Everything Old is New Again

Posted: October 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, City Livin', College, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Milestones, My Body, My Temple, Other Mothers | 3 Comments »

When I first moved to Oakland I still went to my dry cleaner in San Francisco. It was a 30-minute drive, if traffic was with me. And it wasn’t that my dry cleaner was even that good. It was more about my denial. Denial that I’d left the romantic, world-famous City by the Bay. Denial that we were moving to the ‘burbs. Denial about change in general.

We moved because we were having a baby. And our landlords broke up and were selling the condo we rented. It seemed like the universe was giving us a kick in the real estate keister. A nudge to move to a more family-friendly area where we could have a house and a yard, and not drive around looking for parking for 45 minutes every night—despite how much fun that could be.

Other things were changing in my world too. Two months after we moved I had a baby. Then I quit my big fancy job.

It was like I was systematically removing everything that was familiar and normal in my life. I walked around like a person who didn’t know herself. When people met me I wished I was wearing a sandwich board that said, “This isn’t really where I live. Sorry about that screaming baby—I don’t know it very well, but it turns out it’s mine. This is NOT my real ass, by the way—or gut. And don’t even ASK me what I do for work. Unless you want me weeping on your shoulder.”

Thankfully I joined a mother’s group and discovered a gaggle of other women who were as perplexed and outside their comfort zones as I was. Eventually I stopped saying, “I just left a job as the VP of yadda yadda…” and ‘fessed up to being a stay at home mom. Over time I also changed dry cleaners. But when I’m out of state I still tell people I live in San Francisco. So sue me.

Fast forward seven years. [Picture pages being torn off of a wall calendar. Lots and lots of pages.] Speaking of pages, we had another baby, named Paige. And at some point before her arrival and after a nice long stretch at home with Kate I did go back to work. I managed to fall into another great job, hired a nanny, and alligator-wrestled with that age-old work-life balance I’d heard people talk about.

Slowly all these changes settle in and become the new normal. Eventually friendships formed and I stopped lamenting the miseries of Oakland. And when the toddler called out “Mama!” most of the time I realized it was me she was talking to.

But amidst all this acceptance there was still one hold-out. One pre-parenting part of me that I wasn’t returning to. Something I wasn’t willing to accept as the new me. And it was kind of a big one.

It was my body.

Not that I’ve ever been terribly overweight, but four years after Paigey’s departure from my womb, I still wasn’t the slim-legged gal I used to be.

Until now. Because, thanks to a hand-me-down elliptical machine in our garage, and a juicer, and let’s not forget my step-counting FitBit, this little Mama’s got her groove back. I’m hardly wearing the jeans I had in college mind you, but I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

Or, as Kate puts it, “Mama is strong and healthy.” Fearful of passing bad body-image baggage on to her, as she watched me slog through routines on the elliptical and blenderize metric tons of kale, I avoided saying I was “trying to lose weight.”

After three children—two of whom came at once—my friend Meggie has been kicking her own ass at the gym, and swimming, and doing yoga. And she recently dipped her toes back into the work world. A pants-pissing email she sent out after dusting off her resume reported it was so long since she’d worked that under “Skills” she had a line about “using the internet as a research tool.” Hilarious.

When I got back from the East Coast this summer she’d just done a Master Cleanse and had lost even more weight. I think we spent the first few minutes in her doorway circling and looking each other up and down clucking “Looking good, girl!”

After seven years of friendship it was kinda like, “Kristen’s ‘real’ body, meet Megan’s ‘real’ body.” Like, this is what I’m supposed to look like! Even though you’ve never seen me look this way, this is actually me!

And NO, perverts, a topless pillow fight did NOT ensue.

Anyway, Efficiency Diva that she is, Meg made lightening-fast work of revising her resume and getting it out on the scene. And in record time she landed the perfect part-time entrepreneurial flexible gig. Plus: free beer. (No joke!)

I am crazy, silly-pants happy for her. I can’t wait to hear about the “I still got it!” surges of job satisfaction that’ll hit her once she starts. When I first went back to work I was thrilled to just pee without anyone knocking on the door begging me to read to them. Then someone asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch and my head exploded with the fancy-free, Big Girl in the City wonder of it all.

I’m so lucky to have an honest, authentic, hilarious group of mama friends with whom I’ve hit my stride, and a few the skids along the way. (OAK-land in the house!!) And now we’re kinda reaching some cool plateau where we’re less kid-focused and can squeeze a little time into our days doing things for ourselves. Even my friend with a nine-month-old is impressively back on her game. It’s like everything old is new again.

Is this what they call getting your groove back? Except without the affair with a younger hot Caribbean man, I mean.

Yesterday I got on the scale. It’s one of those digital ones where the numbers go to zero, then you step on and it calculates your weight. The first number that came up was one that I hadn’t seen on my scale for YEARS. And oddly was the exact weight I always used to be. But then—like some cruel joke—it blipped off, and changed to my real weight. Which I’m actually still quite happy with.

But it was so weird to see that old familiar number I couldn’t help but step off, let the numbers go to zero, and step back on again. And weirdness of weirdnesses, it happened again! That old weight—just for a second or two—flashed up then changed to my real weight.

It was like some message from the Intergalactic Scale Fairies. Sort of like “that was then, honey, but this is the new reality.”

So how’m I feelin’ about that? You know, I don’t need to get to that old weight again. I almost can’t imagine being that skinny any more. Just like I can’t imagine not having my daughters, or moving back to San Francisco. But if my dry cleaner makes one wrong move, I am dropping them like a hot potato.


Lucky Number Seven

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

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

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

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

At least most days I think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s that chat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books, City Livin', Discoveries, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Milestones, Writing | 3 Comments »

The woman with the skinny ass from my writing class called me a liar the other night. Well, not in so many words, but she did point out that I made a mistake.

It turns out she reads my blog. (God love her.) And she said the writing exercise I posted a couple weeks back—about Sundays with my dad—wasn’t the one she’d suggested I publish.

She was actually very nice about it. And it turns out that She of Slight Booty is quite the writer herself. I’m nearly finished with her book, Family Plots, which is a total page-turner, and set right here in Oakland. What’s more, she pulled a hilarious media stunt to promote it.

Anyway, welcome to the first ever correction on *motherload*.

Here’s the piece she originally liked. The prompt the teacher gave us that day was simply, “I love you.” This is pretty raw—the product of 30 minutes of in-class writing. And names have been changed to protect those who were in love.

Hope you like it as much as Tiny Tush did.


I Love You

Maybe some women have an entire shoebox packed with love letters. Letters from lovers, from admirers, from husbands who’ve been off at war, or sea, or hell, grad school.

Me? I’ve got one. Maybe two such letters.

It’s in my basement, stacked somewhere amidst other papers and ephemera from that time. It had to have been 15 years ago. Probably more.

I had a boyfriend at the time. A serious relationship I’d been in for a year or more. Were we in love? Hard to say. But we were together. Every night. Most certainly a couple. Undoubtedly monogamous. I was not up for grabs.

He worked long hours and I was doing some internship or other. My time was more open and flexible. And so it started that some Sunday afternoons I would go off with my friend Jake to the movies. He’d been traveling in India for months and came back brimming with stories and wearing bright pants with drawstring waists. He had an appetite for tea, and preferred walking everywhere, even when it took hours.

And aside from wanting to tap into his travel energy, it was our love of foreign films that brought us together for outings. Obscure and high-minded movies. The kinds of films that required a few cups of coffee and some rock-hard biscotti afterward to process.

Movie-going wasn’t something my boyfriend enjoyed. He had programming to do. He could sit at his computer for hours, even on sunny weekend days. So Jake was the perfect companion to indulge in filmic field trips.

Did it sometimes feel like we were on a date? Well, sure, I guess. We enjoyed each other’s company unabashedly. We made each other laugh. We wowed each other with intellectual deconstructions of plot, theme, cinematography.

I think I knew that he had a little crush on me. I think my boyfriend knew too. But we were smugly confident about our status as a couple. Whatever crush Jake had was mild and sweet and likely to stay under wraps.

Until the receptionist called me one day at work. Someone had come to drop something off for me. And I was thrilled by the prospect of an unexpected element in my day. I was a fact-checker at a magazine, calling sources all day to verify spellings and ensure the veracity of quotes. Whatever was at the front desk blessedly peeled me away from the next pediatrician on my list, whom I had to interrogate about something like the management of cradle cap in infants.

At the desk there were two long-stemmed roses wrapped in cellophane, and a small ivory envelope with my name printed across it in blue ball point, the letters leaving deep furrows in the paper.

I don’t remember if I knew at the time, before even opening it, that it was from Jake. Something about the setting—work, daytime, a weekday even—it wasn’t the context in which he was usually present in my life. Jake and I had a Sunday afternoon thing.

But it was from him.

The wording, the sum total of it is lost to me now. But I do remember it started simply, “Kristen, I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time now.”

I was stunned. Impressed by the bravado of his proclamation. Flattered. Saddened that I was on the receiving end of this vulnerable, beautiful declaration. And concerned that I didn’t feel the same way.

There was one part of my brain that telescoped into the future. That knew this was some rite of passage. Even though I wasn’t going to say ‘I love you’ too; even though I knew, sadly, that our Sunday movies had come to an end; even though our friendship would take a huge toll from this declaration—with all those other thoughts swirling in my head, there was part of me that thought this is a letter that I will always hold onto. This is the beginning of what may be an entire shoebox full of letters. Or maybe just one or two.

Do you have any love letters tucked away somewhere? Do tell!


The Buzz Around Here

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

Paige has developed a bizarre and extreme fear of bees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paige was even a bit leery of the dude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For real?

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

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

I’m supposed to trust her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Year in Review

Posted: December 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Milestones | 4 Comments »

Ah, 2011. We barely knew ya!

I mean, I think it’s an indication that I’m officially old since I’m still not used to writing 2011 on my checks and it’s already (almost) a new year. There’s also the fact that I still write checks…

Even though I’ve shared in lurid detail most everything that’s happened to me this past year, I thought you might enjoy a sort of Cliff’s Notes version of my highs and lows. So pour yourself that last cup of egg nog from the carton that’s hidden behind the leftover turkey in the back of the fridge and curl up here for a while. Tomorrow you can start your new work-out routine and burn off all that fat.

Best New Friend: Hands down this award goes to my gay work-husband. Read all about our celibate, incompatible-sexual-orientations love affair here.

Best Blog Experience: Attending BlogHer ’11 in keepin-it-classy, San Diego (In the immortal words of anchorman Ron Burgandy, “San Diego… Drink it in. It always goes down smooth.”)

Fave New Blogger Friends: Katrina from Working Moms Break and Nancy from Midlife Mixtape (even though she’s funnier than me).

Most Embarrassing Incident: When I emailed the moms in Kate’s class about getting together for a drink and the email was mistakenly forwarded on to the school staff. For several days any time one of the mothers responded with something like, “Hell ya, I need a drink!” the email went to every teacher and administrator. As if that wasn’t awkward enough, when the moms booze-buzz finally died down, the dads started up. Kate’s classroom is now referred to by the school staff as “The Drunk Tank.” Nice.

Favorite Video: The old tablecloth trick.

Favorite TV-Show-on-DVD Addiction: The Good Wife (and not just because Will Gardner is the super-rich immoral rep-tie-wearin’ TV-character version of my noble, journalist husband).

Best Concert I Never Attended: In early December we had tickets to Morrissey. The show was cancelled when his drummer suffered some sort of eye injury. Frankly Mr. Shankly any drummer worthy of playing with Morrissey should really be able to hold his own playing with one eye. Am I right, or am I right?

Best Thing Kate Learned How to Do: Read. Like, really pick up a book and wander off and read on her own. So incredibly cool.

Best Thing Paige Learned How to Do: Use the potty.

Thing I Will Not Miss from 2011: Diapers.

Thing I Will Miss from 2011: Having a child young enough to be in diapers.

Best Thing Mark Learned How to Do: Bake bread and make uh-mazing cocktails, thanks to these two books: Tartine Bread and The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. (I just found this cool video from the god of bread-breaking. Turns out he’s cute too!)

Best Thing I Learned How to Do: Nothing. I’ve never been one to relax. It’s just seemed like something lacking excitement. But this year the girls and I did a lot of reading in bed—as in me reading to them. And I LOVED it. We whiled away gloomy gray days this way, never getting out of our PJs. Turns out doing nothing IS fun—and I’m good at it! I also learned how to build excellent fires in the fireplace (something I’d always let the men-folk do) and make a delish roast chicken.

Best Thing Kate Taught Me: Summer camp songs. I suffered an entitled deprived childhood and never went to summer camp. At age 44, I’m finally making up for it.

Best Money We Spent: On a frighteningly-effective sleep specialist for our three-year-old night owl, Paige. If you ever need a kidney, Meg, I’m here for you.

Best Hand-Me-Down: My friends’ ellipitcal machine which I inherited when they paradoxically moved into a larger house where they didn’t have room for it.

Best Additions to our Family: Karen the male Siamese fighting fish, dearly-departed Carlos the shit-eating sea snail, and our newest snail, Slimy.

Crappiest Loss: The diamond necklace Mark gave me on our first anniversary. It went to Seattle with us and somehow never came back. I hope it’s set up a good life for itself up there, and that the rain doesn’t get to it. Maybe it’s playing in a band? Working at a coffee shop? Tossing fish at Pike Place Market? (Saint Anthony: It ain’t too late to return it to me.)

Worst Health Horror: My friend Lily getting cancer.

Best Parties I Attended: An ice cream social to celebrate the end of Lily’s chemo treatments, and an exceptionally fun and fruitful clothing swap.

Best Party I Threw: Mark’s surprise 40th birthday in Chicago. Thank you thank you to his wonderful college friends for being folks I’d want to be stuck on a desert island with. And that’s not only because two of them brew beer for a living.

Most-Often Repeated Sentence: “Mark just turned 40. Isn’t that so cute?”

Funniest Thing Said to Me: When I was wearing a long brown skirt, the work-husband said, “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman called. She wants her skirt back.” Then I laughed my latte out my nose.

Best Dinner Out: At Next in Chicago the day before Mark’s 40th. The theme was childhood, which was fitting. One of the courses came to us in 80′s-era lunchboxes, complete with hand-written notes from our parents. A witty, fun, and delish dinner.

Best Lunch Out: The next day at Kuma’s Corner, despite how tragically un-tattooed and square I seemed there. Amazing scene, beer, burgers.

Best Party Mark and I Threw: Our Fourth Annual Kid-Free Holiday Party. Something about it this year was extremely excellent, likely the perfect blend of awesome friends and deeply toxic bourbon punch.

Worst Geographical Re-Appointment: Our beloved gaybors moving out of the house next door. Thankfully, they’re just a half-mile away, and they still pop by to deliver fresh-baked treats.

Best Geographical Re-Appointment: My frienda Brenda from college moving to California. She’s now just an hour’s drive away, and when we get together we’re magically 19 again. (Though my hang-overs remind me we aren’t.)

Another Person I’m So Happy Moved Here: My friend Mike’s not-so-much-a-kid kid brother. It brings Mike and his mother around much more often, giving me more opportunities to pretend I’m part of their most-excellent family.

Most Frustrating Unsolved Mystery: My series of weird symptoms (numbness, joint pain, sarcasm) that cropped up this summer, which doctor’s have still not been able to diagnose.

Best Nature Encounter: Seeing two immense bald eagles on a dock near our friends’ house on Bainbridge Island.

Worst Nature Encounter: Mistakenly sticking my hand in a puddle of bald eagle poo. Or as I like to call it, “endangered feces.”

Best Clothing Purchase: My silver leather biker jacket I got from a vintage shop in Sacramento. I couldn’t decide whether it was ridiculous or the most bad-ass article of clothing I’d ever own. I got a thumbs up from my frienda Brenda, then three older well-dressed women who walked into the store essentially said they’d beat me up in the parking lot if I didn’t buy it. Thanks, ladies, for looking out for my fabulouslessness.

Saddest Hair Moment: Paige’s second-ever haircut which lopped off her baby curls.

Happiest Hair Moment: Connecting with my new hair diva, Jarrod, as a result of my former stylist selfishly moving to LA. I ADORE Jarrod. But beyond that, he’s given me an excellent hair year.

Best Freelance Gig: Working at Mamapedia, happily immersed in all things blog and mama-like.

Best Dumb-Ass Move: Taking out the side of my car in a parking garage.

Best Family Member I’ve Come to Know (and Love): Mark’s half-sis Ashley who moved to San Francisco. She’s a joy, and not just because she babysits.

Best Regularly-Scheduled Social Event: Does it mean I’m officially a middle-aged woman that I LOVE and look forward to my book group as much as I do?

Best Kids’ Books I Read: The Fairy Realm books (not to be confused with the atrocious and seemingly endless Rainbow Magic series) by Emily Rodda. Finally fairy-themed stories that are legit kid lit. The girls and I also loved Loveykins and Dahlia (which unfortunately appears to be out of print).

Longest—but Most Worthwhile—Book I Read: Anna Karenina. This is especially thrilling since I’m not always so good at finishing things. Check that off my bucket list! And I finished it yesterday, just in time for a fresh book in the new year.

Best New Tradition: Interviewing the girls on their birthdays.

Best Blog Post I Read (along with the rest of the universe): The Bloggess‘s metal chicken post.

Best motherload Blog Post: Hmmm. Not sure. I kinda liked the one about Karen the fish, and a lot of folks told me they liked Travel Don’ts. My gay husband was obsessed with my Principal Kate post.

Which brings me to…
Worst Travel Experience: My flight back from New York with the girls this summer. It’s a wonder I’ve left the house since.

Best Thing We Won: The raffle at the school auction which resulted in our kindergartener Kate being principal of her school for the day. (She was brilliant and clearly has a future in school administration. Or the presidency.)

Best Brush with Celebrity: Having Alyssa Milano follow me on Twitter. But it’s really on accounta the fact that she and Mark are Twitter geek buds. (Yes, I too was surprised that she is a geek.)

Worst Week of Parenting: When Mark was in Australia for work and Kate refused to change her underwear. Oh how I wish I was kidding about that.

Best Volunteer Work I Expected to Hate: Raising money for Kate’s school.

Most Interesting Dinner Companions: My sister Judy’s Egyptian student friends. Oh, and Mark’s new uber rich genius friend is also pretty fascinating, if you like hearing personal anecdotes about everyone from Stephen Hawking to Jane Fonda.

Best TV Extravaganza: The royal wedding, and the royal spread set out by my angophilic friend, Sacha. Special thanks to Beatrice for wearing that absurd hat.

Catch ya in the rear view, 2011. Onward and upward in 2012, a year that appeals to me in its even-number-ness, but moreover for its fresh, shiny newness.

And big love to my dazzling husband and not-always-exhausting daughters for making even the most mundane days adventures.

P.S. I forgot to say how proud I am of my sister for losing over 60 pounds this year! (I guess this means you want those jeans back.)

P.P.S. I just walked through my house before some guests arrive and decided on my New Year’s resolution: That my children learn how to flush the toilet in 2012.


Ho Ho Hanukkah

Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Milestones, Miss Kate, Music, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

On Friday when I picked up Paigey from preschool her teacher handed me her lunchbox and said, “I didn’t know you guys celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah.”

To which I answered, “We don’t actually celebrate Hanukkah. Whoever might have given you that idea?”

She and I smiled down at Paige, who practically started whistling and kicking the dirt to look all innocent.

My friend Shira just wrote a sweet, funny blog post for my day job about growing up Jewish in a Christmas-hyped world. My daughter will likely blog some day about her unfulfilled childhood longings for latkes and dreidel play, and how she’d tear through her stocking on Christmas mornings hoping to find chocolate gelt.

And really, as a wanna-be Jew myself, I totally appreciate where Paige is coming from. In fact, this week I nearly ran away with a Klezmer band.

Sure, lots of people have chosen to follow The Dead, or become rock groupies. And really, who hasn’t read—and loved—Pamela Des Barre’s classic I’m With the Band?

But me? I want to throw caution to the wind and go on the road with a band that plays traditional Hebrew music dating back to Biblical times. Now THAT is hot, people. That’s how I’m plotting my rebellion.

And sure, it helps that one of my most beloved friends is the front man for them. They’re exuberant, joyful, funny, quirky—and alternately pretty deep and sorrowful. But before I start to sound like a music reviewer (and fail miserably at it), I’ll just say that the music they make draws you in, makes you clap, chuckle, stomp your feet, and belt out verses like “Oy yoy yoy yoy yoy!” And somehow, without even knowing what 90% of the words mean, you feel totally connected and a part of it.

Trust me, it’s good stuff.

I saw the band play Thursday night in Berkeley and was so fired up I decided to take Kate to their Saturday night gig. Which was an hour and a half away. And started at her bedtime.

But if as a parent you have ever had a moment of feeling like what you are doing is so exactly the thing you should be doing with your child, even though in all practical ways it seems totally wrong, well Saturday night was just that for me.

Kate spent the day yammering on to her dolls (and anyone else who’d listen) about “going to my first concert.” When we arrived, she marveled at the modest, rural community center, “I think this place is a mile long!” She played foos-ball with the drummer backstage. And when she saw Lorin walk up to the mic and start singing, I thought she’d levitate off her seat with bliss.

Even when I poured her exhausted, rumpled body into the car for the long, late-night drive home, part of me thought, “Let’s just drive on to L.A.! Let’s tap into more of that amazing, addictive energy! Let’s start writing set lists and chanting at encores for Mermaid’s Avenue.”

Oh, I wanted to oy yoy yoy all the way down to Disney Hall. But instead I drove home, tucked Kate into bed, and satisfied myself by watching them play tonight on the Conan show. My special band on TV for the whole world to see.

Here it is, less than a week away from Christmas and Mark and I have still not figured out what to buy poor Paigey. So Mark, in all his brilliant practicality, asked her yesterday what she wanted. And without batting an eyelash she made her pronouncement: “I want a menorah.”

Well then, of course. So as soon as I hit ‘Post’ here I’ll be going onto Amazon to find one. (Is that even where one buys a menorah? I’m such a hopeless goy.)

Yes, I think Paige has made her point loud and clear. The next time I pack up Kate and hit the road to follow a Klezmer band, I’ve got to make room for one more groupie.


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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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 Match.com? 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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Summer Camp Blues

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

True confession: I never went to summer camp.

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

But don’t you worry. I’ll be fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’ve gotta tell you, I love them.

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

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

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

Thanks for the donut. Bye-bye!

Have fun, campers! See you next summer.


Polka Dotted Panties

Posted: August 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Milestones, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | No Comments »

I’m planning to take an axe to Paige’s diaper pail.

Or maybe I’ll back over it with the car. Or set it on fire like some stinky, suburban Burning Man. We can get the neighbors to wear strange provocative costumes, do psychedelic drugs, and ride their bikes around our back yard as they watch it go up in flames. (Never let it be said I don’t keep the community’s entertainment needs in mind.)

Or maybe this is the wrong approach entirely, and I should do something to honor and preserve that damn diaper trapper for its many long years of service. Like, maybe I could mail it off to one of those places that covers baby shoes in bronze. We can set it in the corner of the living room—under a little art spotlight—like some masterpiece that everyone would be too disturbed by it to do anything other than compliment it. It could be our awkwardly large tribute to our kid’s babyhoods, like some freakishly over-sized charm bracelet souvenir.

Oh, the possibilities are endless, really!

Yes, it’s a thrilling time of unbridled celebration here at Chez McClusky. For the first time in nearly six years, we don’t have any children in diapers. (And we only have TWO kids. I shudder to think how long The Diaper Phase endures for more prolific breeders.)

Yes, we have no diapers to change. We have no diapers to buy. We have no diapers to carry with us in unattractive, unwieldy padded diaper bags. And we’ll hopefully never again be part of one of those weird half-drunk conversations where you find yourself arguing with other parents about whether it’s harder to clean poop off of boy parts or girl parts. (Everyone seems to think the gender they don’t have to deal with is worse. Which has gotta be some kind of Darwinian survival instinct.)

Whatever the case, Paige proclaimed recently, “Girls have vaginas and penises. And boys have nothing!”

In Paige’s world it’d be easier to change boy diapers without a doubt. I imagine they’d just be like dolls down there.

At any rate, it’s too soon to put our poop-talkin’ days totally behind us (no pun intended). As a new potty indoctrinate Paige is still in the exuberant bodily-function announcement mode. Which is to say, the moment everyone is seated at the table, hands washed, milk cups filled, and you lean over to take your first hungry bite of roast chicken, Paige will inevitably announce, “I have to go poop! I have a thousand big big poops to do!!”

Oh, how… cute.

At least, for the weight conscious among us, its an effective appetite suppressant.

Of course, the dark side to all this grown-up behavior is that we’re closing the door on yet another phase of parenting—even if it does mean less direct contact with feces. I lamented the last time I breastfed. I was heartbroken packing away all those tiny newborn shirts, booties, and receiving blankets. And despite myself, I was a weeper on Paigey’s first day of preschool.

Whether it’s good or bad, when the girls move past something, I feel a twinge of nostalgia about it. I mean, if I have time to.

But I’m over thinking that having a third baby is the solution to avoiding the bittersweet passage of time. I’ve come around to accepting that parenting throws plenty of weepish moments your way. So even though I don’t get to chomp on Paigey’s  ham hock thighs when I change her diapers any more, there are new excellent things that she does now—like pontificate about how panties with polka dots are really the best panties there are. And deliver spontaneous anatomy lessons on gender and genitalia.

Before our East Coast foray this summer Kate went to a fabulous summer camp. One of those old school outdoorsy places where she canoed, rode horses, swam, did archery (ha!), and had her first overnight away-from-the-family camp out. Oh, and made lanyards. In fact, she could now open an Etsy shop called Lanyard-palooza.

At the end of the first week the camp put on a lip synch performance. Each of the groups of campers did a little performance to a song, all the parents lucky enough to not work came to watch, and it was a lot of good clean fun.

I mean, “clean” if you didn’t listen too hard to the lyrics. Like for one of the songs, Katy Perry’s “Extra Terrestrial,” a stage full of nine-year-old girls jumped around waggling their fingers on their heads like antennae, while mouthing,  “Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me. Infect me with your love and fill me with your poison.”

I don’t mean to be prude, but sheesh.

Kate’s group sang a Justin Bieber song, for which she practiced around the house (seemingly endlessly) by jutting her hips out to one side and singing with the synthetic soulfulness that only a five-year-old can muster, “Bay-buh, bay-buh, bay-buh, oh!”

At least no one was purporting to be filled up with someone else’s “poison.”

But still I felt that sneaking, sinking they’re-growing-up feeling. Too fast.

One of the other moms called me the night before the performance. All the other girls were wearing Justin Bieber t-shirts for the show. Did Kate have one? Her daughter did not, and she had no intention of changing that. As long as our girls would be outsiders together, it’d be fine. We agreed they’d wear special sundresses—an attempt to make them feel gussied up, without giving into some Tiger Beat-like peer pressure at age five.

As it turned out, none of the other kids wore JB shirts the next day. More proof that you can’t always trust what your five-year-old tells you. And a reassuring indication that kindergarteners through the tunnel—in the suburban town where the camp was—were the same as our kindergarteners. Or at least, they weren’t yet acting like tweens.

On the last day of camp there was a talent show. The auditorium was packed with kids of all ages and parents wielding video cameras, digital cameras, and iPhones. Rest assured, this event would be captured.

The show was made up of older girls singing pop songs alone and in groups, boys doing kicks and karate chops to “Kung Fu Fighting,” and one twerpy kid who sang some teddy bear song that had the crowd howling as the seemingly endless lyrics went on and on and on.

Kate had talked about wanting to do something, but I wasn’t sure if she’d muster the gumption. Almost no kids her age had.

Then the M.C. called to her to go back-stage to be “on deck” as the next performer.

When she stepped onto the stage, she was clutching a mic and standing ramrod straight, wide-eyed looking out at the crowd. Then, without any musical accompaniment, with a weak uncertain voice she started singing, “Doe a deer, a female deer…”

I noticed a few mamas in the audience reach out to touch each others’ arms.

My chest swelled with love—or pride, or sympathetic stage fright—or all of those, and I held my fingers up to my mouth as I listened to her. I telepathically egged her on. I hoped some people knew she was my kid.

My little Kate, on her own volition, picked an adorably sweet wonderful song, blissfully devoid of semen-shooting metaphors. (Sung by a nun no less!) She’d ponied up to perform, though few other kids her age had. And she was KILLING on stage.

Maybe in response to the smiling audience (or my telepathic encouragement), her confidence kicked in, and she started singing more steadily, even swaying a bit less stiffly than her initial robotic stance. She finished to a resounding room of applause. (But really, the crowd clapped a lot for everyone.)

My girls might be growing up fast, but somehow—for now—they seem to be doing a damn good job of it.

Bravo to you, Katie! You are a rock star indeed. At least in your mama’s eyes.

And Paige, Daddy and I could not be prouder of you and your big girl panties.

Carry on, girls! Carry on.

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