in the wish + all that jazz

This was totally me. This is the life I’d always imaged from my one-bedroom Upper West Side apartment. I wanted this *right here,* this kid-sopped life of learning, finger paint, and gusto. A life with a smock. And I’m in it, right now. I’m extraordinarily blessed—I really am—to be a mama, but more so, to be a mama who knows how lucky she is, and that’s she’s in it right now. “In the wish.”
Spanish River Public Library – Boca Raton, FL

Jazz on a Saturday Night. I’d picked it up from the library, but now I own one outright. I haven’t been much of a library person at any point in my life. Except in eighth grade when I’d steal away to eat lunch there, but middle school isn’t living. It’s surviving, so it doesn’t count.

I’ve always fancied myself more of a Bookstore Babe. In Austin, for example, I frequented the library precisely zero times. We actually tried to visit once, but it was closed. Or I drove past it, or I wasn’t sure if it was open, or I was sidetracked by some ice cream parlor. Point is, we’d head to an independent bookseller for story time, then I’d yank my kids through Anthropologie—the clothing store, not the section of Book People about humankind.
Only in Boca Raton is the library a waterfront property
Pictured Above: Alfred Molina As a Building
jazz hands 1

How Jazz Might Look

Because I’d heard such glowing things from a high school babysitter here in Boca Raton, I was moved to check out Spanish River Public Library. Built in the Mediterranean Revival style, if the library were a person, it would be Alfred Molina. I dare you to visit and think of anyone else. Penelope Cruz, no. She’s too short. Plus, the library features a full-on cafe, with soup and “stacks” offerings. Yes, griddlecakes. The library is my new power move.

While there—oh, shit, no. I was not there but at another library (Palm Beach County Library); I’ve become somewhat of a junkie—I was finger gliding my way through the aisles and happened upon Jazz on a Saturday Night. It’s not that I was looking for it, or anything for that matter, but it sang to me. And, like all jazz, it couldn’t stick to a single note. As soon as it was in my hands, I knew exactly what we’d do. We’d hit it on several notes.

Without apology, I’m a theme girl. And Jazz on a Saturday Night comes with a CD, where each of the instruments is introduced, one at a time, then jazz music plays. I decided that our after school project the following day would be “Jazz Hands.”

jazz hands 2

I taped fingerpaint paper to our outside patio walls, with the paints, brushes, and sponges at the ready. As we read the book, I invited Kind Sir and Little Miss to move their bodies the way they imagined a saxophone might, if you know, it was a little boy or girl and not a single-reed metal wind instrument. It sounded good in theory, but in practice, when I began to snake across the living room, I felt like Morales in the song “NOTHING” from A Chorus Line (you can learn everything about life from a show tune), and I didn’t want to know how an ice cream cone felt. Or an Adolphe Sax for that matter. But the taters enjoyed the exercise, so we grooved. I pointed to New Orleans, LA on a map, explaining that they’d get to taste jazz for dinner.

Next up, after we’d read the book and learned the sounds of each instrument, and once I explained that people who say, “My voice is my instrument” probably also order their cappuccino foam on the side in a paper cup, or refer to foie gras as the abbreviated “foie” as in, “Yes, Bitsy, she’ll start with the foie.”—moral is, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

We piped the jazz music outside and began to paint what we believed jazz music would look like, if it were a painting. I know they understood the concept of taking something you hear and trying to represent it in another form, but they didn’t exactly tap tap tap across the page, or make a visual representation of call and response, improvisation, or swing. They created what I’ll call “gray smear.” But, man were they proud of their paint mush (images above are NOT the mush versions but the later versions, and by later I mean what was left on the palette after they’d made their own gray matter).

After being hosed down, and as our paintings dried, I let them taste the flavors of jazz. If we’d packed the deep fryer, zeppoli would be on the menu, only I’d call them beignets. But many a thing wasn’t packed (holy hell, what was I thinking not bringing my lit makeup mirror?), so we savored a glossy gumbo and devoured étouffée, wondering what it would look like if it were a hat (a sunken chef’s hat it was decidedly so). If I had a place to teach all of this, I would. How much fun of an after school enrichment class would that be? Point to a place on a map, taste the herbs, the traditional foods, hear the music, review the work of the local artists, then create your own artistic masterpiece, introduce associated inventions, flags, languages, read associated books. I love total immersion learning. It wasn’t really until I was in college where I felt “overlap,” (the kissing cousin of The Overlapping Girl he dated) where my different courses focused on similar time periods, so I knew, in a specific time, what was going on politically (when I paid attention), in the world of psychology, in literature, in music and art. And it’s when I felt most alive. I want to give this gift to my children and to continue to give it to myself.



  1. That was luscious. Truly. The closest I ever came to this sort of exercise was discussing Bach’s mathematical methodology while lying on the toy-room floor looking at our glow in the dark planets and stars on the ceiling and listening to a fugue or two.

    Or playing the soul-stirring Lachrymosa of Mozart’s Requiem when the weeping over the dead dawg wouldn’t cease – and letting the music swirl around and heal.

    Good times, these. These are the memories they’ll keep forever.

  2. With such a diverse South Florida community, you could immerse yourself into the real thing, no?

    Nearby are Caribbean island sounds and food. Cuban jazz and rumba…and Cuban food! Argentinian tango, steak and wine. Colombian merengue & cumbia…. y arroz con pollo. YUM!

  3. Loved reading this and the pictures of the library are beyond beautiful. Surrounding myself with books has always been a source of comfort to me. When they closed the Borders across from my job, I actually shed a few tears. It was my lunch hours spent lounging there while sipping sweet drinks, reading and conversing with complete strangers, that gave me the motivation to return to my boring job.

    Your cultural day with the kids is a dream. I still remember days like that from my childhood as if they just happened. Every child should have at least one parent that is interested in the arts.

  4. Jazz is good! My kids grew up in a musical household, mostly jazz but different ethnic music & blues & soul also. They all can play guitar & drums very well. You are doing an amazing job.

  5. Love this! I’m totally stealing it next rainy day!THanks for sharing!

  6. I thin you would like “The Timetables of History”

    from a review:

    Beginning in the 5000 BC and going to contemporary times, the timeline contains a year by year (or age by age, for the earliest entries) list of major occurrences in history/politics, literature/theater, visual arts, music, science and technology, and “daily life.


  7. The thing I always tell my kids about jazz – which for me is usually traditional trio jazz – is that everyone gets a turn. They play the beginning together, then everyone solos, then at the end they all play together again. My kids like that idea.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.