I Did It… Their Way

Posted: February 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool | 5 Comments »

We’re in children’s literature hell. I mean, if you could go so far as to call it “literature.”

Kate has become obsessed with a crappy series of chapter books about fairies. They’re formulaic Harlequin Romance-quality drivel. They make those V.C. Andrews books (I admit to having read) look like Shakespeare.

The books have unabashedly identical plot lines: nasty goblins and their evil leader Jack Frost wreak havoc on the lives of teensy airborne fairies who dress like slutty tween mall chicks. There are flocks (herds? armies? murders?) of fairies of certain types. So there’s a group of sports fairies, one of pet fairies, gem fairies, musical instrument fairies, flower fairies, even color fairies. Each fairy posse has a set of corresponding books with cutesie usually-alliterative names like Penny the Puppy Fairy or Susie the Seashell Fairy or Trixie the Tap Dance Fairy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was Glenda the Gouda Fairy or Wanda the Walnut Fairy too.

And there are, of course, dozens—hundreds maybe—of the books. Enough for Kate to whimper and beg to take six or eight new ones home each time we’re at the library. Enough for Mark and I to fear we’ll be reading them for years to come.

Can you tell I don’t like these books? And I don’t even think it’s entirely due to my frustration that I didn’t think up the incredibly profitable franchise myself.

Part of what’s killing me is this: To nurture my daughter’s love of books, I’m told I’m should let her read whatever she wants. She got three chapters in to James and the Giant Peach with Mark, but then the allure of Christie the Crap Fairy became too great. We’ve read her Little House in the Big Woods and the wonderful My Father’s Dragon series, but in her spare time she’s curled up on the couch with Greta the Glitter Fairy.

God help me.

I tried getting her into the historical-fiction American Girl books. They’re in the intriguing big kid “chapter book” part of the library, and there are scads of them. Even though they’re part of a mega doll marketing empire, they seem to have a modicum more literary merit. But halfway through our first one the little girl’s best friend croaks from cholera and is carried off a ship in a wooden box. I saw it coming and made a flimsy excuse before reading that part that the book “was not so interesting after all.” Then I set it aside. Instead of death I’d rather have Kate’s mind embroiled in thoughts of Jenny the Jeans Fairy.

Anyway, it turns out that this ‘what I want versus what the kids want’ thing has become a bit of an emotional tug o’ war for me lately.

Like with Paigey’s recent birthday party. Her teacher gave me a list of the posse she hangs with at school. (I couldn’t fathom inviting the whole class.) I was thrilled to get a whittled-down list of kiddos, but I really like some of the parents of the kids who weren’t on the list. And this stymied me.

“I’ve chatted with Kendra’s mom a few times,” I called into Mark as he was showering. “I like her. But I guess Paige and Kendra don’t hang in the same sandbox circles.”

“And Avery’s parents rock,” I continued as Mark toweled off. “But Avery—not on the list. So do you think it’s okay if I  invite the kids of the parents I like? I mean, Paige will have fun no matter what. Right?”

Unsurprisingly, Mark was The Voice of Reason. “Kristen,” he said (and he only really calls me that when he’s kinda annoyed), “It’s Paige’s party, we should invite Paige’s friends.”

I finally agreed. But I wasn’t happy about it. (Motherboard’s talking about how to help parents see eye-to-eye about when they think their kids are old enough to do certain things. But there’s no mention about coming to terms on the kind of Mom vs. Kids issues I’m wrangling with.)

And then, at Kate’s school they recently started the winter session of after-school classes. I told Kate about all the fun and excellent things she could do—capoeira, chess, circus arts, wood shop. I’m not sure why I was surprised when she—the child personally accountable for the downfall of entire forests due to her prolific drawing, coloring, and art production—wanted to take a lame-o arts and crafts class about animals.

So I stalled. And blessedly, before sign-up forms were due, I found out that the folks teaching the classes were doing little demos at a morning assembly. (Something us parents are invited to.) I was certain Kate would get all fired up and want to take ALL the classes.

And it was inspirational. This swarthy Cuban dude rocked out on some funky instruments then walked on his hands. (I heard later all the gay teachers were swooning over him.) A woman in a bowler performed magic tricks, and an 80′s throwback chick with an asymmetrical haircut, baggy sweatpants, and an armful of rubber bracelets did an amazing freestyle hip hop dance thing.

It was incredible. I clapped like a madwoman after each demo, and was ready to follow the Cyndi Lauper look-alike to her car to see if she held classes for aging housewives.

But Kate was uninspired. She was steadfast in her desire to take the toilet-paper-roll-and-paper-plate crafts class from the substitute librarian. To think she’d bring home even more ungainly cardboard constructions that I’d have to sneak out to the recycling bin in the dark of night. (I’m not heartless about wanting to keep it all, but even Puff Daddy’s crib ain’t big enough to house all of Kate’s masterpieces.)

I asked myself, do I allow her to languish in her comfort zone—or as some softies would call it “let her pursue her own interests”—or do I push her to widen her horizons, see a fresh perspective, and get her groove on?

Well, as it turns out, I let her take the damn crafts class. I caved.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, WWACD? Which is to say, what would Amy Chua do?

Well, actually, I know EXACTLY what Amy Chua would do.

If you’ve been holed up in some underground hide-out Saddam Hussein-style, then you’re lucky to not be hip to the immense media firestorm set off by Amy Chua‘s recent book excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. Although she’s backpedaled like a madwoman ever since, she essentially posited that Chinese immigrant mothers are superior to Western moms. Stricter. More demanding of their kids. More hands-on. And let’s just say you won’t be invited to any of their homes for a playdate or slumber party. They’re too busy playing violin or piano (at gunpoint by their mothers) at all hours of the day and night.

Good times.

So yeah. I’d bet my lazy-American-mom collection of kid’s DVDs that Amy Chua’s daughters aren’t signing up for the Legos after-school class.

As much as I am SO over her excerpt, her book, her rebuttals, and this topic taking over the public radio airwaves more annoyingly than 20 concurrent pledge drives, I hafta admit, I have examined my mothering through it all. I’m not suddenly berating my kids publicly or quizzing them with Latin flash cards. But I am wondering why I don’t have a more clear idea of my expectations for them. Even if I don’t agree with Amy’s agro mothering, I wish I could be as cocksure about my own. I wish I was driven by confidence and determination to know when to push my kids in certain directions—away from fairy books, towards hip hop classes, whatever—and when to let them follow their own fancies.

Until I figure it out, I can rest assured with the knowledge that I’m at least not taking her approach. And maybe, if I keep reading enough of them, one of Kate’s fairy books will reveal the mysteries of mothering that I’m seeking. Somewhere in that series there must be Mable the Mama Fairy, right?


Hit the Road, Angel of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie will be sorely missed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This did not make me feel better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, Angel of Death.

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Thankful It’s Not Yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jes’ kidding.

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

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

Which he really really should have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honk If You Have a Bully

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Manners, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Sisters, Travel | 7 Comments »

Do they make “My kid’s a bully at Greenwood Elementary School!” bumper stickers? I’m guessing not.

It’s hardly the kind of thing you want to publicize. But if more people ‘fessed up about their kids’ unkind-to-others behavior, those of us who are wrangling with this unsavory stuff would feel so much less alone. Less freakish. Less sympathetic to people like, say, Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom.

I actually read a poll in a Motherboard newsletter about bullying. 71% of mothers said their kid had been bullied, but even more moms said their kid had never BEEN a bully. So who’s doing all that bullying then?

Well, now I know: It’s my daughter Kate.

Okay, so maybe it’s a bit soon to hang the bully mantel on her. But in my most neurotic Mama heart I just want to brace for the worst case scenario.

I was on a plane to New York. Yes, New Yawk Cit-ay! Blissfully alone. No diapers to change in a cramped cabin bathroom. No restless children to pacify with a constant stream of new toys and snacks. No dual car seats, immense roller bag, double stroller, and two overtired children to maneuver through endless airport hallways.

In other words, by virtue of simply being airborne alone–People magazine and novel in hand, and free to nap at will–I was already deep into my vacation.

But it was too good to be true. Because when the plane landed and I texted Mark to report my safe arrival, seconds later my phone rang. It was him, calling from home in the middle of the day.

“What’re you doing at home?” I asked nervously. This couldn’t be good.

“Well, I got a call from the school that I had to come pick Kate up. That she’d hit some other kids.”


My feel-good glow turned instantly to a churning stomachache.

“I considered not telling you ’til after the weekend,” he went on. (This getaway was my treat for being the On Duty parent when Mark traveled to exotic ports for work this summer.) “But I didn’t know who else I should tell about it. And I had to talk to someone.”

Why, I wondered, hadn’t he enlisted the ear of an imaginary friend?

Kate’s hitting episode that day was actually her third strike. She’d poked someone, pulled another kid’s hair, and did some other swatting or shoving, and right on the heels of her visit to the principal’s office. Oy.

And so, poor Mark got a call during a meeting with his two bosses (of course). He muttered apologies for his sudden need dash out the door because his five-year-old got kicked out of kindergarten for the day.

Good times.

As I yanked my bag from the overhead compartment and walked off the plane, my cell phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, I outlined my anxieties to Mark.

“So what if this is the first glimpse we’re getting of Kate developing into a sociopathic adult?” I panted. “I mean, you haven’t noticed that she’s been killing squirrels in the back yard with sticks or anything, have you?”

My mind raced. “But really—oh God—what if her teachers don’t like her now?” The one thing worse than being a serial killer in my mind? Being UNLIKED. This thought made me stop to lean against the wall en route to Baggage Claim. “Oh shit. What if she’s turned into the problem child they don’t want to deal with? Did it seem that way when you talked to them?”

Mark started talking me down off an emotional ledge—likely regretting at that point that I was the person he chose to share this news with. He tossed out some theories. Kate’s been super tired after school. The day at kindergarten day is longer and requires more focus than her short playful stints in preschool. Maybe that’s catching up with her? Making her grumpy and irrational? Also Paigey has been prone to hitting lately—a more age-appropriate behavior for a two-year-old, no doubt. But maybe Kate is somehow passing that forward?

This got me thinking. My sister Ellen tied a nun to a tree with a jump rope when she was in Catholic school. Hell, we LOVE that story in my family. And I’m sure that got her kicked out of school for the day. Maybe even a week! And dare I admit to my own behavior in Miss Hancock’s classroom? Bonnie Usher grabbed an eraser I wanted so I leaned over and bit her arm. (She was clearly askin’ for it.)

I mean, these kinds of things are garden variety childhood offenses, right? Ellen and I have never been incarcerated. I’d even go so far as to say we’re both highly-functioning members of society.

But by the time I was in the cab watching a gray day in Queens whiz past the window, my attempt at sweeping The Hitting under the carpet turned on me. And I did what nearly every mother tends to do: wracked my brain for what it was that I’D done to bring this all about.

It didn’t take long to decide that Kate’s playground furor was due to the very trip I was on. Brought about by my selfishness for wanting to be away alone for three nights. Plus, it was just days after another overnight trip I’d taken for work.

It was my fault entirely.

It’s been two weeks now since this all went down. And I can happily report that Kate has made no additional assaults on her peers. A feat that, after her first day back in school after The Incident, she felt was worthy of a gift.

“I didn’t hit anyone today!” she cheerfully reported as she climbed into the car. “So can you get me that ice cream maker toy that I saw on TV?”

Uh, you don’t get a prize for *not* whacking your friends upside the head, kiddo. Puh-leez.

Now most mortal Mamas would just let this go now, right? Turn their attention to other anxieties. But Kate’s parent-teacher conference rolled around a week or so later. Even though it was packed with praise for things like being “a promising mathematician” (Mark’s genes), a precocious communicator, and an all-around smart gal, I found I was clinging to the Hitting. So in the course of our chat with the teacher, I somehow resuscitated a long-dormant anxiety I thought—or hoped—I’d put to rest.

Did we send Kate to Kindergarten too soon?

Everyone is holding kids—sure, mostly boys—back these days. Six-year-olds are as common in kindergartens as lice. Not to mention five-year-olds. Which makes Miss Kate, who started the year off at age four, a wee one in her class.

In terms of book learnin’ the girl’s ready to roll. But is she out of her league in terms of emotional development and social composure?

I flip-flopped wildly on this issue last year. Each time lecturing Mark on the merits of what I was sure was my final decision. Another year of preschool will buy us more time with her before she’s off to college. It’s settled! But then her interest in writing and reading would make me certain that more preschool would bore her. A day later a friend would extol the merits of Pre-K programs and I’d be on the phone with the preschool begging for her spot back.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ultimately the three schools that assessed her all thought she was ready. So we pulled the trigger.

During Kate’s conference I started speculating madly on this issue. (I’d forgotten how good I was at it.) I wanted her teacher to pat my hand and assure me we made the right decision. And in subtle ways she kinda did—saying Kate is intellectually in line with her classmates, and behavioral issues like hitting can crop up in the first six weeks of school. But she didn’t take me by the shoulders and scream this into my face, which was apparently required to really convince me.

So on the drive home Mark—bless his heart—tried talking me off the ledge again. He’s long felt confident that Kate was ready for kindergarten. And even though The Hitting Thing rocked his world too, the fact that it was now ricocheting in my mind to other places, seemed to fortify his hunch that it would all be okay.

After reading Halloween books to a sweet sleepy Kate that night, I looked at her as I closed her door and had a Mama moment. I couldn’t imagine her being any more perfect. I crawled into my own bed and wondered what I’d think if we had held her back, but she still did something like hit another kid. What excuses would we have then? What could I beat myself up about then?

Maybe that champion spouse of mine was right. Once I dove past that thick outer layer of self-doubt and frenzied Mama worry, I found that I arrived at a more peaceful place. There I let all the dramatic self-flagellation slip away, took a cleansing breath, and had a clear calm thought that sometimes these things just happen. And in kindergarten, along with learning to read and to count to ten in Spanish, Kate’ll also learn how to control her emotions, and how to be a better friend.

She will survive Kindergarten. She’ll move past The Hitting until it’s some little incident we—and hopefully her teachers—barely remember. And, God willing, she won’t chop people up as an adult and store their body parts in chest freezers.

At least, I really really hope not.


Dear Mom

Posted: September 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Firsts, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool | 19 Comments »

Dear Mom:

So Kate started Kindergarten last week, and Paigey started preschool yesterday. And I’m dying to talk to you about it. Damn it.

Anyway, maybe through the Cyberspheric Alternate Plane Afterlife Postal System (CAPAPS), this letter will make it to you, wherever you are.

Not to be harsh, but the truth is that with you gone for more than five years, I’ve gotten used to having birthdays, Mother’s Days—even Christmases—without you. A sad fact.

It’s not that I don’t miss you. It’s not at ALL that. I’ve just kinda gotten used to you not being here. Resigned myself to the fact that you never met my girls.

But then one morning last week Mark and I were standing on a playground watching Kate line up with her new classmates, her sparkle-heart backpack nearly the size of her, and I was struck with such a cutting pang of Mamaness. My own Mamaness.

My little baby Kate was suddenly such a big kid. Which made me such a grown-up Mom. Which, in turn, made me want my mommy.

Mark and I were all teary as Kate-o trooped in with her class. She, of course, was smug and confident. Locked and loaded. Ready. She didn’t look back at us once.

Afterward I was trying to think of what it was that made me well up, because in the steel-willed way I no doubt got from you, I’ve always secretly looked down on the preschool parking lot criers. The weak women who can’t deal with their kid going off to school.

Butch up, ladies! Kids grow up. And school is fun.

The closest I got in my emotional deconstruction was the realization that my teariness came from being proud of Kate. How confident and funny and creative and wild and sassy she is. And sure, how much I love her.

But I give myself little credit for her dazzling Kate-ness. It’s like these kids are born and are already, well, who they are going to be. Did you think that? I mean, you had twice the daughters I do, so your sampling is far more scientifically valid than mine.

Anyway, Kate’s been LOVING her school. She’s all algow about it. She sometimes shares parts of her day, but a lot of it she seems to guard as this special thing that she just wants to ruminate on and enjoy herself. (Which obstructs my obsessive smother-mother tendency to want to know. Every. Single. Detail.)

But God, I was kind of a basket case in kindergarten, right? I remember crying and crying for you, and all the other kids were totally chill and happy to be there. Not to make excuses, but I think it sucked knowing that you were right across the street. All the kids who lived further away didn’t have the ease I did of imagining themselves back home with their mamas. From the playground I could sometimes even see you outside gardening.

How long DID I keep up the tears?

As I sit here now, on my sunny porch (on a white wicker chair you’d totally approve of), I’m bracing myself for becoming The Parking Lot Crier next week when Paige’s preschool really kicks in. Yesterday and today they required that one parent stay with their kid. We all took staggered breaks away (I’m on one now) so the teachers could see which kids really crater.

I’m kinda doubting whether it makes sense to have Paige in preschool now. Makes sense for me, that is. I mean, she’s my dumpling! She’s my sidekick. She really IS my baby. And aside from the ghastliness of missing her, with her not home I really should be doing something useful with my time. Like weaving our clothes, or spackling the tub, or assembling photo albums for each child starting with their conceptions. Or hey—here’s an idea—making some money!

Right now I could list three-hundred reasons why Paige should wait another year for preschool. But I know she is ready and happy and will love it. And I can’t let my own shit—sorry, issues—get in the way of her good time.

YOU were always so good about not letting your emotions interfere with what we did. You led the Dry-Eyed Mom Brigade at school drop-offs. You didn’t flinch when I went  to college 14 hours away (12 hours if speeding). And I was the last kid to leave the nest. You never guilted me about coming home when I’d get the chance to be adopted by rich friend’s families for fabulous vacations.

So what I’d really like to know now is, was it that you were really cool with it all? Was the stiff upper lip no act? Or were you just the dutiful Mama bird, nudging me out of the nest ’cause otherwise I’d never fly?

If you could please send me some sort of sign to indicate the answers to these questions, I’d really appreciate it.

Anyway, as we pulled up in front of the house yesterday, after Day 1 of preschool, Paige announced, “Me no need you, Mama. Me big girl now.”

Did you hear me wail from whatever cloud it is you live on these days? Did you hear my car nearly take out the front shrubs as I tearily tried to park? Did you hear me walk around to Paige’s car seat and say, “Now YOU hear ME, Missy. I’m 43 years old and I still need my Mama!”?

Then I sat down on the curb and cried.

Anyway, if you could ever swing by for a visit, I’ve already planned out the day we’ll have. It just consists of us sitting around my house, drinking tea, and watching Kate and Paige play. And me asking you every two minutes, “Aren’t they great? Aren’t they so cute? Aren’t they just the best?”

I might also have you tackle some tough clothing stains I’ve been wrangling with. So don’t wear anything fancy.

Love you, Mama.


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.


Too Young?

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Preschool | 3 Comments »

I was driving to a doctor’s appointment peering out the window at the street numbers.

2844… 2846… 2848… 2850!

Wait a second. Duggan’s Funeral Home?

I looked back at my paper. 2850 Telegraph, and up again at the mortuary. 2-8-5-0.

This was unsettling.

A call to the doctor’s office revealed that the news of my condition was not as grave as my end-point had led me to believe. I needed to go 2850 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, not Oakland.

“You really should make that clear to people,” I muttered into the phone, making a U-turn.

The reality of my doctor’s appointment was only somewhat less disquieting. I was seeing a rheumatologist, because after months of what I thought was lingering postpartum back pain, an x-ray revealed something far more damaging to my mental state on aging. I have arthritis.

I’m over 40 and all, but come ON. Arthritis?

Earlier that week I’d taken Paigey for her two-year-old check up. Random banter with the doctor got us to the topic of school applications—his son’s applying to college, and we’re neck-deep in finding a kindergarten for Kate.

“I took something you said a while ago to heart,” I proclaimed, as if I were giving him a grateful thump on the back. “It was a offhanded remark, but you said, ‘When they’re ready for Kindergarten, they’re ready!’ Even though Kate’ll be young in her class, we think she’s ready.”

“Uh, how old is she again?” he asked sheepishly, looking up from thumping Paigey’s belly.

What ensued was back-pedaling. Lots and lots of backpedaling, wherein the good doctor told me that whatever he’d said that one time that really stuck with me, that was actually maybe not what he’d suggest now. “So many kids are doing an extra year of preschool,” he said gently, knowing he was rocking my world. “Kate could be as much as a year-and-a-half younger than some kids in her class.”

Weeks of school tours and open houses, epic why-my-kid’s-so-great essays, costly application fees, and the gallons and gallons of sweat that poured from my palms through the whole process. Mark and I have invested so much in finding a school for Kate. To pull the plug on it now—if only for a year—would be more disappointing to us than to Kate.

I carried Paige through the parking lot and loaded her into the car, doing some kinda Lamaze breathing to stave off a primal scream. Within seconds of pulling onto the road I had the lovely impossible-to-get-into preschool on the line. Paige is going there next year, and they accepted Kate to their pre-K program. But back in January we passed up giving them a deposit. We decided to roll the dice on her kindergarten options.

I summoned my powers of persuasion as I purred into the phone, “Might it not be too late to still admit Kate?” Then I called Mark, quickly recounting my convo with the doctor. Like a army colonel plotting my next move, I visualized the lay of the land before me—private schools still to hear from, staying at her current preschool, seeing what comes of the public school lottery. Whatever we decided, we’d certainly cast the net wide. We were brimming with options—and indecision.

I  made some more calls, unwrapped a snack bar and handed it back to Paige, and even used my turn signal when changing lanes. I work well under pressure.

That week I grew convinced that “holding Kate back” (a term a neighbor suggested I change to “giving her the gift of another year”) was our critical course of action. But today I’m waffling.

For one, we got into the good public school. Totally honestly too! No bluffing on our home address, or having to get someone else to adopt the girls. This unexpected news got us thinking. Is it foolish to turn aside a perfectly good free eduction for Kate, and eventually Paige?

The thing is, if we want that, she starts kindergarten in September. Do not pass go. Do not waddle through another year of preschool. Do not accept the gift of another year.

And for some reason in the past few days everyone’s all in my face with, “Kate’s SO ready for kindergarten.” Seriously, I’ll be talking about something totally different and suddenly the person I’m chatting with belches out something passionate about Kate and kindergarten, like they’re the most natural pairing since peanut butter and jelly. Or Captain and Tennille.

Friday we find out about private schools. Mark and I are so deeply fired up about these places, I can’t imagine noting wanting them if they say they want Kate. We should also hear whether she’ll get off the lovely preschool’s pre-K wait list. And let’s not forget the tempting lure of FREE public school.

We get a week to decide what to do. Hopefully we’ll find out we have more good options to add to the mix. But before we decide where to send her, we need to figure out when. We need to come to Jesus about whether-or-not she’s too young to move forward.

If I squint I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In a couple weeks we’ll be able to spank our hands together and put this behind us. Which is great because I can’t imagine that all this stress is good for my arthritis.


Isn’t She Lovely?

Posted: December 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Firsts, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Scary Stuff | 2 Comments »

“Dorothy, will you look at that dress,” a woman at the coffee shop clucked to her friend, nodding towards Paige who was staggering around their table, mashing a cranberry scone into her mouth and leaving a trail of crumbs behind her. “It’s just too precious.”

“She had a school interview today,” I said, corralling her toward me. “And she’s not even two years old!”

Whaaaaaat?” they balked simultaneously.

It was just the response I’d been hoping for, though I surprised even myself with the apparent bitterness the recent experience had brought out in me. Funny how it’s not until you encounter some kindly old women who are sipping cocoas after their weekly walking club jaunt that you come to terms with how you really feel about something.

It hadn’t only been Paige who had gotten decked out for an interview that morning. Kate had paid a visit to the school too. It was part of the application process. And to be fair, the girls weren’t really interviewed at all. The applicants are asked to come in to spend some time in the classroom. It’s a chance, they say, for those of us jockeying for entry to kick the tires on the school—as much as it’s the school’s chance to size us up. You know, make sure “everyone feels comfortable.” But that always seems like code to me.

So I was dressed up and geared up to charm, but I was also mildly leery. Call me an egomaniac, but any club that won’t warmly welcome me without ever having met me I’m somewhat suspicious of. I’m just that way.

I started in the two-year-old room with Paige. (For the young’uns they ask the parent to tag along.) For most of our time there Paigey wandered around, taking an inventory of their toys and occasionally, briefly, interacting with another kid. She acted pleasantly enough. No dramatic behavior, no fearful clutching at me, no shouting racial epithets.

She squealed with delight a few times while playing with a dollhouse—something I looked around to see if anyone’d noticed, as it seemed, given the situation, a sweet, appropriate thing for her to be doing. You know, the kind of thing someone “who would fit in well with our community” would do. But as far as I could tell, neither she nor I were being observed or really noticed much by any of the school staff.

Of course it wasn’t until we were up in a small aerie-like nook off the main room—a hide-away decorated with bright floor pillows, wooden cradles, and a disarray of dress-up clothes—that one of the teachers came to peek in on Paigey. It was when she was at the toy cash register. She was swiping what appeared to be a little credit card through a slit in the machine over and over again. I mean, at that point any self-respecting cashier would’ve just typed in the card’s data. But Paige apparently inherited my optimistic streak.

Between credit card swipes she’d hold a black calculator she’d found on the floor up to her ear like a cell phone and say, “Dada? Dada?”

The teacher, one of those preschool gems who’s been with the school for something like 20 years, turns to me and asks, “So are you home with her?” And it was all I could do to not blurt out, “Well, yes, but really I do more than shop and use my cell phone! I mean, I’m really not sure WHERE she learned these behaviors.” [Insert nervous laughter.]

Later, while Kate was whisked off to the Big Kid Room to hopefully perform acts of staggering cuteness and genius, Mark and I met with the head of the school. Our conversation started out with the lethal, “Well, I’m sure you both have plenty of questions.” [Long pause.] And really, with the amount of time we’d spent at the school’s open house, reading about the place, and interrogating our friends whose kids went there, we kinda didn’t have any questions. Which therefore left us with an expanse of time in which we were required to say insightful or endearing things to win our kids two coveted spots at their finger painting table.

Instead I seemed to just say lovely. “We thought it would be lovely to have the girls at the same school.” “Our neighbor’s kids go here and they’re such lovely children.” “During the Open House I just found something so lovely about the two-year-old room.”

This is no doubt, collectively, more times than I have ever used that word. But something about being there, knowing whatever we did or said or wore, or how Paige reacted to not being able to open her Tupperware of raspberries herself, or all of those things in combination, knowing it was being observed, somehow the pressure of all that just made me want to say lovely a lot.

Mark, the dear, of course called me on it. “What up with all the lovely?” he asked as we we flopped on the couch post-kiddie-bedtime that night.

“I know, I know,” I said cringing.

Senior year of college we were required to take comprehensive exams, or ‘comps.’ As an English major you could choose to write a huge paper or take a test covering everything a good Kenyon grad should know literarily before emerging into the world. Well, everything that someone who’d read all the books they should have should know.

Nearly everyone opted for the paper.

In the giddy post-due-date afterglow of handing our papers in, I was hanging out with a group of friends. We were debriefing on what we thought the quality of our work was. My friend Leah, an outrageously funny Chicago-born gal, was holding court amongst us, sharing her secret to success.

“My title was The Distinction Between the Poetry of the Late 18th and Late 19th Centuries,” she said. (Of course, I’m making this topic up because at this point I can barely remember what I even wrote about.) “I made sure to point out the distinctions between the styles of poetry. The distinctions between the various poets. And, no doubt the distinction between the brilliance of my paper, and, say, your-all’s.”

‘Distinction’ was the term the school applied to comps that merited honors.

“After those gin-soaked profs read my comps,” she said with a flourish, “They’ll have no recourse other than to award it distinction.”

The group of us, hanging out at a cafeteria table long after the lunch crowd had left, howled at this, pounding the table and wiping our eyes. Of COURSE, Leah did that. And if she really hadn’t, it was sheer brilliance for her to even suggest that she did.

In that spirit I can only hope that, when that school’s Executive Director sits down a few weeks from now to make her pronouncements about who’s in and who’s out, she’ll pick up the folder for Kate and Paige and turn to her assistant. “The McCluskys…” she’ll say slowly, flipping through her notes. “Oh yes, them. A lovely family, weren’t they? I think we most certainly have a spot for them.”


Revisionist History

Posted: November 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Discoveries, Miss Kate, Preschool | 3 Comments »

I was late picking up Kate from school yesterday. Again.

When I walked into her classroom she was helping the teacher pin some of their work up on the wall. It was a project about the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. The kids had painted cool life-sized skeletons and had talked about people and animals they’d known who’d died.

Kate’s quote—the longest one by far—was hanging front and center.

“My cousin’s fish died. My grandpa’s dog died. I helped feed her breakfast. I had a cat named Edwin who used to sleep on my bed. Recently, Edwin died.”

It’s true that Cousin Gavin did have a fish—a few I think by now—that went the way of the toilet bowl. In fact, the first one expired on a weekend when Mark’s mom was babysitting, requiring Grandma to deliver the first Sometimes Things We Love Die lecture. I like how that life lesson extended across the country to Kate.

And yes, my father’s beloved wire-haired Dachshund, Katie, passed away recently. Somehow Mark and I decided to name our daughter Kate when there already was a Katie in the family—albeit a four-legged one. So trips home to Rhode Island inevitably resulted in all of us having to clarify child from beast.

“I’m taking Katie for a walk!” I’d call through the house. “Katie the Girl, not Katie the Dog.”

And then there’s the cat Kate mentioned in her school’s, uh, ‘death unit.’ The thing is, we ain’t never had a cat. Now, I certainly don’t like the thought of Kate telling tall tales. Especially those that are writ large in the middle of her classroom. But when I read her comment yesterday, I was actually kinda proud of her lie.

I mean, many kids would say their fake cat’s name was Snowball, or Boots, or Fluffy. I just love that Kate’s cat-we-never-had is called Edwin. Maybe it’s her crafty way of ensuring that any babies that might come into our family someday won’t be given the same name.


Crimes of Passion

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Shopping | 1 Comment »

I can’t wait to see what the first thing will be that Kate steals.

Today I was stunned to see bras at Target that appeared to be marketed to six-year-olds. The triangles of fabric comprising the cups—in bright blues, pinks, and yellows, with colorful contrasting trims—were the size of a pirate’s eye patch. If those bras were intended to support a sagging breast, I’ll eat my nursing pad. They could fit squirrels.

After 1.7 beers in the Grippie family’s backyard tonight, I opened up on this topic. The sorry state of the rush to adulthood in this country, that is.

Kate, for all I knew, was already grossly delayed in owning a bra. A milestone of apparel ownership that I have every intention of staying on top of so as not to leave her, or Paige, tragically behind the pack as I was as a kid. It’s true. I was the last girl in my class to get a bra. The adolescent trauma of it all still grips me with an uneasy feeling, bringing to mind the florid tones of Love’s Baby Soft perfume.

My tardiness was due mainly to my inability to tell my mother what I wanted. All the girls at school had bras. And not just any bras, Sassoon bras. (Someone at the 80′s-era jean co no doubt got a big thump on the back and a promotion when she suggested they break into the training bra market.) Anyway, my awkwardness in discussing this subject was one part New England prudishness, and one part fear that my old-school mom would never understand that my need for the bra had little to do with mammary support, and everything to do with social survival.

I will not allow my daughters to suffer the same delayed-ownership-of-unnecessary-bra fate!

And yet, half of Kate’s preschool class may already be clad in the latest La Perla Preschool Demi Cup when school starts in two weeks.

Amidst my boozed-up-on-barely-two-beers rant, my friend, who I’ll call X since I’m uncertain what the statute of limitations is for her crime, and truly hope I won’t be implicated as her accomplice since I’ve been made aware of the details of the offense… Wait, where was I? What I’m trying to say, is X listens to my diatribe, then casually tosses out, “The first thing I ever stole was a bra.”

Um, helloooooooo? This pre-teen factoid is such an utterly perfect and tasty life morsel (even to me now, sober) I was shocked to think it wasn’t the first thing she said upon our introduction a year back.

“Hi. My name is X. I shoplifted my first bra.”

Just when you think you can’t love someone any more than you do, they wallop you with a brilliant gem like that.

Well, one stealing story deserves another, right? And since I never went to sleep-away camp or got a perm or took a same-sex partner to prom—since I missed out on so many of puberty’s best life-intensifying moments, I wanted to bond about thieving.

I was hardly a Dickensian pick-pocket mind you, but oh, I’ve done my share of shoplifting. One—well, really three—items started my limited career, and later (and finally), I nabbed a greeting card from a long-deceased Providence store called Ashby Dean. An establishment whose demise I no doubt accelerated from depleting them of one unit of their belated birthday card inventory.

To summarize: In my lifetime I’ve stolen a total of four things. (Though really, I’m not dead yet.)

At nightfall, the evening of my first foray into the thieving life, I tossed and turned in my sheets. My heart was filled with anguish, my conscience wracked with guilt. Sleep seemed an impossibility.

I went to my mother’s room. She was sitting up in bed, reading. It could have been very very late, since Mom was a hardcore night-owl. Or maybe it was just, like, 8:30, since I was pretty young at the time and had a correspondingly early bedtime.

Me: “Mom? What happens to people who steal?”

Mom: [casually looks up from her book] “They go to prison.”

Me: “Oh, okay. Well, good night then!”

She let a few minutes pass. Minutes in which, back in my bed, I began sobbing at the thought of a lifetime relegated to horizontal black-and-white striped jumpsuits. Even if those stripes might be slimming.

Eventually, she came in and sat at the edge of my bed.

Mom: “Do you have something to tell me?”

Me: [wincing] “Yes. I… I stole something. Three things, actually.”

Mom: “Would you like to tell me what those things were?”

At which point I got up, went to my bureau, and pulled down a lacquer box with a gold and orange leaf design that my Dad brought me back from a business trip. I opened it, turned it over in my palm, and dumped out three seeds.

Seeds for purple flowers of some sort. A blossom so beautiful its image compelled me to tear a wedge off a paper Burpee pack, and hide the seeds away in my pocket. If only I’d thrown them out my window to sprout a tall vine climbing into the clouds, the course of my life might’ve taken a very different turn.

But I digress.

The next day my mother marched me into Almacs. (That’s the kinda weird local grocery store you shopped at when you lived in Rhode Island back then.) Some pimply-faced stock boy was piling up heads of iceberg lettuce, like they do. I swear I’d be able to pick him out of a line-up today. (Yet somehow I have difficulty remembering my husband’s birthday.)

Mom pushed me towards the kid, and made me recite, “I’m sorry. I took these and I shouldn’t have. I will never do it again.”

I dumped the seeds from my clammy hand to the kid’s clammy hand in an exchange which can best be described as deep contrition meets utter confusion.

The kid muttered some, “Okay, yeah” type thing. My mother, I imagine, gave him some kinda high sign for the role he played in her parenting life lesson, and we left.

So tonight X explained that she used a yellow raincoat her mom bought her to smuggle the bra out of the store. She never said whether her mom found out. Or if, when her mother saw it in the laundry weeks later, X easily covered up her crime with a, “That bra? Oh, that’s Betheny’s.” (“And the joint you’ll find in my jeans four years from now? Also Betheny’s.”) Maybe her mother did figure out the unethical origins of the undergarment, but didn’t enforce the zero tolerance policy my mom ascribed to.

At any rate, the conversation got me all excited to see what it is that Kate and Paige will steal some day.

And reminded me that, for so many reasons, it’s never to early to buy a girl her first bra.

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