Lessons in Gift Giving

Posted: January 7th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Holidays, Little Rhody, Pets, Shopping, Sisters | 2 Comments »

The holidays are the perfect time to show kids that giving can be as much fun as getting. But I bungled my shot at teaching that lesson this year.

At Thanksgiving I had the harried working-mother last-minute realization that I wanted to find a way for us to give back somehow. But by the time I tried signing up to serve at a soup kitchen, all the places were flush with other more organized, plan-aheady do-gooders.

At Christmas I wanted us to bring toys to the local firehouse for Toys for Tots. At least, I had that thought then must’ve seen something shiny, got distracted, and forgot about it. It wasn’t until YESTERDAY when I saw a weeks-old photo of my friends’ kids on Facebook, arms laden with toys for those less fortunate that I slapped my head in a shoulda-had-a-V8 kinda way and remembered my intention.

Oh well.

Of course, it’s never too late to help others. All those soup kitchens still need donations and help and homeless kids need toys and clothes even though the Christmas spirit has been packed away and stowed in the attic for a year.

And it’s not like my kids learned nothing about the finer points of gift giving this year. There were plenty of gift swapping exchanges between them—trading toys they’d gotten that they decided they didn’t like as much as the thing their sister got. Inevitably once the new recipient of the item showed interest in it, the original owner howled to have it back. And Big Sis Kate, who’d usually contrived the often-unfair trade, would call Indian Giver. Which of course, we were always careful to point out should be Native American Giver.

They’ll learn eventually.

Other lessons in giving and receiving took place, and not just with the kids. After a long campaign between my three sisters and I, I’d tiraded against getting the ‘rents iPads feeling certain they didn’t want and/or wouldn’t use them. Instead I convinced one sib that a year-long subscription to The New York Times was just what they needed. On Day One of our visit home—with zero shopping days remaining—I saw that they already got the Times. D’oh! (And they LOVED the iPads they got from my other sister.)

This, I’ll note, was my follow up act to the previous year’s attempt at paternal gift giving. I’d decided a donation to a school in Africa was just what the man who had everything would appreciate. Paige’s preschool has a sister school in Zimbabwe and the kids there needed water canteens for their epic walks to school. After conferring with a sister on this donation-in-Dad’s-name concept, I was convinced that a gift card to a local restaurant would be more appreciated.

Dad called that Christmas, his voice cracking with emotion, to report he’d received the best gifts ever that morning. His wife had paid for some third-world kids to have surgery on their cleft palates. Another of my sisters bought desks for a dirt-floored school somewhere in Africa.

“Such incredible, thoughtful gifts,” he croaked huskily. “It was really the best Christmas ever.”

Seemed silly at that point to inquire if they were looking forward to their dinner out.

This Christmas also provided us with lessons in re-gifting. Dad and his wife received a bag of red and green dog biscuits. For their pooch, of course. They have one of those immensely-adored retirement dogs who lives the life of Cleopatra. No nutritional or manufacturing information came with the canine treats—they were in a clear plastic bag cinched with a festive red bow.

The dog treats were deemed suspect. References to babies dying in China from bad formula were made. Undaunted by the potential harm they could cause I grabbed the sack before heading to visit friends who have two very large, very hungry dogs. Those nefarious biscuits might take down Dad’s small Dachshund, but my friends have a German Shepherd and a Great Dane. I figured a few bum biscuits were less likely to kill them, based on their body mass alone.

Batting the muzzles of the dogs away, my friend took the bag, thanked me and holding it up out of reach, twirled it around to find an ingredient list. Did I know, she asked, if they contained chicken or beef? Turns out that Duke, their Great Dane, is allergic to the processed versions of those proteins. But, she said, setting the bag on her counter, her dog walkers’ dogs would most certainly appreciate the biscuits.

Or would they?

Let it be known that there’s a bag of Christmas-colored doggie treats currently making their way ’round South Eastern New England like some hot-potato fruitcake.

So then, my gifting take-aways to keep in mind for next year:

1. Reserve volunteer opportunities early at soup kitchens. Turns out those are some of the hottest reservations to book at the holidays.

2. Prioritize gift-buying impulses in this order: anything related to children in Africa or made by Apple.

3. Do not consult with—or lobby to—your siblings when buying gifts for your parents. Both approaches inevitably backfire.

4. When it comes to selecting gifts for pets, dispense with any notions of packaged snacks or treats. Opt instead for a gift card to the local fancy restaurant.


Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dogs’ Tails

Posted: August 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, Birthdays, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Preg-o, Sisters, Summer, Travel | 4 Comments »

During my first pregnancy I was convinced I was having a boy. I was of “advanced maternal age” so I had tons of testing, prodding, and scanning. Through it all I never wanted the doctors to tell me the gender of the baby.

Because I knew anyway. I mean, I was having a boy.

If I weren’t so convinced on my own, my notion was confirmed by everyone whose paths I crossed. A coworker accosted me in the office bathroom investigating the color of the veins in my arms (green not blue). My drycleaner clucked over the shape of my belly. And my pulse kept no secrets from my massage therapist. They all agreed: boy, boy, boy.

When that baby finally finally emerged—9 days late, 4 1/2 hours of pushing and one C-section later (though who’s counting)—Mark took one look at it and said, “It’s a… girl?” As if he wasn’t quite sure he could believe it himself.

With Baby #2, same routine. I was at that point an even OLDER mother. I was tested ad nauseum (pun intended). And despite how handy folks insisted it would be for us to know whether we should  let go of or launder all of Kate’s girl clothes, we were steadfast in not knowing the kid’s gender ’til birth.

Besides, we KNEW it was a boy. (Ahem.)

Enter Paige Victoria.

Clearly our daughters were setting us up for a lifetime of pulling fast ones. Yes, the unpredictability of women is something I always reveled in personally, like some license to live impulsively and erratically. Until I became the mother of two girls.

A couple weeks ago while in the car—the setting for ALL awkward questions, right?—Kate said, “So Daddy said he wanted to have a boy.”

Oh, MARK. You and your honesty. Some day, when it’s much too late, I will teach that spouse of mine to lie to the children.

I nervously looked in the rear view mirror at Kate and said, “Well, no. Well… yes, Dad did. Well, I wanted— I mean, you know? When you’re having a baby all you really want is a healthy kiddo. We love having two girls. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

In fact, I was scared to death of the thought of a having a boy. Me, the youngest of four girls. What does one DO with boys? How does one play with boys? What do boys even wear? (The first thought that comes to mind is Toughskins, but I’m guessing they don’t even make those any more.)

For a while my oldest sister wiped her toddler-son’s boy parts with toilet paper. This, the innocent mistake of a woman who’d never encountered the task before. Then my brother-in-law passed by the bathroom one day and caught her in the act. He sighed, intercepted, closed the door, and showed my nephew the ropes, boy style.

Later, when my sis would grab T.P. by force of habit my nephew would bellow, “NO! Daddy says SHAKE it!”

Who knew “shaking” was part of the male tinkling process? For all I know, you probably don’t even say “tinkle” when you’re a boy.

One of the best parts of our summer in Rhode Island was spending time with my glorious friend Story. She is as lovely, creative, and unique as that most-excellent name of hers implies. Plus she’s an uh-mazing cook—even with this raw food kick she’s on.

While I was making girl babies on the West Coast, Story was populating the East Coast with boys. With two boys, that is. But when you consider the size of Rhode Island, that’s nearly impressive.

Anyway, one day last month when we were at Story’s hipster house, her boys were outside playing with plastic machetes of some sort while my girls were clinging to us in the kitchen like mewling kittens. After lunch Story promised to show Kate her craft studio, an oasis of fabulous vintage fabrics, various paints and papers, and nests of knitting stuff. A bunch of her tote bags and pillows were lying around and I made a fair number of if-you’re-looking-for-someone-to-give-this-to kinda requests.

Kate was in HEAVEN. She was wide-eyed, running her hand down the project table like it was the fender of a cherry red Porsche. I could’ve left her there for months and she wouldn’t have even noticed I was gone.

In a reverential whisper she asked Story, “Could we—could I—do some watercolor paint?”

Next scene is Kate set up in an adirondack chair in their large lovely yard, painting en plein air. Paige is tootling around the vegetable garden spritzing the veggies and flowers with a spray bottle. And Story is on their heels with her camera, capturing every second.

Me? I’m on the hammock with Story’s two boys. Not ON it, necessarily—more like hanging on it. We’re taking turns pushing each other, wicked hard. We’re giving that hammock a work-out, cushions flying, stomachs churning, and shouting, “HARDER!” as we clutched the rope mesh (and each other) for dear life. Every once and a while a plastic light saber gets in on the action causing Story to look up from Kate’s butterfly painting to yell cautions to her youngest.

But we are FINE. Better than fine. In fact, I’m making a mental note to schedule more roughhousing in my life.

Last week was my friend Mary’s son’s b-day. You know, Mary who did the awesome guest post on her summers in Maine. I am SO BAD at buying presents for boys. I have no idea what boys like. All I know is Star Wars and Legos, but any Legos set that seems worth giving is far outside my birthday budget.

Mary’s son was turning seven. Seven, seven, seven, I thought. The fake electric guitar we got him last year will be hard to top.

Then it struck me–what every young boy wants and every mother fears: a SKATEBOARD. As we picked it out at the store I texted Mary. “Don’t be mad at me for what I’m getting Will.”

And thankfully, she wasn’t. Which is good because, for the record, I really only ever wanted to have girls, but every once and I while I still like to invoke my role in the village and pitch in on raising my friends’ sons. Or at the very least, do some roughhousing with them.


Call Me Fred

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

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

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

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

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

Alas, that baby was me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Party Tricks

Posted: June 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Food, Housewife Superhero, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 17 Comments »

Everyone needs a good party trick. Something that’ll wow the crowd you roll with, whoever they are.

And if you’ve got school-aged kids, I’m guessing you’ve been in the eye of the party storm recently. Right now there’s probably some finger food (“healthy, please”) you have to whip up for an end-of-school picnic, or a snack (for 35) for a piano recital. You’re having to remember that Thursday is Crazy Hair Day and Friday’s just a half-day and Saturday the soccer players are each contributing $5 for a gift for the coach.

This time of year for moms is like April for accountants. Our busy season. Teacher gifts, gymnastics performances, field days, staff appreciation lunches. Getting to the end of the school year seems like an endless process.

My mother had a “quality not quantity” philosophy about most things. I see that reflected in how my sisters and I cook. We have a limited repertoire of offerings, but what we do we do well. There are certain dishes—Chicken Marbella, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato spread, sherry poppy seed cake—that may not be on Food and Wine’s latest cover, but are consistent crowd-pleasers. There’s comfort in the classics.

But it’s nice to add something new to the mix, no matter how humble.

That’s why I was thrilled when my former roomie Tanya posted a picture on Facebook last year of a rainbow fruit salad she made for some Girl Scout gathering. It was adorable. And easy. And healthy, damn it.

The next day I took one to a ballet potluck to rave reviews. Teens were taking pictures of it with their cell phones—no lie! The ratio of effort to gushing praise was unbeatable. It’s been my suburban mom party trick ever since.

Here’s one that I made last week:

Cute, right?

If you’ve still got some end-of-the-year events on your calendar, try this out and report back on the accolades you get. I require no credit, but will happily receive royalty payments via PayPal.

At this rate I’ll be bringing this fruit salad to my kids’ college graduations. (Thank you, Tanya.)

Of course, there was a time when my idea of a good party trick didn’t involve a platter of fruit labeled with masking tape with my name on it.

I mean, I’ve never seen anyone chug a goldfish, but I’ve known people who opened beer bottles with their teeth, or knotted cherry stems with their tongues. I’ve seen people ride bikes down stairs, light  farts on fire, and do The Worm. I’ve witnessed folks climb up roofs, jump out windows, turn their eyelids inside out, and shave their heads.

Ah, youth. Such foolish acts of bravado. Makes me question sending the girls to college some day.

Some party tricks involve skill. I was proud to see my brother-in-law in action at a family wedding a few years back. It was a late-night karaoke after party—no elderly grandmas around—and he performed the 90′s hit The Humpty Dance. It’s his go-to song, and with good reason. He totally rocked it, had the crowd loving him, and then at the end he dropped to floor in a full split, then pulled himself up and did a spin. It brought the house down.

I was standing and clapping and howling like some studio-audience mom who just watched her son win big on Jeopardy.

I’d keep saving for college for the girls if they could pull off something like that.

My sister Judy and my dad used to have a trick they’d do via phone. She’d ask someone to pick a card from a deck. Then she’d call to “The Wizard” and ask “Could you please tell this person what card they’re holding?” She’d hand the phone over and my dad—I mean, The Wizard—would reveal the card.

Apparently this trick wowed many a drunk at my sister’s college. And gave my father the gratification of being part of a good party stunt. Dad still maintains you can call him any time of day or night to do this. The Wizard, apparently, is always in.

I’d reveal how it’s done but I’ve probably said too much already. And I’d like to stay in the will.

Anyway, the other day we were at a picnic and my friend David offered to open my beer. He took out his iPhone, pushed against the back of the case, and a flat bottle opener slid out. From his phone. It was SO COOL.

Turns out it’s marketing schwag with his company’s logo on it. I begged and whined and pleaded for him to get me one.  And last week he did. [Thrill!]

So I think I’m pretty cool now.

I mean, sure, I’ve got the rainbow fruit salad up my sleeve, should I ever need to bust one out. But now this suburban mama’s got a party trick that has nothing to do with kids, thankyouverymuch.

And I don’t even have to wake up The Wizard to do it.

What’s your party trick?


Happy Easter-Passover Hybrid

Posted: April 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Kate's Friends, Mom, Other Mothers, Sisters | No Comments »

I heard the most EXCELLENT thing this week. I was chatting with a mom from Kate’s school, and her cell phone buzzed with a text. She leaned over to look at it, and slowly said aloud as she typed, “Yes, we’re still on for Saturday night.”

Then she looked at me. “We’re hosting a Seder this weekend—not because we’re Jewish or anything—but Dustin,” she nodded in the direction of her son, “wants to be half-Jewish.”

“Wait—” I said, confused, “Dustin’s half-Jewish?”

“No, no,” she explained laughing. “Not Jewish at all. But he wants to be half-Jewish.”

Okay, so how rad is THAT?

As a fervid, shameless wanna-be Jew (and the mother of one as well), this news shook me to my goy core. I’d never pondered the concept of half-Jewdom, and it struck me as sheer genius.

I mean, as a half-Jew you can just pick and choose what you want to get out of the either scene, right? Not into gefilte fish? Why should you be? That’s your WASP genes talking. Don’t want to sit through synagogue? Wear a yarmulke? Or miss out on Santa Claus, Christmas trees, or sneaking spiked egg nog? No problemo! That’s your other half talkin’. Take what you want. Leave the rest behind.

On the other hand, you’ve also got free reign to stuff yourself sick with latkes, call your grandparents Bubbe and Zeyde, feel a deep dramatic connection with Fiddler on the Roof, and have a blow-out bat mitzvah that’d make a Kardashian wedding look like a low-budg gig at a VFW hall.

Man, I’m all hopped up on the brilliant potential of it all.

Needless to say, I wanna be half-Jewish now too. DESPERATELY. And I no doubt freaked out that poor kid the other day when I got all in-his-face freaky fired up. “Dustin! I LOVE that!” I bellowed. “I wanna to be half-Jewish too!”

He was all wide-eyed backing towards his mother’s car, like, “Okay, Kate’s-weirdo-mom… whatEV.” But of course, he was too polite to say that.

Alas, until the time I’m fully indoctrinated in half-Judaism (in a ceremony I’ve yet to concept but will certainly relay the details of here), I’m staring down the barrel of a full-on Easter-only celebration this weekend. Somehow we’ve fallen off the guest list of our friends’ Seder, no doubt because I over enthusiastically made all manner of faux-pas in past years, tapping bitter herbs behind my ears like perfume and feigning gagging noises when Uncle Myron poured me a glass of Manischewitz.

Or maybe it’s just that they’re out of town this weekend.

Anyway, our Easter plan is brunch and and an egg hunt with our turbo-creative neighbors. Their yard is a gorgeous overgrown garden paradise that makes you feel like you’re in some Tuscan village not a suburban North Oakland double lot. Mark’s baking cinnamon buns and will no doubt bust out some highbrow mimosa-like drink.

There will be plenty of other folks and food there too, but there’s part of me that still needs a ham-and-scalloped-potato dinner later in the day as well. Oh, and green beans. Might as well go full-bore traditional.

So I’ll be the last-minute loser at Honey Baked tomorrow being told there’s only a 65-pound 280-dollar ham available that’ll feed 30-40 buffet style or 80-100 for apps. And because I’ll feel like a failure making pasta for dinner on Easter, I’ll buy the damn thing and we’ll be eating ham ’til Fourth of July.

But really, really what I want more than anything is a ham made by my Aunt Jennie. The woman is truly a wizard with a ham. I mean, grown men have wept eating her ham. It’s like some crazy gift, her and the hams.

When my mother was sick Aunt Jennie came to visit with my cousin Sue. They live a couple hours away. The day before, Mom was having a bad day and didn’t get out of bed. But at one of the times when she woke up she told me, “Call Aunt Jennie and tell her when she comes tomorrow not to bring a damn ham.” (Mark still cannot say the word ham without using the adjective “damn.”)

Of course, it’s not like Aunt Jennie had even said she was bringing one. But in one of those ways that you know your siblings inside and out, my mother just knew Jennie, and that Jennie would think a ham was in order.

That’s how Jennie rolls. With a large home-baked ham in tow.

So I called her. “You guys still planning to come?”

“Oooh yuh, yuh,” she clucked.

“Okay, so Mom said for you not to worry about bringing a ham,” I said. Then thinking better of it I added, “I mean, really? She said not to being a damn ham.”

Aunt Jennie just said, “I’m bringing a ham. See you tomorrow.”

And really, when I hung up the phone my sisters and I were relieved that Mom’s request carried no weight. Why would you EVER want to dissuade that woman from working her magic?

My Aunt Jennie is a world-class crack-up. She’s always been my favorite aunt—and my mom’s from a family with eight kids, so that’s actually saying a lot. Jennie has chutzpah like nobody’s business. She’s in her eighties and still works taking care of “old people” (as she puts it). She’s a first-rate grandmother, buying her grandchildren laptops, watching broods of kids after school, and cooking massive Sunday dinners. You can’t leave her house without a plate of something “to have later” and money she managed to stick in your bag “for something for the kids.”

And she will make you piss your pants laughing, in the most dry, innocent-about-her-humor way. Get her talking about the geezers she’s cared for who’ve hit on her. (Scary proof that even decrepit and in oxygen tents all men ever think about is sex.) You’ll nearly pull a Mama Cass on the ham you’re horkin’ down you’ll be howling so loud.

Anyway, God bless my most excellent, one-in-a-million Aunt Jennie. She recently had a mild stroke. Word is it wasn’t so bad, and I truly hope that’s true. If I know her she’s bounced back, poo-pooed anyone who so much as asked after her health, and is planning to serve up a meal this Sunday that’d make Jesus rise from the dead with a napkin tucked under his chin.

If I weren’t 3,000 damn miles away I’d be pulling up a seat myself to that table, as excited about the company as I’d be about the food.

Anyway, as you’re tucking into your holiday meal this weekend—whether it includes matzoh crackers or a green bean casserole, I’d sure appreciate it if you sent a little healing thought my Aunt Jennie’s way. Think of it as paying homage to the High Priestess of Ham.

And if that doesn’t feel quite right to you because you keep kosher or are somehow not a fan of pig meat, no worries. Feel free to consider yourself half-Gentile, if only for the moment.

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Unfinished Business

Posted: August 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Cancer, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 3 Comments »

There was one thing my sister Ellen and I both wanted of my mother’s after she died. It wasn’t an Oriental carpet or a strand of pearls. It was a little piece of scratch paper Mom had pinned to a bulletin board. In her cramped, scrawly handwriting it said: “A well kept house is the sign of a misspent life.”

This, as it turns out, was my mother’s credo.

She wasn’t a total slob, but… how can I put this? She sometimes prioritized other things over cleaning.

I can imagine her glee stumbling across that quote one day, finding it the perfect validation for the dust bunnies under our beds and our sink full of dishes. Lesser, boring people would have their sink sparkling—but not her! She had better things to do.

I’m pretty sure that things like this skip a generation. My mother was an expert procrastinator. I grew up to be a militant project manager. She was a master of disorganization, always puttering around muttering things like, “I remember thinking I’d put that in a really good place. But where was it?” Me? I pride myself on an OCD-level of organization. And in terms of cleanliness and clutter, let’s put it this way—before I ever leave the house, I tidy up and wipe everything down as if I’ll bump into the Queen at Safeway and invite her straight home for a cup of tea.

Yes, I am NOT my mother’s daughter when it comes to housekeeping. But man, I still wanted that little hand-written note of hers. Precisely because it was so her. (Turns out, my sister kept the original and gave me a xerox copy. Which was just fine by me.)

God knows some of my less stellar parenting moments have erupted in those times of frantic leaving-the-house cleaning. I’ll have just finished picking up Cinderella playing cards littered all the way down the hall, and will walk into the living room to see that Paige has pulled every DVD off the shelf, opened the boxes, and is flinging the discs around like Frisbees. It’s that hair-pulling one step forward, two steps back thing. You finally think you’re ready to leave the house, and the baby poops. It’s inevitable.

Of course, all these leads me to the conclusion that my girls will grow up to keep towering piles of magazines around like my mother did. It will be their rebellion for having weathered my uptight neat-freakishness.

And really, if that’s the case it’d be fine by me. (As long as they let me clean when I go to their houses.) If they come by some bad habits on their own, I’m fine with that. We’re all human. But if they’re bad at something because I am? Well, that’s a different matter altogether. As a parent I want to try to breed the bad parts of me out of them.

Which is why I’ve been serving up a lot of Parental Lecture #239 lately. Which is to say, “Finish what you start.”

The thing is, I’ve been finding scores of inch-long, unfinished friendship bracelets all over the house. Someone comes to visit, Kate interrogates them about their favorite colors, and furiously starts knotting and braiding away. But inevitably something else catches her attention. She’s off with the sidewalk chalk or reading to her dolls in a fort, and that orange, black, and gray bracelet that was our friend Mike’s personal palette, is left unfinished.

She’ll start making a birthday card, then wander into the kitchen to find a snack. She’s excited about a new library book, but after two nights and two chapters, would rather we “please please pleeeez” read Ivy & Bean instead.

Now, you may be thinking that the girl is only five years old. (Or perhaps you’re wondering how old she is. Better yet, you may not give a rat’s ass.) Whatever the case, she turns six next month. So really, this kind of behavior is pretty typical kid stuff. And I get that. I certainly don’t want her goose-stepping around the house, finishing each drawing/game/activity with clinical precision, then hitting a stop watch and logging it into a book. But I do want her to understand the benefit of sticking with something. I want her to feel the satisfaction of hard work paying off. And I don’t want her to grow up to be someone who starts things and never finishes them. Like, uh… like sometimes I do.

Because, I don’t know about you, but I have a kinda mental list of all the things I’ve taken on that somehow never got off the ground. Things that excited me and inspired me and I’d even told my friends about when they asked me, “What’s new?”

And what’s funny is, I’m the last person you’d think of as a slacker. In the Enneagram—this interesting personality-mapping system that you should really buy a book about the next time you go to a ski house for a weekend with some friends—I’m a #3. The Achiever. Still somehow, I house this mild frustration within myself about all the projects I bailed on. And I guess if this is something fixable—something I can somehow deter my kids from doing—then, by gum, I’m going to try.

On New Year’s Day last year our Oakland posse came over for brunch. And we did this thing where we took the things about the prior year that we wanted to forget, or not carry into the new year, or just get over, and we wrote them on little scraps of paper. (Aren’t we SO California groovy? You probably just ate egg casserole and drank off your hang-over at your New Year’s brunch.)  Initially we stuck the papers in a little plastic doll potty I found in one of the girls’ rooms. It seemed like a good metaphor to flush those things away. But later in the day, once we had a fire in the fireplace—and a few mimosas in our systems—we started reading them aloud and tossing them into the flames.

It was good therapy. (Though I still sometimes do lose my temper with the kids.)

Anyway I wonder if, in the same vein, I can list the unfinished projects that gnaw at me here. And by virtue of enumerating and accepting them perhaps I can exorcise them from my mind.

Hell, I figure it’s worth a try.

Things I Started and Never Finished:

  • Scrapbooking. I spent HUNDREDS of dollars on papers, stickers, scalloped scissors, and flower-shaped hole punchers. I painstakingly produced a few pages–maybe six—and found I was psychotically hell-bent on making each one a creative masterpiece worthy of the Scrapbook Hall of Fame (which I think is in Cleveland somewhere near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). I got through Kate’s first five weeks of life then quit, utterly spent. Continuing at that rate would have been a 90-plus hour a week job. And that was before Paige with all her scrap-worthy moments was even born.
  • Compiling photo albums—actual book ones with pages you can turn. I can’t help but think that by the time my kids are adults the internet will be like an 8-track tape. “Photos of your first birthday? I have them right here! Don’t you worry, we just need to spark up the old internet to get them. Stand back now! This can get loud—and smokey!”
  • Hell, I’d be happy to have up-to-date photos on our Fickr account posted. Or even just downloaded onto my computer. Our digital camera is like 20 old rolls of film that have never been dropped off at MotoPhoto.
  • The marathon I attended an inspirational Team in Training meeting for 9 years ago, then gave up on after my knee got jenky after just two training runs.
  • The needlepoint of a bunny (what was I thinking?) that I worked on during endless doctor appointments, and chemo and radiation sessions with my mother. I would get SO engrossed in it, that after sitting in a stiff gray waiting room chair for an entire day, my mother would finally be ready to go and I’d beg, “Can we just stay a little longer so I can finish all the red flower petals?”
  • And that damn needlepoint reminds me of the owl hook rug I started as a kid. I had big plans for that acrylic throw rug. Big plans. I think my mom kept that unfinished masterpiece in the attic for decades after I’d abandoned it. She apparently had faith in my ability to some day complete that project. The fool.
  • There’s that book about the orchid thief, and one about a Parisian piano shop, and many many other books I started and never finished even though I always claim to be someone who “can’t start a new book ’til I finish the one I’m reading, even if I hate it.” If I ever use that line on you, know that it’s a lie. (Even though I still like to think it’s true.)
  • And of course, the biggest ugliest most brutal unfinished project—my book. Yes, my book idea that I was so impassioned and inspired and determined about, the research material for which is now sitting pitifully in a box on our basement floor. I’m not sure if my energy for it petered out because I stopped believing in my idea, or if I stopped believing in my idea because I never put enough energy into getting it rolling. If I could only get back the money I spent on childcare while trying to finish that damn proposal. It’d probably amount to the proceeds I’d have made on the book if I ever got it published.

Oh, I’m sure there are more more more things on this list. I have boxes of fabric and pillow stuffing and yarn—the vestiges of  creative undertakings that died on the vine. I have vintage buttons I planned to sew on cardigans. Growth charts for both girls devoid of hash marks for each year’s passage.

Some of this is maybe just life—you’re bound to find yourself in the not-yet-completed part of some undertaking. But at times, in the middle of the night, these things can weigh on me. My Achiever personality frets over what I’ve failed to do, instead of reveling in my accomplishments.

Last summer we vacationed with friends who have four boys. If her offspring wasn’t time-sucking enough, in her off-mama hours the woman is an E.R. doc. And a triathlete. Her husband commandeers a fairly new, wildly successful craft brewery which struggles to keep pace with the demand for their product. They’ve got one of those big white boards in their kitchen that outlines everyone’s schedule for the week. Take it from me, these people are BUSY.

But I was blown away but how thoughtfully they manage their lives on a minute by minute basis. Like how, whenever one of the boys pulls on the mom’s arm and asks, “Can you read to me? Can we play Zingo? Do you want to play freeze tag?” More often than not, her answer is Yes.

It made me realize how often my answer is No. I can’t read because I’m cooking dinner. I can’t pretend I’m your baby, I’m sending a work email. No, no no. When really, doing any of these things takes just a few minutes. (Except, of course, a hellishly endless game of Chutes and Ladders.)

But really, will the world fall apart if I play a couple hot rounds of Go Fish, instead of emptying the dishwasher right away?

When the girls want to know some day why they don’t have baby books—why I can’t remember the exact date they took their first steps, or can’t put my fingers on a photo of their kindergarten play—I hope I’ll be able to remind them of that huge hopscotch we drew along the length of our block’s sidewalk. And I hope that that will somehow be enough.

As for that book proposal? I think I just need to get off my ass.

What have you started that you never finished?


Camels and Cranberry Sauce

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Sisters | 4 Comments »

My friend Maria is shopping for a new religion.

She’s a nice Italian-American gal. She’s married with two young kids, and wants to do something religion-wise with her fam. But she’s just not feelin’ it from the Catholic Church any more.

I think she’s looking for something a bit more New School, if you know what I mean.

So Maria did what anyone does these days who’s looking for a good dry cleaner, or a restaurant tip for Date Night. She posted something on Facebook.

“Religion shopping,” she stated simply. “Any advice?”

I loved it.

The thing is, about half her Facebook posse seemed to think she was kidding. They left comments like, “WHAT??????,” and “‘Religion shopping. Hmmm. I don’t get it.” One person even asked, “Religious items or actual religion??”

Maybe they think The Internets aren’t the appropriate medium for finding one’s Higher Power. But as someone who’s wrangled with what-do-I-serve-my-family-for-religion-tonight questions of my own, I wholeheartedly condoned her approach.

In fact, I was hoping I might be able to coast on her tailwind. You know, pick up some useful insights for myself. (Mental note: Must follow up with her on this over a bottle of wine this summer.)

So a month or so ago, my SoCal sister Judy came to the Bay Area for Spring Break. She’s no college co-ed, but she was entertaining two students. And she was hell-bent on introducing them to Yosemite, Wine Country, San Francisco, Berkeley, and every roadside attraction, restaurant, and fabulous friend she had along the way.

When my sister does something, she goes big. Trust me.

In the midst of this break-neck Spring Break, I invited her and her friends over for dinner. My girls love their auntie—and we don’t get to see her nearly enough. Plus I was curious about the students she was spending so much time with.

“No pork,” she said, when I asked about their food preferences. “And you can’t go wrong with rice.”

As a hardcore hater of certain foods (mostly mushrooms, really), I always ask guests what things they don’t like to eat. I appreciate when folks do the same for me. But I also wanted to be cool from a cultural perspective, since my sister’s friends are from Egypt. They’re Fulbright scholars doing a year-long program at the university in her town.

While I knew there was little chance of making these guys feel truly “at home” in my Craftsman cottage in the middle of Oakland, I at least wanted to be sure they’d enjoy their dinner.

So while I focused my attention that afternoon on what we’d be eating—roast chicken, cranberry sauce, broccoli, and plenty of rice—I was utterly unprepared for what we’d do. Or rather, what they’d do. Which was, to be specific, pray.

Because after they’d swept in, and I set out cheese and other nibbly things, and after I offered wine (which was declined), and they allowed my unabashedly un-shy girls to literally crawl all over them, my sister turned to her friends and said, “There are two bathrooms if you’d like to wash.”

Which struck me as a bit odd.

I mean, I know that I unintentionally mother people, by sheer force of habit. I’ve been know to ask adults if they “need to go potty before we get in the car,” and to hand Kleenex to sneezers “in case they need to blow.”

But my sister’s got dogs, not kids. If anything I’d expect her to hold the back door open, make a smooching sound, and ask liltingly, “Have to go out?” Or maybe inquire in an excited tone if they want to go to the park.

Yet her friends didn’t find her directive to wash at all odd. In fact, they looked out the window at the near-setting sun, detangled themselves from Kate and Paige, and headed to the back of the house.

“They wash before they pray,” Judy whispered.

And sure enough, ten minutes later, after having flipped the roasting broccoli and needing to use the bathroom myself, it was apparent that some washing certainly had taken place in there. And from the state of things, it might have happened with water shot from an elephant’s trunk. Or a fire hose, perhaps.

The whole room was soaked.

Back in the living room my sister was catching up with the girls. Her guests were nowhere in sight.

“—and we went to the zoo. Paige tooted really loud. It was soooo funny! And Dad got a flat tire on his bike… ” Kate was breathlessly babbling, deep in one of her non-sequitor-laced talk-a-thons.

“Oh and I got a purple pony in a goodie bag from Zoe’s party!” Kate continued. “Lemme show you. It’s in Paigey’s room.”

My sister held her arm out. “No. Don’t go in there right now, honey.”

Kate stopped in her tracks. “Why not?”

Judy: “My friends are in there.”

Kate: [scrunching her face] “What are they doing?”

Judy: “Praying.”

Kate: [pauses] “Why are they doing that?”

Judy: It’s their religion.”

Kate: [thinks] “What’s religion?!

Ha! Exactly.

[Cue a large plot of my deceased Catholic relatives turning over in their graves.]

When Kate left a small opening in the conversation into which I could wedge a few words, I got the download I’d been desperate for.

“Yeah, so what’s up with the washing and everything? Explain, please.”

In a fast-paced whisper, Judy gave me the low-down on how her friends were Muslim. They pray five times a day, and one of those times is at dusk. And before they pray they do what she called “ritual washing,” where they splash water on their face, hands, arms—ears and feet even–in a special way, and a certain number of times. (Which explained the soggy state of my bathrooms.)

I felt bad that my humble home didn’t better accommodate their needs. I envisioned them facing Mecca on Paige’s hot pink polka-dot carpet, alongside the stinky diaper pail. All that washing and preparation, and they were probably kneeling on a lost Lego piece, and growing faint from poo fumes.

During dinner our new friends fawned over and joked with the girls. They tried cranberry sauce—something Kate and Paige would fight to the death over—and didn’t care for it. It blew Kate’s mind that one of her favorite foods was something some grown-ups hadn’t ever tried.

And in the relative calm of the dinner table, Mark and I had a chance to ask them about the changes that’d taken place in Egypt since they’d been away. “Was it weird to not be there for that? What were the reports from their families like? How did they feel about going back now?”

We asked about what their houses were like. How much English they’d known before coming here. (Not much.) And how they planned to apply their studies here to their careers at home.

Every question I asked seemed to spawn three more in my mind. It took all my restraint to not pull out a video camera and dive into a deep documentary-like interrogation.

It was fascinating, and heartwarming, and an incredibly unexpected way to spend a Wednesday night at home.

Kate asked to be excused to fetch the globe from her room, then had the guys show her where they were from. Then she asked, “Do you have camels?” which we all had a good laugh over. Mark and I had no idea where she’d come up with that. (Apparently some cigarette companies are doing an excellent job of marketing their products to kindergartners. Thank goodness. See how much she’s learned!)

My sister posted on Facebook a few days ago, “It is hard to prepare yourself emotionally that you may never see someone again.” And I knew she was referring to her Egyptian friends, who are heading home today.

She met them though a professor friend, who works at the college they attended. The woman thought they needed someone to practice their English with, so Judy invited them to her house for Thanksgiving. And many months later, they’d gotten into a groove where they all walked her dogs daily, cooked together and taught each other recipes—even planted a garden at my sister’s house.

I feel her pain. When our long-time nanny went home to Israel last fall, I felt the same way. In my sadness I asked Mark if he thought we’d ever see her again, and he gently responded, “Probably not.”

Why is it everyone’s always talking about how small the world is, instead of how damn huge it is?

After our dessert the night of our dinner, I tucked Paige into bed then closed her bedroom door behind me. Judy and Mark were quietly standing in the middle of the kitchen. I felt like I’d clearly walked in on something.

“What?” I said, looking around for clues.

And without a word they both opened their eyes wide, and jerked their heads towards the living room. I craned my neck to peek in, and saw that our guests were praying again. This time, wisely, not by the diaper pail.

I tiptoed over by the refrigerator to give our new friends some privacy.

That afternoon Katie hadn’t even known what religion was. But by the end of the evening we’d all gotten a chance to see it in action—twice. From people who, I imagine, never questioned the faith they grew up with, or felt the need to shop for a new one. People who went to amazing, bathroom-drenching lengths to practice their religion several times a day.

I’m so happy we got to spend an evening with those guys. What an education for all of us.

I send them both a wish for happy trails and safe travel. And I hope that they find peace and contentment in all they are going home to.


Sleep Whisperer: The Outcome

Posted: March 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Sisters, Sleep | No Comments »

I was trying to be thrifty. Instead I ended up adding years to my life.

Or at least my appearance.

I’d run out of under-eye concealer—a critical mother’s little helper—and found an old tube of it in our bathroom drawer. It was a drugstore brand. But in the harsh light of the recession, and the harsh light of day on my dark under-eye circles, I decided to give it a whirl.

And you know? It wasn’t half bad. A good color match. Good even coverage. And the spongey applicator was kinda fun.

So on a Target run with my mother-in-law I decided to get more. Expensive schmancy make-up be damned!

As I crouched down to find the right product and color I zeroed in on the shape of the tube, then read the label and staggered back in horror. What I’d been spreading on the delicate moisture-craving skin under my eyes for weeks was not some creamy emollient make-up. It was tinted zit cream.


The last time I had a zit I had a Michael Jackson poster hanging in my bedroom. (It was this one, if you must know.)

Anyway, I have sisters who are 10, 11, and 12 years older than me. I learned at a wee tender age the critical importance—the necessity—of a good eye cream. When my sibs were in their twenties, experiencing their first anxieties over sun exposure and laugh lines, I was a smooth-skinned tween. My sister Judith saw me as someone with the potential to capture her youth. So she hooked me up.

I had to be the only 12-year-old on the block religiously using Christian Dior eye cream twice daily (dabbing it on gently with my ring finger so as not to pull at that delicate wrinkle-prone skin).

So this recent mishap with the mistakenly-applied harsh, drying zit cream has undoubtedly set me back dog years. Benzoil peroxide, you have robbed me of my youth.

At least I’ve gained back some beauty rest to balance it all out. Yes, party people, the update on the Sleep Whisperer, the Snooze Czar, the Sand Woman—the person we paid excessive amounts of money to get our three-year-old to finally frickin’ give up the ghost and sleeeeeep—is this….

[Drum roll please.]


And really, not just that. She went to sleep and didn’t call out to us once. We put her to bed, and then—she slept! Until she got up in the morning!

It’s like a miracle.

Of course, last night she got up once. But really—once! That’s just a little bit! It’s a helluva lot less than getting up the many many times we’d miserably gotten used to.

And that’s only four days into our new program. So I’m still willing to allow for a learning curve.

What’s funny is, I was totally skeptical at first. Ms. Very Expensive Sleep Helper Lady came to our house Monday evening for our first meeting. I had a mild hide-the-People-magazines sorta freak-out in the moments before her arrival. But I pushed past that.

When I answered the door I drank in everything about her.

She was a bit older than I’d expected. She sat on the couch, all smiley and friendly. She said she liked how our living room was decorated. She munched on the nuts I’d set out. She was the spitting image of my friend Jill’s mom.

There was every reason to like this woman, but as we launched into our meeting I grew concerned. She didn’t have a clipboard. She didn’t goose-steep through Paige’s room making observations and jotting notes while skeptically muttering “uh-huh” under her breath.

If this woman was going to solve this nasty problem, shouldn’t she be more stern, or clinical, or ruthless?

Instead, she was mellow and friendly. She was NICE.

We chatted for a while, then Mark’s mom and the girls came back from their dinner. Nice Sleep Specialist made cute “what’s your dolly’s name?” type small talk with the girls. And then she and Paige went into Paige’s room for A TALK.

Mark was all hopping around on one foot wanting to eavesdrop. I was at the point where if this stranger was hypnotizing my daughter in order to make her sleep through the night—or threatening or terrorizing her in some way—I mean, as long as it worked, I was game.

They emerged from the room and Sleep Lady announced, “Paige has told me something very interesting. She said that it’s Baba [her lamb lovey] who wakes her up at night. And that is why she then calls out to you.”

What ensued was this: A conversation in which it was explained to Paige that Mom and Dad need their sleep. If they get woken up in the middle of the night, they don’t get their rest and can’t do a good job at work and will be cranky.

At which point Kate (who is heretofore written out of the will), chimed in, “My mother is ALWAYS cranky.”


Instead of hiding my People magazines I should have considered hiding Kate.

Anyway, what the Soul Sister of Sleep did was flipped the dynamic a bit. Paige was to say “shhh” to Baba in the night if Baba woke her up. This way Paige was no longer the bad guy. She was the good guy who we were enlisting in the effort to get mom and dad a good night’s sleep.

I was leery.

First off, were none of us going to cop to the fact that Baba wasn’t really the one doing the waking up? Were all the grown-ups going to play along with Paige flagrantly shirking responsibility for it all?

Apparently “at this age” (i.e. three years old) it’s easier for kiddos to test out new behaviors or express themselves via a proxy. Have the teddy bear use the potty. Show me on this doll what happened to you. Yadda yadda yadda.

Weirdly, it WORKED. I mean, it kinda didn’t really take on the first night. But we all kept talking trash about Baba needing to stop pestering Paigey when he woke up. She still bellowed to us a few times from her bed, and Mark went in to remind her to tell Baba, “Shhh.”

The next night we were told to ratchet things up a level. To close the bedroom door if she called out to us. She hates having the door closed, and screams her head off.  But what I liked was we only had to do it for five minutes. Then we’d open it and ask Paige if she and Baba wanted to take another chance at being quiet.

Night three: Bliss! In fact, I was lying awake intermittently wondering if and when she’d wake up. She never did. Our house was oddly quiet.

I did notice in that time that our refrigerator produces one ice cube every twenty minutes. This is apparently the kind of huge insight I’ll be making with my new-found well-restedness.

Well, that and I’m planning to start accusing stuffed animals of my own indiscretions. The next time Kate publicly calls me out for crankiness I’m casting all the blame on Barbie.

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Hit the Road, Angel of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie will be sorely missed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This did not make me feel better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, Angel of Death.

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Thankful It’s Not Yesterday

Posted: November 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, Friends and Strangers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool, Sisters, Travel | No Comments »

If only days were like Scrabble tiles. I’d like to trade a few in for new ones.

If Scrabble rules applied to life I’d definitely toss yesterday back in the bag. And probably the day before that too.

Because on Monday I found out an old friend came back to see me. My ulcer. For realz.

I know it seems like ulcers are something aging down-on-their-luck alcoholic cigar-smoking men get. And though I aspire to such a profile, I currently don’t quite fit it.

Yet, I’ve had an ulcer before. In college, oddly. I was living in Paris at the time, and I remember having episodes of stomach pain that were so intense I’d be walking down the street and have to lean against a building to stay upright.

I was a not-really-starving student. The program I was studying with was fairly rigorous academically. So there was some stress there. And when I wasn’t studying I was acting like an American college co-ed in Par-ee. Which meant going out with my trash-talkin’ American compadres to decidedly un-French bars (our fave was called The Front Page) and drinking decidedly un-French booze (namely, tequila).

Let’s just say, conversing with a gastroenterologist in French will really take your language skills to the next level. Of course, I’ve forgotten them all now, but I added a nice group of vocab words like ‘stomach lining,’ ‘gastric acid,’ and ‘cyclooxygenase’ to my repertoire.

Okay, so I really can’t even say that last one in English. But it’d rock if I could.

When I got back to the States, my parents sent me to what they considered “a real doctor” (i.e. an American). The guy asked me some questions, ordered some tests, and handed my mother a business card for a psychiatrist. The thinking being that my stomach was out of whack because I had my head screwed on wrong.

But really, I was my same sassy happy-go-lucky self back then. I’d come clean if there was reason to, but I think it was the un-holy trinity of school stress, tequila (which was a cheap way to tie one on), and an occasional cigarette (which was a cheap way to look cool) that were the real culprits.

In fact, the second doc my mother ushered me to—insulted by the first’s implications about my mental health—described my malady in simple terms. “What you’ve got,” he said to me, laying it on the line “is a weak gut.”

My mother relayed this line to my sisters, who found it uproarious. Judy still sometimes points her finger my way and asks, “You know what you’ve got? A weak gut!” then howls with laughter.

The thing is, these days, I can’t for the life of me figure out what brought this hell-belly back. I ain’t stressed out, I swear. And I only really smoke cigars on Tuesday nights, when I pour myself a tall glass of rye and settle down in front of The Housewives of Atlanta.

Jes’ kidding.

Yesterday started with a sunrise trip to a lab for blood work. I’d spent the day before home with a soupy-coughed Paigey, so yesterday I REALLY needed to make progress at my freelance gig. So I arrived at the lab just after it opened at 7:30. And waited. And then found out that one of the tests I needed to do they didn’t have at that lab. So I needed to go somewhere else.

But first I consented to having my blood taken. Because it seemed that it would legitimize my wait. And because the phlebotomist didn’t have a large tattoo across his forehead reading INCOMPETENT.

Which he really really should have.

He stabbed me with a needle, then muttered, “Well there WAS blood comin’ at first, but why’d it just stop?” To which I replied weakly, “Uh, I’m a fainter. I really can’t deal with the play-by-play.”

I’m truly too queasy to even recount the ensuing trauma, other than to say that he jabbed that needle around in my vein like he was trying to pick up a carnival toy with a metal claw. When I peeled off the gauze-and-tape bandage hours later, my elbow pit was streaked with purple and red bruises the likes of which’d make a heroine junkie gag.

Ah-ha! That’s why I’d been feeling like my forearm was going to detach and fall to the ground all day!

Post blood-taking hell, I zipped back home. Picked up Kate to bring her to kindergarten. Brought Paige to her school in a torrential downpour. Asked P’s teacher kindly, “Could she please not play outdoors today? She’s just getting over being sick.”

To which I was informed “ALL the children play outside no matter WHAT the weather is.”

So I looked down at Paigey, rain dripping from the visor of her yellow raincoat. She looked so small. I thought about us boarding a cross-country plane the next day, and just then she let out a loogy-ish cough.

I sighed. “Well, I guess I’ll take her with me then.”

Okay, so Paige in tow, I’m off to Lab #2. I get there, park, schlep bedraggled Paige through the rain-swept parking lot where she strides through every puddle. Elevetor to 3rd floor, find the suite number, wait for snide receptionist to look at me, and discover they don’t have the test I need either.


Repeat parking lot adventure at Lab #3. But they HAVE the test! In the waiting room Paige is actually adorable. She “reads” from a Beatrix Potter book for all the other test-needing waiters, and moves the book in an arc around her after every page so they can see the pictures.

I have a haircut in SF in 35 minutes. The nurse calls my name. I may actually not be late! But then I blow air into a bag, drink some Crystal-light-like stuff, and am told I have to wait 15 minutes to blow in another bag again.

Did I mention that I was also fasting for this test? By the time I careened out of Lab #3’s parking lot hell-bent for San Fran, it was nearly 11:00AM and Mama was HUN-gree.

I called Mark and told him, “Surprise! You get Paige!” After my haircut (priorities straight) I REALLY did need to go to the office and get some work done. So, like a hot potato, I foisted Paigey Waigey at Mark in his office parking lot and zipped off like roadrunner (my legs a circular blur) to the hair salon.

Settling in for my cut and color I thought, NOW. Now is when my day gets good.

Despite my lateness, I’d stopped at a café for a croissant because the alien that now lives in my stomach gets VERY cranky without food. (I can now imagine the sweet relief Sigourney felt when that thing finally busted out of her.) Finally, with the fasting behind me, I could take the first of my Weak Gut pills and let the healin’ begin.

Sad, isn’t it, when my idea of a good time is shoving ulcer meds in my mouth while waiting for someone to cover up my gray roots. I leaned back in the seat and closed my eyes. Just for a sec.

Then I felt hands on my shoulders. I looked up to see Susan, my ever-faithful long-time hair guru, looking at me through the reflection in the mirror. I smiled.

“So,” she said with a big exhale. “This will be the last time I do your hair. I’m moving to LA!”

I closed my eyes again. Maybe I should just wait until tomorrow for my day to get better.

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