On the role of nannies in a child's upbringing, and the complications (emotional and financial) and joy that come with it:
"Seeing Michele Asselin’s portraits, I remember the heightened sensitivity of my first months as a parent. The pictures are beautiful and idealized. The women look at the children with love. No one looks frustrated. No one looks bored. No child is having a meltdown. They conjure the dome of tender air that encloses a mother, whose body is coursing with hormones, and a newborn.
"But these moments of private contentment, with the serenity and depth borrowed from the portraiture legacy of the Madonna and child, do not depict mothers with their infants. The women holding the children are nannies. Part of what’s striking about the pictures is that they position front and center a person who is often left on the editing-room floor when a family’s memories are being assembled. Nannies have told me that their employers crop them out of photographs of their children. On the wall of a West Los Angeles home, I noticed a blown-up photo of a baby in a pretty white dress, held by a pair of hands of a darker color. In her photos, Asselin captures a radiance between caregivers and children, often of different races."
PUBLISHED: July 13, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2282 words)
I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people. Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 30, 2011
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2383 words)
When I was about nineteen I showed my poems to one of my teachers at Wayne. He said these were incredible poems, poems that should be published. I said, “Oh really?”—I was thrilled—“How would I go about doing that?” He walked over to his bookshelf and brought back a copy of Harper’s. He wrote down the name of the editor and said, “Send the poems to him. I met him once at a party, he may remember me. It doesn’t matter, the poems are so good. Just send them.” So I sent them. A month later they came back with a little printed note telling me they didn’t suit their present editorial needs. I was just shocked. I took it to the teacher and said, “Why, you assured me.” He said, “I don’t understand it.” He was a very sweet man, but he didn’t know the first thing about publishing.
PUBLISHED: July 1, 1988
LENGTH: 40 minutes (10007 words)
[Fiction] A mother and daughter arrive in California:
"Our shirts were still sticky and sweet smelling, but the bad, sour side of sweet, when we drove into Los Angeles. My mother had called ahead for reservations at one of the hotels she'd read about, but she said she wouldn't go there right away.
"'Huh-uh. Look at us. And look at this car. We're going to clean up a little first.'
"'Why? They're used to it, they're a hotel, aren't they?'
"'Honey, the Bel Air isn't just a hotel.' She had the tone she always used when she was too tired to fight. 'You'll see.'
"'Why can't we wash up there?'
"'Because. That's why. You just don't.'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 1, 1985
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4050 words)