Things Dads Do

Posted: July 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Parenting, Summer, Travel | 7 Comments »

The other day The Husband delightedly informed me that he’d taught our six-year-old how to pee in the shower.

I was so proud.

I mean, this from the man who (until I set him straight) believed you shouldn’t flush Kleenex down the toilet because it’s somehow different from toilet paper. And here I’d always thought sending pee down the shower pipe was verboten. There’s so much we can learn from each other.

Having Mark coach our sweet six-year-old on such a great time-saving tip made me think of all the other gaps I’d leave in our children’s knowledge base if I didn’t have him around. This thought was underscored by the fact that I’m on Day 13 of solo parenting. (Not that I’m counting.) That’s because Mark had to touch base at his San Francisco office before jaunting off to cover the Olympics in London. All the while I’ve remained on vacation on the East Coast with the girls, clinging to my charming hometown like a rabid koala.

All together, I’ll be tending to the child-folk for a sum total of 31 nights (32 days). But again, who’s counting?

Anyway, I started thinking about the other things that Daddy does that the kids will miss out on while he’s gone.

Changing batteries: This is something that I really never even CONSIDER doing. Paige could be ecstatically interacting with a toy that suddenly craps out and I’ll report through her tears, “Well, Dad will be home in seven hours, and he can change the batteries then.” I can’t imagine what I’d do about this if I were a single parent. I’m somehow trapped in some ivory tower were battery changing is just not done. Without Mark I can imagine the smoke detectors in the house starting to beep. I’d have to take them off the wall and silence them with a hammer. If any of the kids’ toys ever ran out of juice we’d have to just toss them in the give-away pile.

Gluing stuff: Not far from The Husband’s “Needs new batteries” pile I’ve amassed a small “Needs gluing” pile. This includes the shattered legs of a porcelain doll Kate insisted on taking to a taqueria for dinner and promptly dropped on the sidewalk. (She may never walk again.) It also includes a tea-set teapot handle, and distressingly, the head of a Cinderella piggy bank. Gluing is man’s work. Mark reinforces this in my mind when he informs the children of the special types of glue that he needs for various broken items. Though that could just be his way of staving off having to deal with this chore. That Cinderella head has been unhinged for some time now. Whatever the case, the whole glue scene is Greek to me. If something breaks while Daddy is away, maybe all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can swing by to help me out—though I hear their track record isn’t so good.

Making pancakes: Do you know of any mother who makes pancakes for her kids on the weekends? NO. This is what father’s are uniquely wired to do. Sometimes my kids ask me to make them pancakes, and I just laugh. To tell you the truth, I have no idea how two-mom households ever enjoy homemade pancake breakfasts. I will have to ask around about this and get back to you.

Teaching driving: This is blessedly not something I’ll have to concern myself with while Mark is away. Unless they suddenly lower the legal driving age by ten years. But when the time comes this SO seems like a Dad-will-do-it kinda thing. I know I bucked and jolted and skidded across the Newport Creamery parking lot when my dad endeavored to instruct me on driving a stick shift. All that tension and repeated bellowing of “EASE UP on the clutch–EASE UP ON IT!” seems to clearly be father’s work. (See also: Teaching Skiing.)

In our house Mark also does a bunch of things I realize many other dads probably don’t. And for that I’m grateful. Anything remotely technical, gadget-y or computerish, of course, falls to him. As does the assembly of any toys more complicated than putting a tube top on a Polly Pocket. (Although I did assemble a high chair once, and I’m proud to report that no children were ever injured sitting in that chair.)

The Husband is also the primary kid bather in our division of labor, and as a subset of those responsibilities he most often clips the children’s nails.

He performs all the small surgeries in the house too–removing splinters, trimming hangnails, washing dirt out of skinned knees, and doing whatever is needed to blisters, burns, and boil-like things (which I’d really rather not know about). After these episodes Kate invariably staggers from the bathroom brandishing big bandages or tourniquets and proclaiming, “Daddy is just like a doctor.”

When the time comes for me to contemplate cosmetic surgery, I’m considering just having Mark do it to defray costs. But hopefully, in the month that he’s away the toll of taking on parenting without my dear husband won’t be so great I’ll need to accelerate the scheduling of any anti-aging surgeries. Which is a good thing since as soon as he walks in the door I imagine there will be a lot of gluing and battery-changing that he’ll have to catch up on.

*  *  *

By the way, you can follow Mark’s excellent coverage of the Olympics for Wired at Wired Playbook.


Call Me Fred

Posted: June 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, Daddio, Miss Kate, Sisters | 3 Comments »

When my oldest sister was pregnant with her first child my dad called her and said, “If it’s a boy are you considering calling him Ferdinand?”

My sister apparently dropped the phone she was laughing so hard. Later she scolded Dad that when you’re as far along as she was you can wet your pants really easily. He shouldn’t have suggested anything so hilarious.

Yes, my dad’s name is Ferdinand. Try learning to spell that when you’re three. And, no, his nickname is not Ferdie as many folks ask me when I tell them his name. It’s Fred.

Dad has been gunning for a kid to be named after him for as long as I can remember. And now that I think about it, it’s probably all my fault. On accounta after he and my mother already had three daughters, ten years later Mom got preggers again. I can’t help but think Dad thought this surprise baby was his son. Right? It’s like fate was going to deal him a boy in the home stretch.

Alas, that baby was me.

To be clear, Dad would never admit to having wished I was a boy. He’s crazy-man proud of his brood of daughters. But I was also his last crack at having the family name—Bruno—live on. His one brother never had kids. So it was all up to me.

Anyway, the plan never was for my name to be Ferdinand. My mother said something once about me being Gregory if I was a boy. Ick! Greg Bruno sounds so hideously Brady Bunch. Glad I dodged that bullet. I just think that years later, with his hopes dashed for his last name living on, Dad thought he’d try his luck at getting someone to saddle their newborn with his first name.

After my sister’s reaction he upped the ante—if only in jest. Years later when I was “in the family way” he offered a whopping twenty-five dollar education bond if I bestowed the big F on my kid. Alas, I missed out on cashing in on the name and the nominal monetary award. In keeping with family tradition I only had girls.

When I mentioned to Dad once that my friend Julie was expecting he perked up, “Hey hey hey, I’m willing to fork over that bond still! Twenty-five big ones! How’s she like the sound of Ferdinand?”

Well, recent activity ’round my house indicates that the dream is not dead. Or maybe it’s that this name thing just skips a generation.

Last weekend we walked by a yard sale and I bought Kate a stuffed wombat. It was tucked in a mug that said Australia and was still wrapped in cellophane. Some cheesy airport gift that for a quarter appeased my begging child.

Kate acted as if she’d birthed a crowned prince. She’s been cooing over the thing, seating it next to her at meals, and making bold statements like, “There are now five members of our family—when you count Fred.”

Yes, Kate named her wombat Fred. [Thrill!] All on her lonesome. And sure, it’s not exactly Ferdinand, but let’s not drown in the details, shall we?

On Saturday we went to the Alameda County Fair. We watched tractor pulls, pig races, and wandered through low houses packed with rabbits, snakes, fish, and insects. Every cute creature Kate cast her eyes on she mooned over, begged for, and proclaimed, “I will name it Fred.”

Seriously, if we did a shot every time Kate said Fred that day, well, we would’ve been in no state to operate heavy farming equipment.

Sure, I have some concerns about the multiplicity of Freds Kate is planning to take under her wing. It smacks a bit of George Foreman’s family. But more than that, I’m just happy that the name Fred has finally came home to roost. Even if it’s only on stuffed animals and a barnyard full of animals Kate will never really own.


School Pride

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: California, Learning, Miss Kate, Parenting, School | 11 Comments »

A few weeks ago some moms and I took our kids to the local old-timey ice cream parlor after school. While the wee ones ran around outside licking each others’ cones and tossing pennies in the fountain, the mom folk got to talkin’.

Here’s a snippet of our conversation:

Monica: “So we’re still not sure what team Hank is playing on.”

Lynn: “Really? Wow….”

Monica: “Yeah, sometimes I’m totally convinced that he’s gay. Other times? Not so sure.”

Jenny: “Well, he’s still super young. All in due time, right?”

Fran: “Sure, but if he IS, wouldn’t that be SO AWESOME?”

All of us: “Yessssss!”

Indeed. In many parts of the world a parent might be dismayed at the thought of their child being gay—horrified even. Here in the Bay Area we are downright thrilled by the prospect. It’s just one of the many reasons I love living here.

I consider myself a pretty liberal, open-minded person. I don’t care who you pray to, what you look like, or what foods you eat or abstain from. Gay, straight, whatEVER, that is your choice and good on ya. And I hope that I’m raising my kids to feel the same way.

Which is why I was shocked by my reaction to an event at my daughter’s school recently.

It was a few weeks ago. My mother-in-law was in town from Ohio, so I took her to the Tuesday morning assembly. It’s fifteen minutes of feel-good singing, storytelling, music, and announcements that never fails to deliver a mega-dose of warm fuzzies.

Even though San Francisco’s huge Gay Pride parade is this weekend, they were having a special assembly about it since school wouldn’t be in session near the actual event.

Each classroom was given a color to wear, and that morning instead of sitting in the auditorium wherever they wanted, the hundred or so children were arranged in the shape of a rainbow. The rainbow flag being the symbol of gay pride, and all.

It was adorable. Nearly as cute as my rainbow fruit salad (which happens to have no affiliation to the gay community). Parents were snapping photos and taking videos. The kids were clearly into it too. Typical Tuesday morning love-fest.

Some teachers came to the front of the auditorium and started explaining what Pride Week was all about. And then the slide show started. And no, no, there weren’t any photos of men in leather chaps with their butt cheeks showing. Though, honestly, that wouldn’t have bothered me. (They’re always so toned, those boys!) It was the words that got me.

A list came up on the screen. Essentially the message was that you should be proud to be:

To which I thought, INTERsex? What the hell is that?

I also wasn’t quite sure what “Ally” referred to.

I felt kinda like I did when that Ann Landers sex quiz went around my school in ninth grade. When you answered the questions and tallied your score you’d find out how experienced you were. I’m not sure why I even took the quiz. I was fully aware that my rating would be “pure as the driven snow” or maybe “still has that new car smell.” But what really intrigued me—and my friends—about the quiz was the sex acts that were listed that we’d never even heard of, forget done.

Without having the Internet at our disposal (I’m OLD, people) we still managed to find out what “fisting” and “rimming” meant. Then we wished we’d never asked.

Anyway, the school Pride presentation went on to take each of the terms and break them down. A couple teachers narrated each slide that popped onto the screen. For “Gay” there was a collage of photos that included two daddies sitting on a couch with their children. For “Lesbian” I think there was an image of two women getting married, some two mom families, and two women holding hands. The teachers said things like, “Men who love other men are gay.”

I was totally down with it.

They even slipped a “Heterosexual” slide in there with a picture of the Obamas. (Refreshing to see them labeled not as ‘black’ for a change, but as ‘straight.’)

But really, I was just wondering when the hell they were going to get to “Intersex” so A) I’d find out what it meant, and B) I’d see how they were going to handle that photo collage.

I was also curious about what were they going to say about Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning. This crowd included kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. What was the lowest common denominator of age-appropriate info they were going to share?

And of course I couldn’t help but see all this through my mother-in-law’s eyes. Of all the sweet kids-playing-piano assemblies we’ve had, she had to be in town for this one. I mean, I don’t think that this kinda presentation is standard fare for the public schools in Ohio. It all seemed very California.

Interestingly they didn’t end up having a slide for each term. At least, as far as I can remember. And there was one for “Intersex,” but there was just one image, not a collage. It was a photo of a husky woman on a hiking trail, and one of the female teachers presenting said, “This is Leslie, a friend of mine from college. She is intersex.”

Wait—whaaaat? It felt like I’d been shown a photo of Pat from that SNL skit. And I still didn’t know what Intersex meant.

There was a coffee gathering for parents after the assembly. Being unabashedly outspoken as I am, I mentioned to a couple mamas that I was a bit surprised by the presentation. And moreover I was shocked by my own reaction to it. Usually I’m totally down with whatever that school does.

“The gay and lesbian thing—no brainer. No issue there,” I whispered to some gals by the coffee urn. “I guess I just wonder if they needed to get so technical and label-y about it all.”

A couple women nodded their heads. Another one quietly said, “Yeah… What’s Intersex?”


Call me square, but I’d rather not have my child wondering about the finer points of various sexual orientations until she naturally starts to think about them herself. I always thought Mark and I would decide when and how we’d to talk to our kids about that stuff. I was kinda surprised that the school took the liberty to delve into it on our behalf.

And I guess what really struck me was how freakin’ comprehensive they were. Couldn’t they have just stuck to a high level “accept everyone” kinda message?

“I feel really weird admitting this,” I mumbled to the mamas, “But if my five-year-old came home and started asking me about the terms they were talking about this morning? I’d be kinda annoyed.”

One mom put her hand on my arm and said, “What they couldn’t grasp probably just floated right over their heads.” And as I grabbed another slab of coffee cake, I agreed and hoped that was true.

That night at dinner Mark asked the girls how their days were. Kate piped up, “At assembly today we all looked like a rainbow!”

And that was that.


Don’t Feel Good

Posted: June 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Miss Kate, Parenting, Sensory Defensiveness | 3 Comments »

My six-year-old, Kate, just got a new pair of sneakers. Hot pink lace-up Vans. They’re adorable in a preppie surfer-girl kinda way, and look just like the old pair she had.

But they are making our lives a living hell.

Mornings are miserable ’round here when it’s time for her to put on those damn shoes. She whines, whimpers, cries even. She pleads with us to let her wear the old ones. She begs for “just one more day.”

The new ones “don’t feel good,” she says. If I had a nickel for every time she’s used that phrase, well, we’d be able to buy lots and lots of new shoes. But she wouldn’t want those either. So it’s just as well.

Some kids stress about the first day of school or monsters under the bed or having to eat their broccoli.  For Kate, clothing is the enemy. If you’re no stranger to this blog, you’ve heard me go on about this before. Like when Mark went to Australia for work and Kate refused to change her underwear.

Or when she modeled for a photographer friend and was required to wear a woolen dress, cotton tights, tall boots… and a hat. [Wince] (Let’s just say her runway career was short-lived.)

Or the first time she actually wore a tutu to ballet class and I wept with joy and pride and the sweet normalcy of it all.

These things other kids do—tossing on, say, the Back to School outfit Grandma bought them, or new PJs on Christmas Eve to wait for Santa—are Herculean feats that are unattainable to my Kate.

The Occupational Therapist we saw 18 months ago called it Sensory Defensiveness, an extreme reaction to certain touch-sensations. Like, a shirt with a decal sewn on it won’t just elicit an “ugh” from Kate. She will claw it off, screaming and panicked. Some clothes aren’t just uncomfortable. She can’t bear them.

As with most diagnoses, there are degrees of intensity, and we are lucky that Kate’s is low impact. God bless the people out there who have it worse than us.

In fact, we’ve dialed the situation in to the extent that you might never know she has this problem. We’ve found shirts and skirts without bulky seams or itchy fabric that she’s willing to wear. And we’ve bought those things in quadruplicate.

And thrift stores are our friends. Other kids have broken everything in. And even though we have Paige to pass hand-me-downs to, I feel good about saving money on Kate’s clothes, considering all I’ve spent on things she only ever wore once. (Or that she cut the labels out of, then refused to try on.)

Once we get over the painful, arduous hump of breaking in a new pair of shoes, she will wear them every day for months, until she looks like a Dickensian pauper and we’re forced to buy her a new pair.

I’ve changed my expectations too. I’d love to dress her in cute outfits and put barrettes in her hair, but I traded in that desire for being able to start our days without tantrums, and with Kate feeling comfortable and calm. And I’ve stopped making costumes she refuses to wear on the day of the Halloween parade.

I’m trying to let go. I’m trying to rise above. Now I just smile at all her classmates in their sweet flowered sandals and their outfit-appropriate patent leather shoes. My girl? She’s the one in the velvet dress and muddy, threadbare sneakers. I really work on not letting it bother me.

We were down to three pairs of panties with her at one point. She had a drawer-full of others—all the same style and brand. But just three of them were old and soft enough for her to tolerate. Eventually one of The Chosen Ones split at the seams. When Mark threw them in the garbage can Kate wept like we were burying her pet dog, alive.

These are my maternal moments of heartbreak.

Two weeks ago Kate had her first concert. She joined a youth choir this winter, which she’s loved. She sings during dinner, while she brushes her teeth, when she’s falling asleep. I have to ask her to stop sometimes. She and Mark—a former chorus geek himself—bond over flowery high-pitched songs from the 18th Century. And best of all, choir requires no tutus, shin guards, or leotards.

So it was a bummer of the highest order when Mark learned he’d be traveling for Kate’s first performance. It was just a few weeks ago, and on the day of the show I was a basket case. I wasn’t the stage mom, worried that Kate wouldn’t hit her notes. I wasn’t concerned that she’d feel sad that her dad would miss her sing Homeward Bound.

My agita was about clothing. Because it ended up that there was a uniform she had to wear. Oy! A bright purple shirt with a sailor suit collar, a nylon black skirt, and black tights. And with Mark out of town, it was up to me to get my Don’t Feel Good Girl into this get-up.

There’s a reason why tights are called tights, you know. Kate does not do tights. And the awkwardly-cut, stiff new shirt was sure to be a Fashion Won’t.

I envisioned us being a hour late. Kate tear-strewn and inconsolable. And me holding the outfit that I couldn’t get her into. I pictured what our evening would be like if we were told she couldn’t participate in the show.

I texted my girlfriends throughout the day (bless their hearts), opening the pressure valve on my stress by sharing my fears. I read and re-read their encouraging responses.

I could do this. Kate could do this.


By 4:45 it was time to get ready. We’d eaten an early dinner and I’d given us 30 minutes for clothing and 30 minutes to drive there.  More than enough time.

I hauled out the big guns. I said the girls could watch a show while Kate changed.  I tried to keep my tone all easy-breezy. Usually my kids are in such hypnotic states in front of TV I can perform small surgeries on them without them even noticing.

But the tights! The tights were up first and were pure torture. She got them halfway on while laughing at Curious George, then looked down, realized what she was doing, and peeled them off in terror. We tried again. This time I gave into her request to try them sans panties. (They were thick black cotton so I figured it was hardly a Sharon Stone move.)

But no go, even without panties.

So you know what? I gave up on the tights. Forget the tights. Who needs tights?

I tossed them in my purse, she put back on her panties, and I coaxed the skirt on her as Curious George opened the farm gate and all the cows ran out. We tried the purple shirt solo, then over a variety of tank tops. Finally the right combination. Success!

And get this—we even braided her hair. A crazy, unexpected bonus.

She looked beautiful.

I wanted to dance, cry, and drink a massive gin and tonic and pass out. But I had a church to get to.

Every other girl was in their perfect outfit, black tights on, purple shirts pressed and perfect. And Kate run up to the crowd, melding in from the skirt up, but in her comfort-approved black-and-gray striped socks.

Instead of hating the other girls, I was proud of Kate. No tears shed, and 95% uniform success.

In a whisper I explained to the conductor that the tights were a no go, and why. And I didn’t stop to wonder about the judgments she might’ve been making about my child.

Summer camp starts in a week and a half. The “What to Bring” email always raises my blood pressure. Kate currently has no sweatshirts she’s willing to put on. So our next challenge is getting her to stop wearing the down jacket she still grabs when I ask her to bring a warm outer layer.

Either that, or start praying for snow in June.


Hippie Birthday to Me

Posted: May 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Food, Husbandry, Miss Kate, My Body, My Temple | 7 Comments »

I’m using this time while I’m not working to become more of a hippie.

My recent birthday might have brought this all on. It’s less about wanting to hang out in drum circles and more about wanting to be super healthy. Like, I’m someone who won’t use lotion with parabens, but I’ll drop $300 on a pair of sandals no problem. So whatever that makes me—a typical San Franciscan? someone who confuses marketing companies? a woman with smooth skin and over-priced shoes?—well, that’s what I guess I am.

I started my recent personal overhaul with my armpits. Because when you think of hippie women it’s that part of them that immediately comes to mind, right?

And noooo, I have not stopped shaving. I’m half-Italian, people. If I dropped the ball on hair removal my poor husband might wake up one day entrapped in a dense thicket of hair that sprouted up overnight. It’d be like those impenetrable thorn bushes that grew around Sleeping Beauty’s castle, except it’d be coming from my body. And we’d need the Jaws of Life to release him.

Though I guess a magic sword would work too, if we had one handy.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes—armpits.

No, the change I’m making has to do with deodorant. You may be relieved to hear I’m not forsaking it altogether. I’ve been using some major market anti-perspirant for ages. Then I shared a hotel room with a friend recently and she told me the stuff is loaded with aluminum. Which, it turns out, is wicked bad for you. I feel like I’d heard about that once, but then I saw something shiny, got distracted, and forgot about it.

So now I’ve started using some earthy-brand pit spray that’s $17.99 a bottle. (Hippie livin’ don’t come cheap.) It smells, literally, like roses. The helpful woman at the alternative pharmacy told me she uses it. And she didn’t stink.

Worst I can figure is I’ll smell like that basket of rosebud potpourri your grandma keeps in her bathroom. At least until my natural funk breaks through. Which’ll likely be nine minutes after I leave the house each day, or any time I do something strenuous like update my Facebook status.

My other hippie undertaking is that I’m juicing. I think that’s slang for when people take steroids, but I’m just putting lots of veggies into a machine and drinking the liquid it spits out. Mark got me this awesome appliance for my birthday a few weeks ago. I’ve become obsessed with concocting the most wretched combinations—kale, chard, collard greens, bok choy, carrots, apples. It’s like the darker and grosser it looks, the better it is for me, and the happier I am to drink it.

My friend Mary (also “a juicer”) tells me I’ll live forever. I’m happy someone’s paying attention.

Get this—I even bought wheat grass last week. Hilarious, right? It’s like one part chia pet, one part food product. I don’t know whether to glue googly eyes on it and give it a name, or mercilessly throw it into the churning maw of the machine.

I just hope my rose deoderant can manage the hearty kale-and-collard-greens funk my body’s likely producing.

The fact is, my hippie aspirations are nothing new. Six years ago, partway through my first pregnancy, I decided to ditch my popular O.B. for a midwife. I got super groovy about how I wanted to birth my baby—intervention-free, drug-free, and under self-hypnosis (I’m so not even kidding). So we went shopping for midwives.

Mark was a sport about it. When you consider that his dad is an O.B., it was pretty rad that he obliged my desire to overthrow western birthing conventions so I could burn sage and yodel in Sanskrit during my labor.

And his input on my choice of midwives was important to me—for an unlikely reason. Mark’s tolerance for hippies is much lower than mine. I feared that my labor would involve a long-haired, peasant-skirt clad woman dancing around and entreating Mark to praise Gaia and rub organic lavender oil on my girl parts. He’d be all annoyed and eye-rolly, and peacemaker that I am, I’d spend the moments between contractions trying to getting him and the midwife to like each other.

“You know, Harmony,” I’d say puffing and wheezing, “If you look past his button-down shirt, Mark and you have a lot in common! He was an Eagle Scout, you know. You live in a yurt, and he’s spent plenty of nights sleeping in a tent!”

“And Mark?” Loud moan as a contraction begins. “Harmony may not have a TV, but she does have a bike and YOU like bicycles. Now—discuss!”

I thought of this last weekend when I took Kate to the Himalayan Fair in Berkeley. I’d never been but instantly loved the winding pathways through the trees, lined with booths selling batik scarves, jingly ankle bracelets, woolen animal-shaped toys, and all sorts of tunics, sundresses, and man-skirts you’d feel totally comfortable wearing to a Hari Krishna cook-out.

Kate got a henna tattoo, we ate some vegetarian stew, and sat in an open field watching an Indian dance troupe do their thing. It was actually pretty hard to see the stage since half the audience was standing—doing those long-armed swim-strokey dance moves, closing their eyes and holding their faces up to the sun.

Let’s just say there were a lot of other folks there who don’t use Dry Idea anti-perspirant.

As I nibbled on chickpeas and took in the scene I turned to Kate and said, “This is excellent. I’m happy we can have some alone time today.”

She said, “Yeah, Mom. But, can we go to Target now?”

Ah, sure. The girl’s got a lot of her dad in her. She’s no hippie wanna-be like me, but she’s got plenty of birthdays ahead of her to change all that.


My Kid Can’t Spit

Posted: April 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 8 Comments »

I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had it with all the sickeningly proud parents in my suburban enclave. The next minivan I see with a “My son made the honor roll at John Muir High” sticker, I’m going to aim at, accelerate, and ram into. You know, go all Fried Green Tomatoes on their ass.

What about the under-achieving children of the world? What about the kids who didn’t get perfect attendance, but were only sent home once for biting someone? Where’s the bumper sticker for the student who amassed the most tardy slips? Or won an award for wearing the best Halloween costume—in April?

To balance the scales, today I’m celebrating all the things that my kids can’t do.

Like, my oldest daughter, Kate—the six year old. I’ll give her an article of clothing, a sweatshirt say, and kindly request, “Could you put this in your room, please?” Inevitably I’ll find it later strewn across the kitchen floor. Or balled up on top of the toilet tank. I’ve found panties that were hamper-bound wedged amongst the rain boots by the front door. I even found socks in the cracker cabinet once (though that may’ve been my doing.)

It’s not like in our Craftsman cottage Kate gets lost on the epic voyage to her room. It’s not clear to me what happens in those few short steps. So I’m considering rigging cameras through the house and building a room with a wall of TV monitors. After the kids go to sleep, instead of watching Mad Men or reality cooking shows, Mark and I can tune into the day’s tapes and figure out what happened to that half-eaten plate of meatloaf that never made it from the dining room table to the kitchen after dinner.

What my little one, Paige, is dazzlingly bad at is… spitting. You may be frustrated that your child is having trouble mastering the multiplication tables. What sends mushroom clouds of steam out of my mama head is watching my four-year-old brush her teeth. The girl cannot spit toothpaste. She does this flaccid tongue extension over and over, like a dog you’ve given peanut butter to (don’t pretend you’ve never done that). There’s no energy, no velocity behind Paige’s spit.

This also infuriates Kate, who is wired like her mama, and who, at age six, happens to be an authority on absolutely everything. Kate bellows, “Spit, Paigey! SPIT! Like this!” and demos snappy little squirts into the sink.

Mark will pass by the bathroom to see Kate and I yelling, “Really just spit it outta there! Let it fly!” and will just shake his head and walk on.

One area where both my girls excel with inability is toilet flushing. Especially when the contents of the bowl are, well, solid. It’s like they somehow mixed up that hippie water-saving adage “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down” to “if it’s brown, let it stick around.”

Paige has gone so far as to showcase turds she was especially proud of, grabbing my arm and dragging me through the house insisting I needed to see “something” right away. How delighted I am to finally discover what it is she’s so rabidly proud of.

Their inability to depress the toilet handle is bad enough when it’s just us four in the house. When I hear Mark bellow a dismayed “Awww!” followed by a flush I know exactly what he’s encountered. I’m just concerned about this habit following the girls into their adult lives. At this rate, they’ll never hold onto a college roommate and will end up living at home forever.

There are other things my girls can’t do. Kate can’t whistle, which distresses her. And despite being part of a youth choir, she also can’t sing. Paige still can’t snap herself into her booster seat. Neither of them can type 100 words a minute, speak Latin, or make a killer cassoulet. Oh, the list could go on and on, but really—I don’t want to brag.

You see, my children could be the cleverest, cutest, kindest and most talented accordion, guitar, or kazoo prodigies you’d ever meet. But even if that was true, you’ll never hear about it from me.

As for that recent email from the preschool informing us that some of the children have been playing a spitting game on the playground? I can assure you, that is not my kid.

What does your kid suck at? Leave a comment and let me know.


Paige’s Birthday Interview: Age 4

Posted: February 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool | 6 Comments »

We recently had an all-girl bring-a-doll tea party for Paige’s fourth birthday. We set a long kid-sized table with nice linens, plates with doilies, and a remarkably-nice-from-the-grocery-store bouquet of roses. We cut PB&Js into animal shapes and grilled cheese into little squares, and stuck toothpicks with pink ruffly tops into pieces of fruit. We arranged everything on cake pedestals and fancy platters.

But the best part? Mark wore his tux and served the girls. He poured dramatic high streams of cocoa from a silver teapot into teensy china cups. He bent crisply at the waist to take in whiny requests like, “I want MORE mini marshmallows!” He returned folded napkins to girls when they came back from “the potty.”

It was a hoot.

Especially since Paige’s homies aren’t exactly the Fancy Nancy set. They enjoyed themselves, but were hardly holding their pinkies up or sending mini bagels back to the kitchen for more cream cheese. They were more like a soup kitchen crew, muttering incoherently at times, grabbing food off each others’ plates, and occasionally burping and scratching their crotches.

Good times.

Anyway, after Mark’s stellar performance I thought of a new standard us gals should set for selecting a male to breed with. Will the guy be game for catering to the needs of a gaggle of four-year-old girls with the grace and proficiency of Carson from Downton Abbey? If so, ladies, grab that man and drag him down the aisle.

Kate reminded me this morning that I haven’t interviewed Paige for her birthday yet. It’s so helpful having her around as a second-tier mother.

So this morning, in keeping with my better-late-than never approach to birthday interviews, I sat down with Paige and asked her a few questions.

Me: If a genie could grant you one wish, what would it be?
Paige: Flying.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Paige: A mermaid. [Pauses, thinking.] I need a tail.

Me: What kind of job do you want when you grow up?
Paige: Be a nurse.

Me: What do nurses do?
Paige: Give shots.

Me: Where do you want to live when you grow up?
Paige: Penn-siv-vania.

Me: Do you think you’ll have any animals?
Paige: YEAH!

Me: What kind?
Paige: Camel.

Me: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Paige: No.

Me: Why not?
Paige: Because I’m going to be a mermaid.

Me: Do you want to have children?
Paige: Yeah.

Me: How many.
Paige: Seven. That’s a lot of kids.

Me: Do you feel different now that you are four?
Paige: Way older. Way way way way.

Me: How so?
Paige: Because I’m almost 8!

Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Paige: Turquoise, pink, and purple, and violet. Because one is that turquoise is the color of the sea, and one is that pink is the color of the sunset. And purple when you mix it up with pink it makes violet.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Paige: Penny. [A girl who used to go to her preschool who she hasn't seen--or mentioned--in months.]

Me: Why?
Paige: Cute.

Me: Now that you are four, do you think you’ll have a boyfriend?
Paige: Yes. [Giggles.]

Me: What do you think about world peace?
Paige: World peace? I love you! [Laughs.] I said I love you. I love world peace.

Me: Do you know what it is?
Paige: No. That’s why I said I love you!

Me: What is your favorite TV show?
Paige: What is that polar bear movie?
Kate: Knut.
Paige: I love Knut. And Sponge Bob Square Pants.
Me: Huh. I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen Sponge Bob.

Me: What’s your favorite thing to do that’s not TV?
Paige: Have candy. And do cartwheels.

Me: What’s your favorite activity that’s not about candy?
Paige: Painting and drawing. And getting candy.

Me: What do you like most about school?
Paige: Learning about dinosaurs.

Me: What have you learned about dinosaurs?
Paige: The way how they roar.

Me: What do you like to do in your free time?
Paige: Play mermaids. [Really? I have never witnessed this. If we were on The Newlywed Game my answer to this question would be "look at books." And we'd get in a fight later back stage that she came up with "play mermaids" totally out of the blue, leaving that other couple to win the new bedroom set.]

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Paige: [Incredibly long pause to think] I like peacocks.

Me: What is your favorite song?
Paige: [Thinly singing] Ba ba black sheep do you have any wool? Tell me, tell me… Wait. [Walks out of room.]

Me: Where are you going?
Paige: To get a songbook. [Returns with a binder of her preschool artwork.]

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Paige: Being a super girl.

Me: What can a super girl do?
Paige: Have power. And have a cape.

Me: What is your very favorite thing to do?
Paige: Make a cake.

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Paige: Bumble bees.

Me: What about them?
Paige: They have stingers.

Me: What is your favorite thing about me?
Paige: I love you. I love when you read.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Daddy?
Paige: I love you.

Me: Okay, but what is your favorite thing about Daddy?
Paige: He can read.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Kate?
Paige: She can read.

Me: What’s cool about her?
Paige: I like her.

Me: Why?
Paige: Because she can read!

Paige: I don’t want to do this any more. Can you just read?

I finally did relent and read to the gal. Even I can take a hint.

Happy birthday, dear Paigey. I love you more than you’ll ever know.


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.


I’m a Loser

Posted: November 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom, Travel | 1 Comment »

On Mark and my first wedding anniversary we’d recently moved into our house, and I was pregnant. Extremely pregnant.

Before heading out to a celebratory dinner (where Mark would drink expensive wine and I’d sip water), he gave me a present. We were in what would be the baby’s room, sitting on the floor. And Mark handed me a little turquoise box from a brilliantly-branded jewelry store. I think you know the place.

Inside it was a beautiful necklace—a platinum chain and a diamond solitaire pendant. I absolutely LOVED it.

Mark put it on me, and we sat there on the floor for a while, looking at the new crib and rocking chair and the pile of laundered, twice-rinsed baby clothes, marveling over how much our lives had changed in one year’s time.

Then Mark had to stand up and grab both my hands in order to pry me up off the floor.

Ah, good times.

A few weeks ago we went to Seattle. We had an amazing weekend with wonderful friends. We ate at great restaurants, got a private tour of Chihuly‘s studio, went for walks on the beach, and even saw two bald eagles up close and personal.

But somehow in the course of all that fun I lost my diamond necklace. And I’m just sick about it.

The thing is, I was insanely organized that weekend. Like even more so than usual. Our hosts don’t have children, so I tried my utmost to keep the sprawl of our stuff controlled. I folded clothes and placed them neatly back in our luggage. I paired shoes closely together and set them at the edge of our beds. I gathered wayward toothbrushes, detangling spray, and princess panties that had been flung around the bathroom and tucked everything away in its place.

So I’m not sure how that necklace got away.

Damn my recent growth spurt around accessorizing. A couple years ago I wouldn’t even HAVE another necklace to change into. But recently I’ve made an effort to mix things up a bit. I’ve bought some bold, statement-ish jewelry hoping to up my maternal style quotient.

All I know is that beloved diamond necklace went to Seattle and never came back.

This is the WORST feeling. That pit-in-your-stomach, beating yourself up, woulda coulda shoulda feeling.

The thing is I also know what it’s like to feel this way then to suddenly find the lost item and to snap out of it. To feel awash with sudden relief and renewed love for that once-lost thing. I keep hoping I’m at the brink of finding the necklace on the bottom of my toiletry kit (even though I’ve emptied it out and shook it upside down eight times now).

But as the weeks march on and it doesn’t turn up, I’m losing hope.

All this would be bad enough on its own, but a couple weeks before Seattle I pulled another regret-laden move. It was a rainy, stormy, low-visibility morning. I was driving to work in a crazy slew of traffic. My 20-minute drive took nearly an hour.

I finally arrived at the parking garage in downtown San Fran. Hurray! I made it in one piece.

But when I pulled into the garage and took a sharp right to get into the row of to-be-parked cars I heard a loud scraping sound. No, it was more like a crunching. I looked up to see that I’d hit the edge of the doorway—a wall covered with a black rubber bumper and bright yellow reflective tape.

I’m such an optimist that I hopped out of the car, hopeful that—despite the horrific crunch of metal—the damage wasn’t too bad. [Let me throw my head back here for some hearty rueful laughter.]  Yeah, well, no luck there. I pretty much took out the front passenger-side door AND the rear passenger-side door. Oh, and I scraped up the edge of the bumper too, just for good measure.

I’m not sure why I’m in this self-destructive mode. Maybe my moons are in retrograde? Or my insurance company is controlling my actions like a marionette? Maybe—despite my age, my marital and maternal status, and my professional standing—I’m still that irresponsible, reckless teen who crashed her car into a snow bank, lost her mother’s pearls, and had her Kelly green rugby shirt stolen because she didn’t lock her locker.

I don’t feel like that girl any more, but try as I will, maybe I just can’t shake her.

The other night at dinner Paige asked me to tell her a story about when I was “a little girl.” I find these requests both sweet and annoying. The egomaniac in me loves the invitation to hold court on my favorite topic: myself. But the tired old mom in me just wants to clear the dishes off the table and start running the bath water. Haggard Mom thinks summoning up some story to tell takes more energy than she has.

But egomania won out.

Me: “Okay, so when I was a little girl my mother used to save all the old stale cereal and crackers and bread that we didn’t eat. She’d put it in the trunk of her car. And whenever she drove past the golf course or the pond on Poppasquash Road she’d pull over and feed the old crackers and stuff to the ducks.”

Kate: [wild-eyed] “You’re not supposed to do that!”

Me: “What?”

Kate: “Feed bread to ducks! We just learned this on our field trip. If ducks eat bread they get this disease where their wings get stuck like this [holds her arms straight out behind her]. Then they can’t fly!”

For some reason in my wrung out, end of the day, slaphappy mode, I found this utterly hilarious. And I started to laugh.

Kate: “No, Mom, it’s true! Their wings get like this [holds her arms out stiffly again]. It’s NOT FUNNY.”

And really, it’s not funny. But something about my daughter’s sweet earnestness, and something about how all those years my mother was trying to do something good but was essentially crippling the object of her affection—gave me a taste of how powerless we can be as we make our ways through the world. Try as we may to do the right thing, sometimes the universe conspires against us.



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Keeping it Real

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Manners, Miss Kate, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

I am a Nazi about thank you cards. Sending them, that is.

And like all people with militant beliefs, I work hard to instill them in my children. Call me old school, uptight, or etiquette-bound, but I want writing thank you notes to become second nature to my kids.

As it turns out, I have no need to worry. At least with my oldest child, Kate, who is a great maker of cards. A tremendous and relentless maker of cards. It’s somehow just in her genes, I guess. And I know that my mother—an ardent disciple of Emily Post—would approve.

Not all Kate’s cards are thank yous. No, she whips up cards for birthdays, sick friends, Valentine’s Day, the death of a pet. When she learned that Paige’s teacher broke his foot last year, she immediately dashed off a card. She made another to bid adieu to our dear gaybors the night before they moved. (Just a few blocks away, but we’re all still sick about it.)

The heart-shaped card she enclosed when we mailed Halloween candy to the troops said, “Dear soldiers, thak you for protecting the U.S.A. Soldiers rok! p.s. My name is Kate.”

(P.P. S. I told her how to spell ‘soldiers.’)

Kate made a card to welcome her pet fish, Karen. It’s hanging by the fishbowl in a spot, I assume, where Karen can easily read it. It says, “Dear Karen I hop you like your noo hom! Your onr Kate.”

The “your onr” line still slays Mark.

I admit, Kate’s thank you note routine has been a bit trying at times. Now that she can write—albeit with her school-condoned “creative spelling”—she’s not just doodling on the sea of notes that I churn out. She labors over each one. I’ll have a list of 20-plus gift-givers to get through and Kate will get hung up on one card for 15 minutes, cutting an elaborate snowflake decoration to enclose with it. I don’t want to stifle her creativity, but I do want to get the birthday thank yous out before we get snowed with the Christmas ones.

The contents of Kate’s notes range from the fascinating non sequitur variety—”Thanks for the book. I just had hot choklit!!”—to the brutally basic. To her great grandmother she recently wrote, “I put the muny in my banc akont.”

There are also the times when Kate’s spelling is inadvertently inappropriate. There was the series of cards that said, “Thak you for cuming to my party.”


She wrote a thank you note to a neighbor who gave her magic markers. The pens, it turned out, were permanent ink. Mark and I discovered this after an art sesh left indelible marks on our dining room table.

The first draft of that note went something like, “Thank you for the magic markers. My mother took them away from me.”

I certainly want to encourage honesty, but I asked for a do-over on that one.

Today we were invited to an ice cream party. My friend Lily was celebrating the end of her chemotherapy (yay!), so she invited 60 friends, relatives, kids, and neighbors to her house for an old school ice cream social. It was the perfect fun lighthearted celebration to mark the end of a truly trying and terrible year.

Now, as you may know, I tend to be a rosy sunshiny, hide-the-bad-details-from-the-kids kinda mom. I’m the one who has assured a worried child there are no robbers in Oakland. I’ve gone so far as to brush off the notion that earthquakes could ever take place in the Bay Area. (“Here? Pishaw!”)

But when Lily got sick I didn’t sugarcoat it for my kids. They’d seen me sniffle and weep after bad-news phone calls, so they knew something was up. But that wasn’t why I was so unlike-me honest about it. The situation was so real and raw, I couldn’t fathom pretending it was something else. Something not so bad.

They knew Lily was sick. And I told them she had to take a kind of strong medicine that would make her hair fall out. And that the kind of sickness she had could be really scary and bad, which is why I cried about it sometimes—because I was scared. Because some people die from it.

So this morning as we got ready to go to the end-of-chemo ice cream party, Kate asked if she could make Lily a card. And I said, “Of course. She would love that.”

Then I got really curious to see what she would write. I half-expected the card to say, “Dear Lily, I’m happy you didn’t die.”

But my concerns were unfounded.

The card said:
“Dear Lily: I am igsided thet you dot hef to tace metsin eney mor!!!!!!!! love Kate!!!!”

Of course, I bawled when I saw it. I bawled about three different times before the party, and at least once more on the way home. I bawled because I think that in getting ready to celebrate this bad hard part being over, in giving into relief, I opened some door inside myself and big blasts of how scared I’ve been snuck out too.

I was totally projecting when I thought of what Kate’s card to Lily might say. The thing that I wanted to say if I weren’t an adult and didn’t know better that it was too bracingly honest: “Please please please kick this cancer in keister. I love you so much my dear, and I really don’t want you to die.”

Because the fact is, she’s not totally out of the woods. Today’s party was like a milestone pit stop. A celebration that the end of the woods are now at least in sight.

It was a glorious sunshiny day. There was a Mickey Mouse jumpy house in full swing in the back yard. We arrived early, but before we knew it their big home was buzzing with friends chatting and laughing, kids running past our legs holding cups of ice cream.

Amidst all those people and all their talking I’m nearly certain no one actually said aloud that they’re relieved that Lily is here and alive and nearly almost altogether well. We didn’t have to. Today what we had to do was eat ice cream.

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