Bygone Bluegrass Weekend

Posted: June 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Sisters, Travel | 2 Comments »

We’re fresh back from Mark’s cousin’s wedding in Kentucky.

And I’d just like to say, as an Italian gal who grew up a calzone’s throw from Providence, RI, some of the Southern icons are lost on me.

The whole horse thing, for one. I mean, in any other state the racetrack’s a haven for deadbeats, grifters, and rent-money gamblers, right? But in Kentucky, having your wedding reception in the track’s club house is akin to attaining social nirvana. And, whether it’s the bluegrass or the blue bloods, the scene there is quite different. Especially since, when we were la-di-da-ing around Keeneland this weekend, the ponies weren’t racing or anything. It wasn’t like they were cutting the cake in between the betting windows opening.

And here’s another thing. A lovely family friend who I’ve come to know on my visits down yonder, works at a schmancy gift store. And there, amidst swoon-worthy crystal, dinnerware, and heirloom-grade drink coasters, many locals register for fine china with—get this—horse heads painted on it. All I’m saying is, to my people, the horse head has a very different connotation.

But all that said, despite our cultural differences, there’s so much I just love about the south. I mean, even aside from the bourbon. The wedding’s fabuosity topping the list on this visit.

And as you know since you’re no doubt an avid and addicted reader of this-here blog, I’d had a bit of the weeps in the couple days preceding the festivities. But, per my prediction, they dried up as soon as I was swept up into happy busy nuptial mayhem.

And at the wedding itself, it was, as I’d guessed, Mark who set me off in a bit of eye-dabbing. But not for the lovesick reasons I’d expected. Instead, as all the groomsmen took their places at the front of the chuch, Mark turned to me and whispered, “Dan’s not up there. He’s got to be walking Mags down the aisle.”

And, in that way that news travels fast when you’re packed into pews with family members who you cotton to talking to, we all got filled up at the thought of the bride’s brother so gallantly stepping in where their out-of-the-picture dad should have been. So, we were bawling before the bride even set foot in the church.

This brother, being the same one who brought the house down the night before with a rehearsal dinner toast he was nearly too choked up to spit out.

I’m the last person who could serve as an authority on brotherly love. And frankly, never felt I’d missed out on much that my three sisters couldn’t provide. But that bride and her bro have a kinship that’s downright picture perfect. Got me thinking a brother wouldn’t've been half bad to have around after all.

Later at the part-ay, as I was making my way bar-ward, I stopped to chat with Mark’s amazing Grandpa. We got to talking about his days as a working man, and how it was with his wife home with the four kids and him often away on business. A bit of family history it was nice to reflect upon—the thought of Mark’s Grandma as a young wife, wrangling Mark’s mom and sibs, and no doubt doing it with her exceptional blend of style and grace. Sometimes it takes a three minute chat to make all those old photos seem to spring to life in your mind.

In line at the photo booth, after we’d picked out props and talked through blocking on the four pictures we’d get, Mark relayed part of a chat he’d had with his Grandpa too. Essentially, how he told Mark how proud he was of him. The kind of wanted-you-to-know comment that seems to be shared so it’s sure to be passed along while it can be. Heart-wrenching for sure, but so very special too.

And reason alone for, heck, another trip to the bar. Another bourbon and Coke.

From the drink-sippin’ edge of the dance floor, I was drawn in to watching an older chap, dapper in a dark suit and colorful striped tie. Hair slicked back and beaming, he just oozed entitlement, confidence, and mad dancing skills. He was the poster boy for good Southern living. And even though one political chat would have me likely, well, repulsed by the guy, from my distant perch I couldn’t help but marvel at him. And wonder what kind of person I’d be if I’d grown up here, if these skinny-ass blonde women and traditional old school men were my people. A brief bourbon-induced daydream…

Back at the hotel, the after party included more beer and bourbon, plus a karaoke machine. My brother-in-law John rocked the house with a white boy version of “Humpty Dance,” throwing first rate rapper-style arm and hand moves, and capping it off with two splits that’d do a cheerleading squad captain proud.

John should rent himself out as a wedding guest. He could make some serious bank.

The weekend was packed with pretty blonde fillies, preening, prancing, and vying for attention in their cocktail frock finery. And the bride was truly and honestly the most beautiful joyful one whose glow I’ve had the honor to bask in. (I mean, if women spend a lifetime trying to return to the weight, dress size, or skin tone they had on their wedding day, Miss Maggie has set the bar very high for herself indeed.) Oh, the women, they did themselves proud alright. But Saturday night at Keeneland, it was the men who stole the show. Coming in ahead of the pack by a mile.


Don’t Know Much About History

Posted: May 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Sisters | 5 Comments »

Doesn’t it seem like William Safire should have some sort of Nielsen box set up, so the language trends he writes about reflect a wide array of American households, not just what he hears in whatever entitled old white man circles he rolls in?

Sure, there may be some technical hurdles to overcome before people are willing to have their voice boxes wiretapped. Still, it’s a good idea, don’t you think?

Anyway, until they iron out those kinks, I’ll just report here what I’m hearing uttered around the McClusky casa. Which is to say, the McClusky house. (In case you don’t speak Spanish.)

Kate’s modifier of choice these days is the excessively California-surfer-dude sounding double-header, “super super.”

During dinner: “Paige is spitting milk, and being super super funny!”

Attempting to influence me: “I let my boy watch a super super lot of TV. He says to me, ‘Mommy, can I watch TV?’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’”

Observing a dead houseplant: “Mama, that plant is super super thirsty.”

I’m not sure where she picked up the expression. Figuring that out’d be like trying to track down the genesis of a preschooler’s perpetual runny nose. Where would it get you anyway? Easier to just accept it into your maternal maelstrom as a minor annoyance, and keep rolling.

At a dinner party this week, my neighbor Chicken Daddy and I were comparing notes about the progressive private schools we went to as kids. Or more specifically, about the pot holes of ignorance those schools left us with. Huge knowledge gaps our parents paid good money for.

His school clearly exceeded mine on the hippie groovy scale. They studied American history every other year, and in between learned about the histories of other cultures. “But get this,” he tossed out. “When we did do American history it wasn’t even about the presidents or the Civil War. It was Native American history.”

God, I just love that.

Anyway, as a result, he’s apparently well versed in things like wampum macro economics, but couldn’t tell you the first thing about what the U.S. Senate does.

This is fantastic news. It makes me feel far less freakish and alone about my similar vein of standard-knowledge naivite. Plus, I now know to never partner with him playing Trivial Pursuit.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the excuse that my school didn’t teach the things I’m stone dumb about. They likely did, but I was too busy rolling up notes and sticking them in pens I disemboweled for cheeky “Oh, here’s your pen back, Pam” under-the-teacher’s-nose note passing.

Being caught up in all-consuming God-this-class-is-boring-but-isn’t-Dean-Klitzner-sooo-cute? brain activity seemed like a good thing for me to be doing at the time. You know, instead of laying down fundamental knowledge that would serve me in a lifetime’s worth of jobs, cocktail party banter, and trivia games played drunkenly at rental ski houses. Oh well.

So my brain’s lacking some standard info it really should contain, but as a tragic counter balance it’s brimming with crap that’s of no discernible use at all. I mean, if I could have a yard sale and clear some of the worthless knowledge out, it’d be a long day and all, but I think I could make some serious bank, even if I sold it all cheap.

And I can’t even imagine what I could do afterwards with that freed up brain space! I could maybe retain the fact once and for all that Mark’s birthday is November 19th, not the 17th. Or memorize a big chunk of Pi, or be able to recite the names of all the state flowers.

One of the things that for some reason I’m chock full of—and have been lugging around with me for decades now—is, tragically, radio jingles from the 70s and 80s. Ads for a random assortment of currently likely-defunct Rhode Island businesses.

There’s one for some big car dealership that used to be in Warwick. And of course, who can’t reel off the Van Scoy Diamond Mine song? Most locals can summon those verses faster than the date of their wedding anniversary.

But long before Van Scoy set the small state’s standard for advertising ear worms, a jingle for a New England grocery chain called Fernandes ruled the airwaves. My three older sisters adored that one. Or rather, they loved mocking it.

And really, how couldn’t they? It was sung un-ironically in a wretched—or rather wicked—Rhode Island accent. And one thing that bound us Bruno gals together, was our shared superiority complex about—of all things—our elocution. Pride in how distanced we felt from the take-an-R leave-an-R masses that surrounded us. The name Martha, for example, is pronounced back home Maaaath-UR. Simply take the ‘r’ from where it belongs in the beginning of the word, and tack it on the end where it doesn’t. It’s nearly as complex a linguistic formula as Zoom‘s Ubbi Dubbi language (which I also happen to speak fluently, though it wasn’t the primary language spoken in our home growing up).

So the Fernandes ad went—and I’m deferring (in part) to phonetics here—”SOO-puh SOO-puh MAH-kit with a lot more speh-SHILLS every daaaaaaaay! Fih-NAN-deez knows the waaaay!”

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting where someone tossed out the dazzling “super supermarket” marketing concept. And where someone else cried out “It’s brilliant!” and they linked arms and vowed that together they’d spin it into commercial gold.

If you ask me, that’s the kind of history they should write about in text books.

I know it seems like it’d benefit me more knowing what the Speaker of the House does, instead of having scads of lame, outdated radio jingles committed to my everlasting memory. But hey, I’ve made it this far in life, and I feel like what I don‘t know hasn’t really made me miss out on a lot. And for that I am super super grateful.


Under Pressure

Posted: May 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, Drink, Food, Holidays, Husbandry, Mama Posse, Misc Neuroses, Mom, Sisters | 4 Comments »

My birthday falls on Mother’s Day this year, giving me a small (sour) taste of what it’s like for those poor souls who are born on Christmas.

And God help dear Mark, who has his feet up in the starting blocks awaiting my decision on what I want to do. He’s desperate to make the day special for me, but to date we’ve had several discussions where he’s attempted to focus my thoughts and narrow down the options I spew out. Each of these conversations has ended with him squeezing the top of his head and whimpering softly.

I just can’t decide.

So far we have lunch reservations at 12:15 at ad hoc, Thomas Keller’s allegedly (hopefully) family-friendly restaurant, and at 1:15 at a bistro called The Girl and the Fig that I’ve been wanting to try. Not that we intend to challenge the girls’ restaurant manners—or any progress I’ve made on my postpartum bod—by eating two back-to-back lunches. I just thought it’d be nice to have options in Napa and Sonoma. (And for karma’s sake, we’ll cancel whatever ressie we don’t intend to use in advance. And by “advance” I mean within AT LEAST an hour of our reservation. If I’ve made a decision by then.)

The thing is, there’s also part of me that wonders if I just want to have Mark pack a staggeringly fabulous picnic lunch and take the kids for a hike or to the beach or something.

I mean, doesn’t that sound good too?

It’s one of those times I really wish I lived in Wichita. It’d be so freeing knowing we were going to Applebee’s since it’d be the only game in town. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think they’ve got much outdoor splendor to add in as a contender.

At night we have a sitter. But that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I haven’t determined whether darkening the door of A Cote, our cherished local haunt, makes sense after a potentially big lunch. I mean, it’s so tacky getting gout during a recession.

There’s also been some talk amongst the Mama Posse about getting together for some late afternoon cocktails that day. A proposal I never refuse from those women. (Or practically anyone else, for that matter.) But we were kinda tipsy when that idea came up, so who knows.

I’ve been telling most people that what’s likely to happen is I’ll get a migraine from the stress of trying to have a fun day to the second power, and’ll end up spending it in a dark room, dry-mouthed and fraught with pain, clutching an ice pack to my noggin.

But here’s the thing. I think I’ve even made that claim enough times now that the pressure to have a migraine is also too great. I’ll probably end up having performance anxiety over that too.

I’ve never understood when people just decide to “not do” holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas because it’s too much of a hassle, or there’s some negative association with the holiday they want to sweep under their emotional carpet. I can’t help but think that making those days not feel like those days takes more energy than just cooking a damn turkey. Which is to say, the duck-and-cover avoidance approach just isn’t an option for me on Sunday.

Ellen emailed last week to see what I’m doing for Mother’s Day. She’d spaced on it also being my birthday, and suggested we get together and do something for Mom, since we still haven’t convened for her death-iversary. And at this point I’m thinking, what the hell. Maybe we should just celebrate Fourth of July too.


I Raise My Glass to You, Mom

Posted: April 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Husbandry, Mama Posse, Manners, Mom, Sisters | 1 Comment »

I spent the better part of dinner tonight trying to hold my lips the way my mother did when she drank wine, and trying (sadly, literally) to not wet my pants laughing.

She used to do this thing when she put a wine glass to her mouth where it looked like she was playing a flute. You know, like she was sorta flattening her lips to blow, with the corners slightly upturned like the early stage of a super fake smile.

It was her Fancy Wine-Drinkin’ lips that she did without fail, every time. I mean, she could have a glass of water and one of wine that she was working at the same time and she could pick either one up at random while conducting a conversation and maybe even cooking dinner and she could still somehow remember to do the Wine Drinkin’ Lips for the wine glass, and just drink like a normal human from the water glass. It was, in a way, impressive.

Unsurprisingly, this slayed my sisters and I. And not just as kids or anything. We’d howl and slap each other laughing (that’s something us Italian Americans do) whenever we saw this, well into adulthood. And of course, we’d razz her about it MERCILESSLY.

(I still regret never having done a blindfolded test where we’d hold up several types of glasses to her to see if she could somehow intuit the presence of a wine glass. My hypothesis is that she’d know.)

So anyway, as I’m here trying to do it during our heat-wave dinner on the porch, Mark is looking at me and trying to show me what face I’m making, and saying, “Okay, so this is it?” But half the time he’s holding his lips out away from his teeth like the teeth’ve got something on them he doesn’t want the rest of his mouth to touch. And of course, that’s all wrong (and frankly, I thought, not even trying very hard), so I’m all, “No, NO, like THIS.” But then unable to keep a straight face to get the flattened flute lips really right. They need to be all pulled back like a super tight face lift with just the smallest opening to let the wine come through. The small hole there is I think what she thought made it all good manners and fancy.

And hey, compared to how I pull corks out of wine bottles with my teeth and just start chugging at the end of my harried kid-tendin’ days, it WAS fancy, man.

So anyway, Mark’s all, “Wait, are your neck veins supposed to be pulsating when you do it?” And he’s sticking his jaw out real tight like a maniac. (Not, by the way, remotely what I was doing.) But hey, it’s not like I have all this isometric lip strength that my mother had from doing it for so long. I mean, it’s not like she looked like she was bench pressing twice her weight when she sipped a pinot grigio.

Finally, after ignoring the children for most of the meal, we gave up on it. Clearly Mark was not taking my attempts at perfecting the look seriously enough, and I was starting to question whether I just didn’t have the skillz any more to nail it.

Besides, in the teeniest small way all the Mom thoughts started to get me feeling a bit sad. I mean, how am I ever going to get it right if I can’t ever watch her do it again?

Last week, on Friday, marked five years since she died. And on that day the so-great-I-don’t-deserve-them Mama Posse had a lovely just-us-and-the-kids garden party as a tribute to my Mama. But I’d likely gone so extremely overboard in stressing to them that yes, a little lunch would be lovely, but please no dead mother poetry readings, or presentations of large poster board collages with pictures of her and words like “#1 Mom!” cut out from magazines. I’d made it clear in my lacking-subtlety way that if I wanted to “go there” and talk about her, I would.

Every time one of the kids called out, “Mom!” to one of us, I think the Mamas were cringing and all pulling them aside and whispering, “Owen, I told you to call me Sacha today not Mom.”

What gals.

And, as it turns out, that day, I didn’t want to go there. It wasn’t that I couldn’t for fear of what I’d unleash, there just wasn’t anything there to really go to. So aside from Mark sweetly saying to me at one point in the evening how happy he is that he knew her, her five-year death-iversary came and went like no big thing.

Usually Ellen and I and our kids get together on that day and on Mom’s birthday in January, and I cook Polish food. We’ll sometimes pull out old pics of Mom, and Ellen–since she’s kinda a hippie–tends to have some sort of special candle lit.

But last weekend Ellen was out of town, her kids with their dad. So we’ll schedule something for another day soon. And maybe then it’ll feel more normal or natural for me to think or talk a bit, or even a lot, about Mom. And if it just turns out to be another great meal with the intention of it being a tribute to her, that’s okay too.

The one thing I’ve learned about the grief thing is you never know when it’ll strike, and it’s foolish to try to summon some disingenuous desperate emotion when you’re heart’s just not going there on its own. No one’s looking to anyone to put on a big show. And not that we have to emulate her, but Lord knows, that wasn’t how Vicki rolled.

One thing I will have to make sure of when Ellen and I get together, is that she takes a crack at the Wine Lips thing. If my memory serves me, she has a knack for imitating it. And even if she doesn’t get it quite right, I’d happily welcome another laughing sesh just watching her try.

Oh, Mama. I miss you.

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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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The Bruno Triple Throat Clear and Other Unfortunate Legacies

Posted: March 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sisters, Sleep | 1 Comment »

I wandered into a used clothing store yesterday in that aimless way that mothers sometimes enter stores where they have no interest in the products but just want to gain a feeling of exasperation from wedging a bulky bright red off-road stroller through narrow clothing-lined passageways and tight corners populated with old women burrowing through rayon blouses.

Halfway through my why-the-hell-am-I-in-here-and-how-will-I-ever-get out realization, a woman in the store sneezed. Not just any sneeze, but a deafening sonic boom aaaaaah-choo! that caused everyone in the place to recoil in shock. It was so sudden, and so terribly loud, it created what I indelicately like to refer to as a “tampon-expelling moment.”

Anyway, the gal’s apparently sent shock and awe through other shopper-packed stores because as some of the older patrons were still blanched by the event and readjusting their wigs, she made a brief and unembarrassed announcement.

“Sorry!” she called out. “Yes, I’m a loud sneezer. I inherited it from my grandfather.”

Okay, so who really cares about Grandpa’s sneezes? If I were her life coach I’d help her work up a better post-sneeze remark.

But the little episode did get me thinking about The Bruno Triple Throat Clear. It’s one of those divorce-able habits that are the patented (and only) approach the women in my family unconsciously (and constantly) use to clear their throats. It’s a kinda “mmm-mm-mmmm.” A peppy throaty trifecta that actually makes me miss my mother to even think about because it’s one of those little things that was just so her.

And, as it turns out–unfortunately for our spouses–is so my sisters and I too.

Of course, my annoying habit is one thing, but Mark ran into the room where I was the other day wild-eyed, as if he was about to report a family of rabid badgers had set up house in his boxer short drawer.

“Kate!” He bellowed right up in my face. “She just did The Triple Throat Clear!”

Of course, I could just smile coyly, thinking about how she sucks all the water out of her toothbrush after using it, then gives it two quick taps on the edge of the sink before putting it away.

“Oh. Really?” I eventually said. “Huh.”

Maybe some of the stuff my family does is easier to pick up on since there are four of us, and we’re all girls. That has to make it easier to detect our shared annoying habits, right?

Case in point. We were all just back in Rhode Island for my Dad’s 80th birthday extravaganza. I think it was after the party, later at home, when we were beaten down from excessive socializing, daytime alcohol consumption, and the sweet relief of having the shindig successful and behind us. I walked into the living room to see my sister Judy sprawled asleep on the leather couch, her left arm slung up over her face and her mouth gaping open. It was the exact stance I’d seen Ellen in on the blow-up mattress earlier that morning. And that night, in front of one Law and Order show or another, my father nodded off, head turned to one side, mouth agape. (He didn’t do the arm sling thing. We got that part from Mom.)

At this point in my life, I can tolerate the humiliation of knowing that every time I fall asleep on an airplane the flight attendants could set a cocktail napkin and bag of nuts in my open mouth. (The Bruno Flung Arm Sleeping Maneuver is thankfully too difficult to enact in a seated position.) What concerns me at this juncture is which shameful traits my little innocents will pick up from me. Which crosses of mine, as it were, they’ll have to bear.

Miss Paige has always been a star sleeper. (My genes, thank you very much.) But in the past few weeks she’s somehow realized that she can sit up in her crib and look around her room. Something she finds so fascinating–reviewing an unchanged space she sees every day–she now does it at the beginning of every nap. The problem is, tired as she may be, she hasn’t managed to make the connection that she has to lie down again in order to sleep.

So I’ve been having to go into her room and readjust her, gently pushing her shoulders down onto the mattress. At which point she looks up at me grateful and groggy, and dozes off nearly instantly.

The other day, she started in on the why-am-I-still-sitting-up-when-I-want-to-sleep-now? whine. (It’s amazing how you can categorize their different laments.) I was hoping that something in her brain would finally fire and she’d realize she could solve the problem herself. And a few minutes later, as if I’d willed it to be so, she was totally quiet. So I waited a bit, then cracked open her door to take a peek.

And there she was. In a seated position but pitched forward, totally face-planted into her blanket, and sound asleep.

Of course, like any sensible mother I didn’t dare move her for fear she’d wake up and her nap–and my cherished child-free time–would suddenly evaporate. So an hour or so later when she eventually came to, I went in to get her. Her face was pink and indented in the pattern of the lovely afghan that Aunt Terry knitted for her. But she was well rested nonetheless.

Well, she’s found a solution. Since that first ergonomic nightmare of a nap, she’s fallen asleep a few other times the same way. One of these days I’ll put a silencer on my camera shutter and take a picture of it. It seems wretchedly uncomfortable, poor dear, but at least I can say for sure, she didn’t get that one from me.

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Let Loose the Princess Fury

Posted: January 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Food, Miss Kate, Shopping, Sisters | 2 Comments »

Thursday afternoon I got a babysitter for no reason other than the psychological thrill of three hours of Me Time. Sometimes looking forward to it or just knowing it’s approaching supplies more of a feel-good shock therapy jolt to my psyche than the actual kid-free time itself.  

So, mere minutes before the nanny arrived, I decided I’d set off for San Francisco for some thrift shopping. There’s something so stupid about paying $20 an hour to pick through two-dollar-ninety-nine-cent clothing alongside hipsters and the homeless that I just couldn’t resist.

Besides, Thrift Town is where I’m closest to God. Or rather, the place where in the acquisition of bargains I feel a rush that’s akin to religious fervor.  

My sisters call another Mission bastion, Community Thrift, “church.” I’ve never asked if it’s due to the reverence that they have for it, or that it’s a must on Sundays, when folks unload all their didn’t-sell yard sale items and the place brims with all manner of fresh crap. In the same way Kitchen Confidential taught us not to get fish on Tuesdays at restaurants, Ellen and Judy can direct you to the right crap store on the right day to give you the best shot of unearthing what it is you’re hankerin’ for.

It’s a gift, really.

At any rate, the religious metaphors also show you the effect that a childhood of being pulled by our ears to church every Sunday had on my sisters and I (i.e. we’re quick to reference but not participate in church activities). And it underscores the extent to which we Brunos exalt a good bargain.

So, childless and fancy-free I pushed open the doors to big grungy sweetly-stinky Thrift Town feeling the anticipatory titillation that comes with not knowing what dazzling finds await. And the first thing I see in the shelves of random crap along the entryway wall is a box covered over with Saran Wrap and housing–unused!–all the brightly colored plastic Snow White-branded crap a little girl could ever wish for (or break within moments of adoring ownership). It was $3.99.

Now I’m hardly a super crunchy Waldorf School Mama, but I have discouraged childhood TV-watchin’ nearly in its entirety. I despise kid crap that’s branded with licensed characters, prefer wooden toys to plastic, and have steered Kate clear of anything princess-related as if it were, uh, the Ebola Virus.

But I know not every mother is as fetishistic about avoiding these things as I am. And since my desire to home school the girls in order to maintain their commercial purity is as strong as my desire to pluck each of my not-exactly-lacking Italian-American leg hairs, I’m realistic about the fact that they’ll be exposed to it eventually.

To introduce it myself though just seems like a slippery slope. One viewing of SpongeBob SquarePants leads to excessive begging for crap at Target, and next thing you know she’s using intravenous drugs.

Maybe it was the feel-good high from my break from ass- and nose-wiping, or the alcohol hit I got off the breath of the bum next to me, but I picked up the thing and decided on the spot, what the heck. I’ll buy a little princess crap for Miss Kate.

The thing is, I’m a survivor of a sugar-free childhood. Well, nearly sugar free. There are naturally occurring sugars in fruit, right?

A bottle of soda rarely darkened our door, and sugary cereals were disparaged like the devil’s own drug. But, like me, my mother’s desire to shield me from the things she disliked only went so far. Which is to say, she let me out of the house. So, when visiting friends I perved out over the presence of forbidden foods.

Me: “You have Pop Tarts?! Aren’t you afraid your mother’ll see them in that cupboard?”

My friend: “What do you mean? My mom bought those for me.”

At which point my head exploded.

So, looking through the re-packaged plastic on this treasure trove of princess crap, I made my peace with the thought that maybe this petite offering might be enough to satisfy Kate’s burgeoning princess curiosity for now. Or at least safeguard her from short-circuiting (and ultimately stealing) the next faux-fur Cinderella dress-up cape she comes across at a friend’s house.

Plus, it’s kind of funny watching her teeter around the house on those oh-so-wholesome red plastic mini-heels.

And best of all, it was a great bargain.


Sisters, Sleep, and Yard Sales

Posted: September 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Friends and Strangers, Housewife Superhero, Mama Posse, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sisters | No Comments »

At 6:40 on Sunday morning when Paige babbled her wake-up call, Mark and I cracked our eyes open, smacked opened and closed our bone-dry mouths, and softly groaned as we remembered the day that stretched ahead of us. We were having a huge yard sale.

For all we knew, early birds were already prowling around our front porch with the hopes of finding some ignorantly-priced Noritake china. Having to lug everything out of the garage and around to the front yard seemed torture enough, then then Kate’s tiny voice joined the chorus with Paige. “Mama! I woke up!”

My God, we also had children to tend to. And in the wake of a supremely fun party the night before–where Mike and Myra renewed their vows on their 15th anniversary and treated their friends to an exceptionally fabulous throw down–here we were, heads throbbing, lying tangled in our sheets like some suburban American version of Sid and Nancy.

Not pretty.

It’s just more validation that my on-the-fly early morning nanny service would catch on like wildfire. If I could have picked up the phone for urgent back-up, I would’ve paid $100 an hour for childcare. Easily.

Anyway, at least I’d consumed a vat of Don’s superb pinot the night before and had good reason for my state of disarray. Whereas this past Friday, I had no alcohol-related excuse for my behavior.

So Friday. When I arrive at Megan’s house for mother’s group, she’s in her garage bent over two ride-on cars she’s assembling for the twins and she mutters between clenched teeth that she’s been in a fantastically crappy mood. It’s such a gift that Megan A) admits to her foul mood but still throws a yard party worthy of the Smith & Hawken catalog, B) is the kind of friend who doesn’t sugarcoat life when she’s bedraggled, and C) manages to do her hair in cute braids despite it all. Megan is rarely off her game, and with three kids under three, no nanny, and a hubbie with a time-sucking job, I’d be enjoying the creature comforts of a sanatorium if I were her.

Anyway, aside from her admission of it, you’d never know the woman was crabby. But then in some weird transference that we tried to make sense of later, the bad mood somehow leeched over to me. There was either some fierce ‘power of suggestion’ energy out there, or maybe some as-yet-undead part of my childhood Catholicism urged me to take it on like some priest in an exorcism. More likely it was the exhaustion that’d caught up to me from waking-in-the-night children and not sleeping well with Mark out of town.

After lunch, with some help from Mary, who impressively coaxed naked Kate (long story) back into her clothes and even her car seat while I wrangled Paige, I drove home, nearly slumping over the steering wheel, hoping the day’s excitement would warrant Little Miss Never Nap into even the smallest kip. I never sleep when the kids do, but since I caught Megan’s mood like a bad cold and was generally haggard from the night before, I’d have gladly done a swan dive into bed.

No luck. Kate invoked reserve stores of energy and refused to even play quietly in her room. So when I staggered in to feign some active parenting, I was all over her suggestion that “you be the baby and I be the mommy.”  This involved her even tucking me into her bed (bliss!). And the next thing I remember, Officer, I was fluttering my eyes open after having totally conked out. D’oh!

Thankfully the curtains were not on fire, Kate wasn’t out on the sidewalk chatting with strangers, and Paige was still safely snoozing in her crib.

The rush of maternal negligence that surged through me went unnoticed by Kate who was tootling around in her room and came over to me saying, “You woke up now, Baby! You want some milk and a snack, Baby?”

And just as I was settling in to thinking “Okay, I dozed off for a bit here but everything’s okay…” I remembered that I’d taken a sleeping Paige out the car earlier with the thought that I’d come back, grab my bag, and lock up. Which of course, I never did.

“Mommy?” I said to Kate, because God knows when she is Mommy and I am Baby I can never mistakenly call her Kate. (The house could be burning down and if I called her Kate she’d sit on the floor and scream, “My name is not Kate! I’m Snooooow Whiiiiiite!” And refuse to budge.) So I’m all, “Baby forgot something in the car. I’ll be right back, Mommy.”

I’d parked on the street, since our garage might as well be in the next town over. And from the second I set foot on the porch I notice I somehow managed to park with the two right wheels on the sidewalk. My God. Had I been sleep-driving? Then I walk around to the street-side door where Paigey’s car seat is, and of course, it’s open. Not wide open, mind you, but still. And on the front passenger seat? My bag with my wallet, iPhone, yadda yadda yadda. This may be okay in say, Bristol, Rhode Island. But this is Oakland, people. Thankfully–mercifully–it was all still there.

I mean, imagine if I had been drunk how ugly that scene would have been.

Not one to stew silently in my own shame, but to share it (see: this blog) I immediately call my friend Jennifer who lives next door. And she says brightly, “Hey I saw your great parking job!” Oy! Nothing like being beaten to the punch on my own self-flagellation.

But it really was an odd day. Thankfully, no hangover was associated with this not-drunk-but-acting-like it afternoon. I also didn’t don a lampshade, call any old boyfriends, or snarf down a whole sleeve of Chips Ahoy cookies. (Not that I call old boyfriends these days, Mark…) Worst of all, Mary reported late yesterday that the Bad Mood Virus had somehow been passed on to her. I can only hope that its course of destruction ended there.

And thankfully, yesterday when I truly was hungover, my two sisters arrived to valiantly pitch in with the yard sale–merchandising items, setting prices on the fly, convincing people they needed our old crap, and collecting cash with the efficiency and security of a Swiss bank.

At the end of a long and exhausting day I looked at Kate and Paige across the dinner table and smiled thinking that they’ll be there for each other for all the good times, and for all the hung-over yard sales.

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And Now for Something I Should’ve Done Ages Ago

Posted: September 21st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Housewife Superhero, Misc Neuroses, Sisters | 2 Comments »

My sister Ellen rented a house in San Francisco for about six years before she went downstairs one day to find her house guest cutting into a huge avocado from the tree in her yard. Ellen was about to tell her they weren’t edible, when her friend gushed, “You are so lucky to have these right here for the taking! I’ve been eating them all week. I think they’re the best avocados I’ve ever had!”

Upon learning this Ellen was confused, delighted, and understandably annoyed with herself. Back when she’d first moved in, a neighbor, or the landlord–it was hard to remember exactly who–mentioned something about the avocados not being good. At least she thought they had.

And of course, in all her years living there, she never thought to try one.  

As mean as it is to admit, I’ve always found that story hilarious. Just so funny that she was overlooking something so good that was right there under her nose.

Well, karma’s a bitch. It seems like lately I’ve had my own slew of small missed opportunities. So I guess Ellen can have the last laugh.

The other day in a fit of must-feed-the-family-but-cannot-summon-energy-to-cook, I decided to try out a somewhat dumpy looking Thai restaurant that’s just two blocks away for take-out. Mark picked it up and said the place was packed. And when we started eating we saw why. Great chicken satay. Delicious pad thai. And cheap!

How maddening. The place could not be closer to our house. So we’ve missed out on three years of cheap-easy-yummy Thai food. Argh.

Then when my frienda Brenda arrived dirty and tired from a long road trip on Thursday, I ushered her into the Pink Bathroom, explaining that for our first couple years in the house we disparaged its shower. The stall seemed small. Mark found the shower head low. But then for some reason I used it one day, and realized that the water pressure and even the heat was far better than the shower we exclusively used.

I guess the only other time I’d used the now-favorite shower was when I was in labor with Kate. Probably not the best time to make a judgment call on something. Now, of course, I won’t set foot in the White Bathroom. I guess I’m somewhat of an extremist. For me things are either pink or white.

Back when I first moved to San Francisco I wrote a story for the free weekly paper about dream analysis, and interviewed a bunch of herbal-tea quaffing, poncho-wearing Marin hippie dream experts. One woman asked me about any recurring dreams I’ve had. There was the UFO abduction in the driveway of my childhood home dream. (Hey, don’t laugh.) But I haven’t had that one since I was a kid. The one I was having at the time of the interview was that after a long time living in a particular house I’d realize that there was another room, or a whole wing even, that I’d never been to.

And of course, it was decked out and fabulous or packed with young hot studs and fifty-dollar bills. Well, not really the money and men part so much. But it was distressing nonetheless since these unknown-about parts of my dreamworld houses sent me into repetitive head-thumping V8 moments. Why oh why hadn’t I ever just opened that door?

The hippie dream lady told me it meant that I was looking for new unrealized things in my life; paths not yet explored. And that I was lazy about not opening doors that were right there in front of me.

I’ve got to think that there’s some of that being played out in my world right now. I mean, the shower, the Thai place, and then the other day I go downstairs to dig up some of Kate’s old clothes for Paige and find a trove of forgotten but adorable outfits–many of them Oilily or French designer baby duds that my sister Judy manages to send our way as often as the Sunday paper. Of course, half of them were either already too small for chubby Paige, would fit her for about a week more, or would have been perfect for this past summer. Drat.

Of course I can’t bear to have her not wear them, so the next time we go anywhere I’ll have to do several costume changes for Paige, like she’s a mini Cher in concert. (I’ll likely skip the wigs and make-up.)  It’ll be exhausting, but oh so worth it to get one more wearing out of these crazy cute little numbers.

And frankly, the Paige clothing is one thing. But we’re getting ready for a yard sale. (Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Packrat are actually planning for a public purge. I mean, Bravo should be sending Dr. Phil and a camera crew over here because the pain, anguish, and eventual victory of the whole endeavor will no doubt make for brilliant reality TV.) So, here I am last week spelunking though toys, baby gear, clothing–you name it–and dumping it into the yard sale pile.

Maternity clothes are difficult to let go of only due to my lingering desire to have another baby. I made it doable by thinking I’ll just buy all new stuff if I ever need to. Besides, how sad can you get about letting go of immense mumu-like shirts and elastic waistband pants? Even if you did pay a king’s ransom for them.

And in the midst of digging with both arms like a dog through one of those huge plastic tubs, I unearth a pocket of non-maternity duds. And I see my jeans. My cute pre-preg Lucky jeans, some dark DKNY jeans I think I bought mere moments before the pregnancy pee stick turned positive, and even my faithful faded old Levi’s. In a fit of sentimental fashion fervor I step out of the skirt I’m wearing and right there in the basement start trying on my pre-Paige clothes.

And the heartbreaking mind-blowing thing is, they all fit. No wrenching the zipper up or stretching them over my thighs. No thinking I can wear a long shirt cape-like over my ass to conceal it. These clothes all legitimately fit like, well, like they were mine.


But then I also find some nice linen shorts, a bunch of little skirts, and a navy silk shirt with white polka dots (which sounds horrendous but believe me is darling) that I bought last summer in, of all places, a little boutique in Bristol. Who knows when all these cute clothes started to fit again! For all I know, I could’ve been wearing these things all summer instead of my restricted post-partum wardrobe which included, ashamed as I am to admit it, a couple pairs of Mark’s Patagonia shorts that I’d borrow when I was desperate.

So all these missed opportunities can’t help but make me wonder how I avoid things like these from happening again in the future. Frantically sample the food in each and every local restaurant to ensure we’re not missing out on some easy-to-acquire gastronomic treat? Obsessively taste the fruits in my and my neighbor’s yards? And conduct tests on the efficacy of household appliances–pitting one burner against another–so as to know I’m using the best ones and won’t suffer any future regrets?

Perhaps I should just give into what I’ll call the Parents’ VCR Approach to Life (TM). I mean, back in the day, whose parents ever performed any other function on their VCRs other than Play and Rewind? Sure there was other stuff it could do, and they were even aware of that, but it didn’t ever seem to bother them. They never seemed to lose any sleep over the thought that they were missing out.

Maybe as parents get older so many of these little things they could be doing but are somehow missing out on keep piling up until they get to the point that they just have to throw in the towel and become at ease with it all.

And so, tomorrow perhaps, I shall work on embracing this new philosophy. While strutting around in my brown wedge sandals and my cute little pre-pregnancy jeans.