The Buzz Around Here

Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Doctors, Firsts, Food, Milestones, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Paige has developed a bizarre and extreme fear of bees.

I have no idea what brought this on. Every time I ask her about it I get a different answer. “Luke at school likes bees.” Or, “No reason.” Or, “Because bees go buzz.” Or, “Can I watch Sesame Street?”

When you want to get to the bottom of something with an almost-four-year-old, they’re often the worst ones to ask about it. Mark and I refer to this as the “bad witness” syndrome. What your preschooler reports ain’t always what happened.

But I know for sure that she has not been stung by a bee, negatively interacted with a bee, or read any scary books or seen videos about bees. I have not punished her by saying, “If you hit your sister again I will stick your hand in a bee hive.” I swear I haven’t. Even if I’ve maybe sometimes wanted to.

I have assured Paige that bees don’t come into the house. I’ve told her that if you don’t bother bees, they won’t bother you. I have remarked that in wintertime, bees aren’t even around because of the cold. (Though this is a bit of a hard sell with our NoCal winter this year. It’s been sunny and in the 60s for most of December and January.) I even said that if you DO get stung by a bee, it hurts for a little while, then goes away. No. Big. Thing.

But for a few weeks now she will wake up in the middle of the night and ask questions like, “Are there any bees in my room?”

Come morning she’ll drop her cereal bowl into the sink and troop off to her room to get dressed announcing, “I’m not wearing anything black today.” This because Kate’s preschool teacher told her FOUR YEARS AGO that the color black attracts bees. A fact that Kate has cleaved to, out of scientific interest more than fear. Therefore any time we come anywhere near a bee or perhaps the kind of flower a bee might like Kate does an inventory of all the clothing we’re wearing to ascertain whether any of us is in imminent danger.

It’s a shame too, since black looks so fab on Paige with her blond hair.

Last week I took Paigey to a pediatric allergist. She’s had some puffy-lip/barfy reactions to walnuts and I wanted to see if there was a legit issue at hand. The allergist was one of those super-goofy-friendly docs who works with kids and could probably make so much more money gruffly caring for adults, but is just too kindhearted and caring and gooberish. Thank God for folks like him, I guess.

Anyway, he was so desperately hell-bent on connecting with Paige I nearly had a diabetic seizure from his saccharine-sweet “Your lovey looks like a wonderful friend” and “Baba… what a nice name for a stuffed sheep” banter.

Paige was even a bit leery of the dude.

He went on to remark that if Paige was three she must be learning how to read, and started quizzing her on what letter makes the sound “rrrr” and, “What is the sound the letter ‘e’ makes?” Hell, I’m not even sure what sound the letter ‘e’ makes. Is it eeee or eh? Anyways, I don’t know what preschool HIS kids go to, but Paige comes home from school with paper plates that have colored cotton balls glued to them and with glitter ground into her scalp. And I don’t think it’s from rigorous academic sessions.

Anyway, Mr. Overly Nice Guy ended up balancing out Paige’s perception of him when he pricked up and down her back with tinctures of various allergens. It was not only pokey and painful, but many of the spots turned into itchy burning pits that she could neither reach nor scratch.

And worse than that the nurse wrote numbers on her back in red pen to indicate what each allergen was. On the car ride home between sobs she relayed to Mark on the phone, “They wrote numbers on my baaaaack!!! In PEN! I want to go home and take a baaaaath!!!”

Turns out she is allergic to walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. This prompted me to tell Goofy Allergist Doc, “I guess I’ve got to get her off that hazelnut coffee in the morning.”

To which he looked at my blankly and said, “Really? She drinks that?”

I assured him she does not drink hazelnut coffee (while sounding out the words in The Wall Street Journal). She’s more a double-espresso kinda gal.

When, oh when, will the rest of the world understand my sense of humor?

Anyway, now we’re one of those families who carry epi pens with them everywhere and have the preschool stock-piled with various meds. We have a kiddie rainbow-beaded Medic Alert bracelet on order. And I’m an even-more-avid food label reader. Were nuts processed in the same facility where this granola bar was manufactured? Was there “shared equipment?” Does this fruit chew possibly contain “trace elements” of nuts?

Doc Smiley told me that if the equipment in question is used to process almonds—no problem! Paige is not allergic to almonds. So he told me to just call the different companies to find those details out.

For real?

Me: “Hello, Nabisco? It’s Kristen. I’m wondering about the machines you got goin’ there. What nuts are we talking about?”

This does not seem like a call I’m likely to ever make. Not that I want to put Paigey in any jeopardy, God knows. But REALLY? Call the food manufacturer? I mean, who the frick do you ask to speak to? How many hours are you thrashing about in that corporate phone-tree quicksand before you eventually find an administrative assistant who is sitting in a cubical in St. Louis 2,000 miles from any actual food-makin’ “equipment” and really just wants to get you off the phone so she can get back on Facebook who gives you a vague, “Uh… I’m not sure” answer? Or worse, she lies just so she can return to her online solitaire game then update her status that the chicken salad she just ate for lunch was gross.

I’m supposed to trust her?

I think I’ll just be steering away from processed foods—as I try to do anyway.

And blessedly, Paige’s allergies are apparently mild. Not like some kids who see a picture of a peanut and break into hives. Benadryl will likely do the trick if Paige is ever exposed to something. The epi pens are for unusual, hopefully rare reactions. And, I think, just so I’m required to cram one more thing in my already unwieldy mom purse. I can’t get feelin’ all freed up now that I don’t have to carry diapers any more.

The allergist wants us to come back in a month just to check in. After this “lifestyle change” he said people often have many questions. Though I wonder how it is we’ve gone for nearly four years never knowing Paige had a tree nut allergy. (And is it just me, or are you also unclear about which nuts grow on trees? We didn’t have that unit in my science classes…) I mean, if we can just continue to do what we were doing up until now, seems like she should be okay.

Despite Paige’s tormented screams and wailing about her itchy-owie back, interspersed with rants about the numbers drawn on her—”Why numbers? WHY, Mama??”—I did manage to summon some rational thought to ask the doctor some questions, and one was about bee stings. In my mind bee stings and epi pens go hand in hand.

“Is she is more likely to be allergic to bees because she has a nut allergy?” I bellowed over the din.

And the answer it turned out is—no! There’s no relation to the nut and the bee thing.

Well, she may not have a physical allergy to bees, but she certainly seems to have a psychological one. I’ve just got to figure out what the antidote to it is. If any of you have successfully wrangled with similar sorts of preschoolers’ fears, I’m all ears.

I now also know to never write numbers on Paige’s back in red pen. And thankfully, that’s a lifestyle change I can easily accommodate.

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How Much is that Guppy in the Window?

Posted: October 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Discoveries, Miss Kate, Parenting, Shopping | No Comments »

Karma’s a bitch. Here I was lacking a plan, so I took the easy path. And where did it lead me? Hell. Specifically, pet hell.

I’ll explain. Kate recently turned six. And Mark was away for work the 10 days before her birthday. So I planned the party, and shopped for the pinata, and food, and decorations. I came up with activities for the kids, hired a magician, attempted to gussy up our yard. I scoured social media outlets, cookbooks, and the Inter-Web for the most succulent, moist chocolate cake recipe in all the land.

Then one night, toiling over a hot laptop and reviewing my gift purchases on Amazon, I lamented that I hadn’t ordered a special present for Kate. So I emailed Mark.

“What do you say we buy her a fish?” I suggested. “I mean, just write a promissory note, then we can all go together and she can pick it out.”

From Down Under, hours later, Mark received the email and shot back, “Great idea.”

I brushed my hands together with the smug satisfaction of a mother who had in fact done it all. Easiest. Present. Ever.

That must’ve been when the gods looked down at me and shared belly laugh. “Foolish mother!” they chortled. “She thinks it’ll be easy, does she?”

Then, to put my all my perfect party planning to shame—to show how powerless I truly was—they cursed me with overcast weather on the day of the party. It’d been in the low 80s and gloriously sunny for over a week, but the day of the party—the outdoor party in our backyard—was bleak and chilly. The Bay Area’s legendary Indian Summer let me down.

Had I only known that the gathering of gray clouds that day was a foreshadowing. Oh, the party went off without a hitch, weather aside. But the next day we piled into the car, the girls chanting “Fish! Fish! Fish!” and Mark and I smiling at each other from the front seats, smug with the sweet knowledge that we were doing something wonderful to enrich our darling nuclear family.

Hey, we were hardly buying the kids a Labrador Retriever. But, you know, baby steps.

Mark had sussed out fish stores online and took us to a place two towns over that was supposed to be “the best.” The squat, windowless building was covered with a mural of tropical fish, and I delightedly sing-songed to the girls as we pulled up, “Guess which place we’re going to?”

It was all so thrilling and wonderful. I took a history-capturing photo of Kate, arms and legs stretched wide, in front of the mural before we entered the building. Mark gallantly held the door open for me and I smiled as I slipped in. A happy young family on our way to add a fishy friend to our ranks.

Inside, the walls gleamed with rows of brightly lit tanks. Within them stirred all manner of colorful, flowy-finned fishies with green sea grasses swaying. The girls ran from one tank to the next. “Nemo!” Paige squealed. “Whoa, look at these guys!” Kate yelped peering into a tank of small silvery fish glowing with purple iridescence. “I want them!”

While the kids and I explored deeper into the store’s back rooms, Mark got the attention of a young Asian employee—a collegiate tattooed fish geek—who we eventually met up with at the front of the shop. I pulled out a scrap of paper from my purse and recited to her the amount of space we had for a tank. (I had every detail figured out.)

Okay, so tanks. Fish Geek Girl started reeling off statistics about cubic something-or-others of water, and pointed to a wall full of spankin’ new, unoccupied fish homes. “This one’s a little smaller. It needs a light, but it’s got the filter built in. Now for a little more you can get this larger tank, with the light and the filter, but the lid is sold separately. This one is a kit and where you think it would be the best deal, you’re actually better off buying a light from these people, and a filter which will last you three to four years, then get the tank over here from this other vendor but they are totally compatible—as long as you make sure you’re getting everything in the M Series.”

The wall of tanks started to swirl together before me. Like fly-vision I was seeing hundreds of identical images. Despite how dazzlingly confusing just picking a tank was, there also seemed to be some digital ticker tape of the cost of all this flashing behind Fish Geek’s head. The numbers multiplied the more she talked.

At this rate we’d get one goldfish and have to decide whether it was Kate or Paige who we could send to college. I was starting to wonder whether we should’ve gotten pre-approved for a loan before entering the fish store.

I swallowed hard and looked over at Mark. Usually when my brain starts short-circuiting his is still going strong. (One of the many benefits of having him around so much.) Alas, turns out he wasn’t even tuned it. Instead he was preventing Paige from reaching into a tank to grab Nemo.

“Okay, uh, well that is all good to know,” I stammered. “Maybe you could tell us a bit about maintenance?”

“Well, depending on which tank you get [of course!] you’ll have to change half the water in the tank bi-weekly or one-third of the water weekly.” This was turning into a math word problem. I was afraid she was about to ask me how fast the train was traveling.

Then Little Miss Fish Facts moved across the room to Vannah her arms alongside a display of pumps. “Now with these pumps you can…”

I was growing dizzy. I felt like if there was just a window I could look out, I could somehow steady myself. If it’s possible to get sea sick in a fish store, I was.

Water changes? Filters? Lights? Thermometers? Whatever happened to those goldfish that you won in a plastic bag at the carnival?

Oh wait… I remember. After short stints as “pets” they went belly up. Those simple fish-bowl fish never lasted very long, maybe because they needed confusing costly contraptions to keep them going. Eventually they all experienced tragic toilet-borne funerals.

Standing in that store I felt the way I did when I almost bought a Honda Accord. It was when Mark and I were dating, and I needed a reliable car to get me to a new, far-flung job. I’d gotten so far as to select the color, interior, and options, and they were pulling my new ride up to the showroom from an off-site parking lot.

But I panicked. Suddenly a Honda Accord seemed like the most wretchedly safe, generic, boring commuter-mobile I could ever own. It was like if I bought that car I would be giving up my personality altogether. Every ounce of me-ness would be whitewashed with soul-robbing sensibility. There was no way I could go through with it. But I also couldn’t bring myself to share my change of heart with the super high-pressure salesman. So I whispered to Mark, “Uh, I can’t do this. Tell them no.”

I think he whispered back something along the lines of, “You fucking tell them! I’m not going to tell them!”

But anyway, this fish thing was different. We were in it together. I touched the arm of Fish Girl before she launched into a lecture on solar-powered filters and said, “I think we need a minute.”

Then I turned to Mark and said, “Let’s get out of here. This is insane! Maybe at that other place we can get a frog or something. Something easier to deal with.”

Fast-forward to Pet Store #2, where we met a tortoise. It was darling! And seemed so right for us in so many ways. The girls could take him out of his tank and play with him on the floor. Can you do that with a fish? Noooo. Plus, no filters! No water to change! No temperatures to fret over!

This all sounded great. Then the male equivalent of Fish Geek Girl informed us, “Now, these tortoises live to be 80 to 100 years old. Some breeds get to be 100—even 120.”

Okay, so this was the opposite end of the toilet-funeral spectrum. Instead of having to comfort the girls about the death of their fish some day, Mark and I would be moving this turtle to a nursing home with us. Paige’s grandchildren would be playing with that damn, un-killable pet.

I’m sorry, but even a truncated 70-year turtle existence was way, way too long.

But then, to really wrench at our heart strings the Reptile Dude plucks a couple itty bitty baby tortoises out of a tank. Suddenly every kid in the store was crowded around us. They were ADORABLE. I don’t care how long these little guys live, I wanted one. I wanted two!

“Now these fellas grow to be about twice the size of Martin over there,” he said, nodding his head towards an enormous tank. The turtle inside looked to be about the size of a bear cub. These turtles would require their own bedrooms one day.

But they were cute! I was undeterred.

Then Our Knowledgeable Salesperson starts in on how the tortoises eat table scraps—the ends of carrots, wilted lettuce, withered cucumbers. They were like living compost heaps. What could be greener? What could be easier? Turns out I have a refrigerator FULL OF TURTLE FOOD on any given day. What dumb luck!

As Kate and Paige acted proprietary with the wee turtles the other store-kids were pawing at, Reptile Ron went on. “Now these little guys have shells that are forming still. So you’ll need to bathe them in water just about up to their shell lines for 20 minutes a day. But only for the first two to three years.”

Did he really just say “ONLY for the first two to three YEARS?”

I nearly kicked the man in the crotch. I didn’t manage to get my own children into the bath every day for their first two to three years.

I snatched those darling turtles out of the girls’ hands and plopped them back in their tank. Not an option.

But I never say die. There must be a perfect pet somewhere in this huge store. What else could he show us?

Next up, a variety of small, darling frogs. They really were cute. Brightly colored teensy things, hopping around in little mossy, leafy fairy realms. I cut to the chase. “Talk to me about maintenance. Gear. Feedings. Baths.”

“Well, you have to spray water in their tanks every day. They need the moisture,” he started. “And they eat crickets…”

Live crickets?” I interrupted.

“Uh-huh,” he said. Then he gently explained that their “live food needs” would require us to drive to the pet store once a week, just to keep us in crickets. He failed to mention how the hell you got the crickets into the tank. And the potentially-traumatizing Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom experience of watching the wee frogs devour their dinner.

“And how often do you feed them these crickets?” I ventured.

“Every day,” he replied cautiously.

And really, I know it shouldn’t be so shocking to think that a living thing needs to eat every day, but I was horrified. Disgusted even. Every day? For the love of God, no.

I tugged on Mark’s sleeve. “Uh, I think we need to go home,” I whispered. “Regroup. Do some research. Sell the girls on a pet rock maybe.”

And so, we left. Somehow we got the girls into the car without them screaming, whining, throwing wild tantrums. Somehow they weren’t hurling accusations at us of being bad, lying parents who’d promised to buy them a pet. It was one of those eery times when the kids just seemed to go with the flow. They did what we needed them to do.

“We need some time to think about what the best choice is for us,” Mark said as he clipped them into their car seats. We looked at each other over the roof of the car before getting in, and rolled our eyes. What the HELL had we gotten ourselves into?

When we got home it was time for dinner. Late really. And once we’d cooked, and eaten, and cleaned up the dishes, we needed to start reading the kids their bedtime books. So we washed their hands and faces, brushed their teeth and hair, and got them into bed. There would be plenty of time for a bath tomorrow.

Then Mark and I went on with our evening, secure in the fact that—despite their state of compromised cleanliness—we didn’t have to worry that without having had a bath the girls’ shells might dry out, shrivel up, or crack. These human pets? So easy. Even if when they woke up in the morning we would have to feed them all over again.

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Summer Camp Blues

Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Firsts, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Music, Parenting, Summer | 3 Comments »

True confession: I never went to summer camp.

Go ahead, take your pot shots. I know, I’m a freak. As if it’s not bad enough that I’ve never seen Star Wars, I also lack any nostalgia about or understanding of camp culture. I know no campfire songs. I can’t make a lanyard. I’ve never short-sheeted a bed, dipped a sleeping friend’s hand in warm water to make her pee, or snuck out of a cabin late-night to to meet a boy.

But don’t you worry. I’ll be fine.

This void in my childhood experience was great comic fodder for my college friends. I’d be standing at a bar with a new boyfriend and they’d come up to us and say, “Hey, so what say we sing some campfire songs?” Then with dramatic mock dismay they’d say, “Ooooh, yeah… That’s right. Kristen never went to camp.”

Who am I kidding? I never had an actual boyfriend in college.

Anyway, my daughter Kate is like the Patron Saint of Summer Camp. At the tender age of five, no less. She’s gone to so many different camps this summer—adventure camp, costume-making camp, famous artist camp, discovery camp, cooking camp, animation camp—and all in seven weeks’ time.

I can’t imagine what else she’d have done if we hadn’t spent most of July in Rhode Island. Car repair camp? Hair braiding camp? Drum circle camp?

Thankfully Kate’s a super duper trooper when it comes to transitions. The girl is devoid of first-day jitters. She plunges into social settings without knowing a soul, and never considers that that could be awkward.

When I picked her up from the first day of animation camp, a sea of boys poured out of the room before her.

“Wow, I said looking back at the little guys running up to their mothers. “A lot of boys in your camp, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m the only girl,” she said, un-phased. Then she took my hand and led me toward the door.

I had my mouth open to pour out a stream of neurotic questions and maternal concern, but she looked up at me all excited and said, “I used Paigey’s Plum Pudding doll to do stop motion animation today!”

So I closed my mouth, pushed the door open, and heard all about how they took “like 100 pictures of the doll” then made it into a movie.

Katie’s had a blast at all her camps this summer—gathering t-shirts, friendship bracelets, and mad lanyard skillz. But I can’t bear the thought of sticking her into another new environment again. So I’m taking next week off of work, and having some quality time with the girls before school starts.

Perky teen counselors will have nuthin’ on Camp Mama. I plan to make pancakes for breakfast, let us linger in our PJs, then have outings to the beach or the zoo, and go out for gelato. If the weather’s bad I’ll take them to that Winnie the Pooh movie I promised Paige after I traumatized her at Kung Fu Panda 2. (She’s been asking if we can go back to “that big-TV place” but see “something not scary.”)

Hell, we’ll maybe even whip up some friendship bracelets for each other. And of course, there will be LOTS of singing. Every time Kate’s been in the car this summer she’s busted out some new ditty she learned at camp. Her capacity to memorize lyrics astounds me. And she’s got Page trained on the “repeat after me songs” (a genre, I must admit, that was all new to me).

So if you see us driving around Oakland next week, don’t be surprised if the windows are down and we’re happily belting out “Percy the Pale-Faced Polar Bear” or “The Button Factory.” Yes, at age 44, I have finally, blessedly learned some campfire songs.

And I’ve gotta tell you, I love them.

Just in case you too have been denied this pleasure, I’ll share one of our faves. Best sung while eating s’mores or signing your friend’s camp t-shirt.

Well I ran around the corner and I ran around the block,
And I ran right into the donut shop.
And I picked up a donut right out of the grease,
And I handed the lady my five cent piece.

Well she looked at the nickel and she looked at me.
And she said, This nickel is no good you see.
There’s a hole in the middle in and it runs right through.
Said I, There’s a hole in the donut too!

Thanks for the donut. Bye-bye!

Have fun, campers! See you next summer.


Campfire Classroom

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Firsts, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 1 Comment »

You think you know everything there is to know about someone, then out of the blue they bust out something new.

Mark did this to me on Sunday. He told me that two of the best showers he’s ever taken took place since he’s known me.

Okay, I admit this is NOT the most scintillating tidbit. Not like finding out he’d been a prodigy on the tuba. Or that he had a tail surgically removed after birth. (Neither of those things, sadly, are true.) But, you know, when you’ve been married to someone for a while, any fresh little nugget is compelling.

So about these showers. The best of his life, he claimed. And before you envision some steamy Nine 1/2 Weeks acrobatic-sex scene, the showers he was referring to he actually took alone.

One of them was after a several-day backpacking trip we took through the Minnesota Boundary Waters. Back when we were dating. It was the kind of grueling balls-out adventure that had the potential to cement our relationship or squelch it. After several days we emerged from the woods exhausted, sucked-dry by mosquitoes, and with Mark missing a toenail. But strangely, still in love.

We were both chicken-fried in sedimentary layers of sunscreen, bug spray, and dirt. Oh, and sweat. Did I fail to mention we were comprehensively coated in deeply-funky homeless man strength sweat?

Well, yes sirree we were.

Mark remembers that first shower back in civilization quite fondly.

Then there was the bath Mark took in a fancy L.A. hotel room after completing the AIDS Ride. (Okay, so this wasn’t a shower per se, but his second best “bathing experience.”) Turns out that after a 580-mile bike ride, a soak in the tub does you justice. In the same way that doing anything other than pedaling your bike would probably be pleasant.

Since having had kids, neither Mark nor I have gotten much chance to do the kinda things that result in severe abstention from cleanliness. No long camping adventures. No immense feats of athletic endurance. And I don’t mean to show off here, but even when the kids were newborns we somehow managed to shower regularly.

So it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when we went camping for a weekend with Kate’s school, that we returned to the Land of the Stinky.

Yes, we’re the people who put camping equipment on our wedding registry, got a bunch of great new gear, then I immediately got pregnant. And say what you will about the merits of a Thermarest, I had no intention of settling my preg-o whale-like carcass atop a thin air mattress and hoping for any semblance of a good night’s sleep. I mean, even a world-class optimist like me knew that was too much to hope for.

But now Paigey’s well over three years old. We no longer have a baby as an excuse. (Take my notions of poor sleep as a pregnant camper and magnify those to the tenth power at the thought of bunkin’ in a tent with a baby.) So when Kate’s kindergarten sent out an email about a school-wide weekend in the wilderness, how could we say no? It seemed like high time to dredge up and dust off our sleeping bags, Nalgene bottles, and moisture-wicking clothing. Oh and those great little super-absorbant towels.

Sure, we were staying in a cabin. With bathrooms just a path’s walk away. And—get this—there was even a dining hall where we were beckoned by bell for meals three times a day. So it was hardly roughin’ it. But it was a perfect re-introduction to the wonders of the wilderness. A great way for Mark and I to revisit the concept of camping, and to envision it as an activity for our party of four.

And beyond re-igniting our desire to starting camping again, our whole family learned a little something new that weekend. So much so, that I started noting our various discoveries.

Here’s that list:

Electric Kool-Aid Gummi Bear Test
For the first time, Kate and Paige drank Kool-Aid. Paige dubbed it “gummi bear juice” and became immediately, devastatingly addicted. After polishing off a large cup she’d plead, “More, more, MORE gummi bear juice, Mama!” I started wondering what we could use as a methadone to ease her off the stuff on the long drive home.

And to top it off she had a big, smile-shaped, red Kool-Aid stain on her face. Kinda like a milk moustache, but larger and more terrifying. By weekend’s end I feared it was essentially tattooed on. She looked like The Joker from Batman—and with her sugar high, was acting only slightly less demonic.

Boys Like Fire
At the bonfire our first night, I learned that boys—especially 4th and 5th grade boys—really REALLY like fire. Trust me on this. My eyeball was almost on the receiving end of a flaming marshmallow several times. Some boys were skipping the s’mores altogether to focus all their attention on setting branches and leaves on fire. The way things were going it was only a matter of time until bratty siblings and controlling parents were tossed into the flames. I bugged out before the real pyrotechnics kicked in.

Tricks for Keeping Warm
On our first morning in the cabin, Mark handed Kate and Paige their clothes for the day and suggested they put them in their sleeping bags to warm up. Mind you, it was May, but still chiiiiilly where we were. (Saturday night dropped down to 40-something.) Anyway, I thought this idea of thawing your clothes before getting dressed was sheer spousal brilliance.

It pays to marry an Eagle Scout, ladies.

And the other thing? On Sunday morning when I was nearly swan diving into a cup of rank camp coffee to warm up, I learned that I’d bungled my attempts to not freeze during the night. I’d layered on lots of clothes before climbing into my super-schmancy hi-tech sleeping bag. (I am, after all, The First Lady of Wired Magazine Gadgets.) Anyway, in a not altogether flirtatious fashion, one of the dads from the school informed me that “less clothing is more” in one’s sleeping bag. As in, your body generates warmth that bounces off the sleeping bag and gets trapped there—keepin’ ya toasty.

But me? I’d intercepted my 20-degree sleep sack’s ability to be warm and womb-like by foolishly layering on leggings, a t-shirt, and a hoodie.

This explains why mountain men like to sleep in the buff. (Someone said that who was listening to our conversation that day, so I thought I’d say it too. But I actually don’t know any mountain men, and certainly have no insights into their proclivities for night-time garb—or lack thereof.)

Moths to a Flame
The first morning at the dining hall many of Kate’s classmates were clamoring around the industrial cereal dispensers—those long clear-plastic tubes that’re filled with different cereals. You churn a knob at the bottom to dump some in your bowl.

And you know what was in one of them? FRUIT LOOPS.

This, like the Kool-Aid, was life-changing for many of those all-organic, low-sugar, earthy-groovy-healthy California kids. Suffice to to say they were like moths to a flame. Or rather, like little robots aimed at a target who kept blindly walking towards it, bumping into it, then charging it again.

All those lies us parents had been spewing all these years—that the flavorless cardboardy organic Cheerio-shaped cereal was the most delicious and indulgent of breakfast options—were brutally laid bare.

I actually had some Fruit Loops myself that weekend. What a taste flashback!

And you know, they ARE pretty damn good.

Four-Legged Stroller
I have long contended that I will be pushing my children to their proms in strollers. Because they are the world’s wimpiest walkers. I know I should really just dispose of our Rolls Royce-quality double stroller altogether. But now I don’t think I’ll have to. Now that Kate’s been on a horse I’m convinced she’ll be more game for a pony than a Porsche when she turns 16.

I too rode a horse for the first time! Took a glorious hour-long trail ride on an amazing gorgeous trail. Even saw a real-live beaver out swimming in the river.

Nature! Real living nature!

I’m currently considering an urban-girl-goes-country wardrobe overhaul. The next time you see me wearing turquoise jewelry, a silver belt buckle, jeans, and boots, please just play along with it. I’m sure, like all good phases, it will pass.

When in Rome, Speak Roman
On the second morning in our one-room cabin, Kate rolled over and started yammering on about something to Paige. This was a thrilling chance for Kate to start her 12-hour-long Daily Talk Marathon a few minutes earlier than at home, where she has to walk from her bedroom to her sister’s before lurching into uninterrupted streaming chat.

Paige was groggy. She was un-used to the late bedtimes brought about by night-time bonfires. She harumphed. She whined. She rolled over. She pulled her blankie over her head. And finally, fed up, I heard her clearly, unemotionally say, “Suck it, Kate.”

I was stunned. And I think Kate was too—even though I’m pretty sure neither of them knew what it meant.

Kate quieted down. Paige dozed back off, and I lay trembling and speechless in my sleeping bag, not believing what I’d just heard my baby say. (Mark, as it turns out, was in the bathroom during this.)

Clearly the girls picked up more than just how to wield hot marshmallow-tipped sticks from the older boys that weekend. They learned a new nearly-swear. But blessedly—maybe because I didn’t react to it—it was one lesson that they totally forgot.

Kate is doing an overnight camp-out with her most-excellent super-expensive summer camp tonight. They’re sleeping under the stars, having a bonfire, s’mores, and lots of other good clean fun. At nearly six years old, this will be a big dose of independence for her. She’s stayed away from us with her grandparents before, but an overnight camping trip is truly the Big Girl big league.

I’m in that weird maternal place of feeling half thrilled for her and half sad about how quickly my girl is growing up.

And I’m looking forward to getting out to camp more this summer with our whole family. No doubt Kate will have a thing or two to teach us then. Hopefully it won’t be about being naked in your sleeping bag.

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Glory Days

Posted: June 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Music, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 4 Comments »

The older I get, the younger I dress.

I came to this disturbing realization on Friday, while digging through my wardrobe. I unearthed tweed blazers, thin brown belts with gold-tone buckles, and high-necked woolen herringbone dresses.

This clothing phase was like some sedimentary layer of my life I’d dug down deep enough to hit. Geologists would likely call it The Neutral Tones All-Wool Un-Sexy Professional Era.

It’s no wonder I married so late in life, dressed as I was.

The thing is, there was a time in my younger days when I dressed even older. From age 9 to 14 or so I was painfully, excessively preppy. I worked damn hard at it too. I layered shirts will devout precision, sometimes wearing two turtlenecks (in the dead of summer) just to reveal the slim perimeter of an extra pastel color at my chin-line.

I wore Bermuda shorts with ribbon belts, Lilly Pulitzer golf skirts, or any bright seashell-patterned jack-ass pants I could convince my mother to buy. I draped fair isle sweaters over my shoulders with surgical precision, and accessorized with a nautical rope bracelet and a gold signet ring with the monogram KEB. (Like everything else I wore, the initial ‘E’ was just for show. I don’t have a middle name, but I couldn’t bear the shame of a two-letter monogram.)

Yes, in my early teens, tragically, Talbots was my punk rock. I looked like a 75-year-old woman who got lost en route to Garden Club and mistakenly wandered into a middle school.

And the sad truth is that the look I was going for was utterly un-ironic. I even embraced the short-lived nickname Kiki that was bestowed upon me after The Preppy Handbook came out.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, on Friday I was getting ready to go to a clothing swap. A fabulous friend I rarely see had invited me. And although I assumed I’d know only one or two gals aside from the hostess, I had a hunch it’d be an interesting crowd.

But I was un-prepared. That working-mother frantic “oh-shit-I’m-supposed-to-bring-something-to-this-thing-that-starts-in-20-minutes” kinda unprepared. And so I dove into an armoir in the basement to dredge up some clothing to contribute. I was hoping to find something chic that just didn’t fit any more.

Instead I came up with tweed.

If I had any hope of hitting it off with these San Fran sisters, I’d have to swiftly dump my Nancy Reagan-esque clothing cast-offs into the mass of “clean, gently-used garments,” and slip away before the dowdy duds were linked to me.

Turns out I’d been right about the evening being fun and fabulous. I had reason on many occasions to laugh wine out my nose. (And thankfully the good sense not to.) I ate a tremendously delicious slab of lasagna, met some hilarious gals, and made off with a stunning new skirt and a great little black dress.

I even broke my own No Used Shoes Rule thanks to some other Size 8 whose adorable, unstinky, next-to-new heels were too cute to resist—especially when surrounded by a sea of gals who were ooh-ing and intoning in serious voices, “Those look SO GOOD ON YOU.”

It was like being in a dressing room with 30 other girlfriends who you just met. Who were a little drunk.

But the other half of my fun didn’t even happen at the party. It was getting there. My exceptional spouse was tending to our small humans, allowing me the unbridled freedom of slipping out into the evening in our non-kid-transporting vehicle, cutely clad, radio blasting. I had a bottle of wine in my purse, and not a single wipe or diaper on me.

The hostess lives in a dazzling Victorian in my old San Francisco ‘hood. A jealous-making home they bought back when mere mortals could afford digs that grand.

Cruising down familiar streets lined with new unfamiliar shops and restaurants felt like connecting with a long lost friend. Ah, the ole coffee shop. Ah, that soap and shampoo shop. (How do they survive?) That dump of a grocery store, reborn as a Whole Foods.

I gazed out my car window at the inhabitants of my old stomping grounds walking around doing their Friday night things. Oh those cute child-free folks, I thought smiling and shaking my head. Spilling out of that Irish pub onto the sidewalk. Wandering through that used book store. Eating raw fish or spicy kid-unfriendly foods in white-tableclothed restaurants that don’t hand out crayons or booster seats.

It’s so cute that they know no other life!

And it was so thrilling to be amidst them. Even to just be driving down the street, looking at them like fish in an aquarium. Not so long ago I didn’t have this C-section scar! I ate off hangovers in that greasy spoon! And that the bar sign “Be quiet when you leave here, our neighbors are trying to fucking sleep”? That was aimed at me The Drinker, not me The Tired Old Neighbor.

I Pandoraed Bruce Springsteen the other night, and after Mark cleaned the kitchen from dinner he turned the volume way up and declared Family Dance Party. (This is something one can declare, like war. But it generally involves less casualties and more disco.)

Anyway, Mark grabbed Kate’s hand, stretched out her arm and frenetically strummed her stomach like a guitar. This is apparently the most hilarious, funny thing a father can  do. On the scale of Fun Paternal Activities, this makes making chocolate chip you-name-the-shape pancakes on a Sunday morning seem like as much fun as running an errand at the hardware store.

Put simply, the child-as-guitar game rocks.

The whole time Mark’s working Kate like some Fender Stratocaster he’s wowing an arena full of crazed fans with, she’s nearly barfing she’s laughing so hard. And Paige is almost hyperventilating wanting it to be her turn. “Play ME, Dada! Plaaaay meeeee!”

I posted something on Facebook about Mark playing the kids like guitars to The Boss, and people posted comments like “Just as long as he doesn’t have to prove it all night,” and “Glory days, they’ll pass you by.”

Ah, good times.

Anyway, after everyone put back on the clothes they’d come in and the clothing swap wound down, I skipped out through the rainy night to my car. I pulled my hood over my forehead with one hand and clutched a bag of fabulous new-to-me clothes in the other. And I felt smug knowing that various women managed to take home all the weirdly drab, woolen clothes I’d contributed to the evening. (Perhaps mixed up in the fray as they were, each item on its own seemed less, well… Amish.)

I was giddy even admiring my parking job—squeezed into a tight spot on a steep hill. You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.

Life was good, right? I’d gone into a house knowing three people and came out with new friends and their old clothes.

And it was too early to know that my work husband would heckle my adopted long skirt when I wore it to work on Monday, asking, “Who was AT that swap? Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman?”

When I got back to my quiet, dark house, I dropped my sack of duds by the door, slipped off my boots, and tip-toed into Paigey’s room. She was snoozing in her usual sweaty, curly-haired way, head flopped to one side and cheeks flushed pink. In Kate’s room, my big girl was lodged between the edge of her mattress and her wall, blankets kicked off, and her stuffed dog Dottie draped across her neck like a string of pearls.

Before setting foot in either of their rooms, I could have described to you exactly how each of them were going to look.

Teeth brushed, email checked, dress yanked off and tossed into the dark of the room, I climbed into bed alongside Mark. He was snoring the very smallest little snore, deep asleep. I edged towards him to steal some warmth.

Say what you will about my single-gal city livin’. What I’ve got right here and now? Glory days for sure.


The Princess and the Pea

Posted: February 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Doctors, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Parenting | 10 Comments »

Kate wore a leotard, tights, and a tutu to ballet class this week. This might seem un-spectacular to you. I mean, she looked just like all the other girls. But to me—or rather, for Kate? Well, suffice it to say, it blew my mind.

It’s not that Kate’s a tom boy. She’s actually (unfortunately) quite smitten with princesses, ballerinas, and all things girly.

And it’s not that by refusing to wear ballet clothes in the past she was trying to stand out, or make some kinda of fashion statement.

It’s not even that she’s a nudist. Though God knows the nudist lifestyle would be sheer bliss for the girl.

The thing with Kate is that she hates clothes. The way some kids hate the monster under their bed, or getting a shot at the doctor’s, or having their nails clipped. Kate’s biggest enemy, fear, and anxiety-provoking thing is clothing.

And I only wish I were kidding. For Kate clothes are tight. They are itchy. They are binding and clingy and uncomfortable. Sometimes they even feel like they’re choking her.

So in that way that you adapt as a parent—when you, say, know that your kid will only drink milk if it’s chocolate milk and even though it’s embarrassing to admit around other parents, you know you need to get milk into your kid so you relent—in that kinda way I’ve flexed to Kate’s clothing issues. Which is to say she owns nothing with a zipper or buttons. Nothing with an iron-on decal or sewn-on applique. And if it once had a tag in it, you can bet it no longer does. (Paige is the heir to Kate’s vast wardrobe, much of it never worn. Unfortunately the size of each garment is an utter mystery.)

If Kate has shown willingness to wear a certain kind of shirt, I go to back to the store and buy five more. When she finds an acceptable pair of shoes she wears them every day, for months. (Despite the fact that her closet teems with other options.) Once I asked my mother-in-law to buy more of a certain kind of socks she’d given Kate, and mail them to us from in Ohio. When we find success with something, we lay in supplies.

But sometimes even those things don’t work. A previously approved t-shirt will go through the laundry and come out shrunken, or wrinkled, or the seams will suddenly expose themselves like Medusa’s snakes, slithering along the sensitive surface of Kate’s skin.

As you might imagine, this makes mornings ’round here especially stressful. I long for the standard-issue manic mornings other families wrangle with. I wish packing a lunch and getting everyone’s teeth brushed were the pressure points Chez McClusky. (This Motherboard story made me jealous of how easy everyone else’s bad mornings would seem to us.)

Inevitably breakfast ends, and as we lower the oatmeal bowls into the sink we utter the emotionally-charged sentence, “Time to get dressed, Kate.” And by “we” I mean Mark.

Because when Outfit #3 is rejected, when the contents of her closet and drawers are on the floor, and we’ve got only five minutes left to get to school and Kate is in a full-bore melter, I don’t perform well. Mark has better luck coaching an acceptable dress onto Kate’s back, and then, miraculously, not one but TWO socks (why were we plagued as bi-peds?), and on top of those, as if for extra credit, shoes.

For a long while Mark insisted Kate’s morning clothing meltdowns were power plays. Attempts to gum up the works when we were so close to getting somewhere on time. Mark tried tough love. We set up sticker charts with long-term toy incentives. And, as shameful as it is to admit, in moments of abject frustration, I even broke down, begging Kate to please please tell me what it was. Why couldn’t she just get dressed like other kids?

Is it crazy to say that you can go on like this for a while? That you can be aware of a problem, be tortured by it, but also just live with it?

But slowly flags started getting raised. I imagined what a house guest of ours was thinking as she observed our ritualistic morning dance around Kate getting dressed. This is so not normal, I thought. And my maternal neuroses were mounting around sending her to school in skimpy sundresses on cold days, rain boots on sunny days, and baggy dresses and bare feet for ballet.

My friend Mary told me, “No one’s looking at your kid as much as you are. I’m sure people don’t even notice.” So true.

But still, I worried about how this childhood issue could solidify in Kate’s psyche. Or grow worse. I envisioned a lifetime of Kate being out of step. I imagined her wearing bunny slippers on her prom night, and a muumuu on her wedding day.

And her love of ballet and gymnastics was already being threatened by her anxiety about the clothing they required. Dozens of times the getting dressed pre-class stress brought about a defeated “I don’t even want to go.” And the couple times I recklessly threatened to take her out of those classes, she’d be so upset she’d just say “Good.”

Then one morning, finally dressed, coat and backpack on, but still weepy standing by the front door, Kate looked at me and said, “You and Daddy just don’t understand.”

Which, as you can imagine, broke my heart into a million billion pieces.

So I called the doctor. Was Mark right? Did Kate need some tough love? Was I right? Was something really wrong with her?

Maybe, he said, we were both kinda right. (Or both wrong, depending on how you look at it.) Kate’s getting-dressed dramas could be 50% power play and 50% Something Else. Or 30/70 or 90/10. But to determine what that Something Else could be, we’d need a specialist. So he referred me to an Occupational Therapist.

I gave her the run-down on Kate’s Great Clothing Freak-Outs over the phone. And for every question she asked me that I answered “no” to, I was thrilled. There’s nothing better than realizing things could be worse. Much worse.

The therapist thought Kate might have a mild case of something called Sensory Defensiveness. (It’s not the bigger, scarier Sensory Integration thing I’ve heard about. Phew.) She described it this way: When people with Sensory Defensiveness are touched by something that doesn’t feel good, instead of saying, “This is itchy, I’ll take it off now,” they go into a sudden full-bore panic. They have an extreme emotional reaction. It’s like they have to claw it off their body.

Why yes. Sounds like Kate.

This defensiveness can extend to other things, like not being able to be touched or hugged or washed. Or freaking out at the feeling of rain on your skin. And it can extend to other senses too. But blessedly, the OT’s long line of questions showed that what Kate’s got is pretty limited in scope.

What ensued was an in-person assessment at this woman’s office. She played little games with Kate. She blindfolded her then poked her with the sharp and dull end of a paperclip, seeing if she could tell the difference. She tested Kate’s core strength, and asked whether she could make out letters that were drawn on her back.

And then she gave us a brush. A little yellow thing that’s actually used to clean the silk off of corn cobs.

She taught me how to brush Kate’s skin a certain way. I also had to do these weird joint compressions. Hold her thigh with one hand and her shin with the other and kinda press them together towards her knees. But do it on her shoulders, arms, and ankles too.

Kate didn’t seem to mind it. I think the brush part actually felt like a little massage. Which was good seeing as we’d have to do this to Kate every two hours. Waking hours, that is. For two weeks.

The OT’s other directive was that firmer touch was better. Firm hugs. Firmly drying Kate off after baths, wrapping her up tight in her towel. No light, gentle ticklish touch.

Walking to the car, I felt optimistic. But I also felt sorry for myself. Selfish, I know. But I was staring down the barrel at our Christmas vacation. Two weeks at home in Oakland. Two weeks brushing Kate every two hours.

It didn’t sound like fun. But I was holding out hope that this little damn corn silk brush could be our—or rather, Kate’s—salvation. And we were willing to try anything.

We brushed. Unsurprisingly there were no immediate results. But even going to the OT, even knowing that other kids had struggles like Kate did, seemed to help us all. Finally Mark and I had something to channel our parenting energy towards, instead of spinning and fuming and disagreeing on how to handle it.

Getting dressed over vacation got easier. Mark was off work too. He drew upon a wellspring of paternal patience and went into Kate’s room with her every morning to help her get dressed. He was so focused on making mornings more successful he was like a yogi doing some kind of heart-rate-slowing breathing. He was Houdini, hell-bent on helping Kate get into her shackles (or rather, her clothes) tear and stress-free.

After two weeks I called the OT. Did the brushing help? I wasn’t sure. She was getting dressed with less drama. But I’d also taken a ton of the clothes that I know set her off out of her room. Was it just that we didn’t need to bust ass during vacation to get out of the house? Or that we all knew this was a problem we were working to solve? Or did the brush really de-sensitize or reprogram her nerve endings somehow? I reported that Mark seemed to think things were better.

But I was too fearful to admit any degree of success.

She said to reduce the brushing and joint compression to three times a day. Which at first I did, but then somehow we fell off the wagon. Today the brush is sitting on Kate’s bureau, essentially forgotten.

And now enough weeks have gone by without morning dramas that I’m finally waking up to our new reality. I’m such a jinxy scaredy-cat parent that I was fearful to even utter the words. But last night sitting on the couch after the kids went to bed I turned to Mark. “Kate, and the clothes thing…” I didn’t even finish the sentence.

“I know!” he said. “I know.”

And then we both reached toward the coffee table to knock wood.


Swimming with Sharks

Posted: February 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Music, Scary Stuff | 1 Comment »

When Mark and I were first dating I bragged to him that I could play Hot Cross Buns on the recorder.

I know what you’re thinking—that I’m a ruthless sex kitten who really knows how to reel the men in!

But Mark was in a band at the time. He was the lead singer and played guitar. (He also plays piano and probably some other instruments too.) And as we got to know each other, seeing how he had all this musical know-how really underscored my own pathetic lack of it. So I thought I’d be grandiose about the limited proficiency I had. You know, make big of something very very little.

As it turned out, months after my initial allegations that I could rock it on the recorder—or at least play one of the easy-peasy first songs they teach you—we were at a party at someone’s house and they had a recorder. (Weird, right? I mean, who actually owns a recorder?)

“Okay, big guy,” Mark said, handing it to me. “Show me what you got.”

Perhaps you can guess where this is going. And if you can’t, it’s nowhere good. Tragically, I was unable to remember even the few simple notes to Hot Cross Buns.

Despite my great shame, Mark has stayed with me to this day. What a saint.

Anyway, Kate is taking piano lessons now. She’s four weeks in and can already read music, position her hands perfectly, and conjure some lovely sounds from the piano. It’s totally cool. (And no doubt, precedent setting. I now have every intention of forcing Kate and Paige to master everything I never could. Next up? Calculus!)

My excellent brother-in-law (who also happens to know his way around a guitar) was in town recently for work. His kids are Kate and Paigey’s age, and he was telling us that his son, who I’ll call Gordon, recently started piano lessons too.

“So, you got the first two classes free,” he said. You know, to test the waters. “And Gordon really was into it. But before we signed him up for more classes, the teacher gave us this big envelope.”

Guess what was in the envelope? Not just the forms to sign up for more lessons. Nope, there was another little thing in there too. A letter stating that the guy was a registered sex offender.


Now here’s where my brother-in-law was extremely cool and reasonable. He said he knows people can get the sex offender label for things like dating a 17-year-old when they’re 20. I mean, that’s sex with a minor, and sometimes even when it’s consentual and all, things happen, families get angry, blah-dee-blah, and next thing you know you’ve got yourself a permanent record.

Very big of my brother-in-law to have taken a moment to consider giving this guy the benefit of the doubt.

But no. As they continued to read the letter they learned that this dude who is sitting next to kids on a piano bench every day was NOT the fairly innocent recipient of the sex offender label. Turns out he was a pedofile.

Now, I don’t know the details of what kinda kids or how old they were or what exactly happened. And I don’t want to know. Any degree of wrongness in this area counts as deeply horrifying.

My Mama-brain was wigging out, like some record skipping saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” I wanted to lean over and barf at the thought of my sweet nephew coming so freaking scary close to that… to that predator.

Needless to say, my brother-in-law and sis-in-law immediately cut all ties with him.

What I want to know is, how many parents who get that “information packet” DO sign their kid up for more lessons with this guy? “Oh Jimmy’s having so much fun learning piano, and I’m sure there are NO OTHER PIANO TEACHERS IN THIS LARGE URBAN AREA. What say we roll the dice and have him hang out with this guy who may just be into raping children?”

To say this whole thing blows my mind (and makes me want to move to a deserted part of Montana, homeschool my children, and never interact with another human) is an understatement.

Nothing happened to my nephew. My sister-in-law was there the whole time he was with the guy. She’s a smart, loving, and protective Mama. So even though she didn’t know what they’d come up against during those “two free introductory lessons,” she kept her son safe.

And really, for all I know, the guy may be somehow rehabilitated.

But call me traditional, cynical, or close-minded (or all three), but I really doubt it. Maybe people can change. But c’mon. To be working with kids when that is your history? Gimme a break!

The thought of my innocent nephew and this cretin turns me werewolf-style into a ferocious, protective, mighty Mama bear. I will growl, scratch, claw, and go to any lengths to keep my cubs safe. This is the adrenaline rush of lifting a car off a baby to the hundredth power. Ain’t nothing coming between me and my babies.

When I was dating The Surfer, we unsurprisingly took a lot of beach vacations. In places where the water was warm and his home-town posse was out of sight, he sometimes deigned to show me the ropes of surfing.

And here’s the thing about surfing. For everyone who imagines that the hard part is standing up on the board, that’s totally not it. The hard part is paddling out. Trust me. Picture waves coming at you. And when you reach out your arm to paddle on the right side, the board is all topply and you almost fall off, so you have to take a quick paddle on the left to balance. Just as you think you’re getting the swing of it a huge wave comes and slaps you in the face and pushes you back towards the shore.

Oh, and I did I mention you also get wax caked on your bikini? Not fun.

But anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, we found some little cove where there were good size waves for Beginner Me. And no huge Samoan dudes laying claim to the surf. (There’s an intense home-boy territoriality about waves I’d never known about.) It was the perfect spot for a little lesson.

When we eventually came out of the water The Surfer was loading the boards on our rental car, and some local guy came up to us. “You guys shouldn’t swim here you know,” he said (though it was probably in some more dude-ish surfer vernacular). He went on to tell us that there had been a bunch of shark sightings in that cove. I guess there were some signs posted around the beach that we’d managed to not see.

No WONDER the beach was deserted! D’oh!

After hearing this I got the full-body willies. Like, as if someone dumped a handful of centipedes down my shirt. Sure, I was safe on the shore at that point, but it didn’t take away the thought that a couple sharks mighta been cruising around just feet away, lickin’ their chops at the delicious sight of us.

Hey Gordon, there are a lot of scary things and people out in the world. It’s lucky for us we’ve managed to dodge them.

Even so, what say we make a pinky pact, you and me? No more swimming with sharks.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie. Your auntie loves you more than you’ll ever know.

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Seeing is Believing

Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 4 Comments »

I don’t believe in heaven or the afterlife or reincarnation, but I do believe in old blue Volvos.

My mom used to drive one. One of those boxy four-door sedans circa 1980-something. The ancient green one she had before that—that I learned to drive on—only had an AM radio. Talk about a character building experience for a teenager. Name any Carpenters, Elton John, or Neil Sedaka song and I can likely recite each line flawlessly. I was a girl before my time, I tell you.

Or at least, out of step with the times.

Anyway, when I first moved to San Francisco, I was surprised to see so many old cars on the road. Vintage Dodge Darts and ancient Volkswagon Beetles with original paint perfectly intact aren’t uncommon in these parts. Cars that would’ve been devoured by the Midwestern or East Coast road salt decades ago just keep chuggin’ along here.

So it’s not unusual for me to come across old blue Volvos. Ones exactly like the one my mom usedta drive.

I’ll be pushing the double-stroller frantically down the street, late for Kate’s ballet class, and I’ll turn a corner and there’s Mom’s car. Parked outside some house like she’s inside having a cup of tea and a game of Scrabble. Or I’ll come upon a yard sale, pull over, and I’ll see I’ve double-parked right behind her. When I open the door for the girls to pile out, I half expect to see Mom’s gray-haired noggin bent over a stack of used books, or rummaging through a box of table linens.

Just this Sunday, Mark and I were coercing the kids to trudge two more blocks to our car. They were fried from a visit to the farmer’s market. Too much sun and dancing in front of the band. It was like some impossible against-all-odds trek over the Alps to make it 50 more yards to the parking lot. I’d nearly given up, was about to sit down on the sidewalk and tell Mark, “Go on ahead without me.” And then I saw Mom’s car parked up ahead.

And I kinda smirked. Although Mark had no idea what I was doing, I actually ran up a half-block and took a picture of it with my cell phone. Then I circled back to herd us forward, having tapped into some energy reserves I wasn’t aware I had.

Have I gone mad? Or, from beyond the grave, is my mother strategically parking her car in places I’ll pass by? Is this her sly eccentric way of showing me she’s still somehow around? Still keeping tabs on me?

Because if so, I am TOTALLY picking up on it. Message received, Mom!

This realization is, of course, thrilling and relieving. What I didn’t mention about the fact that I don’t think my mom is an angel hanging out on a cloud with her dead sisters and all our past dogs, is that it’d be so much nicer if I actually DID believe that. I would LOVE to feel confident that she’s somehow seen my children. That she admired the apple pie I made on Christmas day (her recipe). That she’s cheering me on when the daily doldrums of mothering set in.

I’d be frankly kinda psyched if my belief—that the end of life is really the cold dark end—isn’t really altogether true.

Now, lest you think I’m alone at all this, I have a friend—a terrifically intelligent and thoughtful woman—who believes her dead Mama comes to her in the form of a raven. You know, she’ll see a few birds on her front lawn or gathered on a telephone wire and sometimes get this inkling, this sense, of her mother’s presence.

Which I think is awesome. (In fact, whenever I see a raven now I think it’s her mom too.) What can I say? One gal’s old blue Volvo is another gal’s big black bird.

What’s funny is I read this Motherboard story about how to let go of your kids as they grow up—how not to be a smother mother. I love the concept of giving your kids “roots and wings.” Roots so they know where their home is, and wings to set them free in the world. I really hope I can get that balance right with Kate and Paige.

But at the same time here I am—fully grown with kids of my own—and thinking that even though my mom’s not even alive, she’s still somehow mothering me in some cosmic car parking way. Maybe I could use a little smothering of my own.

I’ve already confessed my fandom of the sappy-excellent show Parenthood. So in a recent episode the parents of a five-year-old have to tell their daughter that a hurt bird they’ve been taking care of died. The Mom and Dad strategize about how to break the news, how to gently introduce the hard reality of death to their sweet innocent. When they finally talk to the twerp, the mom caves when she sees her daughter getting sad, and blurts out that the bird “is in heaven now—with Grandma!” Which had not been the plan for their little talk.

I super don’t like that mom character on the show. But on this one topic, man, I can feel her pain.

Because, I’m truly saddened to report, sweet little Freezey, Room 2′s pet frog who stayed with us during Winter Break, died last week. (Side note: I’d like to clearly state that this happened when he was back in the classroom. Not on our watch.)

Kate was pretty sad about it, but I was crushed. She laid the news on me on our way to pick up Paige from school. She was all casual—no warning, no “Are you sitting down?” (even though I obviously was, because I was driving).

I was heartbroken. We loved that little damn frog!

I wanted to tell Kate that Freezey was swimming around in a divine froggy pond in the sky. That he was re-united with his former tank-mate Cutie Pie. And that they were happy and free and could eat all the stinky food pellets they wanted. Hell, I wanted to tell MYSELF that. But instead I handed Kate a couple pretzels and made her promise not to tell Paigey.

On Monday, while shopping for stuff for Paige’s b-day party invites, I wandered over a couple blocks to the pet store. I mean, the mother of all snake, frog, and other crawly-creature types store. It’s where the Room 2 teachers got Freezey. And even though they were clear—no more classroom pets this year—I’d gotten to thinking. Wondering about the viability of a new McClusky family friend.

So this place. It’s like everyone who works there has face piercings and huge tattoos and is scary knowledgeable about the animals. Like the geeky ultra-smart weirdos that work in the labs on those TV crime shows.

I browsed frogs. Admired cute spotted newts. Got full-body shudders from a sunny-yellow boa that apparently had a big dinner the night before. And finally I screwed up the courage to ask one of the goth-girl employees about what a tank would cost, how much maintenance was needed, yadda, yadda, yadda.

And as I got in the car and drove off I questioned my motives. Buying a pet doesn’t bring Freezey back. Would the girls groove on having an amphibian sibling? Or would its novelty eventually fade, like some expensive toy that gets shoved to the back of the closet—an expensive toy whose tank water you have to change, and who you have to feed live worms…

At a stop sign, I dug around in my purse for my cell phone, and looked down to hit Mark’s work number. A blast from a car horn made me look up. In my rear view mirror a bearded man waved his arms in a “you gonna go, or aren’t you?” gesture.

He wasn’t in a blue Volvo, which was a shame, since I was looking for a sign.

Am I gonna go? Well, sir, that remains to be seen.


Kissing Frogs

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Firsts, Holidays, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate | No Comments »

If you’re looking to make a new amphibian friend, come on over to our house. Because this holiday season we’ve opened our home (and yes, our hearts) to Freezey, Room 2′s pet frog.

I love Kate’s school. Really and truly a wicked wicked lot. But man, do they send out a lot of email.

We get a school-wide “Friday Notes” email from the director. The same day we get a classroom newsletter from Kate’s teachers. Then every other day of the week we get anywhere from two to 300 other emails on topics of varying importance and interest from folks ranging from art teachers to the hot lunch lady.

Somewhere on the application we must have forgotten to de-select a box that said our email address would be shared with every school administrator, teacher, and janitor who has a lot to get off their chests.

I’ll have to check, but I’m nearly certain that in small decorative script bordering the school’s crest is the motto, “You can’t ever over-communicate. But we keep trying.”

And in case you missed reading it there, they sent that out in an email too.

A mom from the school recently emailed me about getting our kids together for a play-date. I shot back the response, “We’d love to, but I’m too busy reading email from the school.”

Which I found uproariously funny. Like I sometimes do with things I say.

So anyway, when I got Kate’s class newsletter a couple weeks ago—which actually DOES relay lots of info I DO care about—it fell to its usual low-priority place in my email in-box. Behind more pressing messages like snarky responses from friends to my Facebook status updates.

When I finally did read the newsletter, I saw that the teachers were looking for a home for the class frog. It’s really a wee wee thing. No flabby croaking bull frog. Just a little underwater dweller, no bigger than my thumbnail.

My immediate reaction to this request was something along the lines of, “No way, sucka.”

But on second thought, my frosty heart melted a bit. It might be fun for Kate (and Paigey) to have the thing at home. We’re not going anywhere for the holidays—’staycationing’ as they say. No relatives visiting, elaborate plans, or parties to throw. So why not throw open the doors of the McClusky estate to a small, homeless frog? Perhaps, at the very least, we could afford him a brief respite from the trauma of 25 children constantly tapping on his tiny tank.

Instead, there’d be just two kids doing that.

And two adults.

I asked Kate if she’d like to frog-sit. Suffice it to say, my eardrums bled after experiencing her extremely loud and positive reaction to the possibility.

It was a “first to respond wins” sort of deal. But by this point it was Saturday. The email had gone out the day before. God knows what other parents had jumped at this offer in a more timely manner. We’d likely missed the boat, and I’d be spending the entire two-week break comforting a heartbroken Kate because Freezey the frog was living it up at Gemma or Henry’s house.

Which would, no doubt, set a vicious domino effect into motion resulting in Kate not getting into an Ivy League college.

I mean, not that I ever think about that.

Every three minutes for the remainder of the weekend Kate yanked at my arm and bellowed in my face, “Did Alice email you back?! Do we get to take Freezey? Do we, Mom?!”

It was fun.

Monday morning as we walked towards the schoolyard I prepped Kate for defeat. If it turned out that Freezey was going home with another kid, there would still be things in her life to look forward to.

Upon seeing one of her teachers, Kate screamed and panted out her question in a brink-of-hyperventilation state.

“Freezey…,” the teacher said slowly, like some reality show host announcing the winning contestant, “Is going home with… YOU!”

I nearly vomited, had a migraine, and wept all at once. I was blinded by joy and luck and sweet, beautiful tantrum-avoidance.

So it wasn’t until I got into the car later, watching Kate prance around the playground from friend to friend sharing her giddy news, that I began to fret.

The thing is, Room 2 used to have two frogs. Freezey’s friend (lover? life partner? tank mate?) Cutie Pie, recently, uh, croaked. (Couldn’t resist that one. Sorry.)

Yes, a couple weeks ago I picked up Kate from school and heard all about the funeral, the tears, the card-making, the sharing of feelings about loss. Cutie Pie, she explained, had started to hang out under one of the orange rocks in the tank. Then never came back out.

Some valiant dad did the honors of removing the corpse. Cutie Pie was buried under a tree outside the classroom. “And we had to change the water in the tank after,” Kate said somberly. Cause really, who wants to swim around in Death Funk water?

Kate was especially hard-hit by this development since in a contest to name the frogs, her submission, “Cutie Pie,” won out in the voting. Cutie Pie, by all accounts, was Kate’s first baby.

My God, I thought, leaning my forehead on the steering wheel. If I ask for only one thing in my life, it will be that Freezey doesn’t die on our watch.

Thursday, a day before school even let out, the teacher emailed me. “Could you take Freezey home this afternoon?” Kate, she said, “was enthusiastic about this idea.” (Read: Pestering the poor teacher incessantly.)

I figured, if we are going to kill this animal, why not start a day early.

I drove home that day with Freezey more slowly then I did taking a newborn back from the hospital. (Alas, if only Mark had been available to sit in the back seat with the small frog.) No water sloshed from his tiny plastic home. No apparent trauma was suffered from what must have been violently changing environments—through the kid-packed school hallway, to the gray-rugged Subaru floor, to several different settings in the house while Kate sought out the perfect place to keep him. She was like Thom Filicia in a tizzy to select the ideal nook for some avant-garde Japanese piece d’art. The feng shui apparently had to be impeccable.

As I cooked dinner that night Kate bellowed out status reports from her room. “He looks sad,” she wailed. And, like my dad who has a low threshold for anything bleak or dismal, I called back, “Honey, I’m sure he’s fine! He’s HAPPY! Happy to be with us. Happy to be here for his Christmas vacation.”

But Kate was un-convinced. “He’s sad,” she repeated more quietly, almost to herself. “His eyes… they look sad.”

It wasn’t until I’d slapped dinner on the table, bathed the kids, and was clearing away dishes later (don’t mean to glamorize my life here), that I glanced over at Freezey in his new approved tank spot. (Note: I’m avoiding the term “resting place.”)

I took a couple steps closer. First off, his pale gray skin doesn’t exactly convey the image of robust health. But more than that, what concerned me was that the critter was fully submerged, spindly legs splayed out, and utterly unmoving.

I panicked. HE’S DEAD.

But Kate sashayed in and drawled a hello in his direction. Picking up on my frantic Mama vibe, she reminded me how he got his name. “Mommy,” she said, with the weary exasperation of a child three times her age. “He’s called Freezey because he almost never moves.”

Wonderful. I have to spend the next two weeks tending to an animal who is fervently adored by Kate and 24 of her dearest friends, while he plays dead.

I was jolted into a deep maternal panic, more intense than any fretting I’ve done for my own human offspring. I considered emailing the teachers to see how they manage to ascertain Freezey’s  alive-ness. But with 25 human five-year-olds in the room, I decided it probably wasn’t a priority for them.

In the ensuing days I’ve felt like Shirley McLaine in the opening scene of Terms of Endearment, convinced her sleeping baby’s not breathing. She shakes the infant out of a peaceful sleep to a full-bore wail, breathes a sigh of relief and says, ‘That’s better.”

If only I could hold a wee mirror up to Freezey’s mouth to be assured of his breathing. Unfortunately, that trick won’t work in an underwater setting.

At any rate, it turns out that having 1.5 ounces of amphibian around the house has had a happy impact on the place. Kate and Paige came home from a holiday party Friday and held the spoils from their stockings up to Freezey’s tank. They waved candy canes in front of the glass, and relayed the thrilling details of their day, hoping to gain Freezey’s barely-conscious approval. They were like Kim Kardashian vamping outfits in the Prada dressing room for the admiration of the ambivalent salesperson.

Last night Kate strained to stay awake until Mark returned from his work trip. Not to lay eyes on her sorely missed father, but “to introduce him to Freezey.” When it became clear she might fall asleep before that was possible, I had to vow I wouldn’t let Mark near the amphibian sanctuary, so Kate could do The Reveal in the morning.

No doubt sealing our fate for a brutally early wake-up call.

But despite that I’m glad I ignored my initial impulse to avoid temporary custody of another living being—albeit a small caged one that only requires feeding twice a week. Even though this could be a terrifying precedence-setting act, one that lays the groundwork for years of hamster, snake, and hermit crab classroom critters coming home with us at holidays and summer breaks—so be it. We’re just a few days in and Freezey’s already served up some sweet moments of childhood glee.

I’m also coming around to the little guy (gal?) myself.

And we haven’t even fed him yet! A prospect Kate says involves pellets that are “really stinky” and requires one to “wash hands really well after.” I can already picture Paige feeding her dolls and lamby pretend food pellets. That is, if she doesn’t decide to stick a candy cane inside Freezey’s tank first.

Yesterday, as I cleared the breakfast dishes from the table, I paused by Casa La Freezey to take a peek at my new frozen friend. He was facing outward, which I took as a thrilling sign of life, since at Lights Out the night before his typical dead-man’s-float position was facing the wall. From this new angle I was able to look at his face for the first time. And I nearly dropped a plate of scrambled eggs when I saw that his eyes really DO look sad.

So now, amidst last-minute shopping, holiday baking, and keeping the kids entertained while school’s out, I’m all hopped up on finding some way to pull my new chum Freezey out of his glum froggy funk.

I wonder how the school will feel about us taking home one frog, and bringing back two.

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Wherein I Say I’m Sorry

Posted: August 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 2 Comments »

Okay, okay, I confess. Before we had kids, invitations we got for dinners at friends’ houses that started at 5:30 horrified me. At 5:30 on a weekend I was usually still napping on the couch. Or at a matinee. Or hell, doing something else kidless folks do, like having sex or reading a book.

On weekdays at 5:30 I was just hitting my stride at the office.

The time was unthinkably early. So much so, I thought, as to be rude. (This from the woman who got married on a Sunday night.) How could they ask us to accommodate such an untenable hour?

Yet I felt slightly disorientated when I offered to make dinner reservations for a group of friends I was going out with in Rhode Island this summer. I was at a loss for an appropriate grown-up meal time. In five short years I’ve apparently forgotten that there’s any other time for dinner than, well, 6:00. (I still cling—just barely—to the notion that 5:30 is unthinkable.)

But even now that the shoe is on the other foot, I’ve managed to somehow maintain the irrational attitude that people unlike me should still anticipate my needs.

A few weeks ago, while lunching at the glamorous California Pizza Kitchen, our waitress approached our booth, propped a picture-packed dessert menu in front of the girls and cooed, “Can I tempt you with something?” Then ran off.

Galled, Mark and I looked at each other with the Tori Spelling nostril-flare of disgusted disbelief. He snatched up the menu  before the girls could feast their eyes. And weirdly, it worked. It all happened faster than they had time to process. Yet we braced for whining, pleading, and mortifying kicking thrashing tantrums.

Why doesn’t that 19-year-old waitress know that the way to offer us something should have been, “Can I interest anyone in some D-E-S-S-E-R-T?”

Puhleez. Was she raised on Mars?

Yesterday there were a couple events for Kate’s kindergarten. Things to get the kids comfy in their classrooms before school starts next week. I had no doubt Kater Tot would have fun, but I was dreading my own reaction to the day. What if I hated everyone?

In my sister’s kitchen a couple weeks ago, I revealed this.

“You know, I realized,” she said, dunking a tea bag in a mug, “that in any new group situation I immediately decide that I don’t like anyone.”

Now this is why I don’t pay for therapy. What she described is utterly and entirely what I do too. It rocks being able to draft off her self-revelations.

‘But then,” she went on, “After I get to know them a little more, I’m totally fine. I always find people I like.”

Uh, BINGO! That’d be me you are talking about.

So, with Big Sister’s words o’ wisdom in mind, I set my expectations accordingly. At the end of the day I wouldn’t be performing any blood-swapping sisterhood rituals with the other Room 2 moms. But that would be OKAY. Plenty of time to get to know and not-hate each other in the course of the school year.

But then of course, just to ruin my plans, I ended up really liking some of the people I met.

One of the mothers, wearing hip black boots (not black hip boots, mind you), started talking about a form we’d had to fill out for the school. There were four Mamas, sitting around a low kidney-shaped table in plastic kiddie chairs. “You know the question ‘Does your child have any fears or concerns that the teachers should be aware of?’” she asked.

Nods all around, and some anticipatory leaning forward.

“Well,” she stammered, a little embarrassed, “It sounds kind of weird but Jamie has this thing about being trapped in places.”

“Huh,” I offered. “Sounds like a perfectly reasonable fear.”

“So we were at Home Depot, and you know they have those big metal warehouse doors?”

Nods, nods.

“He started getting all panicky that they might suddenly close the store, and they wouldn’t know we were inside, and we’d be trapped.”

Encouraging ‘oohs’ from around the wee table.

“So I go up to this woman who works there and say, ‘What would happen if you were to close the store when we were still here?’ And she looks at Jamie and gets her fingers all wiggly in his face and says, ‘Well those big doors would bang shut! And you’d be trapped in here! And it would be dark and cold, and you’d have to wait until the morning when we open again to get out!’”

The three of us Listening Mamas banged our palms on the table and hollered, “No she DID NOT!” and “You are KIDDING me.” We were ready, in our NorCal way, to band together, get the word out, and ban shopping at Home Deport forever.

“Yeah, so poor Jamie was, like, set back about six months on this issue,” Hip Boot Mama says.

And I’m all, “Yeah you should forward the therapy bills to that woman.”

The thing is, how many times with my often-inappropriate snarky sensibilities have I done something just as bad? As a Mama, now that I’m on the receiving end of the idle thoughtlessness of strangers, I’m appalled by it all.

What is wrong with you people?! Can’t you see we’re trying to raise non-psycho children? Who will buy us large homes and luxury vehicles when we’re old and enfeebled and they’ve struck it rich?

Can’t you tell we don’t get to take afternoon naps any more? And we really really miss them.

Anyway, it’s likely too late, but for all those kids who I might have tempted with inaccessible sweets or unwittingly traumatized in other ways, I’d just like to say for the record that I’m really. Very. Sorry.