Family ‘Savings’

Posted: December 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Hoarding, Holidays, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Parenting | 1 Comment »

It’s the time of year when I worry about the girls eating the poinsettias. Since someone told me once that they’re poisonous. But for all I know, it’s an urban legend.

And the thing is, Kate and Paige have heretofore expressed absolutely no interest in ingesting poinsettias, or any other house plants, flowers, or fauna. But that makes no difference in the mind of a fretful Mama. I’m convinced that they’ll suddenly find a wayward poinsettia leaf—or possibly an entire plant—mouthwateringly tempting. Like in those Looney Toons cartoons when someone who’s hungry looks at something and their pupils suddenly turn into ham hocks.

I mean, I’m just sayin’ it could happen.

And just to exacerbate my anxiety, those damn leaves seem to curl up and fall off the frickin’ plants at an alarming pace. It’s a full-time job monitoring the floor for delicious-looking dessicated poinsettia leaves.

Alas, since potentially-deadly flowers aren’t an adequate expression of my holiday spirit, I spelunked down in the basement yesterday, on a quest for our Christmas decorations. Our basement is huge, which is both a blessing and a curse for me and Mark. On accounta we like keepin’ stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, our pack-rattery hasn’t taken on epic scary call-the-doctor hoarding-esque proportions. We have lots of stuff, but we’re frighteningly organized about it all, which takes the sting out a bit. Even so, it’s bad enough that it bugs us both. Like compulsive hand washers we know our hands really aren’t dirty, but we just can’t resist the urge to wash them again.

And of course, just to make things interesting, our sickness takes different forms. Mark, for instance, has every box from every software program and gadget he’s ever owned or tested for work. (He’s the gadget guy at Wired.) This, as it turns out, happens to be a LOT. Or, as they say, a shit-ton.

Me? My brand of crazy revolves more around things like china, silverware, and table linens. Suffice it to say if you ever need a table cloth of any size, color, or fabric type, I’ve got one I could lend you. With 12 matching napkins.

I inherited this affliction from my mother, as well as her vast and magnificent table linen collection. The woman squirreled away napkin sets like alkies hide gin bottles in toilet tanks.

The preponderance of vintage, striped, square, round, rectangular, indoor, outdoor, and tiki-themed tablecloths I own is made even more shameful and absurd due to the fact that we bought a farmhouse-style dining table several years back. Not only does it not require tablecloths, but they look kinda dumb on it.

Mark and I both also like books. Very much so. We could open a library with cookbooks and back issues of cooking magazines alone. And Mark’s Shakespeare anthology from college is in the depths of our basement somewhere, along with various other textbooks that I had the good sense to throw out. If you’ve been hankering to reread an annotated version of King Lear, I’m just saying I could hook you up.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago we were watching CSI. (Don’t judge.) And the cops kicked a door in on a house. Except the door didn’t move much. Until it fell forward, and revealed a solid mass of, well… stuff. Floor to ceiling stuff packed so tight and high and deep it sealed off the home’s entire front entryway. (And, we’d later find out, concealed a couple dead bodies too.)

When the show ended it was about 10:30 or so, but I was fired up. “These magazines!” I cried to Mark, who was lying prone, half-asleep on the couch. “Did you already read this?” I bellowed, shaking a Wine Spectator in his face. “Can I recycle your college alumni newsletter?” I was in a cold sweat, pawing at the shelf under the coffee table, yanking out everything and interrogating Mark about why we still owned it.

It wasn’t pretty. But neither was the image of us sealing off the path to the front door some day with back issues of Sunset and Vanity Fair.

At the farmer’s market that weekend I bumped into my friend Shira and her adorably cute little fam. She’s a professional organizer. I mean, I’m not sure that’s what she’d actually call herself (an organizational architect? a professional neatnik?), but she helps people cull, categorize, store, and toss their crap.

Shira’s website makes me want to take a bulldozer to all the toys in my house, toss on a crisp linen dress, then place a vase of white wildflowers on an end table and become one with all that is simple, clean, and beautiful. It’s inspirational. And, for someone like me, aspirational. Like I said, I’ve got the organization part down—it’s the less-is-more mentality I’m struggling with.

Anyway, when I saw Shira I couldn’t wait to tell to tell her clients about that CSI episode. It’s good medicine.

As for y’all who live outside the Bay Area and can’t benefit from Shira’s services, check out Motherboard’s story on clutter-free livin’. After grabbing armloads of Christmas tree lights, red candles, and my Mom’s old pinecone wreaths, and staggering from the basement upstairs, it was nice to read this and see I’m not the only one who’s swept up in a holiday-induced organizational, stuff-overload panic.

Last Christmas my friend Meg reported on the under-his-breath mutterings her decidedly UN-Scrooge-like husband made as their wee ones unwrapped presents. “Where the hell are we going to PUT that thing?” he’d mouth to her over the kids’ heads.

We’re hardly Manhattanites, but us Bay Area dwellers who aren’t Rockefellers live in fairly small spaces. That huge hobby horse Grandma sent may make Junior’s eyes gleam with excitement on Christmas morn’, but I’m with Jack on this one. Where the hell do you stick the thing after the tree’s down and wreath’s off the front door?

Well, thankfully for us, we’ve got the basement.

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Speaking with the Fairies

Posted: October 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Birthdays, City Livin', Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Milestones, Miss Kate, Parenting | Tags: | 3 Comments »

I vowed to never be a pony-renting birthday party mom. No juggling clowns, jumpy houses, or elaborate expensive goody bags. I decided some time ago that simple sweet parties were the key to raising my kids all wholesome and well-balanced.

Plus, I figured hype-free parties would be less stressful.

But then last year, I was overwhelmed—nay, terrified—by the prospect of entertaining a slew of raucous four-year-olds in our small back yard. (Yes, the guest list grossly exceeded my long-ago best laid plans for wee intimate birthdays.). So I rented a jumpy house. A big princessy pink castle jumpy house.

And then this year, well this year a meltdown at California Pizza Kitchen informed it all. I swear we don’t go there very often, but for some reason it’s a blog-worthy spot.

So there we were, in our CPK booth, awaiting our CPK personal pizzas and my half Waldorf, and Kate mentioned how super duper wicked excited she was for her friend Casey’s party. The party wherein a fairy—a real live bee-ooooo-tiful fairy with wings and a flower crown and everything—was going to not only paint faces and make balloon animals, but do a magic show too.

Kate’s anticipation for this party was so intense I imagined her pituitary gland transmitting jolts of unicorn hallucinations throughout her system. For weeks she was bathed in a heroin-high haze of pixie dust, and mind-numbing glee at the thought of a corner slice of cake with a blue frosting rose.

Yeah, so she was excited.

And then Mark laid it on her. Right there in our CPK booth. “Actually, honey, you know how we decided to go visit Aunt Judy? Well, it turns out we’re going to be in Palm Springs for Casey’s party.” And just to be sure his dire message was clear he added, “So you won’t get to go to the party after all.”

At which point Kate clenched both sides of her head in an Edward Monk-ian scream and began what was to be a long, loud, and active grieving period.

Even though Kate’s ensuing hunger strike and black armband seemed like extreme expressions of parental condemnation, I did feel bad. We had told her we were going to the party. I did read her the invitation daily (at her request) until she could recite it from memory. (“Be sure to arrive by 12:30 when the magic will begin!”) And I was a coward, putting off telling her myself so Mark had to share the bad news.

So I did what any mother who is heartbroken about her child’s heartbreak does. I called Casey’s mom to find out how to rent a fairy.

She gave me the straight scoop. “What I liked about these fairies,” she said, “is that they’re not Disney characters.”

“Oh good. That’s good!” I said. I was taking notes like a first-year law student.

“And communicating with them is interesting,” she added. But I was too busy scribbling down the URL she gave me, like some junkie with a line on a dealer, to take much note of anything else she said.

It was a month before Kate’s birthday. “Oh Kate,” I thought, with an aren’t-I-clever Hollywood-grade chuckle. “You WILL get your fairy.”

But seconds later on the website, my scheming laughter turned to perverse fascination. This was no two-bit get-a-fairy-and-a-jumpy-house combination party pack kinda place. This was all fairies. Serious fairies. With serious fairy names, like Miss Violet and Miss Acorn. There were gauzy sun-drenched photos of each one wearing wings, flower-wreath halos, and shimmery flowing dresses. They had long wavy hair cascading around their shoulders like some Vidal Sassoon Shampoo wet dream.  They were seated on mossy rocks at river’s edges and in flower filled meadows. One super hot blond was even nuzzling a real white bunny rabbit.

It was intense. It was compelling. It was kinda pervy.

It was definitely NOT Disney.

Clicking on each fairy’s main photo took me to a bio page with more glossy pics and background info on each gal. Things like “she came to our family in a whirl of sparkle,” (our family?!) “she  likes to sing songs way high up in the tree tops to the squirrels,” and other ‘qualifications’ like being a clown college grad or former nanny.

Anyway, I couldn’t porn out on the whole thing without getting my hubbie in on it. Besides, it had been seven minutes since I’d called Mark at his office.

“Okay so check this site out,” I said giving him the URL. “I feel like I’m hiring a call girl.”

After we hung up I imagined a bunch of guys in Mark’s office crowding behind his desk, obsessing over the site over his shoulder.

As for me, back at the house, I found I was a bit gun-shy about calling them. Who should I say I wanted? Did I go for experience or looks? And could the acorn fairy face-paint anything besides the poorly-rendered Blues Clues dog that appeared in one picture?

Plus, for the trifecta—magic show, face-painting, and “balloon twisting” (I guess that extends beyond just animals)—it was stupidly expensive. Fairies, it turns out, don’t come cheap.

But my thoughts of how excited Kate’d be—and what the hell I’d do with twenty-some sugar-crazed kids on my own—spurned me on. So I dialed.

No answer. The voice on the answering machine was shrill—a woman intentionally making her voice high-pitched and sing-songy, achieving an effect best described as demented. Her outgoing message mentioned something about her “being in a goblin class until two o’clock.” (Now does Goblin 101 meet on Tuesday-Thursdays? Or is it a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class?)

At any rate, I managed to leave a message using my very own voice. I didn’t get reeled into that thing where someone talks with a drawl and you talk back with one even though you were raised in Indiana.

The next day, as I walked in the door from somewhere and unburdened myself of heavy children and whining grocery bags, I hit play on the machine. “Why hello-ooo, Kristen!” the munchkin-woman voice trilled out. ” It’s Trixie! Why I was so verrrrry happy to get your call. Hoo-ray! But I guess I’ve missed you. Tee hee hee!”

I quickly hit Stop before Kate heard. And before I had to hear any more.

Eventually, after a voicemail exchange that included a glass-shatteringly shrill “Tag! Yoooou’re it!” message, Trixie (who I thought of as the madam of the fairies) and I reverted to email. But even there, the messages I received were rife with “[smile]” and “[wink!].”

I guess that’s just how fairies communicate. Constant reminders of their cuteness, wee-ness and girlishness. As if we could ever forget.

Several laps into this surreal communication sworl I finally received some actual helpful information. Yes there was a fairy who could work at our party. Just one fairy was left for hire that day.

Of course, I ran to the website to check her out. I was both crestfallen and unsurprised to see that the fairy who was free, the last puppy of the litter, the last-ditch consolation-prize party nymph, was—okay so it might sound kinda mean—but she was by far the uncute-est of the fairies. Maybe even a bit kinda “homely,” as my mother would say.

I was dismayed. I called Mark. Our child’s fifth-birthday fairy call girl was the bottom of the woodland barrel.

Damn me and my procrastination! Of course all the more organized mothers snatched up all the cute sexy fairies first. Poor Kate and her friends would be doing that thing you do when you see an ugly baby. Wanting nothing more than to say, “She’s beautiful!” but having to drum up alternate compliments. “Your wings, Miss Mushroom! Why, they are so long and lustrous!” “Your eflin shoes! How they curl so at the toes!”

But a day or two into sharing my frumpy fairy misery with a few friends, I started to come around. “Maybe,” I said to an amiga, lounging in the sun at her swim club, “Maybe Miss Mushroom will teach the girls that knowledge of math and science will get them further in life than a dewy complexion and a button nose? Or—you don’t have to be cute to make sound investment choices? And if you fling around enough glitter fairy dust, people won’t be able to really see you anyway!”

I was starting to feel preemptively defensive and protective of Miss Mushroom. By the end of the week I’d transformed my mental picture of her from the fugly fairy to an up-and-coming feminist intellectual. Like some young Simone de Beauvoir or thick-calved Hillary Clinton. I was hatching plans to take her into our home, set her up in the downstairs bedroom. We’d help her pay her way through Berkeley so she could quit the fairy gig once and for all. We’d emancipate her from her evil-voiced madam, Trixie. She’d become a beloved family member, a big sister and role model to the girls.

A couple days before the party I was slopping the kids’ dinner on plastic plates, while swilling a glass of wine. It was that early evening chaotic hell-realm time of day when everyone’s cranky, fried, and hungry. The phone rang.

“Hey, is this Kristen?”


“Oh hey, it’s Miss Mushroom,” the woman said.

I gasped! After only communicating with her madam, after talking her up for weeks to Kate, it was her. Miss Mushroom. In the telephonic flesh!

But what shocked me as much as her sudden presence on the phone line was her voice. It was kinda gravelly. I mean, not like Marge Simpson’s chain-smokin’ sisters or anything. But definitely no affected lilting fairy voice. Like not even trying a little tiny bit to sound like she could fly, or at least heal wounded wildlife.

“Yeah so I just wanted to run through the details of the party and stuff,” she said, interrupting my thoughts. “Turns out I’m not that far from you, which is cool.”

She was like some urban hipster fairy.

I felt a bit sad, somewhat let down as I ran through the “in our backyard” “eleven o’clock” “magic show first, then face-painting” details. I realized I was missing the magic. The magic I’d hated. The fake fake fairy-voiced magic.

But not long after hanging up I’d managed to shake it off. Despite how she came across on the phone, one look at her gossamer wings and the kids would be smitten. (And they were.) And the whole reason I hired Miss Mushroom was to avoid having to entertain the teeming throng of kids myself.

Besides, next year when I revert to the “small picnic in the park with a few close friends” I won’t have to worry about these things. I mean, you know, I’ll do the small picnic thing, or buckle again and go the pony-ride rental route.

Only time will tell.


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.

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I Love You, I Love You Not…

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

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

I’ve loved it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The View from the Front Porch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Walking and the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Home is Where I Want to Be

Posted: August 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Mom, Parenting, Sisters | 3 Comments »

When I was a kid we got a new refrigerator, and my mother said she’d never wear lipstick again.

It’s not like she was making a makeup-free vow based on some allegiance to the old fridge. The former Frigidaire had a shiny chrome strip down its side, and whenever Mom was running out the door, she’d pause there to peer at her reflection and put on her lipstick.

Weeks after getting the new fridge she’d still stop in that spot, lipstick in hand, then seeing that her mirror was gone she’d whisper, “Damn it!”

Funny thing is, she really did stop wearing lipstick around that time. She told me she tried to retrain herself to use the car’s rear view mirror. But I guess that never took.

Mom lived in that house—1220 Hope Street—for something like 39 years. It’s where I came back to from the hospital as a newborn, held court at countless birthday parties, had my first ever make-out sesh, and brought home college boyfriends.

Okay, so that’s not all true. I mean, I never had a boyfriend per se in college. But if I did have one, and if he was the visitin’ type, that’s where I’d'a taken him.

Anyway, Mom finally sold the house when I was in my thirties. Too old to ever bunk with her again, but attached enough emotionally to feel sorrow that Home as I knew it was going away. Being spruced and shined up for visiting herds of potential buyers. Strangers who’d eventually tear out carpets, paint walls, fill rooms with their own odd furniture, and carry on ignorant of the mundane and momentous events of the Bruno family that took place in those rooms.

Thankfully, Mom at least held onto the same phone number in her new smaller house.

A few weeks ago I was closing the curtains before Kate went to sleep, and I noticed the door jamb in her room. In pencil, in Mark’s small scrawl, it says, “35.5″, 27 months, 12/21/07″

We only made one entry there before I went out and bought a jungle-themed growth chart wall-hanging. The kind of thing made special for families like us. Which is to say, renters. Or rather, migrant urban-dwellers, who tend to move every few years. Never settled long enough for a door jamb to reflect more than a foot or so of kid growth. (Not to mention what the landlord would have to say about it.)

When, I wondered, will we live in a place where we can write on the walls? Where we can record Kate and Paige’s growth so some day when they bring their boyfriends home from college, they can have a laugh about how wee they were 13 years prior.

And if we don’t ever settle into a place long-term, am I doing a disservice to my kids? Robbing them of something far greater than a semi-permanent shrine to their height?

Maybe it’s egomaniacal to want to give my kids what I had. Or maybe it’s just a lack of imagination in my parenting—that I can only figure out how to raise my kids the way my parents did me (minus, God willing, the divorce).

But there are things that seem like signs—big flashing neon signs—telling me to gather up the family and move along. A purse-snatching on our block, a crummy school district, and houses that are both too small and too expensive to compel us to buy.

Oakland hasn’t made one of the Best Places to Live lists, but it has distinguished itself, as my oldest sister, a Boston-area suburbanite, recently called in a panic to point out. “Did you know,” she said, breathless in her hurry to spill the bad news, “that Oakland is the fourth most dangerous city in the U.S.? I just read it on the AOL home page.”

Okay so, let’s just ignore the AOL comment.

“I know!” I squawked. “Can you believe it? Next year we hope to at least make third.”

I joke, because, well, that’s how I roll. But also because there’s a kinda bravado I sometimes embrace about Oakland’s ugly underbelly. Even though our corner of the city, flush with Craftsman homes, gourmet bistros and bookstores, is hardly the hardcore ‘hood my sis—who’s never visited—likely envisions. To her I insist that in their Kevlar play clothes the girls are perfectly safe playing in the front yard.

But really? Well, really I fantasize about affordable grand Victorians, streets where trees form tunnels over the roads, and blocks bursting with sassy, wise-cracking moms who make lemonade for the kids and mojitos for each other. I long for free concerts in the park where we bump into other families we know, and where the kids play free range, without us having to keep our urban eagle-eye watch over them.

I gaze at hours of HGTV, flip through endless magazines, and get heady with visions of a peaceful enclave where the June Cleavers are aging hipsters with sleeve tattoos, the local schools rock, and no one ever eats at Applebee’s. Where small town beauty isn’t marred by Christian dogma being shoved down your throat. Where if you don’t lock you car at night, you won’t find a homeless person asleep in it in the morning.

The question is, does such a place exist? Is the fifth most dangerous city all I require to sleep better at night? And just how far do I have to go and how long do I have to look before I maybe realize that—gasp!—Oakland actually IS my Mayberry?

What’s funny is, for my mother, after decades of life in Bristol, Rhode Island, she still always acted like the townfolk didn’t accept her as a local. I think it was all dramatic hooey, frankly. Something she liked to kvetch about but that never kept her up at night. But who knows, maybe the place never did seem like home to her.

At this point, I’ll never know. But whatever issues she might’ve wrangled with never trickled down to us kids. Which, if I can parlay that forward a generation or two, means that wherever we raise Kate and Paige will likely feel like home to them.

That’s good to keep in mind as a kind of back-up, but it doesn’t stop me from daydreaming.


Brown is the New Green

Posted: July 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 2 Comments »

My brown thumb is on display right now. Out in the open for all to see.

You see, I’ve got these tomato plants. And, I mean, I think the Presidential Victory Garden is charming and all. And I do my best to feign interest when my fervid gardener friends ramble on with glassy-eyed glee about their purple beans and pygmy harlequin kale. Good for them for getting into it. (And good for me when they share their spoils.)

But me personally? I’m not swept up in the whole ‘grow your own’ movement.

But my tomato plants came to me special—raised from seeds from my friend Jack, whose wife packed me off with them after a visit their house. It seemed silly to pass up the offer. Coming up with a reason to not take the plants would take energy. And I’ve always maintained a healthy level of apathy with all things garden-related.

I want to be clear and say right now they aren’t dead yet. But damn they are thirsty!

I mean, I put them on the wall along our front steps—right out there in plain view—with the express intention of seeing them as I pass by several times a day, and prompting my mind to ignite the thought I SHOULD WATER THEM.

So far though, it’s not worked.

In fact, like kindly folks who feed waifish wild cats, our gaybors occasionally water them for me. Sweet men just can’t bear to watch the things die.

But knowing others have had to pick up my slack hasn’t even helped. In fact, I’ve come to learn (and accept) that I contain a finite amount of nurturing. Some people might have a bottomless-coffee-cup supply of caregiving. But mine, well, it eventually just runs dry.

I’m keeping two human children alive, people! So sorry that I can’t also tend the tomaties.

Like the front-stoop plants, I’ve positioned Kate and Paige conspicuously inside the house so when I wake up I’m bound to notice them. After padding around scratching and stretching for a while, and making myself a big mug of tea, I eventually look down at them, see the word MILK I’ve written across their foreheads in black Sharpie and think, “Wait a minute here… They might want something to drink too!”

Getting them milk makes me think they may also want food, and before you know it I’ve even thought to dress them and point to where the toys are.

So far this system’s worked for me.

But really, I’m prouder of those two girls than I ever would be about growing even four tomatoes. They dazzle me daily, in an amount equal to if not more than they exhaust me. If I’m ever in some family-packed setting where another parent asks me “which ones are mine” I’m only too happy to pull out my laser pointer to proudly identify them. I spend whole days marveling in disbelief that they’re mine.

But on the flight back from New York, and the other day at our library, people’ve seen Paigey scooting on her bottom—still not walking, and doing her asymmetric upright hopalong-like crawling thing—and have looked up at me and asked, “How old is she?”

And it crushes me.

I’ve found I ALWAYS WANT TO LIE. I’m not proud of that, but I’d almost prefer they think of her as an overgrown 7-month-old with timely developmental milestones, than an 18-month toddler who, when they learn her age, I’m certain will look at her with pity. Will think, “That poor cute curly-haired girl has something wrong with her.”

It may be egocentric or petty or neurotic (or “D, all of the above”) for me to assume these random strangers are spending any time thinking about or judging my kid. But I fear that they are, and that they do.

It doesn’t seem realistic for me to ask these people to come home for dinner with us so they can bask in the amazing loving dumpling radiancy that is Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop. For even just a half hour. Just 15 minutes! Her bionic loveableness has nearly brought folks to tears in a five-minute grocery store line. If those people experienced a drop of her charm, they’d be binding their own kids’ legs to get ‘em to scoot just like her. It’d be the Parenting cover story!

If they just knew her they’d see that all that sweet loving juju she’s sending out is just short-circuiting her walking skills temporarily. She’ll be up and about soon enough. Then she’ll be wielding her pure love power on the move. And look out people, because IT WILL BE BIG.

I’ve no doubt there’s a remote mountaintop of hopped up Tibetans looking at a photo of Paige this very minute and Google-mapping their way to Rockridge to dub her the next child lama. She’s just that amazing.

Which is why it confuses and saddens me oh so very very much when someone looks at her, raises a mental eyebrow, and assumes something’s wrong.

Something most certainly is wrong with my tomato plants. I’ve made no attempts to hide that from peering neighbors and passersby. But see and think what you will, I’m 100% confident and here to tell you that my Miss Paige is perfect.


Angels and Demons

Posted: July 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Summer | 3 Comments »

Growing up in my family it was like this: Someone would ask someone else, “You want a piece of toast?” And the other person would say, “No, thanks.” “You want some cereal?” The other person, “No.” And—it just turns out I’m using this classic Italian food-forcing example, but really it’d happen with any string of questions that elicited negative responses—then The Asker would say, “Do you want a punch in the nose?”

Now, my husband tells me that his family did not do this. Ask the punch in the nose question that is. And, likely, not force food on the unhungry, although, again, that’s not the point here.

Turns out, according to Mark at least, that asking someone if they want a punch in the nose as a joke isn’t terribly funny. And is even, he claims, somewhat disturbing.

But, that’s what passes for humor in my family. So, say what you will.

That, by the way, has nothing to do with anything that’s happened to me recently, but I was thinking about it yesterday anyway.

Maybe, actually, Kate was all “no-this” and “no-that” and it made me think of it. But if that did happen, I refrained from offering up bodily harm to her, because I’m trying to save room in her dysfunction for some of the weird things Mark’s family did. I don’t want her to get fucked up by my personal family history alone.

Speaking of family issues, such as the second kid getting squat compared to the first, I finally signed up Paige for one of those overpriced kiddie music classes that seem like such a good idea until you’re in one, sitting on a mold-smelling carpet making buzzy bee noises and wishing instead that you were having your armpits waxed.

But Kate attended several of these classes. And to spread the trauma evenly between them, I decided to shell out the excessive amounts of cash to expose Paige similarly.

The good thing is the place is nearby, and it was a sunny, warm morning, so we had a lovely, if not somewhat hurried, jaunt to class on Tuesday. Just listening to birds and admiring flowers and playing a lilting round of the I-put-Paige’s-sun-hat-on-and-she-throws-if-off game.

At one point in our hat toss game, I bend over to snatch the thing off the ground. We’re in a driveway and, as in many of the driveways in our ‘hood, the car in it is parked behind another one and it’s tail end is butted up right next to the sidewalk.

So I whisk up the hat, take one step forward, and the car, which I’d assumed was just parked there, quickly lurches back all fast-like. I mean, just one second of hat-grabbing delay would have left me, Paige, her stroller, and her already somewhat limp hat, flattened FLAT.

It’s kinda like once when an old BF was teaching me to surf in a little deserted lagoony-type area on Hawaii. And after an hour or so when we got out of the water, some local guy walks by and says, “You swam there? No. Do NOT swim there, dudes. That place is packed with sharks.”

Even though we were unscathed—post surfing and post hat-grabbing—I still got all wobbly and dry-mouthed and barfish for a while after.

The driver, an old woman who I’ll guess was Russian, yelped from her car, “I’m sorry!” Unable to speak, I just trudged along the sidewalk pushing the stroller and petting Paige’s blessedly intact head. But Maybe Russian Woman caught up to us, driving slowly and leaning out towards her open passenger-side window to cry out in a maybe-Russian accent, “I am so sorry!”

I didn’t know what to say. So, uncharacteristically, I said nothing. And then, before pulling away, she called out, “The angels! They were with us!”

Well, if they were then, they certainly had abandoned us by later that afternoon, when we were swimming with my still-smokin’-in-her-bikini Mama friend, Mo. We were at her schmancy pool club where Kate was blitzing out with joyous aquamania. You know, staying in the pool until her lips turned blue, like you do when you’re a kid.

By this point in the afternoon, our hostess and her kids had already left the club, encouraging us to stay as long as we wanted.

So, feeling only slightly like crashers, we lingered. Kate continued to work on waterlogging her body.

Paige and I were sitting near the pool, when I looked down at Kate who was clinging to the edge and noticed she had an odd look on her face.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom, Kate?” I inquired, in my most loving honeyed maternal coo.

To which she flatly responded, “I pooped.”

Me: [in a frantic whisper] “Pooped? As in already pooped?”

I know, I know, you might have been expecting some other more devastating angels-weren’t-with-us pool episode. But maybe that’s just because your kid has never taken a dump in your friend’s fancy club pool.

Blessedly, the offending scat had been contained in her suit. We managed to get her out of the pool and up to the restroom without anyone sounding the Poop in the Pool alarm. I even remembered to pick up Paige and take her with us in our haste. (I know, now I’m just showing off.)

Later that day, when any mortal would have taken to their bed exhausted by painful baby music classes, near-death experiences, and acts of public poopery, I forged on. We were out in the front yard, playing some sort of game that no doubt stimulated the girls’ creative and intellectual minds, while simultaneously creating blissful childhood memories they’d cherish forever.

When suddenly some woman down the street starts screaming her head off. Before I even look up I know she got her purse snatched.

She was, as it turns out, exactly where I’d been back when I was waddling down the street—yes, OUR street—pregnant with Paige, and yammering away on my phone, when some urban doofus grabbed my dearly departed big black Kate Spade purse. And did I mention it was the light of day?

Tragically, too, my adored purse—now likely the property of some gangbanger’s girlfriend—had been devoid of cash, since I was just back from the East Coast where I’d left my wallet in my sister’s bag on a little shopping jaunt.

Anyway, so when this guy has my purse, I start screaming my head off—just like this lady down the street was doing—and then some car drives by and I yell, “Hey! STOP THAT KID! He took my purse!” But instead, they slow down and let the kid in. My luck, it was his get-away car.

Now, mind you, I’d really rather live in a ‘hood where none of the cars that are driving around are get-away cars. That would be my preference. I would even welcome bad drivers over get-away drivers (though Mark might disagree with me on that).

And I know what you’re thinking. Why then do I live in Oakland, Fourth Most Dangerous City in our fair country? Generally hearing this statistic makes me offer up my hopes that next year we’ll at least make Third Place. Sassy gal that I am.

I mean, I do say that, but I also get a bit defensive that really, where we live in Oakland is actually quite nice. Charming even.

It’s just that those bad guys from the other parts sometimes find their way over here.

So, just like happened with me, the get-away SUV barrels down the street, driving right past my house. But this time, I’m ready for those fuckers.

I take a step off the curb and peer real intently at the license plate, making sure to mutter it over and over again aloud to not mess it up. I gather up the girls and we make our way to the shaken woman, alongside other neighbors who are offering up phones, consolation, assurances that her company won’t care that her laptop’s gone.

“Anyone have a pen?” I call out, Paigey clamped on my hip like a koala, and Kate likely wondering what warranted being dragged away from the sidewalk chalk. “I got the guy’s license plate number.”

Good thing for that lady, this angel was at the ready.


Handy Reminders

Posted: June 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Kate's Friends, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Shopping | 2 Comments »

This weekend, reminders about why I’m happy we live here seemed to be hurled at me willy-nilly.

It was like they were coming out of some Stephen King-like possessed tennis ball tosser. But since they were all feel-good things, I was okay getting pelted by them.

And here’s the thing. It was all good clean family fun. I mean, Friday night we had a great time mostly sober at a preschool fundraiser. And birthday parties for a two- and five-year-old reminded even us grown-ups what fab friends we have here. And this involved no princess dress-up on our parts at all.

But it was three smaller things that reminded me that what we get for living in a godforsakenly expensive, far away from family, often cold in the summertime place, is really quite incredible and unique.

Saturday morning we field tripped to Berkeley Bowl West, the new gargantuan swanky (and green) outpost of the produce and gourmet-grocery nirvana, Berkeley Bowl. The issues with the original store being insufficient parking, narrow aisles, and agro baby-thwackin’ shoppers. Sure the new place addresses those problems—at least we didn’t encounter any baby-thwackers on this visit. But oddly, what wowed me was the mushrooms.


The organic mushroom selection was vast and spectacular. The colors and shapes of these things were as fascinating to stare at as tropical fish in a tank. (And, no, I wasn’t high.)

I mean, look at these? How can you not love them?

And this is just some of them that I could snap real fast with my phone without getting arrested for lurid public acts of mushroom adoration.

People in Wisconsin might be sending their kids to safe, good public schools, and aren’t spending millions on houses that don’t even have garages, but do their stores have mushroom selections like us? I think not.

Now, if I could avoid dry heaving at the even thought of eating a slimy cooked ‘shroom, this would be a benefit of living here that’d affect me more directly. But I’m a giver. I’m just happy that local mushroom lovers have this fungal fantasia at their fingertips.

Right around the corner in Berzerkeley is a hardware store Mark has the hots for. So post-groceries he ran in and the girls and I fawned over, touched, and trembled with delight over an amazing art car.


It was a Toyota station wagon with a big peace sign on the hood, and colorful gewgaws glued onto every non window-or-tire surface—marbles, paperclips, shellacked gourds, toy dinos, mirrors, ceramic mosaic chips, plastic foliage, magic markers, pennies. A hippie-dippie masterpiece, and a pure delight.

Paige cried when the nice lady (who looked very normal—nothing like the dreadlocked hemp-and-carob cookie seller you’d imagine to be the car’s owner) came out, was all friendly, then drove off.

I nearly cried a bit too.

Later, after Audrey’s birthday bash which we enjoyed so much we invited ourselves to stay for dinner, I was in the back yard watering the grass. Kate was intermittently playing and tantrumming in the sandbox Mark recently built. And just when my when-the-hell-is-this-kid’s-bedtime head nearly exploded, a high-pitched male voice call out to me from the next house.

It was Steve, waving a red plastic cup. “Kristen? Salt or no salt?”

I nearly wept with joy.

A few minutes later when his boyfriend passed the margarita to me over the fence, I saw it had a straw with a paper flamingo on it.

“I know,” Matt said, rolling his eyes. “So gay, right?”

And then, bustling out the back door onto the deck, Steve calls out, “So, hooooow is it? It’s a Skinny Girl, you know!”

Now that’s gay. And I just love it.

So, quick review. Exotic mushrooms, hippie art car, and margarita-makin’ gaybors. Where else can I get all this but right here in Bay Area, USA?

Now, don’t get me wrong. This all went down less than two weeks prior to our annual summer pilgrimage east. So you can set your watch to the upcoming posts where I pout and ponder whether a small New England town is the best setting for raising my kids.

Or, at the very least, the best place for me to joyously (and inconspicuously) return to the preppy wardrobe of my youth. I mean, I do have the Burberry flip flops now, so it’d be an easy transition and all.