme.



In front of St. Nicholas, a Russian church. Our guide claimed these grannies in peasant garb were paid to dress up and beg. Well, thats what someone told me. There were similar grannies inside, praying and crossing themselves, clearly not actors. Interesting historical note: When the Soviets bombed the city In 1944, they saw fit to spare their church. Estonians have had a rough time getting rid of the Russians, to put it mildly. In 1918, they finally declared independence after three centuries, only to fall under the yoke again in 1940 for another 51 years. Nonetheless they call 1918 the year of independence.

Think I’ll break this up into two posts. Stay tuned!

Thoughts on Tennis, Post-Wimbledon

Watching Roger Federer defeat Marin Cilic to clinch a record eighth Wimbledon title at nearly 36 years old, something that nobody would’ve or could’ve predicted a year go, including the great Fed himself, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky we tennis fans are, to be able to witness this extraordinary period in men’s tennis, which is stretching on, with no end in sight. On the women’s side, though, I can’t figure out what’s going on.

Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated, posting after the Wimbledon women’s singles final:

“….women’s tennis is in a weird—yet oddly intoxicating—place. The sport’s alpha female (Serena Williams) is profoundly pregnant, hasn’t played since winning the Australian Open and almost certainly won’t play again this year. The player who started the year at No. 1 (Angie Kerber) has been a non-entity. The new No. 1 (Karolina Pliskova) just lost with a whimper in the second round here. One multi-time major champ (Maria Sharapova) has been idled by a doping suspension and then injury. Another (Petra Kvitova) is coming back from a stabbing suffered in a home invasion. And who has risen highest? A bold 20-year-old, Jelena Ostapenko, who was outside the top 40 memorial and is now inside the top ten. Venus Williams, who has been to two of the three major finals. And Garbine Muguruza, now a multi-Slam winner.”

I’m not sure I agree this is an “intoxicating” time. When the top women don’t live up to expectations in a Grand Slam, it’s hard to get excited about them. Simona Halep—what happened? She should’ve won the French; it didn’t happen. Wimbledon? Nope. I’m sure Serena will be back, after giving birth, as dominant as ever, and she’ll be a wonder to behold. But who will be up there with her, challenging her to play her best? Probably not Venus, who lost to Muguruza in a dispiriting way (bageled in the second set!). Muguruza, maybe, who beat her in the French Open last year, in a mesmerizing match. And Ostapenko—she is as powerful and aggressive as they come, but green still. Lucky us, we won’t have long to wait. The U.S. Open is just around the corner.

What do Bagels and Beyoncé Have in Common?

Firecrackers are popping outside my window. July 4, 2017 is drawing to a close.
I’m going to crib from onetime colleague and FB pal Joe Colacioppo, who posted his list of who and what make the U.S. of A. the U.S. of A. Here’s a list of my own—partial, on the fly, heavy on writers (and in a few instances inspired by Joe):

Joey Chestnut, the Coney Island Cyclone, Alexander Hamilton, New York bagels, Muhammad Ali,  E.B. White, Serena Williams, the Kentucky Derby, Toni Morrison, Diane Arbus, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson Pollock, Gerry Trudeau, David Foster Wallace, Barack and Michelle Obama, James Taylor, Nora Ephron, Jon Stewart, Long Island beaches, Georgia peaches, Quentin Tarantino, Truman Capote, FDR, Edith Wharton, Laird Hamilton, Ella Fitzgerald, Beyoncé, Joan Didion, Justices Ruth Ginsberg and Anthony Kennedy, corn on the cob, the U.S. Constitution (flawed though it might be), the First Amendment and all those who have and are and will defend it.

A Saturday Moment

I was in the fish store today picking up some smoked salmon, not at all aware that I was in any kind of mood at all–good or bad–when a man came in with a thick paperback, textbook size, under one arm. I was momentarily charmed by the idea of this guy doing his chores holding a book that big, and nothing else. Was he a teacher? Mystery solved when I went to pay and there he was, reading out loud from what  turned out to be a Spanish cookbook. He was buying the ingredients for a seafood paella. “Let’s see,” he was saying. “Two pounds of shrimp, and….”

I walked out, grinning. Suddenly I was happy. Something about that man, bringing  his cook book to the fish store, filled me with joy. I walked toward the vegetable store, wondering who’d I see there.

Dump Trump/Trump Dump

By now we’ve all seen countless photos of the women’s marches that happened in nearly 700 locations all over the U.S. and on every continent (including Antarctica!). It’s thrilling and inspiring that women and men of all ages and races and backgrounds came together to reject Trump and everything he stands for.

Did the combined voices of 2-5 million people (the numbers are all over the place) have any affect on Trump’s thinking about any of the issues the marchers articulated (the biggies being, from what I could tell, reproductive rights for women; civil rights for immigrants and the LGBT community; Black Lives Matter; and plain old, LOVE TRUMPS HATE)?

Not that anyone could tell, right? Today he went ahead and banned federal aid to foreign health providers that offer abortions or even simply abortion counseling.

Here are my favorite pics from the Washington, D.C., march.

img_3945Megan, from my Brooklyn-D.C. bus.



A Dump Trump and…img_3975

A dump by the name of Trump! (This was between Independence Ave. and the Washington Monument.)


A number of fantastic men carrying this sign: “Men of quality do not fear equality.” Also saw a couple of white boys with this message: “Next-gen white men don’t fear equality.”



Among the signs discarded at the Federal Triangle Metro (across from the new Trump hotel!), one of my favorites of the day: “MIKE PENCE HAS NEVER SATISFIED A WOMAN IN HIS LIFE.’


img_3952I’m rethinking my aversion to pink! My pussy-hatted friends Gwenn, Susan, Roseanne and I.

Ready for the March


I’m ready! Now to bed, with hopes I won’t sleep through my 4 am alarm. Bus leaving 5 am for Washington, D.C. and the Women’s March. It will probably be total bedlam, but it’ll be women as far as the eye can see–and a few men, maybe lots of men! It’ll be something extraordinary.



Afro American woman with sign at protest

Credit: iStock/Shakzu
I’ve managed to avoid thinking about Inauguration Day and what it will unleash by consuming myself with preparations for the Women’s March in D.C. the following day.

I’ve paid $71 for a seat on a bus going from Brooklyn to Washington early on the 21st and coming back that night. I’ve never done anything like this before—joined forces with tens, likely hundreds, of thousands of American women, who are going to stand together and be seen. That’s because I’ve never before felt this scared about what lies ahead for this country and all of us. (I’ve been reading about how I’m supposed to feel ashamed and even guilty about being a white woman at this event. Really? Since I’m at the age at which I forget things, I’ll make sure to forget that.)

The reality of being outside in the cold all day—however buffeted by countless other bodies—has me fussing like a granny used to Boca Raton.

Things I’ve done to prepare:

—Bought prepaid Metro card

—Ordered cell phone battery pack.

Left to do:

—Figure out what to wear. Good news: according to, it may be warm-ish—40-plus degrees. Bad news: 60% chance or rain. The size of the bag we’re allowed to bring is so small, I won’t have room for an umbrella. I’ll just have to hold it, I guess. Or wear my yellow rain jacket with hood over my winter coat. if it fits. Going to a march without a backpack is kind of a pain, I’m starting to realize.

—Make sign

I’ve been trying to find info on whether there are restrictions on size of signs and whether wood supports are allowed (apparently forbidden in New York City, because they can be used as weapons) and only today found a list of restrictions on the Women’s March website. No wooden sticks. Fine with me. I’d already figured I’m simply hold my sign…or possibly add a loop at the top so I can string it around my neck when my arms get tired. Which they will, all too quickly.

I’ve been noodling around wording. I want something strong and pithy. Too bad pithy has never been my forte. My friend Laurel pointed me to a website selling posters with some pretty good slogans, my favorite being “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.” I don’t want to focus on just one issue, though; even one as important as reproductive rights. This what I’m thinking:

RIGHTS AND JUSTICE FOR ALL—NOT JUST PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE THIS—with a photo of Trump. Neither pithy nor clever, but it’s sincere–and if I can blow up a pic of the Donald wearing his usual smirk, his skin pasty, his sausagey lips bunched up, the kind of image that reminds us why we’re going to all this trouble–I’ll be happy.

Getting Merry with Book Buying

img_3866I’m nowhere close to Scrooge territory, but I don’t have my usual holiday verve. I’ve been dutifully shopping and wrapping presents and planning the Christmas-day lunch, all the while fighting a current of despair. That’s what a future Trump presidency can do to a person, not to mention the all-too-present suffering in Syria, Iraq, and many other parts of the world. In the last few days, I’ve amped up my efforts to get into the spirit of the season. Wrote a few more checks to nonprofits doing good work. Bought myself my very own quart of eggnog. Turned on the carols (a bit late, indeed).

My mood shifted yesterday when I my son sauntered into the kitchen at dinnertime and announced he’d gotten me and my husband Dan a gift that he thought we were really going to like. It was something that was so popular it was out of stock, and he’d had to go back to the store a second time to get it. Well. I couldn’t for the life of me think what this perfect gift could be, and I can’t wait to find out. He was so pleased with himself, this 21-year-old who, like many young men, doesn’t like to shop—I was all of a sudden ready. Ready to shower love on my family and make merry!

I have a few gifts to be buy last minute—the books. I buy them last minute, because I know I can, and because it’s like choosing the candles for a cake; the hard part is done, and all that’s left is the finishing touch. This year, I have another reason to leave book buying until the end. My neighborhood bookstore, BookCourt, is closing on Dec. 31 after 35 years and it’s going to be painful to say goodbye.

This is what’s on my list:

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad for my son, because everyone should read it. (I’m saving my copy for my husband, Dan.)

The late P.D. James’ The Mistletoe Murder, a collection of previously unpublished stories, for a friend who loves James.

Siri Hustvedt’s A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex and the Mind, for my husband, because it sounds so damn cool.

And we’ll see what will be impulse buys.

Happy holidays, all!

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