The Cold Hard Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would suck.

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

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

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

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

Me: “Still? Um, well, uh….

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

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

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

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

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

I lie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hit the Road, Angel of Death

Posted: November 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Earthquakes, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting, Preschool, Scary Stuff, Sisters | No Comments »

When I left Paigey’s preschool one morning a couple weeks ago, I noticed a klatch of women—other Mamas from the school—standing on the lawn. They were dabbing at the corners of their eyes with Kleenex.

It was clear something happened to someone at the school. And somehow I knew it was about a pregnancy.

In the crosswalk I caught up with a woman I knew. A mother of one of Paigey’s classmates. Tugging at her elbow, I implored without greeting her, “Okay, so what happened?”

And damn damn damn my intuition. I was right. A mom from the school whose due date was that very day, had a kicking healthy baby just the day before. But when she went to the hospital that morning, she found out that her baby had died.

So sickeningly sad. Someone said later it was strangled by its own umbilical chord. What brutal live-giveth-and-taketh-away irony.

“Oh God, oh God,” I said, wrapping my arms around my stomach on the sidewalk. “Do you know her name?” Because, as it turned out, I know a pregnant woman—someone I’ve worked with and like a great deal—whose son goes to the preschool. From her Facebook posts, I was pretty sure her due date was that day.

It turned out it was NOT my friend. That in that tiny school there were actually two women with the same due date. And although it didn’t diminish the tragedy of the whole thing, I still felt like I’d dodged a kind of bullet. If only by association.

Do you ever go through phases where your computer monitor fizzles and goes black, your car’s transmission gives out, and you drop your cell phone in the toilet? All in the same week? It’s as if there’s some mechanical technological curse on you. If you touch it, it will cease to function—invariably days after its warranty expired.

I feel like I’m currently in that mode, but with people.

Not long ago my sweet Uncle Adolph (no relation to the Nazi) passed away. It was his time. I mean, he was very old, and had been wrangling with Alzheimer’s. But those things make it no easier to grapple with the fact that someone who you knew is suddenly just not here any more.

Uncle Adolph was married to one of my mom’s favorite sisters, Scottie. I think her real name was Sophie, but I never once heard her called that. The two of them were known as “Scottie and Ade.” How much does that rock?

They lived in a small house on a big piece of land on the outskirts of mom’s home town. And what I remember of him is this: Uncle Adolph had a huge garden. In his day job, he was something else. A custodian of some sort, I think. But in his heart, he was a gardener.

We’d pick things from his garden in the evenings, right before dinnertime. He called cucumbers ‘cukes’ which was weird and cool to me. He didn’t talk much, but he’d wipe dirt off a big yellow squash or an eggplant or a strawberry and say, “Now THAT’S a good one,” then hand it to me.

We lived two hours away, so I didn’t see him often or know him very well. But it always felt special being welcomed as an insider into his garden world.

In fact, whenever I conjure a vegetable garden in my mind’s eye I see Uncle Adolph’s garden. I think of him most of the time I’m chopping up cukes too.

Early last week I got a sister-wide email. The four of us mass communicate this way sometimes. But the contents of this one were a bummer. Dad’s long-time neighbor and best friend Eddie had died. A man in his mid-80s, who you’d have sworn wasn’t a day over 65.

Dad and Eddie did projects. Built birdhouses, step-stools for grandchildren, and did all the standard house maintenance stuff. Eddie had a few years on my father, but was vivacious as all get out, and handy as hell. Dad would ask Eddie to help him do something like bring the AC units from the garage to the upstairs bedrooms. And I can’t say this for sure, but I picture Dad acting in more of a ‘supervisory’ role, while Eddie did the actual (and proverbial) heavy lifting. It wouldn’t be weird to see Eddie dangling from a tree in dad’s yard, sawing off a rotting branch.

Regardless of who did what, or whose tools they used, there was no score-keeping between those two. They were a good team.

Eddie’s wife passed away a couple months ago. He was understandably sad, but hanging in. Back to his projects and puttering, and eating occasional dinners at Dad’s. But then, per my sister’s email, the lights were on in the house when they shouldn’t have been, or something like that, which made Dad concerned. Especially when Eddie didn’t answer the phone.

So Dad let himself in with his key, and found his dear friend sitting slumped over the dinner table. Quietly, suddenly, gone.

Eddie will be sorely missed.

I spent a long time hiding death from Kate. Even if I was doing something like throwing away brown neglected house plants, if she asked me why I was doing it I’d avoid saying they “died.” Silly, I know, but I feared the domino effect of her busy mind. If a plant could die, then couldn’t a person? And if a person could die, then didn’t that mean me or her Dad—or other people she loves—could? Or even her?

I felt utterly unequipped to navigate those conversations. I hate thinking about all that stuff myself. So why not extend her innocence for as long as possible?

Around that time I came across an old book of mine that Kate nearly-instantly love love loved. Oh, and me too. It’s called Koko’s Kitten, and it’s about that gorilla, Koko, who learned to communicate using sign language. And if that wasn’t cute enough, she also became friends with a kitten.

Big tough gorilla. Wee wittle kitten. Lots of pictures of them snuggling. Name one thing better.

I read the book dozens of times to Kate, always avoiding the part where the kitty cat, All Ball, gets killed. Yes, this amazing story of cross-species friendship takes a sudden tragic turn when All Ball gets offed by a car. A brutal plot twist even for us grown-ups. Thankfully, with a pre-literate toddler it’s fairly easy to bluff your way through the sad parts.

I guess one of the reasons I hid death from Kate for so long has to do with my own childhood experience of coming to understand death. I remember it so clearly. I was in the car with my mom, driving by Almacs grocery store, and I suddenly pieced together the fact that “old people die” and my grandmother (Mom’s mom) was old.

I was sobbing. Struck with panic over the unfairness of it. Heartbroken by the thought of Bopchi being gone.

My mother, ever the realist, responded to my fearful questions by saying something like, “Well, yes, she probably will die soon.”

Note: This did not make me feel better.

This is why, after the devastation in Haiti, when Kate nervously asked if we have earthquakes in San Francisco, I paused for a beat then said, “Noooooooo. Earthquakes HERE? Never happen.”

But Kate’s a world-weary kindergartener now. Today’s five-year-olds seem like the third-graders of my youth. Which is to say, she’s hip to death. Our friends’ pets have died. Kate knows my mom died before she was born. And, thanks to my NPR habit, she’s heard on the car radio about soldiers, bomb victims, and others dying. (Try as I do, turning down the volume after something unsavory is broadcast never seems to work.)

Sometimes weighty news like the death of her great grandpa barely registers with Kate. I’ve actually wanted her to feel sadder. (Guess I’ve come a long from the days of throwing out house plants that “weren’t happy anymore.”) Then Kate surprises me by sobbing on her bed and drawing ‘I Miss You’ cards for a neighborhood cat we barely knew.

It must be her way of regulating only what she can manage to process. I should have trusted Nature to have built into her something that helps her do that.

As for me, the day of the sad drop-off at Paige’s school I saw my still-prego friend Margot at afternoon pick-up. I was so thrilled, so very relieved to see her in her healthy baby-filled state, I nearly took a running leap to straddle her belly in a full-body hug.

But I was even happier to hear that nearly two weeks after she was scheduled to make her appearance, her cute-as-the-dickens long-lashed baby girl was born. Hooray! Mother and baby are all aglow and love-drenched and healthy (if not a bit frustrated by all the waiting).

Take that, Angel of Death.

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The World According to Kate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché, my street-fair-averse hubbie!

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

But where was I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Yes, honey?”

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

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

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


Tell Me that Story Again

Posted: January 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Earthquakes, Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Money, Parenting, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Last week I did two things I never do. I turned on the TV when both girls were awake. (I think Paigey’s still too wee to develop a boob tube habit). And I tuned in to—of all things—a telethon. Specifically, the ‘Hope for Haiti Now’ telethon.

Weird, right? But in my defense, replacing Jerry Lewis with George Clooney goes a long way in my book. And it was for a good cause.

Anyway, the second the TV clicked on, Kate ran out of her room like a junkie moving in on a fix. It was both thrilling and confusing to her.

“Wait, the TV?” she asked in a frenzy. “Are YOU watching TV, Mama? Can I watch too? Please? Please?!”

I swear the girl would happily watch Hogan’s Heroes if I let her.

But this was music. People strumming guitars and soulfully singing songs like “Let It Be.” So I figured, what could it hurt? She perched on the arm of the couch and immediately went into a glassy-eyed zombie stare, letting the TV’s narcotic hit wash over her.

Then Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood started talking about some courageous man, and it seemed likely they were about to get into the details of how the dude had died. So I hit Mute, and when Kate protested I made up some excuse .

Eventually I decided to venture into the what-happened-in-Haiti waters. Age-appropriately, I hoped. “Blah blah blah earthquake… Blah blah people got hurt… Blah blah houses fell down, everyone very poor. People there need help. And money.”

More music, volume back up, and me in the kitchen to check the roasting veggies.

Kate, calling out from her couch perch. “Mama?! Tell me that story again. What’s the shaky ground thing called again?”

“An earthquake.” I walked into the living room.

“Oh,” she said, turning the idea over in her mind. “Do they have those,” I braced for her question “–in Rhode Island?”

“Oh, in Rhode ISLAND?” I said, exhaling. “Nope! No earthquakes there!”


Two second pause.

“Do they have ‘em here?”

Crap. “Well, uh… Well, uhhh, nnnnnooooo. Well, not like that. I mean, it’s just not something you have to worry about.” I handled this nearly as poorly as I did when Kate asked me in front of a neighbor how babies come out of their mommies. (Don’t even ask.)

At dinner, it was like I could feel Kate’s brain processing what I’d told her. While tuned into the telethon she’d seen a doctor holding a baby with a tube in its nose and its head all bandaged up. A couple times she said, “Tell me that story again, Mama.” And a couple times I tried to get though on the phone lines, hoping I’d get a chance to chat up George Clooney or Julia Roberts as I made a paltry donation.

The phone lines were busy, which was great for the telethon, but dashed my hopes of hobnobbing with the real-live pages of People magazine. Or of doing anything to pitch in.

Kate was clearly worried about the Haitians, and getting ready for her bath asked questions like, “When those people got hurt when the ground shaked, did they have blood?” For my part, busy signals aside, I was feeling frustrated that we’re not in a position these days to make the level of donation I’d really like to.

And then, like a good Italian girl it hit me. Kate and I could cook. We roll up our sleeves together, do what we do best–bake!—then host a bake sale, right out in front of our house. We’d donate everything we made to help the relief effort.

She LOVED the idea. Her concerned line of questions turned instantly to excitement. “We’ll make Rice Krispie Treats! With little M&Ms! We’ll make chocolate chip cookies, Mama!”

On Sunday we had our sale. We timed it to get foot traffic from our nearby farmer’s market. And we made $189. People were amazingly generous, handing cash over to Kate without even taking a treat, or giving us a twenty for one item and telling us to keep–or rather, give away–the change.

I love our neighborhood.

The next day, we visited Mark’s office to sell the left-overs, and tacked another $71 onto our earnings. And since we were feeling unstoppable at that point, I called Kate’s school and arranged to spearhead a bake sale there too.

Kate said she thinks all the kids in Haiti are going to get Hello Kitty band-aids for their boo-boos, on account of our two bake sales. And damn it, I hope to hell she’s right.

The other night, in our bleary-eyed first adult words to each other after the kids were in bed, Mark told me he was proud of us. But quickly added something like, “Why is it you and Kate decided to save the world after we handed in her school applications?”


Well, this morning Kate has the first of her private school assessments. (Two more to go after that one.) We’ll bring her to the school for a 90-minute visit where she’ll play with other kids, probably do some writing and drawing, and be asked some questions.

I’m hoping that Kate won’t have tired of her “Tell me that shaky-ground story again, Mama” question. And that she’ll ask me in front of the school’s Admissions Director. That’ll give me a chance to gently recount once more what happened to the people of Haiti.

Then I can set her up by asking, “And what did we do about it, Kate?”

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Solid Ground

Posted: July 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Earthquakes, Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Misc Neuroses, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

“What about earthquakes?”

It’s the refrain I often hear when I tell East Coasters and Midwesterners I live in San Francisco. And though I always want to ask them if there are buses where they live, and if they ever cross streets, sometimes I actually bite my tongue.

The fact is, well, aside from a summer a couple years back when we had a hearty smattering of earthquakes, all with epicenters just miles from our house—aside from that unsettling patch, I really don’t worry about quakes. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

But apparently it’s taken me being here on the East Coast to plumb the depths of my subconscious fears. Because before nodding off to sleep, at both my Dad’s house and my sister’s schmancy Cape Cod digs, I remember having the smallest mental twinge, realizing that I had nothing to worry about.

I’m not sure whether I was unthinkingly planning an emergency exit strategy—how I’d sweep through one room to grab one kid, then dispatch Mark to grab the other—or if I was unwittingly wondering whether the glass on the art hanging over the bed would shatter into a million razor-like shards when it fell on us, or maybe I was wondering how long it’d take to walk to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts, a perfect alternate Red Cross Center where we could ride out the mayhem until the utilities were back up and running.

I mean, I’m not AWARE that I was thinking any of those things, but in both houses, just moments before nodding off, I remember a little uptick in my wakefulness, then a settling back down with the reassuring thought that those walls weren’t going anywhere. I was on solid ground.

Our two-week vacation is nearly complete, and it wasn’t until today that I took the girls for a quiet morning stroll along the harbor’s boardwalk. Kate, a stroller addict who I’ll no doubt be pushing to prom in a broke-down MacLaren, skipped along the whole way, pointing to fishing boats, peering terrifyingly close off the edge of the pier, and marveling at the white face of a floating dead fish.

Our stroll ended at a lovely open park, which we wandered though to arrive at The Beehive Cafe, Bristol’s newest and most charming caffeine hole.

Why, I wondered, had I waited until today to do this? Sunshine or not, it would have been the ideal start to every day we’ve been here.

But it’s a late-arriving realization (along with my unsuspected earthquake fears), leaving me with no recourse other than to plan longer visits in upcoming summers. Maybe rent a house. And when she’s old enough, enroll Kate in Bristol Yacht Club sailing lessons, in the hopes that my genes have failed to pass along my reckless nautical habits, and that years from now crushes on Junior Instructors will still carry one through a full season feeling giddy, while remaining utterly sexually innocent.

I mean, I lay out these summer plans in my mind, then flip-flop to think I could convince Mark to just move here. You know, put up with the winter too.

See? Told you you could set your watch to this feeling emerging from me about now. Emerging, that is, like some alien from Sigourney Weaver’s midsection. Impossible, as it were, to repress.

Tuesday or so I called John and made a dinner date with him and Jim. We dined at a sweet small place when I was in town last, and had a memorable, hilarious, and slightly boozey dinner. An evening where I felt I started to get to know (and love) Jim—a somewhat intimidating task when you consider how well and long I’ve known (and loved) his partner, John.

So, that dinner had been so lovely, I was fearful we had little hope of replicating it. But, I’m an optimist.

Plus, I had a babysitter.  So really, how bad could it be?

When I climbed into the shower that evening, having slung the kids in bed promptly so Mama could go out (yay for grannies!), I realized my travel-sized worth-its-weight-in-platinum shampoo was out. A wet walk through the bathroom revealed nyet in the shampoo category, and Joan was across the big house—my sleeping babies freshly a-doze between us.

I’ve never done Outward Bound, but back in the shower I figured I could do something crafty, and reached for the Cetaphil face wash. I mean, we used it on the girls’ hair when they were wee, right?

Let’s just say that that night at dinner I looked like a greasy droopy-haired mope, AWOL from the asylum. Early in the evening, I confessed to John and Jim about my hygiene challenge, apologizing that when my hair dried it’d likely be less than adorable. But an hour or so later, it became clear that it wouldn’t even get so far as to appear “dry.”

When the madras-pants-clad owner hustled the check to our table at night’s end—it being clearly later than the employees were keen on still being there—I reached for it. “Oh!” he trilled, in a voice less gay than the term ‘trill’ might imply. And looking over at John and Jim, “I wish a beautiful woman would buy dinner for me!”

Jim glanced at my limp asylum dreads, then up at the restaurant owner and said, “Me too.”

Well one thing I can look forward to back in Cali (the potential for trembling earth aside), is my own ugly green shower, overflowing with embarrassingly costly shampoo. Clean hair, here I come!