Party Tricks

Posted: June 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Food, Housewife Superhero, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 17 Comments »

Everyone needs a good party trick. Something that’ll wow the crowd you roll with, whoever they are.

And if you’ve got school-aged kids, I’m guessing you’ve been in the eye of the party storm recently. Right now there’s probably some finger food (“healthy, please”) you have to whip up for an end-of-school picnic, or a snack (for 35) for a piano recital. You’re having to remember that Thursday is Crazy Hair Day and Friday’s just a half-day and Saturday the soccer players are each contributing $5 for a gift for the coach.

This time of year for moms is like April for accountants. Our busy season. Teacher gifts, gymnastics performances, field days, staff appreciation lunches. Getting to the end of the school year seems like an endless process.

My mother had a “quality not quantity” philosophy about most things. I see that reflected in how my sisters and I cook. We have a limited repertoire of offerings, but what we do we do well. There are certain dishes—Chicken Marbella, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato spread, sherry poppy seed cake—that may not be on Food and Wine’s latest cover, but are consistent crowd-pleasers. There’s comfort in the classics.

But it’s nice to add something new to the mix, no matter how humble.

That’s why I was thrilled when my former roomie Tanya posted a picture on Facebook last year of a rainbow fruit salad she made for some Girl Scout gathering. It was adorable. And easy. And healthy, damn it.

The next day I took one to a ballet potluck to rave reviews. Teens were taking pictures of it with their cell phones—no lie! The ratio of effort to gushing praise was unbeatable. It’s been my suburban mom party trick ever since.

Here’s one that I made last week:

Cute, right?

If you’ve still got some end-of-the-year events on your calendar, try this out and report back on the accolades you get. I require no credit, but will happily receive royalty payments via PayPal.

At this rate I’ll be bringing this fruit salad to my kids’ college graduations. (Thank you, Tanya.)

Of course, there was a time when my idea of a good party trick didn’t involve a platter of fruit labeled with masking tape with my name on it.

I mean, I’ve never seen anyone chug a goldfish, but I’ve known people who opened beer bottles with their teeth, or knotted cherry stems with their tongues. I’ve seen people ride bikes down stairs, light  farts on fire, and do The Worm. I’ve witnessed folks climb up roofs, jump out windows, turn their eyelids inside out, and shave their heads.

Ah, youth. Such foolish acts of bravado. Makes me question sending the girls to college some day.

Some party tricks involve skill. I was proud to see my brother-in-law in action at a family wedding a few years back. It was a late-night karaoke after party—no elderly grandmas around—and he performed the 90′s hit The Humpty Dance. It’s his go-to song, and with good reason. He totally rocked it, had the crowd loving him, and then at the end he dropped to floor in a full split, then pulled himself up and did a spin. It brought the house down.

I was standing and clapping and howling like some studio-audience mom who just watched her son win big on Jeopardy.

I’d keep saving for college for the girls if they could pull off something like that.

My sister Judy and my dad used to have a trick they’d do via phone. She’d ask someone to pick a card from a deck. Then she’d call to “The Wizard” and ask “Could you please tell this person what card they’re holding?” She’d hand the phone over and my dad—I mean, The Wizard—would reveal the card.

Apparently this trick wowed many a drunk at my sister’s college. And gave my father the gratification of being part of a good party stunt. Dad still maintains you can call him any time of day or night to do this. The Wizard, apparently, is always in.

I’d reveal how it’s done but I’ve probably said too much already. And I’d like to stay in the will.

Anyway, the other day we were at a picnic and my friend David offered to open my beer. He took out his iPhone, pushed against the back of the case, and a flat bottle opener slid out. From his phone. It was SO COOL.

Turns out it’s marketing schwag with his company’s logo on it. I begged and whined and pleaded for him to get me one.  And last week he did. [Thrill!]

So I think I’m pretty cool now.

I mean, sure, I’ve got the rainbow fruit salad up my sleeve, should I ever need to bust one out. But now this suburban mama’s got a party trick that has nothing to do with kids, thankyouverymuch.

And I don’t even have to wake up The Wizard to do it.

What’s your party trick?


Stocking Up

Posted: May 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Daddio, Discoveries, Hoarding, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Shopping | 19 Comments »

I must’ve forgotten to lock my car the other night.

Living in Oakland this results in one of three outcomes:

1) Someone steals the car. This is not a risk for me as I drive a 1999 Subaru with a dent on the passenger side that goes from the front door to the back bumper. The interior is covered in pretzels and dessicated mini carrots, and at least one sippy cup of sour milk is lodged under a seat somewhere. If anything, car thieves leave Post-It Notes on my windshield suggesting I look into some of the new leasing deals.

2) Someone rifles through your belongings. Generally this involves stealing change, cell phone headsets, and Luna Bars or Slim Jims (depending on your dietary preferences).

3) Nothing. Whenever my car’s been left unlocked and nothing has happened I freak out a little. Worried that Oakland is losing its edge or something. Then I get insulted. “What—my parking change is no good for you?” I yell to the homeless man picking through our recycling. “There are some perfectly good Elmo board books in here, only lightly chewed,” I bellow. “You can still read all the words!” I find myself merchandising old maps of downtown Sacramento and broken Crayon bits to anyone passing by.

I’ll get them to want to steal my stuff if it’s the last thing I do.

Well yesterday—on my birthday—after a rousing early-morning argument with my husband, I frantically shooed the running-late kids to the car where I see the contents of our glove box—insurance papers, registration, Children’s Benadryl, a box of raisins, an old work ID with a really good photo of me, Band-Aids, hair clips, a black Sharpie, and several tampons—strewn over the front seat.

Yes, I said tampons. Do YOU keep tampons in your car?

As I scooped everything up to shove back into the glove box I was surprised to see just how many tampons I had. (While feeling slightly offended that they weren’t taken. What is WRONG with my tampons? They’ve got easy-glide applicators! I have a variety of absorbancies! Are they not good enough for my neighborhood hoodlums?)

I ended up counting NINE emergency tampons. This, it appears, is one of those things I do. I have the thought, “I should keep a tampon in the car in case I ever need one.” Then three months later, I have the same thought. And without looking to see what’s there, I toss another one in.

As I mentioned this car is a ’99. Given our long history it’s a miracle the entire hatch back isn’t teeming with feminine products.

And as far as I can tell I’ve never once needed an emergency tampon. And if I did, I’d probably forget they were there. And simply drive to a store to get some.

I’m not sure what the scenario I’m envisioning for their use. That we’re driving through the temperate Berkeley hills and get stuck in a snow bank? Then I start menstruating at a phenomenal, un-soppable rate? And while rationing out the small box of raisins between my cold hungry children, I suddenly experience stigmata? Thankfully I’ll have some light-flow Tampax I can tie to my wrists to staunch the blood, freeing me up to write a life-saving emergency message on a 1998 map of the Gilroy Outlets with my black Sharpie.

See? It all MAKES SENSE.

But really, irrational thoughts about what’s needed to protect our families just comes with the territory when you’re a mom. I can assure you that before having children I never thought that having a bold-colored permanent marker in my car was likely to be the difference between my survival and dying in the parking lot of my neighborhood Trader Joe’s.

Whenever a snowstorm is predicted in Rhode Island my father calls me to report on the scene at the grocery stores. This is especially entertaining since George Bush Senior has been in a grocery store more recently than my father. Nonetheless Dad claims that the stores in town are packed with folks frantically stocking up on bread and milk. These people could be lactose intolerants who haven’t touched carbs in years, but they’re blindly compelled to purchase these things at times of imminent snowfall. It’s a natural instinct you just can’t fight.

Me? I’m the same way. But it doesn’t take a storm for me to buy two boxes of Wheat Thins EVERY TIME I GO TO THE STORE. I get agita imagining what might happen if we were to ever run out of those delightful whole grain crackers. Not that we even eat them all that much.

I also buy black beans every time I shop. And that Near East rice pilaf. “Do we already have some of this?” I wonder. But because I’m the one asking the question, I’m unsurprisingly unable to provide the answer.

So always, always, I roll on the safe side and buy more.

This habit causes Mark to bellow from our basement pantry things like, “Embargo on Cheerios!” Followed by him muttering, “For the love of God we have no less than 15 boxes of cereal here.”

Which leads to me call down the stairs, “How’re we doing on black beans?”

As far as tampons go, I feel quite certain that the supplies in our cars alone could take me through to menopause. At which point I’ll likely make regular trips to Walgreens to pick up my estrogen prescription.

But, don’t you worry. Should anything go awry when I venture three blocks to the store, I’ve got raisins, Band-Aids, and a black Sharpie marker. I am totally ready.

What do you obsessively stock up on?


My Mama Purse

Posted: March 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Housewife Superhero, Mom | 2 Comments »

When I was a kid my mother’s purse was a no-touch zone. If I ever needed anything from it, I’d bring it to her and she’d dig it out for me.

I doubt there was anything I wasn’t supposed to see in there. And I don’t think it was that Mom didn’t trust me with her stuff (though in my pilfering teen years she probably should’ve had this concern). I’d guess my mother made her purse off limits simply to set some personal boundaries. Staking out a bit of space that my three sisters and I couldn’t climb on, paw through, or otherwise disrupt. A small spot of sanity and control.

For me, my No Kid Zone is my desk. Beware the child who drops so much as a Polly Pocket shoe on its adult-only surface. Take heed all ye youngsters who dare grab a pen or roll of tape from its hallowed drawers.

I am vigilant about staking out that small three-by-five-foot surface as my sole, highly-protected territory. Even when I really don’t care that they’re grabbing a paper clip or Post-It—even then, I generally tend to hoot and howl and swat their hands away. “Do you take things from Mama’s desk?” I bellow. “Nooooooo. You do NOT touch anything on Mama’s desk.”

I rather enjoy the chances I get to refresh these hard and fast rules in the minds of my young, forgetful daughters. I’d go so far as to pee on the four corners of that desk, if marking my territory that way wasn’t so stinky and likely to warp the wood.

We live in a cozy Craftsman cottage. I share my room. I share my bed. I sometimes share food that’s en route to my mouth. I tend to pee with the persistent presence of children asking me to get them Band-Aids, tell them stories, or make their sister “give it back.” Even my bras have been unearthed from laundry baskets and paraded around in by my little darling devils.

Not much of mine ’round here is sacred. So I think threatening to remove the hands of those who deposit fists-full of acorns or Old Maid playing cards on my desk is utterly justifiable. What’s that expression? Oh, yes: No court would convict me.

As for my purse? In the great tradition of my own mother, my purse is also off limits for my kids. In theory at least. I no longer carry a diaper bag (yee-ha!). In fact, long before I really should have given up on a diaper bag, I did. I just couldn’t bear the bulky awkwardness of it any more. So I’ve just come to accept that whatever I need to carry—for myself or someone else—I shove into my purse.

Last night I was out with some friends and was looking for something—tickets to the show we were seeing, I think. As I clawed through my overcrowded purse, dumping items out onto the bar, I was appalled by what I came across. Here I was having a gals night out, trying desperately to appear cool and un-mom-like, but this is what I found in my purse—beyond the standard wallet, sunglasses, make-up bag, and flask (okay, just kidding about the sunglasses):

  • 3 tattered ticket stubs to the SF Ballet’s Nutcracker (December 13, 2011 performance) which I’ve been saving to shove in a box to eventually stick in a scrapbook
  • 1 Dum Dum lollipop (root beer), 1 Tootsie Roll pop (lemon-lime), and one lollipop stick and wrapper (grape)
  • 2 safety pins
  • 2 ponytail holders
  • 1 lavendar plastic doll-sized dog bowl
  • 1 small metal tin filled with pink plastic beads, fabric roses, and wooden doll cookies
  • 2 Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies (miraculously un-crushed)
  • 1 yellow sparkly flower clip-on barrette
  • 1 box of crayons
  • Various pieces of free-range crayon
  • 1 plastic Heinz ketchup packet
  • 2 mint tea bags (Proof I’m getting old—I carry my own tea with me. Agh! Before I know it I’ll be ordering hot water with lemon at restaurants.)
  • 2 United Airlines baggage tags. I had so many things to keep track of on my last flight I labelled everything obsessively—even my purse. (Say what you will about this dorky tactic, but neither a child nor a suitcase went missing that day.)
  •  5 grocery lists
  • 1 egg-shaped Eos lip balm with a kid-sized bite taken out of it
  • 1 “redeem for one hug” ticket

I may think that my purse is one of the last bastions of my personal space, but this exercise clearly illustrates I’m losing ground. Even if that is the case, it’s hard to say when a doll-sized dog bowl might come in handy, you know? I mean, maybe having all this stuff within reach isn’t such a bad thing after all.

What do you have in your mama purse?


Down Undie

Posted: September 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Birthdays, Housewife Superhero, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Travel | No Comments »

Mark’s in Australia for work. He’s already experiencing tomorrow today, thanks to fun with time zones.

As for me, I’m marking the passage of time in terms of changes of underwear. Specifically, how many of these will take place between now and when he returns.

And trust me, I’m not implying anything sexual here. In fact, it ain’t even my undies I’m concerned about. It’s Kate’s. And by my count we have three more pairs of fresh panties to change into before Mark gets back. Three more protracted, tear-drenched, maternal-mind-losing overhauls of undergarments.

God help me to survive them.

Why, you may ask, is a simple clothing change such a chore for my sweet eldest child? Why does my body clench in stress when it’s time to do something so simple as get dressed in the morning?

Because I have a sensitive child. A sensory-sensitive child, to be more precise. What you and I see as a no-brainer garment we mindlessly toss on each day, is some sort of vice-like, itchy, binding, pressure chamber to dear Miss Kate.

It hasn’t always been about the undies. We’ve gone through this with socks. We’ve experienced it with shoes. Dresses with zippers were once attempted—no more. And pants? Stiff jeans? Ha! Never happen. There are certain types of clothing that are unquestionably off-limits for Kate.

There is a way to treat this issue. We’ve seen an occupational therapist. We’ve brushed her. Done joint compressions. We’d recite incantations if it would help. Mark and I would both probably make deals with the devil if we could. We’d do ANYthing to make this go away.

And for a while, it did. Getting dressed in the mornings became, well—normal. Unremarkable. Tear-free even!

But damn the new school year and all that transition times bring. In so many ways Kate has been fine. She loves school, has great friends she kept in touch with all summer, and even has the same teacher as last year because of the blended K-1 classroom. But clearly something is up.

Because two days ago it took 45 minutes and a sobbing freak-out for her to even TRY to put on clean underwear. And the day before, when I was desperate to leave the house? I confess. I caved. I let her wear the same undies she had on the day before. (A terrifying last resort for a clean freak like myself.)

And after my heart breaks that something so simple is such a struggle for her—after 25 minutes of feeling sad, I start to feel sorry for myself. And somehow the sympathy turned self-pity turns into unbridled frustration. And irrational maternal behavior.

Which is why, on Sunday morning when it was 80 degrees out and our friend’s pool in Napa was beckoning, I made a terrible, harsh—and ultimately ineffective—threat. I told Kate that if she didn’t get her undies on in five minutes that—that—that I would cancel her birthday party.

Even as I said it, I knew I’d never do it. Which is, of course, the worst kind of threat. This is Rule #1 in the Maternal Handbook of Threats.

Plus it seemed just plain mean.

But, man, was I frustrated. “On my last nerve” as my friend Jackie would say. And I wanted Kate to understand how serious I was—desperate really—about her needing to at least TRY. Without trying we’d never make progress. We’d still be sitting in that room now, with her bare-assed. I watched her flop around on her bedroom floor moaning, “ALL my panties are bad. I don’t like ANY of them.” And I wanted her to know I wasn’t planning to engage for another 45 more minutes in this fun game.

Did I consider letting her go commando? Yes, for a second. Did I consider letting her wear the same panties for a THIRD DAY? No.

And just to be sure I wouldn’t buckle on that score (and be arrested by the Department of Underwear Health, a.k.a. The DUH), I threw the twice-worn ones into the washing machine at about Minute 23 of her tantrum. Getting back into those soft, worn-in undies was NOT going to be an option.

The birthday threat did nothing, other than make Kate scream “You’re mean!” and sadly make me think she was right. So I moved away from the stick, and offered a carrot. “You can watch five minutes of TV if you put on these panties.”

And you know what? She wiped the tears off her eyes and perked up like she’d had a shot of espresso. And then she just put them on. Just like that. Like we hadn’t just spent the past hour trapped in what seemed like a bad, overly-dramatic liberal arts school play.

So when she finally, finally put on the damn underwear, it totally pissed me off.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy that this long international ordeal—which was likely overheard by neighbors and passers-by who were speed-dialing Child Protective Services on their cell phones—was at long last coming to an end. I was just shocked to see that she really had it in her to put them on. Suddenly her sensory affliction seemed a lot like some let’s-torture-mommy power play.

All that time she couldn’t do it when I was asking nicely. Then pleading. But for a five minute dose of TV crack? Clearly that was a game-changer.

We had friends over for cocktails a few weeks ago. We were sitting in our back yard on the kind of glorious, sunshiny late afternoon that makes you smug about living in California. Mark was whipping up a assortment of fab-u-luss drinks. We were nibbling on overpriced stinky cheese. And we were with our beloved Brooklyn friends whose company we had for an extra day thanks to Hurricane Irene.

It was lovely. Lovely if you turned a blind eye to our scruffy, brown, hay-like, embarrassment of a lawn.

We don’t have sprinklers in our back yard. And we don’t spend much time there anyway. So I neglect it. Mark doesn’t care about it enough to warrant calling what he does ‘neglect.’

Somehow watering the lawn seems like the kind of thing balding men wearing Bermudas, black socks, and man sandals do. Which is clearly not me. Me? I neglect our lawn with gusto. I neglect our lawn with intention.

Except in the few weeks before Kate’s birthday party.

In those weeks I attempt to pack a year’s worth of loving, careful attention into the straw-like grass. It practically laughs at me as I spray the hose over it. But I am an optimist. If I water the lawn five consecutive times I expect a lush golf-course-like green carpet to spring right up. I feel like if I put my mind to it I can will that grass to grow.

Anyway, during our little happy hour I disparaged the lawn, and described how it would be transformed in less than one month’s time. Turns out my friend Zoe is a kindred Lawn Fairy spirit. Because just weeks before her daughter’s birthday (when they lived down in SoCal), she had some yard folk come in to make the nice-nice with the grass.

Trouble was, they spread manure along with the grass seed. Manure with a robust, shit-stinkin’ bouquet.

In the days approaching the party, Zoe said she’d walk into their yard and sniff neurotically. Did it still smell? Was that just the old smell she was smelling, and it had actually gone away? Would her guests be throwing up in their mouths a little as they attempted to eat birthday cake while ostensibly standing in an open-air sewer?

I LOVE so many things about that. I love hearing how other mamas go to silly extremes to make their kids’ birthday parties perfect. I love finding new reasons to admire old friends—bonding over a mutual disdain for yard work. I love knowing I’m not the only one who sometimes questions my ability to know if something is normal or not. (Is the shit smell still there but I just can’t smell it any more because I’m so used to smelling it?)

Kate’s party is Saturday. Mark returns from Down Under on Friday, just in time to nod off from jet lag during the pinata whacking portion of the day.

And sadly, all my optimism and last-minute watering have done nada in terms of transforming our lawn into a verdant grassy wonderland. It’s a bummer. I’d love for the yard to look fab, but I didn’t go so far as to call in a landscaper.

If there’s any poo smell at Kate’s party, I’m afraid it’ll be emanating from her fetid, possibly days-old undergarments. I’m doing my damnedest to get a clean pair o’ panties on the gal daily, but by the end of ten days of solo parenting it’s really hard to know what will happen.

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It’s Rocket Science

Posted: January 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Friends and Strangers, Housewife Superhero, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Working World | 4 Comments »

Kate was all hopped up at dinner. “Evan’s mom?” she said, in her sing-songy California-girl lilt. “So she came to school today? And she talked about her work? And she makes ROBOTS. And then? She sends them into OUTER-SPACE.”

“Oh. Really?” I said casually, ladling cooked carrots onto her plate, as if I’d sent a couple robots to outer-space myself that afternoon.

“And this one robot? Called Spirit?,” she continued breathlessly. “Well, it got STUCK on a planet. Up on THE MOON.”

“Actually it was Mars,” Mark corrected. (Smart aleck.)

“Oh yeah, Mars,” Kate went on. “So it got stuck there. Stuck!” Pause for dramatic effect, arms straight, palms down on the table.

“And so then?” she forged on, “Evan’s mom? She showed us pictures of all these robots she’s worked on. And then? We got to draw pictures of them and MAKE CARDS FOR SPIRIT.”

Now, drawing is Kate’s default no-fail super happy activity. And creating greeting cards is her knee-jerk response to nearly any emotional experience or moderately-noteworthy event.

A friend’s pet hamster dies? “I’m going to make a really special card,” she’ll say somberly. Paige’s preschool teacher sprains his ankle. “Please get my markers,” she’ll ask, like a doctor requesting a scalpel. “I have a card to make.” They’re out of the paper towels I like at the grocery store. “Maybe I should make the store owner a card, Mom? Do you think so?”

Aside from the things life tosses our way, there are the standard calendar holidays—St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Flag Day, Canadian Thanksgiving, Administrative Assistant’s Day. There are opportunities year-round that Kate seizes on to send her hand-drawn greetings out the world. It’s hard work, but she’s game for the challenge.

She’ll be the Intergalactic President and Creative Grand Poobah of Hallmark some day. Mark my words.

So anyway, Evan’s mom. As if the whole robot thing, and the space thing wasn’t mind-explodingly cool enough, the fact that there was also a heart-wrenching story to go with it all—Spirit’s tragic demise, inextricably stuck in martian soil—that was the ultimate piece de resistance for Kate.

She had never recounted a story from school with such gusto, detail, and emotion. And at the end of it, to think that the teacher uttered the words, “Let’s make cards.” It’s a wonder Kate didn’t implode with glee.

Now, not to be a sourpuss, but I couldn’t help but hear this story without thinking, how the hell does any other parent go into the classroom and follow that lead?

I can just picture Kate announcing proudly to her classmates, “My mom is coming in today to talk about being… a housewife!”

Imagine the shockwaves of excitement that would blast through the classroom. The kids will lunge at Kate, peppering her with a million frenetic questions. “Do you think she’ll tell us about doing laundry? Clipping coupons? Mopping up spills?”

At the end of my presentation, for the emotional finale, I can have the kids draw pictures of Paigey’s yellow pants. The ones that, despite my valiant efforts, I couldn’t get the grape juice stains out of.

We had to throw away those beloved pants. We shall miss them.

A friend is going through the all-consuming gut-wrenching private school application process we went through last year. We were chatting about the assessment part. For incoming kindergarteners it’s not so much an ‘interview’ as it is an ‘observed playdate’ with other kids.

Or, at least, that’s how they spin it. Because they certainly do lob questions at the kids while they’re playing. But since the parents are corralled off in another room, you don’t know exactly what they’re asking, or how your twerp is responding. Unless, of course, you interrogate them like a mad-woman once you get home. Like I did.

It turned out that almost every school asked the kids what their parents do.

“So what did you SAY?” I beseeched Kate. “What DOES Daddy do?”

“He’s an editor at Wired.  Um, Wired magazine.” she said, picking at a string on her sweater.

“YES!” Mark and I high-fived over her head.

“They asked what you do too, Mama,” Kate said looking up.

I stopped my mini she-got-an-answer-right dance and asked, “They did? And what did you say?”

“Writes a book,” she said quietly.

“NICE!” I bellowed, stabbing the air with my fist. (At the time, I had a now-neglected book proposal in the works.)

So, the gods were with me. Not only did Kate come up with the right answers (without coaching, no less!), she also dodged the whole host of unsavory housewifely duties she could have reported as my primary life’s undertaking. She could easily have said I “empty the dishwasher,” “cook hot dogs,” or “yell at us to hurry up.”

The truth is, what Kate thinks about what I do—or what I know about—has been the subject of past neurotic freak-outs. Mild freak-outs, mind you. But freak-outs nonetheless.

But I shouldn’t pin it all on Kate. Because it’s really ME who struggles with answering the simple question, “What do you do?”

It’s not that I don’t know the answer. I do, but it’s kind of a messy hodge-podge.

I’m a mom. A stay-at-home mom—sometimes. Because I sometimes manage projects for a web-design agency. Oh, and I blog. Though I hate the term mommy blogger. And do a little bit of freelance writing too. (Or, as Mark put it the other day, I’m a ‘write-tress.’ Which sounds a little too close to ‘waitress’ for my liking, but I still love the hilarious girlification of ‘writer.’ Girlification of any term is always good.)

So I know the answer. But aside from it being annoyingly discursive, I never like hearing what it is I’m saying. Or maybe I don’t like what I think it says about me. What it elicits in the minds of the people I’m talking to.

Instead, I want to tell people I’m a robotics engineer at NASA.

Is that so wrong?

Mark and I took the subway into SF for a holiday party at “the agency where I sometimes freelance.” We were both playing with our iPhones waiting for the train, and I asked him what his upcoming work travel looked like. To which he responded, “I’m in New York next week taping The Today Show, in Vegas for the first week of January, and then in March I’m back to Switzerland.”

Now, I don’t begrudge my husband his excellent career. He is so wicked super good at what he does, and he’s worked hard to do the cool things he gets to do. But hearing about all his upcoming fabulousless sent me into a what-am-I-doing-with-my-life spiral. By the time we got off the train I was dragging my knuckles on the ground in a woe-is-me funk.

Waaaaah! I might be taking the brilliant Motherboard story How To Act Like A Baby a little to much to heart. But—I want to stay in the new Wynn hotel! I want a fresh stamp in my passport! I want to schmooze with Matt Lauer in the green room!

What’s weird is, a few weeks earlier I heard from a old co-worker. Nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Told me about an executive job opening at a super hot design agency. Hooked me up with his friend, who was all interested in getting me in for an interview.

Cool, right?

But then I stalled. I was supposed to send my resume, but days went by and I couldn’t muster the effort. It was such a fabulous role in such a uber-hip place—something I’d have clawed at like a rabid racoon a few years ago—but I just didn’t have it in me. So I ended up emailing the guy and saying the timing just wasn’t right.

I want the thrill and sexiness and intellectual stimulation of work. I want the cocktail party cool-job bragging rights. I want the paycheck. Hell, I want the wardrobe.

But I don’t want the endless droning conference calls, or the late nights assembling PowerPoint presentations. And I certainly don’t want the 50 hours a week away from my family. Because, despite the self-esteem flogging my current life sometimes serves up, I want to be with my kids as much as I can.

Call it old-school, but it’s just what feels right to me now.

Every time an old woman in the grocery store looks at the girls then says to me, “It goes by fast!” I practically tear up and hug her and say, “I know! I know! Paigey is already almost three years old! And she’s my baby!”

Anyway, I decided to email Space Robot Mom. I mean, I barely know the woman, but that never stops me. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a poor role model for the “don’t talk to strangers” rule.

I told her how thrilled Kate was with her presentation. How interesting and super cool her work sounds. And how she’s definitely set the bar high for the mere-mortal parents of the other kids in Room 2. I told her I had a good laugh with some SAHM friends about the presentations we could do about our “jobs.”

I hit Send. Then I decided I was insane.

What the hell was I thinking? I’d have to withstand years of seeing this woman at school events with her giving me a WTF raised-eyebrow look. “Ah yes,” she’d think looking at me pityingly, “It’s that sad-sack housewife who was so bitter about my high-power career. WhatEV.”

But you know what? Here’s the crazy thing. She emailed me back almost right away. And she was SO COOL. I guess this woman is just so comprehensively cool that even my rantish mad-woman emails can’t make her flinch.

She was thrilled that Kate was inspired by her talk. She loves getting girls fired up about science and math. She apparently LOLed at my self-deprecation about my life as a domestic galley slave. She even said she was envious of MY life, on accounta I get to spend lots of time with the kidlings and she still struggles with the work-family balance.

A rocket scientist, jealous of me!

Then get this. She said, “Maybe after the holidays we can have a playdate or get coffee some time.”

How cool is that? I send her a deranged email putting my gigantic inferiority complex on display, and she wants to hang out! I think I’m going to like this chick.

I can’t wait to tell all the moms at the playground that I hang with the NASA set.


Locked and Loaded for Thanksgiving

Posted: November 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Drink, Extended Family, Food, Holidays, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sisters | 2 Comments »

My mother got headaches on holidays. The kind that required to her to be alone in her darkened bedroom. A room that she entered after shouting, “A little bit of appreciation would be nice!” then slamming her door.

Truth be told, I’m not sure this holiday ‘tradition’ took place on a truly regular basis, like the arrival of eggnog at grocery stores. But it did go down a few times for sure. Which in my tattered memory qualifies as something.

Of course, back then, my three sisters and I thought she was a drama queen. We rolled our eyes, called her nasty names (under our breath), and phoned friends to bemoan our misery. But now, as a Mama myself, I’m not so sure my mother was the offending party.

When I think of my mom at the holidays, I see her rolling out these Italian fruit cookies she used to make. More often than not, this was a late-night project. It took up all the counter space and the kitchen table. The cookies are super time-intensive and the dough’s delicate and tricky to work with—so much so that even now as a graduate of cooking school, I’ve shied away from ever attempting them.

But us kids loved them. They’d become tradition. So even if it meant finding time to bake at 10PM—and even though they were her ex-husband’s family recipe—Mom made them. Never fail. Every year.

Like many of the things she poured time and energy into—making pine cone wreaths, going to a farm for real hay for our manger, nurturing Christmas cacti year-round and baking cranberry bread on Christmas morning—all these things we all just took as traditions. Hardly considering how Mom toiled to maintain them.

What I’d pay now to be a fly on the wall back then. There were four of us girls, one of her. What was it we did to set off her tirades? Lazed about in our Lanz granny gowns, refusing to even let the dog out, when she’d woken up at 5AM to start the bird? Moaned about going with her to Christmas Mass? Or complained that the cocktail sauce for the shrimp was too spicy—or worse—was a new recipe we weren’t used to?

Embarrassingly entitled behavior, I know. But all totally feasible scenarios.

From where I stand now—a Mama who’s decorated and baked and shopped and wrapped ‘til all hours of the night—I can’t help but think that the odds were Mom’s tantrums were legit.

Too bad it’s too late to tell her I feel her pain.

When Paige was in a crappy sleep cycle a while back, waking up sometimes five times a night, I was also dragging my ass up at 6AM for boot camp. I was a zombie. Some days when Paigey napped, I’d crawl into my own bed. But Kate doesn’t have the ‘constitution’ for naps. (The gal’s natural pace is hopped-up like a speed fiend’s, and I have no one but myself to blame.) So to ensure Katie-Pie was well occupied, I’d plop her in front of the boob tube. I felt guilty, but I also felt so very very sleepy.

A couple weeks later, Kate and Mark were talking in the kitchen. “You know, Mom’s tired all the time,” Kate reported. “I always watch TV during the day so she can sleep.”

Whaaaat?!” I cried from the next room, tripping over myself to bust in on their convo and rectify my reputation. “I did that TWICE!” I said to Mark. “Okay, maybe three times… Back when Paigey kept on waking up at night.”

Then, turning to Kate like we were sisters in a spat, I sneered, “It wasn’t ALL THE TIME.”

I think Mark knew Kate was stretching the truth to con him into turning on TV. “Hey, it’s cool man! We roll like this all the time when you’re at work!” But maybe, like my memories of my mom’s holiday headaches, Kate saw a small pattern in my behavior and blew it up to be much bigger in her mind.

Whole families can have collective distortions of how things went down. Don’t you think? Stories are told and retold and embroidered along the way, and before you know it that famous playground scuffle William got into in third grade involved seven other kids and a pit bull. And he stole a police car after to get away.

I wonder if that’s the case with Mark’s family and their tales of talking politics around the turkey table. From the lore I’ve heard, there were some holidays that got pretty ugly. Folks fired up with a wee bit o’ holiday cheer duking it out over differing political opinions. I mean, far as I can tell there were never fisticuffs. But maybe a turkey drumstick or two got chucked across the table. At least, it’s fun for me to imagine that.

Were their political imbroglios ever really THAT bad? I can’t picture Mark’s mild-mannered Midwestern family bickering over Hilary’s foreign policy. I’m fairly apolitical, so I can’t even see doing that myself. Just like how I don’t get how a football team losing can put someone in a bad mood all day.

In my family accusations are flung, people storm around, and doors get slammed. But that’s just ’cause we’re Italian. It’s built into us. Moments later we’re all back at the table tucking into slabs of pie like nothing happened.

Anyway, all I know is, at some point prior to my indoctrination at Mark’s family holidays, an edict was set forth to suspend all political discourse. Forevermore.

But, you plug up one hole and eventually water spurts forth from another, right? Try as you will, there’s no way to ensure that a big extended family—with differing ages, political views, and opinions on how the stuffing should be cooked—can gather at the holidays with utter serenity. Even if you cook all your side dishes ahead of time, and avoid dinner-table talk on legalizing marijuana, healthcare reform, and failed family investments, something’s gotta give, right?

A recent Motherboard story I read gives the best reality-based holiday advice. Listen, your mother is going to be critical of what you cook no matter what, so just brace for it, honey. And when your brother-in-law acts all tweaky and insecure about something, GIVE INTO HIS SHIT. Toss out some crap that shocks and soothes him with how understanding and supportive you are.

I just LOVE that. Instead of willing it all to go away, step right into it.

Thanksgiving is always with Mark’s family. It rotates between being at his Mom’s house and her siblings’. This year we’re in North Carolina, which is fab, though frankly we could be in [insert some crappy place here] and it wouldn’t make a difference. Wherever we are we all end up just hanging out in the house anyway. Totally by choice.

Everyone’s even got their own foam coozy with their name on it. How rad is THAT? The bar’s open all day and the food don’t stop coming. This year there are even two—count ‘em TWO—newborns we can babble at and whose heads we can smell. And I just KNOW the cousins from Kentucky will bring some truly excellent bourbon. [Nudge, nudge.]

What’s not to love?

The Milller Family Thanksgiving is nothing like the holidays at my house used to be. (They actually watch FOOTBALL. And sometimes even play it!) But ten years in I can’t imagine spending Turkey Day any other way. Is it too meta to be thankful for Thanksgiving itself?

Well, who cares, damn it. I am.

A few years ago one of Mark’s relatives made a request to omit the nuts in the Chex party mix. This person lobbied that everyone in the family just picked around them anyway. A year or so later, the little pretzels were also removed. (I know, right? One of the best parts!) I joked—after a couple bourbon and Cokes, mind you—that the next year they’d be setting out empty bowls.

“What are these?” folks’d ask.

“Oh, the Chex party mix!” the host would reply. “The recipe that everyone likes.”

So, no political banter. And eventually I fear, no Chex mix.

We will get there! We will achieve celebration perfection!

If anyone’s bound to throw a wrench it in the well-oiled Miller Thanksgiving machine, I fear it’ll be me, or one of my kids. (Our wild Italian genes can’t be held down.) So I’m just bracing for Kate to start lecturing her cousin that daddies should be able to marry daddies. Or ranting about BP’s management of the oil spill. (Kate LOVED that damn spill and still goes on about how “some birds died, you know” and “Uncle John plugged it up.”)

At the same time I can picture Paige spitting out a brussel sprout, screaming, “ME NO YIKE DIS!” then spilling my red wine all over the white linen tablecloth.

Should this take place, I offer this up to our hostess, Aunt Ann, in advance: Talk a deep breath and a swig of chardonnay and remember that you’ve got a back-up plan: There’s a dark bedroom and a headache—either real or well-acted—that’s waiting for you.

Trust me on this. I’ve learned from the best.


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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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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The Give and the Get

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Housewife Fashion Tips, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom, Shopping | 1 Comment »

One of the things Kate gave me for Mother’s Day this year was a large pack of multicolored plastic beads and some stringing thread. Beads exactly like the ones she’d used in a project at school a few weeks earlier, but clearly hadn’t gotten her fill of.

It was one of those gifts like lingerie from a boyfriend. Not intended for the recipient at all.

Alas, at Kate’s age, I’m willing to forgive the misdirected sentiment. As long as I don’t get doll house furniture for Christmas.

This year for my birthday (which regretfully fell on Mother’s Day), I also received the BEST PRESENT EVER. My from-womb-to-tomb friend Amelia sent it. Just to make me love her even more.

Some expectation setting. This gift ain’t for everyone. But it’s silly it’s so perfect for me. Which is what makes it such a home run, right?

Okay, so this perfect pressie was a pair of flip flops that have Velcro over the strap part. And, like the Pappagallo bag that was the fashion peak experience of my tweendom, there are all different colored and patterned straps you can buy to stick on them. For me, Amelia generously got me tan stripey Burberry-esque ones, some black ones with white polka dots, a red and orange kinda floral pattern, and, as an obvious nod to my early days of over-achieving preppydom, (which Amelia won’t let me forget, and why should she), some with pink lobsters.

I know, I know. Wrenching Velcro straps off your flip flops to change out the look is absurdly hokey. But as a stay at home mother, I’m the Imelda Marcos of flip flops. I mean, in a strange reverse of dorm living, the only time I’m not wearing flip flops is when I’m showering. Oh, well and sleeping of course too. At least, as far as you know.

A couple months ago I saw UGG flip flops at Nordstrom. They had furry soles, and a plain rubbery strap. My brain was churning madly to process them and determine whether it was brilliance or blasphemy. And really, it’s only in the Bay Area that it could ever be warm enough for flip flops and concurrently chilly enough for faux fur. But I seem to remember there being something dumb or ugly looking about the straps. I mean, aside from how blisteringly absurd and cavewoman-like the overall look of the shoes were.

Anyway, I didn’t try them on. If I had, I might be wearing them right now, and lamenting that they don’t make a high-heeled version for the party I’m going to tonight.

At any rate, my fabulous Amelia-given mood flip flops delighted me from the moment I spotted the package on my front porch. The only downfall of their coming into my life being that, when I opened them, my impassioned exclamation “These are the best. Present. Ever.” appeared to hurt Mark’s feelings.

Mark has, it’s true, given me some divine gifts. One Christmas at my dad’s, I tried on a jacket from Mark I’d long coveted and spun around the living room, happily modeling it over my PJs. What I failed to do before slipping it off, was put my hands in the pockets. Where a blue Tiffany box was waiting, housing a stunning ring. (We were married at the time, in case this comes off as some weird in-the-presence-of-my-father engagement scenario.)

I was thrilled with my gift, but it was my father who shook his head for days marveling over Mark’s clever romanticism. It’d seemed impossible for Dad to like my hubbie more that he already had, but that move sent Mark into the stratosphere of adored sons-in-law.

Ah well. I only wish poor Mark was able to experience a level of gift recipiency (how’s that for a word?) akin to mine. I mean, you never think you’re a bad driver, right? But God knows they’re all over the roads (so some of you people must be). And, well, you never think you’re bad at buying presents, but recently I feel like, despite myself, I’m being led to that conclusion.

For Mark’s birthday in November, I got him a bunch of different things, big and small. Some from me, some from the girls. One thing I’d seen in the back of a magazine—I know, I know, this should have been my cue to retreat—was a, God this is so embarrassing to even say, well, a t-shirt that said Dunder Mifflin. You know, the name of the paper company they work for in the show The Office. Mark loves that show. Mark often wears t-shirts on the weekends. I thought, this is funny! This is good! He will like this!

But then, a few months passed by, and one night I realized he’d never worn it. And it hit me. “That shirt,” I said to him, amazed it’d taken so long for me to figure it out. “It’s utterly dorky, right? I mean, you’re pretty much embarrassed to ever wear it. I’m right, aren’t I? Am I right?”

His two second pause and slow, “Well, no….” said it all.

I was howling with laughter. Literally slapping my thighs, amused and amazed that I’d somehow totally missed its immense dorkosity.(Though, a few weeks ago, a good six months after his birthday, when he’d splattered something on the shirt he was wearing and we were safely home for the night, Mark did, charitably, toss it on.)

What else? For our first Valentine’s Day, less than two months into our love thing, Mark got me a hope-it’s-not-too-much-this-early-on watch. (I loved it. It wasn’t at all too much.) Me? I bought him a silver cigar cutter. Is he a cigar smoker? Why, no! What then compelled me to purchase this gift? I’ve got no idea. He’s literally used it ONCE.

Then there’s the tragic Wine Spectator subscription that keeps coming and coming. Piling up on our coffee table. Sitting around in its large-formatted glory. Taunting me that Mark (or I) never manage to read more than the cover lines. (And “Great Reds Under $20″ seems like the kind of thing you’d want to know about too, right?)

I can rattle off other bombs of gifts I’ve given Mark. I’ve also struck out grandiosely on gifts for my dad. Tartan vests, genealogy tracking software, phone headsets for home use. The list goes on.

Along the way I must have done some good work, but I’ve watched enough Law & Order and CSI to know that you need to stand back and look at the evidence unemotionally. Let it speak for itself. And these things, well, they clearly indicate I don’t have much of a gift for, well, giving gifts.

But I’m a die-hard optimist. And egomaniac. I refuse to feel that all hope’s lost.

Maybe I’m better at buying gifts for females? Maybe I subconsciously give some good gifts and some bad ones, to underscore the goodness of the keepers?

And maybe with some luck I can alter fate. There may be some adult ed class out there where I can sharpen my gift-giving skills. I mean, if grown men and women can learn to flirt in classroom settings, there must be hope for me.

If not, for our wedding anniversary this summer, I can always enlist Kate to help me shop for Mark. I think a pink Hello Kitty change purse may just turn the tide on my poor track record. Besides, it’d look real nice with his gray Dunder Mifflin shirt.

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In the Know

Posted: May 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Working World | 1 Comment »

Every once and a while Kate takes it upon herself to enumerate the things the people in our family “know a lot about.”

Here’s what she came up with at dinner last night:

* Cars
* Bunnies

* Cutting (not a la Angelina—cutting as in carving meat, cutting pizza, etc.)
* Cooking things
* Fixing things
* Blimps
* Everything
* Tools

* Babies
* Talking baby language

* Babies
* Mommies
* Planting flowers

Now, I don’t mean to be petty here. I’m the first to admit that my husband is a modern day Renaissance Man, but saying he knows a lot about everything? Sure there’s cycling, linguistics, technology, music, The Simpsons, installing car seats, comic books, writing, barbecuing, gadgets, soothing crying babies, science fiction, cutlery, online communities, reading super fast, urban planning, the Civil War, and molecular gastronomy. He knows a ton about those things. But, Kate’s paternal adoration aside, isn’t saying he knows a lot about everything a bit of an exaggeration?

Well, if you were to ask him, he might not think so.

In college, Mark and his BFF, Christian, used to play an aren’t-we-so-young-and-brilliant game, its premise being that they could recite off the cuff three facts on any given topic. While drinking beer at the local watering hole, one imagines.

The Eiffel Tower? It’s in Paris. It was named after its engineer, Gustave Eiffel. It’s the tallest building in Paris.

You get the idea.

Anyway, however good Mark may be at that game, by my count three data points—even if he could produce them on virtually everything—does not, in my book, constitute knowing “a lot” about those subjects.

But really, of course, I’m just jealous. Since it saddens me to think that Kate doesn’t perceive my ken as extending beyond the maternal arts. What about all I know about yard sales? Parallel parking? Taking really hot showers? Unrelenting sarcasm? Downward dog? Or toe picking, for God’s sake? Don’t those things count for anything? Or maybe it’s just that in Kate’s mind they fall under the vague rubric she calls “Mommies.”

I really shouldn’t blame Kate entirely for my petite neurotic reaction to her dinner-time game. She’s just calling it as she sees it. Really I should be thankful she didn’t add “Bellowing, ‘Can I please just have one minute here?’” or “Putting little girls in Time Outs” to her list of things I know a lot about.

Fact is, I’ve been doing a fair amount of wondering what it is I do know a lot about, all on my own. Trying to remember what I’m good at. Something that might be applied in such a way that I can make some money from it.

Because, after a glorious trip to the beach on Sunday, sandy sleepy kids piled into the car and u-turning our way out of Alameda, Mark and I stumbled into a conversation that I knew was coming eventually. The one in which we faced up to the fact that it’s time for me to get back to contributing to the family’s bottom line. Hopefully in no soul-sucking cubicle-dwelling full time capacity, but by freelancing or project work, or some utterly ideal, flexible and lucrative, creative part-time job.

So on Saturday night I went to bed, a sometimes-ashamed-to-admit-it Stay At Home Mom. And somehow by Monday I woke up feeling, well, unemployed.

What a difference a day makes.

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