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"The Great Divide"

A city girl comments on life in suburbia.



"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." -  Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith



Tina Traster, Blogger

As Appeared on The Huffington Post

The School of Hard Knocks 

October 26, 2010 -- I was sad the other day when Julia told me how a different gym teacher insisted that she participate in a soccer drill where the children use their heads to deflect the ball. She told Mr. R that her parents don't permit her to use her head as if it were a racquet. She understands that her parents have read many articles on this subject and do not believe that a young, developing child's head is a logical shield for a soccer ball or any ball. Julia was quite certain about this prohibition, yet Mr. R. wasn't interested in her protest. He told her she had to complete the drill.

"I had no choice," she said, breaking into tears later that afternoon at home. She felt as though she'd done something wrong.

She hadn't. Mr. R had. . . . Read Column

The Great Divide: Apples In Winter 

March 2, 2010 -- I hear his step before I feel his bare arms around me. His embrace is like a warm sweater. My nose is pressed against the chilled window. I never tire of watching snow fall. Tonight it is falling hard. It is piling like tufts of whipped cream on the concrete bird bath, the green birdhouse I decorated with a red cardinal, the picket fence. The storm silences the mountain pass. Boxwoods droop like slackened shoulders under the weight of eight or so inches. Tree branches groan each time they smack against the clapboards.  . . . Read Column

The Great Divide: I Need Michelle's Help 

February 10, 2010 -- Hey Michelle, I hear you're committed to fighting childhood obesity. Can you lend a hand?

I've been trying to quash bad food practices at my daughter's elementary school for several months, and I'm not talking about cafeteria food because that's a bigger fight. I've simply been trying to get the school principal and the "wellness committee" to eliminate junk food in the classroom.

You'd think I was calling for the end of the slide ruler or the No. 2 pencil. . . . . Read Column

Parenting Advice: No Surprises At Sleep-Away Camp, Please 

January 26, 2010 -- The business of raising a child these days can be dark and disconcerting. Especially if you're sitting at a sleep-away camp orientation with nail-biting parents, as I was recently. It was a cold January day when we gathered in an airless hotel suite for a question-and-answer session with the program director for an upstate sleep-away camp. Parents and children sat around a table piled with pretzels and potato chips, while video of campers doing magic, woodworking, boating and swimming played on a screen on the wall.

Just as we joined the group at the table, the director was assuring a nervous mom that the camp is absolutely peanut-free. Her apple-cheeked daughter, maybe a nine-year-old, said "that's good because I can die if I eat peanuts." . . . Read Column

No Appetite For Change At Elementary School 

January 7, 2010 -- We are a child-safety obsessed nation. Water wings for the pool. Helmets for skiing and cycling. Mandated ages for booster seats in cars. Anti-Bullying programs. We don't let our kids wander alone or stray out of our sight. A recent sexual molestation in a movie bathroom at the Palisades Mall in Rockland County, where I live, has triggered a conversation about whether it is okay to let children go to the bathroom by themselves.

Then why is no one paying attention to foods disseminated at birthday parties or on special occasions in classrooms at public elementary schools? . . . Read Column

A Stunning Murder 

December 7, 2009 -- As de-sensitized as we are, murder in a small town is unnerving. When we hear about it, our gut question is: Was the murder random or did the victim know her killer?

We need to know because random crime makes us feel vulnerable. If the killer and the victim knew each other, we can absorb the shock with greater ease. The murder can be explained. . . . Read Column

A Meatless Thanksgiving 

November 12, 2009 -- When we moved into our renovated house in late October 2005 I said to my husband, "We should host Thanksgiving this year." We finally had a real dining room after living in our shoebox on the Upper West Side.

"No one will come," he said.

I knew he was right. No one wants a turkey-less Thanksgiving. I resigned myself to a meal at someone else's house, cringing at the sight of a gravy-dripping bird proudly displayed in the center of a dining room table.

It was either that or dinner for three, which my husband, daughter and I did one year. . . . Read Column

A Healthy Halloween 

October 29, 2009 -- Chances are you remember Halloween the way I do if you're a baby boomer who grew up in Brooklyn or anywhere urban. Houses were decorated with cardboard witches, black cats and skeletons with moving limbs. On the night of Hallows Eve, we dressed in home-spun costumes. Dad snapped a couple of Polaroids. We took plastic orange pumpkins door-to-door for fillings. Back home, mom scoured the booty. Apples were tossed because of razor scares, as was anything unpackaged. Only "safe" candy was left, the packaged junk made from chemicals and preservatives. . . Read Column

Milk & Cookies 

October 14, 2009 -- Norman Rockwell it was not - but there were milk and cookies every day after school in my Brooklyn childhood. I remember dropping my school bags in the living room and racing to the kitchen table where my grandmother's warm mandelbroit was stacked on a plate and cold milk filled a tall glass. Sometimes my grandmother, who lived with us, ripped open a bag of Chips Ahoy. I didn't mind. Grandma was in charge of after-school snack because mom, an elementary school teacher who came home when we did, commandeered my father's carpet business after 3 pm.. . Read Column

A Dose of Reality We Can Do Without 

October 1, 2009 -- What could possibly be more satisfying than watching Survivor contestants eat rats or cheering on Simon while he decimates the fragile ego of a pop star hopeful?

Ah, yes, watching a bounty hunter shake down a deadbeat dad. That's what Fox had hoped would make for great reality television because who among us wouldn't thrill at the idea of humiliating not only a man who is behind on child support but inadvertently shaming his children, who would get to watch him collared on national television? . . . Read Column

Divorce, American Style 

September 24, 2009 -- I wish I could say I don't understand what drives a man to stab his ex-wife, but I do. It's not justified or sane but it's not incomprehensible if you have seen how ugly divorce can be, as I have.

Last Friday I got an automated call from my school district. A Valley Cottage elementary school (not my daughter's) was in lock-down due to "some kind of domestic abuse situation." When I told my husband what I'd heard he half-joked "maybe an ex-husband lost his mind." I turned on the local news channel. A woman had been viciously stabbed and run over with an SUV shortly after 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the Sheraton Crossroads in Mahwah, New Jersey. . .Read Column

Rosh Hashanah My Way 

September 15, 2009 -- I watched him braid the dough and I am 10 again in the humid kitchen peering over my grandmother's dexterous floured hands. My husband's strong hands are not as limber as hers were but he started baking only recently. I remember the first time he plaited the moist dough it looked like an uncooked chicken. But it plumped into a honey-hued loaf of challah after 30 minutes in the oven. When my husband slid the bread gingerly from the oven and placed it on a rack, we bent over together, as if in prayer. We felt like we were looking at a newborn.. . . . . Read Column

90 Miles North

September 2, 2009 -- Four years ago my family and I left Manhattan and relocated to a Hudson River town. I have found that sweet spot of comfort. While I tread these familiar waters I take heart my gardener will arrive Wednesday, Didier will bake buttery croissants and Nyack's librarians will go out of their way to locate any book I ask for. I'm wearing the fuzzy bathrobe, walking in shoes that have molded around my feet.

I know one day an irresistible itch will evict me from this geography. . . . . Read Column

A Second Act In Suburbia

August 19, 2009 -- I was culturally weaned on the Great White Way. My mother fed me a steady diet of Broadway plays and musicals from the time I wore Mary Janes. How thrilling at age 9 to watch the cast of Hair stand stark naked right before intermission. I wished I had binoculars. . . . . . Read Column

Swimming Against The Tide In Suburbia

August 12, 2009 -- On one of those rain-forest July days, my daughter wanted to ride her scooter. We drove to Nyack Memorial Park on the Hudson riverfront. "Crap," I said when I spotted the red-and-yellow tent. I had forgotten the Amazing Grace Circus was still going on.

Children holding cotton candy were milling outside the enclosure, lining up to see acrobats and clowns and Millie the Elephant. We parked anyway so my daughter could zip around. "I don't understand why people think it is okay to abuse animals," I said, shaking my head. "I know," my husband replied. "If they only knew how these animals are treated.". . . . . . Read Column

Rescued By The House No One Wanted

August 5, 2009 -- One day, riding in the passenger seat on Route 80 in New Jersey, I screamed STOP! Then I jumped out of the car to redirect a disoriented great white egret wandering the four-lane highway back to the river. When I got back in the car my friend said I was crazy.

I have a thing for rescue. Put in certain circumstances I act before I think, especially when crises involve animals. I can't help myself. It's a reflex. It's an impulse that springs from the primordial soup of my past.. . . . . . Read Column

Love Means Never Having To Sleep Alone In Suburbia

July 29, 2009 -- At 26, I was married, living without a trace of domesticity. My British husband and I trekked the globe. Give him a rental car and map in a far-flung place and he popped the clutch without hesitation. Traveling was our oxygen, our marital glue. Maybe the only thing we had in common. This became patently obvious when on the cusp of our divorce I flipped through worn photo albums filled with Bedouins and Buddhist temples instead of barbecues or babies. . . . . . Read Column

How I Got Across The Great Divide

July 23, 2009 -- Is it me or is the word suburbia loaded? Like 'stay-at-home mom' or 'Britney Spears', suburbia has its fans, satirists, detractors. Until 2005, I was smugly ensconced in the third category, a self-styled city slicker who wore black garb, told cabbies the best route to get across town, exchanged intimacies with people riding elevators. Typical New Yorker. Suburbia to me -- a psychologically-scarred Brooklyn-born kid whose family never 'made it' to Long Island -- was an aseptic construct where women over 35 lost their edge and their calf muscles because they spent days driving to the strip mall and taking junior to soccer practice. . . . . Read Column