Best and Least of the East

Posted: July 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Daddio, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Summer, Travel | 3 Comments »

My dad’s neighbors are using the trees in their front yards to uphold an age-old rivalry. We noticed this while walking the dog the other day. On one side of the street there’s a Red Sox cap that’s somehow attached to a tree, with a weird face on the bark below it. The face looks like it’s made out of Mr. Potato Head parts—and now that I think of it, it probably is. (Ten-foot tall themed Mr. Potato Head statues are littered all over this state, since Hasbro is based in Providence.)

But where was I? Oh yeah, so there’s this spooky tree face under a Red Sox cap, and right across the street the neighbors have the same freakish face on their tree, but wearing a Yankees cap.

I have no interest in sports whatsoever—and not just to test my husband‘s love for me. But I adore good-natured rivalries.

I once played mini-golf on vacation with a boyfriend’s family. And I talked smack the whole time about how everyone was “going down in flames.” As it turns out, I lost so comprehensively that day that my BF’s grandmother even beat my score. No joke. But did I regret my trash-talkin’? Nah. A little playful competitiveness keeps things lively (See: Kristen and Mark’s Honeymoon: The Scrabble Wars).

Whenever I’m home in Rhode Island—as I am now for three weeks—people ask me how long it’s been since I moved to California. When I did the math this year, I was shocked. On September 1st it’ll be TWENTY FREAKIN’ YEARS that I’ve been “checking out the West Coast.” Somehow my couple-of-year foray into Cali livin’ has extended to two decades. I’ve lived in California longer than my entire childhood in Rhode Island, which is weird—like I’ve changed coastal allegiance just through time served. Like it’s some kind of common law thing.

The fact is, I feel just as home on the East Coast as I do in that over-sized other state where I’ve put down roots. Guess I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

And so, to maintain a healthy neurotic state while vacationing, I tend to experience nearly everything I do in Rhode Island through a what-if-I-lived-here-again lens. Would it be better here? Worse? The same, but different?

Here’s a small smattering of what’s been bouncing around in my head.

East Coast Likes:

Atlantic Ocean: At the beach yesterday Kate grabbed an ice cube from our cooler and threw it into the ocean. She found this hilarious. I think she was picturing evacuating all the swimmers by causing a dramatic drop in water temperature. What I want to know is, who the hell is throwing all the ice in the Pacific Ocean? And can they stop, please? It’s so damn glorious actually being able to swim here without the threat of hypothermia.

Del’s Lemonade: I don’t have a tattoo. If I did, it would be an homage to Del’s’ (that’s one of those awkward pluralizations–pronounced “Del-ziz”) slushy lemonisicousness. Thank you, Del, if you were or are an actual man, for your lemonade genius. You are truly one of the culinary greats.

Chicken Parm (pronounced “Pom”) Sandwiches, Pizza, Spinach Pies, Gray’s Ice Cream, Quahogs: There are several home-town foods that I’m moderate to severely obsessed with. In fact, I run through circuits of these foods whenever I’m home. If last night was Sam’s Pizza, tonight’s a Leo’s chicken pom, baby. More than just tasting good, the food comforts me and deepens my connection to my roots, like I’m taking of slug of my own amniotic fluid or something. (Okay, that’s a little gross. Sorry.) And thankfully, NOTHING EVER CHANGES IN NEW ENGLAND. So the pizza place where I toddled out of the bathroom as a kid—with my pants around my ankles requesting a butt wipe—is the same place my family gets pizza today. Never let it be said that a humiliating act of nudity keeps me away from a tasty pizza pie.

Dunkin’ Donuts: One of the names I was keen on if we ever had a boy was Duncan. One evening, in a moment of genius brought on by a pregnancy-induced hormone surge, I tossed out the name “Dunkin’ Donuts McClusky” to Mark. I imagined a kind of corporate sponsorship for our child, whereby we’d get donuts free for life in exchange for the marketing our child would generate. And, amongst other expenses, they’d pick up the tab for college. (At least until AT&T made us a better offer, and we changed his name to that.) Blessedly, we had a girl.

Old Friends: All my friends from home act the way they did when we were 17, which happens to be the age we were when I last spent a lot of time with them. This is a good thing.

Family: Duh. My favorite Fred in all the world lives on the East Coast. Otherwise known as Dad. It grows increasingly mystifying to me why we live so far apart. But considering he’s resided in the same town his whole life and I’m the one who decided to move 3,000 miles away, I guess I’m at fault.

Bunnies: My hometown is Beatrix Potter’s wet dream. At dusk the bunnies come out and are So. Freakin’. Cute. We don’t have bunnies in Oakland. Unless it’s the name of some gang I’m not aware of.

The Parade: Fourth of July is my Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Bat Mitzvah I never had all in one. It’s the most excellently fun time EVER. If you’ve never been to a July 4th parade in Bristol, Rhode Island, you’ve never really celebrated our nation’s independence. Nor have you lived. After 3-plus hours of marching bands, beauty queens, clowns, acrobats, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, priests, Clydesdales, more marching bands, baton twirlers and Elmo, when people asked Paige what she liked most in the parade she said, “A lady was sick. Some people came and took her on a bed to the hospital.” Yes, it was the heat-stroke sufferer in the crowd that fascinated Paige most about the day. Next year the parade committee will have to work harder to impress Paige.

Bubbler, Grinder, Cabinet, Rescue Squad, Directional: There’s nothing more comforting and provincial than making up a silly set of terms so no one else in the country knows what the hell you’re talking about. I mean, where else do you beckon a “rescue squad” by calling 911? And who else uses their car’s “directional” to indicate that they’re taking a left turn? Big sandwiches are “grinders,” milkshakes are “cabinets” (or sometimes Awful Awfuls), and drinking fountains are “bubblers,” of course. (Or, as the locals say, “bub-liz.”) It’s as if some steering committee determined that the way to retain residents was to make up words that rendered Rhode Islanders utterly incomprehensible outside state lines.

Ethnic Pride: Forget the warring Red Sox and Yankees factions, in my hometown it’s all about the Italians vs. Portuguese. And I’m not referring to soccer—I’m talking about everything. In local politics, food, and swarthy men, these groups come up against each other again and again. My Italian godfather, a world-class grudge-holder who’d drive down the street and spit in the direction of businesses that did him wrong, kept his finger on the pulse of the town’s Italian-Portuguese rivalry. If some Portuguese dudes were appointed to be Grand Marshalls of the July 4th parade two years in a row he’d go on a table-pounding tirade as if Gumby had been elected President. (Gumby being of known Portuguese descent…) The unwritten law—for folks of his generation at least—was that the honor of leading the parade went back and forth between the Italians and the Portuguese. He was extreme in his views, but he wasn’t alone. I’d never defend prejudice, but I think what my godfather had was more of a passionate sense of ethnic pride. At the Italian church’s Feast of St. Anthony last night I was in seventh heaven (no pun intended). I tapped my toes to the Volare-singing band. I commended the priest on his scrumptious lasagna. I bumped into people I hadn’t seen in years who greeted me with dramatic enthusiasm and marveled at my girls. There was history for me there, and a deep sense of belonging that I don’t always feel in California. In fact, I was so swept up in the spirit and community of it all, I even considered buying a ‘Proud to Be Italian’ t-shirt. And did I mention the excellent meatballs?

This Old House: Is it so wrong to covet these fabulous historic homes with five fireplaces, brightly-painted front doors with stately but whimsical brass knockers, and those old metal boot scrapers by the front steps? With water views? And on the parade route? Not to whine like a kid who sees a puppy, but… I WANT ONE!

East Coast Dislikes:

Mosquitoes and Ticks: These are without a doubt God’s most wretched and maddening creatures. Why the hell don’t we have to deal with them in California? Did someone at Stanford figure out how to make the ticks eat all the mosquitoes then drink a bunch of poison Kool-Aid and kill themselves off? And if the little bloodsuckers weren’t horrifying enough, nearly everyone I know on the East Coast has Lyme Disease. They swap stories about how long they were infected before figuring it out like old fisherman swap storm-at-sea tales at dive bars.

Humidity: Okay, I’m officially an old, old withered woman since I’m complaining about humidity, but there are days in the summer here where I think I could chew the air. I daydream about those turpentine-like Sea Breeze astringent pads that dry up even the greasiest teen T-zones. I long for one the size of a bath towel that I could swab myself off with several times a day.

The Not-So-Friendlies: There was a time that I disparaged all the hugging that goes on in Northern California. There is so MUCH hugging there, I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve seen people hug in the conference room in my office. I’ve hugged nearly all my kids’ teachers—SEVERAL TIMES. I think I’ve hugged the children’s librarian at our library once, but I was probably PMSing. Even my un-huggy husband, who’s trying with all his power-of-one strength to keep the old school handshake alive—even HE has become accustomed to the Customary California Hug, and in social situations that don’t involve someone waking up from a coma. Live in Cali long enough and you too will become a hugger. But on the East Coast? Try chatting with someone at a playground when your kids are playing together and you may get a look like you’re depraved. Sure, I’m a turbo extrovert, but when our daughters are playing let’s-both-be-princesses-and-marry-each-other-under-the-monkey-bars, I think a little “How old is she?” level of interaction is not overly intimate. I see how hugging your manicurist after a mani/pedi is a bit much, but I’d take that any day over mamas keeping a cool distance on the playground.

I’m not sure where this all lands me. Other than happy to be able to spend a chunk of the summer in my hometown, and lucky enough to be going back to California when I leave.

Do you ever wonder whether where you live is where you should be?


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

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

My friend Barb is perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where was I?

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

First, for the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Kiddie Music the Whole Family Can TolerateLaurie Berkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

I am so very tired.

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

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

Alas, no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate, something to think about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

It was better than fireworks.

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

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Love Tackles

Posted: August 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: College, Daddio, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Moods, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

I don’t know the first thing about football, but in getting to know—and love—Mark’s college friends, I’ve learned a thing or two about tackling.

The night before our wedding, there was a lobster bake in a tent in my dad’s backyard. It was where Mark and I got that first intense wedding-weekend hit of love from so many fine folk coming from far afield to see us get marinated. It was also, it so happens, the same day my father kidnapped our friend Gary. But that’s another story.

So there I was reveling in the love and the people and the chardonnay and the Rhode Island summer heat, chatting with someone or other, when I was suddenly, quite literally, swept off my feet. It was one of those “it happened so fast” kinda moments. I wasn’t sure where it came from or what it was, but I found myself lifted up and then pinned down onto my father’s desk. The perpetrator—whose head was tucked down somewhere in my midsection—was human. But that was all I could tell.

It took longer than my barely-there patience could handle to determine what was happening. But then the perp looked up, and with her huge grin and mop of strawberry blond hair yelled in high-def close range, “We are HERE, girlfriend! Let the games begin!”

It was Becca. Mark’s glorious fabulous college friend, Becca. Whose house I have the great pleasure of being at this very weekend. In what has most-excellently become an annual pilgrimage to Minnesota for lakeside hi-jinx. Because, six years and six children between us later, we are still giddy-tackle happy to see each other. Though blessedly, in recent reunions she has not knocked the wind out of me.

I mean, I really shouldn’t be pointing fingers here. Since another of Mark’s divine college cohorts, the aforementioned kidnapped Gary—or Uncle Gary as he’s now known to the kidlings—is here with us too. And years before Becca ever tackled me on my wedding weekend, I had the social misfortune of tackling him.

I blame it all on the event’s bartender, who clearly over-served me. Or maybe it was the humid Midwestern lakefront air that clouded my judgment. At any rate, we were at another of Mark’s college friend’s matrimonial celebrations. And I’d had a few.

I was walking from some lake-facing veranda back into the room with the band. And there was Gary. Standing on or near the dance floor. Looking so, well, tackle-able. Some so-bad-it’s-good 80s song was playing, and like some figure skater who visualizes a move before taking to the ice, I saw in my mind’s eye what I would do. That I would run up to Gary, jump with my legs outstretched to straddle his waist, and we would swing jauntily about the dance floor. Like some Travolta-Thurman dance scene from Pulp Fiction.

Compelled by alcohol-borne bad judgment and feeling exceedingly exuberant I ran with the chin-down determination of an Olympic pole-vaulter, and threw myself upon the utterly unawares (and might I add slight-of-build) Gary.

And let’s just say what happened looked nothing like what I’d envisioned.

I flattened him to the ground like a fly. He was stunned, dismayed, and likely injured. I imagine the dress of my skirt landed in a position that revealed parts of me best left to the bride’s grandmother’s imagination.

It was mortifying, and yet, Gary’s good nature managed to rise above. In my vodka-soaked haze I seem to remember him lending me a shoulder as we both limped off the dance floor, me slurring loud apologies in his ear.

Good times.

Ever the mini-me, Kate kept the flame alive when Gary met up with us earlier today. Since his arrival she’s been climbing onto his back and hanging off his neck like one of those long-armed monkey dolls. Despite our once-yearly time together, she’s instantly drawn to him. And though she may nearly choke the dear man with affection at times, she hasn’t (thus far) leveled him to the ground.

With Kate on Gary like her own personal climbing wall, in the other room toddlers Paige and Leo are squaring off. Squatting down and looking each other straight in the eyes, they lunge forward like two Sumo wrestlers going in for the kill. Paige has six months on Leo, so their playing ground is fairly even now. But by next year’s trip he’ll clearly dominate their happy head-butting encounters.

And so the tackling continues. Passed on to the next generation.

As for us big kids, in an hour or so when we arrive at the lake house, I expect the most tackling we’ll be doing will involve the cases of beer that Becca’s husband and Gary both brew by profession. But don’t for a minute think that means we love each other any less.


Digging Out

Posted: August 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Extended Family, Little Rhody, Milestones, Moods, My Body, My Temple, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sleep, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

One night last week my sister walked into her kitchen to find her nine-year-old son in a laundry bag. A bag that he’d voluntarily put himself in. Because I guess that’s what you do when you’re a nine-year-old boy.

It was mesh, so it wasn’t like he was struggling for air or anything. And he wasn’t alone. He was hanging out with his best friend. His friend who, for nearly A HALF-HOUR, had been trying unsuccessfully to un-knot the top of the bag.

And here’s the thing. My sister was upstairs THE WHOLE TIME. Had the boys thought to get her for help? Apparently not. She even asked if they didn’t find her because they thought she might be mad or something. They said no. Word was, they just hadn’t thought to get her.

I can’t help but think this is a boy thing. Like the young male version of not asking for directions.

As my sister was working to free him he tells her, “I’m starting to feel kinda weird in here.”


I’d have lasted four seconds in there before screaming and thrashing around like a Tazmanian Devil. Not only would someone upstairs know I needed help, the whole block would.

But the fact is, sometimes you get yourself into a tight spot and it’s kinda hard to know how dig yourself out. I was like that for a short while when I get back from Little Rhody. Not in a super bad place, but just glum. The craptastic Bay Area weather plus a large dose of nothing-much-going-on had me in a vague fog. And seeing as I generally operate like a chihuahua on caffeine (at least, in the words of my dear friend Kevin), this nebulous floating about was distasteful.

So I did what any sane woman would do. I started washing down pillows.

You know, took on an extremely low priority project and threw myself into it as if I was single-handedly redoing the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Oh, did I wash pillows. Then I tossed them in the dryer with tennis balls to dry and fluff ‘em all up nice. Once one set was done I’d nearly yank a pillow from beneath Mark’s sleeping head to start in on more.

It was a strange yet effective form of therapy. I was making just enough progress on an utterly unnecessary project that my morose mood was replaced by a mild sense of satisfaction. And since I have an addictive personality, I took my usual more-is-more approach. (Note: If anyone in my neighborhood would like their pillows laundered, please leave them on my front porch. I probably won’t hear the doorbell ring since the tennis balls in the dryer are fairly loud.)

Today, having come near the end of what turns out to be our thrillingly-large pillow inventory, I stumbled across a twin duvet I forgot we had. Perfect for Paige’s new Big Girl Bed! And an excellent item to, well, wash.

Pillow mites are watching their nightly newscasts and shielding their children’s eyes from pictures of me. I’m like the Saddam Hussein of the pillow mite community.

I’m considering opening a bed and breakfast for severe allergy sufferers. Why hoard all this pristine hypo-allergenic bedding for my family’s sole use?

Anyway, speaking of Paigey’s Big Girl Bed—and believe me, she and I seem to spend half our days discussing its merits—the other thing I’ve been doing to occupy myself is re-arranging the furniture in her room. This, it turns out, is also good therapy—albeit somewhat disorienting to the poor girl. She leaves her room for a five-minute snack, and on her way back in slams into a dresser I’ve impulsively moved catty-corner in her doorway.

I just can’t help myself. I’ve explored varying degrees of good and bad feng shui (a bed facing towards the door = a no-no). I’ve exhausted nearly every configuration of the contents of the room. And finally on this “project” I’m also slapping my hands together with a smug sense of accomplishment. I’ve settled on one layout I’ve been willing to keep in place for three days now. This, it seems, is progress.

Other things have helped my disposition get sunnier, despite the thick Bay Area fog. We’re off to Palm Springs at the end of the week—a trip I hastily planned in a desperate heat-seeking mission. And one day after our return from there, we set out for our Minnesotan lake vaycay.

And back on the homefront I signed up for a boot camp. You know, I’m paying some petite drill sargeant to yell at and disparage me as I do wind sprints by Lake Merrit, then fall to the sidewalk for endless rounds of push-ups. At 6:30 in the morning. This started today in fact, and aside from the regular Advil-overdosing I anticipate I’ll be doing, I think this ass-kickin’ is just what my lazy ass needed.

Though waking up at 5:45 was especially brutal. Miss Paige, ever the ringer for sleep, has been discombobulated of late. For years babysitters have gloated about “how easily she goes down.” But in the past few weeks her Sleep Super Power has been out of whack. At bedtime she’ll appear to have fallen asleep, but 45 minutes later will call out, “I want MY MAMA!” in her most desperate and dramatic wail. We’re popping up two to three times a night to settle her down, like she’s a newborn again. You’d think the steady thrum of the tennis balls in the dryer would soothe her back to sleep. But no dice. Much more of this and I’ll be asking for my money back.

Then in the morning, the poor thing calls out to us as if she’s shackled to the mattress. This happens to be my favorite non-intelligent behavior in my children: the fact that once they moved into twin beds they didn’t figure out that they were FREE TO GET OUT on their own.

But really, like I said, sometimes you’re just feeling stuck—be it in a laundry bag, a funk, or a bed that you forgot isn’t your crib any more.

So what’s been happening most mornings is we send Kate into Paige’s room to tell her she can get out of bed. Then she pops right out like a trained Cocker Spaniel and shows up in the kitchen, beaming and wild-haired, announcing proudly, “I got up, Mama!”

Hopefully by the time she goes away to college we’ll get her self-prompting to get out of bed. In the meantime, she’s one member of the family I’m happy to keep in the fog.



Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Little Rhody, Milestones, Moods, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Summer, Travel | 7 Comments »

Greetings from Nowhere. Well, alright. I guess officially I’m in Oakland. But my psyche feels trapped somewhere between where I just was—my beloved, belittled home state of Rhode Island—and wherever it is l’ll be next.

Or maybe it’s just that where I am now ain’t where I want to be.

My pre-vacation freelance work dried up, at least temporarily. I’m utterly rusty at this stay-at-home mom thing. (But working hard at bringing the passion back into laundry.) And, unsurprisingly, I’m deep into my annual Post-Trip-Home Funk.

The relentlessly dismal, cold weather here is just the icing on the cake.

I always bill myself at being bad with change, but that’s maybe not entirely accurate. If I were to self-diagnose with a bit more precision, I might venture to say it’s not the new things that bother me as much as the down time preceding them.

And right now that seems to be squarely where I am. Nowhere. Swimming in limbo. Stuck between The Then—freelancing, sunny Rhode Island beaches, the world’s best 4th of July parade—and The Soon To Be—our summer pilgrimage to Minnesota, the start of the school year, and, well, hopefully something else. Hopefully some other compelling something-or-other will come into the mix.

But until those things happen, I’m just here. I’m like some Pong-like screen saver, gliding about, bouncing off the edges, then floating off in another unintentional direction.

Rinse. Repeat.

And it’s not only the craptastic weather that’s responsible. For starters, the neighborhood’s been nearly dismantled in the short time we were away. The fam across the street moved deeper into Suburbia. Our friends to the left are on their East Coast summer trip, poorly timed on the heels of ours. And whenever it is they return it’s only to unpack and repack for their Montana house. (Poor dears.) And to complete the circle of abandonment, the cute Ken ‘n Barbie neighbs behind us are in the final stages of job talks that’ll likely take them out of state.

I’m clearly at the vortex of somewhere no one wants to be.

To ground myself, I called my yoga studio last week to get on the list for a popular class. Whatever’s ailing me is certainly nothing that 90 minutes of Oming and Pranayama can’t fix. But it turned out that my favorite instructor is out of town. I can’t even strike a corpse pose right now.

And from what I can tell my whole family’s in limbo. Like a determined sherpa, Paige hauled her diaper-clad ass up onto a twin bed at my dad’s house, planted a flag, and renounced crib-sleeping forever. Well, at least until we got back to California, where we still haven’t managed to buy her a Big Girl Bed. I did get a new rug for her room, and a fluffy pink blanket for the much-anticipated BG Bed. But until we borrow a friend’s truck for an Ikea run, Paige is dejectedly relegated to crib-dom. At naps and night-time she wears me down with dramatic flourishes of dismay, looking over her shoulder with big hurt eyes, like I’m shoving her into a dog cage.

As for Kate, she’s winding down her days in preschool—only 8 to go—and is weeks away from the dazzling new realm of Kindergarten. (If a twin bed makes Paige a big girl, precocious Kate nearly wants to wear make-up to kindergarten.) On a daily basis Kate alternates between practicing her hippie “Rainbow of Friends” graduation song, despairing the loss of her preschool posse, and wondering which of her dresses the kindergarten boys will find the cutest.

Add to all this a veneer of jet lag. As if us McClusky gals aren’t out-of-whack enough, Mark’s fresh back from the Tour de France. Happily reunited with us—in body at least. He still wants to sleep half-way through the work day, and is hungry for breakfast in the middle of the night. All that, plus his body’s in shock from not having fois gras at every meal.

Before I know it, we’ll all push past this nebulous nether realm. I can almost smell the change in the air like the onset of rain. But it’s still just out of reach. And I just hope my patience can endure.

My inner child keeps asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And my Mama self summons the automatic response, “Not yet, Kristen. But soon.”


Remember the Lake

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Doctors, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Summer, Travel | 4 Comments »

On our way through Marin County—heading towards beaches, hiking, and the Redwoods—we pass by a dumpy roadside motel. The Fountain Motel.

It’s where my mother, my sister Marie, and I once stayed when I was a kid. A dreary gray box of a place, up on the main road, with a requisite off-kilter cement fountain plopped out in front.

So when Mark’s ‘rents were here last week, we were stuck in a good-weather weekend traffic snarl, right in front of said motel. Admitting this was the site of a bygone Bruno vacation—something I’m often compelled to do, despite the shame of it—no doubt makes one wonder whether it was a voluntary vacation. Or if maybe we were on the lam. Hiding out from Interpol. Waiting out time until we got our Witness Protection Program permanent digs.

Or, maybe back then it was nice? Or at least nice-ish? Or maybe at least clean, and a good value?

All I remember about it was that the bedspreads were kinda flashy…

At any rate, it’s odd having a reminder from a childhood trip so close by. Maybe if my mother would’ve known that someday I’d settle in the Bay Area, and that for some unGodly reason that motel would still be standing and in business, she’d have opted for someplace clean AND cute.

Aside from that trip (and an admittedly fabulous tour of Europe), I can’t remember many vacations I took as a kid. I mean, I do have an especially horrible memory. But I can’t help by think that parents put a lot of planning, energy, and moolah into family outings that end up passing through the kids like so much Mexican drinking water.

For my girls, I think I’ve cracked the code to making vacations memorable. The way to hold onto something is to do it over and over and over again, right? Right! Which is why I’ve decided we’re inviting ourselves to spend Labor Days from here on out with some of Mark college friends, at their lake house in Minnesota.

The cabin’s a two-hour drive from Minneapolis, and the perfect blend of charming simplicity meets dazzling natural beauty. It’s feet from the lake. And one whole side of it is windows. So even when you’re inside, say, lying on the couch with a book and a beer, you still feel like you’re soaking up the great outdoors.

I have another annual trip in my past. A now-bygone camping trip—okay, okay, it was at a hippie music festival—up in Humboldt County. I went maybe six times—or eight?—with a big group of old Bay Area friends.

Now, the downfall of vacationing in the same place every year with the same group of people is the exhaustive rehashing and glorified storytelling that takes place about years past. “Remember in ’99 when Al brought that blender with a rip-cord starter engine, and decided to make margaritas at the crowded campsite at 3AM? I thought those guys from Oregon were going to kill him!”

Ah, Al.

Well, we’re finally settling in back home after our new-fangled family-style annual lake house vacation. It was Kate’s second Labor Day weekend on Lone Lake. (She couldn’t remember the first one. My genes.) Last time Paigey was with us too, but in utero.

Lest any of this year’s highlights be forgotten, I’m capturing some here. I figure we can just print this out and read from it around the campfire next year. Then we won’t even have to endure the labors of a spontaneous ad-libbed conversation.

Remember when 4-year-old Spencer used the bacon-grease-drenched paper towel to wipe off his face?

Remember when Gary spent an evening organizing a big box of Crayons according to the pretentiousness of the color names?

Remember when Paige squealed and clapped like an organ-grinder monkey every time Dulce the dog walked by?

Remember when a bird flew into the yard squawking wildly, causing us to look up and see a bald eagle soaring overhead?

Remember when Kate said, “The shadows on the lake look like squid, Dada.” And a beat later added, “I don’t know what squid are.”

Remember the day we ate pig five ways (bacon at brekkie, ham in a salad at lunch, sausage-’n'-cheese glop dip with cocktails, and home-smoked pulled pork sandwiches and pork and beans for dinner)?

Remember when Kate was so goofy crushy on 7-year-old Max, and she tried to impress him by saying things like, “I wrote a 4, Max. Want to see it?”

Remember how Uncle Gary was the sweetest manny EVER to all six kids? (Mental note: Bring him along on all family vacations. Better yet, have him move into basement room as au pair.)

Remember when the college co-ed during the Surly Brewing tour asked Omar beguilingly “How do you drink so much beer and maintain that girlish figure?” and he replied, “Chasing after my four kids.”

Remember how in an unusual bout of “sure-I’ll-try-that” Kate agreed to be towed in inflatable dinghy behind the speedboat, and grinned and gave thumbs-ups the entire time?

Remember when it was taking a while for Gary and proud Eagle Scout Mark to light the campfire, and young Max asked if they’d “ever done this before?”

Remember when Becca regaled us with excellent ER tales of an overweight woman unaware she was pregnant—or in in labor, a snowmobiling tweaker, and a girl skewered by a long golf cart prong? (Don’t worry, the skewered girl got better, the tweaker’d only imagined there was a bomb following him, and the ignorant preg-o decided to keep the baby because she figured it’d give her “something to do.”)

Remember how babies Leo and Paige communicated through the clear dog door like separated lovers at a prison visitation?

Remember how Omar still didn’t beat Mark at Trivial Pursuit?

Ah yes. Good times, all.

On our last night, when Kate should have been saying charming polite goodbyes she opted for an epic tantrum. Once she calmed down enough to speak, she admitted her fit was about having to leave. We’d been with our friends for five days.

“Next year,” she said between big weepy intakes of breath, “Can we stay for six days?”


Chalk One Up for Me

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Sisters, Summer | 2 Comments »

People are constantly going on about how Paige is a mini-Mark. And some folks say Kate looks like me.

Frankly, I don’t see it at all. I mean, Paige looks like Paige. A small delicious dumpling with loopy blond curls, a button nose, and pudged-out cheeks. She’s still got those inverted knuckle dimples on her hands. You know the ones? I meant to take note of when Kate went from having those to getting normal convex knuckles, but I missed it. It must’ve happened overnight.

Anyway, Mark. If you ask me, he looks nothing like Paige. He’s a grown man for God’s sake. Lean—in case you haven’t met him—and all chiseled and angular. Not many pudgy parts to him.

I guess when I look at those two I just see Paige and Mark.

As for Kate, it’s even harder—or maybe just weirder—to see myself in her looks.

Which isn’t to say that Mark and I aren’t constantly labeling the things that the girls do as being either him-like or me-like.

Kate screaming a conversation from one room of the house to another? My genes. Her morning rat’s nest hair snarl? That’d be me. Kate’s love of sour cream, non-stop banter from the moment she wakes, and occasional “No one’s paying attention to me!” whining fits? Well, uh, that’d be me too. I’ll also lay claim to both girls’ ability to pack away the pasta, and Paige’s Herculean ability to sleeeeeeeeep.

As for Kate’s skinny butt, obsession with books, and tendency to hang back in new places? Mark, Mark, and Mark. Also Mark: Paige’s love of bikes and music.

At our nephew’s eighth birthday party this summer, Mark discovered something he never knew about me. It was at a pool party, at some fancy suburban community center. There were three pools, and they had one of those bright blue three-story water slides. The kind that have an enclosed tube that loops around like a big spiral staircase and spits you out at a high velocity at the bottom.

When Mark first laid eyes on it, he practically shoved the kids, bags, and towels in my hands and ran towards it, arms flailing overhead. He was giddy, grinning, and asking permission if I could watch the kids so he could do it, as if I was his mother. It was sweet.

Later, back at the kiddie pool, still all smiles from his water slide high, he asked if I’d gone on it yet. I looked over at the thing and said softly, “No.”

“Oh my God, GO!” he commanded. “You HAVE to go on it RIGHT NOW.”

So I went. Spurned by his excited insistence. Buoyed by a desire to be the mother of two who might not wear a bikini any more, but is still game for a good time. But really, scared shitless.

As I got closer, my spontaneous bravado faltered. I still wanted to go down the thing, to surprise myself with how much fun it’d end up being, but I needed back-up. So I enlisted the birthday boy who was waiting in line for some other treacherous thrill ride. I tried coming off like I was rallying him to join me for some big fun. Really I just thought it’d be nice to have some family around at the time of my demise.

En route we saw my niece. I got her to come along with us too.

At the slide, the teen monitoring the line indicated I’d have to go up the staircase alone. “One at a time,” she droned, staring blankly ahead. Here I was taking my life in my hands, and she’s just wishing she was texting her boyfriend.

I had a tight feeling in my gut, but dropping out of line at this point would be embarrassing. So I butched up and trudged onward alone.

At the top, another compassionless teen instructed me to “just lie down with my arms crossed over my chest.” How fitting, I thought. They make you assume a corpse pose.

Motivated only by my wish to get it over, plus pressure from the long line of young sadists behind me, I assumed the position and pushed off. My niece, who’d picked up on my anxiety (smart gal), cried out behind me, “When you see the light Aunt Kristen, hold your breath!”

It was every bit as horrifying as I’d feared. Claustrophobic, jarring, and with a slamming plunge into cold water to cap it off.

For 15 minutes afterward, I shook. I fretted. My stomach flip-flopped. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t trusted my instincts, and vowed over and over in my head, “NEVER AGAIN.”

Gathered round the picnic table, shivering and soothing myself with pizza, Mark was astounded. He had no idea I’d been so afraid, that I hate those fucking things, and that even after it was over the experience could continue to seize me with terror.

Rather than suffer the spectacle of my supreme wimpishness alone, I felt compelled to drag my sister (the birthday boy’s mom) down with me. “Well, SHE’D never do it either!” I said to her friends, pointing to the woman who bushwhacked her way through remotest Mexico, outwitted spies sent out to trail her, and shot films solo (and on the sly) in Asia’s Golden Triangle heroin hub. That gal’s sweet-talked her way out of tight spots and international dramas that’d leave James Bond stymied and whimpering.

They didn’t believe me. So I called over to her.

“Ellen?” I said, nodding my head in the direction of the slide.

“SHIT, no!” she said, knitted her brows together in horror. “You crazy?”

I turned back to her friends smugly, and reached for another slice of pizza.

A couple weeks later, I returned to the scene of my trauma. Or tried to. I wasn’t with a PTSD therapist, just a friend and our kids. But I screwed up the times, and it was closed. As a consolation prize to our disappointed wee ones, we went to some other suburban dream park, replete with a mushroom-shaped water sprinkler, paved wading creek, and a playground the size of Delaware. (I’m telling you, that playground was bigger than Rhode Island.)

The kids stripped down to their suits the second we arrived, and ran off willy-nilly, not sure where to head first.

Basking in the serene sense of suburban safety, my friend and I got to chatting and weren’t hawkishly watching the older kids. And mid-way through some “We have GOT to get sitters and all go there” kinda conversation, Kate runs up to us tear-drenched and screaming. I could barely understand her.

“It’s not like the one at school! It’s not like the one at school!” she shrieked, shaking and snotting and wailing loudly as I snugged her up in a towel.

A minute later Owen cruised up, smiling his sweet charmer’s smile. My friend turned to her son. “What happened to Kate, Owie?” Ready to accuse him of wrongdoing, as we often do with our own kids.

“Uh, she went down the slide,” he said, then took off to get in line for the swings.

The slide. Ah yes. Well that explains it.

That right there would be my genes.


Angels and Demons

Posted: July 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Summer | 3 Comments »

Growing up in my family it was like this: Someone would ask someone else, “You want a piece of toast?” And the other person would say, “No, thanks.” “You want some cereal?” The other person, “No.” And—it just turns out I’m using this classic Italian food-forcing example, but really it’d happen with any string of questions that elicited negative responses—then The Asker would say, “Do you want a punch in the nose?”

Now, my husband tells me that his family did not do this. Ask the punch in the nose question that is. And, likely, not force food on the unhungry, although, again, that’s not the point here.

Turns out, according to Mark at least, that asking someone if they want a punch in the nose as a joke isn’t terribly funny. And is even, he claims, somewhat disturbing.

But, that’s what passes for humor in my family. So, say what you will.

That, by the way, has nothing to do with anything that’s happened to me recently, but I was thinking about it yesterday anyway.

Maybe, actually, Kate was all “no-this” and “no-that” and it made me think of it. But if that did happen, I refrained from offering up bodily harm to her, because I’m trying to save room in her dysfunction for some of the weird things Mark’s family did. I don’t want her to get fucked up by my personal family history alone.

Speaking of family issues, such as the second kid getting squat compared to the first, I finally signed up Paige for one of those overpriced kiddie music classes that seem like such a good idea until you’re in one, sitting on a mold-smelling carpet making buzzy bee noises and wishing instead that you were having your armpits waxed.

But Kate attended several of these classes. And to spread the trauma evenly between them, I decided to shell out the excessive amounts of cash to expose Paige similarly.

The good thing is the place is nearby, and it was a sunny, warm morning, so we had a lovely, if not somewhat hurried, jaunt to class on Tuesday. Just listening to birds and admiring flowers and playing a lilting round of the I-put-Paige’s-sun-hat-on-and-she-throws-if-off game.

At one point in our hat toss game, I bend over to snatch the thing off the ground. We’re in a driveway and, as in many of the driveways in our ‘hood, the car in it is parked behind another one and it’s tail end is butted up right next to the sidewalk.

So I whisk up the hat, take one step forward, and the car, which I’d assumed was just parked there, quickly lurches back all fast-like. I mean, just one second of hat-grabbing delay would have left me, Paige, her stroller, and her already somewhat limp hat, flattened FLAT.

It’s kinda like once when an old BF was teaching me to surf in a little deserted lagoony-type area on Hawaii. And after an hour or so when we got out of the water, some local guy walks by and says, “You swam there? No. Do NOT swim there, dudes. That place is packed with sharks.”

Even though we were unscathed—post surfing and post hat-grabbing—I still got all wobbly and dry-mouthed and barfish for a while after.

The driver, an old woman who I’ll guess was Russian, yelped from her car, “I’m sorry!” Unable to speak, I just trudged along the sidewalk pushing the stroller and petting Paige’s blessedly intact head. But Maybe Russian Woman caught up to us, driving slowly and leaning out towards her open passenger-side window to cry out in a maybe-Russian accent, “I am so sorry!”

I didn’t know what to say. So, uncharacteristically, I said nothing. And then, before pulling away, she called out, “The angels! They were with us!”

Well, if they were then, they certainly had abandoned us by later that afternoon, when we were swimming with my still-smokin’-in-her-bikini Mama friend, Mo. We were at her schmancy pool club where Kate was blitzing out with joyous aquamania. You know, staying in the pool until her lips turned blue, like you do when you’re a kid.

By this point in the afternoon, our hostess and her kids had already left the club, encouraging us to stay as long as we wanted.

So, feeling only slightly like crashers, we lingered. Kate continued to work on waterlogging her body.

Paige and I were sitting near the pool, when I looked down at Kate who was clinging to the edge and noticed she had an odd look on her face.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom, Kate?” I inquired, in my most loving honeyed maternal coo.

To which she flatly responded, “I pooped.”

Me: [in a frantic whisper] “Pooped? As in already pooped?”

I know, I know, you might have been expecting some other more devastating angels-weren’t-with-us pool episode. But maybe that’s just because your kid has never taken a dump in your friend’s fancy club pool.

Blessedly, the offending scat had been contained in her suit. We managed to get her out of the pool and up to the restroom without anyone sounding the Poop in the Pool alarm. I even remembered to pick up Paige and take her with us in our haste. (I know, now I’m just showing off.)

Later that day, when any mortal would have taken to their bed exhausted by painful baby music classes, near-death experiences, and acts of public poopery, I forged on. We were out in the front yard, playing some sort of game that no doubt stimulated the girls’ creative and intellectual minds, while simultaneously creating blissful childhood memories they’d cherish forever.

When suddenly some woman down the street starts screaming her head off. Before I even look up I know she got her purse snatched.

She was, as it turns out, exactly where I’d been back when I was waddling down the street—yes, OUR street—pregnant with Paige, and yammering away on my phone, when some urban doofus grabbed my dearly departed big black Kate Spade purse. And did I mention it was the light of day?

Tragically, too, my adored purse—now likely the property of some gangbanger’s girlfriend—had been devoid of cash, since I was just back from the East Coast where I’d left my wallet in my sister’s bag on a little shopping jaunt.

Anyway, so when this guy has my purse, I start screaming my head off—just like this lady down the street was doing—and then some car drives by and I yell, “Hey! STOP THAT KID! He took my purse!” But instead, they slow down and let the kid in. My luck, it was his get-away car.

Now, mind you, I’d really rather live in a ‘hood where none of the cars that are driving around are get-away cars. That would be my preference. I would even welcome bad drivers over get-away drivers (though Mark might disagree with me on that).

And I know what you’re thinking. Why then do I live in Oakland, Fourth Most Dangerous City in our fair country? Generally hearing this statistic makes me offer up my hopes that next year we’ll at least make Third Place. Sassy gal that I am.

I mean, I do say that, but I also get a bit defensive that really, where we live in Oakland is actually quite nice. Charming even.

It’s just that those bad guys from the other parts sometimes find their way over here.

So, just like happened with me, the get-away SUV barrels down the street, driving right past my house. But this time, I’m ready for those fuckers.

I take a step off the curb and peer real intently at the license plate, making sure to mutter it over and over again aloud to not mess it up. I gather up the girls and we make our way to the shaken woman, alongside other neighbors who are offering up phones, consolation, assurances that her company won’t care that her laptop’s gone.

“Anyone have a pen?” I call out, Paigey clamped on my hip like a koala, and Kate likely wondering what warranted being dragged away from the sidewalk chalk. “I got the guy’s license plate number.”

Good thing for that lady, this angel was at the ready.


Solid Ground

Posted: July 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Earthquakes, Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Misc Neuroses, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

“What about earthquakes?”

It’s the refrain I often hear when I tell East Coasters and Midwesterners I live in San Francisco. And though I always want to ask them if there are buses where they live, and if they ever cross streets, sometimes I actually bite my tongue.

The fact is, well, aside from a summer a couple years back when we had a hearty smattering of earthquakes, all with epicenters just miles from our house—aside from that unsettling patch, I really don’t worry about quakes. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

But apparently it’s taken me being here on the East Coast to plumb the depths of my subconscious fears. Because before nodding off to sleep, at both my Dad’s house and my sister’s schmancy Cape Cod digs, I remember having the smallest mental twinge, realizing that I had nothing to worry about.

I’m not sure whether I was unthinkingly planning an emergency exit strategy—how I’d sweep through one room to grab one kid, then dispatch Mark to grab the other—or if I was unwittingly wondering whether the glass on the art hanging over the bed would shatter into a million razor-like shards when it fell on us, or maybe I was wondering how long it’d take to walk to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts, a perfect alternate Red Cross Center where we could ride out the mayhem until the utilities were back up and running.

I mean, I’m not AWARE that I was thinking any of those things, but in both houses, just moments before nodding off, I remember a little uptick in my wakefulness, then a settling back down with the reassuring thought that those walls weren’t going anywhere. I was on solid ground.

Our two-week vacation is nearly complete, and it wasn’t until today that I took the girls for a quiet morning stroll along the harbor’s boardwalk. Kate, a stroller addict who I’ll no doubt be pushing to prom in a broke-down MacLaren, skipped along the whole way, pointing to fishing boats, peering terrifyingly close off the edge of the pier, and marveling at the white face of a floating dead fish.

Our stroll ended at a lovely open park, which we wandered though to arrive at The Beehive Cafe, Bristol’s newest and most charming caffeine hole.

Why, I wondered, had I waited until today to do this? Sunshine or not, it would have been the ideal start to every day we’ve been here.

But it’s a late-arriving realization (along with my unsuspected earthquake fears), leaving me with no recourse other than to plan longer visits in upcoming summers. Maybe rent a house. And when she’s old enough, enroll Kate in Bristol Yacht Club sailing lessons, in the hopes that my genes have failed to pass along my reckless nautical habits, and that years from now crushes on Junior Instructors will still carry one through a full season feeling giddy, while remaining utterly sexually innocent.

I mean, I lay out these summer plans in my mind, then flip-flop to think I could convince Mark to just move here. You know, put up with the winter too.

See? Told you you could set your watch to this feeling emerging from me about now. Emerging, that is, like some alien from Sigourney Weaver’s midsection. Impossible, as it were, to repress.

Tuesday or so I called John and made a dinner date with him and Jim. We dined at a sweet small place when I was in town last, and had a memorable, hilarious, and slightly boozey dinner. An evening where I felt I started to get to know (and love) Jim—a somewhat intimidating task when you consider how well and long I’ve known (and loved) his partner, John.

So, that dinner had been so lovely, I was fearful we had little hope of replicating it. But, I’m an optimist.

Plus, I had a babysitter.  So really, how bad could it be?

When I climbed into the shower that evening, having slung the kids in bed promptly so Mama could go out (yay for grannies!), I realized my travel-sized worth-its-weight-in-platinum shampoo was out. A wet walk through the bathroom revealed nyet in the shampoo category, and Joan was across the big house—my sleeping babies freshly a-doze between us.

I’ve never done Outward Bound, but back in the shower I figured I could do something crafty, and reached for the Cetaphil face wash. I mean, we used it on the girls’ hair when they were wee, right?

Let’s just say that that night at dinner I looked like a greasy droopy-haired mope, AWOL from the asylum. Early in the evening, I confessed to John and Jim about my hygiene challenge, apologizing that when my hair dried it’d likely be less than adorable. But an hour or so later, it became clear that it wouldn’t even get so far as to appear “dry.”

When the madras-pants-clad owner hustled the check to our table at night’s end—it being clearly later than the employees were keen on still being there—I reached for it. “Oh!” he trilled, in a voice less gay than the term ‘trill’ might imply. And looking over at John and Jim, “I wish a beautiful woman would buy dinner for me!”

Jim glanced at my limp asylum dreads, then up at the restaurant owner and said, “Me too.”

Well one thing I can look forward to back in Cali (the potential for trembling earth aside), is my own ugly green shower, overflowing with embarrassingly costly shampoo. Clean hair, here I come!