Ramona’s World

Posted: October 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Miss Kate | 8 Comments »

Yesterday Kate and I finished the last of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. And today I am despondent.

I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t get out of bed this morning or anything. But I am feeling sad about going cold turkey on my escape into the wonderfully sweet, simple, pre-cell-phone world of the Quimby family.

Sure there were eight books in all, and it’s not like there aren’t a zillion other Beverly Cleary classics that we could move on to. But is it so wrong to want one more? Ms. Cleary IS still alive you know. Kate and I learned this from our obsessive fan-girl Googling of her. She’s 96 years young. Writing another Ramona book seems like the purrrrrfect little project for her twilight years, dontcha think? After I post this I plan to write her a large-print letter entreating her to bang out one–or two, if possible–additional Ramona reads. Even if it is from her oxygen tent.

Anyway, this thing with me and kid lit isn’t new. I’ve wanted to crawl inside the pages of other books I read to the girls too. Like, I can’t lay eyes on an Angelina Ballerina book without yearning to live in one of the cute-as-a-button cottages in the darling British village Angelina calls home. Who knew mice had such a knack for interior decor?

I want to hang out with Lyle the Crocodile‘s human mother, drinking tea in their Tiffany-lamp-filled New York brownstone. Or maybe I want to be in her book club… Okay, both. I mean, at first blush she seems a bit, well… prim, but I can sense a mother who likes to let her hair down from a mile off. My guess is Mrs. Primm can PAR-tay.

And who hasn’t wanted to go sledding or binge on cookies with Frog and Toad? And don’t get me started on the uber-wholesome, aspiring journalist Kit Kittredge. Is that girl a doll or what?

Despite my obvious tendency toward literary daydreaming, the Ramona books gripped me in an especially acute way. First off, they’re incredibly realistic—parents fight, kids squirt the entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, pets die at inopportune times, money is tight. Nearly all these things have happened to me. Or, at least, they should have. Or will. Though in no way do I mean that to be a death wish on Karen, our beloved pet fish. (We luv you, Karen!!! Don’t you go belly up any time soon, ya hear?)

The Ramona series also harkens back to a time that’s immensely appealing in its simplicity. At least for this over-scheduled, gadget-laden, private-school-tuition-payin’ urban mama.  No fussing with car seats.  Hell—no seat belts even! No driving kids to school. Kids walked there, alone–even kindergartners! Even on the first day!

These days if you don’t take a film crew to the smallest school event the other parents consider calling you into CPS for neglect.

In Ramona-ville there’s no hiring a babysitter when you can just drop the kids at the park while you run errands. (Brilliant!) And dinners out—those rare special occasions—don’t present the family with the challenging decision about Indian versus Thai, or the new macrobiotic raw food cafe that everyone’s talking about. Dinners out are at the Whopper Burger. Nearly always it seems. And ordering a pizza is an indulgence—not something the mom does whenever she’s exhausted, has no food in the house, or got a little liquored up with another mother at a playdate then suddenly realized it was dinner time. (Not that any of those things have ever happened to me.)

While I’m at it, has anyone else wondered whether Ramona’s big sis Beezus was, um, un-planned? Not that I CARE, but as I understood it the dad never finished college because Beezus came along. Hence, being relegated to a purgatory-like career working at a grocery store (and if THAT’S not the most valuable lesson in the whole series, I don’t know what is. Finish college kids or be banished to a lifetime of complaining about people who sneak extra items into the express check-out lane. It’s no way to live.).

Also, as far as I could tell, Ramona’s parents were about half my age. I mean, I think when I was their age I was still ordering shots of Jagermeister at bars and trying to get cops to let me wear their hats so I could win bets with my friends. (Oh, don’t judge me, people.) Anyway, at that same age Mr. and Mrs. Quimby were making costumes for their TWO kids for a church Christmas pageant. It’s like they totally missed the whole Sex in the City era of their lives. I don’t think they even HAD that step in the adult maturation process back in those days. It’s sad, really. But also, kind of quaint.

Anyway, I’m just not ready for the story to be over. Is it so wrong for me to want to watch Ramona navigate the complex social waters of running for freshman class president? To want to know the exact series of mishaps that led to her waking up late on the morning of her SATs? To be a fly on the wall when she makes out with a girl in college in for the first time?

Beverly Cleary, are you listening??

A couple years ago one of our excellent neighbors (who was not a father at the time), told me (admiringly, I think) that Kate reminded him of Ramona Quimby. I had to confess that I didn’t get the reference. I may well have read the Ramona books when I was a kid, but one of the upsides of my terrible memory is that books and movies seem totally new the second time around. I’m the one on the couch with my husband watching The Godfather and shushing him if he opens his mouth, “Don’t spill the beans!”

Anyway, I don’t remember if I had to look up who Ramona was or if my neighbor ended up telling me. (SEE how bad my memory is? I was not at all lying about it.) But now, at long last, I understand what he was saying.

Some parents might not see the comparison between their daughter and Ramona Quimby as a compliment. Ramona wasn’t always—how to say it?—focused on the kinds of things most other kids were. But me? I’m flattered. I love it. I embrace the association wholeheartedly.

But if the same neighbor starts referring to Paige as “The Beaver,” that’s where I’m going to draw the line.



Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books, City Livin', Discoveries, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Milestones, Writing | 3 Comments »

The woman with the skinny ass from my writing class called me a liar the other night. Well, not in so many words, but she did point out that I made a mistake.

It turns out she reads my blog. (God love her.) And she said the writing exercise I posted a couple weeks back—about Sundays with my dad—wasn’t the one she’d suggested I publish.

She was actually very nice about it. And it turns out that She of Slight Booty is quite the writer herself. I’m nearly finished with her book, Family Plots, which is a total page-turner, and set right here in Oakland. What’s more, she pulled a hilarious media stunt to promote it.

Anyway, welcome to the first ever correction on *motherload*.

Here’s the piece she originally liked. The prompt the teacher gave us that day was simply, “I love you.” This is pretty raw—the product of 30 minutes of in-class writing. And names have been changed to protect those who were in love.

Hope you like it as much as Tiny Tush did.


I Love You

Maybe some women have an entire shoebox packed with love letters. Letters from lovers, from admirers, from husbands who’ve been off at war, or sea, or hell, grad school.

Me? I’ve got one. Maybe two such letters.

It’s in my basement, stacked somewhere amidst other papers and ephemera from that time. It had to have been 15 years ago. Probably more.

I had a boyfriend at the time. A serious relationship I’d been in for a year or more. Were we in love? Hard to say. But we were together. Every night. Most certainly a couple. Undoubtedly monogamous. I was not up for grabs.

He worked long hours and I was doing some internship or other. My time was more open and flexible. And so it started that some Sunday afternoons I would go off with my friend Jake to the movies. He’d been traveling in India for months and came back brimming with stories and wearing bright pants with drawstring waists. He had an appetite for tea, and preferred walking everywhere, even when it took hours.

And aside from wanting to tap into his travel energy, it was our love of foreign films that brought us together for outings. Obscure and high-minded movies. The kinds of films that required a few cups of coffee and some rock-hard biscotti afterward to process.

Movie-going wasn’t something my boyfriend enjoyed. He had programming to do. He could sit at his computer for hours, even on sunny weekend days. So Jake was the perfect companion to indulge in filmic field trips.

Did it sometimes feel like we were on a date? Well, sure, I guess. We enjoyed each other’s company unabashedly. We made each other laugh. We wowed each other with intellectual deconstructions of plot, theme, cinematography.

I think I knew that he had a little crush on me. I think my boyfriend knew too. But we were smugly confident about our status as a couple. Whatever crush Jake had was mild and sweet and likely to stay under wraps.

Until the receptionist called me one day at work. Someone had come to drop something off for me. And I was thrilled by the prospect of an unexpected element in my day. I was a fact-checker at a magazine, calling sources all day to verify spellings and ensure the veracity of quotes. Whatever was at the front desk blessedly peeled me away from the next pediatrician on my list, whom I had to interrogate about something like the management of cradle cap in infants.

At the desk there were two long-stemmed roses wrapped in cellophane, and a small ivory envelope with my name printed across it in blue ball point, the letters leaving deep furrows in the paper.

I don’t remember if I knew at the time, before even opening it, that it was from Jake. Something about the setting—work, daytime, a weekday even—it wasn’t the context in which he was usually present in my life. Jake and I had a Sunday afternoon thing.

But it was from him.

The wording, the sum total of it is lost to me now. But I do remember it started simply, “Kristen, I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time now.”

I was stunned. Impressed by the bravado of his proclamation. Flattered. Saddened that I was on the receiving end of this vulnerable, beautiful declaration. And concerned that I didn’t feel the same way.

There was one part of my brain that telescoped into the future. That knew this was some rite of passage. Even though I wasn’t going to say ‘I love you’ too; even though I knew, sadly, that our Sunday movies had come to an end; even though our friendship would take a huge toll from this declaration—with all those other thoughts swirling in my head, there was part of me that thought this is a letter that I will always hold onto. This is the beginning of what may be an entire shoebox full of letters. Or maybe just one or two.

Do you have any love letters tucked away somewhere? Do tell!


I Can Walk Under Ladders

Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books, College, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Moods, Music | No Comments »

My college roommate tortured me. Not by bringing home an endless stream of guys. Not by being a huge slob, or selling drugs from our cinder-block dorm room Shangri-La. It was a CD. A Joan Armatrading CD that she listened to NON STOP.

Which is to say, when she was happy. When she was depressed. When she had a paper to write, or to celebrate having just handed one in. And when she didn’t know what else to listen to.

I loved her dearly. She was one of my closest friends. But God. Help. Me. It was A LOT of Joan Armatrading.

In fact, at one point the frat we lived next to was hazing their initiates. For a week they blasted some horrible 80s rap song—the same damn song—over and over and over again. And frankly hearing that was a cake walk compared to my own private musical hell. I could have gotten into that frat no problem-o considering what I’d endured for months. I mean, if I’d also had a penis, was willing to drink non-stop, chug gold fish, and sex up goats.

Though to be fair the them, the goat thing is just conjecture. For all I know they were having sex with cows. (It was, after all, rural Ohio.)

Anyway, one of the songs in my private musical hell went, “I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I can walk under ladders.”

And right now? Well right now, decades later, I am SO down with that song. I am truly feelin’ lucky.

Because last week, while grabbing a random laptop bag that was wedged alongside my desk, I found a long-lost library book. It was Big Dog, Little Dog by Tolstoy. Or maybe it was P.D. Eastman. Anyway, one of them.

I’d already bought a replacement of the book for the library. But finding it was still a thrilling validation that I’m not the world’s worst housewife. That my house didn’t swallow that book up like a hairball, and refuse to cough it up. Plus the discovery eradicated that bad lost-something feeling that can lurk in one’s soul. That crappy feeling of irresponsibility that can only be removed by finding what it was you foolishly let slip away.

Of course, it being Monday and Oakland suffering from gargantuan budget cuts, the library was closed. So I was unable to swagger in waving the book around and bellowing, “Eureka!” Instead I stuck a neon yellow Post-It note on it. “Found this!” I proclaimed. “Already replaced it, but that’s okay.” I left off the “love, Kristen,” but I think it was implied.

Then I stuck the book in the drop box.

Heck, I already got you a new one, Library, but take this one TOO. I’m feelin’ that generous.

The thing is, I lost that book the same fall weekend in Seattle when I lost my diamond pendant necklace. The special one Mark gave me on our first wedding anniversary. And I don’t know about you, but my jewelry box isn’t exactly overflowing with diamond necklaces.

Anyway, finding the book made me tear through all the little zippered sections and pen nooks in the bag I found the book in, wildly hoping that my necklace would also magically appear. I thought I could, like, double down on my finding luck.

But no dice.

Mark was traveling for work, at the yearly CES geek-fest in Vegas. And on Wednesday night while he dined on steak, drank expensive wine, and spent a rollicking evening gambling, boozing, and maybe even chomping a cigar, I sat in our living room surrounded by four (count ‘em, FOUR) laundry baskets full of clean clothing. And I folded. And folded. And folded.

Because I know how to have a good time.

For some reason when I was putting stuff away I was overcome with the OCD urge to sort through my sock and underwear drawer. This is the sort of strange organizational compulsion that overtakes a gal like me at 9:30 at night when all the laundry is folded but you want more hot crazy domestic action. Oh yes, I was unhinged.

I happily re-united socks that had been living apart from each other just inches away—unworn for months! I wadded together a bolus of brown and black tights larger than a watermelon. I even decided to THROW AWAY some underwear that dated back to the first Bush administration. I mean, I was making all kinds of world-rocking changes and life-enriching decisions. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m even planning to wear a matching bra and underwear set some time soon.

I know… cuh-razy, right?

Anyway, as I dug down towards a strapless bra I may have bought for my prom dress, past some random business cards I stowed with my undies years back for safe-keeping, somewhere amidst all that and a weird Russian watch I have, I found my diamond necklace. Just sitting there. Looking so oddly there, that I couldn’t believe it was it.

It’s not like the sound track to this discovery—had this taken place in my movie memoir—would’ve been a sudden clap of of upbeat, celebratory music. Or even an angelic chorus mounting in pitch. Instead there was a weird kinda pins and needles sound in my brain. I’ve wanted to find this necklace for so long, but finally looking at it, I somehow couldn’t grasp what I saw. It’s like I was stuttering in my mind, “No. No. Naw…” until it finally clicked.”Wait. Really? Oh my God—YES!”

This is why my life story can’t be a documentary. It has to be acted out by someone else. I’m just so bad at acting out the most exciting parts. If you don’t believe me, ask Mark how dopey I was when he asked me to marry him.

Anyway, what was so funny about that damn Joan Armatrading CD Leah used to listen to was that I’d bemoan it constantly to her face, but eventually I kinda started getting into it. Not that I ever admitted that to her, mind you. It was like some kinda musical Stockholm Syndrome. I think I sometimes even maybe played the CD when she wasn’t around.

Eventually, after college I ended up buying myself a copy.

After finding that damn beloved necklace I never thought I’d see again I wanted to blast the song I’m Lucky louder than a frat house. That is, if I were willing to stop admiring it around my neck for long enough to dig up the CD.

P.S. Check out this incredible story my friend Lauren sent me about another great find.

No Comments »

Comfortably Numb

Posted: July 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Doctors, Firsts, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Summer | 6 Comments »

I’ve gone numb.

Unfortunately I mean this quite literally.

It started innocuously enough the other morning on my left arm. It wasn’t tingly or anything—not like pins and needles—just a little numb feeling. Since I sleep on that side, I chalked it up to a snooze-induced injury. Something that by the time I showered, fed the kids, and walked out the door I’d have totally forgotten.

And that day I kinda did.

But the next day, it seemed to have spread. Toweling off after my shower I thought my left leg and foot were a bit numb too. Not a close-my-eyes-and-I-won’t-know-you’re-pinching-me lack of sensation. It was more like Numb Lite. And it was only on my left side. Enough to make me think I’d gone half mad.

By the time I got in to see a doctor, the left side of my head and neck had joined the fun.

Oddly, I wasn’t freaked out.

And blessedly, I didn’t need to be. Because, the good doctor explained, that as someone who’s got a history of migraines, this kind of crazy thing can happen. I didn’t even had a headache (though I did have a stressful day Sunday), but some kind of neurological episode—called a complex migraine—was apparently making all this happen.

“These kinds of migraines,” she said, “can bring about symptoms that imitate stroke.”


But, she went on to explain, I hadn’t had a stroke. And this wasn’t something to indicate I was about to. (Phew.) My numbness was likely to fade away as un-dramatically as it had appeared. (And actually, today, it’s barely discernible.)

But, to be on the safe side, the doc wanted me to get an MRI. Of my brain. She didn’t expect to find “anything unusual.”

Any hypochondriac worth her weight in worry would immediately conjure some horrible citrus-fruit shaped tumor. But for some reason I thought of that scene in Jaws, when they finally catch the shark and cut him open. Inside they find stuff like an old boot, a Sony Walkman, and a New Jersey license plate. I pictured those miniscule Polly Pocket doll shoes that Kate loses nearly immediately, and all the socks that went into the wash as a pair and came out alone—I imagined all those things (plus some other random lost items) showing up on my brain scan.

Considering this is where my mind went, I guess I’m not really worried.

We’ve been back from vacation for a few days now. And in what I imagine was an attempt to condense commentary on a three-week trip, several friends have asked what the highlights were of our time in Rhode Island. I tend to have trouble answering any superlative questions (favorite food, favorite movie, favorite band). There’s so much to love, I hate picking one thing. But that’s not why I couldn’t answer their question.

Was it a good vacation? Yes, an excellent one.

Were there better parts than others? Of course.

But in general, what was wonderful about our trip was all the small happy moments that made up our days. Watching my dad teach Kate card tricks. Early morning runs with my old friend Ellen. Dinners outside in dad’s big yard, where the girls tiptoed around looking for bunnies, played “fairies” in the flower beds, and wrestled giddily in the grass while the dog barked, desperate to join in.

And the beach. The beach, the beach, the beach.

We spent so many days at the beach—mostly in Newport, but also on Cape Cod, and one day at Coney Island. And even with one cold foggy day, the beach never let us down.

Kate spent the entire time in the water. She’d be alone squealing with laughter and jumping around as each wave came at her. Paige was content packing wet sand into buckets, smoothing the tops with the palms of her hands, then anointing the center of each one with a single decorative shell. (That’s my girl. She knows less is more.)

I presided in my low-slung beach chair, tattered sea-sprayed novel in hand, keeping an eye on the contented kids and getting in a paragraph or two here and there. All this and a sun-warmed peanut butter and jelly sandwich was just about bliss.

There was no time we had to arrive at the beach. And, forsaking Paige’s naps as we did, no time we needed to leave. Most days there was no one to meet up with. And like many of the activities in our usual world—school plays, or ballet classes, or preschool potlucks—no compulsion to record it all with photos or videos. Our camera doesn’t mix well with sand and sea air. No choice but to live in the moment.

And that was fine, because somehow I knew that a video—the mental Super 8 of our time there—was being recorded directly onto all of our memories. In the same way that I can play back the happy beach days of my youth. A truly transcendent beach day has that unique ability to time travel—combining nostalgia for the past, imprinting a future memory, and soaking it all up right then and there.

And so yesterday, when the technician slid the tray I was lying on deep into the MRI machine, delivering me into a claustrophobic metal tunnel where I was ordered to remain still for 20 minutes, I kept my eyes closed tight and went to the beach.

I tried to block out the loud clacking noises the machine made as it xeroxed my brain by picturing Kate jumping over waves, her blond hair hanging in slick wet ropes. I imagined Paigey clinging to my side like a koala as we edged tentatively into the water. Later my mind had us all head in towards the blanket, where I dug my wallet out of the tote bag and we walked down the beach for lemonade. (I was unable to imagine making any headway on my novel. I was only in the machine for 20 minutes, after all.)

I managed to survive the entire MRI without any heightened panic setting in. Never came even close to squeezing the rubber “panic” bulb they’d set in my hand.

Now I just need to find a way to retain that sense of calm while I wait for the test results.


I Did It… Their Way

Posted: February 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool | 5 Comments »

We’re in children’s literature hell. I mean, if you could go so far as to call it “literature.”

Kate has become obsessed with a crappy series of chapter books about fairies. They’re formulaic Harlequin Romance-quality drivel. They make those V.C. Andrews books (I admit to having read) look like Shakespeare.

The books have unabashedly identical plot lines: nasty goblins and their evil leader Jack Frost wreak havoc on the lives of teensy airborne fairies who dress like slutty tween mall chicks. There are flocks (herds? armies? murders?) of fairies of certain types. So there’s a group of sports fairies, one of pet fairies, gem fairies, musical instrument fairies, flower fairies, even color fairies. Each fairy posse has a set of corresponding books with cutesie usually-alliterative names like Penny the Puppy Fairy or Susie the Seashell Fairy or Trixie the Tap Dance Fairy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was Glenda the Gouda Fairy or Wanda the Walnut Fairy too.

And there are, of course, dozens—hundreds maybe—of the books. Enough for Kate to whimper and beg to take six or eight new ones home each time we’re at the library. Enough for Mark and I to fear we’ll be reading them for years to come.

Can you tell I don’t like these books? And I don’t even think it’s entirely due to my frustration that I didn’t think up the incredibly profitable franchise myself.

Part of what’s killing me is this: To nurture my daughter’s love of books, I’m told I’m should let her read whatever she wants. She got three chapters in to James and the Giant Peach with Mark, but then the allure of Christie the Crap Fairy became too great. We’ve read her Little House in the Big Woods and the wonderful My Father’s Dragon series, but in her spare time she’s curled up on the couch with Greta the Glitter Fairy.

God help me.

I tried getting her into the historical-fiction American Girl books. They’re in the intriguing big kid “chapter book” part of the library, and there are scads of them. Even though they’re part of a mega doll marketing empire, they seem to have a modicum more literary merit. But halfway through our first one the little girl’s best friend croaks from cholera and is carried off a ship in a wooden box. I saw it coming and made a flimsy excuse before reading that part that the book “was not so interesting after all.” Then I set it aside. Instead of death I’d rather have Kate’s mind embroiled in thoughts of Jenny the Jeans Fairy.

Anyway, it turns out that this ‘what I want versus what the kids want’ thing has become a bit of an emotional tug o’ war for me lately.

Like with Paigey’s recent birthday party. Her teacher gave me a list of the posse she hangs with at school. (I couldn’t fathom inviting the whole class.) I was thrilled to get a whittled-down list of kiddos, but I really like some of the parents of the kids who weren’t on the list. And this stymied me.

“I’ve chatted with Kendra’s mom a few times,” I called into Mark as he was showering. “I like her. But I guess Paige and Kendra don’t hang in the same sandbox circles.”

“And Avery’s parents rock,” I continued as Mark toweled off. “But Avery—not on the list. So do you think it’s okay if I  invite the kids of the parents I like? I mean, Paige will have fun no matter what. Right?”

Unsurprisingly, Mark was The Voice of Reason. “Kristen,” he said (and he only really calls me that when he’s kinda annoyed), “It’s Paige’s party, we should invite Paige’s friends.”

I finally agreed. But I wasn’t happy about it. (Motherboard’s talking about how to help parents see eye-to-eye about when they think their kids are old enough to do certain things. But there’s no mention about coming to terms on the kind of Mom vs. Kids issues I’m wrangling with.)

And then, at Kate’s school they recently started the winter session of after-school classes. I told Kate about all the fun and excellent things she could do—capoeira, chess, circus arts, wood shop. I’m not sure why I was surprised when she—the child personally accountable for the downfall of entire forests due to her prolific drawing, coloring, and art production—wanted to take a lame-o arts and crafts class about animals.

So I stalled. And blessedly, before sign-up forms were due, I found out that the folks teaching the classes were doing little demos at a morning assembly. (Something us parents are invited to.) I was certain Kate would get all fired up and want to take ALL the classes.

And it was inspirational. This swarthy Cuban dude rocked out on some funky instruments then walked on his hands. (I heard later all the gay teachers were swooning over him.) A woman in a bowler performed magic tricks, and an 80′s throwback chick with an asymmetrical haircut, baggy sweatpants, and an armful of rubber bracelets did an amazing freestyle hip hop dance thing.

It was incredible. I clapped like a madwoman after each demo, and was ready to follow the Cyndi Lauper look-alike to her car to see if she held classes for aging housewives.

But Kate was uninspired. She was steadfast in her desire to take the toilet-paper-roll-and-paper-plate crafts class from the substitute librarian. To think she’d bring home even more ungainly cardboard constructions that I’d have to sneak out to the recycling bin in the dark of night. (I’m not heartless about wanting to keep it all, but even Puff Daddy’s crib ain’t big enough to house all of Kate’s masterpieces.)

I asked myself, do I allow her to languish in her comfort zone—or as some softies would call it “let her pursue her own interests”—or do I push her to widen her horizons, see a fresh perspective, and get her groove on?

Well, as it turns out, I let her take the damn crafts class. I caved.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, WWACD? Which is to say, what would Amy Chua do?

Well, actually, I know EXACTLY what Amy Chua would do.

If you’ve been holed up in some underground hide-out Saddam Hussein-style, then you’re lucky to not be hip to the immense media firestorm set off by Amy Chua‘s recent book excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. Although she’s backpedaled like a madwoman ever since, she essentially posited that Chinese immigrant mothers are superior to Western moms. Stricter. More demanding of their kids. More hands-on. And let’s just say you won’t be invited to any of their homes for a playdate or slumber party. They’re too busy playing violin or piano (at gunpoint by their mothers) at all hours of the day and night.

Good times.

So yeah. I’d bet my lazy-American-mom collection of kid’s DVDs that Amy Chua’s daughters aren’t signing up for the Legos after-school class.

As much as I am SO over her excerpt, her book, her rebuttals, and this topic taking over the public radio airwaves more annoyingly than 20 concurrent pledge drives, I hafta admit, I have examined my mothering through it all. I’m not suddenly berating my kids publicly or quizzing them with Latin flash cards. But I am wondering why I don’t have a more clear idea of my expectations for them. Even if I don’t agree with Amy’s agro mothering, I wish I could be as cocksure about my own. I wish I was driven by confidence and determination to know when to push my kids in certain directions—away from fairy books, towards hip hop classes, whatever—and when to let them follow their own fancies.

Until I figure it out, I can rest assured with the knowledge that I’m at least not taking her approach. And maybe, if I keep reading enough of them, one of Kate’s fairy books will reveal the mysteries of mothering that I’m seeking. Somewhere in that series there must be Mable the Mama Fairy, right?


Highlights and Lowlights (and I’m Not Talking about My Hair)

Posted: January 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Birthdays, Books, Daddio, Food, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Movies, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Shopping, Summer | 3 Comments »

My friend Barb is perfect.

She’s extremely kind and thoughtful. She’s genuine through and through. She’s creative and silly and fun and smart. And, of course, she’s gorgeous. So much so that she was asked out on a date—approached on the sidewalk, no less—when she was nearly eight months pregnant.

If she wasn’t so wonderful, I’d hate her.

Barb and her hubby had kids long before Mark and I added to the world’s population problem. So going to their house for dinner always was an exercise in note-taking for our future family. One night after dinner I remember their kidlings hauled out a bunch of different instruments. We had a music and dance party that was such good clean fun I wanted to make lederhosen for them out of the drapes while belting out “The Hills Are Alive.” (Note to my sister-in-law: This is a reference to The Sound of Music. Which is a movie.)

At dinner each member of Barb’s family shares the highlights and lowlights of their day. It’s something we started doing, and a few of our friends have since picked it up from us. It’s a sly way to lure kids into old-fashioned dinnertime convos. I never knew how deeply shrouded in secrecy a day at kindergarten could otherwise be.

Someone recently told me she does this too, but calls it ‘Roses and Thorns.’ She borrowed the name from the Obamas. Such a schmancy Presidential Rose Garden spin! Hey, what’s good enough for Malia and Sasha is good enough for my girls.

I stumbled across some other tips on Motherboard for taking the gruel out of family din-dins. Did you know that the more family dinners teens attend, the less likely they are to smoke pot, run away from home, and dress like sluts? Okay, so I’m not sure about that last one, but I’m still willing to enforce the you-sit-right-here-for-dinner-Missy rule for a while to come.

So, where was I?

Well, God knows it doesn’t some dinnertime game to get me talkin’. But with 2010 in my rear view mirror, I’ve been thinking about some of my year’s highlights and lowlights.

First, for the highlights:

Best Times with Paige: Every day when she climbs on me in bed for our delicious morning snuggle. I love this even when it’s brutally hellishly early in the morning. I can’t help but think she won’t be doing this forever, so I’m basking in it while it lasts.

Best Times with Kate: Reading. This year Katie Pie learned to read, which was magical and thrilling. But she’s not exactly devouring books on her own yet. And I cherish the times each day that I read to her. For an active kiddo, she totally calms down, snuggles up, and gets absorbed in stories. It rocks. We’re reading chapter books now too, which has lots of great day-after-day satisfaction, like some weird good-for-you soap opera.

Best Meal: The first out-put of Mark’s food smoker—pulled pork sandwiches for Paigey’s 2nd birthday party. (Feeding the kids was a total afterthought.)

Best Dessert Recipes: Three-way tie between The New York Times’ Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake, Sunset’s Lemon Rosemary Buttons, and Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Cookies.

Best Yard Sale Bargain: Four Reidel stemless wineglasses for $2. (And to think I almost asked “For each one?” Ha!) Now I wish our vast Reidel collection was all stemless.

Best Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip: The Winter Olympics in Vancouver with Mark (who covered the games for Wired) and my dear collegiate frienda Brenda. If you have never been to this event, GO. It will renew your faith in, well, the world. Plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten emotionally invested in a curling match.

Best Party We Attended: A Father’s Day brunch in our beloved friends’ the Bibbo’s back yard. We came for breakfast and stayed through dinner. Such fun. And the food! Oh, the food.

Proudest Mama Moments: Watching Kate walking into her first day of Kindergarten like such a big big sweet girl. And seeing Paige running around with the other kids at her 2nd b-day party. (If 2009 was about Paigey Wiggles learning to walk, 2010 was about her running and dancing and jumping and skipping and never looking back. Yippee!)

Best Televised Sports Experience: Watching a Canadian Olympic hockey game at a bar in Whistler with one of my best friends and my best (albeit only) husband. Man, those Canadians really do love their hockey. And their beer. (Turns out we do too.)

Best Life-Improving Purchase: Our super-cozy eco-groovy Keetsa memory foam mattress.

Best Happy Tears Moment: When I read the letter to Mark over the phone that Kate had gotten into to the super-excellent school she now goes to.

Best Date with Mark: His birthday dinner this November at Quince in San Fran. We forsook the entrees, ordered all five pastas, and had them bring us whatever wine they wanted with each course. And we didn’t talk about the kids once!

Best Summer Trip: Spending three glorious weeks at my dad’s house with the girls. The mercurial New England weather was set to Perfect Summer Beach Day the whole time. The girls were like little nature nymphs, dancing around in the waves and happily playing in the sand for hours each day. (TV? Who needs TV?) The 4th of July parade rocked, like it does, especially with all the far-flung friends we’ve managed to have to join us in Bristol. Best of all, we got truly excellent quality time with my Daddio, who watched more patio-staged ballet performances, and drew more hearts and princesses and rainbows then he ever bargained for.

Best Dose of I-Still-Got-It: Shaking off years of professional rust to do some freelance work at the very cool design firm in SF Hot Studio. A week into the project I told someone I’d been working at home as a mom for the past two-plus years, and he said he couldn’t believe it. (When he sneezed and I automatically started wiping his nose, I think he caught on.)

Best Home Furnishings Score: When my sister unloaded about a dozen duvet covers, sheet sets, pillows, bed skirts, and cloth napkins on me from her vast and fabulous personal collection. I now have a bad-ass world class bedscape. But it also takes an extra 20 minutes to move the pillows off our bed before going to sleep at night.

Best Wine: The huge-ass bottle (I think that’s what vintners call it) of supreme Surh-Luchtel vino that our friends Don and Shelley brought to a party at our house. Not only did it have A LOT of wicked good wine it it, the bottled was inscribed with our wedding invitation. (Try registering for that.)

Best Personal Challenge: Doing Oakland Adventure Boot Camp this summer/fall. I pride myself on voluntarily waking up at 6AM every-other morning, as well as the endless rounds of push-ups, wind sprints, and squats with medicine balls. Go me.

Best I’m Not As Young As I Used to Be Moment: Playing field hockey at my 25-year high school reunion. The other team (our old rivals who were also in town for their reunion) decimated us, but it was hilarious getting out on that field again. And it’s nice knowing that nothing I do now requires a mouth guard.

Best Foodie Celeb Sighting: Meeting Sarah Foster at her cafe/store Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we spent another fine Miller Family Thanksgiving.

Best Novel: The Help. But I also *loved* The Eloquence of the Hedgehog.

Best Non-Fiction Book: Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat. Mark got to know Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea in Chicago) after writing about him for Wired, then contributing to his dazzling cook book. Even though I know the story, it was a total page-turner. I was lucky enough to read an advanced galley. When this book comes out in March, if you have any interest in the foodie realm, check it out. It’s way cheaper than a dinner at Alinea.

Best New TV Show Addiction: Seems pretty trite and light-core, but it’s Parenthood. A friend of mine said he and his wife were TiVoing it, but before they’d watched it someone told her, “I LOVE that show. It’s makes me laugh! It makes me cry!” So my friend’s wife went home and deleted it from their TiVo. Well, I admit it’s made this Mama laugh and cry too. I wuv the cast (Peter Krause is the celeb version of Mark), but there are a couple actors I loathe, which it turns out I actually kinda need in a show. And, of course, it’s supposed to be set in Berkeley. So I dig seeing the local landmarks, the Craftsman houses, and of course, the bra-less women and pot-adled liberals.

Best Old TV Show Addiction: Tie between Dexter and Damages. Glenn Close is so good at being bad. (What else should I be watching on DVD?)

Best Party Mark and I Threw: Hiring a chef to cook dinner for our six nearest and dearest Oakland friends, and my dad and stepmother who were visiting from Rhode Island. All I had to do was buy a centerpiece, set the table, and take a shower. Bliss! Plus, the food rocked. As did Dad’s card tricks.

Best Kiddie Music the Whole Family Can TolerateLaurie Berkner

Best Self-Preservation Maneuver: Hiring a “hangover helper”—i.e. a babysitter to come over one Sunday at 7:30AM, the day after we had a party. She whisked in, took the kids out for breakfast and to the park, and allowed Mark and I some desperately-needed sleeeeep. This was such a supremely smart idea I think there’s a business plan in there somewhere.

Best Meeting I Attended: One in which it was determined that Paige was doing so well (physically and verbally) she was no longer eligible for the state’s early intervention services. Woo hoo!

Best Article of Clothing I Bought: A brown cotton Max Studio dress that I wear like it’s my favorite pair of jeans. Looks kinda like this one.

Best Hobby I Got Back Into: Reading. And really, reading one good book is like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You want to start reading everything. According to the widget on this here blog, I read 20 books in 2010, about two a month. And that doesn’t count the small handful I started and abandoned.

Best Gift I’ve Used Every Day: When Mark was in Switzerland last winter for work, he bought me a fabulous perfect-for-everyday-use indestructible Freitag purse. It’s fabulous, and he’s fabulous for having such good taste (in wives, and in business-trip gifts).

Best Kitchen Gadget: An electric kettle, which I dropped and broke last week. It had been great for everything from making tea, to hot water for the kids oatmeal.

Best Stupid Comedy Rentals: Step Brothers (AMAZING tip, Drew!), and The Hangover. These bad frat-boy-humor movies were so damn good, I can’t believe I ever liked (okay, loved) Dumb and Dumber.

Best Stay-cation: Our Christmas/New Year’s break. The kids were off school for two weeks, and Mark was off work (for the most part) then too. It was the perfect balance of social plans, sleeping late, and lazy rainy days. Mark and I gave each other time for golf (him) and yoga (me). And I didn’t get out of my PJs all day on Christmas. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Best Social Event: My high school reunion. If everyone waited until they were in their 40s to go to high school it’d be a much friendlier place.

Best Compliment: A babysitter told me I look like Ari Gold’s wife, Mrs. Ari, from Entourage. She was certain I “must hear that from people all the time.”

As for the year’s lowlights, I’m happy to report there were far fewer than the highlights. Which also means this blog post will end soon(ish) for you. Phew!

Saddest Loss: Mark’s wonderful grandpa passing away. And my Dad’s BFF and most-excellent neighbor, Eddie, and my sweet Uncle Ade also died.

Worst Foot-in-Mouth Moment: Asking a mother at Paige’s preschool if she was a nanny. Ugh!

Worst Mama Moment: How much time do you have? Seriously, nothing huge and hideous comes to mind here, THANK GOD, just a long list of times when I’ve lost my temper, raised my voice, irrationally barked out a, “No!,” or had my own form of grown-up of tantrum. You know, the usual stuff.

Worst Weekend-Away Phone Call: The one in which Mark reported that Kate got kicked out of kindergarten. Just for the day. But still.

Worst Morning: Crying at boot camp—while running the stairs!—because I had barely slept the night before (see Paige’s sleep issue below). The petite drill sergeant trainer gave me a double dose of tough love, when what I needed was a wee bit o’ encouragement. (At least she emailed me an apology that afternoon.)

Worst Weather Interference: A local daytime Halloween parade is a supremely super-fun place for kids and Halloween-obsessed adults (like moi) to revel in the holiday. This year it rained. Waaah! I was like a bride on her rainy wedding day. Even though the die-hards still came out, the raincoats over costumes were a bummer.

Worst Wretched Sleep Pattern: Paige went from being a star sleeper, to the kid who gets out of bed 15 times after you tuck her in. Plus a few times in the middle of the night. Oy! We’ve considered returning her to her crib (since this all started with the move to her Big Girl Bed), but I fear if we did that we’d leave her in it ’til her teens. And that’d bring about a whole ‘nother host of unsavory issues.

Biggest Regret: Realizing that the 8-hour drive to Palm Springs to visit my sister Judy is totally do-able with the kids—especially with a DVD player in the car. Why haven’t I been going to see her more? (And this doesn’t come solely from my desire to score more sheets.)

Worst Airline Travel: Twice—or maybe even three times—this year we’ve taken family trips with flights departing at 6AM. One time Kate refused to get dressed when we woke her up. We finally put her in the car in her panties, since we were about to miss our flight. At the long-term parking lot her tantrum continued, until Mark and I strong-armed her into her dress and shoes (a lovely public display of excellent parenting). Later, in a long busy airport hallway, she had another diabolical fit. Over her head (and while pretending to not be her parents) Mark and I vowed to never take a 6AM flight again. No matter how much cheaper the tickets were. And then, we went on two more trips with 6AM departures. Sigh.

Saddest Farewell: Our long-time nanny and friend Shelly moved back to Israel this fall. We are thrilled that she is back with her family and friends, but we miss her madly! It’s super sad to not know when—or if—we’ll see her again.

Most Shameful Injury: Pulling a groin muscle while bowling with the kids and Mark’s parents on our Thanksgiving vacation. My chiropractor said, “I don’t know what’s worse: Admitting you were bowling, or that you got injured while bowling.”

When it’s Mark’s turn to tell his day’s highlight at dinner, he sometimes says, “Right now.” Even though it means a relatively early dinner hour and food that’s geared towards the whole family, we’ve been making an effort to eat with the girls every night,. (Except for when we ditch them with a sitter and go out.)

So it’s sweet that our family meal is sometimes the highlight of Mark’s day. Either that, or his work day really sucked.

Now Kate and Paige sometimes use “right now” as their highlight too. Which would be fine if it wasn’t on the days I’ve busted my butt to take them to the beach and out for ice cream, or to a children’s museum, or to some other kid-gasmic concert or party or special event. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it takes the wind out of my sails when the turkey burgers en famille beat all those other things out.

But maybe I should wise up a bit to Mark and the girls. Maybe the best highlight of all is the sum-total of our sweet family dinners together. Maybe turkey burgers really are the key to happiness.

I love you, Mark, Kate and Paigey, my three life highlights!

And Happy Happy New Year to the rest of you. In 2011, may your highlights blast your lowlights out of the water.


The Story about the Book

Posted: October 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Mama Posse | 1 Comment »

Don’t ever lend me a book.

My friend Mary did. And she doesn’t know it yet, but she shouldn’t have.

First off, I’ve had the thing for a while now. Held onto it for two, maybe even three months. Far longer than the inter-friendship lending library loan period should allow. Even with a few renewals.

And I tend to zip through books pretty quickly, once I start them. But this one—that super-popular dragon tattoo book everyone’s all hopped up about—didn’t draw me in at first. And with my tower of bedside books beseeching me to read them, I did something unusual. I set it down one night and dug into something else.

But then, when I was just in New York recently, I realized in somewhat of a panic that I was nearing the end of another book. I found myself suddenly dangerously close to being without a new one.

So along with my paisley pashmina and my witchy super-pointy-toed black high heels, I had Mark toss Mary’s ‘tattoo girl’ book in his bag for me. He was still at home, heading to the East Coast a few days after me.

So you know, the book suffered the usual reasonable wear and tear on the dust jacket. Shoved in Mark’s bag, then crammed into mine. Taken in and out of my purse along with diapers, lipsticks, and the girls’ discarded apple cores. Typical stuff.

I mean, I do respect books, just for the record. I NEVER dog-ear pages. (And I disdain those who do when I read a book after them.) I don’t write in margins, though I do stick Post-Its in cook books. And if one of the girls walks over a book or bends the spine all backwards you can betcha I roll out Lecture #372 on Respectin’ Books.

But with this one book, it all went so wrong.

Because for our flight home I tossed it in a newsstand plastic bag, along with my requisite airplane-reading celeb mag, Mentos, and a bottle of water. And when we finally staggered home from our cross-country day of travel, it appeared that my water bottle’s sport top had opened.

And water makes a book wet.

But it’s WATER. I am a mother and of all the things that I know cause problems, water is almost never one of them. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to the kids, “Don’t worry about it! It’s just water!”

Water dries. Water doesn’t stain. Water won’t smell bad when it’s lodged in a sippy cup under the seat of your car for three weeks.

Water is my friend.

So I did what you do when you want something wet to dry. I stuck the book in the dish rack alongside the kitchen sink.

But eventually, the next day I think, I gave up the book’s dish rack space for wet dishes. It seemed only fair that they have priority placement. Because if I were to keep the book on the dish drain, and start to pile the wet dishes elsewhere to dry, I’d start to set a domino effect into motion that could result in my becoming a crazy shut-in who is tracked down by the producers of Oprah because I have laundry drying in the trees outside my house and I bathe in a kiddie pool because my bath tub is full to the brim with head-less dolls, summer shoes, and dessicated cans of Play-Doh.

And I didn’t want that to happen.

But the book was still not dry. How was it that the wetness could be so persistent?

I moved the book to my bedside floor (on a magazine, so as not to stain the hardwood). I gingerly turned the sodden pages to read it at night. None of the ink ran as a result of The Water Bottle Incident, so everything was perfectly legible.

And the book is compelling, just like everyone says. So the dampness didn’t deter me.

A couple times during the day I’d remember to put it on the kitchen counter on a wire baking rack. I figured it’d allow air to circulate around it. I’d open it to random especially-saturated sections, in hopes that over time I could systematically dry the whole thing out.

Then at night I’d take the book back into bed, and suffer the disapproval of my beloved spouse who’d tenderly say things like, “Oh for the love of God, honey. Throw that thing out! I have that book on my Kindle you know.”

But say what you will. I’m an optimist.

And I felt certain that, given time, the book would dry on up. I mean, some—okay ALL—of the pages would be a bit puckered perhaps. But, as I said, the words were totally intact. I mean, sure, I started with a hardcover and I’d transformed it to a pliable soft paperback. But the book was still managing to function in the capacity that a book does.

Besides, the book was not mine. Not mine to just throw away.

But then one day, flipping to a section I was planning to aerate, I noticed a slate blue streak. Mold. And I knew, like you know when your old Labrador’s hip dysplasia becomes untenable, that it was time.

Of course, I couldn’t do it myself. I asked Mark to. And despite the fact that he held the thing at arm’s length like some diarrhea-drenched diaper, it was clear that he was pleased to do the honors.

It’s been some days now—nearly a week, in fact—and despite a multitude of phone-call attempts and voicemail exchanges, I’ve been unable to reach Mary to tell her about her book. Of course, I’m happy to replace it, no question about that. But to go ahead and do that before letting her know how far I’d come, and all I went through with that book, just seems wrong. I mean, you can’t just kill your friend’s goldfish then drop another orange one in the bowl like it’s no big thing.

Alas, it’s late. So I’ll crawl into bed and curl up with Mark’s Kindle. Though, of course, it won’t be the same.

I imagine that Mary won’t be asking me to dog sit any more.

1 Comment »

Please Review the Chart, Doctor

Posted: September 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Sleep | 4 Comments »

Yard sales reveal people’s souls.

I mean, aside from seeing someone’s chipped dishes and pilly wool sweaters, you see their cast-off books. And that’s really where it’s all laid bare.

I mean, I laughed about this when I was selling crap in front of my old SF swingles pad years ago. I had a slew of dealing-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one tomes. None that I actually ever read, mind you. Even my mother’s death couldn’t bring me to read a self-help book.

The story my yard sale items conveyed to folks stopping by my stoop seemed to be, “This girl needs help, but she’s not getting it.” At least not from these books with un-cracked binders.

Of course, noting this with with my friends delighted me. A couple beers into our sale I was making people volume-discount offers. “You want that coffee maker? How about we toss in this Donna Karan tank top, and a copy of Rabbi Grollman’s Living With Loss, Healing With Hope? I’ll make you a deal you can’t resist!”

It’s this kind of thing that I find funny.

Anyway, if you want to get your finger on the pulse of the McClusky family’s current issues, go no further than our refrigerator. That’s where, amidst the birthday party invitations, emergency contact numbers, and magnetic letters, you’ll find our charts.  Specifically, Kate’s ‘Putting On Shoes’ chart.

Because, when Kate is required to wear anything other than flip flops or Crocs, well, let’s just say it’s not pretty. Not at all pretty. But aside from my fears that a lifetime of Croc-wearin’ will cause her feet to splay into ungainly knobby troll feet, there are also (blessedly) school rules about footwear.

But making the switch is brutally painful. Anything remotely binding—shoes or clothing—sets Miss Kate off into fits, as if we, her loving parents, are burying her alive.

We’ve tried pleading, coaxing, and buying expensive sparkly sneakers that were acceptable in stores then rejected later at home. And we’ve tried good old-fashioned might too. “You WILL put those shoes on this instant!”

Turns out, none of those tactics work.

So, we’ve made a chart. Which is to say, we’ve resorted to long-range bribery. If she puts her shoes on in the morning with no screaming, wailing, or other full-head-rotation Exorcist-like behavior, she gets to put a sticker on her chart. Get ten and we’ll buy her a new book. (It’s no Barbie Dream House, but it seems to be sufficient incentive to make the system work.)

And hopefully by the point the end-goal is reached, putting on shoes will have become an easy-breezy part of Kate’s morning ritual.

Although Mark’s mother is coming to visit next week, and I seem to remember Kate having had another shoe-puttin’-on chart when she was here once before… Ah well.

The other chart on the fridge is Paigey’s. Her issue? Popping out of her Big Girl Bed. Calling out to us in endlessly repeating cycles through the night. General night-time hell-raising. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Feel. My. Pain. Please.

Mark labeled Paigey’s chart her Sleep Chart, but when he blearily made it yesterday morning, I know he really wanted to call it ‘Paige’s Stay the Fuck in Bed Chart.’

This is Paige’s first chart and it’s giving Kate one more big-sis opportunity to show little Wigs the ropes. Because, in case you were unaware, Kate is the authority on everything. Absolutely everything.

So our breakfast conversation yesterday went something like, “When you get ten stickers you get something, Paigey.” (This in Kate’s patronizing sing-songy voice.) “Maybe you want a Mickey Mouse toy? You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Paige? Well you just need to get ALL the stickers, then we’ll go out and you can pick out ANY Mickey Mouse—”

At which point I jumped in with my oft-spoken “I’M the mother! Thanks, Kate” refrain.

God knows I could use a few charts of my own. But I prefer to keep my self-improvement on the down low.

Besides, I shudder at the thought of Mark emerging from the basement office with a print-out and sitting me down. “Now, Kristen. This is your new chart, and this is how it’s going to work…”


From the Hands of Babes

Posted: January 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Moods, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 2 Comments »

A friend came over for dinner recently and brought a bottle of wine and a copy of The Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back: Loving Your Family Without Losing Your Mind. It was written by that chick Vicki Iovine—the skinny-ass former Playboy centerfold turned domestic advice-giver who’s married to a gazillionaire music exec. Or maybe they’re divorced at this point.

Whatever the case, it’s crazy how much she and I have in common.

Anyway, I haven’t cracked the book, nor do I intend to. I’m a firm believer that reading about how overwhelmed you are is neither entertaining nor productive. Whereas reading about absolutely anything else—say, hot teen vampire sex—has a much better chance at alleviating standard-grade housewife malaise. (Note: I have not yet succumbed to the smut-lit allure of those books. But I do have the first one in a pile by my nightstand.)

And I wasn’t offended by my friend’s offering. I didn’t think it was some sort of hand-patting, “Honey, really, read the book” kinda intervention. Especially since it wasn’t even intended for me. (Or so she said.) Her daughter had allegedly been rooting around in their house, and dragged it into the living room. And seeing as my friend’s groove is apparently intact, she dropped the book in her bag in case I, or the other friend we were seeing that night, were in need of some groove restoration.

But the truth is, I had been lamenting that ever since the calendar flipped to 2010 I’ve been in a bad mood. My groove in this new decade–or lack thereof—has been informed by my wretchedly out-of-whack back, my agita over getting Kate into a good school next year, and the dreary fact that my book proposal has gotten nowhere closer to being completed than it was in, say, early November. Add to that the extra pounds I packed on over the holidays, for a nice veneer of flagging self-esteem.

Even though it’s just been sitting here, my friend’s kid having unearthed the groove-regetting manual maybe did have some impact on my psyche. Perhaps by its mere presence in my house, the tides of ill-humor have started to change.

First-off, we’ve made progress on Kate’s school applications. Two of them are already handed in (despite an 11th-hour explosion of loose powder blush that came close to rendering the hand-written one, well, “Warmth” pink.) All the nail-chewing over writing the damn things has suddenly changed into an optimistic excitement about how amazing it’ll be for Kate (and us) to be part of one of these cool schools. I’m already planning to volunteer in the classroom constantly. (They’ll have a maternal restraining order out for me by late fall…)

My back still sucks. As in, hurts nearly constantly. But Paigey got into a fabulous preschool for next year. And my book proposal’s still dead in the water, but I’m resolved to get childcare in the coming weeks to make some headway on it.

And I’ve got two great trips to look forward to. A hopefully snow-covered jaunt to Rhode Island and a most-certainly white-capped visit to Vancouver. Thanks in no part to my athletic prowess, I am going to the Olympics!

Also, in a totally not-me move, I decided to Just Say No to my book group book. Just not read it! How liberating is that? Usually I stressfully speed-read in the final days before we meet, as if I’m prepping for the LSATs or something. But after reading the first five of the book’s 400-plus pages, I simply decided I just wasn’t 400-plus-pages-worth of interested. To some this may seem a minor act of rebellion, but for a rule-follower and perfect-attendance gal like myself, this felt as bad-girl liberating as the Queen must feel peeing in the shower.

I also recently picked up a wee freelance gig at TV.com. My first piece, a recap of the show Brothers & Sisters, wasn’t half-bad. (At least according to my father.) Mark’s also got a 14-pound brisket slooooow-cookin’ in the smoker I got him for Christmas. And really who can feel gloomy at the prospect of the lifetime of smoked meats that now extends before me? (His enthusiasm for this new toy is such that we may also be eating smoked breakfast cereal Chez McClusky soon.)

Even my dream life is showing signs that I’m relaxing a bit. Like last night, I had a kinda sex dream about one of the schools Kate’s applying to. And I call it a sex dream, but when I described it to Mark he pointed out that there really was no sex in it whatsoever. But you don’t always need sex for sex, right? I mean, didn’t we learn that lesson years ago from Bill Clinton?

So in the dream I’m at this school (our top pick for Kate, in fact) and I’m taking a tour. And on the tour all the perspective parents get shunted into the school’s wood shop, where there’s this strapping, black hottie of a wood shop teacher. (This, by the way, is nothing like their real wood shop teacher. It’s a dream, people.) And then in that weird dream-way that you just skip over some of the boring how-things-unfolded parts, next thing you know he and I are in my car! But no no no, not groping each other or anything, just driving around. You know, with our thighs all close together and almost touching in the way they are when you are in a close-quartered dream-car next to the hot wood shop teacher. Like you do.

So he tells me he’s been working at the school for 30 years, but he says, “thirty years of radiation” which in that weird dream-way I don’t find to be an odd turn of a phrase and simply take to mean he’s been getting cancer treatments all that time. But it’s not like that’s a sad thing. In fact, this virile wood shop teacher who for some reason I’ve kidnapped mid-school-tour looks altogether healthy. And I just say to him, “Yeah I don’t want to go there.” And, dreamily, he’s not offended at all, and we just keep driving and I think, “I really should get back to the school tour.”

And then I woke up.

Chaste. And still even Dreamland-loyal to my husband.

Several weeks ago we were at a birthday party. We were at the friend’s house who brought me the Groove book. Paige was still somewhat new to walking. One of her favorite places to toddle off to and explore is bed-side tables. They have fun little drawers it’s easy for little hands to open.

So as we’re in the kitchen chatting with some other parents, Paige staggers from the back of their house out into their living room and heads towards me with a violet-colored tube in her hand. Turns out it was our hosts’ Astroglide. Ahem.

Of course, those of us in the kitchen who saw what Paigey had poached found it uproarious. Funny enough to not sweep it under the so-called carpet, but to send Paige back across the guest-filled living room with instructions to hand the item over to its rightful owners.

Paige obliged. Much giggling and blushing and good-natured heckling ensued. Good times.

Thinking about that now, I can’t help but wonder if Paige was on to something. Was it really a random offering? Or was she trying to communicate in some childlike intuitive way, “This is what you people need. This is the answer!”

Now I’m not implying that Paige thinks I should have a romp with the dream-based wood shop teacher. There’s a time and place for people from The Land of Make Believe. I think she was maybe just making her own down-home suggestion about how us Mommies and Daddies could get our groove back.


The Mystifying Laws of Attraction

Posted: October 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Books, College, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 3 Comments »

The best imaginary friend I ever met was a can of salmon.

I was in Providence, and my womb-to-tomb friend Amelia was graduating from Brown. We were hanging out in her flat when one of her housemates herded her family through. They were on their way to or from some ceremony or dinner or requisite visit to the bookstore.

During our introductions, the housemate’s kid sister got in a big huff about someone having been overlooked. So the housemate rolled her eyes and said with a pained expression, “And this is Barnaby.”

Uh, Barnaby? There was clearly no one else there. But the little sis was thrusting something in her hand towards us. And on further inspection we saw it was a can of salmon. A dinged-up, tattered—dare I say well-loved—can of salmon. It was, as was later explained to us, the kid sister’s longtime companion. Her “special friend.”

Of course, I LOVED it. I wished I’d been so eccentric as a child to join forces with an inanimate household object and love it dearly. I wanted to go out drinking with the kid. But back then I wanted to go out drinking with pretty much anyone. And for reasons far less compelling than the chance to converse with some chunk salmon.

Anyway, Kate hasn’t befriended any food items yet. But around here it’s hard to know what her imagination will serve up next. We seem nearly constantly embroiled in elaborate pretend play. And she can get stuck in odd patterns with it.

Lately, for instance, she asks me to pretend I’m her neighbor, and explains I’m visiting her because she has a hurt foot. She’s either in the hospital or has just come back from it. I half-expect that at any moment Bobbie Spencer will walk in and take her vital signs. And sometimes when I’m not in on the game, I’ll walk past her room and hear her soothing a stuffed animal whose foot is hurt.

My mind wanders to strange conclusions about why this is of interest to her. But when I ask she’ll just say, “Well, Neighbor, I was crossing the street and a truck runned over my foot.”

Ah. Well sure.

The girl also has a book she likes having on her. It’s not Good Night Moon, or Angelina Ballerina, or even something ageless like The Giving Tree. It’s called Toilet Training In Less Than A Day, an outdated 70′s-era paperback I got at a yard sale for a nickel, and haven’t read one word of.

But Kate? She pours over it. It’s mostly text, with a few line drawings of a kid on a potty, pants around his ankles. You can’t even see any of his boy parts. Kate’s well past her potty training prime; far beyond finding bathroom issues novel or interesting. I don’t think she values the book based on its subject anyway.

She drapes her legs sideways over her green stuffed chair and flips through, page by page. At times she “reads” from it to her dolls or animals or to Paige. It’s always a different story, never about potty training. She takes the book on long car rides. Tucks it into her play purse when she sets off on a pretend jaunt to the store.

Lately, monkey-like Paige is drawn to the book too. Only, of course, because it’s something Big Sis likes. Poor Paigey must flip through those endless pages of text wondering what the hell Kate sees in the book.

And now that Wiggle is in on the action, I find random pages torn in half on the kitchen floor. I open the bathroom door and see the cover, ripped off and discarded. I carefully scoop up the shreds as I find them and bring them to my desk, where I wield Scotch tape and play book doctor.

That’s where it sits now, freshly restored from its adoring dismemberment. There’s a pink starburst on the cover proclaiming “2 Million Copies Sold!” I wonder how many of those are loved as much as ours.