Boy Parts

Posted: August 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Extended Family, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Parenting, Preschool | 6 Comments »


On her last day of preschool, Kate brought home a portfolio of all her artwork. It was made of colored poster board that the teachers stapled together and each kid got to decorate.

Kate had written her name on hers. She also covered the thing with drawings of flowers, rainbows, and penises.

Dismayed, I reached inside the portfolio. The top five papers I yanked out featured more of the same. KATE KATE KATE scrawled on each page. Rainbows, flowers, stick figures with pigtails, and penises. Lots and lots of free-floating larger-than-life penises.

Picasso had a Blue Period and a Rose Period. Could Kate be going through some kind of Penis Period? And if so, for the love of God, why hadn’t the teachers informed us of this? For all I know, these hippie California preschools, they probably just encouraged her to draw an equal number of vaginas.

Now, due to nothing that Mark or I have done knowingly, Kate appears to have a healthy self-esteem. (For now, at least.) At summer camp in Rhode Island, she didn’t fret for a minute about not knowing any of the other kids. She’s game for adventures. Loves new people. Never shies away from reporting that her “story,” “painting,” or “dance performance” was the best in her class.

But her Achilles heel—the thing she often beats herself up over—is her inability to draw hearts. This came up when we were at my dad’s this summer. Out of the blue, a sudden outburst of dramatic blubbering about, “I can NOT draw hearts! Kaylee can do hearts! I will never ever NEVER know how to draw a heart.” Waaaah! Waaaah! WAAAAAAH!

Then she threw herself across the couch, clutching a pencil tragically to her breast.

My lazy mother instinct kicked in. I looked up from my People magazine and turned to my father—who is actually quite a handy artist—and foisted this nagging issue his way.

“Grandpa is great at drawing!” I said brightly. “I bet he’d LOVE to teach you how to draw a heart.”

I’m not sure exactly what happened next, as the article about former-Heff-girlfriend Kendra Wilcox’s new baby was thoroughly engrossing. But I think I remember there being a directive about making a kinda curvy “m” for the top part. Then closing off the bottom with a “v.”

Voila! A heart!

There seemed to be all kind of high-fiving and “that’s the most beautiful heart I’ve ever seen” grandparently reinforcement. I believe Kate ran over to proudly thrust her drawing on top of of my article on the recent Jonas Brothers marriage. “Oooh great,” I said automatically, casually sliding my magazine free.

I realize now that I should have taken more care that day to focus in on the “hearts” Kate was so delightedly producing. The hearts that Teacher Grandpa was administering praise-filled wallops to her little back for. Because—and I don’t want to say that any form of art is “wrong” or “bad”—but the fact is, after scrutinizing Kate’s preschool drawings the other day, I suddenly realized that the things that I thought were boy parts, were blessedly not those at all. They were, at least in the eyes of the artist, hearts.

Alas, when we go back to Grandpa’s in October, I think it’s time for he and Kate to go back to the drawing board.


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.


You’re On the Air

Posted: March 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Doctors, Extended Family, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Moods, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 1 Comment »

I cried on the radio the other day.

No, I didn’t drape myself over a boom box to weep. I actually called into a radio show and cried. Live on the air.

And to be clear, I’m not someone who calls into radio shows. In my teen years I never once tried to win concert tickets. Like watching American Idol, eating mushrooms, or waking up early to work out, calling into radio shows is something other people do. Not me.

But I’ve recently come to know a talk show host—or should I say hostess? Her radio show, Childhood Matters, is about parenting. Or more precisely, things of interest to people who have an interest in kids.

The topic was milestone delays. And though I started listening with no intention of calling in, I got to thinking about my own dear Paigey. Her learning to walk at 21 months certainly qualified as a milestone delay.

There were folks talking about autism and other kindsa things that trigger most parents to stick their fingers in their ears and say, “LA LA LA LA” really loudly so they can’t hear any more. As if you (or your kid) could catch something just by turning your mind to it.

And frankly as I puttered around listening to the show, I was mentally separating myself from those folks too. Kate and Paige were busying themselves at their toy kitchen, preparing an array of wooden foods to faux-feed their dolls and each other. They were playing so nicely. Such a normal healthy little scene. I got a sudden strong surge to share a milestone-delay success story.

So I called in, and talked to the producer, who said to hold on a minute, and before you know it I was on the air, and next thing after that without having seen it coming, my voice started cracking as I told the story about that one day a year ago when our pediatrician quietly kindly urged me to have Paige “assessed.” I’d told this story dozens of times to friends and family, but it wasn’t until that moment that I somehow felt just how damn scared I’d been back then.

Of course, producers love criers. (I know, I used to be one. A producer, that is. Before I was a crier. I guess I have experience in both realms now.) Anyway, I eventually managed to get my un-sad voice back. And at that point, of course, I felt like I was just getting warmed up. On Paige’s second birthday, I told the listeners, she was zooming around the house squealing and playing alongside all the other two-year-olds. And despite the long haul it’d taken for her to get there, it was clear that she had finally, blessedly caught up. Nothing different between those kids and my girl.

I know I haven’t written about my adventures at the Olympics. Sometimes big, super-fun, once-in-a-lifetime things happen, and instead of writing about those, I find myself focused on the minutiae of every day life.

Besides, that adventure came to a sad end with the unexpected death of Mark’s amazing grandfather. The man was a brilliant businessman in his day, a larger-than-life family man, a reciter of poetry, and apparently a hell of a golfer. Kate’s middle name—Miller—hails from none other than Grandpa John and his wife, Lois. It’s a tribute I’m so very happy we made.

It’s weird how grief works. After my mother died I went to a Day of the Dead parade, expecting a torrent of tears. But nothing. And just a month after her death, I went through Mother’s Day strangely—nearly embarrassingly—devoid of deep sorrow.

But then one day, out to lunch at a cafe, a friend ordered an iced tea, and I excused myself to the bathroom where I sobbed and sobbed. In Target a woman told her child they were going home to meet Grandma, and I sat in the parking lot bawling, unable to drive. When I least expect it the tears still come.

Who knows if it’ll be that way for the people mourning Grandpa John. Surely I’m not the only one to wail in the Target lot. If the folks in Mark’s family are suddenly overcome by the random ordering of a beverage, I hope they feel a bit better on the other side of the tears. I’m no Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, but I do appreciate the cleansing effects of a good cry.

As for my emotional outburst on the radio? Well, when I call in some day to win Jonas Brothers tickets—something I assume I’m bound to do now that I’ve broken the seal on calling radio shows—the next time I’m on the air I’ll strive to exercise a bit more composure.

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Hotline to Dada

Posted: February 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Extended Family, Firsts, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sisters, Travel | No Comments »

I have a sister named Marie. I’ll wait a minute while you go ahead and make your Italian-American pot shots about her name. 


Okay then. Well, on Monday she and her family came over to hang out before going out to dinner for my dad’s birthday. 

Marie is 12 years older than me. And she started younger on the baby-making. So, my two- and four-year-olds have cousins who are 19 and 21.

Since we live a country’s-length apart, we rarely get to see them. They are “big boys,” and handsome to boot. So Kate and Paige were in hardcore show-off flirty-girl modes. We were all convened in the living room, where the girls had a captive audience.

There was some dancing, some serving of wooden toy cupcakes, and some modeling of pigtails. And at one point Paige grabbed a cordless phone off the coffee table, dialed what seemed to be a number in Tokyo, and commenced a long smiley please-watch-me-being-so-cute conversation. Everyone seemed to enjoy this part of the show, so I didn’t immediately grab the phone away from her. 

As she coyly babbled, someone asked who she was talking to. 

“Dadda!” she announced. “Hi Dadda! Hi Dadda!”

Eventually, I took the phone from her and hung it up. We had a reservation to make.

The nine of us started in on various coat-fetching and bathroom-visiting activities. During that wave of pre-departure mayhem, Mark called from Whistler. “I’ll call him from the car!” I bellowed to my dad, while yanking boots onto Kate. 

When we finally connected en route to the restaurant, Mark tells me, “So I called your Dad’s house about ten minutes ago. Before the phone even rang I hear Paige saying, ‘Hi Dadda!’ and giggling.”

Mark spent the next few minutes having a one-sided chat with Paigey Wigs, who looked around the living room at us wide-eyed, triumphantly announcing, “Dadda! Dadda!”

When Mark urged her, “Okay, Paige, give the phone to Mama now,” she began on a round of “Mama Dada! Mama Dada!” And of course, kept clutching the phone.

Cracking up, Mark finally gave up and hung up. Attempts to call back resulted in a long stream of busy signals.

And now? Paige is convinced that all the phones at my dad’s house are direct lines to Mark.

And really, why shouldn’t she be?

Over the past couple days if she’s out of my sight for a minute, I’ll likely hear her chanting, “Dada! Dada! Dada!” It’s a sure-fire tip-off that she’s found a phone.

Poor dear. As it is, she’s been climbing into bed with me in the morning and asking ”Oooh Dada?” which I’ve interpreted to mean “Where’s my father who’s usually here with you, and why the hell has he been gone for so long?” Turns out she doesn’t understand about the whole Olympics thing—that they’re far away and they go on for a while. And then, after spending so much play-time “calling” Mark on toy phones, she finally found one that really makes contact. But whenever she gets ahold of it, I wrestle it away from her.

The reality is, if it weren’t for my fear that she’ll dial her way to Denmark, I’d love for her to think she can summon Mark at will. She’s got plenty of time to understand the true logistics of telephonics. In the meantime, I’m doing my best not to dash the illusions of a Daddy’s girl.

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Standing Tall

Posted: August 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Walking | 4 Comments »

I still remember some parenting moves friends of mine made long before I popped out my own kids.

I never intended to file them away. Just noted them in passing, the way you might think, “Damn, this coffee’s hot,” and then go onto your next thought.

For years I worked with a designer named Todd. The kinda guy who, if he was a 12-year-old girl—and you were too—you’d be hard-pressed to think up mean things to write in your slam book about him. For instance, the first 17 things that come to mind about the guy are that he’s kind, genuine, sweet, thoughtful, patient…. Well, you get my point.

Todd’s a bit older than me and most of our old agency cronies. Back in the day, he had a daughter when the biggest responsibility the rest of us had was remembering to get regular oil changes for our cars. Whenever his daughter come to the office, he’d do this thing where he’d squat down on his haunches to talk to her. He’d just kinda hang out there at her level when she was around. It killed me.

Aside from the impressive hamstring burn he no doubt suffered in doing this, I was struck by how damn sweet it was. Here’s this shorty, plopped down in a labyrinthine office with tall strangers pokin’ at her and squawking about her cuteness. Making sense of a brood of sassy oddball grown-ups had to be challenging. (It was at times for me too.) But there was her dad, down alongside her, taking it all in at her level.

Who doesn’t want that father?

The past few days Paigey’s made dazzling progress in her long-delayed efforts towards walking. Mark’s mom arrived for a visit last week, and it’s like Paige’s determined to walk before her Grandma leaves.

First off, she started crawling this weekend when Mark was outside grilling. Crawling in that good old-fashioned normal way babies do in diaper ads. Mark called me downstairs all frantic-like to come see, and as we watched her move across the basement carpet we held our hands over our hearts, like we were watching her get her diploma from vet school or something.

This, I know, is hardly something parents of most nearly-nineteen-month-olds would celebrate. But Paigey’s been a dyed-in-the-wool butt scooter. An aberration that she’s grown so accustomed to and so fiercely good at, I’ve feared the longer she does it the harder it’ll be to get her moving any other way.

But then, like a switch went off, she starting pulling up to standing. Another thrilling—and exceptionally delayed—milestone. Pulling up to hand me a wooden mint chip ice cream cone as I sat at my desk. Pulling up to monitor what’s cooking on the burners of her toy kitchen stove. And at the library, hoisting herself to Grandma’s chair level to beg for more Puffin cereal. All this, just today!

And she’s doing it like it’s no big thing. But every time I want to hand her a framed certificate of merit. I get so proud I’m all blurry teary-eyed.

Atta girl, Paigey! I’d thump you on the back and give you a smotherish full body hug if I wasn’t afraid it’d knock you over, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a few extra seconds of your perfect verticality.

Somehow I manage to hold back and just admire you. Standing there putting a plastic corn cob in a toy tea cup and taking a sip. Like such a big big standing-up girl! What could be better than watching that? (That, by the way, is a rhetorical question.)

I am so very very proud of you, my sweet Paigey Woo. You’ve made it perfectly clear that you’re planning on walking soon. And if it still takes some time, well that’s okay too.

Whenever it happens, and whatever plane you preside over in the meantime, I plan to take every chance I can to crouch cheek-to-cheek by you, and take in the world from your brilliant two-foot level.


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.


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.


The Weepies

Posted: May 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Drink, Extended Family, Housewife Fashion Tips, Husbandry, Mom, Other Mothers, Shopping, Travel | 4 Comments »

For the last day or so I’ve had a mild case of the weepies.

I mean, nothing that’s even resulted in actual tears, but some intermittent on-the-verge-of moments that come about suddenly and vaguely, unrelated to anything that’s even happening at the time. You know, putting the sliced turkey back in the fridge, handing Mark a washcloth for the kids’ bath, driving on the highway through a torrential thunderstorm when we arrived in Kentucky tonight.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking, and NO, I don’t have PMS. I’m not sure what’s to blame, but it ain’t hormones.

Though I wish that it was, because frankly this wimpish state of neither glee (my default) nor despondency is so not for me. I prefer my emotions with more dramatic flourish, thank you. At least more decisiveness, for God’s sake.

If there is crying to do, better to have an all-out bawl sesh like Holly Hunter’s daily one in Broadcast News. Sob and wail like a baby, then take a breath, wipe your face, smooth out your shirt, and get on with your day.

God, I loved that movie.

Anyway, I’m certain that my bulletproof chipperness is bound to be back by daybreak. We’re settled into a gracious old hotel in downtown Lexington—center stage for Mark’s favorite cousin’s long-awaited wedding. Which isn’t to say we’ve all been wondering when the hell she’d finally git hitched, but that ever since she and her fine fellow got engaged the family’s been champing at the bit awaiting this opulent Southern shindig. (Equine pun intended. Hey, it is Kentucky, after all.)

It also should be noted that the dress-shoe-and-accessory shopping that Mark’s relatives have done in preparation for this event has likely had a significant impact on stimulating our nation’s tragic economy. So, you’re welcome.

As for me, resolved to not spend money on something new (per the aforementioned recession, and that my dress closet overfloweth), I buckled at the last minute, but decided to be thrifty and went to Nordstrom Rack. Where, as luck had it, a fabulous frock for a fraction of the retail price fell off the rack at my feet and squawked, “Take me home!”

Okay, okay, so I actually got three dresses—and three pairs of shoes—but they were all dirt cheap. And if I don’t release the shopping pressure valve a little bit every once and a while I could fall prey to some unanticipated retail incident that’s far far more devastating.

So, I’m not sure really where this is all going, but why not come along for the ride because it could eventually get interesting.

Okay, so just to prove to you what a BAR-GAIN this dress is I’m wearing to the wedding—because I’m quite certain you’re sitting there desperate to have some way to understand more deeply just how much money I saved. Just to be able to illustrate that for you I’ll out and admit that I went out and bought my first, uh, well, girdle.

I mean, when I talked to my friends about this I’d actually thought it was a legitimately seismic confession. But everyone’s all “Spanx this” and “Spanx that,” like they’ve been wearing some form of corseture under God knows what clothes for God knows how long when I’d just been going along thinking that exercise and watching what I eat are the best ammo against a fat ass. Hell, they’re all downing 8-foot subs at lunch and just wedging their lower halves into girdles.

So the fact that my deep dark confession made everyone turn to me and say, “Duh,” made me feel like I’d told them I hadn’t read Eat, Pray, Love yet or something. Which, by the way, I have. So my ass might have naively been shakin’ around unclenched by Spandex all this time, but I have kept up with some other realms of modern female life. Sheesh.

Okay, so but what I was trying to get at was, this girdle, this gut-and-ass-confining contraption that I bought? It cost MORE than the dress I’m wearing over it. And just how many bourbons does this Northern lass have to drink under a tent at a schmancy reception at Keeneland before she’s admitting that to everyone?

Well, I’ll be sure to report back and let you know.

Again, taking my patented Pressure Valve Release Approach, I was hoping that if I admitted it here, it might mitigate my need to inform the pastor of this fact after the ceremony on Saturday.

Yes, this is what it’s like being me.

And speaking of the wedding, I can’t help but wonder now if there’s some little emotional nugget inside me that can attribute my recent state of sometimes-not-estatic, to the dismal fact that the groom—whom I truly think is the bee’s proverbial patellas—is mourning the recent death of his mother. A thing that, if it weren’t so altogether crappy on its very own, unfortunately happens to be a situation which is very damn similar to the one that I found myself in on my wedding day.

So before tomorrow morning’s hotel breakfast where we’ll descend into a slew of family and friends, before that slings me into extroverted socializing heaven, and this little case of the droop is whisked away never to be thought of again… Before all that happens, I’m here now, on the hotel bed in the shirt Mark wore today, him next to me, sleeping with a pillow over his head. And I’m sending out some thoughts the groom’s way.

Hoping that he manages, like I did, to spend his wedding day in a flurried blitz of joy and love and luck. And that without too much guilt or sorrow, he’s able to make this grown up, big boy, life-rocking move happily. Even without his Mama there.

As for me, I’m hoping the next wave of weepiness I contend with is during that inevitable hand-squeeze that Mark and I—and likely every other twosome who still takes a shine to each other—will make at some uncontrived and true, love-drenched point in the ceremony.

And I plan to follow that up promptly with a nice large glass of local bourbon.

Did I mention how cheap babysitters are here?


Save Some Chicken Parm for Me

Posted: May 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Little Rhody, Mom | No Comments »

Saturday night we had a dancing-on-the-coffee-table caliber throwdown at the house for my birthday. Our friend Randy DJed all professional-like, and some of my favorite straight men got fabulous in wigs that were the wrong colors for their skin tones but oh so right in so many other ways. Mark even got Mitchell’s Ice Cream cake. It was bliss.

And as happily wrung out as I am from all the fun here, I still can’t help but feel bummed to have missed a different party last week.

My Godmother, Mimi, turned 95 on Thursday. And when I called her in the middle of the day, her house was rockin’.

She’s bellowing into the phone to me that she didn’t know she had so many friends and could she maybe call me back another time? It was kinda hard to hear with all the action. Oh, and there’s the doorbell! More guests.


And is it wrong to admit that part of my sad-to-not-be-there feeling—I mean, how many 95th birthday parties does one get invited to, really?—has to do as much with the inevitably amazing food offerings, as it does with my desire to hold court as a long-standing member of the celebrant’s posse?

Ah, the food. These are the people who throw down a ham, a couple lasagnas (one meat one veg—as if a vegetarian EVER darkened their door), stuffed artichokes, fennel and orange salad, broccoli done guinea-style (cold with a little lemon juice), maybe something with shrimp or scallops, and no doubt a breaded cutlet of some sort. Really, Caligula ate worse than this, but these folks’ll still chastise themselves all through the clean-up and for a good day or two after that they forgot to put out the eggplant parm.

And by “them” I mean Mimi and her sister and ever present sidekick, Aunt Mary. The silly-she’s-so-spry nearly-90-year-old who lives next door, and who reigns supreme over the dessert realm of the food world.

I challenge you to not weep over her Better Than Sex Cake. And every time I’m lucky enough to have some I debate which is better, hearing Aunt Mary snicker with her friends about her cake’s superiority to sex, or the dark chocolate with coconut whipped cream frosting confection itself. You ask me, both are surefire crowd-pleasers.

Another reason it’s so tortuous to miss these shindigs—aside from my denial that there’s an inevitable limited time offer on them—is that parties that Mimi and Aunt Mary throw, even in their dazzling twilight years, are part of my DNA. Growing up next door to them (and their brother, who lived in the third house over and never I’d guess even knew how to boil water, but did an impressive Italian-style job of eating), growing up next to them they’d entreat my mother to host a “little something” for whatever event was taking place in our lives.

My first communion? “We’d love to just have a small party for Kristen.” My graduation from elementary school? Confirmation? My oldest sister’s engagement? “We’d be honored if we could have some people here to celebrate. ” And of course the standards: Christmas Eve, Fourth of July, Memorial Day? “You’ll be coming by, won’t you? It wouldn’t be a party without the Brunos here.”

They’d start cooking days in advance, filling our abutting back yards with a narcotic cloud of essence of garlic. When the party day arrived we’d be drawn zombie-like and Pavlovian out our back door to their homes. In hot weather we’d be on Aunt Mary’s glorious plant-filled patio or in Mimi’s large garage, which doubled as an airy screened-in porch in the summers. (Told you they were Italian.)

In that way that you don’t know what your life would be like otherwise because it’s not that way it’s the way it actually is, I never stopped to think that everyone didn’t have neighbors like them. I mean, Mimi, her utterly amazing late husband, my Godfather, Uncle Ant (as in, Anthony, pronounced ANT-nee, yo) and Aunt Mary—despite the Aunt and Uncle titles and all—aren’t even kin. They just lived next door.

For a while there many of the food fests took place around Mimi and Ant’s pool—an in-ground jobber they’d built when I was in Junior High. It was like the Pool Fairy had finally answered my prayers but delivered the goods one door down. No matter, since they didn’t have kids and I was at their house as often as my own. In fact, Mimi and Ant never swam in the thing themselves, preferring instead to sit at the edge dangling their feet in. (Ant often referred to the pool as “the world’s most expensive foot basin.”)

Between the vittles, the handy proximity, and the effusive Italian grandparent-like adoration, I was too young to know how freaking lucky I was to have so much love cooked into so many breaded chicken cutlets. (Come to think of it, they made great iced tea too.)

It really hit us when my mother eventually moved to a smaller house in town. She marveled that she’d never even seen the folks across the street, forget having been invited over for sausage and peppers and Scrabble.

My nostalgia for the old ‘hood drove me to dredge up an orange photo album Mimi made me years ago. Pictures of me through the years, posing in their clam shell driveway in the JC Penney clothes they’d bought me for back to school, showing off the stitches I’d gotten on my right eyebrow, snuggled up on a bench next to Uncle Ant drinking from one of their plastic orange-shaped cups with the built-in straws that I loved so much. (I’d kill to own one now.) And a bunch of me playing dress-up in Uncle Ant’s old Army hats and over-sized drooping uniforms. (He was a well-decorated Army man back in the day, and a devout fan of the show Hogan’s Heroes, having recorded every episode off of cable onto precisely-labeled VHS tapes.)

Anyway, I came across this Diary of a Catholic Girl photo from around when Mimi, Uncle Ant and I first started hanging out. (I’m the one in white. The one on the left in white, that is.)


I knew right away that Uncle Ant was a social force to be reckoned with. Anyone who wears sunglasses inside at church is my kind of bad ass.

Sadly, I’m bracing to miss another Mary-and-Mimi production next weekend, when Aunt Mary turns the big 9-0. They won’t be cooking for that one since Mary’s kids are hosting, but I still expect to spend some time that day feeling sorry for myself and wishing the Midwest’d finally just cave into the ocean to move the two coasts closer. (A favorite pastime of mine, despite the dear folks who I know and love in those middle parts. In my fantasy they’re all kept safe and are happily re-installed in homes along the new narrow peninsula-like strip of North America.)

We plan to be in Lil Rhody for July 4th, of course. (God sets his watch to it.) It’s my adored, most favorite, never-to-be-missed hometown holiday. And I can assure you that on that trip I’ll be setting aside some time and stomach space to party with Mimi and Aunt Mary. We’ve got some lost time to make up for.

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