Mother’s Day Weekend Caribbean Spa Party

Group at spa

 

“You must really love those women,” my husband says to me, surveying the wreckage that was once our kitchen.

It is now a clutter of pots and pans, tropical fruit and vegetable peelings of every variety, pastry bags, cooling racks, a butane torch for caramelizing pineapple. The hour has grown late. He has said that to avoid a fuss by saying what he’s really thinking, which is “you’re nuts!”

Make that coconuts. Here’s a tip that may come in handy if you’re anything like me, which means that you’ll grossly underestimate the time and trouble it will take next time you “whip something up” for a party: If you need to crack open a fresh, mature coconut at two in the morning, and you don’t want to wake your husband and children, put away the hammer and screwdriver. Seal the coconut inside two gallon-size storage bags. Pad downstairs in your camisole, pajama pants, slipper socks and apron, praying the neighbors won’t be out partying late because it’s “Seís de Mayo.” Slip outside onto the soggy sidewalk and walk away from the home, at least down the block and out of earshot. The noise you’re about to make will echo into the dark night, not unlike the “crack” of a rifle report.

Now scan the street for patrol cars, because you don’t want to be questioned about your suspicious culinary activities, in the wee hours, in your wet jammies and socks, by the Five-Oh.  If you are, you might spend Mother’s Day in the county jail for Cooking While Black. Raise the coconut above your head, then slam it onto the slick sidewalk, “Hulk Smash” style. Two more hits and this will all be over, so you can go back inside and whip heavy cream–Shhhhhh! very stealthily–in the basement.

A cracked-open coconut and vegetable peeler

Mission accomplished

 

I have to be honest with you. Mother’s Day can be hard for me.

 

It’s been three years now since my sisters and I lost our mother to cancer, and I feel her absence most profoundly at this time of year. It’s the cards. And the floral displays. The array of gifts beckoning at every store. I keep seeing lovely things to buy for my mom. She taught us how to appreciate beauty and quality in housewares, clothing, horticulture. Wouldn’t she just love this? I would get this for her, but…oh, she’s gone.

But this year is going to be different. And that’s why I’ve gone coconuts. I’m going to affirm and celebrate life. Her life. My life. And the lives of all the mothers who have loved me into the woman I am today. There’s going to be a party, at a spa, with good friends who used to spend much more time with one another before we all became mothers ourselves. There will be massages and munchies. Of course, because it’s me, there will be tea. In many Caribbean families like mine, the art and science of using herbs for both hospitality and healing has been passed down by grandmothers and mothers for centuries.

I’m anticipating a sanctuary for sisterhood: No makeup. No men. No mac ‘n cheese. No “MOM! MOM! MAAAA! MAAAAA–OOOOOHHMMMMMMM!” No multi-tasking. Magic:

 

spa party invite

Here’s the invitation, sent via Paperless Post, and the matching envelope

 


These friends I’ve invited and I, we go back a while. I’ve known them longer than the Book Club Girls, The Football Moms, The Dojo Moms, The Girls From My Last Office Gig  and The Mother’s Group. But funny, even though we’re all moms now, I just call them The Sister Circle. We met, after all, when we were all young and single, working as assistants at McCall’s magazine, which isn’t even around any more. If you know who Betsy McCall is, because you cut her out of your mom’s magazine, then you know how old we are. Sandy and I were starting our careers, recently out of school. Barbara and Mary Jo were starting new careers, having worked as an actress in musical theater and as an emergency room nurse, respectively.

 

A young woman smiles from her office cubicle.

Circa 1990: Mary Jo and I sat in cubicles opposite each other at McCall’s magazine, where we both were assistant editors. For those of you too young to remember, that odd antique on her desk is called a “typewriter.”

Claire McCall's

Circa 1990: Mary Jo and I sat in cubicles opposite each other at McCall’s Magazine, where we were both assistant editors. Sandy and Barbara were down the hall. My desk is so messy because part of my job was opening bins and bins of reader letters for my advice column. Back then, hardly anybody had email yet!

 

This fancy fête will absolutely, positively, be the last posh party I throw for a while. Business is slow and I’m looking for work. My budget has given up on begging for mercy. After a series of abuses and atrocities, it has fled for its life, defecting from the hostile state known as Claire’s Finances and has applied for asylum in Canada.

Still, this party has to happen, because my heart wills it so. I have been meditating on desire and destiny, learning to be more vulnerable, authentic and heart-centered as I course-correct in mid-life. Yes, I have to be careful with money. And for most of my life, I have been. But that is only one kind of currency. Friendships are another. And if we value them, we must invest in their growth, be careful stewards of one another’s emotional bank accounts. Too often, we squander opportunities for caring for ourselves and for each other because we’re busy caregiving as mothers. 

We four have been at each other’s homes. At each other’s weddings. At each other’s hospital bedsides. We’ve shared secrets, triumphs and tragedies. We’ve shared vacations. And later in life than most, not because we put careers first, but just because life worked out that way, each of of shared her unique journey into parenthood. We all took a winding path there… via fertility treatment, adoptions, or a bonus child from marriage, and we supported each other through those twists and turns. Yet somehow, as the children came, we’ve shared less and less time together…

 

Barbara's Wedding

Circa 1999: Here we are on the balcony of New York’s historic Player’s Club at Barbara’s beautiful brunch wedding. The bride isn’t pictured because she’s getting ready to sing her big musical number. Yes, she performed at her own wedding, as did all her talented friends from her Broadway days. I have never been to a wedding like that before or since. Amazing!

Two women seated at a festive restaurant table, smiling

Circa 2001: Mary Jo and I brunching at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.

Three friends wearing white terry robes at a spa resort

Circa 1997: Mary Jo, myself and Barbara having a spa day at a tennis and golf resort in Florida. Girlfriend getaways were a frequent thing before we all became moms.

 

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2005: The ladies came to visit, bearing gifts, when my twins were born. They wanted to take us out to lunch. Sleep deprived and cranky, I nearly burst into tears at the thought of having to diaper, dress and strap into the stroller, two newborns, after hustling together all their gear, then getting a twin stroller down two flights of stairs. The girls agreed to stay in and order Chinese. Of course, we had tea.

 And that’s why it’s party time. In the words of rapper Flo-Rida, “It’s Goin’ Down For Real!”

A spa seating area with sofas, a long low table and platters of food

An island oasis in the middle of suburban New Jersey

 

Let me tell you about Flic Spa in Cranford, NJ, centrally located between the four of us. Owner Oliver Dimaya had a previous career as a dancer and actor, and he brings his love of art and stagecraft, as well as a reverence for the body temple to this space. It’s meant to be transporting, as if you’ve travelled to the islands, and it is. Because Oliver hails from the Philippines, the ambiance-as well at the treatments–reflect an Asian Pacific aesthetic. But our respective island cultures share many of the same herbal traditions, such as ginger, hibiscus and citrus–menu elements I’ve chosen for this girlfriend gathering.

 

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I tell Oliver I want to celebrate my mother’s memory and her Caribbean herbal traditions in a pampering day with my pals. He is happy to help set the stage, swapping out the usual Eastern New Age soundscape with its soothing flute, harp, sitar and tamboura melodies for the “Caribbean Spa” album by Dan Gibson, featuring lilting steel pans softly dancing over the sounds of ocean waves and tropical birdsong. When we close our eyes during massage therapy, we’ll be instantly transported to the Caribbean seaside. I do the rest, serving up spicy Jamaican meat patties, jerk turkey meatballs, the spiced hibiscus iced tea we call sorrel and other tropical treats. I’ll post about the food later. Just wanted to share the mood today.

 

The Welcome Table

red door at flic

Oliver, the co-owner of Flic Spa, handcrafted this reclaimed wood table and the ornately ornamented red door that leads into the treatment areas

A bouquet of tropical flowers including hibiscus, frangipani and orchids.

To create a Caribbean ambiance, I arranged hibiscus with ginger, two kinds of orchids, palm and banana leaves and frangipani.

 

I created a citrus centerpiece for our buffet table, and an array of exotic blooms, including hibiscus, ginger blossoms, banana leaves, palm fronds, protea, two kinds of orchid and fragrant frangipani. (I am lying to you when I tell you it’s fragrant. The flowers are silk, but I love alliteration and it sounded better that way. Fly in tropical flowers? I wish. I may be coconuts, but I ain’t crazy.)

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But let me tell you about the tea service.

Every treatment at Flic Spa comes with tea service, which makes it one of my favorites. Each of us ladies is led into a separate, spacious treatment room, sunset-tinted walls lined with bamboo and reeds. Philippine, Balinese and Hawaiian textiles form a ceiling canopy and drape the treatment tables. We are seated in a regal rattan chair, cushioned with more bright fabric, and offered tea from the traditional cast-iron Japanese teapot, the Tetsubin. (I always assumed each guest got the same tea. I was wrong. I was served green tea with jasmine. Sandy said they chose Lapsang Souchon for her service. Tea is tailored to the wellness needs of the client.) Next, the therapist brings in a large,  hammered copper bowl, filled with warm water, mineral salts, rose petals and–get this–a tiny tea light floating in a real coconut shell. Coconuts!  This foot soak serves as the portal to an island oasis of pleasure and peace. The lights are dimmed, the room lit only by the flickering candle, your signal to leave stress behind and sail off on your sensual journey.  Cue the New Age Calypso music. Hear the steel pans and the dancing waves. Pacific Zen meets Jamaican Irie vibes. It doesn’t get anymore chill than that.

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My therapist, Shaquel, has me roll over onto my back. “More lavender please,” I request sweetly. She reaches for a spray bottle, and I feel a gentle rain on my closed eyelids that smells of heaven and of earth. “Ah, that’s the stuff,” I say to her and we both giggle softly, having already bonded

 

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Back in the lounge with the ladies, we’re all smiles and secrets, sharing rum drinks, canapés and confidences. We talk of careers and family, of dreams, victories and regrets, of health challenges, and of mental health challenges, of sex, of beauty secrets, of aging. Sandy says she thinks the best part of growing older is not caring so much about what others think. I say the best part is having old friends, who remind you of who you used to be and help you figure out where you’ll go next.

 

A grandmother holding a newborn boy.

My mother, on the day I became a mother

 

Earlier in the afternoon Saturday, Mary Jo asks me, amidst effusive thanks, why I went to all this trouble–and what gave me the idea to gather us at the spa? I ramble on about some of the things I told you earlier: Desire, destiny, authenticity, heart-centeredness, vulnerabilty, course correction at midlife, yadda, yadda, yadda. But if she asked me right now, today, on Mother’s Day, I’d say it’s because I am learning to mother myself. It’s because I was mothered well. I was nurtured, fed, touched, washed, serenaded, listened to, healed, held, loved. Because I realize that, as close female friends, we mother each other. And that, my teahearts, is something to celebrate.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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I told my dear sons, “All Mommy wants for Mother’s Day is a hug, a kiss, a card and some peace and quiet so I can work on my blog.” They delivered in spades.