Mothering Out of Bounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man, it’s annoying.

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

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

I guess I’m kinda trigger happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.T.: “Hey, Ma. Yeah, I’m fiiiiine.”

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

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

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Highlights and Lowlights (and I’m Not Talking about My Hair)

Posted: January 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Birthdays, Books, Daddio, Food, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Movies, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Shopping, Summer | 3 Comments »

My friend Barb is perfect.

She’s extremely kind and thoughtful. She’s genuine through and through. She’s creative and silly and fun and smart. And, of course, she’s gorgeous. So much so that she was asked out on a date—approached on the sidewalk, no less—when she was nearly eight months pregnant.

If she wasn’t so wonderful, I’d hate her.

Barb and her hubby had kids long before Mark and I added to the world’s population problem. So going to their house for dinner always was an exercise in note-taking for our future family. One night after dinner I remember their kidlings hauled out a bunch of different instruments. We had a music and dance party that was such good clean fun I wanted to make lederhosen for them out of the drapes while belting out “The Hills Are Alive.” (Note to my sister-in-law: This is a reference to The Sound of Music. Which is a movie.)

At dinner each member of Barb’s family shares the highlights and lowlights of their day. It’s something we started doing, and a few of our friends have since picked it up from us. It’s a sly way to lure kids into old-fashioned dinnertime convos. I never knew how deeply shrouded in secrecy a day at kindergarten could otherwise be.

Someone recently told me she does this too, but calls it ‘Roses and Thorns.’ She borrowed the name from the Obamas. Such a schmancy Presidential Rose Garden spin! Hey, what’s good enough for Malia and Sasha is good enough for my girls.

I stumbled across some other tips on Motherboard for taking the gruel out of family din-dins. Did you know that the more family dinners teens attend, the less likely they are to smoke pot, run away from home, and dress like sluts? Okay, so I’m not sure about that last one, but I’m still willing to enforce the you-sit-right-here-for-dinner-Missy rule for a while to come.

So, where was I?

Well, God knows it doesn’t some dinnertime game to get me talkin’. But with 2010 in my rear view mirror, I’ve been thinking about some of my year’s highlights and lowlights.

First, for the highlights:

Best Times with Paige: Every day when she climbs on me in bed for our delicious morning snuggle. I love this even when it’s brutally hellishly early in the morning. I can’t help but think she won’t be doing this forever, so I’m basking in it while it lasts.

Best Times with Kate: Reading. This year Katie Pie learned to read, which was magical and thrilling. But she’s not exactly devouring books on her own yet. And I cherish the times each day that I read to her. For an active kiddo, she totally calms down, snuggles up, and gets absorbed in stories. It rocks. We’re reading chapter books now too, which has lots of great day-after-day satisfaction, like some weird good-for-you soap opera.

Best Meal: The first out-put of Mark’s food smoker—pulled pork sandwiches for Paigey’s 2nd birthday party. (Feeding the kids was a total afterthought.)

Best Dessert Recipes: Three-way tie between The New York Times’ Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake, Sunset’s Lemon Rosemary Buttons, and Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Cookies.

Best Yard Sale Bargain: Four Reidel stemless wineglasses for $2. (And to think I almost asked “For each one?” Ha!) Now I wish our vast Reidel collection was all stemless.

Best Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip: The Winter Olympics in Vancouver with Mark (who covered the games for Wired) and my dear collegiate frienda Brenda. If you have never been to this event, GO. It will renew your faith in, well, the world. Plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten emotionally invested in a curling match.

Best Party We Attended: A Father’s Day brunch in our beloved friends’ the Bibbo’s back yard. We came for breakfast and stayed through dinner. Such fun. And the food! Oh, the food.

Proudest Mama Moments: Watching Kate walking into her first day of Kindergarten like such a big big sweet girl. And seeing Paige running around with the other kids at her 2nd b-day party. (If 2009 was about Paigey Wiggles learning to walk, 2010 was about her running and dancing and jumping and skipping and never looking back. Yippee!)

Best Televised Sports Experience: Watching a Canadian Olympic hockey game at a bar in Whistler with one of my best friends and my best (albeit only) husband. Man, those Canadians really do love their hockey. And their beer. (Turns out we do too.)

Best Life-Improving Purchase: Our super-cozy eco-groovy Keetsa memory foam mattress.

Best Happy Tears Moment: When I read the letter to Mark over the phone that Kate had gotten into to the super-excellent school she now goes to.

Best Date with Mark: His birthday dinner this November at Quince in San Fran. We forsook the entrees, ordered all five pastas, and had them bring us whatever wine they wanted with each course. And we didn’t talk about the kids once!

Best Summer Trip: Spending three glorious weeks at my dad’s house with the girls. The mercurial New England weather was set to Perfect Summer Beach Day the whole time. The girls were like little nature nymphs, dancing around in the waves and happily playing in the sand for hours each day. (TV? Who needs TV?) The 4th of July parade rocked, like it does, especially with all the far-flung friends we’ve managed to have to join us in Bristol. Best of all, we got truly excellent quality time with my Daddio, who watched more patio-staged ballet performances, and drew more hearts and princesses and rainbows then he ever bargained for.

Best Dose of I-Still-Got-It: Shaking off years of professional rust to do some freelance work at the very cool design firm in SF Hot Studio. A week into the project I told someone I’d been working at home as a mom for the past two-plus years, and he said he couldn’t believe it. (When he sneezed and I automatically started wiping his nose, I think he caught on.)

Best Home Furnishings Score: When my sister unloaded about a dozen duvet covers, sheet sets, pillows, bed skirts, and cloth napkins on me from her vast and fabulous personal collection. I now have a bad-ass world class bedscape. But it also takes an extra 20 minutes to move the pillows off our bed before going to sleep at night.

Best Wine: The huge-ass bottle (I think that’s what vintners call it) of supreme Surh-Luchtel vino that our friends Don and Shelley brought to a party at our house. Not only did it have A LOT of wicked good wine it it, the bottled was inscribed with our wedding invitation. (Try registering for that.)

Best Personal Challenge: Doing Oakland Adventure Boot Camp this summer/fall. I pride myself on voluntarily waking up at 6AM every-other morning, as well as the endless rounds of push-ups, wind sprints, and squats with medicine balls. Go me.

Best I’m Not As Young As I Used to Be Moment: Playing field hockey at my 25-year high school reunion. The other team (our old rivals who were also in town for their reunion) decimated us, but it was hilarious getting out on that field again. And it’s nice knowing that nothing I do now requires a mouth guard.

Best Foodie Celeb Sighting: Meeting Sarah Foster at her cafe/store Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we spent another fine Miller Family Thanksgiving.

Best Novel: The Help. But I also *loved* The Eloquence of the Hedgehog.

Best Non-Fiction Book: Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat. Mark got to know Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea in Chicago) after writing about him for Wired, then contributing to his dazzling cook book. Even though I know the story, it was a total page-turner. I was lucky enough to read an advanced galley. When this book comes out in March, if you have any interest in the foodie realm, check it out. It’s way cheaper than a dinner at Alinea.

Best New TV Show Addiction: Seems pretty trite and light-core, but it’s Parenthood. A friend of mine said he and his wife were TiVoing it, but before they’d watched it someone told her, “I LOVE that show. It’s makes me laugh! It makes me cry!” So my friend’s wife went home and deleted it from their TiVo. Well, I admit it’s made this Mama laugh and cry too. I wuv the cast (Peter Krause is the celeb version of Mark), but there are a couple actors I loathe, which it turns out I actually kinda need in a show. And, of course, it’s supposed to be set in Berkeley. So I dig seeing the local landmarks, the Craftsman houses, and of course, the bra-less women and pot-adled liberals.

Best Old TV Show Addiction: Tie between Dexter and Damages. Glenn Close is so good at being bad. (What else should I be watching on DVD?)

Best Party Mark and I Threw: Hiring a chef to cook dinner for our six nearest and dearest Oakland friends, and my dad and stepmother who were visiting from Rhode Island. All I had to do was buy a centerpiece, set the table, and take a shower. Bliss! Plus, the food rocked. As did Dad’s card tricks.

Best Kiddie Music the Whole Family Can Tolerate:  Laurie Berkner

Best Self-Preservation Maneuver: Hiring a “hangover helper”—i.e. a babysitter to come over one Sunday at 7:30AM, the day after we had a party. She whisked in, took the kids out for breakfast and to the park, and allowed Mark and I some desperately-needed sleeeeep. This was such a supremely smart idea I think there’s a business plan in there somewhere.

Best Meeting I Attended: One in which it was determined that Paige was doing so well (physically and verbally) she was no longer eligible for the state’s early intervention services. Woo hoo!

Best Article of Clothing I Bought: A brown cotton Max Studio dress that I wear like it’s my favorite pair of jeans. Looks kinda like this one.

Best Hobby I Got Back Into: Reading. And really, reading one good book is like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You want to start reading everything. According to the widget on this here blog, I read 20 books in 2010, about two a month. And that doesn’t count the small handful I started and abandoned.

Best Gift I’ve Used Every Day: When Mark was in Switzerland last winter for work, he bought me a fabulous perfect-for-everyday-use indestructible Freitag purse. It’s fabulous, and he’s fabulous for having such good taste (in wives, and in business-trip gifts).

Best Kitchen Gadget: An electric kettle, which I dropped and broke last week. It had been great for everything from making tea, to hot water for the kids oatmeal.

Best Stupid Comedy Rentals: Step Brothers (AMAZING tip, Drew!), and The Hangover. These bad frat-boy-humor movies were so damn good, I can’t believe I ever liked (okay, loved) Dumb and Dumber.

Best Stay-cation: Our Christmas/New Year’s break. The kids were off school for two weeks, and Mark was off work (for the most part) then too. It was the perfect balance of social plans, sleeping late, and lazy rainy days. Mark and I gave each other time for golf (him) and yoga (me). And I didn’t get out of my PJs all day on Christmas. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Best Social Event: My high school reunion. If everyone waited until they were in their 40s to go to high school it’d be a much friendlier place.

Best Compliment: A babysitter told me I look like Ari Gold’s wife, Mrs. Ari, from Entourage. She was certain I “must hear that from people all the time.”

As for the year’s lowlights, I’m happy to report there were far fewer than the highlights. Which also means this blog post will end soon(ish) for you. Phew!

Saddest Loss: Mark’s wonderful grandpa passing away. And my Dad’s BFF and most-excellent neighbor, Eddie, and my sweet Uncle Ade also died.

Worst Foot-in-Mouth Moment: Asking a mother at Paige’s preschool if she was a nanny. Ugh!

Worst Mama Moment: How much time do you have? Seriously, nothing huge and hideous comes to mind here, THANK GOD, just a long list of times when I’ve lost my temper, raised my voice, irrationally barked out a, “No!,” or had my own form of grown-up of tantrum. You know, the usual stuff.

Worst Weekend-Away Phone Call: The one in which Mark reported that Kate got kicked out of kindergarten. Just for the day. But still.

Worst Morning: Crying at boot camp—while running the stairs!—because I had barely slept the night before (see Paige’s sleep issue below). The petite drill sergeant trainer gave me a double dose of tough love, when what I needed was a wee bit o’ encouragement. (At least she emailed me an apology that afternoon.)

Worst Weather Interference: A local daytime Halloween parade is a supremely super-fun place for kids and Halloween-obsessed adults (like moi) to revel in the holiday. This year it rained. Waaah! I was like a bride on her rainy wedding day. Even though the die-hards still came out, the raincoats over costumes were a bummer.

Worst Wretched Sleep Pattern: Paige went from being a star sleeper, to the kid who gets out of bed 15 times after you tuck her in. Plus a few times in the middle of the night. Oy! We’ve considered returning her to her crib (since this all started with the move to her Big Girl Bed), but I fear if we did that we’d leave her in it ’til her teens. And that’d bring about a whole ‘nother host of unsavory issues.

Biggest Regret: Realizing that the 8-hour drive to Palm Springs to visit my sister Judy is totally do-able with the kids—especially with a DVD player in the car. Why haven’t I been going to see her more? (And this doesn’t come solely from my desire to score more sheets.)

Worst Airline Travel: Twice—or maybe even three times—this year we’ve taken family trips with flights departing at 6AM. One time Kate refused to get dressed when we woke her up. We finally put her in the car in her panties, since we were about to miss our flight. At the long-term parking lot her tantrum continued, until Mark and I strong-armed her into her dress and shoes (a lovely public display of excellent parenting). Later, in a long busy airport hallway, she had another diabolical fit. Over her head (and while pretending to not be her parents) Mark and I vowed to never take a 6AM flight again. No matter how much cheaper the tickets were. And then, we went on two more trips with 6AM departures. Sigh.

Saddest Farewell: Our long-time nanny and friend Shelly moved back to Israel this fall. We are thrilled that she is back with her family and friends, but we miss her madly! It’s super sad to not know when—or if—we’ll see her again.

Most Shameful Injury: Pulling a groin muscle while bowling with the kids and Mark’s parents on our Thanksgiving vacation. My chiropractor said, “I don’t know what’s worse: Admitting you were bowling, or that you got injured while bowling.”

When it’s Mark’s turn to tell his day’s highlight at dinner, he sometimes says, “Right now.” Even though it means a relatively early dinner hour and food that’s geared towards the whole family, we’ve been making an effort to eat with the girls every night,. (Except for when we ditch them with a sitter and go out.)

So it’s sweet that our family meal is sometimes the highlight of Mark’s day. Either that, or his work day really sucked.

Now Kate and Paige sometimes use “right now” as their highlight too. Which would be fine if it wasn’t on the days I’ve busted my butt to take them to the beach and out for ice cream, or to a children’s museum, or to some other kid-gasmic concert or party or special event. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it takes the wind out of my sails when the turkey burgers en famille beat all those other things out.

But maybe I should wise up a bit to Mark and the girls. Maybe the best highlight of all is the sum-total of our sweet family dinners together. Maybe turkey burgers really are the key to happiness.

I love you, Mark, Kate and Paigey, my three life highlights!

And Happy Happy New Year to the rest of you. In 2011, may your highlights blast your lowlights out of the water.



Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Mama Posse, Movies | 1 Comment »

Years ago, driving across the Bay Bridge, I saw a car with the license plate WMNRSMTR.

As you may know (from my excessive blathering about it), I’m from Rhode Island. A place where vanity license plates—and those with low numbers—are regarded as the pinnacle of social worth.

Not to show off or anything, but my first car, a major jalopy, had the most-excellent plate, KB 2. It was because I was dating the son of a Department of Transportation employee. That car’s been off the road for twenty years now, but my Dad (FB 14) is still proud of that license plate.

Aaaanyway, I was driving behind WMNRSMTR. It was clear that there was a message in there, but not so clear what it was. And I’m usually great with word things. It’s those pastel dotty posters you’re supposed to stare at until you see the wolf baying at the moon that I have trouble with. I almost never succeed at having the image emerge, and end up just lying to whomever I’m shopping with at Spencer’s that I saw it.

But I digress.

So here’s me, alone in my car, trying to crack the code:

“Wim… Nurse.. Mutter…”

“Wih Minners Matter?”

Then more determined:

“Wim NERsum Terr!”

“Wimin URS Tur!”

And finally:

“Wim NER Smerrterr?”



Yeah, yeah, I get the irony.

And speaking of women, but really just a total tangent, I realized the other day that my gynecologist’s office is on BUSH Street. No joke! How good is that?

So a couple months ago I went on a day-long yoga retreat in Marin. I’ve done this before but always with my friend and faithful neighb, Jennifer. This time I was flying solo. So at the lunch break I was sitting somewhat dorkishly at the big communal table, having one of my twice-a-decade moments of shyness. Just hoping one of the other yoginis might put their play-with-the-outcast-on-the-playground skills to work.

A trio of older women, in their 60s or so, were sitting to my right. And one of them got to talking in a loud and animated enough way that I felt I could scoop hippie vegan soup into my mouth and look at her. You know, pretend that she was talking to me too.

She’d lived in a chicken coop in Georgia, she said. Yes, a chicken coop. Starting when she was 20 until about—long pause, looking up sideways to think—until she was 26. “It had a packed clay floor,” she pointed out. As if we’d all maybe been picturing parquet. They cooked on a grill and had an outdoor water drum that was painted black that they used as a shower.

I was instantly jealous.

When I was 20 I was living in Ohio. Sure that’s rustic and all, but I mean, I had indoor plumbing.

She’d moved to Georgia from Minnesota with her “pack,” as she called them. A group of about eight who I couldn’t help but imagine as a bra-disparaging partner-swapping commune-like klatch.

Again, more envy. Or maybe just deep deep fascination.

And they were potters, of course. That’s to say, throwers of pots. (By this point in the story I think I’d pulled my chair nearly an inch from her, abandoning my soup, enraptured.) They—her “pack”–had waited for their potter’s wheels to arrive in the mail first, then they hit the road for Georgia.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many pottery wheels they had, and why they didn’t just have them shipped straight to Georgia. But I didn’t want to ask too many questions. After all, I was kind of auditing the story as it was.

After more good stuff about one klatch member who was a professor getting fired, and some details on the rigors of heat-free winter-living, she mentioned  she now owns a gallery in Berkeley. The woman at her left has a gallery there too. They said the names of the places, which I of course instantly forgot, but in my mind I envisioned visiting there a lot. Buying stuff. Becoming an apprentice. Keeping a pet cat there.

Even though I kinda hate pottery.

Then this other woman pulls up a chair with her bowl of soup. And for a moment my verging-on-creepy fixation with the gray-haired pot-throwers was broken.

The new woman started chatting with the instructor about how she’s out of town so often for work. So, I summon some social courage and ask her what she does.

And DO YOU KNOW WHAT SHE SAID? She said she is a bee broker.

A BEE broker!!

I didn’t know what that was but I instantly wanted to be one too. BEES! Of course!

So, I say, “So, uh, what is a bee broker?”

And do you know what she said? She said that she has some big rig that’s filled with hives that she brings down to Modesto to the almond farms. She then sets her bees free in the fields. It’s like the farmers rent them! Then at night when it gets all chilly the bees fly back into the truck to go to sleep with in the hive, or have sex with the queen, or do whatever it is they do in there. Then Ms. Bee Broker heads off to another farm.

I almost hugged her.

Now I was going to have to split my weekends between Modesto and the Berkeley pottery studios.

All this talk was more energizing than all the hold-one-nostril breathing and triangle-posing the first half of the retreat had served up. I loved every one of these women. If these gals by were so amazing, what were the ones crouched over their vegan soup over there like? I wanted to start going from woman to woman, looking intently into each of their faces and interviewing them all documentary-style.

I mean, I was feeling like the odds that the next person I’d talk to would be a Bed, Bath & Beyond employee was pretty low. But the thing is, if she had been, I think I would have suddenly slipped into a reverential trance, and praised all that was holy about mattress pads. I was ready to find the love in everyone.

Without drugs!

After lunch and before my yoga, we all hiked to the beach. This hike is pretty crazy gorgeous. If you’re ever in California, call me and I’ll take you to this place. It’s along a super lush valley where these Buddhists have a homestead. You pass all their perfect vegetable and flower gardens, then a silly idyllic horse pasture, and then the path narrows and it’s all just and trees and flowers and birds and butterflies and nature and shit.

What I mean is, it sure is purdy there.

Then when you arrive at the beach, you get that positive ion hit. Whatever that high is that you get from the ocean water. Someone told me about this once and I still believe that there’s something to it, even if it’s really not true.

But clearly in the mode that I was in I needed no more highs of any sort.

Beachside I wandered up to a group of co-yoga-retreaters and sat on a driftwood log with them. (See how socially brave I was getting?) We were looking out at the water, and I was feeling certain one of them was about to tell me something that would make me weep and hug her ankles and think that the world was a beautiful beautiful place. You know. I was just waiting for that.

Even better, I got some excellent book recommendations. These gals were older, but let’s just say we were reading at the same level. We all clucked with praise for that great hedgehog novel. And then they bantered about the name of a few other amazing reads. Eventually I’d borrowed a pencil from one of them and an ATM receipt from another and wrote the all the titles all down. We even talked about our favorite children’s lit because—get this—one of them had been a children’s librarian for, like, 30 years or something. Joy!

If I were to spelunk a few layers down on my desk today, I may even find that paper today and read those books.

Just a day or two after it opened, I went to see the Sex and the City movie with a Mama Posse friend. I never read movie reviews. Having even the smallest inkling of what to expect in a movie destroys it for me. I spend the whole time waiting for whichever scene it is that’s funny or dumb, and I can’t even enjoy my wine. (Yes, smuggling red wine and plastic cups into the movies has become par for the course for me and the Mamas.)

But in the days leading out to my Moms Night Out, Mark, bless his heart, made sure I knew how utterly decimated this movie had gotten by reviewers. It’s badness delighted him.

But whatEVER. We still went. And all of Oakland was out in their fancy. I mean, black girls in stilettos and what looked like prom dresses. I mean, it’s Oakland. If there was any Prada, I didn’t see it.

Me, I was in flip flops.

And do you know what? I LIKED the movie. Sure it was vapid and silly and predictable, and there were probably some culturally-offensive jokes, but it was entertaining. Yes, I actually chuckled—full-out laughed a bit too—and found it perfectly un-intellectually engaging.

On the way out, I think I even complimented a woman on her purple clutch, awash with feel-good audience-mate comraderie.

I’m not exactly sure what all those reviews said—because if I’m disinclined to read reviews before seeing a movie I’m even disinclineder to read them after. Maybe those writers were preparing to see Amistad, and were taken aback when the movie was more about Manolo Blahnik shoes, low-cal cocktails, and menopause. You know, I think they were missing the point.

While I’m at it, do you know what movie I also saw last week? The latest Twilight movie. Oh yes I did.


Sure, I’d had—-okay—a few Mai Tais beforehand. But even without cheap rum coursing through my veins I think I’d be squealing over the dreamy barely-legal cast and walloping my poor friend’s arm during the shirtless scenes. It was entertaining. I enjoyed myself.

And where’s the shame in that?

I’m hardly going to defend the artistic merit of either movie. But I will say, that in a theater full of women who likely spent their days working in courtrooms, or classrooms, or at The Sunglass Hut—or hell, wrangling with clay or bees or young children—for us gals it felt good to put our hair down and our feet up and let the low-browness of it all wash over us. I mean, isn’t that why men watch wrestling?

From what I can tell, despite what movies we may make a big show of going to, that license plate was right. Women are smarter.

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