Everything Old is New Again

Posted: October 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, City Livin', College, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Milestones, My Body, My Temple, Other Mothers | 3 Comments »

When I first moved to Oakland I still went to my dry cleaner in San Francisco. It was a 30-minute drive, if traffic was with me. And it wasn’t that my dry cleaner was even that good. It was more about my denial. Denial that I’d left the romantic, world-famous City by the Bay. Denial that we were moving to the ‘burbs. Denial about change in general.

We moved because we were having a baby. And our landlords broke up and were selling the condo we rented. It seemed like the universe was giving us a kick in the real estate keister. A nudge to move to a more family-friendly area where we could have a house and a yard, and not drive around looking for parking for 45 minutes every night—despite how much fun that could be.

Other things were changing in my world too. Two months after we moved I had a baby. Then I quit my big fancy job.

It was like I was systematically removing everything that was familiar and normal in my life. I walked around like a person who didn’t know herself. When people met me I wished I was wearing a sandwich board that said, “This isn’t really where I live. Sorry about that screaming baby—I don’t know it very well, but it turns out it’s mine. This is NOT my real ass, by the way—or gut. And don’t even ASK me what I do for work. Unless you want me weeping on your shoulder.”

Thankfully I joined a mother’s group and discovered a gaggle of other women who were as perplexed and outside their comfort zones as I was. Eventually I stopped saying, “I just left a job as the VP of yadda yadda…” and ‘fessed up to being a stay at home mom. Over time I also changed dry cleaners. But when I’m out of state I still tell people I live in San Francisco. So sue me.

Fast forward seven years. [Picture pages being torn off of a wall calendar. Lots and lots of pages.] Speaking of pages, we had another baby, named Paige. And at some point before her arrival and after a nice long stretch at home with Kate I did go back to work. I managed to fall into another great job, hired a nanny, and alligator-wrestled with that age-old work-life balance I’d heard people talk about.

Slowly all these changes settle in and become the new normal. Eventually friendships formed and I stopped lamenting the miseries of Oakland. And when the toddler called out “Mama!” most of the time I realized it was me she was talking to.

But amidst all this acceptance there was still one hold-out. One pre-parenting part of me that I wasn’t returning to. Something I wasn’t willing to accept as the new me. And it was kind of a big one.

It was my body.

Not that I’ve ever been terribly overweight, but four years after Paigey’s departure from my womb, I still wasn’t the slim-legged gal I used to be.

Until now. Because, thanks to a hand-me-down elliptical machine in our garage, and a juicer, and let’s not forget my step-counting FitBit, this little Mama’s got her groove back. I’m hardly wearing the jeans I had in college mind you, but I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

Or, as Kate puts it, “Mama is strong and healthy.” Fearful of passing bad body-image baggage on to her, as she watched me slog through routines on the elliptical and blenderize metric tons of kale, I avoided saying I was “trying to lose weight.”

After three children—two of whom came at once—my friend Meggie has been kicking her own ass at the gym, and swimming, and doing yoga. And she recently dipped her toes back into the work world. A pants-pissing email she sent out after dusting off her resume reported it was so long since she’d worked that under “Skills” she had a line about “using the internet as a research tool.” Hilarious.

When I got back from the East Coast this summer she’d just done a Master Cleanse and had lost even more weight. I think we spent the first few minutes in her doorway circling and looking each other up and down clucking “Looking good, girl!”

After seven years of friendship it was kinda like, “Kristen’s ‘real’ body, meet Megan’s ‘real’ body.” Like, this is what I’m supposed to look like! Even though you’ve never seen me look this way, this is actually me!

And NO, perverts, a topless pillow fight did NOT ensue.

Anyway, Efficiency Diva that she is, Meg made lightening-fast work of revising her resume and getting it out on the scene. And in record time she landed the perfect part-time entrepreneurial flexible gig. Plus: free beer. (No joke!)

I am crazy, silly-pants happy for her. I can’t wait to hear about the “I still got it!” surges of job satisfaction that’ll hit her once she starts. When I first went back to work I was thrilled to just pee without anyone knocking on the door begging me to read to them. Then someone asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch and my head exploded with the fancy-free, Big Girl in the City wonder of it all.

I’m so lucky to have an honest, authentic, hilarious group of mama friends with whom I’ve hit my stride, and a few the skids along the way. (OAK-land in the house!!) And now we’re kinda reaching some cool plateau where we’re less kid-focused and can squeeze a little time into our days doing things for ourselves. Even my friend with a nine-month-old is impressively back on her game. It’s like everything old is new again.

Is this what they call getting your groove back? Except without the affair with a younger hot Caribbean man, I mean.

Yesterday I got on the scale. It’s one of those digital ones where the numbers go to zero, then you step on and it calculates your weight. The first number that came up was one that I hadn’t seen on my scale for YEARS. And oddly was the exact weight I always used to be. But then—like some cruel joke—it blipped off, and changed to my real weight. Which I’m actually still quite happy with.

But it was so weird to see that old familiar number I couldn’t help but step off, let the numbers go to zero, and step back on again. And weirdness of weirdnesses, it happened again! That old weight—just for a second or two—flashed up then changed to my real weight.

It was like some message from the Intergalactic Scale Fairies. Sort of like “that was then, honey, but this is the new reality.”

So how’m I feelin’ about that? You know, I don’t need to get to that old weight again. I almost can’t imagine being that skinny any more. Just like I can’t imagine not having my daughters, or moving back to San Francisco. But if my dry cleaner makes one wrong move, I am dropping them like a hot potato.


Getting Schooled

Posted: March 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: College, Discoveries, Little Rhody, Writing | No Comments »

I have a shameful confession to make. I have a bit of an educational superiority complex.

It’s not like I’m some Ivy-Leaguer with any real reason to have this attitude. But when I recently signed up for a writing class in San Francisco, I was a bit leery about, well, about the level that the other writers would be performing at. (See? Total snob. Terrible!)

I was also uncertain about the teacher. She had great reviews online. Students seemed to adore her. But she’d spent the lion’s share of her career at a community college, and teaching adult-ed classes at random adult-ed-class places. She’d had some books published—maybe even won an award or two—but nothing I’d ever heard of.

Worst case scenario, the class could be a waste of time. (And money.) But it might at least focus my writerly energies a bit.

Writing is so solitary and personal. And if you don’t want to do it, you just don’t. But I’d been feeling like I could use a personal trainer for my writing. You know, some tough-love coach to put me on the machines that I don’t like to go on, and force me to do 20 more reps than I’d ever do on my own. Painful in the moment, but beneficial long-term.

This blog has become like a comfortable elliptical machine that I spend thirty minutes on, wipe my brow, then go crack a beer. I need someone to force me over to the kettle bells, or make me do a shit-load of squats. And if I ever hope to write a book, I need to be nudged out into the cold for a long, long run.

I was also hopeful that at least one or two of the other students might be good—at writing, of course, but also at giving smart feedback on other people’s work. A class I took in ninth grade seems to have set the standard in my mind for the value of sharing work aloud, and the joy and pain of group critiques. I’ve been wanting to form a writer’s group, and a class seems like a good setting to suss out others to join me.

On the first day of class I parked my car at 2:28. And as I grabbed my bag and marveled at my timeliness I was suddenly struck by the thought that 2:30 was an odd time to start a class. 2:00 would’ve made more sense. Moments later as I walked into the loft where our class meets, it was immediately apparent that I was late. I’d missed the first half-hour, the ever-critical why-I’m-here and what-kind-of-writing-experience-I-have introductions. I’d have to work overtime at our 10-minute tea breaks, casually interrogating everyone and sizing ‘em up.

Last week—our second time meeting—we did an in-class exercise. When it was time to share what we’d written, I didn’t love what I had, but figured it would cut the mustard. Someone volunteered to read first. And can I just say, they were good. Very good. As in, I looked at my laptop screen meekly and wondered if I’d tackled the assignment correctly. Another person read and I quietly closed the lid on my computer. I could just volunteer to read another time…

Mid-way through Reader #3, my superiority complex left the building. I don’t anticipate it will be coming back.

As for the teacher, she invited us to a women’s writing conference at her community college. An old friend of mine calls junior college “high school with ashtrays.” I love that. It reflects, once again, my shameful snobbery about schools.

Anyway, I went to the event on Saturday. And it rocked. Two impressive and super-cool authors read. (And I’m totally making my book club read this book, written by one of them.) Some students got awards for their writing. And there was an open mic on the theme of “roots” that I participated in at the end of the program. Because my teacher encouraged me to. Which I thank her for.

I got some really nice feedback—both during my reading, and from folks coming up to me afterwards. A young Asian man who I think was semi-retarded even tried to pick me up.

So I’m sharing here what I read. It’s something I wrote last February while visiting my dad in Rhode Island. I’ve changed it at bit since I originally posted it.

Here’s to me and my new attitude about school. I’m polishing up an apple to bring to my teacher this week, and I’m planning to give those other student-writers a run for their money.

Wish me luck.


The Bristol Two-Step

We were in the library, so I decided to let out a blood-curdling scream.

I’d been chatting with the librarian. There are two gray-haired gals who still serve there—at my hometown bibliotheque—since back when I was a kid. I mentioned that to one of them once, thinking we might have a nice moment. Instead she looked at me like she’d sucked a lemon.

But yesterday I took a chance and whispered to Kate as we were checking out books, “The woman who’s helping us was the librarian when I was a girl.” And, thankfully, she looked up and smiled.

Then we did the who-are-you? Bristol Two-Step. Which is to say, she asked me what my name was and who my parents are. And when I told her she said, “Oh sure” then listed off the names of all the streets we ever lived on in town. “Now your mom was up on Hope Street for a long time, then she moved to Beach Road, right?”

“Your mother,” she said, hunched over the desk leaning towards me. “Her and my friend Dottie DeRosa? Those two were out in their gardens at the very first signs of spring. We’d say the ground is still frozen, but there’s Vicki out there gardening.”

I admit my awareness of my daughters’ whereabouts had faltered a bit. I was drawn in by the kindly librarian. I wanted to hear another little story about my mom. I devour whatever tidbits of her life anyone shares with me. But before I could coax more out of her, I looked up to see Paige step into the empty elevator, and the door start to close.

PAAAAAAAAAAAIGE!” I bellowed, as I did a sideways-flying Superman-type lunge for the door. I wedged my hand in without a second to spare. Blessedly the door lurched back open. Paige was standing inside smiling, as I skidded into her like home base.

After that wake-the-dead Mama shriek, those librarians should have no trouble remembering me the next time I drop in.

At dinner last night, at my favorite chicken parm place, a couple walked in and sat at the table next to us. Some sort of comment on Paige’s ability to pack away the pasta ensued. Then my father held out his hand towards the man, but squinted by way of saying he didn’t remember his name.

Cue the Bristol Two-Step.

“Oh yes,” my father said, hearing the guy owns the photo shop in town. “You live on Court Street! My cousin Jimmy Rennetti used to own that house.”

There have to be a million annoying things about the lack of anonymity that comes with living in a small town. But this absurd form of interconnectedness is so extreme–is such a weird form of sport–it’s brilliantly entertaining. At least for someone who only experiences it for a week or two every year. And despite the fact that I’ve been away so long, I love that I still have enough hometown equity to play a fair game myself.

At the end of our meal a little girl wandered over to say hi to Kate, her mom trailing behind her. Kate, demonically thrilled to be in possession of a piece of chocolate cake, was disinterested in the other child’s attention. So I tried to jump-start their conversation.

“Are you in kindergarten, honey? Where do you go to school?”

When she responded “Rockwell”—my own elementary school alma mater—I nearly squealed with glee.

Though really, of course she goes there. It’s a small town—not many schools. Not much has changed since I was a kid.

But as someone whose grown accustomed to the sprawling anonymity of the Bay Area—of Oakland, for God’s sake—learning that I had something in common with this little stranger felt like such a sweet cozy coincidence.

Sometimes when I’m back in Rhode Island I somehow forget I’m there, then I find myself getting excited to see someone wearing a RISD sweatshirt. Or I’ll be driving along, then perk up at the sight of an Ocean State license plate.

Proof that this place that I think of as home is somewhere I’m not used to spending much time any more. Somewhere along the line I got re-programmed as a Californian, so my default mental setting is that any Rhode-Islandisms I ever come across must be far-flung artifacts that’ve managed to make their way out West. Like me.

At any rate, Kate’s would-be restaurant friend didn’t find my enthusiasm about Rockwell School far-fetched. “Did you have Miss Sousa too?” she asked, wide-eyed.

Aw, honey. The thing is, I probably did have a Miss Sousa, but a very different one than yours.

There’s a strong tug of temptation to run around and see a ton of people when I’m Back East. To schedule non-stop activities, and of course hit up all my favorite places to eat.

But on this visit I’m just trying to melt into the scenery. Just enjoy it at a normal intake dosage—not feel compelled to have to soak it all up so frantically. So aside from a grandparent-sponsored jaunt to the toy store, and dinner out for Dad’s birthday, the only real plans we have are to go to story-time at the library.

In fact, we arranged to meet Kate’s new friend from the restaurant there. Which is great since I never got a chance to ask her what street she lives on, or who her teachers were at preschool.

No Comments »

I Can Walk Under Ladders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I stuck the book in the drop box.

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

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

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

But no dice.

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

Because I know how to have a good time.

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

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

I know… cuh-razy, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Comments »

Love Tackles

Posted: August 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: College, Daddio, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Moods, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

I don’t know the first thing about football, but in getting to know—and love—Mark’s college friends, I’ve learned a thing or two about tackling.

The night before our wedding, there was a lobster bake in a tent in my dad’s backyard. It was where Mark and I got that first intense wedding-weekend hit of love from so many fine folk coming from far afield to see us get marinated. It was also, it so happens, the same day my father kidnapped our friend Gary. But that’s another story.

So there I was reveling in the love and the people and the chardonnay and the Rhode Island summer heat, chatting with someone or other, when I was suddenly, quite literally, swept off my feet. It was one of those “it happened so fast” kinda moments. I wasn’t sure where it came from or what it was, but I found myself lifted up and then pinned down onto my father’s desk. The perpetrator—whose head was tucked down somewhere in my midsection—was human. But that was all I could tell.

It took longer than my barely-there patience could handle to determine what was happening. But then the perp looked up, and with her huge grin and mop of strawberry blond hair yelled in high-def close range, “We are HERE, girlfriend! Let the games begin!”

It was Becca. Mark’s glorious fabulous college friend, Becca. Whose house I have the great pleasure of being at this very weekend. In what has most-excellently become an annual pilgrimage to Minnesota for lakeside hi-jinx. Because, six years and six children between us later, we are still giddy-tackle happy to see each other. Though blessedly, in recent reunions she has not knocked the wind out of me.

I mean, I really shouldn’t be pointing fingers here. Since another of Mark’s divine college cohorts, the aforementioned kidnapped Gary—or Uncle Gary as he’s now known to the kidlings—is here with us too. And years before Becca ever tackled me on my wedding weekend, I had the social misfortune of tackling him.

I blame it all on the event’s bartender, who clearly over-served me. Or maybe it was the humid Midwestern lakefront air that clouded my judgment. At any rate, we were at another of Mark’s college friend’s matrimonial celebrations. And I’d had a few.

I was walking from some lake-facing veranda back into the room with the band. And there was Gary. Standing on or near the dance floor. Looking so, well, tackle-able. Some so-bad-it’s-good 80s song was playing, and like some figure skater who visualizes a move before taking to the ice, I saw in my mind’s eye what I would do. That I would run up to Gary, jump with my legs outstretched to straddle his waist, and we would swing jauntily about the dance floor. Like some Travolta-Thurman dance scene from Pulp Fiction.

Compelled by alcohol-borne bad judgment and feeling exceedingly exuberant I ran with the chin-down determination of an Olympic pole-vaulter, and threw myself upon the utterly unawares (and might I add slight-of-build) Gary.

And let’s just say what happened looked nothing like what I’d envisioned.

I flattened him to the ground like a fly. He was stunned, dismayed, and likely injured. I imagine the dress of my skirt landed in a position that revealed parts of me best left to the bride’s grandmother’s imagination.

It was mortifying, and yet, Gary’s good nature managed to rise above. In my vodka-soaked haze I seem to remember him lending me a shoulder as we both limped off the dance floor, me slurring loud apologies in his ear.

Good times.

Ever the mini-me, Kate kept the flame alive when Gary met up with us earlier today. Since his arrival she’s been climbing onto his back and hanging off his neck like one of those long-armed monkey dolls. Despite our once-yearly time together, she’s instantly drawn to him. And though she may nearly choke the dear man with affection at times, she hasn’t (thus far) leveled him to the ground.

With Kate on Gary like her own personal climbing wall, in the other room toddlers Paige and Leo are squaring off. Squatting down and looking each other straight in the eyes, they lunge forward like two Sumo wrestlers going in for the kill. Paige has six months on Leo, so their playing ground is fairly even now. But by next year’s trip he’ll clearly dominate their happy head-butting encounters.

And so the tackling continues. Passed on to the next generation.

As for us big kids, in an hour or so when we arrive at the lake house, I expect the most tackling we’ll be doing will involve the cases of beer that Becca’s husband and Gary both brew by profession. But don’t for a minute think that means we love each other any less.


Seasons Greetings from Our Frat to Yours

Posted: December 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Firsts, Holidays, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Walking | 1 Comment »

Our happy little home has been converted to a frat house, just in time for the holidays.

It all started a couple weeks ago when I rearranged Kate’s bureau. Now she can reach everything herself when she gets dressed. But the unexpected outcome of the change is that Paige can get at it all now too. And she does so with vigor.

Paige rifles through Kate’s once perfectly-folded clothing daily. She reaches into drawers she’s too short to look in like Helen Keller ravaging the refrigerator for a midnight snack. She wanders out of Kate’s room dragging a pair of PJ bottoms behind her, or maybe a flowered skirt. But generally it’s intimate apparel Paige parades around with most. She puts Kate’s undies on teddy bears, stretches them over the back of kiddie chairs, and attempts (usually unsuccessfully) to pull them on over her shoes and pants.

Apparently Paige’s desire to stage pantie raids is insatiable.

Add to that, as if we’ve been scattering months-old pizza boxes and empty beer cans around the place, we’ve become besieged by ants. Hoards of them convening under the kitchen sink, swarming over a morsel of child-strewn scrambled egg, or confusingly, making their presence boldly known in the pristine, seemingly un-delicious knife drawer.

I’m a true blue ‘more is merrier’ kinda gal. But these guests are utterly unwelcome. I’ve been told they’re Argentinian ants, but frankly knowing their fabulous nation of origin does nothing to escalate their social merit in my mind.

Dare I proclaim victory prematurely, I hesitate to say that it appears we’ve successfully driven the ants away. I mean, thanks in part to the professional stylings of an exterminator. On his visit to the house, I peered beyond him out the front door to get a look at his ride. In a deep what-will-the-neighbors-say fret, I inquired as I swiftly wrenched him by the arm into the house, “What are you driving out there?” [Insert nervous laughter.] I mean, in the same way that porn is mailed in plain brown wrapping (or so I understand), it seems like exterminators should drive discreet unmarked vehicles.

“No luck there,” the guy said, motioning to the van parked behind my car. It had huge cartoon-like images of  brightly-colored roaches and rats splayed across its sides. Enough to make me want to proclaim to passers-by that all we were dealing with was a simple rainy-season ant infestation.

Alas, I swallowed my public shame so the legions small vile beasts would blessedly, finally be gone. (Which isn’t to say that any guest who pops by and stirs a spoonful of sugar into their tea isn’t being hawkishly watched by Mark and me, lest a stray grain of ant-attracting sugar fall to the floor.)

With the ants in exile, the things moving around the house most these days are our Christmas tree ornaments. Whenever Kate and Paige are out of sight for a moment they’re inevitably found pawing at the tree like cats at a scratching post. They regularly denude the thing of the ornaments in their reach. Kate sometimes even drags a chair over to get at the fragile or beloved ones I intentionally hung up high. Then, somehow without us ever witnessing it in action, they ferry the ornaments into the kitchen.

At any given moment an assortment of red balls, hand-sewn Santas, or Germanic wooden nutcrackers line our kitchen counter tops. They teeter just on the edges, the spots where small arms can just barely reach to stow them.

I’m not sure why the girls seem to find that there’s something wrong with these items being on the tree versus wedged alongside our toaster. Someday perhaps I’ll understand. Years from now counter-top Christmas decorating may be all the rage, and I’ll chuckle to myself as I tuck stray wisps of gray hair back into my bun and adjust the tennis balls on my walker that, “There was a time when you girls seemed to just know that this was the direction that holiday home decor was moving in. And to think that your father and I thought you were just plain crazy!”

But where was I? I’ve ventured into the future like some Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and here I was trying to tell you that with the ants and the pantie raids we’ve gone all collegiate Greek hereabouts.

And part of the whole toga party feel involves Miss Paige, whose vocabulary has been sprouting new words lately like tiny mushrooms popping up after the rain. Just Monday she learned to say “No.” Yes, on Sunday she was a sweet innocent thing, unable to utter that most negative of terms. Then, SNAP! On Monday her little mouth started forming a word that sounded very much like—Wait, was it?—Yes, Mark and I agreed that what she’d just said in a truly darling testing-it-out kinda way was, “No.”

So now our frat house also features Paigey Wigs, still growing used to her walking legs and staggering around while muttering “No no no” under her breath. It’s like she’s some boozed-up co-ed whose been freshly indoctrinated in the “No Means No”mantra of collegiate dating.

It’s only a matter of time until Paige’s Nos grow up to be definitive modes of warding off the unwanted. In the meantime when I hear them I can’t help but cup my hand under her pudgy chin and whisper an adoring Minnesotan-sounding “Nooo nooo nooo!” back at her. I will love them until they turn on me.

Really, lots of things happen in frat houses, some shameful, some raucous, some even innocent and fun. But beyond all the abandoned pizza boxes, discarded brassieres, and creatures scuttling along the floor, to those who live there the place still is home.

So from our house—such as it is these days—to yours, I send you joyous season’s greetings. May you be enjoying the mayhem as much as we all are here.

1 Comment »

Isn’t She Lovely?

Posted: December 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Firsts, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Scary Stuff | 2 Comments »

“Dorothy, will you look at that dress,” a woman at the coffee shop clucked to her friend, nodding towards Paige who was staggering around their table, mashing a cranberry scone into her mouth and leaving a trail of crumbs behind her. “It’s just too precious.”

“She had a school interview today,” I said, corralling her toward me. “And she’s not even two years old!”

Whaaaaaat?” they balked simultaneously.

It was just the response I’d been hoping for, though I surprised even myself with the apparent bitterness the recent experience had brought out in me. Funny how it’s not until you encounter some kindly old women who are sipping cocoas after their weekly walking club jaunt that you come to terms with how you really feel about something.

It hadn’t only been Paige who had gotten decked out for an interview that morning. Kate had paid a visit to the school too. It was part of the application process. And to be fair, the girls weren’t really interviewed at all. The applicants are asked to come in to spend some time in the classroom. It’s a chance, they say, for those of us jockeying for entry to kick the tires on the school—as much as it’s the school’s chance to size us up. You know, make sure “everyone feels comfortable.” But that always seems like code to me.

So I was dressed up and geared up to charm, but I was also mildly leery. Call me an egomaniac, but any club that won’t warmly welcome me without ever having met me I’m somewhat suspicious of. I’m just that way.

I started in the two-year-old room with Paige. (For the young’uns they ask the parent to tag along.) For most of our time there Paigey wandered around, taking an inventory of their toys and occasionally, briefly, interacting with another kid. She acted pleasantly enough. No dramatic behavior, no fearful clutching at me, no shouting racial epithets.

She squealed with delight a few times while playing with a dollhouse—something I looked around to see if anyone’d noticed, as it seemed, given the situation, a sweet, appropriate thing for her to be doing. You know, the kind of thing someone “who would fit in well with our community” would do. But as far as I could tell, neither she nor I were being observed or really noticed much by any of the school staff.

Of course it wasn’t until we were up in a small aerie-like nook off the main room—a hide-away decorated with bright floor pillows, wooden cradles, and a disarray of dress-up clothes—that one of the teachers came to peek in on Paigey. It was when she was at the toy cash register. She was swiping what appeared to be a little credit card through a slit in the machine over and over again. I mean, at that point any self-respecting cashier would’ve just typed in the card’s data. But Paige apparently inherited my optimistic streak.

Between credit card swipes she’d hold a black calculator she’d found on the floor up to her ear like a cell phone and say, “Dada? Dada?”

The teacher, one of those preschool gems who’s been with the school for something like 20 years, turns to me and asks, “So are you home with her?” And it was all I could do to not blurt out, “Well, yes, but really I do more than shop and use my cell phone! I mean, I’m really not sure WHERE she learned these behaviors.” [Insert nervous laughter.]

Later, while Kate was whisked off to the Big Kid Room to hopefully perform acts of staggering cuteness and genius, Mark and I met with the head of the school. Our conversation started out with the lethal, “Well, I’m sure you both have plenty of questions.” [Long pause.] And really, with the amount of time we’d spent at the school’s open house, reading about the place, and interrogating our friends whose kids went there, we kinda didn’t have any questions. Which therefore left us with an expanse of time in which we were required to say insightful or endearing things to win our kids two coveted spots at their finger painting table.

Instead I seemed to just say lovely. “We thought it would be lovely to have the girls at the same school.” “Our neighbor’s kids go here and they’re such lovely children.” “During the Open House I just found something so lovely about the two-year-old room.”

This is no doubt, collectively, more times than I have ever used that word. But something about being there, knowing whatever we did or said or wore, or how Paige reacted to not being able to open her Tupperware of raspberries herself, or all of those things in combination, knowing it was being observed, somehow the pressure of all that just made me want to say lovely a lot.

Mark, the dear, of course called me on it. “What up with all the lovely?” he asked as we we flopped on the couch post-kiddie-bedtime that night.

“I know, I know,” I said cringing.

Senior year of college we were required to take comprehensive exams, or ‘comps.’ As an English major you could choose to write a huge paper or take a test covering everything a good Kenyon grad should know literarily before emerging into the world. Well, everything that someone who’d read all the books they should have should know.

Nearly everyone opted for the paper.

In the giddy post-due-date afterglow of handing our papers in, I was hanging out with a group of friends. We were debriefing on what we thought the quality of our work was. My friend Leah, an outrageously funny Chicago-born gal, was holding court amongst us, sharing her secret to success.

“My title was The Distinction Between the Poetry of the Late 18th and Late 19th Centuries,” she said. (Of course, I’m making this topic up because at this point I can barely remember what I even wrote about.) “I made sure to point out the distinctions between the styles of poetry. The distinctions between the various poets. And, no doubt the distinction between the brilliance of my paper, and, say, your-all’s.”

‘Distinction’ was the term the school applied to comps that merited honors.

“After those gin-soaked profs read my comps,” she said with a flourish, “They’ll have no recourse other than to award it distinction.”

The group of us, hanging out at a cafeteria table long after the lunch crowd had left, howled at this, pounding the table and wiping our eyes. Of COURSE, Leah did that. And if she really hadn’t, it was sheer brilliance for her to even suggest that she did.

In that spirit I can only hope that, when that school’s Executive Director sits down a few weeks from now to make her pronouncements about who’s in and who’s out, she’ll pick up the folder for Kate and Paige and turn to her assistant. “The McCluskys…” she’ll say slowly, flipping through her notes. “Oh yes, them. A lovely family, weren’t they? I think we most certainly have a spot for them.”


The Mystifying Laws of Attraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah. Well sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Too Young to Feel this Old

Posted: October 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, College, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Shopping | No Comments »

“So how much of an old lady am I?” I asked a friend the other day, as she came back from putting the kettle on. “I brought my own teabags.”

“Well, that depends,” she said. “Do you also have packets of sugar in your purse?”


For the record, I am not in the habit of making off with fistfuls of free sugar packs from restaurants. Well, not yet at least.

But lately it’s not just my teabags that are making me feel old. My lower back has been seizing up in the middle of the night. Waking me up and requiring me to spend several minutes just trying to roll over or move my legs to stretch out a bit. It’s excruciating.

Even my chiropractor wants to throw in the towel. And I’ve formed a twice-a-week habit with him.  But he suggested I see my primary doc for an MRI, and thinks I should get some physical therapy.

Add to that this cold—this loogie-laden, dull-headed seasonal cold that’s persisted now for well over a week. It saps my energy, leaving me lifeless by early afternoon, to the extent that I push aside soul-sucking guilt and plop Kate in front of TV while Paige is napping, so I can get some rest myself. By the time Mark gets home I’m a dishrag, stumbling through the day’s final acts of Mama-hood grumpy, impatient, and having slim hope I’ll feel any better the next day.

And Mark, my sprightly hubbie nearly five years my junior, even he’s coming undone lately. Ever the weekend warrior, he can hop on his bike after several computer-bound days and conquer a mountain with impressive ease. But suddenly, without even falling or wrenching it, he’s got a jenky knee. His body is letting him down for the first time ever, and it’s utterly infuriating. Digging an ice pack out of the freezer last week he grumbled to himself, “Is this is just what happens when you get old?”

But my bad back and his bum knee aside, it’s nearly Halloween. And no holiday makes me feel more young at heart.

For a week or so I was bereft, lacking a brilliant costume idea. For myself, that is. I feared I was losing my edge. I was coming up with possible get-ups that were both obscure and impossible to implement.

“Paige will be a piano… And I’ll be Liberace!” I declared to Mark one night.

Liberace?” he said, making a face like he’d sucked a lemon.

It wasn’t very supportive of him. But really I had no idea how I’d make Paige into a tiny grand piano anyway.

Then an idea came to me. Something kinda funny and doable that’s not lowering the bar over my past twisted, sordid, or absurd costumes. Something that won’t make me feel like the mother of two who had to hang it up.

What is it? Well, like the names of children I’m pregnant with, I don’t reveal anything until the Big Day.

Anyway, I set out for one of those pop-up Halloween superstores to forage for supplies. Inside the shop I tracked down a salesgirl, likely a student from the nearby Cal-Berkeley campus. Even though I’m making Kate’s requested dog costume (I know, BO-rrrring!), I’m curious to see what they have by way of props.

“You know,” the co-ed says, twisting a long lock of hair around her finger, “We don’t have animal costumes here. But we have another store in Emeryville. You might want to check there.”

“So wait,” I say. “What you’re saying is, you all don’t carry animal stuff, but another branch of the same store two miles away might?”

“Yeah. Weird, right?” she says. “I mean, when I got here I was like, where are all the animal things? Those are pretty standard costumes, right?”

“So do you think, it’s some sort of Berkeley thing?” I say, getting a little amped up with the absurdity of it. “Some kind of vegetarian-minded animal-cruelty type thinking?”

“Huh,” she says, looking out of the corner of her eyes, thinking. “Yeaaaaaaaah… Probably.”

Okay. So I feel old.

No Comments »

Remember the Lake

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Doctors, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Summer, Travel | 4 Comments »

On our way through Marin County—heading towards beaches, hiking, and the Redwoods—we pass by a dumpy roadside motel. The Fountain Motel.

It’s where my mother, my sister Marie, and I once stayed when I was a kid. A dreary gray box of a place, up on the main road, with a requisite off-kilter cement fountain plopped out in front.

So when Mark’s ‘rents were here last week, we were stuck in a good-weather weekend traffic snarl, right in front of said motel. Admitting this was the site of a bygone Bruno vacation—something I’m often compelled to do, despite the shame of it—no doubt makes one wonder whether it was a voluntary vacation. Or if maybe we were on the lam. Hiding out from Interpol. Waiting out time until we got our Witness Protection Program permanent digs.

Or, maybe back then it was nice? Or at least nice-ish? Or maybe at least clean, and a good value?

All I remember about it was that the bedspreads were kinda flashy…

At any rate, it’s odd having a reminder from a childhood trip so close by. Maybe if my mother would’ve known that someday I’d settle in the Bay Area, and that for some unGodly reason that motel would still be standing and in business, she’d have opted for someplace clean AND cute.

Aside from that trip (and an admittedly fabulous tour of Europe), I can’t remember many vacations I took as a kid. I mean, I do have an especially horrible memory. But I can’t help by think that parents put a lot of planning, energy, and moolah into family outings that end up passing through the kids like so much Mexican drinking water.

For my girls, I think I’ve cracked the code to making vacations memorable. The way to hold onto something is to do it over and over and over again, right? Right! Which is why I’ve decided we’re inviting ourselves to spend Labor Days from here on out with some of Mark college friends, at their lake house in Minnesota.

The cabin’s a two-hour drive from Minneapolis, and the perfect blend of charming simplicity meets dazzling natural beauty. It’s feet from the lake. And one whole side of it is windows. So even when you’re inside, say, lying on the couch with a book and a beer, you still feel like you’re soaking up the great outdoors.

I have another annual trip in my past. A now-bygone camping trip—okay, okay, it was at a hippie music festival—up in Humboldt County. I went maybe six times—or eight?—with a big group of old Bay Area friends.

Now, the downfall of vacationing in the same place every year with the same group of people is the exhaustive rehashing and glorified storytelling that takes place about years past. “Remember in ’99 when Al brought that blender with a rip-cord starter engine, and decided to make margaritas at the crowded campsite at 3AM? I thought those guys from Oregon were going to kill him!”

Ah, Al.

Well, we’re finally settling in back home after our new-fangled family-style annual lake house vacation. It was Kate’s second Labor Day weekend on Lone Lake. (She couldn’t remember the first one. My genes.) Last time Paigey was with us too, but in utero.

Lest any of this year’s highlights be forgotten, I’m capturing some here. I figure we can just print this out and read from it around the campfire next year. Then we won’t even have to endure the labors of a spontaneous ad-libbed conversation.

Remember when 4-year-old Spencer used the bacon-grease-drenched paper towel to wipe off his face?

Remember when Gary spent an evening organizing a big box of Crayons according to the pretentiousness of the color names?

Remember when Paige squealed and clapped like an organ-grinder monkey every time Dulce the dog walked by?

Remember when a bird flew into the yard squawking wildly, causing us to look up and see a bald eagle soaring overhead?

Remember when Kate said, “The shadows on the lake look like squid, Dada.” And a beat later added, “I don’t know what squid are.”

Remember the day we ate pig five ways (bacon at brekkie, ham in a salad at lunch, sausage-’n'-cheese glop dip with cocktails, and home-smoked pulled pork sandwiches and pork and beans for dinner)?

Remember when Kate was so goofy crushy on 7-year-old Max, and she tried to impress him by saying things like, “I wrote a 4, Max. Want to see it?”

Remember how Uncle Gary was the sweetest manny EVER to all six kids? (Mental note: Bring him along on all family vacations. Better yet, have him move into basement room as au pair.)

Remember when the college co-ed during the Surly Brewing tour asked Omar beguilingly “How do you drink so much beer and maintain that girlish figure?” and he replied, “Chasing after my four kids.”

Remember how in an unusual bout of “sure-I’ll-try-that” Kate agreed to be towed in inflatable dinghy behind the speedboat, and grinned and gave thumbs-ups the entire time?

Remember when it was taking a while for Gary and proud Eagle Scout Mark to light the campfire, and young Max asked if they’d “ever done this before?”

Remember when Becca regaled us with excellent ER tales of an overweight woman unaware she was pregnant—or in in labor, a snowmobiling tweaker, and a girl skewered by a long golf cart prong? (Don’t worry, the skewered girl got better, the tweaker’d only imagined there was a bomb following him, and the ignorant preg-o decided to keep the baby because she figured it’d give her “something to do.”)

Remember how babies Leo and Paige communicated through the clear dog door like separated lovers at a prison visitation?

Remember how Omar still didn’t beat Mark at Trivial Pursuit?

Ah yes. Good times, all.

On our last night, when Kate should have been saying charming polite goodbyes she opted for an epic tantrum. Once she calmed down enough to speak, she admitted her fit was about having to leave. We’d been with our friends for five days.

“Next year,” she said between big weepy intakes of breath, “Can we stay for six days?”


No Card’s in the Mail, This’ll Have to Do

Posted: June 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Daddio, Miss Kate, Mom, Parenting | 3 Comments »

My college friends feared my father.

I mean, for starters I’d like to point out that I’m old. As in, I attended college in the era of hot pots not microwaves, typewriters not computers, and pay phones not iPhones. I know, totally charming and rustic, right?

All this for just $20,000 a year!

Anyway, so college in Ohio was, to say the least, a wee bit o’ culture shock for this lass. I mean, the Midwest being one thing. But having had the good luck to spend the summer between high school and college in southern France with family friends upped the culture clash exponentially. (Let’s just say they aren’t rockin’ le monokini on the banks of the Kokosing River.)

My mother and I were still very much in the PTSD wake of my teendom when I was in college. So all my issues around the ill fate that’d landed me in Nowheresville, Ohio were things I processed heavily via the hall pay phone with Dad.

Outgoing calls to him were one thing. But the incoming calls are what bred fear amongst my hallmates.

“This man—,” they’d say, after banging on my door. (A door that had a wipe-board for leaving messages on it. That was texting in my day.) “This man with a crazy deep voice is on the phone for you.”

“Oh! Dad!” I’d chirp, perked up from my hung-over haze and scrambling into an Indian print t-shirt and pink Oxford boxers. “Thanks!”

Over time my father’s low scary-ass voice became known in the hallway ‘hood. ‘Krrrrrrrris-tennnnn!” they’d holler, conceivably before he’d even asked for me. “‘S’yer dad!”

Eventually, prior to even buying them their first starving-student dinner, Dad became legend. Known not only for his vocal resonance and telephonic tenacity (calling often, if only to check in and report RI weather), but also for the letters he sent nearly daily. The envelopes being elaborately drawn upon, outlets for the career in cartoonery he turned aside for the lucrative smart-boy life of a lawyer. Something his father, in no uncertain terms, directed him towards.

And through his letters or phone calls or my Daddy’s Girl tales, our bond became famous among my friends. Sport even. “Aw Kris,” they’d mimic in their best Bruno baritone. “You brushed your teeth this morning! I’m so proud of you!”

College life made way for my San Franscisco swingledom, and the onslaught of cocktail culture provided Dad and me with another common ground. His visits out west were always party-worthy, and my friends braced their livers for his signature Italian guy Manhattans.

Is it so wrong that the best parties I’ve thrown my dad’s been at? Or worse, that most of them I assembled due solely to the fact that he’d be visiting?

Many’s the time I’d send out an invite to have friends delightedly RSVP, asking, “So, Fred’s in town?” then try to mask their disappointment when I’d confess that no, it was just a party for a roomie’s birthday, or on accounta it being the holidays.

Apparently he and I tipsily swing dancing to Glen Miller around the butcher block trumped a shindig where no one over the age of 65 was in attendance. Go figure.

Anyway, whenever I ask my dad what he wants for a gift-giving holiday, he gets all mushy and his voice gets super gravelly and he says all slow-like, “A card is all I need. Just tell me if you think I wasn’t a half-bad father.”

Which is, of course, maddening and unhelpful.

Usually I ignore him altogether, and spend money on something he doesn’t need, doesn’t care for, or already bought himself two months earlier. But this year for whatever reason, I’ve somehow managed to bungle not only not buying a lame gift, but also not sending a card.

Though even finding the right card would’ve presented its own set of challenges. What are the odds that I could find one that said, “No other Dad writes or calls as much as you. No other Dad draws on envelopes. No other non-cop Dad can rock a moustache like you. No other Dad knows as many card tricks, makes stronger Manhattans, or lets their kid drive their BMW (chaperoned of course) at age 15. No other Dad has a three-squeezes hand holding “I love you” code. And no other Dad would ever suffice for me.”

Guessing that Hallmark hasn’t made that card. At least, not yet.

Driving somewhere or other a few weeks ago, Kate, Master of the Non Sequitur, asked out of the blue “How old is Grandpa?” to which I said, “80.”

Kate: “Why?”

Me: “Because he was born 80 years ago.”

Kate: [Pauses to think] “So did he have his moustache when he was a baby?”

Good question, Kate. Very good question.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I feel bad that I can’t be hanging out with you today, and I feel bad for all those poor schmucks who’ve had to grow up with fathers other than you.

You are not a half-bad father. In fact, you are a most excellent one. And I love you.