The Cold Hard Truth

Posted: March 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, California, City Livin', Earthquakes, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Parenting, Scary Stuff | 3 Comments »

I’m doing my yippy-doodle dance. This is something everyone does, right? I mean, their own versions, of course.

The reason for my outpouring of glee? Well, yesterday my most-excellent frienda Brenda called to tell me there’s a chance—what seems to be a WICKED GOOD chance—that she’s moving to California. And that happens to be where I live. Hooray!

Now I know it’s a big state. It’s not like my homeland, Little Rhodey, where someone asks you if you know a guy from there and half the time it turns out that you do, and that you actually went to prom with him. But where Brenda would move is like—wait, let me check my phone—81.2 miles from here.

So, even though the gal is flush with offers from other places too, she started rambling on, saying if she took the one near us she’d be close enough to come hang out for the weekend. To be a regular at our bourbon-punch Christmas bash. Close enough TO COME TO THE GIRLS’ BIRTHDAY PARTIES.

Now, if she doesn’t move here, her having dangled that in front of me is nothing short of emotional abuse. I’m already far far down the path of picturing Auntie Brenda twisting balloons and doing face painting in our backyard, then staying late to read to the girls before she tucks ‘em into bed. I’m already misty-eyed over how she’ll make my stroller-addicted kids into fierce back-country hikers. I’m laying plans for watching her dog when she travels for work.

My sister- and brother-in-law move every few years, on accounta he’s in the Coast Guard. As the gal who wept when her mother sold her childhood home nearly two decades after having actually lived there—I find the concept of moving often scary. But ya do what you need to do. And my sister-in-law maintains that her best friends are scattered all over the country anyway. So where she lives makes little difference. It’s a varying degree of distance from someone whose area code she’s already used to dialing. If she’s lucky, she gets to stay in the same time zone as her besties.

And even though I always thought of this as her situation, the fact is, some of the people I’d populate on my desert island if I had only 10 others to take with me—some of my nearest and dearest chums in the whole wide universe I’ve come to accept I’ll never live next to. At least until the time comes when I’m ordered to collect them for our move to a desert island.

So anyway, suddenly the thought of frienda-Brenda closeness is at hand. And I really hope I don’t have to do the UN-yippy-doodle dance if she decides to take some other gig. Like, I hope the other far-away company doesn’t have a better 401K plan or something.

That would suck.

Speaking of sucking, the night before we flew to Rhode Island I was reading a bedtime story to Kate. A library book. And I know, I know. I was just talking to a teacher-friend, and I know I should be reading all these kids’ books myself first. But I hadn’t. And the plot took an unexpected twist and some robbers broke into a store.

And as it turned out, the robbers were stymied by the happy accident of a whistling tea kettle going off. That somehow had the burglars thinking a police siren was zooming their way. So they never got away with the goods.

But despite justice prevailing, I closed the book and turned to Kate who had her duvet pulled up to her chin and a terrified look on her face.

“Are there still robbers, Mom?” she asked with a squeak.

Me: “Still? Um, well, uh….

Kate: “Like do robbers just break into stores, or do they go into people’s houses too?”

Me: “Well, I mean generally there’s much more reason to go into a store, right? I mean, stores have cash registers, and robbers certainly do like cash…”

Kate: “But there aren’t robbers in Oakland are there?”

Me: “Here?! In OAKland?! [Fake laughter.] Oh, no, no, nooooo! No robbers here. No reason for you to worry, sweetie. You just get some sleep now because tomorrow we’re going on the airplane to see Grandpa!”

Of course, I have these conversations—I get trapped with some horrible truth I have to share—and it’s inevitably before bed. When I have one foot out the door into the freedom of a child-free evening. And I can just envision what the truth will bring. How I’ll be up all night counseling a sobbing, freaked-out child. The temptation to stop parenting—if only for the two hours before I konk out on the couch myself—is too great. And so I can’t help myself.

I lie!

Inevitably Mark is standing in the kitchen, washing dishes after dinner. And he’ll shake his head and just stare forward out the window into the dark night and mutter to himself, “Nope! No burglars in Oakland…”

Because Mark is a truth-talker. I mean, I know that’s a good thing. And I know what I’m doing isn’t necessarily the right approach. But sometimes I’m at a total loss for what either of us should do.

Like Friday night. We were at dinner at my sister’s in SF. We had two cars with us since Mark met us there after work. And as is often the case, Kate wanted to ride home with Mark, and my barnacle, Paigey, wanted to stay suctioned tightly onto me.

When we got home and tucked the kids in, Mark came into our room where I was changing into my most sexy and alluring flannel granny nightgown. (I am SO on-fire in that thing.)

And Mark says, as if he’s mentioning he had a ham sandwich for lunch, that he happened to tell Kate about 9/11 in the car ride home.

“You WHAT?!” I bellowed, yanking the ruffled yoke of flannel down over my head. “You just kind of casually happened to tell her about 9/11?!”

“Well, it’s not like I brought it up,” he said, all calm. “I mean, we were looking at the skyscrapers downtown, and then she asked me what the tallest building in New York was, and I said, ‘Well, it’s the Empire State building now.’”

NOW?” I shout-whispered, so as not to wake the children. “You said NOW?”

“Well, yeah,” he said, innocently stepping into his striped PJ bottoms. “I mean, I didn’t stress the word, but I said it. And she totally zoned in on it, and asked me what did I mean by ‘now.’ And then I told her about 9/11.”

And oddly, just minutes after that conversation—which Mark claimed wasn’t rife with gory details—Kate was already drifting off to sleep peacefully in her room. We weren’t dialing some 1-800-SCARED-KID hot line. The terrorists apparently weren’t going to win this one.

“Huh,” I said. “Well… do you want to watch Top Chef?”

I think it’s awesome and brave of Mark to talk to Kate about things like this. I need to test the waters more here and butch up to the fact that she can handle it. I need to exhibit more risk-taking behavior when, at the end of a long day of parenting, there might be something that might trigger me to have to spend more time Mamaing. Like, maybe Kate would’ve just said “oh” if I told her sometimes robbers do break into houses, and sometimes it even happens in our happy little hamlet, Oakland.

Last year, when Kate was a wee preschooler (not the sophisticated, worldly kindergartener she is today), I told her about what happened in Haiti. Which led to her asking the inevitable, “Are there ever earthquakes here, Mama?”

And of course, I said, “Here?! Earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area?! Why… noooooo!”

I mean, even I felt bad about that doozey of a lie. But really, what was I going to say? “Yes! Why, we’re just a mile or so from a fault line! In fact, we have an earthquake kit packed in our garage with a crowbar and food, and water, and diapers and lots of one-dollar bills so we’re ready for what people refer to as The Big One—a quake of devastating proportions that could level our house, incite looting and rioting, and have public utilities down for days! We also have meeting places established in San Francisco and Oakland in case Daddy’s on the other side of the bridge at work and, well, in case the whole bridge breaks and falls into the water! (All the cell phone lines will probably be tied up.) In fact, most of the people who we meet when we’re away from home think we’re stark-raving mad for living here and ask us, ‘Aren’t you afraid of earthquakes?’ ”

Why yes, honey. We may have great sourdough bread and those big purdy Redwood trees, but the reality is, we live in a primo spot for earthquakes. Heck, and for robbers too!

But do me a favor and don’t let your Auntie Brenda know.  Let’s just let this be our little secret.


The World According to Kate

Posted: September 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Earthquakes, Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate | 6 Comments »

Last weekend I had a peak experience at a street fair.

We were in San Fran, in a Chinese ‘hood, crowded around an open-air stage watching dragon dancers. You know, those performances where a few kids (or limber grown-ups) crouch inside long brightly-colored dragon costumes and leap around and undulate, usually to some kinda drumbeat or traditional music.

“My God,” I said to Mark, moments after the dragons spewed foil-wrapped candies out at the crowd, “THIS is why we live here. Right? This right now. Don’t you just love it?”

To which he replied mildly, “Yeah, sure.”

Later, walking towards the flea-bitten pony rides I was beaming, enthusing in a manic machine-gun cadence over everything my eyes landed on. “Wow, this is perfect. Not too big. Not too many people. Lots of black market DVDs of Chinese movies for sale. I luh-OVE it!”

And when he didn’t immediately chime in I said, “I mean, they had dragon dancing performances in Franklin when you were a kid, right?” (Mark grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Not so many Amish dragon dancers, I’m guessin’.)

“Yeah,” he shot back. “Just like the ones you went to in Bristol.”

Touché, my street-fair-averse hubbie!

It was hot that day, even close to the ocean where we were. This is never a good sign. Us hardened Bay Area long-timers think of this as earthquake weather. (People who were here for The Big One in ’89 often remark on the unseasonable heat that day.) So never accept sunshine in the city of fog without being leery.

But where was I?

Oh yes, we ducked into a restaurant to get out of the sun and have some lunch. Kate and Paige began feverishly drawing on their paper placemats, then Kate announced at top voice, “These flowers are CHINE-EEZ-IZ.  And these princesses are CHINE-EEZ-IZ too!” I guess in her mind one flower or princess is Chinese, but two are Chine-eez-iz. I suppose that stands to grammatical reason.

And just in case anyone in the restaurant might not hear her, she projected the word extra loud-and-clear.

I mean, it wasn’t like it was such a terrible thing to say, but I certainly had a couple of those moments where I’d look out from our table—and sure it was probably just my neurotic mind playing tricks on me—but it seemed like all the other restaurant patrons were Asian, and there was an endless sea of them, and they were all looking right at us. Staring at us as if to say, “Your children are culturally insensitive. Your children draw on placemats. And you are most certainly NOT Chine-eez-iz.”

As I said, it might-a just been in my head.

Whatever the case it was nothing like the time around the presidential elections when we were shopping at Safeway. Kate, who was around three at the time, called out to an elderly black man at the end of the aisle, “BARACK OBAMA! Hey, Barack Obama!” And then, because at that point I’d crawled into the Frito-Lay display to hide, she turned to me to ensure I didn’t miss her star-sighting and yelled, “Look, Mama! It’s HIM! Barack Obaaaamaaaa!”

My God. We live in Oakland. This was not the first black man my child has seen in public. Or knows, for God’s sake.

But there was something about how totally UNLIKE Barack Obama this dude looked that especially mortified me. He was heavyset. He was stooped and graying. He was hopefully deaf.

Anyway, I’m assuming Barack shops at Whole Foods. Really now, what are the odds he’d be at Safeway? Come on, Kate.

Now, years and years ago, long before the birth of my first pregnancy-related stretch mark, I saw a woman in a locker room who became my hero. I was in Lake Tahoe at some big spa-type place that had hot tubs. And a little girl pointed to a large large overweight woman right at the moment she was stripping off her wet bathing suit.

“Look Mommy!” she screamed. “That lady is soooooo HUGE!”

For a half-second, every woman in that locker room threw up in their mouths a little.

But then, without missing a beat, the twerp’s mom said, “Well honey, people come in all different shapes and sizes.” She said it so calmly. So smooth and relaxed, like it was no big thing. And do you know the tension in the room just—plink!—dissipated, and everyone went back to putting on deoderant and lacing their sneakers.

Of course! How simple and true! We are all different, and it is o-kay.

Isn’t that what it all comes down to? Now I’m not condoning going marauding around locker rooms pointing at others and calling out, “Gnarly leg veins!” or “Left breast significantly larger than right!” No doubt that woman’s feelings got hurt. But I’m guessing she eventually breathed a sigh of relief along with the rest of us.

That Mama’s reaction was a most excellent kindergarten-level life lesson. One that me and all the other horrified women in that locker room clearly needed a refresher course on.

Would I ever live to be as cool a mom as her? Unlikely. But then and there I stashed away that line, figuring it’d help me get out of a similar scrape with a future child—or heck, drunk friend—some day.

A couple summers ago I got a call from one of my BFFs, Mike. Fate threw us together junior year abroad in London, and refused to let our paths diverge. After falling out of touch, we bumped into each other on a sidewalk in New York. That was (gulp) twenty years ago. We’ve linked pinkies in a bond of everlasting friendship ever since.

So a couple years ago he calls me. And he’s all downplaying it, but he says he’s getting married. A last-minute plan, with a very long-time love. It’d be in LA at his mother’s house, super casual. We were in no way meant to feel obligated, but they’d love to have us there if we could make it.

Not GO? That’d be like having a gold ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and staying home to wash your hair. Of COURSE we would be there.

From the second I hung up the phone I was clapping my hands together in glee. Not only was I thrilled for my dear friend to marry his partner (whom I also adored), I was thrilled that my dear friend COULD marry his partner in the great state of California.

Since he stressed it was a bring-the-kids event (they have three of their own), I immediately foisted the thrilling news onto Kate, wanting someone to join me in my spastic delight.

“Guess WHAT, Katie?” I bellowed in her face. “You are invited to a wedding! Your first ever wedding! Mike and Lorin are getting married!” And as I took both her hands and danced her around the living room I cried out, “They are getting MARRIED! Isn’t that just the happiest most exciting news EVER?”

Then, flopped down on the rug together, I caught my breath and shifted from giddiness to my more earnest teacher-Mama mode.  I looked her square in the eye. “You know, Kate, I want you to know that a man can marry a man. And a woman can marry a woman. Just like a man and a woman can get married.” I was getting choked up. Overflowing with excitement and emotion, and my first adrenaline-charged twinges of what’ll-I-wear anxiety.

Mike and Lorin met even before Daddy and I did,” I continued—because when I want to make a point, I like to really hammer it home. “And now, in the state of California, they CAN get married.” Me wiping tears from eyes and making quiet snorfly sounds.

Kate looked up at me from our tangled-on-the-floor hug. She thought for a second then said, “Mama?”

Me: “Yes, honey?”

Kate: “Do you think they’ll have juice boxes?”

Oh, Katie. Sometimes when I’m trying to teach you something you come out of nowhere and show me all the things I can learn from you. Thank you for that, my sweet.

May the time come very soon where the only concern people have with gay weddings is whether or not juice boxes will be served.



Posted: September 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Moods, Music, My Body, My Temple, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Sleep, Summer | 1 Comment »

I am so very tired.

It’d be one thing if it was just on accounta getting up at 6AM day after day, since in some late-night at-my-computer moment of bravado I signed up for the FIVE day-a-week boot camp. (Oy! What was I thinkin’?) I mean, that alone would be a really excellent reason to be tired.

But add to that the fact that my darling dumpling of a two-and-a-half year old has decided to regress to the sleeping habits of a two-and-a-half month old. This from the girl who has always been a star sleeper.

Alas, no more.

Who knows if it’s her new Big Girl Bed, or a sudden spate of nightmares, or some over-achiever desire to get back at us in advance for all the ways we’re certain to deny her things, dislike her boyfriends, and piss her off in the course of her life.

Whatever the case, she wails for me from the moment I click her door closed at night. But—from all we’ve read—when I go back in to comfort her I’m just rewarding her yowls. So now Mark uses his resonant I-used-to-be-a-DJ voice to say through the closed door “It’s time to sleep now, Paige.” It’s friendly, but firm.

Oddly, this at times has the effect of Paige stopping mid-hysterical-sob, and responding in a sunny tone, “Alright, Dada!”

But the relief is only temporary. Once we get into the dark cozy REM hours of the night she rises up with the gusto of a pregnant vampire on the prowl for a midnight snack. She cries. She screams. She beseeches “MAAAAA-Ma! Dada! I waaaaaaant you!” And sometimes, just to mix it up, she tramps out of bed and ambles down the hall to our room. (It’s always creepy to be awakened by a child standing silently by your bed. Even if she’s yours, and she’s cute, and she’s not holding a meat cleaver.)

Mark and I alerted the neighbors that we are not waterboarding Paige, despite what her tortured nighttime vocalizations might infer. And we’re methodically working our way through different approaches to getting her to freakin’ sleep again. Although she’s had some intermittent nights of solid sleep—just to really fuck with us—for the most part nothing has worked.

So if you’re interested in coming to babysit for a week and taking a crack at this issue yourself, we’ll happily vacate the place at a moment’s notice.

Sudden thought: Is this some Darwinian toddler phase that emerges to remind parents who’re considering another child about the hellish newborn months of sleep deprivation? Not that we ARE considering another kid…

At any rate, something to think about.

In the final school-free days of summer, and with me work-free, it’s actually been somewhat manageable plodding through the days in a sleepy haze. Sometimes it’s even fun, in a distorted art student life-perspective kinda way.

I mean, have you ever had one of those days that unfolds like a play? Kinda like when you’re reading a book and you know that the writer was really trying to get a movie deal, just based on how it’s all laid out? Well, I had a day last week that felt totally like it wasn’t meant to be a day, but some sort of series of staged events.

For starters, my sleepiness was keeping me more distanced from things way more than I’m used to. Un-shy gal that I am, I usually feel pretty integrated in whatever’s happening around me. But it’s like I was in some weird deaf-mute alternate universe where things were unfolding around me in strictly choreographed little dramatic sequences, and I just happened to be there watching. Like some invisible Ebenezer Scrooge.

It started at boot camp. As most of my days recently do.

Instead of the punishing rounds of weights and bands and medicine balls and lunges/squats/lat blasts, we did our usual punishing frenzied-fast warm-up but were then told we were going to have a break in our routine. We’d just be running around the lake.

And can I just say that Lake Merrit is a fascinating place at 6AM? It’s like when you’re driving to the airport at some ungodly early hour and you can’t believe there are other cars on the road. Something that always prompts Kate to ask questions like, “Are the people in those cars taking a plane to see Grandpa in Rhode Island too?”

Yeah so there are ALL THESE PEOPLE awake and out and doing exercisey stuff at the lake. As I ran I got totally absorbed in watching them pass by. It was like I was in some Spike Lee movie and was gliding along smoothly on some conveyor belt that let me really stare at each person as they passed by.

There was a trio of old Chinese ladies in foamy trucker-style baseball caps and over-sized fleece jackets. One young woman had on a blue silk scarf babushka-style, and was clutching a cell phone to her ear as she scuttled past. There was even a buff black guy, pitted out in gray sweats, who was bobbing in place and doing little boxing jabs. (People really DO those?) Even the dogs looked like they were from Central Casting—one small, white, and scruffy, a big dopey Lab, then a vicious looking brindled Pit. An assortment as diverse Oakland’s human population. Everyone seemed to placed there intentionally to set the tableau of “the lake at dawn,” but it was so well-done, I almost couldn’t buy it.

Do you know what I mean? Like, I was totally anticipating the credits where the scarf-clad woman on the phone would be Babushka Caller #1.

And then later, when I’d shaken myself loose from the scene, gotten home, showered, and collected the still-on-summer-break kids, we went to the lake. A different, swimming lake. And there it was just more of the same. A series of mothers and kids on blankets under umbrellas lined up along shore. They were too perfectly spaced out to be real.

I saw one Mama I vaguely know and we start chatting, while our kids (her boys, my girls) ignore each other. Then, Mother #1—at the far end of the beach—her umbrella get swept up in the wind and tumbles a few times. She catches it, and runs up to my kinda friend. “Hey, could I borrow your hammer again?” Uh… HAMMER? And then Kinda Friend pulls a big rubber mallet from her L.L. Bean bag as if it’s a bottle of sunscreen.

“You, have a mallet with you?” I ask, trying to modulate the shock out of my voice. She carries it, she says, to secure her beach umbrella. Really bang that bottom stake down into the sand.


And this woman is so petite and mild mannered. She’s a nurse for God’s sake. In my sleepy haze it struck me as surreal for her to have a sledge hammer in her tote. And to act like it was no big thing.

After she leaves I get to chatting with Mom #3, the one closest to my blanket. She’s got her own two kids and another in tow who’s a total terror. He’s taking buckets of wet sand and running up from the shore to dump them on people’s blankets. In fact, since I’m standing a bit away from it, he chooses my blanket for this lovely gift. Mom #3 was mortified. She was virtually pulling his ear to get him to apologize, and clearly wanting to illuminate some NOT MY KID sign over the boy’s head.

Later in our conversation, Mom #3 and I were swapping school stories and she tells me that Holy Terror Boy goes to none other than Kate’s soon-to-be new school.


It was three days before school started. I took this tidbit as any rational mother would—as a strong premonition to Kate’s future life of crime.

As the day wore on Mortified Playdate Mom’s umbrella goes flying. As I run down the beach with her to help grab it, she turns to me and says, “Ugh. I wish your friend with the hammer was still here.”

And I just kinda stopped, imagining the morning tableau of mothers and kids arriving lakeside, and—despite not knowing each other—all taking turns with the beach-umbrella mallet like some weird “We Can Do It” poster come to life.

Later that day, we drove through the car wash. Kate and Paige were with me, and they’re pretty enthralled with the drama of the whirling brushes, long slappy rubber strips, and squiggly squirts of pink wax. We happened to be listening to our Nutcracker CD at the time. And as I put the car in neutral, I turned the music way up and we sat back. It was as if each new swishing slapping squirting movement came in perfect syncopation with the music.

It was better than fireworks.

If you have never been very very sleepy and gotten your car washed to the soundtrack from The Nutcracker, I highly recommend it.

1 Comment »

Digging Out

Posted: August 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Extended Family, Little Rhody, Milestones, Moods, My Body, My Temple, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sleep, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

One night last week my sister walked into her kitchen to find her nine-year-old son in a laundry bag. A bag that he’d voluntarily put himself in. Because I guess that’s what you do when you’re a nine-year-old boy.

It was mesh, so it wasn’t like he was struggling for air or anything. And he wasn’t alone. He was hanging out with his best friend. His friend who, for nearly A HALF-HOUR, had been trying unsuccessfully to un-knot the top of the bag.

And here’s the thing. My sister was upstairs THE WHOLE TIME. Had the boys thought to get her for help? Apparently not. She even asked if they didn’t find her because they thought she might be mad or something. They said no. Word was, they just hadn’t thought to get her.

I can’t help but think this is a boy thing. Like the young male version of not asking for directions.

As my sister was working to free him he tells her, “I’m starting to feel kinda weird in here.”


I’d have lasted four seconds in there before screaming and thrashing around like a Tazmanian Devil. Not only would someone upstairs know I needed help, the whole block would.

But the fact is, sometimes you get yourself into a tight spot and it’s kinda hard to know how dig yourself out. I was like that for a short while when I get back from Little Rhody. Not in a super bad place, but just glum. The craptastic Bay Area weather plus a large dose of nothing-much-going-on had me in a vague fog. And seeing as I generally operate like a chihuahua on caffeine (at least, in the words of my dear friend Kevin), this nebulous floating about was distasteful.

So I did what any sane woman would do. I started washing down pillows.

You know, took on an extremely low priority project and threw myself into it as if I was single-handedly redoing the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Oh, did I wash pillows. Then I tossed them in the dryer with tennis balls to dry and fluff ‘em all up nice. Once one set was done I’d nearly yank a pillow from beneath Mark’s sleeping head to start in on more.

It was a strange yet effective form of therapy. I was making just enough progress on an utterly unnecessary project that my morose mood was replaced by a mild sense of satisfaction. And since I have an addictive personality, I took my usual more-is-more approach. (Note: If anyone in my neighborhood would like their pillows laundered, please leave them on my front porch. I probably won’t hear the doorbell ring since the tennis balls in the dryer are fairly loud.)

Today, having come near the end of what turns out to be our thrillingly-large pillow inventory, I stumbled across a twin duvet I forgot we had. Perfect for Paige’s new Big Girl Bed! And an excellent item to, well, wash.

Pillow mites are watching their nightly newscasts and shielding their children’s eyes from pictures of me. I’m like the Saddam Hussein of the pillow mite community.

I’m considering opening a bed and breakfast for severe allergy sufferers. Why hoard all this pristine hypo-allergenic bedding for my family’s sole use?

Anyway, speaking of Paigey’s Big Girl Bed—and believe me, she and I seem to spend half our days discussing its merits—the other thing I’ve been doing to occupy myself is re-arranging the furniture in her room. This, it turns out, is also good therapy—albeit somewhat disorienting to the poor girl. She leaves her room for a five-minute snack, and on her way back in slams into a dresser I’ve impulsively moved catty-corner in her doorway.

I just can’t help myself. I’ve explored varying degrees of good and bad feng shui (a bed facing towards the door = a no-no). I’ve exhausted nearly every configuration of the contents of the room. And finally on this “project” I’m also slapping my hands together with a smug sense of accomplishment. I’ve settled on one layout I’ve been willing to keep in place for three days now. This, it seems, is progress.

Other things have helped my disposition get sunnier, despite the thick Bay Area fog. We’re off to Palm Springs at the end of the week—a trip I hastily planned in a desperate heat-seeking mission. And one day after our return from there, we set out for our Minnesotan lake vaycay.

And back on the homefront I signed up for a boot camp. You know, I’m paying some petite drill sargeant to yell at and disparage me as I do wind sprints by Lake Merrit, then fall to the sidewalk for endless rounds of push-ups. At 6:30 in the morning. This started today in fact, and aside from the regular Advil-overdosing I anticipate I’ll be doing, I think this ass-kickin’ is just what my lazy ass needed.

Though waking up at 5:45 was especially brutal. Miss Paige, ever the ringer for sleep, has been discombobulated of late. For years babysitters have gloated about “how easily she goes down.” But in the past few weeks her Sleep Super Power has been out of whack. At bedtime she’ll appear to have fallen asleep, but 45 minutes later will call out, “I want MY MAMA!” in her most desperate and dramatic wail. We’re popping up two to three times a night to settle her down, like she’s a newborn again. You’d think the steady thrum of the tennis balls in the dryer would soothe her back to sleep. But no dice. Much more of this and I’ll be asking for my money back.

Then in the morning, the poor thing calls out to us as if she’s shackled to the mattress. This happens to be my favorite non-intelligent behavior in my children: the fact that once they moved into twin beds they didn’t figure out that they were FREE TO GET OUT on their own.

But really, like I said, sometimes you’re just feeling stuck—be it in a laundry bag, a funk, or a bed that you forgot isn’t your crib any more.

So what’s been happening most mornings is we send Kate into Paige’s room to tell her she can get out of bed. Then she pops right out like a trained Cocker Spaniel and shows up in the kitchen, beaming and wild-haired, announcing proudly, “I got up, Mama!”

Hopefully by the time she goes away to college we’ll get her self-prompting to get out of bed. In the meantime, she’s one member of the family I’m happy to keep in the fog.



Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Mama Posse, Movies | 1 Comment »

Years ago, driving across the Bay Bridge, I saw a car with the license plate WMNRSMTR.

As you may know (from my excessive blathering about it), I’m from Rhode Island. A place where vanity license plates—and those with low numbers—are regarded as the pinnacle of social worth.

Not to show off or anything, but my first car, a major jalopy, had the most-excellent plate, KB 2. It was because I was dating the son of a Department of Transportation employee. That car’s been off the road for twenty years now, but my Dad (FB 14) is still proud of that license plate.

Aaaanyway, I was driving behind WMNRSMTR. It was clear that there was a message in there, but not so clear what it was. And I’m usually great with word things. It’s those pastel dotty posters you’re supposed to stare at until you see the wolf baying at the moon that I have trouble with. I almost never succeed at having the image emerge, and end up just lying to whomever I’m shopping with at Spencer’s that I saw it.

But I digress.

So here’s me, alone in my car, trying to crack the code:

“Wim… Nurse.. Mutter…”

“Wih Minners Matter?”

Then more determined:

“Wim NERsum Terr!”

“Wimin URS Tur!”

And finally:

“Wim NER Smerrterr?”



Yeah, yeah, I get the irony.

And speaking of women, but really just a total tangent, I realized the other day that my gynecologist’s office is on BUSH Street. No joke! How good is that?

So a couple months ago I went on a day-long yoga retreat in Marin. I’ve done this before but always with my friend and faithful neighb, Jennifer. This time I was flying solo. So at the lunch break I was sitting somewhat dorkishly at the big communal table, having one of my twice-a-decade moments of shyness. Just hoping one of the other yoginis might put their play-with-the-outcast-on-the-playground skills to work.

A trio of older women, in their 60s or so, were sitting to my right. And one of them got to talking in a loud and animated enough way that I felt I could scoop hippie vegan soup into my mouth and look at her. You know, pretend that she was talking to me too.

She’d lived in a chicken coop in Georgia, she said. Yes, a chicken coop. Starting when she was 20 until about—long pause, looking up sideways to think—until she was 26. “It had a packed clay floor,” she pointed out. As if we’d all maybe been picturing parquet. They cooked on a grill and had an outdoor water drum that was painted black that they used as a shower.

I was instantly jealous.

When I was 20 I was living in Ohio. Sure that’s rustic and all, but I mean, I had indoor plumbing.

She’d moved to Georgia from Minnesota with her “pack,” as she called them. A group of about eight who I couldn’t help but imagine as a bra-disparaging partner-swapping commune-like klatch.

Again, more envy. Or maybe just deep deep fascination.

And they were potters, of course. That’s to say, throwers of pots. (By this point in the story I think I’d pulled my chair nearly an inch from her, abandoning my soup, enraptured.) They—her “pack”–had waited for their potter’s wheels to arrive in the mail first, then they hit the road for Georgia.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many pottery wheels they had, and why they didn’t just have them shipped straight to Georgia. But I didn’t want to ask too many questions. After all, I was kind of auditing the story as it was.

After more good stuff about one klatch member who was a professor getting fired, and some details on the rigors of heat-free winter-living, she mentioned  she now owns a gallery in Berkeley. The woman at her left has a gallery there too. They said the names of the places, which I of course instantly forgot, but in my mind I envisioned visiting there a lot. Buying stuff. Becoming an apprentice. Keeping a pet cat there.

Even though I kinda hate pottery.

Then this other woman pulls up a chair with her bowl of soup. And for a moment my verging-on-creepy fixation with the gray-haired pot-throwers was broken.

The new woman started chatting with the instructor about how she’s out of town so often for work. So, I summon some social courage and ask her what she does.

And DO YOU KNOW WHAT SHE SAID? She said she is a bee broker.

A BEE broker!!

I didn’t know what that was but I instantly wanted to be one too. BEES! Of course!

So, I say, “So, uh, what is a bee broker?”

And do you know what she said? She said that she has some big rig that’s filled with hives that she brings down to Modesto to the almond farms. She then sets her bees free in the fields. It’s like the farmers rent them! Then at night when it gets all chilly the bees fly back into the truck to go to sleep with in the hive, or have sex with the queen, or do whatever it is they do in there. Then Ms. Bee Broker heads off to another farm.

I almost hugged her.

Now I was going to have to split my weekends between Modesto and the Berkeley pottery studios.

All this talk was more energizing than all the hold-one-nostril breathing and triangle-posing the first half of the retreat had served up. I loved every one of these women. If these gals by were so amazing, what were the ones crouched over their vegan soup over there like? I wanted to start going from woman to woman, looking intently into each of their faces and interviewing them all documentary-style.

I mean, I was feeling like the odds that the next person I’d talk to would be a Bed, Bath & Beyond employee was pretty low. But the thing is, if she had been, I think I would have suddenly slipped into a reverential trance, and praised all that was holy about mattress pads. I was ready to find the love in everyone.

Without drugs!

After lunch and before my yoga, we all hiked to the beach. This hike is pretty crazy gorgeous. If you’re ever in California, call me and I’ll take you to this place. It’s along a super lush valley where these Buddhists have a homestead. You pass all their perfect vegetable and flower gardens, then a silly idyllic horse pasture, and then the path narrows and it’s all just and trees and flowers and birds and butterflies and nature and shit.

What I mean is, it sure is purdy there.

Then when you arrive at the beach, you get that positive ion hit. Whatever that high is that you get from the ocean water. Someone told me about this once and I still believe that there’s something to it, even if it’s really not true.

But clearly in the mode that I was in I needed no more highs of any sort.

Beachside I wandered up to a group of co-yoga-retreaters and sat on a driftwood log with them. (See how socially brave I was getting?) We were looking out at the water, and I was feeling certain one of them was about to tell me something that would make me weep and hug her ankles and think that the world was a beautiful beautiful place. You know. I was just waiting for that.

Even better, I got some excellent book recommendations. These gals were older, but let’s just say we were reading at the same level. We all clucked with praise for that great hedgehog novel. And then they bantered about the name of a few other amazing reads. Eventually I’d borrowed a pencil from one of them and an ATM receipt from another and wrote the all the titles all down. We even talked about our favorite children’s lit because—get this—one of them had been a children’s librarian for, like, 30 years or something. Joy!

If I were to spelunk a few layers down on my desk today, I may even find that paper today and read those books.

Just a day or two after it opened, I went to see the Sex and the City movie with a Mama Posse friend. I never read movie reviews. Having even the smallest inkling of what to expect in a movie destroys it for me. I spend the whole time waiting for whichever scene it is that’s funny or dumb, and I can’t even enjoy my wine. (Yes, smuggling red wine and plastic cups into the movies has become par for the course for me and the Mamas.)

But in the days leading out to my Moms Night Out, Mark, bless his heart, made sure I knew how utterly decimated this movie had gotten by reviewers. It’s badness delighted him.

But whatEVER. We still went. And all of Oakland was out in their fancy. I mean, black girls in stilettos and what looked like prom dresses. I mean, it’s Oakland. If there was any Prada, I didn’t see it.

Me, I was in flip flops.

And do you know what? I LIKED the movie. Sure it was vapid and silly and predictable, and there were probably some culturally-offensive jokes, but it was entertaining. Yes, I actually chuckled—full-out laughed a bit too—and found it perfectly un-intellectually engaging.

On the way out, I think I even complimented a woman on her purple clutch, awash with feel-good audience-mate comraderie.

I’m not exactly sure what all those reviews said—because if I’m disinclined to read reviews before seeing a movie I’m even disinclineder to read them after. Maybe those writers were preparing to see Amistad, and were taken aback when the movie was more about Manolo Blahnik shoes, low-cal cocktails, and menopause. You know, I think they were missing the point.

While I’m at it, do you know what movie I also saw last week? The latest Twilight movie. Oh yes I did.


Sure, I’d had—-okay—a few Mai Tais beforehand. But even without cheap rum coursing through my veins I think I’d be squealing over the dreamy barely-legal cast and walloping my poor friend’s arm during the shirtless scenes. It was entertaining. I enjoyed myself.

And where’s the shame in that?

I’m hardly going to defend the artistic merit of either movie. But I will say, that in a theater full of women who likely spent their days working in courtrooms, or classrooms, or at The Sunglass Hut—or hell, wrangling with clay or bees or young children—for us gals it felt good to put our hair down and our feet up and let the low-browness of it all wash over us. I mean, isn’t that why men watch wrestling?

From what I can tell, despite what movies we may make a big show of going to, that license plate was right. Women are smarter.

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Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Little Rhody, Milestones, Moods, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Summer, Travel | 7 Comments »

Greetings from Nowhere. Well, alright. I guess officially I’m in Oakland. But my psyche feels trapped somewhere between where I just was—my beloved, belittled home state of Rhode Island—and wherever it is l’ll be next.

Or maybe it’s just that where I am now ain’t where I want to be.

My pre-vacation freelance work dried up, at least temporarily. I’m utterly rusty at this stay-at-home mom thing. (But working hard at bringing the passion back into laundry.) And, unsurprisingly, I’m deep into my annual Post-Trip-Home Funk.

The relentlessly dismal, cold weather here is just the icing on the cake.

I always bill myself at being bad with change, but that’s maybe not entirely accurate. If I were to self-diagnose with a bit more precision, I might venture to say it’s not the new things that bother me as much as the down time preceding them.

And right now that seems to be squarely where I am. Nowhere. Swimming in limbo. Stuck between The Then—freelancing, sunny Rhode Island beaches, the world’s best 4th of July parade—and The Soon To Be—our summer pilgrimage to Minnesota, the start of the school year, and, well, hopefully something else. Hopefully some other compelling something-or-other will come into the mix.

But until those things happen, I’m just here. I’m like some Pong-like screen saver, gliding about, bouncing off the edges, then floating off in another unintentional direction.

Rinse. Repeat.

And it’s not only the craptastic weather that’s responsible. For starters, the neighborhood’s been nearly dismantled in the short time we were away. The fam across the street moved deeper into Suburbia. Our friends to the left are on their East Coast summer trip, poorly timed on the heels of ours. And whenever it is they return it’s only to unpack and repack for their Montana house. (Poor dears.) And to complete the circle of abandonment, the cute Ken ‘n Barbie neighbs behind us are in the final stages of job talks that’ll likely take them out of state.

I’m clearly at the vortex of somewhere no one wants to be.

To ground myself, I called my yoga studio last week to get on the list for a popular class. Whatever’s ailing me is certainly nothing that 90 minutes of Oming and Pranayama can’t fix. But it turned out that my favorite instructor is out of town. I can’t even strike a corpse pose right now.

And from what I can tell my whole family’s in limbo. Like a determined sherpa, Paige hauled her diaper-clad ass up onto a twin bed at my dad’s house, planted a flag, and renounced crib-sleeping forever. Well, at least until we got back to California, where we still haven’t managed to buy her a Big Girl Bed. I did get a new rug for her room, and a fluffy pink blanket for the much-anticipated BG Bed. But until we borrow a friend’s truck for an Ikea run, Paige is dejectedly relegated to crib-dom. At naps and night-time she wears me down with dramatic flourishes of dismay, looking over her shoulder with big hurt eyes, like I’m shoving her into a dog cage.

As for Kate, she’s winding down her days in preschool—only 8 to go—and is weeks away from the dazzling new realm of Kindergarten. (If a twin bed makes Paige a big girl, precocious Kate nearly wants to wear make-up to kindergarten.) On a daily basis Kate alternates between practicing her hippie “Rainbow of Friends” graduation song, despairing the loss of her preschool posse, and wondering which of her dresses the kindergarten boys will find the cutest.

Add to all this a veneer of jet lag. As if us McClusky gals aren’t out-of-whack enough, Mark’s fresh back from the Tour de France. Happily reunited with us—in body at least. He still wants to sleep half-way through the work day, and is hungry for breakfast in the middle of the night. All that, plus his body’s in shock from not having fois gras at every meal.

Before I know it, we’ll all push past this nebulous nether realm. I can almost smell the change in the air like the onset of rain. But it’s still just out of reach. And I just hope my patience can endure.

My inner child keeps asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And my Mama self summons the automatic response, “Not yet, Kristen. But soon.”


She’s No Nadia

Posted: April 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Friends and Strangers, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 2 Comments »

I’m a lousy telemarker. And that’s no typo, Jeff. I do mean telemarker, not telemarketer. I’ve never actually done telemarketing (thank GOD). Even so, I bet I’d be pretty good at bringing that phone script to life.

Yeah so telemarking, for the luckily uninitiated, is a kind of skiing. It’s like downhill skiing, but on cross-country skis where your heel isn’t clamped into the binding. When you turn you bend one knee down towards the ski, while keeping the other one bent out in front of you. So as you come down the mountain it looks like you’re popping into position to propose every time you turn.

There’s also a thing called ‘jump telemarking’ or ‘jump tele’ where you add a little hop to that scenario. That’s for real show-offs.

Anyway, I suck at telemark skiing. Suck. Suck. Suuuuuck.

I know this because many many years ago—back in the Dark Ages before your parents were probably even born—I was dating a ski-obsessed fellow. He thought it’d be fun for us to take a weekend telemarking clinic.

Now, you might think the term ‘clinic’ is an odd one to pair with a recreational activity. ‘Clinic’ brings to mind images of nothing even remotely fun. Instead one conjures a cold, undesirable environment where you’re often in a great deal of pain.

It turns out that clinic was the perfect term for this ski weekend after all.

I’ll lay the groundwork by stating that I was pretty much a newbie to even downhill skiing at the time. The Brunos did not ski when we were young. We did not take road trips. We did not go camping. Everything about my childhood left me utterly unprepared for adult life in California—but that’s another story. There may even be a book in there somewhere.

Anywho, everyone else at this clinic was wearing faded Boston Marathon t-shirts. Trading war stories from their last IronMan. Making plans to swim to Alcatraz together upon our return to SF.

Me? I was unfamiliar with the PowerBars the teachers handed out during our first break. “Power Bar?!” I balked, as I sunk my teeth into the pale tan gummy thing. “More like a flat, undelicious Tootsie Roll.”

It turned out the other kids were familiar with this new-to-me foodstuff. They not only didn’t get my joke, they looked at me horrified, as if I’d spat out their Italian Nana’s pasta sauce.

But what really set me apart from these people was my utter incompetence on telemark skis. Throughout the weekend our teachers commanded us to get into “the telemark position”—that about-to-propose stance. By Monday morning I was scanning phone books to find someone who could erase that traumatic term from my mind.

My body seemed unwilling to bend that way, turn the skis, and move downhill across slippery snow. And when the kindly teachers offered extra help, their instructions baffled me. “Make your top thigh parallel to the ground!” they’d call out. “Wait… Aren’t I doing that?” I’d think to myself.

It was then that I discovered the gaping disconnect in my mind-body link. I understood intellectually how I should position my body, and I felt certain I was doing just that. In reality I was doing something closer to the Walk Like an Egyptian dance.

What killed me about all this wasn’t the brutal muscle burn that radiated from my legs for days after. It wasn’t having to wear the light gray rental telemark boots—stinky square-toed numbers that had less fashion merit than nursing shoes. It wasn’t even taking a perfectly good weekend to drive to Lake Tahoe with a group of people who—aside from my beau—I’d never see again. Nor was it the mortification of popping my PowerBar cherry in front of a group of die-hard devotees.

What tore me up about the whole experience was my persistent and thorough inability to get it. That weekend rocked my world for a while after, and I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about telemark skiing, and was actually thrilled at the prospect of never doing it again. But I was deeply shaken by being pulled that far out of my comfort zone.

I realized that in school, or at work, or in social situations—wherever there’s something to grasp or learn or pick up on—I’m used to catching on. At least eventually.

Drunken bidding at preschool auctions, now that’s in my sweet spot. And that’s exactly what recently landed Kate and Paige into new gymnastics classes.

They’ve gone two times thus far. The classes are held in a huge warehouse-like space, and several coaches conduct classes for various age groups at the same time.

Paigey and I are in the toddler class, which requires parental involvement. Kate on the other hand rocks her class solo. And every once and a while—generally when Paige catches a glimpse of Kate and runs screaming after her—I’ll look up to see Kate in purple flowered Spandex, arms extended out from her sides, walking along the balance beam with impressive grace and ease. It’s amazing what she’s picked up so quickly. She’s ravenous for more more more hot gymnastics fun, and starts whining from the moment we leave the place, “When is gymnastics class next?”

Paigey, on the other hand, is no future Nadia Comaneci. When the instruction is to bunny hop down the long trampoline, Paige opts to walk, wobbly-legged, curls bouncing. When the other kids climb up on the ladder-bars of a dome-shaped thing, Paige just touches her hand to it, then turns and wanders away. On the low kiddie-level balance beam she takes a couple steps then bellows, “Down, Mama! DOOOWN!” It’s only the hot dog roll that she performs with the same finesse as her classmates. (The thing I knew as a log roll when I was a kid. But that’s back when play structures were called jungle gyms. So what do I know?)

Kate’s got Coach Jordan, some young dude who all the parents gush over. Various maternal informants insisted he was THE teacher to get. But Paige’s coach is the one whose class took place at the same time as Kate’s. And when I first saw her blue hair, multi-pierced face, and neck and arm tattoos, well, what can I say? I judged her.

She was no Coach Jordan. No Coach Jordan indeed.

But towards the end of the first class, with Paige able to really do so few things, I felt obliged to ask Tattooed Lady whether Paigey Wigs might be in the wrong class.

“She was a late walker,” I offered up.

“Oh,” she said, unimpressed.

“Yeah, like she didn’t walk until she was 21 months old,” I persisted. “Like REALLY late.”

This is me in confessional mode. Get me anywhere close to a topic I don’t want to talk about, or I think you might call me on, and I respond by telling all. “Let me beat you to the punch,” my pysche says. Before you ask me a question I don’t want to answer, I’m just going to lob the information right at you.

I’d be a terrible spy.

And I couldn’t stop once started. “She’s in physical therapy!”I blurted out. “She’s really still mastering going down stairs! Sometimes her breath is really bad in the morning!”

Okay, so I wasn’t that revealing. But I did find I was suddenly throwing myself at the mercy of She With The Large Spider Tramp Stamp. Beseeching her for advice with every last drop of my Mama being.

“Should I put her in a lower class? There are lower levels aren’t there? Would she do better there? Get the hang of it? Get more out of it?” I was panting at this point. Yelping. Nearly pawing at her like a chihuahua, small frenzied legs raking away furiously.

We looked up as a line of toddlers forward rolled. Paige squealed with excitement, lost her balance, and fell on her ass. Then she got up to follow the crew to the foam pit.

“You know what?” Coach Nose Ring said, chewing on a lock of blue hair. “She’s not doing everything, but it’s good for her to have the challenge. She’ll learn from watching the other kids. And look at her,” she said, nodding towards Paige who was gleefully watching her classmates crawl through the foam pit. “She’s having a blast.”

And the thing was—as utterly mystifying it was to me—she actually was.

So Paige is staying in gymnastics class. And I’m training my mind to not start thinking that the other parents meet in the parking lot after class to discuss that curly-haired girl who’s just not catching on. I’m trying to repress my urges to apologize for Paigey’s hot dog rolls, when what’s called for is a blast off. And I’ve given up on trying to coerce her back onto the balance beam.

Someday she’ll learn how to jump and somersault and even cartwheel. In the meantime I’m hoping that I’ll learn that you don’t have to be at the head of the class to have a good time.


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.


Glass Half Full

Posted: November 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, Drink, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Mom | 1 Comment »

In our house love is measured in ounces. Between Mark and me at least.

Our unexceptionally-appointed kitchen has one of those do-hickies in the refrigerator door that dispenses filtered water, ice cubes, and—well, I don’t mean to brag here but—crushed ice too.

It makes me feel like royalty.

Growing up I lived in a lovely house in a beautiful seaside town. I went to an excellent school, and my dad had a good job. We had a Black Labrador, and my mom took painting classes and did lots of gardening. You could call it an entitled life.

But it was New England. Which is to say the richest man in town drove a battered ancient Volvo, everyone we knew set their thermostats to bone-chilling temps in the winter, and my mother didn’t subscribe to a single magazine. She read old back issues our neighbors passed on to her.

It wasn’t until the late-80s that my sisters and I, home for a holiday and desperate to check our apartment answering machines, went to the Apex in Pawtucket to buy Mom a touch-tone phone. Had we never done this, and were she alive today, I’ve no doubt she’d still be dragging her finger along that rotary dial, and swearing every time it slipped and she’d have to start all over again.

When I started going to school in Providence, I got a taste of life beyond the crusty Yankee world. Not that my city friends weren’t New Englanders too. But some of them were, well, new school.

I had to mask my amazement when, while making packets of Swiss Miss cocoa at Diane Prescott’s house—a structure that amazed me in its unapologetic immensity and modernity (not to mention that her mom drove a brand-new bright orange Pacer)—all we needed to do was turn the knob on a tap at the side of their kitchen sink. Amazingly, the spigot produced boiling water, instantly. It was so handy, so indulgent, I felt simultaneously dazzled and dismayed by it. Nothing should be so easy.

Of course, I never let on any of this to Diane. Though I’m sure she did wonder why, at age nine, I was perpetually desperate for a cup of tea.

But now I’m a Californian. Someone who has had regularly-scheduled massage appointments every six weeks, like haircuts. Someone who—before having kids at least—filled empty spots in the weekends by having Asian immigrants slough dry skin off my feet and scrape dirt from my toenails. I’m no longer amazed (or scandalized) when I walk onto someone’s deck and see a hot tub.

I don’t see any of these changes in me as indicators that I’ve struck it rich. In fact, I’d guess Mark and I have less money that our parents did when we were kids. It’s just that here, on the Left Coast, personal indulgences are not poo-pooed. They’re actually encouraged; signs that you’re taking care of yourself, not acting hedonistic.

When my mother visited San Francisco, sometimes between Scrabble games and her scouring my coffee pot I’d suggest that we go get mani-pedis. But she never had any desire to try one. In fact, she seemed turned off by the idea. Like her take on restaurants—”If you’ve got a kitchen and know how to cook, why would you go out?”—she was unshakeable in her views.

Our rental-house refrigerator’s water and ice dispenser is like some weird time-and-place machine. More than once when someone comes over for the first time, I’ve commented on it as I get them water. “We never had one of these when I was a kid,” I say, pressing the glass against up against the fridge door. “I feel spoiled rotten that I have one now.”

I’m laughing when I say it, but I’m really only half-kidding.

The downside to our water dispenser? It’s painfully slow. (Was Diane Prescott’s like that too? I can’t imagine it was.) To fill even a rocks-sized glass takes something like a minute, maybe two. That might not sound like long, but it feels like dog minutes. I’ve missed the better part of brilliant stories our dinner-party guests have told while I was slavishly refilling their glasses. And after packing snacks, changing diapers, and putting on coats—trying desperately to get out the door—I’ll realize I need water for the girls. My momentum screeches to a halt as I press each sippy cup against the door and wait, my blood pressure spiking.

Sometimes when this becomes unbearable I pivot to the sink to slosh water in the cups. Relief! But inevitably I envision the presence of microscopic water-borne carcinogens. I picture myself polluting my babies’ pure bodies. The burden of that guilt is sometimes worse than tacking another five minutes of lateness onto wherever it is we’re already supposed to be.

In the evenings when the girls are in bed, Mark and I convene on the couch. It’s where we exhale after punching the clock for the day. And like a game of chicken, one of us eventually gets up for something—to pee, to flip the laundry, to get ice cream—and asks, usually without thinking, “Can I get you anything?” It’s only when the response is, “Sure. Water would be great,” that we realize what we’ve done.

I joke that our water dispenser should also serve Ritalin. I can’t imagine anyone, even with a normal attention span (unlike my hummingbird-fast one), not finding the process painful. In fact, Mark tends to just use the tap these days. But every once and a while he’ll come back to me and hand me a pint-glass that’s filled nearly to the top. “This,” he’ll say proudly, “Is how much I love you.”

1 Comment »

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.