My Peter Pan Complex

Posted: January 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Extended Family, Holidays, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Other Mothers, Parenting, Travel | 6 Comments »

I used to spend Christmases at home. And by “home” I mean at the house I grew up in—my mom’s—in Rhode Island.

Then a number of things happened to change that, not the least of which was that she died. But aside from that even, I got married and became a mother myself. And a few years ago, despite my inclination to still do my winter migration to Little Rhody (now to Dad’s), Mark started lobbying for us to stay at our own house for Christmas.


“The girls should wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning,” he opined, ever the rational one. He also likely tossed in something about holiday travel being a hassle, expensive, and particularly taxing with young children and cross-country flights.


Sure, I saw his point. But what about me? What about me waking up in my own bed? What about Santa delivering presents to my house, not that place where we live in California?

And the thing is, Mark’s right. Well, I’m not actually sure I’m ready to embrace his stance entirely. Let me downgrade that to, “I can see his point.” It IS kinda expensive and it IS kinda a hassle to get there.

Sometimes I let him make the decisions, you know, to empower him. So for the past five years I’ve done some supremely selfless parenting and allowed my kids to be the kids—not me—at Christmastime. I must be up for some kind of mothering award.

A couple weeks ago Mark helped me with some blog stuff. He is both husband and IT consultant. (In this economy you’ve gotta be able to wear several hats.) If it’s not glaringly apparent, I’m embracing a fairly scaled-back user experience here. But I sometimes fall prey to blog peer pressure (self-imposed, mind you). I’m the world’s biggest luddite, but every now and again even I realize I should implement some sorta new feature to keep up with the other kids.

So Mark helped me add a Facebook “like” button to the bottom of each post. So now you can not only “like” motherload on the whole, you can “like” any individual posts that rock your world.

It’s a regular like fest.

Amazingly I have not obsessed over this. I have not checked every four minutes to see if I have more likes. (Good thing too, since they’re not exactly pouring in.) I will cop to having had a small obsession several years ago when we sent out an Evite for a party. I spent the better part of a day compulsively hitting “refresh” to see who’d RSVPed. It was not healthy.

Anyway, the new, more mature me will manage this “like” button much more rationally. (Though I’ll still be your best friend if you use it every once and a while. In fact, I double-dog dare you to do it right now.)

Speaking of Le Face Livre, in the new year I’m reversing an ill-formed personal policy that I’ve been foolishly adhering to. What is that you may ask? 2012 is the year that I will finally friend my mother-in-law.

Now I’m curious to hear how you all manage this yourselves. Initially my take on the parental-level Facebook friend was this: Who knows what they might see. Who knows what they might read. And moreover, who knows what I would have to edit, avoid, or otherwise regret.

But now, a few years in to seeing her friendly face crop up in my “People You May Know” list, I’m wondering what the hell I’d been thinking.

It’s not like I’m selling crack on Facebook. (I do that on my other website.) It’s not like I’m publishing skanky pictures of myself. It’s not like I’m really doing anything much other than making snarky comments on the often dizzying state of motherhood, a topic that, of all people, my mother-in-law is very much in touch with.

Keeping her at social-media arms length was apparently my way of maintaining a foothold in the world where I’m the kid and the grown-ups are the grown-ups. It may have taken me 44 years, but I’m finally willing to throw in the towel and admit that I’m an adult.

Of course, I have no intention of ever acting my age. And Facebook is the perfect outlet for my raging immaturity. The way I see it now, my mother-in-law and I can act immature there together.


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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Opening Windows

Posted: August 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, Little Rhody, Mama Posse, Misc Neuroses, Mom | 2 Comments »

Was it just me, or did everyone adore their pediatrician when they were little?

I mean, not love love. Not like in any Electra Complex sorta way. It’s just that for me going to the doctor was always a super happy event. Even when I had to get shots.

I’ll call him Dr. Unger. And what I remember about the guy was this: He had pictures of his patients covering one wall of his office. Even though I wasn’t in any of them (something I never dreamed of—as a fourth child, photos of me were rare), there was something so free-spirited and fabulous about the collage. To my kid brain, at least. No adult I knew dared to decorate this way.

Of course, as a mother now myself I now know nearly every pediatrician does this, at least at the holidays with photo cards. But at the time it was one more thing that made Dr. Unger so dazzling.

For some reason I always thought he looked like a handsome version of—get this—Jerry Lewis. Ha! Absurd, right? I’m not sure where I got that idea, but I remember thinking I was pretty cool for coming up with it. I mean, this was the age of Tab and Fresca people. I’m no spring chicken. So, along with thinking that shag carpets were an acceptable floor covering and Pacers were cool-looking cars, we we clearly devoid of handsome celebs—leaving me to have to summon in my youthful imagination what Jerry Lewis mighta looked like if he didn’t look the way he did.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m an over-achiever. And you’re absolutely right.

Anyway, Dr. Unger had this nurse (or was she a secretary?) who was ancient, and crisp white uniformed, and super old school. She ran that office like a Swiss train. Or a Swiss clock. Something Swiss. (But not cheese.)

She was a mighty force, but her air of authority was never off-putting. She made it clear the place would fall to ruins without her, yet managed to be all smiles and winks. And she had a very chummy, insider-ish way of talking to my mom. As if we were a special family she was truly happy to see.

She probably made everyone feel that way. And good for her, if she did.

“Oh that Dr. Unger,” my mother would say admiringly, as we walked down the floating staircase (very mod at the time) to the parking lot, and she lit up a brown More cigarette. Mom adored Dr. Unger as much as I did. In that “he’s SO good at his job” kinda way. Though, who knows? Maybe she had a thing for Jerry Lewis too.

Whatever the case, there was a real sense of us feeling lucky that he was our doctor. I mean, we’d drive a half-hour to get to his office. This is halfway ‘cross the state when you consider we were in Rhode Island. But mom was resolute that he was “the best” so she’d dress us up for an outing to “the city” for every little check-up and sniffle. (Shorts, for your information, were an unacceptable clothing option for the city according to Mom. She stopped just short of making us wear gloves and bonnets.)

Aside from an allergy test where he pricked different parts of my arm with a short four-pronged needle, and aside from getting to pick out a lollipop after getting a shot, for all my admiration for Dr. Unger, I don’t remember any specific interactions I had with the guy. But I do remember one thing he told my mother once. He said, “The best thing you can do for a child is to keep their window open when they sleep.”

And so, all these years later I can’t help but think of Dr. Unger when I tuck my girls in at night. Unless it’s super cold out, I try to at least keep one window in their rooms cracked.

It’s such a little thing, but when I do it I feel like I’m tapping into some old world wisdom. Like I’m channeling some simple maternal legacy, since it was something my mother did with us. Because, of course, Dr. Unger’s word was gospel. Mom wouldn’t dare go up against doctor’s orders. And she always prided herself on the fact that my sisters and I never got sick. Something I’ve gotta admit, I love about my kids too. (Though now that I’ve said that I’m sure they’ll be plagued with an endless stream of sniffles, sore throats, and all-night puking sessions.)

Anyway, more often than not old clashes with new. And this small window thing is no exception.

Because one day, in a stream of chatter about everything and nothing at all (my favorite kind of conversation), my Mama Posse friend Maggie mentioned that she always closes her kids’ bedroom windows at night. And locks them. “Even,” she added, “if it’s, like, 100 degrees out.” (Though, blessedly, the Bar Area never gets near that hot.) Ever since the Polly Klaas thing, she said she’s not taking any chances.

Several weeks later, another member of the Mama Posse (we don’t have matching tattoos or embroidered satin jackets, I swear) was showing us the new extension they’d put on her house. Their fab-u-luss new master suite is pretty removed from their kids’ rooms. And so then she mentioned something about locking the kids’ bedroom windows at night.

And so, I took pause. (It’s such an odd expression, “took pause,” but I’d like to use it here, if y’all don’t mind.)

Because my Mama Posse mamas are women I’ve known since I used the word “latching” several times a day, and my C-section scar was still an incision. Back when a wrap-around nursing pillow was a regular accessory on my couch, and I hadn’t yet mastered breastfeeding while waiting in line at Trader Joe’s. In other words, I’ve know them since the infancy of my motherhood.

And we have talked about it ALL, these women and I. If my mama friends had told me that slathering my baby in mayo was an effective cure for colic, or way get her to sleep, or to take a bottle,  I’d be scooping the stuff out of a jar with my bare hands and lubing that baby right up—no questions asked—even though I’m pretty much phobic about the stuff.

I seek and trust and respect their opinions on all things motherly above and beyond Dr. Spock even. But above Dr. Unger? And my own Mama?

I was perplexed.

So hearing their stance on window openage got me thinking. Am I acting irresponsibly? Am I playing with fire, all for the sake of some fresh air? Does old school wisdom not translate so well into the modern day?

Our nice neighborhoods aside, the fact is, we live in the fourth most dangerous city in the U.S. At least, that’s what my sister told me she read on AOL once. It’s not like we’re in the little Mayberry-like town that I grew up in.

But somehow, somewhere along the line, the fearful “someone’s going to break in and take her” feeling I had about both my girls when they moved out of our bed-side bassinet and into their own rooms seems to have dissipated. Not that I’m concerned about their safety any less. But now that they walk and talk and wear friendship bracelets and request “alone time” and know the lyrics to Justin Beiber songs, I have a whole new host of concerns that have apparently put kidnapping low on the list.

Or maybe it’s that I could imagine someone wanting to steal an angelic sleeping baby, but can’t fathom the desire to make off with a child who has a 20-minute screaming tantrum because I won’t give her a cookie three minutes after she’s had an ice cream cone.

Besides, the way our house is set up, our first floor windows are super high up. Definitely un-attainable by even the tallest thief or kidnapper.

And the place is hardly vast. If either girl sneezes in their room, we can pretty much hear it from ours. I always said the baby monitors we used were vanity items.

Last summer my neighbor started letting her third-grader walk the couple blocks to our local library. This seemed kind of wild to me at the time—who knows what could happen in that short distance, even with the most careful and responsible child? But I’m coming around to understanding what she allowed it. It’s no Mayberry here, but it IS a sweet little neighborhood we’re in. And if we can’t relax and enjoy it—if we can’t give our kids small tastes of independence, bite by bite—then we’re just letting the terrorist win. Or someone who we don’t want to win.

Who knows what I’ll be allowing my girls to do a few years from now. I hope I have some of that “let them out of the nest” courage my friend next door has with her kids. More likely I’ll be jumping out of the bushes when they’re in college to walk them across the quad at night.

In the meantime, I’m taking what feels like a small but valiant stance on the windows. Barring any large-ladder wielding weirdos, I think we’re safe having them open.

After dredging up all these memories of Dr. Unger, I just Googled the guy. I was half-scared I’d get an obit. In that clueless kid-like way, I have no idea how old he was when I was his patient. (Though I know I was wedging my college-aged ass into a kiddie chair in his waiting room when I last saw him, and he gently referred me to a grown-up doctor.) Thrillingly, I found a listing for him. He is alive and well—and still even in practice! Those kids who’s pics are in the collage on the wall of his office today are lucky little patients.

After more prowling around The Internets I found one of those doctor directory websites, which had this line on him: “Years since graduating from medical school: 57.” My math’s not good, but I think that takes him to a ripe old age.

Good for him. Must be all those nights sleeping with his window open that’ve kept him going.


Now Hear This: My Father is a Genius

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Little Rhody | 2 Comments »

If you’ve been following along from home you’ve read all about my latest mystery affliction: numbness.

And if you aren’t up to speed here’s the “Recently on Kristen’s Life” summary: Weird mild numbness in my arms, hands, and feet. Gone to the neurologist, gotten two MRIs, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe it’s a migraine, maybe carpal tunnel, maybe I’m just cuh-razy.

Okay, so now you’re all caught up.

So last night I go out to dinner with my friend Rick. Rick, my gay work husband. A heartfelt, hilarious, and also delicious dinner, throughout which Rick intermittently checked on the state of my numb-itude, and proffered several diagnoses which I’ll refrain from sharing. (Suffice it to say, in the mind of a gay man—or in his mind at least—all illnesses stem somehow from the girl parts. Or, as he likes to say, “la vagine.”)

It’s wonderful to be the recipient of all this concern. Truly. I’m touched by all the emails and phone calls and tweets. But I’m still somehow convinced that what’s plaguing me ain’t dire.

So after my dinner last night I got an email from my father. Tell the doctor to do a blood test, he says. You got that weird bug bite when you were home. You’ve got symptoms of Lyme Disease.

Can I tell you right now that I’ll bet you one U.S. dollar and my best blue-green marble that I THINK THE MAN IS RIGHT.

I’ve already ranted on the evils of the ferocious, disease-borne East Coast tick. Nearly everyone in those parts has a dramatic tale of when and how their Lyme Disease was diagnosed. It’s like cell phones. Everyone’s got one.

And when I was in Little Rhody I did get a gruesome bite from an indeterminate bug, and developed a weird, red, sundress-unfriendly rash on my back. And like a good hypochondriac I was convinced I had Lyme Disease.

But the thing with being certain that you have every possible disease and affliction listed on WebMD is that you stop believing yourself. It’s like you’ve cried wolf to yourself too many times.

So eventually the rash subsided, the bite turned all dark and bruisey, then finally faded away. And I forgot about it.

If it wasn’t 11PM when I got that email from my dad, I’d a been careening in my car up on two wheels all Dukes of Hazzard style over to my doctor’s office—the most excited person ever to demand a blood test. (Though there probably are some needle fetishists who get pretty fired up about those procedures.)

It’s still early here. My neurologist’s office hasn’t opened yet. But I CAN’T WAIT to call her when it does and tell her that I think my dad has cracked the case.


Comfortably Numb

Posted: July 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Doctors, Firsts, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Summer | 6 Comments »

I’ve gone numb.

Unfortunately I mean this quite literally.

It started innocuously enough the other morning on my left arm. It wasn’t tingly or anything—not like pins and needles—just a little numb feeling. Since I sleep on that side, I chalked it up to a snooze-induced injury. Something that by the time I showered, fed the kids, and walked out the door I’d have totally forgotten.

And that day I kinda did.

But the next day, it seemed to have spread. Toweling off after my shower I thought my left leg and foot were a bit numb too. Not a close-my-eyes-and-I-won’t-know-you’re-pinching-me lack of sensation. It was more like Numb Lite. And it was only on my left side. Enough to make me think I’d gone half mad.

By the time I got in to see a doctor, the left side of my head and neck had joined the fun.

Oddly, I wasn’t freaked out.

And blessedly, I didn’t need to be. Because, the good doctor explained, that as someone who’s got a history of migraines, this kind of crazy thing can happen. I didn’t even had a headache (though I did have a stressful day Sunday), but some kind of neurological episode—called a complex migraine—was apparently making all this happen.

“These kinds of migraines,” she said, “can bring about symptoms that imitate stroke.”


But, she went on to explain, I hadn’t had a stroke. And this wasn’t something to indicate I was about to. (Phew.) My numbness was likely to fade away as un-dramatically as it had appeared. (And actually, today, it’s barely discernible.)

But, to be on the safe side, the doc wanted me to get an MRI. Of my brain. She didn’t expect to find “anything unusual.”

Any hypochondriac worth her weight in worry would immediately conjure some horrible citrus-fruit shaped tumor. But for some reason I thought of that scene in Jaws, when they finally catch the shark and cut him open. Inside they find stuff like an old boot, a Sony Walkman, and a New Jersey license plate. I pictured those miniscule Polly Pocket doll shoes that Kate loses nearly immediately, and all the socks that went into the wash as a pair and came out alone—I imagined all those things (plus some other random lost items) showing up on my brain scan.

Considering this is where my mind went, I guess I’m not really worried.

We’ve been back from vacation for a few days now. And in what I imagine was an attempt to condense commentary on a three-week trip, several friends have asked what the highlights were of our time in Rhode Island. I tend to have trouble answering any superlative questions (favorite food, favorite movie, favorite band). There’s so much to love, I hate picking one thing. But that’s not why I couldn’t answer their question.

Was it a good vacation? Yes, an excellent one.

Were there better parts than others? Of course.

But in general, what was wonderful about our trip was all the small happy moments that made up our days. Watching my dad teach Kate card tricks. Early morning runs with my old friend Ellen. Dinners outside in dad’s big yard, where the girls tiptoed around looking for bunnies, played “fairies” in the flower beds, and wrestled giddily in the grass while the dog barked, desperate to join in.

And the beach. The beach, the beach, the beach.

We spent so many days at the beach—mostly in Newport, but also on Cape Cod, and one day at Coney Island. And even with one cold foggy day, the beach never let us down.

Kate spent the entire time in the water. She’d be alone squealing with laughter and jumping around as each wave came at her. Paige was content packing wet sand into buckets, smoothing the tops with the palms of her hands, then anointing the center of each one with a single decorative shell. (That’s my girl. She knows less is more.)

I presided in my low-slung beach chair, tattered sea-sprayed novel in hand, keeping an eye on the contented kids and getting in a paragraph or two here and there. All this and a sun-warmed peanut butter and jelly sandwich was just about bliss.

There was no time we had to arrive at the beach. And, forsaking Paige’s naps as we did, no time we needed to leave. Most days there was no one to meet up with. And like many of the activities in our usual world—school plays, or ballet classes, or preschool potlucks—no compulsion to record it all with photos or videos. Our camera doesn’t mix well with sand and sea air. No choice but to live in the moment.

And that was fine, because somehow I knew that a video—the mental Super 8 of our time there—was being recorded directly onto all of our memories. In the same way that I can play back the happy beach days of my youth. A truly transcendent beach day has that unique ability to time travel—combining nostalgia for the past, imprinting a future memory, and soaking it all up right then and there.

And so yesterday, when the technician slid the tray I was lying on deep into the MRI machine, delivering me into a claustrophobic metal tunnel where I was ordered to remain still for 20 minutes, I kept my eyes closed tight and went to the beach.

I tried to block out the loud clacking noises the machine made as it xeroxed my brain by picturing Kate jumping over waves, her blond hair hanging in slick wet ropes. I imagined Paigey clinging to my side like a koala as we edged tentatively into the water. Later my mind had us all head in towards the blanket, where I dug my wallet out of the tote bag and we walked down the beach for lemonade. (I was unable to imagine making any headway on my novel. I was only in the machine for 20 minutes, after all.)

I managed to survive the entire MRI without any heightened panic setting in. Never came even close to squeezing the rubber “panic” bulb they’d set in my hand.

Now I just need to find a way to retain that sense of calm while I wait for the test results.


Best and Least of the East

Posted: July 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Daddio, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Summer, Travel | 3 Comments »

My dad’s neighbors are using the trees in their front yards to uphold an age-old rivalry. We noticed this while walking the dog the other day. On one side of the street there’s a Red Sox cap that’s somehow attached to a tree, with a weird face on the bark below it. The face looks like it’s made out of Mr. Potato Head parts—and now that I think of it, it probably is. (Ten-foot tall themed Mr. Potato Head statues are littered all over this state, since Hasbro is based in Providence.)

But where was I? Oh yeah, so there’s this spooky tree face under a Red Sox cap, and right across the street the neighbors have the same freakish face on their tree, but wearing a Yankees cap.

I have no interest in sports whatsoever—and not just to test my husband‘s love for me. But I adore good-natured rivalries.

I once played mini-golf on vacation with a boyfriend’s family. And I talked smack the whole time about how everyone was “going down in flames.” As it turns out, I lost so comprehensively that day that my BF’s grandmother even beat my score. No joke. But did I regret my trash-talkin’? Nah. A little playful competitiveness keeps things lively (See: Kristen and Mark’s Honeymoon: The Scrabble Wars).

Whenever I’m home in Rhode Island—as I am now for three weeks—people ask me how long it’s been since I moved to California. When I did the math this year, I was shocked. On September 1st it’ll be TWENTY FREAKIN’ YEARS that I’ve been “checking out the West Coast.” Somehow my couple-of-year foray into Cali livin’ has extended to two decades. I’ve lived in California longer than my entire childhood in Rhode Island, which is weird—like I’ve changed coastal allegiance just through time served. Like it’s some kind of common law thing.

The fact is, I feel just as home on the East Coast as I do in that over-sized other state where I’ve put down roots. Guess I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

And so, to maintain a healthy neurotic state while vacationing, I tend to experience nearly everything I do in Rhode Island through a what-if-I-lived-here-again lens. Would it be better here? Worse? The same, but different?

Here’s a small smattering of what’s been bouncing around in my head.

East Coast Likes:

Atlantic Ocean: At the beach yesterday Kate grabbed an ice cube from our cooler and threw it into the ocean. She found this hilarious. I think she was picturing evacuating all the swimmers by causing a dramatic drop in water temperature. What I want to know is, who the hell is throwing all the ice in the Pacific Ocean? And can they stop, please? It’s so damn glorious actually being able to swim here without the threat of hypothermia.

Del’s Lemonade: I don’t have a tattoo. If I did, it would be an homage to Del’s’ (that’s one of those awkward pluralizations–pronounced “Del-ziz”) slushy lemonisicousness. Thank you, Del, if you were or are an actual man, for your lemonade genius. You are truly one of the culinary greats.

Chicken Parm (pronounced “Pom”) Sandwiches, Pizza, Spinach Pies, Gray’s Ice Cream, Quahogs: There are several home-town foods that I’m moderate to severely obsessed with. In fact, I run through circuits of these foods whenever I’m home. If last night was Sam’s Pizza, tonight’s a Leo’s chicken pom, baby. More than just tasting good, the food comforts me and deepens my connection to my roots, like I’m taking of slug of my own amniotic fluid or something. (Okay, that’s a little gross. Sorry.) And thankfully, NOTHING EVER CHANGES IN NEW ENGLAND. So the pizza place where I toddled out of the bathroom as a kid—with my pants around my ankles requesting a butt wipe—is the same place my family gets pizza today. Never let it be said that a humiliating act of nudity keeps me away from a tasty pizza pie.

Dunkin’ Donuts: One of the names I was keen on if we ever had a boy was Duncan. One evening, in a moment of genius brought on by a pregnancy-induced hormone surge, I tossed out the name “Dunkin’ Donuts McClusky” to Mark. I imagined a kind of corporate sponsorship for our child, whereby we’d get donuts free for life in exchange for the marketing our child would generate. And, amongst other expenses, they’d pick up the tab for college. (At least until AT&T made us a better offer, and we changed his name to that.) Blessedly, we had a girl.

Old Friends: All my friends from home act the way they did when we were 17, which happens to be the age we were when I last spent a lot of time with them. This is a good thing.

Family: Duh. My favorite Fred in all the world lives on the East Coast. Otherwise known as Dad. It grows increasingly mystifying to me why we live so far apart. But considering he’s resided in the same town his whole life and I’m the one who decided to move 3,000 miles away, I guess I’m at fault.

Bunnies: My hometown is Beatrix Potter’s wet dream. At dusk the bunnies come out and are So. Freakin’. Cute. We don’t have bunnies in Oakland. Unless it’s the name of some gang I’m not aware of.

The Parade: Fourth of July is my Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Bat Mitzvah I never had all in one. It’s the most excellently fun time EVER. If you’ve never been to a July 4th parade in Bristol, Rhode Island, you’ve never really celebrated our nation’s independence. Nor have you lived. After 3-plus hours of marching bands, beauty queens, clowns, acrobats, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, priests, Clydesdales, more marching bands, baton twirlers and Elmo, when people asked Paige what she liked most in the parade she said, “A lady was sick. Some people came and took her on a bed to the hospital.” Yes, it was the heat-stroke sufferer in the crowd that fascinated Paige most about the day. Next year the parade committee will have to work harder to impress Paige.

Bubbler, Grinder, Cabinet, Rescue Squad, Directional: There’s nothing more comforting and provincial than making up a silly set of terms so no one else in the country knows what the hell you’re talking about. I mean, where else do you beckon a “rescue squad” by calling 911? And who else uses their car’s “directional” to indicate that they’re taking a left turn? Big sandwiches are “grinders,” milkshakes are “cabinets” (or sometimes Awful Awfuls), and drinking fountains are “bubblers,” of course. (Or, as the locals say, “bub-liz.”) It’s as if some steering committee determined that the way to retain residents was to make up words that rendered Rhode Islanders utterly incomprehensible outside state lines.

Ethnic Pride: Forget the warring Red Sox and Yankees factions, in my hometown it’s all about the Italians vs. Portuguese. And I’m not referring to soccer—I’m talking about everything. In local politics, food, and swarthy men, these groups come up against each other again and again. My Italian godfather, a world-class grudge-holder who’d drive down the street and spit in the direction of businesses that did him wrong, kept his finger on the pulse of the town’s Italian-Portuguese rivalry. If some Portuguese dudes were appointed to be Grand Marshalls of the July 4th parade two years in a row he’d go on a table-pounding tirade as if Gumby had been elected President. (Gumby being of known Portuguese descent…) The unwritten law—for folks of his generation at least—was that the honor of leading the parade went back and forth between the Italians and the Portuguese. He was extreme in his views, but he wasn’t alone. I’d never defend prejudice, but I think what my godfather had was more of a passionate sense of ethnic pride. At the Italian church’s Feast of St. Anthony last night I was in seventh heaven (no pun intended). I tapped my toes to the Volare-singing band. I commended the priest on his scrumptious lasagna. I bumped into people I hadn’t seen in years who greeted me with dramatic enthusiasm and marveled at my girls. There was history for me there, and a deep sense of belonging that I don’t always feel in California. In fact, I was so swept up in the spirit and community of it all, I even considered buying a ‘Proud to Be Italian’ t-shirt. And did I mention the excellent meatballs?

This Old House: Is it so wrong to covet these fabulous historic homes with five fireplaces, brightly-painted front doors with stately but whimsical brass knockers, and those old metal boot scrapers by the front steps? With water views? And on the parade route? Not to whine like a kid who sees a puppy, but… I WANT ONE!

East Coast Dislikes:

Mosquitoes and Ticks: These are without a doubt God’s most wretched and maddening creatures. Why the hell don’t we have to deal with them in California? Did someone at Stanford figure out how to make the ticks eat all the mosquitoes then drink a bunch of poison Kool-Aid and kill themselves off? And if the little bloodsuckers weren’t horrifying enough, nearly everyone I know on the East Coast has Lyme Disease. They swap stories about how long they were infected before figuring it out like old fisherman swap storm-at-sea tales at dive bars.

Humidity: Okay, I’m officially an old, old withered woman since I’m complaining about humidity, but there are days in the summer here where I think I could chew the air. I daydream about those turpentine-like Sea Breeze astringent pads that dry up even the greasiest teen T-zones. I long for one the size of a bath towel that I could swab myself off with several times a day.

The Not-So-Friendlies: There was a time that I disparaged all the hugging that goes on in Northern California. There is so MUCH hugging there, I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve seen people hug in the conference room in my office. I’ve hugged nearly all my kids’ teachers—SEVERAL TIMES. I think I’ve hugged the children’s librarian at our library once, but I was probably PMSing. Even my un-huggy husband, who’s trying with all his power-of-one strength to keep the old school handshake alive—even HE has become accustomed to the Customary California Hug, and in social situations that don’t involve someone waking up from a coma. Live in Cali long enough and you too will become a hugger. But on the East Coast? Try chatting with someone at a playground when your kids are playing together and you may get a look like you’re depraved. Sure, I’m a turbo extrovert, but when our daughters are playing let’s-both-be-princesses-and-marry-each-other-under-the-monkey-bars, I think a little “How old is she?” level of interaction is not overly intimate. I see how hugging your manicurist after a mani/pedi is a bit much, but I’d take that any day over mamas keeping a cool distance on the playground.

I’m not sure where this all lands me. Other than happy to be able to spend a chunk of the summer in my hometown, and lucky enough to be going back to California when I leave.

Do you ever wonder whether where you live is where you should be?


Glory Days

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

The older I get, the younger I dress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, youth.

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

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

Instead I came up with tweed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, good times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Cold Hard Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would suck.

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

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

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

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

Me: “Still? Um, well, uh….

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

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

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

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

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

I lie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mothering Out of Bounds

Posted: March 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Movies, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | No Comments »

I’m unstoppable. As a mother, that is. And before you hit Play on that Helen Reddy eight-track tape, let me clarify. I don’t mean this as a good thing.

I’m not sure when exactly it started, but I’ve become the person who pulls a Kleenex from my purse for the guy who sneezes behind me in a store check-out line. I’m the daft Perpetual Baby Smiler—never letting any beings under the age of one pass me by without cocking my head, beaming, and saying, “Awww…” I’m the woman standing idiotically in the family-boarding area, even in the rare instances I’m flying without my kids.

Aside from wondering where the hell the old Me went—the one who thought of herself as an individual, not just part of a family unit—aside from that, well, hell, it’s just that this new Me can be so horribly annoying.

If you don’t believe me, ask Mark. We’re deep into this issue he and I. Totally aware of it and working on it, but like some bad rainy-season ant infestation, it just keeps coming back. You know, you spray-slaughter all the ants around the basement door, and next think you know they’ve forming a line trooping through your dining room, swarming over a fallen lump of last week’s oatmeal. It’s the kind of problem you’re certain you will never ever get a handle on.

What exactly am I talking about? Good question. It’s this: I’m a backseat parent.

Mark will be halfway though answering Kate’s plea for dessert, or helping Paige track down her tap shoes and I’ll jump in—totally interrupting, bombarding unheeded—and I’ll start dispatching orders. “Kate, you need to take three more bites of broccoli before I’ll even consider dessert.” “Paige, your tap shoes are in your ballet box on the top shelf of your closet. Do NOT wear them on the hardwood floors.”

Man, it’s annoying.

We’ve talked about this but I still can’t manage to make myself stop. The best explanation I can muster is that I spend my days responding to an endless stream of kid-borne issues. Things that come flying at me mercilessly like centipedes in a video game. To ward them off, I have to aim a kind of Ghostbusters-esque task-zapping uzi at them—Zap! Zap! Zap!—in order to get us to the next level, which is usually something like out the door, down the steps, and into the car for school, with everybody’s clothing on and hair combed.

I’m so used to single-handedly dealing with what life throws at me during the day, that when Mark’s there and I so much as sense that some kid-issue is incoming, I automatically kick into gear, guns blazing. Even though I know Mark can totally handle it on his own.

I guess I’m kinda trigger happy.

We’ve joked that I need classical conditioning to change. But really, more than the salt-lick reward I think what I need is an electric cattle prod deterrent every time I do it.

And just ’cause I have a maternal reflex to do something, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do. I may be feeling over-programmed in the Mama arts, but I’m still doing dopey things like consistently forgetting to carry diapers, and leaving a baggy of Alleve in my purse where Paige can get into it. (Kate recently called out to me, “Paige is about to eat some blue pills she found in your purse!” Guess I need to take to heart this Motherboard tip about stowing my bag at higher ground.)

The younger brother of my most-excellent wonderful and good friend, Mike, is moving to Oakland. I’m all hopped up about this because if I drink enough, turn down the lights, and really squint I can kind of make myself believe that Mike’s brother is really him. Although it turns out that in the sober light of unsquinty day I actually like his brother for who he is. Go figure.

Until he’d found a place to live, Mike’s Brother stayed with us. Just for a handful of days.

And you know what? I think I mothered the poor guy to death! I found myself texting him in the afternoons. Would he be home for dinner? When he was out late one night I went to our chilly guest room to turn on the space heater so the room would be cozy when he got back. One morning I made him—no, foisted upon him after an initial refusal—cinnamon toast. And while shopping at Target, I stumbled upon the map section (those old-school paper things). And I grew inextricably concerned that he needed an Oakland-Berkeley map in order to carry out his house-search. So I bought it for him.

I didn’t do his laundry. And if he sneezed, I left him to figure out like a big boy where to find a Kleenex (on the back of the toilet in any of the bathrooms, and on the bedside tables in every bedroom). I didn’t do those things, but I do have a hazy memory of shouting into the bathroom at him that he was welcome to take any of the towels in the linen closet.

Is all this me smother-mothering someone? Sure, it’s my friend’s younger brother, but the dude’s a grown man with a wife and child of his own. Maybe what I was doing was what any hostess worth her weight in fresh hand towels would do. But in my mind—these days I’m feeling so super centrally Mom-like—I can’t help but think I’m just inappropriately taking those who aren’t even my offspring under my wing.

It’s like in those cooking shows when the reality show chefs sautee a piece of meat. As they hold it over the heat they keep spooning the pan juices over the top again and again. It’s like they’re super-imbuing the meat with extra flavor of itself. It sometimes feels like that with me and my Mama self. Do what I will, every act no matter how juvenile, self-serving, or un-nurturing, still becomes a reinforcement of my essential Mamaness. And the more I wish it were otherwise, the more it seems inescapable (See: The coating of pastel sidewalk chalk on my black biker boots).

Last week the girls and I flew east like confused geese veering off course for winter. The rest of humanity–or at least Kate’s classmates—were all bound for warmer tropical venues, or the ski slopes in Tahoe. But we were simply seeking snow. Sea level snow was fine with us. Along with some quality time with Gramp and Grandma Joan.

And despite the incessant string of blizzards all winter there, the East Coast snow had nearly melted altogether. (Unless you count the mud-splattered ice piles in the far reaches of parking lots.) We were granted only one light dusting, from which we made the teensiest most tragic snowman ever—akin to the pitiful wee Stonehenge in Spinal Tap.

Add to that the fact that back in the Bay Area, meteorologists were flipping their Doppler radars over the potential for snow in San Francisco—something that’s hit the history books something like six times. Thankfully, the SF snow was a no-show, so I didn’t have to berate myself for sidestepping exactly what I was trying to get to the heart of.

Anyway, pardon the weather outburst. Where was I? Oh yes, Rhode Island. Where we love nothing more than the little local library. And where I found the DVD E.T. and decided to indoctrinate Kate in some non-princess-based media.

Of course, she wailed and lamented. Why didn’t she get to pick the movie? Couldn’t she watch Angelina Ballerina—or even a cooking show (what she came to simply call “Ina” in the course of the week) instead?

The movie was rated PG for language (one kid calls another “penis-breath”) and something else I don’t remember. I’d intended for Kate to watch it while Paigey napped. But of course Paige refused sleep, and before I knew it we were all piled on the leather couch tuned in.

And can I just say, E.T.’s death scene is unbearably protracted? I mean, the scene in which he’s zipped in a body bag (one that fits oddly-perfectly for such a uniquely-shaped corpse) and left for dead. I kept checking the girls to see if they were experiencing severe emotional trauma, but they seemed to not really register (or care) what was happening. Maybe they thought E.T. was just being kept fresh in a large Ziplock.

Finally Elliot—who thrillingly shares a name with Paige’s erstwhile boyfriend—brings E.T. back to life by invoking the magic words “I love you.” (I wonder if Kate’s teachers tried that with Freezey…) I thought I’d dodged the bullet. But it wasn’t ’til after the hair-raising final bike ride scene, when E.T. was saying his goodbyes before boarding the space ship home, that Paige—who had been otherwise engaged in playing with the dog and flipping through books—suddenly burst into tears. Wailing sobbing miserably inconsolable tears.

“T.C.!” she wailed to the ceiling. “Teeeeee Ceeeeeeeee!!!” she blubbered in a mistakenly-monogrammed moan. This went on for quite some time. And since it was so sudden, I was trying desperately to diagnose the depth of her sorrow. She’d not even been watching the TV when her anguish first erupted.

“What’s wrong, Paigey?” I pleaded. “What are you so sad about?” I asked, hoping she’d say she just ran out of milk in her sippy cup.

No dice. The woe, she reported, was directly related to “T.C. having gone away.” And, as if to spell it out to her moronic mother who clearly wasn’t getting it, she mumbled tragically, “It makes my heart hurt.”

Meanwhile Kate was on my left, watching the movie with the detachment one reserves for ads for professional training institutes.

I was flustered, trying to give Paige some happy thoughts to redirect her emotions. “He’s going home, Paigey!” I offered brightly.

Then Kate added, sighing with the bored air of a teen, “Yeah, Paige. E.T.’s okay. He’s going to see his Mommy.”

Which got me thinking. No one ever really wondered about what E.T.’s poor mother went through the whole time he was having his earthly escapade. Right? I mean, think of the stress one endures losing a child in the mall. Now take that up a few million notches to having them missing on another planet. Sheesh!

I imagine their conversation when he got back on the spaceship went something like:

E.T.’s Mom: “Oh my God, you’re BACK! Come here—I love you so much!”

E.T.: “Hey, Ma. Yeah, I’m fiiiiine.”

E.T.’s Mom: [Holding E.T. at wrinkly brown arms length] “Listen to ME, young alien. Don’t you EVER hop off the spaceship and run away again! I was worried SICK!”

Of course, if I were her I’d also scold him that he didn’t have a sweater on. But that’s just me.

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Hit the Road, Angel of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie will be sorely missed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This did not make me feel better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, Angel of Death.

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