Becoming One with Erma

Posted: April 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Moods, Other Mothers, Travel, Writing | 7 Comments »

Every once in a while a friend will introduce me saying, “This is Kristen—the funny one I was telling you about.” The new person then turns to me wide-eyed, as if they’re expecting a monkey to jump on my shoulder playing maracas, and for me to launch into celebrity imitations and a slew of hilarious one-liners.

Oh, there’s always a two-drink minimum when I’m around!

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but that introduction—which I realize is meant to be a compliment—tends to leave me dumb and drooling.

I wish I could hear the conversations those people have as they walk away from me. “Is she feeling alight?” “So, wait, THAT was the Kristen you were telling me about?” “Do you think she’s maybe having a petit mal?”

Speaking of mal, I’m awake at a blisteringly painful hour, awaiting lift-off for a flight that will take me to the bright lights and glamor of Ohio. Yes, I’m goin’ “back to Ohio,” land of my alma mater, for a weekend writing workshop. It’s as if all those times I drunkenly sang that Pretenders song at Kenyon frat parties were somehow truly prophetic.

I wonder if that means there’s a Funky Cold Medina in my future too.

Anyway, I managed to get off the waiting list for this humor writing workshop that happens every other year, and sells out nearly instantly. A friend—the sassy and hi-larious Nancy of Midlife Mixtape (read her blog IMMEDIATELY if you never have) told me about it. When I asked to be put on the waiting list months after registration closed, the conference coordinator sent me the kindliest Midwestern email, essentially saying I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in, but he’d be happy to add me to the list.

But then a couple weeks ago a woman emails me outta the blue and says she can’t make it and would I like to take her spot. And thanks to The Husband’s preponderance of frequent flyer miles, here I sit watching the worst-ever American Airlines safety video. It is truly truly atrocious and I’m not sure why it’s pissing me off as much as it is.

At any rate, the conference is called The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Yeah, yeah, she’s the bowl full of cherries greener over the septic tank writer your mother loved so much. Several people have asked me if she’s still alive, and sadly she’s not, but I’m nearly certain we’ll have a seance to make contact with her at some point in the weekend. I mean, what else would you expect of a Marriott full of 350 kidless-for-the-weekend women? Think of it as an immense slumber party of hundreds of thirty- and forty-something women. We’ll all be globbing on eye cream and padding around in our slippers in the hallways raiding each others’ mini bars.

I know, I know. You want to come now too, don’t you?

Of course, when I first got the email about getting in I ran through my Mental Check List of Unworthiness. Aside from it being last-minute and utterly unplanned for, I wondered whether I really belonged in the company of those funny, successful women writers.

I also wondered:

Will the other kids like me?

Will I make any friends?

Should I spend the money to do this so soon after sending that large monetary gift to Uncle Sam?

Will I suffer some of the same dorkish alone-in-a-crowd feeling I sometimes had in the swarming throng at BlogHer?

What does one WEAR in Dayton in the springtime?

Not to mention all the practical issues, like childcare while I’m gone and the fact that the hotel hosting the event was sold out. Staying a mile down the road was sure to solidify my deeply internalized outsider status.

But then the woman whose spot I took said she knew of someone who didn’t need their hotel room. A pants-pissingly funny blogger who I heard read once, and had the entire room in eye-wiping hysterics. I sheepishly emailed her and within minutes she very graciously (and helpfully) outlined what I should do to transfer her room to my name, insisting I wasn’t at all the “stranger” I’d labeled myself as when I contacted her.


Call me a late bloomer, but I’m getting a hit of that down-homey comfort of an online community.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for me in this group of gals yet.

So then, here I am. Horrifically early. (Did it mention that?) Ohio-bound. Awash in first-day jitters—though that may just be my body’s reaction to the 3:45 wake-up call.

If this workshop were a yoga class I’d have to set an intention for, it would be to try to learn as much as I can. And to put myself out there and meet lotsa people. And to not worry about being funny, because I’m clearly so very out-ranked there that I’m just thrilled to tag along. (When I make my Oscar speech some day I’ll really mean it when I say I’m honored to be in the company of the other candidates. I won’t mean it when I thank my agent. And I will mean it when I say that Mr. Harris was my favorite teacher in high school. Okay so he was really from Lower School, but do people ever thank elementary school teachers? Is that even done? I think that the high school white lie is the way to go.)

So wish me luck! And send some good vibes to The Husband who is gallantly wrangling the kids solo all weekend to make this happen. I told him that the kitchen is the room with the refrigerator in it, so he should be fine.

Actually, the man hardly needs domestic guidance (thank GOD), but that line just felt so Erma.

I’m already letting the channeling begin.

Light as a feather… Stiff as a board…


Guest Blogger: Miss Paige

Posted: December 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool | 3 Comments »

Once again I’ve let the indulgent act of living my life get in the way of recording it here. Apologies.

Yesterday as I grabbed Paige’s jacket at her preschool, I saw a row of poems the teachers had affixed above each child’s coat hook. And as I read Paige’s—my heart ablaze with pride and love—I had a maternal aha moment. A thought that rarely crosses my mind: I don’t have to do it all myself. Or more precisely, why do it all myself when I can enlist my child to do it for me?

I really think that child labor is under-utilized. It’s free! It’s there for the taking! And they don’t understand a thing about labor laws or minmum wage.

So then, to make up for my recent inability to cram blogging into my crazy-hectic days, I’ve enlisted the writerly stylings of my darling three year old, Paige. (She’s actually guest-blogged for me before.) Paige turns four next month, so I guess she’s really my three and eleven-twelfths year old. Whatever the case, at least I’m still not measuring her age in months. Am I the only one who hates hearing that someone’s child is 37 months old?

Whatever the case, you’re about to learn that Paige feels much older than her years anyway.

Here’s her above-her-coat-hook poem:

I am a flower.
I wonder if I can be a ballerina when I grow up.
I hear a snake hissing.
I see a baby tiger.
I want a treat from my Halloween candy.
I pretend I’m a baby tiger.
I feel like I’m a teenager.
I dream I’m purple.
I try to get my sister what she wants to do.
I am thankful for my big sister.
I am loving my big sister.
I am Paige.

If I get my act together in time for Christmas, I want to make a “sister” photo book for the girls with pictures of the two of them together. This poem screams out for inclusion in that book, don’t you think? Especially the part where submissive Little Sis Paigey tries “to get” her Big Sis “what she wants to do.”

I hope some day they’ll laugh about that, and not be processing it in a psychiatrist’s office.


Confessions of a Salad Bar Loser

Posted: August 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Misc Neuroses, Scary Stuff, Travel | 6 Comments »

I loved when George Jetson commuted to work.

He’d be in that sporty little spacecraft-car of his, and he’d fly up to an endless stream of other space mobiles. It was like the worst space rush hour traffic ever. Enough to make you head back home, crawl into bed, and call in sick. But not George. George was undaunted. He’d just point the nose of his space-car at the snarling mass of traffic, merge right in, then zoom off with the crowd.

Now, I’ve never been a joiner. Or at least that’s what I sometimes tell myself. Because if you were to ask Mark, I’m sure he’d come up with tons of things my turbo-extroverted ass has joined. I guess I’ve just maintained the attitude that if there was some group out there that I wasn’t already part of, there was a probably a good reason why. So I should just steer clear.

Which is why I was so freaked out at my first prenatal yoga class. This was six years ago, mind you. But I distinctly remember walking into a large wood-floored room packed with preg-o women on yoga mats. And, despite the fact that I was pregnant too, something about them all being there together, all so… so knocked up, made me feel like an outsider. Like they were somehow pregnancy professionals, and I was an imposter.

And so, it was with that same not-a-joiner trepidation that I went to BlogHer ’11 in San Diego. A gathering of some 3,600 bloggers. Or, rather, 3,599 bloggers who all had some legitimate reason to be there, and me.

I mean, I AM a blogger. As this very thing you are reading unequivocally proves. And I was even attending this blog-fest for work. Making me somehow doubly-qualified to be there.

But let’s just say the concept of 3,600 women can be intimidating. I joked before I went that I was “girding my loins for estrogen-palooza.” I whimpered to friends that I didn’t know a soul there, and feared I’d be a lonely dork. I had nightmares about 3,600 women lunging towards me, waving business cards and crying out, “I’m Francie from Francie’s Cute Kitten Pictures dot com!” Or, “Hey, I’m Linda from I home school my 11 kids, raise chickens and llamas, and drive two mini vans at once!”

I had the fear.

And this is from the world’s most outgoing human. I mean, I talk to EV-ER-Y-ONE. I don’t scare easy. Except, I guess, when it comes to this group thing.

But then the night before I left, my friend Heather from Rookie Moms emailed that she was going too. “Bring business cards, comfy shoes and a smile,” she advised. “Most people are friendly.”

So Saturday morning I made my way into the San Diego Convention Center knowing that if a meteor fell from the sky and landed on me, pinning me to the ground, at least one of the 3,600 women there would be able to identify my remains.

Which was comforting.

In college, my Mean Girl friends and I made up the term Salad Bar Loser. Because at my teensy, pastoral liberal arts school, after you went through the cafeteria you were spat out into the dining hall, where it wasn’t always easy to find your friends. Blessedly though, the salad bar was in the middle of all the tables. So you’d often see people making salads they had no intention of eating. Blindly piling Bac-O Bits onto their plates as they searched for their posse. And we would watch, and mock them.

In rural Ohio, this is what passes for a good time.

Well, I’d love to say that karma’s a bitch. But the fact is, in a group of 3,600 no one really notices when you’re a Salad Bar Loser. So on that first morning at BlogHer, I picked my way through the breakfast buffet, scoped out the scene, and meekly walked up to a table with a few empty chairs. “This taken?” I asked.

Seconds after my butt hit the seat business cards started flying. And even though it was a taste of my worst fears, it wasn’t so bad. I took cards. I gave cards. I smiled and shook hands. I acted like it was what I do over oatmeal every morning.

Going to the conference sessions was the easy part. Anyone can sit in a chair and listen to a panel of speakers. It’s those meals, free times, “networking” events that are more tricky for us un-joiners. Though unstably at first, I eventually navigated those waters too.

I met running bloggers, food bloggers, gardening bloggers, pet bloggers. I met women with brilliant blog names like Nap Warden, The Recessionista, and Midlife Mixtape. I sat in a dark room and was dazzled by Penny de los Santos‘ photography.

I ate cupcakes with a sweet Kentuckian who blogs about adoption, and her son from the Congo. I heard an anonymous, wig-wearing blogger describe her experience eating school lunch for a year. (I wouldn’t recommend this.) And I waited in line for fake eyelashes with a gal who felt successful Latina role models were lacking, so—after having a baby at age 15, then going on to Stanford Law School—she started a video blog where she interviews powerful Latinas. (Her lashes turned out much better then mine by the way. I looked ever so slightly hooker-ish.)

And later, from the mass of strange faces, Katrina from Working Moms Break (the friend of a friend) emerged and became my BlogHer BFF. Yay!

Man, my feet hurt, but the rest of me was in the groove. I vowed to tear through my pantry at home, ridding my family of all processed foods. I got fired up to take better pictures, rename my blog, and stop mocking people who home school. I decided I should write less and read other blogs more. (Or do both, but sleep less.) I thumped women on the back who’d stood in front of huge crowds and read candid, deeply-personal posts on everything from the death of a baby to overdosing on drugs to red underwear. A few times I even told people about my own humble wee blog.

I went from a fearful, “Oh, them” attitude to a beaming, proud, “Yay, us!” state of mind.

I nudged the nose of my spacecraft into that mass of 3,600 women. And you know what? Nearly everyone I met hit their the breaks and waved me in (despite my having all the makings of a Salad Bar Loser). And for that, I thank you ladies kindly.

Thank you BlogHer for making a non-joiner part of the estrogen-palooza pack. I’ll be back next year. But just to be on the safe side, I’m taking my friend Jill along too.


Travel Don’ts

Posted: July 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Money, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sleep, Travel | 13 Comments »

Here’s how NOT to fly cross-country with your two young children. Consider this a parental Public Service Announcement.

1. Take a flight scheduled at the end of the day, at the end of a weekend of 100-degree temps in New York City.

2. Before the flight, go to an expensive restaurant for brunch. Buy your children blueberry pancakes, which they refuse to eat (a first), though they nearly fight to the death over the side of bacon (giving you a perverse sense of pride). Watch as they have concurrent meltdowns over a small sticker, in front of your friends from London whom you see once every five years, and whose children are not only perfectly mannered, but also have British accents (which makes them seem MORE polite).

3. At the end of said over-priced, un-eaten meal, discover that the restaurant is cash only. Watch your two devils and your friends’ two angels as she runs to an ATM machine. Set down the insufficient cash you have and promise your friends you’ll “get them next time” (i.e. in five years).

4. Take taxi back to other friend’s apartment and discover it’s the one cabbie in New York City who doesn’t take credit cards. Drive with him to ATM where you’re so jangled you withdraw only the cash you need to pay him. Thrust the money his way, and drag your whining children—who are exhausted and grumpy, as well as ravenous—inside.

5. Realize that the worst possible thing you could do right now would be to take a 6-hour plane ride. Check!

6. Frantically finish packing and call car service. Ask kids to try to pee. Have urination standoff. Give up. Drag luggage halfway down hall to elevator and have three-year-old announce, “I have to tinkle. Really bad!” Head back to friend’s apartment, at which point (you later learn) the car you’ve called gives up on you and leaves.

7. Schlep:

  • 1 immense roller bag (containing 3-weeks worth of clothing, toiletries, and 2 bottles of marina sauce made by your hometown priest)
  • 1 carry-on small duffle bag
  • 2 car seats
  • 1 double stroller
  • 1 laptop bag housing a computer and DVD player
  • 2 empty-bladdered children

Call for another car to come while schvitzing on 100-degree sidewalk (See: earlier-referenced NYC heat wave). Realize you have to pee. Ah, irony.

8. Watch your three-year-old doze off on the short ride to the airport, and realize your chances of getting her to sleep on the flight have been officially shot to shit.

9.  Arrive at airport 45 minutes later then planned. Hand driver credit card, which he swipes several times without luck. Watch as he takes his card-swiper-thingy outside, holding it up to the sky like a carrier pigeon he’s about to set free, in an attempt “to try to get a better signal.” Time ticks on. Your three-year-old wakes up from her car seat and bellows wild-eyed, “I need Baba [her stuffed animal lamb who's is wedged God-knows-where in some bag piled on the curb]!!!” Driver gives up on getting a signal for his credit card machine and/or making contact with alien life forms. Tick tock, 40 minutes until flight departure. Driver asks you to call into his office with your credit card. You call twice and get busy signal. You age five years—maybe even nine—and nearly bust an artery in your neck.

10. Struggle into airport and realize you were dropped off near Virgin Atlantic terminal when you need Virgin America. Ask someone if they are next to each other… of course they aren’t. Haul aforementioned bags, car seats, strollers and children with weakened, rapidly-aging body.

11. Check in. Oddly, without incident.

12. Wait in security line. Ten minutes later realize it’s just a line impersonating the security line and set out to find actual security line.

13. Ascertain that Security is downstairs. (You still have your big-ass stroller, though other bags were checked.) One elevator broken. Wait as working elevator is crammed like a clown car with a sizeable Indian family. Door will not close since Grandma’s wheelchair repeatedly blocks elevator’s invisible eye. Tick tock. Check cell phone: 4:00PM. Reference boarding passes to see that it’s boarding time. Stop to reflect on all the fun you’re having. Have thoughts interrupted by three-year-old’s ear-piercing scream, “I. WANT. BABAAAAA!!!!”

14. At front of security line TSA agent asks you, “Why do you have only two boarding passes here?” Have full-bore flop sweat and begin to whimper and paw through purse when he looks down and says with a chuckle, “Oh, HERE it is…” then winks at you. Determine you hate all men. Except your husband who you can’t wait to thrust the children at when (if?) you eventually arrive in San Francisco.

15. Experience public act of deeply-mortifying mothering when, in the security line with 10 minutes ’til take-off, your five-year-old refuses to enter scanning machine. Scream head off, drag her in. She wriggles free and flees like a feral cat. Compassionate TSA agent ushers kids through. Maybe all men not so bad after all.

16. Sprint like madwoman to Gate B25 with children stacked on top of each other on one seat of stroller and laptop loosely jostling in the other. Arrive to hear “final boarding call” announcement and, panting, hand boarding passes to ticket-taker lady. Three-year-old proffers high-decibel request for stuffed lamby, with glaring omission of word “please,” and without British accent.

17. Ticketing agent writes you up stroller tag and says, “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’ll have to take that carry-on. Our overhead bins are totally full.” At which point you burst into tears. You blubber like a baby howling, “No! You CANNOT take this bag!” (Which contains books, crayons, coloring books, snacks, wipes, and extra clothes. Oh, and Baba. At that point a wild boar could not force you to hand over Baba.) Ticketing Agent Woman fears you and your tears—especially after they trigger both your children to start sobbing in an if-mom’s-losing-it-we-probably-should-be-too moment of solidarity. She sends a male underling down the ramp with you, where you learn there’s plenty o’ room in the overhead bins. (Clearly that other chick just had it out for you. You decide you hate all women.) The carry-on bag with Mommy’s Flight Survival Contents gloriously remains with you, and you settle into your seats.

18. All is well with the world.

19. Flight delayed 30 minutes due to storm/air traffic control/your shitty luck.

20. Flight delayed an additional 25 minutes. God making sure you know He’s still watching. Clearly somewhere, somehow you’ve been a very very bad person.

21. Lift-off. Joy!

22. Discover the plane has wifi. Battery dying on laptop, but looky here—there’s a power socket! Children ensconced in small back-of-headrest TV screens. Losing brain cells rapidly, but also not bugging you.

23. You start documenting your day. You chuckle to yourself as you type. See? You haven’t lost your sense of humor! In fact, you feel a bit smug. Victorious even. Why, you’ve survived evil airport employees, demanding ill-tempered children, and non-functional credit card machines. You made your way through that security line, girlfriend—even if it did mean getting publicly clawed at by your child. You even resolved to always carry more cash. Oh, see how far you’ve come!

23. From your peripheral vision you notice your three-year-old makes an odd wiggling motion with her upper body. Then suddenly a warm pinkish liquid gushes forth from her mouth covering your arm, her lap, her legs, and nearly filling the cavernous void between her seat and yours. Why, of course.

24. And now your day has gone perfectly wrong. Giving you statistical hope that something this miserable is likely to never happen to you again.

25. Mop everything up with the help of an amazingly-kind flight attendant. Decide to un-hate women. And marvel at the fact that Baba has remained virtually un-touched by puke. What excellent luck.


Check Me Out

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Other Mothers | 1 Comment »

So, not be all self-horn-blowy or anything, but I thought I’d mention I was recently featured in a Ladies’ Home Journal article about mom bloggers.

And since I may never have a crack at an Oscar speech, I’d just like to unfold a little square of paper, smooth down my Bob Mackie gown and say: “I’m truly honored to be part of a group of such rad, talented, and fabulous women. Who all look ten years younger than they are. And who, I’m sure, never yell at their children. Y’all rock.”

Anyway, check it out if you’re looking for some good new reads. There’s a Finnish Mama who props up her napping baby in hilarious little scenes and photographs them, a foodie whose blog is excellently called My Kids Eat Squid, a design diva who hasn’t let reproduction cramp her style, and an astrophysicist who, amongst other things, writes about her ongoing duel with inflammatory breast cancer (a brutal kind I’d never heard of that forms without a lump).

Oh and of course Dooce is in there too. Right after me. (Heh.)

And if you’re too loyal to even consider reading another blog, you can go straight to my part. I’m #6 of 12.

Makes me feel like a calendar girl.

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You’re On the Air

Posted: March 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Doctors, Extended Family, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Moods, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 1 Comment »

I cried on the radio the other day.

No, I didn’t drape myself over a boom box to weep. I actually called into a radio show and cried. Live on the air.

And to be clear, I’m not someone who calls into radio shows. In my teen years I never once tried to win concert tickets. Like watching American Idol, eating mushrooms, or waking up early to work out, calling into radio shows is something other people do. Not me.

But I’ve recently come to know a talk show host—or should I say hostess? Her radio show, Childhood Matters, is about parenting. Or more precisely, things of interest to people who have an interest in kids.

The topic was milestone delays. And though I started listening with no intention of calling in, I got to thinking about my own dear Paigey. Her learning to walk at 21 months certainly qualified as a milestone delay.

There were folks talking about autism and other kindsa things that trigger most parents to stick their fingers in their ears and say, “LA LA LA LA” really loudly so they can’t hear any more. As if you (or your kid) could catch something just by turning your mind to it.

And frankly as I puttered around listening to the show, I was mentally separating myself from those folks too. Kate and Paige were busying themselves at their toy kitchen, preparing an array of wooden foods to faux-feed their dolls and each other. They were playing so nicely. Such a normal healthy little scene. I got a sudden strong surge to share a milestone-delay success story.

So I called in, and talked to the producer, who said to hold on a minute, and before you know it I was on the air, and next thing after that without having seen it coming, my voice started cracking as I told the story about that one day a year ago when our pediatrician quietly kindly urged me to have Paige “assessed.” I’d told this story dozens of times to friends and family, but it wasn’t until that moment that I somehow felt just how damn scared I’d been back then.

Of course, producers love criers. (I know, I used to be one. A producer, that is. Before I was a crier. I guess I have experience in both realms now.) Anyway, I eventually managed to get my un-sad voice back. And at that point, of course, I felt like I was just getting warmed up. On Paige’s second birthday, I told the listeners, she was zooming around the house squealing and playing alongside all the other two-year-olds. And despite the long haul it’d taken for her to get there, it was clear that she had finally, blessedly caught up. Nothing different between those kids and my girl.

I know I haven’t written about my adventures at the Olympics. Sometimes big, super-fun, once-in-a-lifetime things happen, and instead of writing about those, I find myself focused on the minutiae of every day life.

Besides, that adventure came to a sad end with the unexpected death of Mark’s amazing grandfather. The man was a brilliant businessman in his day, a larger-than-life family man, a reciter of poetry, and apparently a hell of a golfer. Kate’s middle name—Miller—hails from none other than Grandpa John and his wife, Lois. It’s a tribute I’m so very happy we made.

It’s weird how grief works. After my mother died I went to a Day of the Dead parade, expecting a torrent of tears. But nothing. And just a month after her death, I went through Mother’s Day strangely—nearly embarrassingly—devoid of deep sorrow.

But then one day, out to lunch at a cafe, a friend ordered an iced tea, and I excused myself to the bathroom where I sobbed and sobbed. In Target a woman told her child they were going home to meet Grandma, and I sat in the parking lot bawling, unable to drive. When I least expect it the tears still come.

Who knows if it’ll be that way for the people mourning Grandpa John. Surely I’m not the only one to wail in the Target lot. If the folks in Mark’s family are suddenly overcome by the random ordering of a beverage, I hope they feel a bit better on the other side of the tears. I’m no Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, but I do appreciate the cleansing effects of a good cry.

As for my emotional outburst on the radio? Well, when I call in some day to win Jonas Brothers tickets—something I assume I’m bound to do now that I’ve broken the seal on calling radio shows—the next time I’m on the air I’ll strive to exercise a bit more composure.

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I Love You, I Love You Not…

Posted: December 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, California, City Livin', Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 2 Comments »

There’s been a cold snap here. Gray skies, biting winds. The children of the Bay Area have insufficiently-warm outerwear, and their parents are all thin-blooded wimps. During the day when we might normally be at the park, or on the front porch, or cruising around the neighborhood on bikes, or strollers, or the red wagon, we’ve been stuck inside, hiding from the cold.

I’ve loved it.

The girls and I have spent such sweet happy afternoons snugged up indoors. We’ve cooked elaborate feasts with wooden toy food, conducted tea parties with real cinnamon-laden victuals, and read countless books about Christmas. It’s been so freeing knowing that getting out of the house just isn’t an option. Usually once Paige wakes from her nap I’m on a madwoman’s mission to get everyone’s shoes on and diapers changed and bike helmets secured. Channeling my mother I bellow the rallying cry, “It’s a beautiful sunny day! Let’s get out of this house!” I’m a self-professed fresh air fetishist.

But lately we’ve been padding around in slippers. Assembling puzzles. Doing projects with Popsicle sticks. Digging to the back of the closet and finding long-neglected toys that the girls delight in reacquainting themselves with. And a couple times this sugar-stingy Mama has even thrown caution to the wind and whipped up a pot of hot chocolate.

All that plus streaming Pandora Christmas carols. Now this is living!

During one of these happy floor-dwelling moments, when Dr. Kate and I were injecting Paige with some pretend inoculation or other, I thought about our warm weather life. I dug up the following post, which I’d written last year (for pay!) for a wine company blog. The blog—which several woman across the country were hired to contribute to—sadly never emerged beyond the marketing firm’s conference rooms.

Aside from the contrast it shows to our current indoor existences at Camp McClusky, the post brought to life how mercurial my love for this city is. One minute I can’t imagine living anywhere else, and the next I’m calling Mark at his office to announce we are packing up and moving to a small town. Somewhere. Anywhere. Just not HERE.

I’m like a dramatic child lying in the grass plucking daisy petals. “I love you. I love you not….” The only difference being I’m not talking about a youthful crush, something it’s okay to be fickle about. In this case it’s where my husband, daughters and I live. My “I love you not” episodes have the ability to rock other people’s worlds much more intensely.

But today? This morning I’m still reveling in a lovely neighborhood party from last night. This afternoon the Mama Posse is taking our older kids to San Fran to see The Velveteen Rabbit, and there are cookies to bake before then.  I’m filled to the gills with the holiday spirit.

I’ve got love for all people, all places. Even Oakland.

So, despite the fact that our front porch has just been functioning as a pass-through these days, this old never-posted post still captures my current emotional reading on our little corner of the world.

The View from the Front Porch

This is the story about a woman in a strange city, with a new baby, and how a bottle of wine saved her. Or as it were, saved me.

But before we get to the wine, let me back up a bit.

At the time I was managing a complex jumble of major life changes. Like some guy in a lumberjack contest running to keep his balance on a log so he won’t fall in the water.

I was so busy wrangling with it all that I didn’t fully realize how much of it there was, until a few different friends commented on my excess of Major Life Stressors. Most people, they all said, could only handle two of those doozies at once. But there I was exceeding that quota. As if I had any choice.

And while I’m at it, what up with that whole “two big life stressors” urban-legend-like theory? It seems like one of those Ann Landers quizzes that circulated in high school. (You know, the one where your final score revealed if you were a slut or not?) In this case I picture it as being an actual list of Life’s Hugest Stress Triggers with checkboxes next to them. And the smart mortals only check two at a time.

Aaaaanyway, where was I? Exceeding my stress quota. Okay, so what I had going on was having just moved to a new city—just over the bridge from where I’d lived for 12 years, but still. Devoid of local friends and the ever-presence of my lived-just-five-blocks-away sister. It felt like worlds away. I feared I’d be offering monetary incentives to get our city friends to ever visit.

Other stressors: I’d taken an indefinite hiatus from my maniacal love-hate time-sucking career. I was mourning my mother’s recent death. And I just had my first baby.

Oh, and did I mention I’m not really one for change?

I handled it all swimmingly. Which is to say I nearly refused to conduct commerce in Oakland, driving to San Francisco with my dry cleaning and sometimes even to grocery shop. I seethed every time my sister asked about traffic before deciding to come by. And I rejected the social value of neighbors as friends since, well, they lived in Oakland. They were Oakland people and I, well, I was from San Francisco. And likely just passing through.

But thank God for sidewalks. Where our new neighbors imposed their friendliness upon us despite my cynicism and Urban Girl guard being up. A friendly wave from the lady across the street when I grabbed the morning paper drove me back in the house ranting, “What’s up with her? Does she stand there all day waiting to pounce on people with her chirpy hellos?”

I was resistant. But even I can be worn down.

Because when you are tired, and smattered in spit-up, and have already called your husband’s office seven times by noon desperate for adult conversation, even the freaky old neighbor ladies and their little yapping rat dogs start seeming kinda nice.

Oddly, the women my age—especially the mothers—I held further at bay. With their older children, I considered them to be professionals at the mom thing, where I felt like a newbie, a maternal imposter.

It wasn’t until one evening when a random sidewalk chat stretched out, and seemed silly to continue just standing there, that I invited one of those moms to take a seat on my front porch. And like some bad movie montage, where the calendar pages flip to show time passage, eventually we’d see each other, sit longer, chat more, pass off outgrown kid clothes, and watch as the hip-held babies interacted. It wasn’t until one evening—both bushed from grueling kid-tending and diving deeper into some conversation or other, that I offered up a glass of wine.

“Well,” she said, performing an etiquette dance that’d do her mother proud, “I don’t want to put you to any trouble… Do you have anything that’s open?”

“Yes!” I yelped, over-eagerly, thrilled by the prospect of an impromptu happy hour, a new friend to talk to while the babies lolled contentedly on a blanket by our feet. “I have something we opened last night,” I said, trying to tone down the mania in my voice. “No problem at all.”

At which point I went into the house, grabbed a bottle of chard from the fridge, opened it, dumped a bit in the sink, grabbed two glasses, and waltzed back out to the porch.

Sometimes you don’t know which cork it is that you should hold onto—which bottle of wine will mark something worthy of a saved-cork tribute. In retrospect I wish I had that one now.

It’s three years and another baby later. I can’t count the number of front porch hangouts I’ve hosted on the fly—or with much-anticipated planning—since that first one.

Nor can I count the number of times that after calling Mark to lament that maybe this wasn’t working (this me staying home with the kids thing), maybe I needed to go back to work, get the girls a nanny—that he’d come home a few hours later, to find me commandeering the front lawn sprinkler for a gaggle of sopping screaming kids. And Jennifer, and maybe Bob from down the block who works from home, or really any number of other stopped-by-on-their-way-past neighbors would be on the lawn or perched by the porch table, which was loaded with a hodge-podge of kid and adult-friendly snacks, sippy cups, and a bottle of unapologetically opened-just-for-the-occasion wine.

And here Mark walks into the scene, expecting to find me pouting inside, resentfully changing a diaper or playing my fourth game of Chutes and Ladders, but instead I’m half-soaked and laughing, on a totally different plane from the frustration and self-pity of just hours before. But, sweetheart that he is, he never calls me on it. He just greets the gang, goes in the house, drops his lap top bag and grabs a wine glass for himself.

Thank you thank you Universe for getting me past that hard lonely sad first chunk of time here. Thank you neighbors for not giving up on me. Thank you dear daughters for coming along on the ride where I figured out that being a mother doesn’t mean leaving all of person I used to be behind—that I can be responsible and grown-up and still have some fun.

To my beautiful family, my great city, and my groovy little street of friends—I raise my glass to you.

I think I finally feel like I’m from Oakland.


The Walking and the Dead

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, California, City Livin', Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Milestones, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Walking | 8 Comments »

It was killing me that I forgot my camera. At first at least.

I was in San Francisco at night, kid- and husband-less, roaming around the Day of the Dead celebration with my sister and her friends. And man, was there amazing eye candy. Incredible fodder for photos.

Tons of folks had their faces painted white, with black-hallowed-out looking eyes and other skeleton-like features. That might not sound so terribly spooky, especially on the heels of Halloween two nights before, but trust me, milling around the Mission at night with hundreds, maybe thousands of people who look like that and are carrying orange marigolds and lit candles and photos of their loves ones who have died—it creates a certain ambiance.

There were lots of full-bore costumes too. Men in elaborate Victorian high-necked dresses, long full skirts, wigs with curls piled high. I mean, men in San Francisco use a bi-annual teeth-cleaning as an excuse to wear a dress. Troupes of roving drummers and dancers festooned in jingly gold wrist and ankle bracelets swept past. One woman in white face was carried on a platform Cleopatra-like by four attendants. Even dogs, toddlers, and babes in arms had face paint or photos pinned to them.

Ostensibly there was a parade, but the streets and sidewalks were so flooded with people, everyone walking or dancing and moving forward en masse, it was impossible to tell parade participants from on-lookers.

In the midst of it all I thought, “Why would I ever want to live anywhere but the Bay Area?” And, “I’m definitely coming back here next year—every year.” Also, “I wonder when Kate and Paige will be old enough to see this without freaking out?” And, “Why oh why did I forget my effing camera?”

At one point my sister’s housemate, who I’d bemoaned my cameralessness to, handed me hers. “Snap away!” she trilled. But the thing felt heavy and awkward in my hands. I tried to focus on someone, but they swept by before I could ever orient myself.

I handed it back to her. “Ah thanks,” I said. “But I’m actually fine.” After all my lamenting I realized I didn’t want to be taking pictures at all. I just wanted to be drinking it all in directly.

It’s been over a week now—ten days to be precise—since we experienced a momentous, long-awaited event here Chez McClusky. Paigey has finally, blessedly, started walking.

It happened on a Friday at a divey Mexican restaurant. The girls and I met some of my Mama’s Posse friends for a last-minute lunch. Our kids were crawling everywhere, spreading rice and beans on the carpet like confetti, and watching Yo Gabba Gabba on Sacha’s iPhone as a last-ditch effort to maintain decorum before we all fled home for nap-time. Mary had dashed out suddenly a few minutes before, when she’d realized her parking meter had expired.

And from that utter mayhem—or maybe in an attempt to free herself from it—Paige quietly stood up, set a course forward, and jerkily placed one foot in front of the other toward the restaurant’s front door. Sacha and I watched stunned, and I commented to the booth of lunching lesbians next to us just how long I’d been waiting for this day.

“Oh I know about late walkers,” one gal at the the booth’s edge said. “I have twins. One walked at 12 months, and the other waited ’til 16.”

“Really?” I said. “Well Paige here, she’s twenty-one months old.”

At a slight incline in the floor, Paige wavered, fell backwards, then pushed herself up and resumed her herky-jerky strut. I was standing frozen in joy and disbelief when the dykes next to me all started clapping and hooting. Paige looked back at them grinning, fell on her butt again, then got up and headed for threshold and the open door.

I was so touched by the enthusiasm of those strangers, I realized later I should’ve done something impulsive and celebratory like picked up their bill. But in the moment I only managed to snap out of my rooted watching mode with enough time to grab Paige before she hit the sidewalk solo.

It’s weird waiting for something for so long and then having it suddenly there. I thought I’d want to shout from the rooftops that my girl was walking. In fact, I came home that day and attempted to write a splashy celebratory blog post. But my heart wasn’t in it. Not that I wasn’t happy, mind you. But it turned out to be a quieter sort of contentment, not a giddy yelling-out-the-sunroof kinda glee.

I feel that weird but distinct brand of Mama guilt that it’s taken so long for me to share the news. But I’ve been spending the time well at least—slowly following Paige as she waddles down the sidewalk, or taking half-steps alongside her as she proudly walks though Kate’s schoolyard to pick her up.

I’m always on the go, always happily hurrying from one place to the next, but I can’t imagine a better reason for slowing down these past several days than to walk through the world at Paige’s wonderful new pace.


Please Pardon Any Inconvenience While We Remodel

Posted: February 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Husbandry | 1 Comment »

Some of my esteemed readers in Florida have gotten word to me that the former (and short-lived) new look of This Here Blog appeared to not be working on PCs. Or at least their PCs.

A technical glitch for which I am truly sorry.

If it weren’t for the fact that my volunteer IT Support Team does double duty as my adorable husband, I might imply that heads would roll as a result of the mishap. But really, it was an honest oversight. So instead I’ll just promise that we’ll (okay, he’ll) endeavor to get that old new look bug-free as soon as he wraps up his real-world paying gig for the day.

Oh, and now that I’m back home in good old Oak-Town USA, I reckon I’ll get back to posting regularly again.


1 Comment »

Help me make the country a whole lot greener

Posted: December 14th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses | 2 Comments »

Several years ago Mark prohibited me from ever using Evite again.

Back then we were in our stupidly fabulous Noe Valley flat (which we took no credit for the chic-ness of, it was all the gay owners), and we were throwing a party for some reason or other. And bucking old school tradition and everything I was ever raised to know, we used an online invitation.

It was a new age, and I was trying to embrace this whole internet craze.

My painstaking efforts to ensure the invitation was as witty and clever as possible and that I’d selected the cutest of all the design templates, turned instantly into an obsession over checking the status of responses once I hit Send and the invitation went out.

The thing is, it’s amazing how much time you can spend sitting in front of your computer hitting Refresh to see who all has responded. Or, as I was looking at it, seeing who your real friends were. These Evite things even tell you the date people first look at the invitation–all great information for building your case against your perspective guests.

“This is insane!” I’d call to Mark where he was lying under the car changing the oil. “Kevin saw the invitation four days ago and still hasn’t RSVPed. What’s he doing? Waiting for a better offer?!”

And through the shower curtain I reported, “The Vaheys are a “yes with bells on,” the Surhs regret that they’ll be in Tahoe, and Ellen, Heather, and Tim and Kara still haven’t even seen it. Do you think I should call them to make sure they got it?”

Mark, pulling back the curtain to reveal a shampoo-foam covered head says, “Kristen, you have Got. To. Stop.”

Well, here I am today, a recovering Evite sender thanks to quitting cold turkey at Mark’s ultimatum-like urging, and he–my very own “sponsor” as it were–has unwittingly provided me with yet another outlet for obsessive monitoring. What’s that you ask?

Google Analytics.

This brilliant web-based tool–available to me at all hours of day and night–informs me of nearly everything I want to know about the people–you, as it were–who come to this very blog. I can see how many people visit, how long they stay, how they got here, and even what state they live in. The only information I’m lacking is my readers’ favorite type of tea, and rabid Decaf Earl Grey lover that I am, I don’t discount this as non-critical information.

But the where readers live thing. It’s that which brings me to my most recent little hobby, perusing the map graphic to see if I’m filling in the states–flushing out the map with readers in every port, as it were. How the map works is the concentration of readers is expressed by the darkness of the color green. So, my great state of Cali, where my largest readership hails, is the darkest forest green. Vermont, on the other hand, where motherload mania hasn’t kicked in quite yet, is but a pale chartreuse. Godforsaken reader-free states like Louisiana are a pale piss yellow.

Late at night when I’m having my everyone’s-asleep-and-I-should-be-too Me Time, is when I do my most fervid blog reading, blog posting, and crazy lady blog analytics reviewing. Wielding the mighty power of the information Google so enchantingly provides me makes me feel at times like part of CNN’s crack political team. You know how over the past year they were always interacting with some overly hi-tech absurd map to illustrate something like how Clinton was faring against Obama (I know. So old school to think of that now!)? It’s like I’m a not-as-smart-as but I’d boldly venture to say cuter version of Candy Crowley.

Wielding the data, yo.

Knowing all this state stuff has also allowed me to determine that the almighty bloggess Dooce, who I wittily emailed several weeks ago to entreat her to glance at my lowly mortal blog, has not in fact dropped by. Her home state of Utah is still that maddening, taunting, yellow.

I should point out that it’s not even like I’m hell-bent on building a motherload empire or anything. In fact, when this whole blog thang started a few years ago, more than anything it was an outlet for this suddenly-staying-home mama to use my Big Girl voice (and words). And aside from the nursing and diaper changing and constant cell-phone use, it was simply something to do. I didn’t expect for a minute that there’d be any readers other than Mark, my father, and my friend Julie, all of whom I was paying at the time.

But now years later, being handed the god-like power to assess who stops by unpaid, my Achiever self kicked in in that empty place where my workaholic corporate self used to reside, and I suddenly wanted nothing more than to see all those states lit up bright green like a, well, Christmas tree. In this year of economic-slump low-budg Christmas gifting, what better token could be bestowed upon me? Aside from a black (and a brown) pair of boots, tickets to some first-class child-free Caribbean resort, and personalized Crane’s stationery, I can think of no better present.

In all, there are eleven states I’m lacking. Though I’ve already gotten friends working on Indiana and Maine. (Thanks, Julie and Mary!)

So then, if you’d like to get swept up in the unbridled joy of this Very Special Christmas Project, here’s how you can help. Reach out to your former college roommate who’s now living in Iowa, and ask her to check this blog out. Or that cousin in West Virginia who you secretly, naughtily always harbored a crush on. Or what about that old friend from the summer camp with the long Indian name that you went to year after year and eventually was a counselor at? The woman you recently got back in touch with on Facebook. Isn’t she living in Delaware now? And if someone knows somebody in Wyoming–though I can’t imagine how anyone could–just think how their cold dark winter days would be brightened by a little dose of motherload!

I’ve also got Montana, Vermont, and Tennessee up for the taking. What folks in those states need more than ever is, no doubt, this very blog.

And hey, have your friend post an identifying comment like, “Hoosiers in the house, yo!”, to receive extra credit points and my eternal adoration.

For a quick review, here are the eleven states (in no particular order) that I need readers in:

  1. Montana
  2. Wyoming
  3. Utah
  4. Iowa
  5. Indiana
  6. Tennessee
  7. Louisiana
  8. West Virginia
  9. Delaware
  10. Vermont
  11. Maine

Just imagine the happy scene on Christmas morning when the McCluskys are gathered under the Christmas tree with Paige clapping with glee on her first Noel, Kate tearing through her stocking, Mark capturing it all in pictures, and me, laptop balanced on crossed legs, checking the daily Google Analytics report to discover that it’s all green green green! No better gift could be given, not only to me, but to my neglected husband and children.

I’d love to see it at least once before Mark dismantles the program in a New Year’s effort to preserve both his sanity and mine.