Lucky Number Seven

Posted: September 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, Birthdays, Eating Out, Kate's Friends, Milestones, Miss Kate, Parenting | 5 Comments »

I used to have a flat stomach. I even got cat-called about it once. I was on a beach in Cancun and some dude walked by and shouted something at me in Spanish. My sister told me that plano meant flat, and explained he was referring to my midsection.

I honestly haven’t thought much about that incident—though I realize that mentioning it now, years later, does seem somewhat tragic. These days someone would be more likely to use the word plano to describe my nursed-two-babies boobies.

Anyway, seven years ago I gave up that tidbit of flat-stomach glory when I grew a little human in my body. When it came out we named it Kate. And even though I can’t rock a bikini like I used to, she was totally worth it.

At least most days I think so.

Every once and I while I see the full length of that girl in the bathtub and realize how damn big she’s gotten since that day they plunked her on the hospital scale like she was a quarter-pound of Black Forest ham I was buying at the deli counter at Safeway.

She’s grown in other ways too. Much of this Big Girl maturity has taken place this year. Like, ask her a question about school, and she gets this pursed-lip smile and tucks her hair behind her ears. Then she does that wretched California-girl up-speaking thing, where everything she says sounds like a question.

“My teacher? His name is Rick? And he’s soooo great. He’s got this pug? Named Nadia? And he takes it on field trips with us! Nadia. Is. So. Cute.”

At Kate’s sixth birthday we had a backyard bash with a magician who looked like Magnum P.I. He did tricks with silk scarves and colored balls and a big stunt hairbrush that made the kids giggle. He pretended to botch his routine which slayed the kids.

This year Kate restricted the guest list to her besties—three girls. Using pink netting, rugs, and overstuffed chairs we set up an outdoor nail spa where they mani-pedied each other. They drank sparkling cider from plastic champagne flutes and nibbled chocolate-dipped strawberries.

No scarves were stuffed in tubes and turned into stuffed animals. The word pinata was never uttered.

For her family celebration we went to an old timey ice cream shop for burgers and sundaes. Another twerp had a birthday there that night too. When the wait staff gathered around him, rang a cow bell, then bellowed to the place to sing “Happy Birthday,” my seven-year-old super-extrovert slunk deep in her chair.

“DO NOT,” she said clutching my arm, “let them do that to me.”

It seems that someone is becoming a bit self-conscious. Or just more self-aware.

Of course, she’s still happy to strip down at the beach to put on her swimsuit. (And would happily stay naked if I let her.) She’s still doll-crazy, throws tantrums, happily holds hands with her parents, and has to sleep with certain stuffed animals every night.

But she’s also fascinated by make-up, has a crush on her classmate Nathan (who IS quite cute), and is begging desperately to get her ears pierced.

I’m in no hurry for my little girl to grow up, but like it or not, she IS taking up more space in the bathtub as the years go by. I can’t wait to see where this lucky seventh year will take her.

In keeping with tradition, I interviewed Kate on her birthday. Unlike last year, I even did it pretty close to the actual day.

Here’s that chat:

Me: Do you feel different now that you’re seven?
Kate: No. I don’t feel different.

Me: What is the biggest difference between first and second grade?
Kate: Second grade you get homework. And you have to be picked up later.

Me: What do you like most about school?
Kate: I think I like… P.E.
Me: Why?
Kate: Our coach. He’s very silly and loves to play around like I do.

Me: What do you like to do most when you aren’t in school?
Kate: I like to work in my science lab.
Me: What do you do there?
Kate: I am working on making paint without chemicals in it. [She IS?! This is excellent news. Mark: Retire now. WE'RE RICH!]

Me: If a genie could grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Kate: To have an American Girl mansion.

Me: Where do you think you’ll live when you grown up?
Kate: I think I’ll live in this exact house because I love it so much.

Me: Who do you think you will live with?
Kate: I don’t know. Oh—a dog!

Me: Do you think you will want to have children?
Kate: Yeah. But I don’t want to go to college. Wait, don’t write that down. I just don’t want you to write that down. [Sorry I couldn't help it. She didn't say anything about it being "off the record." I'm running out right now to spend our college savings on shoes.]

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Kate: My beset friend’s Lily because she’s really nice.

Me: What do you think are the biggest problems in the world today?
Kate: I don’t know. Maybe homework because it’s my first day today.
Me: Your first day of homework?
Kate: Yeah, it could be super hard.

Me: What do you think you are an expert on?
Kate: Um… I think making little perfumes. Actually I think–ART! Yesterday I made some really—we were using air-dry clay in art and I made a really beautiful face and gave it to the teacher.

Me: What do you want to learn more about?
Kate: I want to learn more about how all the oak trees came here in Oakland and who ate the first avocado. Me and Alden both want to learn who ate the first avocado.

Me: What have you done that you’re really proud of?
Kate: Well, I think helping a third grader read a word.
Me: Do you remember what the word was?
Kate: It was “exasperating.”

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Kate: I want to be [long pause] a guitarist.
: Tell me about that.
Kate: I just think it would be fun because my dad was a guitarist when he was younger and at school I asked [my teacher] Paula what she wanted to be when she was younger and she said she wanted to be a teacher like her parents. And her parents really helped her to get along in the world if she copied them.

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Kate: [smiling, pauses] I don’t know. I’m good at a lot of things but I don’t know…

Me: What songs are special to you?
Kate: Songs that I’ve performed in plays. Like “Sounds a Little Fishy to Me” and “The Great Kapok Tree.”

Me: What books are special to you?
Kate: Ramona.

Me: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Kate: Mexico. Actually… Australia.
: Why?
Kate: It just sounds like an interesting place to visit.

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Kate: Being a friend to animals.

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Kate: Black Widows.

Me: What makes you happiest?
Kate: When I spend time with my friends.

Me: Is there anything else I should be asking you for this interview?
Kate: When I was four you asked me if I thought I would have a boyfriend which was really freaky to me.
Me: Yeah, I took that question out this year.


20 Things I Learned after 20 Years in California

Posted: August 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Eating Out, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate | No Comments »

It’s been a big week for milestones ’round here.

Monday was Mark and my seven year wedding anniversary. Say what you will about this marital mile-marker, but we have thus far experienced no itchiness. Phew.

Yesterday was Kate’s first day of first grade. It was like some meta first-ness. Like first to the first power. But things like this don’t phase my unflappable girl. Within the first minute of being on the playground she was acting like the First Lady of Elementary School. By tomorrow she’ll have the kindergarteners handing over the cookies from their lunch boxes. Bless her heart.

And today is another biggie. Today marks 20 years to the day since I moved to California.

20 years!!! It’s totally unbelievable.

I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Lil’ Rhody. Which must mean that in another bat of an eyelash I’ll be wielding a walker with tennis ball wheels. I plan to have lots of flair on my walker by the way. In-n-Out Burger stickers, fuzzy clamp-on koala bears, and magenta bike handle streamers.

So there’s that to look forward to.

Anyway, in light of my 20 years as a Californian, I thought I’d share the top 20 things I’ve learned since living here.

1. To some people local artisan cheese is Kraft Singles. This is a good thing to think of when you are paying your astronomical rent or mortgage bill and feeling jealous of your friend’s McMansion in Sioux City. Compared to much of the rest of the country, the Bay Area offers many pains, but also many pleasures.

2. Redwood Trees are really tall.

3. Parallel parking is a Darwinian skill that one develops while living in SF. After driving around your neighborhood for 45 minutes on a parking spot quest, you can bet your pins-and-needles ass you’ll wedge your chippy-paint-bumpered Jetta into a space better suited to a Mini Cooper. On a 30% grade hill no less. After living in San Fran, going anywhere that has an actual parking lot makes you feel spoiled rotten.

3 1/2. (Turns out I had more than 20 things to say, so I’m trying to slip this one in here unnoticed.) You know how you go into an ice cream store and you ask the people who work there, “Wow, do you just eat ice cream all day?” and they just squirm and look uncomfortably annoyed because you’re the seventh person who’s asked them that in the past half-hour? You know that? Then they say, “Actually, no. When you work here eventually you get over it.” Well, I never REALLY believed them. Come ON. They’ve gotta be running in the back room stuffing themselves silly with Pralines and Cream, right? Well now that I live so close to Napa Valley I know exactly what those ice cream scoopers are talking about. Napa is stunning,  close by, and a world-renowned destination—oh, and it’s overflowing with wine, of course. Yet we don’t go there every weekend. We somehow also manage to not to always bring visitors there. It’s so close! It’s so fabulous! But I’m ashamed to say that we’ve grown to take it for granted. (Wait, you all don’t have hundreds of world-class wineries an hour’s drive from YOUR house?!)

4. Divorce West Coast style means that your father and his wife (who is younger than you) comes to your house for Thanksgiving with your mother and her girlfriend. And not only do they all talk to each other, they’re all best friends.

5. My scariest California rookie experience was ordering a burrito at a Mission taqueria. There’s a huge long counter behind which 15 or so women take orders from a constant stream of patrons. They sputter out questions like, “Black, pinto, or re-fried?” and you must use all your energy to ante up an answer—any answer—so as to keep pace with the next question they’re going to hurl your way. They move down the line two steps to the chicken and meat section where more un-decipherable questions are asked, and you whimper lightly and point. By then, sweating and disoriented you lose track of your burrito-maker, who is down by the salsas bellowing out “Hot or mild?” while a dozen other people are calling back to their nice burrito-making ladies a cacophony of “Pinto! No lettuce! Carnitas!” Then what happens is you start talking to The Wrong Woman. You lose your Burrito Maker and then suffer a sudden crushing white-girl shame because all the long-black-haired Mexican women look the same to you but you don’t want to accept that you really think that because that would be BAD and WRONG. Yet, uh, was that her? In the gray t-shirt? Or the one with the braids? And then suddenly she is back and in your face and yelling something and beckoning you down the long counter because you are creating a hungry human traffic jam so you wave an affirming that’s-great-thanks gesture her way so she’ll just stop asking you questions then you’re shunted to the cash register having no idea what it is that you ordered. And you have also not been handed your burrito. It’s been tossed in a pile with 8 other tin foil tubes that all have different letters scrawled on them. At the register they say things to you in questioning tones like “Super Veggie Burrito?,” or other phrases that include words like “Deluxe” which appear to be names for the kindsa burritos they make, but you have NO IDEA what it is that you got. Someone could offer to pay you $10,000 to tell them what is in your burrito and you’d just sit down and cry and say, “I don’t know! It all happened so fast! And she had an accent that I’m ashamed to say I really couldn’t understand!” But you manage to somehow buy something (that may or may not be yours) and don’t cry from the trauma of it all. And whatever the hell it is you eat it and decide that the holy terror you endured was SO worth it. Then eventually, 8 years or so later, after coming back about once a week, ordering a burrito becomes easier.

6. I sometimes feel un-cool for not being gay.

7. I’m more afraid that one of those Looney Toons anvils might somehow fall on my head than I am about earthquakes. When you live here, you don’t hang pictures framed with glass over your bed, and you don’t think much about earthquakes. Because really, not wanting one won’t prevent one from happening. Besides, we’re all too stoned out of our minds every day to worry about anything other than when the pizza is going to arrive. (See #12.)

8. You have not really gone out dancing until you’re the only woman in a gay club and by the end of the night you find yourself dancing in a black lace bra. (Just kidding, Dad! Well, as far as you know…)

9. It turns out Spanish would’ve been a more useful language to take than my 12 years of French. Who knew?

10. San Francisco Victorians are painfully cold in the winter and summer. They sure may look purdy, but most Turkish prison cells are more comfortable.

11. Everything Mark Twain ever said about San Francisco summers and witch’s tits is totally true.

12. Of my native-Calif friends, some scored pot from their parents with the same regularity and lack of big-dealness that I had hitting my parents for an allowance.

13. Whenever I was home sick from work in New York, I felt like I was the only one in my apartment building aside from the crazy old ladies who never threw out newspapers and bred cockroaches. EVERYONE else was at work. But in the Bay Area I think that people in offices feel like the outsiders. Cafes and coffee shops are thrumming with people hanging out (working? checking betting on the ponies?) all day long. And a good drinking game, if you ever need one during the day, is doing a shot every time a man with a baby strapped to his chest walks down the sidewalk past your house. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.

14. When it rains here it rains and when it doesn’t rain it doesn’t rain. These weather patterns are strictly relegated to seasons and they nearly always play by the rules. This seems odd to you at first, but later when you go on vacations outside of Northern California and after a sunny morning there’s a rain storm in the afternoon it freaks your shit right out.

15. There’s something warm and romantic—but also prone to knocking over your porch plants—called the Santa Anna winds that pass through the Bay Area every once and a while. It’s fun to say Santa Ana winds, and even funner to have an unusual weather pattern crop up that you’ve lived here long enough to recognize. “Oh yeah, those Santa Ana’s are blowin’!” you call out to your neighbor over the bluster while getting into your car some mornings. And you think you’re really cool.

16. Don’t be surprised if you are waiting at a stop light and a man wearing black leather pants, a black leather captain’s hat, and a “shirt” comprised of crisscrossing leather straps, is walking another man across the street who is on all fours, and on a leash. I don’t know what those wacky gay boys are up to, but it seems like good clean fun!

17. Speaking of leather pants, don’t wear those to the Rainbow Grocery cooperative. Really. Take my word on that.

18. And speaking of crossing the street, people in California actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks! All that time on the East Coast I never knew what those lines on the street were for.

19. The Berkeley Public Library’s library cards look like they’re tie-dyed. Somebody had a great sense of branding (and humor).

20. There is a field of bison in Golden Gate Park and the first time you see them you will feel certain someone slipped you a hallucenogen.

Thank you, thank you, Mark, for a dazzling seven years of marriage, and for being the funniest, smartest, cutest, best-cookin’ husband a gal could ever have. I adore the ground you walk on, and could you pick Kate up from school today? Listen, I’ll just call you about that later.

And thanks to you California, for the wild, wonderful ride these past twenty years. I must have been having a good time, because man, that time FLEW. Here’s to the next twenty.

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Make New Friends but Keep the Old

Posted: April 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Working World | 7 Comments »

I know I’ve mentioned I have a new job. But I’ve failed to report even bigger news: I have a new husband!

A work husband that is.

And he’s dazzling—smart, funny, handsome. And 100% dyed-in-the-wool-Prada-pants GAY.

I know, I know, I’m gushing. But I’m telling you, no more than three minutes into meeting each other—an introduction where sparks of sass and sarcasm blazed off us like an electrical fire—we were in luv.

The next morning he sashayed past my desk to announce that he’d confessed his feelings for me to his partner. “I told him,” he said conspiratorially, “that I have a new BFF.”

Oooooh!” I squealed, clapping my hands and beaming. “I told Mark about you too!”

On my second day of work he analyzed our astrological charts at lunch (we’re compatible), and we discovered our birthdays are two weeks apart. We were even born the same year!

We’ve continued this way for days now: “You love neutral tones with a dash of orange as an accent color?!” I bellowed in disbelief. “Me TOO!”

We’ve discussed our yoga preferences (His: “Original Recipe” Hatha, Mine: Power Vinyasa ) and our current efforts to get bikini-ready for summer. And he’s managed to assess nearly every piece of clothing I’ve worn, rubbing the fabric between his fingers, raising an eyebrow then muttering his approval.

By next week we should be belting out duets and performing elaborately choreographed dance moves through the office. We’ll outshine Travolta and Olivia Newton John. I just know it.

I’m planning to consummate our union at his fabulous beach house. It’s off some island or other near Seattle. I picture myself poised on 900-thread-count sheets—blissfully alone, of course. I’ll do snow angels in the bed, soaking up the unbridled thrill of a weekend away from the kids, while he and his lawyer-cum-yoga-instructor partner slavishly cook for me and deliver mimosas and Vanity Fair magazines to what I can only imagine is a lavish guest suite. (The guest house is still under construction.)

It’s like a dream. A fabulous, exhilarating dream in which we spend lunches at the cafe at his gym ogling the hot guys working out.

The other day, while outlining the guest list for his birthday par-tay—old friends from high school, former co-workers, his San Francisco set—he pointed out matter-of-factly, “I collect people.”

And when Mark got an email last week, inviting him to a dinner in the city, I couldn’t help but think of just that.

One of the bennies of Mark’s job is that he gets to meet some pretty cool, accomplished folks. Well, I mean, I see that as a benefit since I like people. But Mark? Well, not so much. He’s kinda like those dogs people apologize for at parks ’cause they don’t like other dogs.

Now, I don’t want to imply my hubbie’s some social nitwit. He’s just discerning about who he’ll make an effort for. His attitude: He’s already got five friends. Why’d he ever need more? And while Mark’s not taking resumes for new friends, I go through life chatting up baristas while they steam my milk, and wanting to invite Jehovah’s Witnesses in for lunch.

But sometimes, someone Mark meets penetrates his Cone of Social Reluctance. And recently, this happened.

The New Friend is someone Mark’s interviewed and hung out with for work. The dude’s a crazy-accomplished genius. He seems to have the Midas touch with everything he does. And he’s done just about everything.

And whatever, so they’ve kinda become friends. It’s not like they go bowling every Wednesday, or have slumber parties and braid each others’ hair. But they’ve hung out a few times now for no work-related purpose.

It’s not so terribly strange, even considering Mark’s inclination to keep his friend count low. The thing that’s gets me about this new alliance is—well, it’s kinda embarrassing to admit—I mean, what’s weird about it is that the guy is rich. But not like rich by any mortal standards. Like, stratospherically mind-bogglingly loaded.

So, when this chap came to town recently (he lives up north) his assistant contacted Mark. Would he like to get together for dinner? New Friend was traveling for work and his wife wasn’t with him. So he and Mark and a another of the guy’s pals from San Fran grabbed some grub.

You know, 15 or so courses.

Then last week Mark gets another call. The assistant asks again about dinner. And this time I’m welcomed along. It turns out we’re going out with a couple other folks, and one of them who’s a chef picked some divey Korean joint as our venue. Because, hey, what’s more fun than slumming with a gazillionaire?

Aside from his immense genius, and a guess that he probably wouldn’t have holes in his shoes, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I don’t mean to get all Us Magazine “Just Like Us” about it. (Look! He wears sunglasses outdoors! Wow! He covers his mouth when he coughs!) But to be honest, for the first fifteen minutes or so, I was TOTALLY like that.

The thing is, the guy is totally normal.

It was like any other night you’d spend in a dumpy Richmond café eating gut-cleansing kimchi with friends in your own tax bracket.

And sure, there were things that came up—the  mention of a dinner with Jane Fonda and Ted Turner—that weren’t the typical conversational grist my homies and I bandy about at the taqueria. (“Oh that JANE…” I chortled, slapping my thigh. “She IS that way after a couple Pisco Sours, isn’t she?”) There was a mention of Stephen Hawking liking really spicy Indian food. And an anecdote about a dinner he’d had at an inn in Montana or somewhere. The place was so remote (How remote was it?) that he still had to drive for an hour after the plane landed. Pause. “And I have my own plane!”

Weirdly, none of this came off as snooty or name-droppy. Just the opposite, in fact. The guy was totally comfortable with who he was (even if I wasn’t at first). He was tellin’ it like it was from his side of the tracks.

I mean, why pretend to fly Continental?

At one point, we got on the topic of Mark’s exploits in bread baking. I mentioned that one recipe he’d been struggling with produced loaves like pancakes. (Though I think I actually said “limp breast implants.”) This fast became a opportunity for the group to razz Mark on his inability to “get a rise” out of his dough. And quickly deteriorated to jokes about him “getting it up.”

Yeah, so not so much pretense at our table.

In fact, my favorite thing was how super-brilliant New Friend is, yet how often he says “fuck.” It turns out he says “fuck” a lot. (I’m going to remember how cool I thought this was when I make my gazillions. “What a fuckin’ nightmare,” I’ll confide to my chauffeur. “My new jet is totally fucked!”)

After dinner he asked us about how he could get a taxi. Most San Franciscans would agree that the best way to get a cab is to go to New York. So instead of making the guy wait, we offered to drop him at his hotel. This required us to remove a car seat from the back of our beater Subaru. And to wipe away some Cheerios. And to toss a pile of Captain Underpants books and a mermaid-shaped Barbie in the trunk. While smiling sheepishly over our shoulders.

“Ah, you’ve got kids!” I said a bit too loudly, scraping a withered fruit roll-up into the gutter. When what I was really conveying was, “Remember? This is what most family cars are like.” (I did resist bursting into the chorus of “What Do the Simple Folk Do.”)

We wove our way through the drizzly, dark city to The Ritz Carlton. And saying our goodbyes, he bid Mark a last word of luck getting his dough up, then grabbed the door handle once, then twice, finally leaning into the door with his shoulder. Fail.

“Ah yeah,” I said realizing what was happening. “That’d be the child lock.” And I hopped out to come around and release him.


As Mark turned the car out of the hotel lot and headed us home to Oakland, he put his hand on my leg and asked his typical end-of-the-evening question, “You have fun?”

And, trying vaguely to remember what I’d thought the night would be like, I said, “Yeah. I did.”

Then I smiled. Man, this’ll make a nice little story for my work hubbie.

And speaking of him—Happy happy birthday, darlin’! I cannot WAIT to hear about every last detail of your weekend over a quinoa salad at the gym. xoxoxo!


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.


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.


The Bristol Two-Step

Posted: February 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Eating Out, Food, Kate's Friends, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Travel | 1 Comment »

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

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

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

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

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

I admit my awareness of the girls’ whereabouts had faltered a bit. I was drawn in by the kindly gray-haired librarian. I wanted to hear more funny little stories about my mom. But before I could coax more out of her, I looked up to see Paige step into the empty elevator, and the door start to close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When she responded “Rockwell,” my own K through third-grade alma mater, I nearly squealed with glee. I forget sometimes when I’m in Rhode Island, and get excited to see someone wearing a RISD sweatshirt. Or I’ll be driving along, then perk up at the sight of an Ocean State license plate.

Proof of my spaciness perhaps. But also that I’m more used to home being a place where I’m not. My default setting is that any Rhode Islandisms I come across must be far-flung artifacts that’ve managed to make their way West. Like me.

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

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

There’s a strong tug of temptation to run around and see a ton of people while I’m here, to schedule non-stop things to do. Instead I’m trying to melt into the scenery. I’ve already handed over highlighting my hair to a chap in Newport who did a bang-up job for—get this—$50! And aside from a grandparent-sponsored jaunt to the toy store for Valentine’s Day, and dinner out for Dad’s birthday, the only plans we have are to go to story time at the library.

We’re meeting Kate’s new friend there. Which is great since I never got a chance to ask her what street she lives on, or who her teachers were at preschool.

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The Presents of Greatness

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Doctors, Eating Out, Miss Kate, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Shopping | 2 Comments »

When I got home from school the afternoon of my 16th birthday, my mother was lying in bed and couldn’t move.

Now, the thing with my mother was she was a procrastinatory goddess. You never wanted to visit her and leave your prescription medicine. She’d tell you she’d mail it to you, and she’d have every good intention to, but ultimately weeks’d go by before you saw those pills again. And by then, your blood pressure, your acne, hell, a pregnancy even—whatever it was you were trying to ward off—would’ve gotten an excellent shot at entrenching itself in you.

So, on the morning of May 10, 1983, the 16th anniversary of my nativity, my mother woke up, ushered me off to school, and set out for her tennis game, utterly unprepared for my birthday. During doubles that day with “the girls” (a term she used even when they were long into granny-hood), she fell down. Landed on her elbow. And apparently gave it a substantial whack.

I assume it had to hurt. But this was a woman who left everything to the last minute. After tennis she’d have time to go to Ma Goetzinger’s, a cute boutique one town over, where she figured she’d find some little number or other that’d appeal to my fashion-frenzied teen self. She might also be able to swing by another shop or two, and round out her gifts for my sweet sixteen.

But there was, she decided, no time to see a doctor.

Well, by 3:30, or whatever time it was I got home from school that day, Mom’s elbow had had enough of being made a low priority. She’d hopped on her bed for a small rest when she got home, and in the calm of her quiet room, with the birthday whirlwind behind her, her body’s urgent pleas for attention finally got through.

The pain at that point was so great, she couldn’t even move.

I don’t really remember what happened next. How we got her up and to the medical center, or maybe to one of our small-town doctors’ home offices. But it turned out the arm was broken. She’d cracked or chipped or fractured some part of the elbow. An injury that was grave enough to warrant the doc, who we likely knew (whose wife was likely at the tennis game), to give her a good “What-the-hell-were-you-thinking-to-not-get-here-sooner?” lecture.

I assure you, I never expressed greater appreciation for birthday presents than I did that day.

Even in my ego-maniacal teen haze, I was struck with a jolt of insight into the greatness of a mother’s love. And her desire to make her child’s birthday just perfect.

Oh and you can bet I delivered my own “Geez-Mom-you-didn’t-hafta-do-that” lecture, managing upward as it were. After all, a daughter’s got love to give too.

But somehow, like those things do, that episode, that painful act of maternal sacrifice, faded into the backdrop of life. Never alluded to or held over my head, and only springing to my mind this morning as I lay in bed tickling the girls, awash in my own feelings of giddy love and gratitude for my daughters.

On Wednesday night, I went downstairs to the guest room closet to take stock of Kate’s birthday loot. And it turned out, that with all the shopping, or wrapping, or storing of gifts that I’d done on behalf of grandparents and other far-flung folk, I realized there wasn’t much for Kate that was from Mark and me. This discovery, of course, taking place late on the eve of her birthday.

So when she was in school that day, after Paige’s play group, I scrambled to a toy store. A mother ravaged with guilt that it’d taken until THE ACTUAL BIRTHDAY to get something. A woman incredulous that the Procrastination Gene she’d spent a lifetime denying, had somehow manifested itself in her, on the sly.

We found some little thing or other. A toy I’d say was from Paige to Kate. And by pure kismet I saw a billboard proclaiming the imminent arrival of Disney on Ice. The kind of branded, overpriced spectacle that makes the inner Waldorf mom in me shudder. But a perfect last-minute addition to Kate’s paltry set of parent-given gifts.

So there! I was done. With ten minutes to spare before fetching the birthday girl from school. I loaded Paige into the car, content that it’d all come together after all.

It wasn’t ’til later that evening, when Mark was back from his work trip and we were preparing to head to Kate’s favorite dinner haunt, that I noticed the stroller wasn’t in the back of the car.

I mentally retraced my steps.

Was it on the front porch? Had I left it outside Jen’s after play group? Or, in my haste to declare myself the ever-ready mother, did I smugly deposit both Paige and the birthday gifts in the car, then drive off leaving the stroller on the sidewalk?

Why yes, that’s exactly what I’d done.

As we headed to Filippo’s, pushing our unwieldy (but gratefully existent) double stroller, I asked myself, “How long does it take for an abandoned MacLaren stroller to biodegrade?”

Ah well, it’s good to have these humbling moments that prove I don’t really have my shit together after all. Right?

That said, I’ll have you know I’ve already purchased two (yes, 2) Christmas presents. So there.


Putting the Braces Back On

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Daddio, Discoveries, Eating Out, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Money, Shopping, Working World | 1 Comment »

I used to be the Patron Saint of Interns. It was, of course, a self-appointed role. But one I took quite seriously.

The thing is, at one point in my career, or rather, the making of my career, I held quite a number of internships. Positions in TV newsrooms, hippie liberal radio stations, and various magazines where I’d earn a meager stipend, or sometimes just an appreciative thump on the back.

The hope being that the inverse ratio of earnings to hard labor would have some karmic redemptive upside.

I’ve lost count now of how many of those posts I’ve held. But suffice it to say, years into real grown-up paying work, my friend Mike and I were catching up on the phone and he asked how my internship was going. Sadly, I fear he wasn’t kidding. But that did become an evergreen joke for us when, over the following years, I’d worked my way through positions of mounting managerial responsibility and in our long coast-to-coast calls he’d ask the same question.

Good times, those.

Alas, aside from dignity-robbing name tags, epic Xeroxing tasks, and occasional demeaning-to-my-education lunch runs (I won’t even get into the pervy remarks from crusty old newsmen)—aside from all that, the biggest challenge with my Intern Era life was my short supply of cash.

Well, actually, I don’t know how much it really bothered me then. I mean, I think I attached a certain nobleness (not to be confused with the richy-sounding term “nobility”) to bushwhacking my way through a poorly-paying, romantic, writerly career path. But looking back, I can’t imagine how I did it.

I mean, I always managed to eat (and drink), God knows. And much as I worked towards self-sustainability, this Daddy’s Girl has thankfully never lacked anything of true importance. That is, even when my father’s definition of importance and mine differed. For some reason, he was maniacal about never allowing a child of his to sleep on a futon, of all things. Guess it seemed all Gypsy-like and what’d-the-neighbors-say to him.

Anyway, back then apartment-establishing jaunts to Target required first off, that I borrow a car. And once there, accumulating crap was a practice in restraint. Necessities like mops and cleaners and such went head to head against fripperies like ceramic Italian-esque pasta bowls and bright striped shower curtains. Sometimes home decor, to the extent it could be humbly called that, won out over specialty toilet bowl bleaches.

Thankfully, I never contracted any illnesses from my less-than-sterile but kinda cute living conditions.

These days Target is still the soup kitchen to my soul. But I shop with heedless abandon. Bolstered by their don’t-need-the-receipt-just-your-credit-card return policy, I toss whatever shiny thing I see into the cart.

Clothing? Well, I prefer not to buy it there (for reasons of snobbery alone), but sometimes a little cotton short catches my eye. And who knows if it’s the Small or the Medium that’ll work best. Buy both. Return one later. Candles, brooms, weird flower-shaped sprinkler attachments for kids to run through on hot summer days. A hectare of Size 4 diapers. I never leave the place without mindlessly spending, well, a lot.

The thing is, somewhere between the Intern Era came, well, the hoped-for karmic career redemption patch. Widely known as the American Dream. Or more precisely, the Internet Boom. Right here in Northern California, USA. And instead of having to desperately take an ‘Intro to the Internets’ class at The Learning Annex, I’d somehow managed to retool my media career into an internet business-type kinda job before all the hoopla kicked in.

Looked up from my laptop one day to discover I’d become a cherished ladder-climbing leader at a company where 27-year-olds made Vice President, bought homes based on the momentary health of their unvested stock, and earned bonuses their hard-working parents no doubt found obscene. I traveled non-stop, managed teams in multiple cities, and spent my days telling people twice my age how to run their companies. All that, plus shrimp cocktail and top-shelf booze at Friday afternoon office Happy Hours.

Like many folks at that time, I felt pretty damn invincible.

Unsurprisingly, my spending habits changed. I could buy one of those loft condos with Corian counter tops if I wanted! Buy last-minute tickets home to RI. Go to swank dinners with friends, order beyond the dinner salad, and not dread someone’s inevitable suggestion to “split the bill evenly between us.”

But more than the stuff I could get, what struck me most—initially, at least—was the lack of worry that my new financial sitch afforded me. More than the thrill of ownership any of the crap I bought, knowing I had what I needed to comfortably take care of myself gave me a supreme sense of contentment. A deep, proud-of-myself-for-making-it-so self-sufficiency and security.

And I realized yesterday that my memory of those days, that feeling in particular, is starting to fade in my mind, alongside the Intern Era. With the Global Economic Recession lurking in the pit of everyone’s gut, and me intentionally unemployed and Living La Vida Housewife, it’s hard to remember spending freely on a credit card that someone else (someone I’m not married to, that is) pays.

Prudence seems to dictate a throttling back on spending. It’s not that a crap run to Target will have us living on the street—blessedly. It’s just that, well, used to be we had two jobs and no kids. Now we’ve got one for the four of us. I’m no math expert, but that nets out to less all around.

So I get it right? I’m able to intellectually understand all this. It’s just I’m not certain how to get there. Regroup with that little voice in my head that used to say, “You can’t afford this.”

I mean, it seems obvious, right? Just spend less. But I’m deadline driven, motivated by fear, and perform best under pressure. I know that I should ratchet back, but I’m not feeling a sting to do so.

And Mark, poor dear. His concerns in this arena should be all I need to react. But I’m not getting spurned on. I’m not kicking into thrift mode with any of the novel glee or romantic challenge of it all.

And I can’t help but think that the monumental passage of the Intern Era’s to blame.

It’s like people who wore braces as teenagers, or however old you are when you do that. Elastic bands with colors or cutesie names, nightmares about corn on the cob, fears that getting inextricably locked with a co-braces-wearer during a make-out sesh might not just be urban legend.

I, thankfully, never had them. But I have to believe that once you get your braces taken off, you put all that gnarly, miserable, clingy-food-bits trauma behind you. Close that door and MOVE ON. You just get out there and enjoy your new straight teeth life, and revel in the knowledge that you’ll never be able to fry an ant with the glare off your teeth again.

That is, until as an adult you discover that your teeth have somehow moved. Shifted when you weren’t paying them any attention. And now you need to get braces AGAIN.

Which, is kinda where I feel like I am today. Perfectly straight teeth, thankyouverymuch. But having, despite myself, to go back to that uncomfortable place of restrained spending, at Tar-jay and beyond.

Well, that, or get a job. A job, or maybe a high-class internship.

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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!