I Can Walk Under Ladders

Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books, College, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Moods, Music | No Comments »

My college roommate tortured me. Not by bringing home an endless stream of guys. Not by being a huge slob, or selling drugs from our cinder-block dorm room Shangri-La. It was a CD. A Joan Armatrading CD that she listened to NON STOP.

Which is to say, when she was happy. When she was depressed. When she had a paper to write, or to celebrate having just handed one in. And when she didn’t know what else to listen to.

I loved her dearly. She was one of my closest friends. But God. Help. Me. It was A LOT of Joan Armatrading.

In fact, at one point the frat we lived next to was hazing their initiates. For a week they blasted some horrible 80s rap song—the same damn song—over and over and over again. And frankly hearing that was a cake walk compared to my own private musical hell. I could have gotten into that frat no problem-o considering what I’d endured for months. I mean, if I’d also had a penis, was willing to drink non-stop, chug gold fish, and sex up goats.

Though to be fair the them, the goat thing is just conjecture. For all I know they were having sex with cows. (It was, after all, rural Ohio.)

Anyway, one of the songs in my private musical hell went, “I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I can walk under ladders.”

And right now? Well right now, decades later, I am SO down with that song. I am truly feelin’ lucky.

Because last week, while grabbing a random laptop bag that was wedged alongside my desk, I found a long-lost library book. It was Big Dog, Little Dog by Tolstoy. Or maybe it was P.D. Eastman. Anyway, one of them.

I’d already bought a replacement of the book for the library. But finding it was still a thrilling validation that I’m not the world’s worst housewife. That my house didn’t swallow that book up like a hairball, and refuse to cough it up. Plus the discovery eradicated that bad lost-something feeling that can lurk in one’s soul. That crappy feeling of irresponsibility that can only be removed by finding what it was you foolishly let slip away.

Of course, it being Monday and Oakland suffering from gargantuan budget cuts, the library was closed. So I was unable to swagger in waving the book around and bellowing, “Eureka!” Instead I stuck a neon yellow Post-It note on it. “Found this!” I proclaimed. “Already replaced it, but that’s okay.” I left off the “love, Kristen,” but I think it was implied.

Then I stuck the book in the drop box.

Heck, I already got you a new one, Library, but take this one TOO. I’m feelin’ that generous.

The thing is, I lost that book the same fall weekend in Seattle when I lost my diamond pendant necklace. The special one Mark gave me on our first wedding anniversary. And I don’t know about you, but my jewelry box isn’t exactly overflowing with diamond necklaces.

Anyway, finding the book made me tear through all the little zippered sections and pen nooks in the bag I found the book in, wildly hoping that my necklace would also magically appear. I thought I could, like, double down on my finding luck.

But no dice.

Mark was traveling for work, at the yearly CES geek-fest in Vegas. And on Wednesday night while he dined on steak, drank expensive wine, and spent a rollicking evening gambling, boozing, and maybe even chomping a cigar, I sat in our living room surrounded by four (count ‘em, FOUR) laundry baskets full of clean clothing. And I folded. And folded. And folded.

Because I know how to have a good time.

For some reason when I was putting stuff away I was overcome with the OCD urge to sort through my sock and underwear drawer. This is the sort of strange organizational compulsion that overtakes a gal like me at 9:30 at night when all the laundry is folded but you want more hot crazy domestic action. Oh yes, I was unhinged.

I happily re-united socks that had been living apart from each other just inches away—unworn for months! I wadded together a bolus of brown and black tights larger than a watermelon. I even decided to THROW AWAY some underwear that dated back to the first Bush administration. I mean, I was making all kinds of world-rocking changes and life-enriching decisions. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m even planning to wear a matching bra and underwear set some time soon.

I know… cuh-razy, right?

Anyway, as I dug down towards a strapless bra I may have bought for my prom dress, past some random business cards I stowed with my undies years back for safe-keeping, somewhere amidst all that and a weird Russian watch I have, I found my diamond necklace. Just sitting there. Looking so oddly there, that I couldn’t believe it was it.

It’s not like the sound track to this discovery—had this taken place in my movie memoir—would’ve been a sudden clap of of upbeat, celebratory music. Or even an angelic chorus mounting in pitch. Instead there was a weird kinda pins and needles sound in my brain. I’ve wanted to find this necklace for so long, but finally looking at it, I somehow couldn’t grasp what I saw. It’s like I was stuttering in my mind, “No. No. Naw…” until it finally clicked.”Wait. Really? Oh my God—YES!”

This is why my life story can’t be a documentary. It has to be acted out by someone else. I’m just so bad at acting out the most exciting parts. If you don’t believe me, ask Mark how dopey I was when he asked me to marry him.

Anyway, what was so funny about that damn Joan Armatrading CD Leah used to listen to was that I’d bemoan it constantly to her face, but eventually I kinda started getting into it. Not that I ever admitted that to her, mind you. It was like some kinda musical Stockholm Syndrome. I think I sometimes even maybe played the CD when she wasn’t around.

Eventually, after college I ended up buying myself a copy.

After finding that damn beloved necklace I never thought I’d see again I wanted to blast the song I’m Lucky louder than a frat house. That is, if I were willing to stop admiring it around my neck for long enough to dig up the CD.

P.S. Check out this incredible story my friend Lauren sent me about another great find.

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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.


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.


Glory Days

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

The older I get, the younger I dress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, youth.

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

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

Instead I came up with tweed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, good times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Swimming with Sharks

Posted: February 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Music, Scary Stuff | 1 Comment »

When Mark and I were first dating I bragged to him that I could play Hot Cross Buns on the recorder.

I know what you’re thinking—that I’m a ruthless sex kitten who really knows how to reel the men in!

But Mark was in a band at the time. He was the lead singer and played guitar. (He also plays piano and probably some other instruments too.) And as we got to know each other, seeing how he had all this musical know-how really underscored my own pathetic lack of it. So I thought I’d be grandiose about the limited proficiency I had. You know, make big of something very very little.

As it turned out, months after my initial allegations that I could rock it on the recorder—or at least play one of the easy-peasy first songs they teach you—we were at a party at someone’s house and they had a recorder. (Weird, right? I mean, who actually owns a recorder?)

“Okay, big guy,” Mark said, handing it to me. “Show me what you got.”

Perhaps you can guess where this is going. And if you can’t, it’s nowhere good. Tragically, I was unable to remember even the few simple notes to Hot Cross Buns.

Despite my great shame, Mark has stayed with me to this day. What a saint.

Anyway, Kate is taking piano lessons now. She’s four weeks in and can already read music, position her hands perfectly, and conjure some lovely sounds from the piano. It’s totally cool. (And no doubt, precedent setting. I now have every intention of forcing Kate and Paige to master everything I never could. Next up? Calculus!)

My excellent brother-in-law (who also happens to know his way around a guitar) was in town recently for work. His kids are Kate and Paigey’s age, and he was telling us that his son, who I’ll call Gordon, recently started piano lessons too.

“So, you got the first two classes free,” he said. You know, to test the waters. “And Gordon really was into it. But before we signed him up for more classes, the teacher gave us this big envelope.”

Guess what was in the envelope? Not just the forms to sign up for more lessons. Nope, there was another little thing in there too. A letter stating that the guy was a registered sex offender.


Now here’s where my brother-in-law was extremely cool and reasonable. He said he knows people can get the sex offender label for things like dating a 17-year-old when they’re 20. I mean, that’s sex with a minor, and sometimes even when it’s consentual and all, things happen, families get angry, blah-dee-blah, and next thing you know you’ve got yourself a permanent record.

Very big of my brother-in-law to have taken a moment to consider giving this guy the benefit of the doubt.

But no. As they continued to read the letter they learned that this dude who is sitting next to kids on a piano bench every day was NOT the fairly innocent recipient of the sex offender label. Turns out he was a pedofile.

Now, I don’t know the details of what kinda kids or how old they were or what exactly happened. And I don’t want to know. Any degree of wrongness in this area counts as deeply horrifying.

My Mama-brain was wigging out, like some record skipping saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” I wanted to lean over and barf at the thought of my sweet nephew coming so freaking scary close to that… to that predator.

Needless to say, my brother-in-law and sis-in-law immediately cut all ties with him.

What I want to know is, how many parents who get that “information packet” DO sign their kid up for more lessons with this guy? “Oh Jimmy’s having so much fun learning piano, and I’m sure there are NO OTHER PIANO TEACHERS IN THIS LARGE URBAN AREA. What say we roll the dice and have him hang out with this guy who may just be into raping children?”

To say this whole thing blows my mind (and makes me want to move to a deserted part of Montana, homeschool my children, and never interact with another human) is an understatement.

Nothing happened to my nephew. My sister-in-law was there the whole time he was with the guy. She’s a smart, loving, and protective Mama. So even though she didn’t know what they’d come up against during those “two free introductory lessons,” she kept her son safe.

And really, for all I know, the guy may be somehow rehabilitated.

But call me traditional, cynical, or close-minded (or all three), but I really doubt it. Maybe people can change. But c’mon. To be working with kids when that is your history? Gimme a break!

The thought of my innocent nephew and this cretin turns me werewolf-style into a ferocious, protective, mighty Mama bear. I will growl, scratch, claw, and go to any lengths to keep my cubs safe. This is the adrenaline rush of lifting a car off a baby to the hundredth power. Ain’t nothing coming between me and my babies.

When I was dating The Surfer, we unsurprisingly took a lot of beach vacations. In places where the water was warm and his home-town posse was out of sight, he sometimes deigned to show me the ropes of surfing.

And here’s the thing about surfing. For everyone who imagines that the hard part is standing up on the board, that’s totally not it. The hard part is paddling out. Trust me. Picture waves coming at you. And when you reach out your arm to paddle on the right side, the board is all topply and you almost fall off, so you have to take a quick paddle on the left to balance. Just as you think you’re getting the swing of it a huge wave comes and slaps you in the face and pushes you back towards the shore.

Oh, and I did I mention you also get wax caked on your bikini? Not fun.

But anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, we found some little cove where there were good size waves for Beginner Me. And no huge Samoan dudes laying claim to the surf. (There’s an intense home-boy territoriality about waves I’d never known about.) It was the perfect spot for a little lesson.

When we eventually came out of the water The Surfer was loading the boards on our rental car, and some local guy came up to us. “You guys shouldn’t swim here you know,” he said (though it was probably in some more dude-ish surfer vernacular). He went on to tell us that there had been a bunch of shark sightings in that cove. I guess there were some signs posted around the beach that we’d managed to not see.

No WONDER the beach was deserted! D’oh!

After hearing this I got the full-body willies. Like, as if someone dumped a handful of centipedes down my shirt. Sure, I was safe on the shore at that point, but it didn’t take away the thought that a couple sharks mighta been cruising around just feet away, lickin’ their chops at the delicious sight of us.

Hey Gordon, there are a lot of scary things and people out in the world. It’s lucky for us we’ve managed to dodge them.

Even so, what say we make a pinky pact, you and me? No more swimming with sharks.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie. Your auntie loves you more than you’ll ever know.

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Posted: September 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Moods, Music, My Body, My Temple, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Sleep, Summer | 1 Comment »

I am so very tired.

It’d be one thing if it was just on accounta getting up at 6AM day after day, since in some late-night at-my-computer moment of bravado I signed up for the FIVE day-a-week boot camp. (Oy! What was I thinkin’?) I mean, that alone would be a really excellent reason to be tired.

But add to that the fact that my darling dumpling of a two-and-a-half year old has decided to regress to the sleeping habits of a two-and-a-half month old. This from the girl who has always been a star sleeper.

Alas, no more.

Who knows if it’s her new Big Girl Bed, or a sudden spate of nightmares, or some over-achiever desire to get back at us in advance for all the ways we’re certain to deny her things, dislike her boyfriends, and piss her off in the course of her life.

Whatever the case, she wails for me from the moment I click her door closed at night. But—from all we’ve read—when I go back in to comfort her I’m just rewarding her yowls. So now Mark uses his resonant I-used-to-be-a-DJ voice to say through the closed door “It’s time to sleep now, Paige.” It’s friendly, but firm.

Oddly, this at times has the effect of Paige stopping mid-hysterical-sob, and responding in a sunny tone, “Alright, Dada!”

But the relief is only temporary. Once we get into the dark cozy REM hours of the night she rises up with the gusto of a pregnant vampire on the prowl for a midnight snack. She cries. She screams. She beseeches “MAAAAA-Ma! Dada! I waaaaaaant you!” And sometimes, just to mix it up, she tramps out of bed and ambles down the hall to our room. (It’s always creepy to be awakened by a child standing silently by your bed. Even if she’s yours, and she’s cute, and she’s not holding a meat cleaver.)

Mark and I alerted the neighbors that we are not waterboarding Paige, despite what her tortured nighttime vocalizations might infer. And we’re methodically working our way through different approaches to getting her to freakin’ sleep again. Although she’s had some intermittent nights of solid sleep—just to really fuck with us—for the most part nothing has worked.

So if you’re interested in coming to babysit for a week and taking a crack at this issue yourself, we’ll happily vacate the place at a moment’s notice.

Sudden thought: Is this some Darwinian toddler phase that emerges to remind parents who’re considering another child about the hellish newborn months of sleep deprivation? Not that we ARE considering another kid…

At any rate, something to think about.

In the final school-free days of summer, and with me work-free, it’s actually been somewhat manageable plodding through the days in a sleepy haze. Sometimes it’s even fun, in a distorted art student life-perspective kinda way.

I mean, have you ever had one of those days that unfolds like a play? Kinda like when you’re reading a book and you know that the writer was really trying to get a movie deal, just based on how it’s all laid out? Well, I had a day last week that felt totally like it wasn’t meant to be a day, but some sort of series of staged events.

For starters, my sleepiness was keeping me more distanced from things way more than I’m used to. Un-shy gal that I am, I usually feel pretty integrated in whatever’s happening around me. But it’s like I was in some weird deaf-mute alternate universe where things were unfolding around me in strictly choreographed little dramatic sequences, and I just happened to be there watching. Like some invisible Ebenezer Scrooge.

It started at boot camp. As most of my days recently do.

Instead of the punishing rounds of weights and bands and medicine balls and lunges/squats/lat blasts, we did our usual punishing frenzied-fast warm-up but were then told we were going to have a break in our routine. We’d just be running around the lake.

And can I just say that Lake Merrit is a fascinating place at 6AM? It’s like when you’re driving to the airport at some ungodly early hour and you can’t believe there are other cars on the road. Something that always prompts Kate to ask questions like, “Are the people in those cars taking a plane to see Grandpa in Rhode Island too?”

Yeah so there are ALL THESE PEOPLE awake and out and doing exercisey stuff at the lake. As I ran I got totally absorbed in watching them pass by. It was like I was in some Spike Lee movie and was gliding along smoothly on some conveyor belt that let me really stare at each person as they passed by.

There was a trio of old Chinese ladies in foamy trucker-style baseball caps and over-sized fleece jackets. One young woman had on a blue silk scarf babushka-style, and was clutching a cell phone to her ear as she scuttled past. There was even a buff black guy, pitted out in gray sweats, who was bobbing in place and doing little boxing jabs. (People really DO those?) Even the dogs looked like they were from Central Casting—one small, white, and scruffy, a big dopey Lab, then a vicious looking brindled Pit. An assortment as diverse Oakland’s human population. Everyone seemed to placed there intentionally to set the tableau of “the lake at dawn,” but it was so well-done, I almost couldn’t buy it.

Do you know what I mean? Like, I was totally anticipating the credits where the scarf-clad woman on the phone would be Babushka Caller #1.

And then later, when I’d shaken myself loose from the scene, gotten home, showered, and collected the still-on-summer-break kids, we went to the lake. A different, swimming lake. And there it was just more of the same. A series of mothers and kids on blankets under umbrellas lined up along shore. They were too perfectly spaced out to be real.

I saw one Mama I vaguely know and we start chatting, while our kids (her boys, my girls) ignore each other. Then, Mother #1—at the far end of the beach—her umbrella get swept up in the wind and tumbles a few times. She catches it, and runs up to my kinda friend. “Hey, could I borrow your hammer again?” Uh… HAMMER? And then Kinda Friend pulls a big rubber mallet from her L.L. Bean bag as if it’s a bottle of sunscreen.

“You, have a mallet with you?” I ask, trying to modulate the shock out of my voice. She carries it, she says, to secure her beach umbrella. Really bang that bottom stake down into the sand.


And this woman is so petite and mild mannered. She’s a nurse for God’s sake. In my sleepy haze it struck me as surreal for her to have a sledge hammer in her tote. And to act like it was no big thing.

After she leaves I get to chatting with Mom #3, the one closest to my blanket. She’s got her own two kids and another in tow who’s a total terror. He’s taking buckets of wet sand and running up from the shore to dump them on people’s blankets. In fact, since I’m standing a bit away from it, he chooses my blanket for this lovely gift. Mom #3 was mortified. She was virtually pulling his ear to get him to apologize, and clearly wanting to illuminate some NOT MY KID sign over the boy’s head.

Later in our conversation, Mom #3 and I were swapping school stories and she tells me that Holy Terror Boy goes to none other than Kate’s soon-to-be new school.


It was three days before school started. I took this tidbit as any rational mother would—as a strong premonition to Kate’s future life of crime.

As the day wore on Mortified Playdate Mom’s umbrella goes flying. As I run down the beach with her to help grab it, she turns to me and says, “Ugh. I wish your friend with the hammer was still here.”

And I just kinda stopped, imagining the morning tableau of mothers and kids arriving lakeside, and—despite not knowing each other—all taking turns with the beach-umbrella mallet like some weird “We Can Do It” poster come to life.

Later that day, we drove through the car wash. Kate and Paige were with me, and they’re pretty enthralled with the drama of the whirling brushes, long slappy rubber strips, and squiggly squirts of pink wax. We happened to be listening to our Nutcracker CD at the time. And as I put the car in neutral, I turned the music way up and we sat back. It was as if each new swishing slapping squirting movement came in perfect syncopation with the music.

It was better than fireworks.

If you have never been very very sleepy and gotten your car washed to the soundtrack from The Nutcracker, I highly recommend it.

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The Red Tent (and Other State Fair Spectacles)

Posted: September 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Music, Travel | No Comments »

Yesterday, in Minnesota, I popped my state fair cherry.

Mark was astounded to learn I’d never attended such an event. But I grew up in Rhode Island. There’s just not enough room there to have a state fair. And if we ever did have one, I never knew. It must’ve been on a day when I was sitting in the backyard pulling dandelions and complaining to my mom that I had nothing to do.

So yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect. But before we even left the car, as we were slogging through a slow line of traffic, we passed a woman standing roadside on a small patch of grass. She held up a big sign that said something ranty about something or other. But what caught my eye was the huge cardboard displayed at her feet that said: “STOP BUSH! Tax cuts now!”

I didn’t have the heart to call out to her that Bush was in a hammock in Texas right now, sleeping off a hangover. Doing what he used to do as President no doubt, but far removed from having any impact on our taxes. Or, blessedly, anything else for that matter.

Alas, I held my tongue. I mean, live a half-mile from Berkeley. I know better than to come between a gal and her political causes.

At any rate, that woman’s presence on the outskirts of the fair teed up my expectations for the day.

Nearly instantly upon entering the gates, we zeroed in on the Miracle of Birth building. This House of Blood and Afterbirth Horrors had been described to me by our friends the night before. And I couldn’t imagine anywhere to bring the kids that had better potential for being both fascinating and deeply traumatic.

You could, our friends claimed, witness a calf being born, right there stall-side. They had viewing bleachers even! It was like you and hundreds of other sugar-smeared hordes were the personal birth coaches to dear Bessie the heifer. So intimate.

Sadly, we toured the entire barn, stroked the fur of baby pigs, admired cages packed with chicks, and listening to the bleating of wee lambies—without a single Mama cow performing her Miracle of Birth act. There were, at least, large screens hanging from the ceiling projecting miracles that’d taken place earlier at the fair. Well-timed births for some other lucky fair-goers.

And just like our friends said, the video showed that what comes out first are the calf’s front hooves. Oof! Sends a shiver through my privates just thinking about it. But then, to up the drama and fanfare, the cow’s human birthing assistant grabs a CHAIN. Not even a nice soft-feelin’ rope. A CHAIN. And plunges their arms deep into the—well, you know—to wrap the thing around the formerly content calf, and yank the poor thing right on out, onto a pile of hay. [Cuing, I’d guess, delighted applause from the masses of miracle watchers.]

Gazing at the video, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own first experience giving birth. After some FOUR HOURS of pushing— Did you get that? Four hours. After that, my midwife and an OB used suction cups, bungee cords, and I believe promises of a lifetime of high-sugar cereals to coax Kate from my womb.

With no luck. Tenacious little thing refused to budge, sending out a note to the medical team that I believe said, “I ain’t movin’ unless you cut me out of here.”

Which they did.

And now, only 20 minutes into my maiden state fair experience, I made a note to contact my midwife. Why, I planned to ask her, had they not considered the use of a chain?

My reverie was interrupted by my cell phone alarm going off. It’s set to the “DING dong DING dong” doorbell chime ring. I fumbled in my purse. Time to take my birth control pill.

What timing. It was as if, by virtue of my hormonally-charged surroundings, my iPhone sensed a need to protect me from some spontaneously-wrought pregnancy.

And my luck, as we rounded the kids up, having maxed out our entertainment value on the birthin’ building, with 98.3% of the fair left for us to explore, an announcer on the PA system says something about a cow going into labor. Causing the sea of people—myself enthusiastically included—to push towards the back of the barn in one sweeping wave. I’m frantically looking for a break in the crowd to view some live miracle action (utterly unaware of the rest of my group’s location), when the man playing God on the PA lets out a little chuckle.

“Now let’s not push folks!” he says, bemused. “This’ll take a while! There’s plenty of time to come ‘round and have a look.”

Too much time, it turned out, for us to wait with four sweaty already-seen-these-animals kids. By the time we pushed on, the only thing we saw coming out of that cow was a limp puddle of what looked like Super Elastic Bubble Plastic.

The remainder of the fair can be described as hot, bacon on a stick, crowded, corn dog on a stick, hot, deep-fried Snickers on a stick, waves of exhaustion and self-loathing, pizza on a stick, dessert pizza on a stick, giant slide, mini-donuts on a stick, tantrums, sausage on a stick, vows to never return, and fritters on a stick, foot-long dogs on a stick, caramel apples on a stick, ice cream on a stick, and something called “banquet” on a stick.

Not that we sampled it all, but really, we might as well have. It sort of all flows through you. By virtue of just being there, you become one with it.

The best nutritious deal of the day goes to the one-buck bottomless cup of milk. What mother whose been stuffing her kids silly with greasy stick foods won’t buy THAT to allay her guilt?

At lunchtime (because, clearly, we’d been starving ourselves) an Andean band played nearby. One of the ones where a few dudes are on guitars, and a couple others are playing those super-long bamboo flutes that are all attached to each other. The songs are all frantically, relentlessly upbeat. So as we awaited the arrival of our on-a-stick lunches, I danced the kids over to the stage.

Now, in California, you mix lively music and a family-type event and you’ve got every kid who can barely stand out there shakin’ a soggy diaper. And alongside them are hordes of twirling, singing, smiling, and clapping Mom-Dad-and-toddler factions.

In Minnesota? Uh, not so much.

The most unleashed dude I saw had a huge smile on his face and was doing some aggressive toe tapping. I wanted to pack the poor guy in my suitcase so I could set him free later at our folksy farmers market’s mosh pit.

Alas, our epic trudge to the car—overly hot, overly sugar-fed, and just plain over the fair—was interrupted by a sort of spontaneous spot mob parade. We were suddenly hustled to the curbside, and marching bands, art cars, senior citizen orchestras, and folks in large blue cockroach costumes all came charging through.

Which would’ve be wonderful (I, as you may know, love a parade) if it weren’t for how damn deep-fried we all were, how hard-core the cops were about not letting us pass, and how utterly terrified and hysterical Kate became by every parade participant.

Finally, limping towards the car after my first state fair, I marveled at the rag-tag state of our crew—chicken-fried in grease, tears, sweat, and dust. It’s then that I stumbled upon an idea that was pure entrepreneurial gold.

“Next year,” I announced to Mark and Becca, “We’re setting up shop right here by the parking lot. Get this: BATHS FOR KIDS. We’ll have one area where we hose them off.”

“And a spot where they soap themselves down!” Mark adds.

“They can stick their dirty clothes in a plastic bag.” I say.

“And at the end,” Becca muses, “We…. sell them a State Fair t-shirt! For, like, thirty bucks!”

It’s brilliant. We are so close to be crazy stinking rich, I can just feel it.

Well then Minnesota State Fair, we shall see you again next year. And by then, God willing, that dear cow will be ready to birth that baby.

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Johnny Can’t Read Music

Posted: April 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Mom, Music, Sisters | 1 Comment »

The girls and I got to spend an afternoon with my sister Judy and her adoptive Indian parents this week. And by the end of our visit I was convinced that everyone who doesn’t already have a set of these—Indian parents, that is—should get one. Judy’s no fool.

We ate an incredibly delicious home-made Indian lunch, and, not unlike our Italian kinfolk, the more we ate had a direct correlation to how delighted our hosts were. There was a lot of fretting over and playing with the children, and we capped off the afternoon with a cup of chai tea that was so warm and mellow and sweet it nearly caused me to curl up in Amma’s lap like a drunk cat sleeping in the sun. Finally we took a tour of the fabulous Eichler house’s equally fabulous yard, snapped a few photos of everyone with the girls on their laps, and called it a day.

What I was taken by in meeting these lovely folks was their warmth and welcome, and seeing how much a daughter my sister had become to them. But later on the phone, Judy also told me about Appa’s impressive background in academia, and Amma’s—and her parents’—staggering brilliance as musicians. Something for which her family is renowned in India.

Presenting, of course, the perfect opportunity for me to remark to my sister with my highest quality sarcasm, “Oh I get it! That’s why you two are so tight! It’s the whole music thing.”

One of my family’s favorite pastimes, aside from rhythmic throat clearing, unsnarling our hair in the morning, and doing laundry, is making fun of our profound musical ineptitude. No doubt I’ve mentioned that somewhere in this here blog before.

If we are not in fact all tone deaf, we’ve spent the better part of our lives believing ourselves to be. Oddly, from as far back as I can remember, my father has boasted about this as if he’s reporting my oldest sister was elected to the Senate. At any rate, it seems to have become a self-fulfilling familial prophesy.

Which, as you might imagine, has impacted our singing. And our staggering un-Von Trapp-ness can’t help but make me think of a meeting the four of us had with a priest the day after our mother died. We were planning the funeral program. And the priest, Father McSweeney (God bless him), a delightful world class Irish nut job, was enthusiastically, gleefully, talking us through some options of song choices.

He was waddling about the room at a frenetic pace, flipping through song books and clucking in his thick brogue, “Oooh, that’s a good one! A good one, indeed!” Despite our heavy sadness—or maybe because of it—he was determined (I resisted the urge to say “hell-bent”) to whip us into a little sing-along. So he suggested some old standard hymn that was beaten into our childhood brains and started in, beckoning to us vigorously with his arms to join in. We got through just a few verses before our collectively cracking voices had us cracking up laughing, and had old McSweeney bellowing cheerfully ceilingward, “He loves us all, no matter! He loves all our different sounds of praise.”

I guess it’s the closest you can get to having a priest tell you your singing sucks.

In my father’s stint years ago as president of his local Rotary Club, he was required at the start of each meeting to lead the group in singing “On the Road to Mandalay,” a tradition I find both charming and absurd. Anyway, Dad’s voice is so bad—and actually quite booming—that he decided quite early on that he’d lip sync the words for the sake of the group. Something that must’ve been obvious, but that no one called him on. (One of the rare times I can imagine my father determining that not talking was the best course of action. Yes, I’m my father’s daughter.)

In terms of actual instrumental training, as kids my sisters had a limited stint of uninspired piano-lesson taking. But by the time I arrived ten years later, my parents couldn’t summon the energy for me to go through those likely fruitless motions.

I’ve joked to Mark that my instrumental prowess is limited to playing the three-note “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. But truth be told, I’ve forgotten how to play even that.

It’s all my very long way of saying that I know I don’t get the music thing. And frankly, along with the other socially-alienating fact that I’ve never seen Star Wars, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

But then a couple weeks ago I bought a toy for the girls when I was at Target. The sad fact is, I rarely seem to think to but them toys. So I was pleased to have remembered that I have kids and kids like to play. And in that happy frame of mind I removed a little red plastic xylophone—you know the typical kiddie style-one with the different colored keys—from the box. It’s got the drumstick thingy attached to it by a string, I guess so you don’t lose it, or so your kid doesn’t swallow it and disembowel themselves from the inside.

And as I’m admiring this new plaything, which was certain to bring them hours of creative fun, this white paper fell out of the box.


I was dismayed. Yet a second look at the packaging confirmed that the toy is for children ages 18 months and up.

Now, is it just me, or am I not correct in assuming that in a little more than three months time, it’s unlikely that Paige will be able to utilize this music sheet? I mean, aside from the fact that she’s got the Bad Music Bruno Gene Mutation (albeit tempered by Mark’s musical skillz). Still!

Now, I’m no expert, but I couldn’t help but wonder if some kinda color-coded sheet music, or even one that identifies the letter notes that’re printed on the keys, might be more, uh, user-friendly?

Who knows. Maybe I’m totally wrong here, and come this summer, I’ll be walking past Paige’s room and will hear her pounding out a mean “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” on the xylophone. I’ll peer in to see her crouched down to follow along on the paper, perhaps tapping her foot to keep time.

I can only hope for as much.

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Songs of Torture

Posted: April 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Extended Family, Holidays, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Music | 1 Comment »

My sophomore year of college I lived in a dorm near the DKE fraternity. And although much of what took place in their hazing process was, intentionally and gratefully, not common knowledge around campus, there was one component that year that the whole school was, uh, privy to.

Which was that they blasted the same bloody song OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN throughout the famously haunted (but that’s beside the point) Old Kenyon building where they lived, and blaring out onto the quad. To really fuck with the pledges, and anyone else who wasn’t hearing impaired in Knox County, sometimes they’d stop the song for a small stretch. Just long enough to get you really fired up that–sweet relief!–they were moving away from that particular form of aural abuse, and leading some goats into the building or something.

But then, they’d ruthelssly turn it back on. Whaling it extra special loud. And the entire campus would collectively seize up. Scraping at the sides of our faces wondering derangedly if they would ever show mercy on us, and hoping at the very least that whatever intangible social stature those pledges would gain as a result of it all, that it was really fucking worth it.

For years after when I’d hear the song I think I still twitched and gnawed on my lips a bit. I feared I might never shake the trauma.

But here I am, just weeks away from my can-ya-believe twentieth college reunion, and I’m thrilled to report that, as you might have noticed due to its omission–at this point I can’t even remember what that damn song even was.

Which thus far is the best mental yardstick to indicate just how freakin’ long it’s been since my college prime. Well, that or that the experimental mind-erasing procedure I had performed in Boston in ’97 really did the trick.


At any rate, in his years as a Sports Illustrated reporter, Mark got to cover the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. (And if you’d like a few commemorative duffel bags, t-shirts, or even a 100% rayon necktie from that event, I can happily hook you up.) Anyway, the bombing that year made the already overworked and sleep-deprived journalists there exponentially more overworked and sleep-deprived.

But outside the hotel where most of them were staying–where they’d retreat for the measly hours of sleep they’d get to have a night–there was a street vendor selling sodas, sounvenirs, and the retarded Izzy the mascot crap. The dude worked nearly round the clock and blasted that hateful hot hit which you’ve probably blacked out of your brain by now, “The Macarena.” He played it in an evil, heartless, endless loop.

And really just one hearing of that song when I’m not even mad for sleep makes me want to take a chop stick to my eardrums.

In the past couple weeks I’ve had occasion to think of these episodes. Unfortunately. All because of one greeting card. One of those open-it-and-it-plays-a-song cards, sent to Kate for Easter from her grandparents. (I won’t tell you from whose side of the family.)

Okay, OKAY! So it was from MY side of the family.

This card plays a very tinny version of a song whose nonsensical verses are, “Yummy yummy yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy, and I feel like I’m loving you.” Verses that at times seem sexually perverse to me, and at other times just an odd choice for how vaguely associated with Easter—candy eatin’, I guess—they are. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to ponder this.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. This card is adored and beloved by Kate. It was incredibly sweet and thoughtful to have sent it to her. Every time she opens and closes and reopens that card—while eating breakfast, peeing, riding her bike, or leering up close to Paigey’s face—every single time, morning, noon, or night, it’s as though the fact that music emanates from it is a freshly exciting revelation. Something she isn’t certain will necessarily happen if she opens it again. So she needs to check.

That gal’s tenacious.

And even though I’ve had on the order of seven breakdowns where I’ve pleaded with her to take mercy on us and it’s only 6:47AM and Daddy is still trying to sleep and don’t you think that’s a little close to Paige’s face and maybe if we just sit down and eat a big pile of candy for a while that would be a fun way to take a little break from the card hmmm? Even with all that, when I cleaned up all our Easter crap a couple days ago, throwing away the already broken or rotten stuff and shoving the rest of it ceremoniously in a garbage bag for basement storage, I still left that card out for her.

Why? Because in a weirdly genuine I’m-happy-that-she’s-happy-even-if-it-makes-me-unhappy maternal way, I feel like with some intermittent intervention I can stick it out until she eventually hopefully tires of the damn card. Or, if there’s a God, it breaks.

Not that I’m setting my sights on it or anything, but if she ever wants to, that girl could DOMINATE a sorority some day.

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