She’s No Nadia

Posted: April 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, Friends and Strangers, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 2 Comments »

I’m a lousy telemarker. And that’s no typo, Jeff. I do mean telemarker, not telemarketer. I’ve never actually done telemarketing (thank GOD). Even so, I bet I’d be pretty good at bringing that phone script to life.

Yeah so telemarking, for the luckily uninitiated, is a kind of skiing. It’s like downhill skiing, but on cross-country skis where your heel isn’t clamped into the binding. When you turn you bend one knee down towards the ski, while keeping the other one bent out in front of you. So as you come down the mountain it looks like you’re popping into position to propose every time you turn.

There’s also a thing called ‘jump telemarking’ or ‘jump tele’ where you add a little hop to that scenario. That’s for real show-offs.

Anyway, I suck at telemark skiing. Suck. Suck. Suuuuuck.

I know this because many many years ago—back in the Dark Ages before your parents were probably even born—I was dating a ski-obsessed fellow. He thought it’d be fun for us to take a weekend telemarking clinic.

Now, you might think the term ‘clinic’ is an odd one to pair with a recreational activity. ‘Clinic’ brings to mind images of nothing even remotely fun. Instead one conjures a cold, undesirable environment where you’re often in a great deal of pain.

It turns out that clinic was the perfect term for this ski weekend after all.

I’ll lay the groundwork by stating that I was pretty much a newbie to even downhill skiing at the time. The Brunos did not ski when we were young. We did not take road trips. We did not go camping. Everything about my childhood left me utterly unprepared for adult life in California—but that’s another story. There may even be a book in there somewhere.

Anywho, everyone else at this clinic was wearing faded Boston Marathon t-shirts. Trading war stories from their last IronMan. Making plans to swim to Alcatraz together upon our return to SF.

Me? I was unfamiliar with the PowerBars the teachers handed out during our first break. “Power Bar?!” I balked, as I sunk my teeth into the pale tan gummy thing. “More like a flat, undelicious Tootsie Roll.”

It turned out the other kids were familiar with this new-to-me foodstuff. They not only didn’t get my joke, they looked at me horrified, as if I’d spat out their Italian Nana’s pasta sauce.

But what really set me apart from these people was my utter incompetence on telemark skis. Throughout the weekend our teachers commanded us to get into “the telemark position”—that about-to-propose stance. By Monday morning I was scanning phone books to find someone who could erase that traumatic term from my mind.

My body seemed unwilling to bend that way, turn the skis, and move downhill across slippery snow. And when the kindly teachers offered extra help, their instructions baffled me. “Make your top thigh parallel to the ground!” they’d call out. “Wait… Aren’t I doing that?” I’d think to myself.

It was then that I discovered the gaping disconnect in my mind-body link. I understood intellectually how I should position my body, and I felt certain I was doing just that. In reality I was doing something closer to the Walk Like an Egyptian dance.

What killed me about all this wasn’t the brutal muscle burn that radiated from my legs for days after. It wasn’t having to wear the light gray rental telemark boots—stinky square-toed numbers that had less fashion merit than nursing shoes. It wasn’t even taking a perfectly good weekend to drive to Lake Tahoe with a group of people who—aside from my beau—I’d never see again. Nor was it the mortification of popping my PowerBar cherry in front of a group of die-hard devotees.

What tore me up about the whole experience was my persistent and thorough inability to get it. That weekend rocked my world for a while after, and I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about telemark skiing, and was actually thrilled at the prospect of never doing it again. But I was deeply shaken by being pulled that far out of my comfort zone.

I realized that in school, or at work, or in social situations—wherever there’s something to grasp or learn or pick up on—I’m used to catching on. At least eventually.

Drunken bidding at preschool auctions, now that’s in my sweet spot. And that’s exactly what recently landed Kate and Paige into new gymnastics classes.

They’ve gone two times thus far. The classes are held in a huge warehouse-like space, and several coaches conduct classes for various age groups at the same time.

Paigey and I are in the toddler class, which requires parental involvement. Kate on the other hand rocks her class solo. And every once and a while—generally when Paige catches a glimpse of Kate and runs screaming after her—I’ll look up to see Kate in purple flowered Spandex, arms extended out from her sides, walking along the balance beam with impressive grace and ease. It’s amazing what she’s picked up so quickly. She’s ravenous for more more more hot gymnastics fun, and starts whining from the moment we leave the place, “When is gymnastics class next?”

Paigey, on the other hand, is no future Nadia Comaneci. When the instruction is to bunny hop down the long trampoline, Paige opts to walk, wobbly-legged, curls bouncing. When the other kids climb up on the ladder-bars of a dome-shaped thing, Paige just touches her hand to it, then turns and wanders away. On the low kiddie-level balance beam she takes a couple steps then bellows, “Down, Mama! DOOOWN!” It’s only the hot dog roll that she performs with the same finesse as her classmates. (The thing I knew as a log roll when I was a kid. But that’s back when play structures were called jungle gyms. So what do I know?)

Kate’s got Coach Jordan, some young dude who all the parents gush over. Various maternal informants insisted he was THE teacher to get. But Paige’s coach is the one whose class took place at the same time as Kate’s. And when I first saw her blue hair, multi-pierced face, and neck and arm tattoos, well, what can I say? I judged her.

She was no Coach Jordan. No Coach Jordan indeed.

But towards the end of the first class, with Paige able to really do so few things, I felt obliged to ask Tattooed Lady whether Paigey Wigs might be in the wrong class.

“She was a late walker,” I offered up.

“Oh,” she said, unimpressed.

“Yeah, like she didn’t walk until she was 21 months old,” I persisted. “Like REALLY late.”

This is me in confessional mode. Get me anywhere close to a topic I don’t want to talk about, or I think you might call me on, and I respond by telling all. “Let me beat you to the punch,” my pysche says. Before you ask me a question I don’t want to answer, I’m just going to lob the information right at you.

I’d be a terrible spy.

And I couldn’t stop once started. “She’s in physical therapy!”I blurted out. “She’s really still mastering going down stairs! Sometimes her breath is really bad in the morning!”

Okay, so I wasn’t that revealing. But I did find I was suddenly throwing myself at the mercy of She With The Large Spider Tramp Stamp. Beseeching her for advice with every last drop of my Mama being.

“Should I put her in a lower class? There are lower levels aren’t there? Would she do better there? Get the hang of it? Get more out of it?” I was panting at this point. Yelping. Nearly pawing at her like a chihuahua, small frenzied legs raking away furiously.

We looked up as a line of toddlers forward rolled. Paige squealed with excitement, lost her balance, and fell on her ass. Then she got up to follow the crew to the foam pit.

“You know what?” Coach Nose Ring said, chewing on a lock of blue hair. “She’s not doing everything, but it’s good for her to have the challenge. She’ll learn from watching the other kids. And look at her,” she said, nodding towards Paige who was gleefully watching her classmates crawl through the foam pit. “She’s having a blast.”

And the thing was—as utterly mystifying it was to me—she actually was.

So Paige is staying in gymnastics class. And I’m training my mind to not start thinking that the other parents meet in the parking lot after class to discuss that curly-haired girl who’s just not catching on. I’m trying to repress my urges to apologize for Paigey’s hot dog rolls, when what’s called for is a blast off. And I’ve given up on trying to coerce her back onto the balance beam.

Someday she’ll learn how to jump and somersault and even cartwheel. In the meantime I’m hoping that I’ll learn that you don’t have to be at the head of the class to have a good time.


The Waiting is Over

Posted: February 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Firsts, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preg-o, Sisters, Travel, Walking | 1 Comment »

My mother hated when my sisters referred to me as their “little” sister.

It was one of a number of random terms she dramatically voiced her opposition to. Like how she hated the word ‘condo.’ I always suspected her condo issue had to do with the word’s affinity to the word ‘condom’—that it was terrifyingly close to sounding like something that had to do with penises.

But I never really knew for sure.

Anyway, she’d mutter “She’s not little, she’s an adult for God’s sake. She’s your ‘younger sister.’”

But growing up in a small town, the youngest (by far) of four girls—”the Bruno girls” as we were known—my mother was fighting a battle she was bound to lose. If my siblings weren’t calling me their little—or kid—sister, everyone else in town had me pegged as “the baby.”

Frrrrrrred!” old women would screech, lunging toward my father and I in the aisle of Almacs grocery store. “How aaaarrrrre you?” Then turning to me. “And this? NO! This isn’t your BABY is it?!”

As a teen, being in public with my dad caused me no end of aggravation. A big personality still living in the small town he was born in, he knew absolutely everyone. And they all seemed to want a piece of him.

We’d walk ten steps, then stop to hear about someone’s gall bladder operation. Another 15 paces and Dad’d be doling out legal advice about a property lien. We were never anonymous, never just able to run in somewhere quickly.

And brutal as it may sound, the people who rotated in Dad’s orbit registered no social value to me. Many were older and smelled of talcum. They unloaded their legal woes, or talked about recently-operated-upon people I didn’t know. Worst of all, they never had cute teen-aged boys with them.

In my self-centered adolescent universe, waiting through my dad’s conversations with these people was some form of heinous torture that seemed custom-made to heighten my teen-aged malaise.

But Dad was—is—a world-class extrovert. He’ll talk to anyone. And he’s always proud to show us girls off. Decades later, nothing has changed. “Yes, that’s her,” he’ll still say, putting his hands on my shoulders. “The baby.”

I have to admit. At age 42, there’s something nice about there being a place where I’m still considered a baby.

MY baby, the delectable Miss Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop (that’s her champion dog name), turned two a week ago. TWO fingers old! What a big big girl.

The night before her birthday I got all nostalgic with Mark. “It was two years ago tonight that I sat on the couch sobbing that I thought the baby may never be born.”

Paige was—how should I say it?—resistant to emerging from the womb. She got the process underway 12 endless days after she was supposed to. Then, after more than four hours of eye-popping pushing, she still refused to budge. Finally a group of medical professionals went in after her.

The expression on her face when she finally emerged was one of abject dismay. It’d make me really sad if it wasn’t so damn funny and cute. (“My God, I’ve given birth to Ed Asner!”)


Anyway, it’s too bad some sort of Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be didn’t visit me during those agonizing post-due-date days, to whisper in my ear that Paige would so totally be worth the wait.

And it turns out our waiting didn’t end then. After waiting for her to be born, we waited for her baby acne and scaly eczema to subside. We waited for her to sit up on her own. Some time after that, we waited for her to walk. And waited. And waited. And eventually, blessedly, all the things we’d been waiting for finally happened.

Her birthday party last weekend was like a kind of a coming out party. At least to this proud Mama. She walks! She talks! She does everything every other two-year-old does, damn it! And she does it dazzlingly.

You’ve come a long way, Paigey. And I know you’ve only just gotten started.

I am so madly in love with that girl. I’m already fretting about how quickly she (and her sister) will grow up and will no longer be little barnacles attached to my legs.

At what point will it be creepy for me to still be chomping on Paigey’s thighs and doing raspberries on her tummy? And is it so wrong to want to bunk with her in her dorm room when she goes away to college? The really pathetic thing is, I’ve spent so much time mercilessly mocking people who wait forever to cut their kids’ hair because they can’t bear to lop off the baby curls. But now, now I understand their plight. I too am weak, like them. May Paigey’s hair never be cut! (There. I’ve said it.)

Next week I’m heading home to Rhode Island for a visit. My dad is turning a youthful 81, and he has a new dog we’re overdue to meet. Us Californians are hoping to score some snowy weather to frolic in. And I plan to spend a lot of time parading the girls around Stop & Shop, and hoping I bump into some people I know.

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Seasons Greetings from Our Frat to Yours

Posted: December 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Firsts, Holidays, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Walking | 1 Comment »

Our happy little home has been converted to a frat house, just in time for the holidays.

It all started a couple weeks ago when I rearranged Kate’s bureau. Now she can reach everything herself when she gets dressed. But the unexpected outcome of the change is that Paige can get at it all now too. And she does so with vigor.

Paige rifles through Kate’s once perfectly-folded clothing daily. She reaches into drawers she’s too short to look in like Helen Keller ravaging the refrigerator for a midnight snack. She wanders out of Kate’s room dragging a pair of PJ bottoms behind her, or maybe a flowered skirt. But generally it’s intimate apparel Paige parades around with most. She puts Kate’s undies on teddy bears, stretches them over the back of kiddie chairs, and attempts (usually unsuccessfully) to pull them on over her shoes and pants.

Apparently Paige’s desire to stage pantie raids is insatiable.

Add to that, as if we’ve been scattering months-old pizza boxes and empty beer cans around the place, we’ve become besieged by ants. Hoards of them convening under the kitchen sink, swarming over a morsel of child-strewn scrambled egg, or confusingly, making their presence boldly known in the pristine, seemingly un-delicious knife drawer.

I’m a true blue ‘more is merrier’ kinda gal. But these guests are utterly unwelcome. I’ve been told they’re Argentinian ants, but frankly knowing their fabulous nation of origin does nothing to escalate their social merit in my mind.

Dare I proclaim victory prematurely, I hesitate to say that it appears we’ve successfully driven the ants away. I mean, thanks in part to the professional stylings of an exterminator. On his visit to the house, I peered beyond him out the front door to get a look at his ride. In a deep what-will-the-neighbors-say fret, I inquired as I swiftly wrenched him by the arm into the house, “What are you driving out there?” [Insert nervous laughter.] I mean, in the same way that porn is mailed in plain brown wrapping (or so I understand), it seems like exterminators should drive discreet unmarked vehicles.

“No luck there,” the guy said, motioning to the van parked behind my car. It had huge cartoon-like images of  brightly-colored roaches and rats splayed across its sides. Enough to make me want to proclaim to passers-by that all we were dealing with was a simple rainy-season ant infestation.

Alas, I swallowed my public shame so the legions small vile beasts would blessedly, finally be gone. (Which isn’t to say that any guest who pops by and stirs a spoonful of sugar into their tea isn’t being hawkishly watched by Mark and me, lest a stray grain of ant-attracting sugar fall to the floor.)

With the ants in exile, the things moving around the house most these days are our Christmas tree ornaments. Whenever Kate and Paige are out of sight for a moment they’re inevitably found pawing at the tree like cats at a scratching post. They regularly denude the thing of the ornaments in their reach. Kate sometimes even drags a chair over to get at the fragile or beloved ones I intentionally hung up high. Then, somehow without us ever witnessing it in action, they ferry the ornaments into the kitchen.

At any given moment an assortment of red balls, hand-sewn Santas, or Germanic wooden nutcrackers line our kitchen counter tops. They teeter just on the edges, the spots where small arms can just barely reach to stow them.

I’m not sure why the girls seem to find that there’s something wrong with these items being on the tree versus wedged alongside our toaster. Someday perhaps I’ll understand. Years from now counter-top Christmas decorating may be all the rage, and I’ll chuckle to myself as I tuck stray wisps of gray hair back into my bun and adjust the tennis balls on my walker that, “There was a time when you girls seemed to just know that this was the direction that holiday home decor was moving in. And to think that your father and I thought you were just plain crazy!”

But where was I? I’ve ventured into the future like some Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and here I was trying to tell you that with the ants and the pantie raids we’ve gone all collegiate Greek hereabouts.

And part of the whole toga party feel involves Miss Paige, whose vocabulary has been sprouting new words lately like tiny mushrooms popping up after the rain. Just Monday she learned to say “No.” Yes, on Sunday she was a sweet innocent thing, unable to utter that most negative of terms. Then, SNAP! On Monday her little mouth started forming a word that sounded very much like—Wait, was it?—Yes, Mark and I agreed that what she’d just said in a truly darling testing-it-out kinda way was, “No.”

So now our frat house also features Paigey Wigs, still growing used to her walking legs and staggering around while muttering “No no no” under her breath. It’s like she’s some boozed-up co-ed whose been freshly indoctrinated in the “No Means No”mantra of collegiate dating.

It’s only a matter of time until Paige’s Nos grow up to be definitive modes of warding off the unwanted. In the meantime when I hear them I can’t help but cup my hand under her pudgy chin and whisper an adoring Minnesotan-sounding “Nooo nooo nooo!” back at her. I will love them until they turn on me.

Really, lots of things happen in frat houses, some shameful, some raucous, some even innocent and fun. But beyond all the abandoned pizza boxes, discarded brassieres, and creatures scuttling along the floor, to those who live there the place still is home.

So from our house—such as it is these days—to yours, I send you joyous season’s greetings. May you be enjoying the mayhem as much as we all are here.

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The Walking and the Dead

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, California, City Livin', Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Milestones, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Walking | 8 Comments »

It was killing me that I forgot my camera. At first at least.

I was in San Francisco at night, kid- and husband-less, roaming around the Day of the Dead celebration with my sister and her friends. And man, was there amazing eye candy. Incredible fodder for photos.

Tons of folks had their faces painted white, with black-hallowed-out looking eyes and other skeleton-like features. That might not sound so terribly spooky, especially on the heels of Halloween two nights before, but trust me, milling around the Mission at night with hundreds, maybe thousands of people who look like that and are carrying orange marigolds and lit candles and photos of their loves ones who have died—it creates a certain ambiance.

There were lots of full-bore costumes too. Men in elaborate Victorian high-necked dresses, long full skirts, wigs with curls piled high. I mean, men in San Francisco use a bi-annual teeth-cleaning as an excuse to wear a dress. Troupes of roving drummers and dancers festooned in jingly gold wrist and ankle bracelets swept past. One woman in white face was carried on a platform Cleopatra-like by four attendants. Even dogs, toddlers, and babes in arms had face paint or photos pinned to them.

Ostensibly there was a parade, but the streets and sidewalks were so flooded with people, everyone walking or dancing and moving forward en masse, it was impossible to tell parade participants from on-lookers.

In the midst of it all I thought, “Why would I ever want to live anywhere but the Bay Area?” And, “I’m definitely coming back here next year—every year.” Also, “I wonder when Kate and Paige will be old enough to see this without freaking out?” And, “Why oh why did I forget my effing camera?”

At one point my sister’s housemate, who I’d bemoaned my cameralessness to, handed me hers. “Snap away!” she trilled. But the thing felt heavy and awkward in my hands. I tried to focus on someone, but they swept by before I could ever orient myself.

I handed it back to her. “Ah thanks,” I said. “But I’m actually fine.” After all my lamenting I realized I didn’t want to be taking pictures at all. I just wanted to be drinking it all in directly.

It’s been over a week now—ten days to be precise—since we experienced a momentous, long-awaited event here Chez McClusky. Paigey has finally, blessedly, started walking.

It happened on a Friday at a divey Mexican restaurant. The girls and I met some of my Mama’s Posse friends for a last-minute lunch. Our kids were crawling everywhere, spreading rice and beans on the carpet like confetti, and watching Yo Gabba Gabba on Sacha’s iPhone as a last-ditch effort to maintain decorum before we all fled home for nap-time. Mary had dashed out suddenly a few minutes before, when she’d realized her parking meter had expired.

And from that utter mayhem—or maybe in an attempt to free herself from it—Paige quietly stood up, set a course forward, and jerkily placed one foot in front of the other toward the restaurant’s front door. Sacha and I watched stunned, and I commented to the booth of lunching lesbians next to us just how long I’d been waiting for this day.

“Oh I know about late walkers,” one gal at the the booth’s edge said. “I have twins. One walked at 12 months, and the other waited ’til 16.”

“Really?” I said. “Well Paige here, she’s twenty-one months old.”

At a slight incline in the floor, Paige wavered, fell backwards, then pushed herself up and resumed her herky-jerky strut. I was standing frozen in joy and disbelief when the dykes next to me all started clapping and hooting. Paige looked back at them grinning, fell on her butt again, then got up and headed for threshold and the open door.

I was so touched by the enthusiasm of those strangers, I realized later I should’ve done something impulsive and celebratory like picked up their bill. But in the moment I only managed to snap out of my rooted watching mode with enough time to grab Paige before she hit the sidewalk solo.

It’s weird waiting for something for so long and then having it suddenly there. I thought I’d want to shout from the rooftops that my girl was walking. In fact, I came home that day and attempted to write a splashy celebratory blog post. But my heart wasn’t in it. Not that I wasn’t happy, mind you. But it turned out to be a quieter sort of contentment, not a giddy yelling-out-the-sunroof kinda glee.

I feel that weird but distinct brand of Mama guilt that it’s taken so long for me to share the news. But I’ve been spending the time well at least—slowly following Paige as she waddles down the sidewalk, or taking half-steps alongside her as she proudly walks though Kate’s schoolyard to pick her up.

I’m always on the go, always happily hurrying from one place to the next, but I can’t imagine a better reason for slowing down these past several days than to walk through the world at Paige’s wonderful new pace.


Festival of Four-ness

Posted: September 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Manners, Miss Kate, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 2 Comments »

I’m not going to lie. I spent a lot of time crying by the clothesline at the birthday parties of my youth.

Well, not A LOT of time, and not at other people’s parties. Just some intermittent spells at my own parties, when things were happening like other kids were winning the games, or someone else got the big pink frosting rose (even though I’d already been given the bigger pinker one).

I mean, I was THE BIRTHDAY GIRL. Did that not count for anything? In my childhood concept of that term all would bow down before me, I’d miraculously (blindly) reunite the donkey with it’s tail, and Lynn Froncillo wouldn’t show up in a dress that was prettier than mine.

I remember my mother or dad coming over to pry me away from my clothesline-clinging Zone of Despair, but in that way that you have a memory that’s a photo, not a video. I can picture them with me, but hell if I remember what they said to get me to pull it together enough to re-enter the party mix.

So Friday night, the eve of Kate’s big birthday throw-down, I went into her room as Mark was about to read her bedtime stories. Channeling my best inner June Cleaver, I smoothed my skirt, propped myself at the edge of her bed, and serenely said, “I’d like to talk to you a bit about your party tomorrow, Kate.”

I went on to say that sometimes parties can be disappointing. Sometimes your friends don’t do what you wanted them to, or don’t come when they said they would, or don’t sit at the place with the pink paper plate even though they’re a girl and shouldn’t be sitting at the place with the green paper plate. I said that sometimes you get presents you don’t like, or want, or already have, but you still have to be polite and say thank you.

And just when I felt I was getting warmed up and was awash in my own brilliant sage mothering I see Mark dragging his finger across his neck, eyes popping.

Turns out I’d beaten away at my points somewhat excessively, leaving them in tatters like some ravaged, child-attacked pinata.

Well, either all my blather worked, or I never even needed to go there. The party was a blast. No tantrums, no tears, no jumpy house injuries, and no four-year-olds in the liquor cabinet. Kate and the guests appeared to actually–gasp!–have fun! What’s weirder is, Mark and I did too.

The worst behavior the birthday girl displayed was a repeated refusal to open the present her cousin so sweetly followed her around with, holding out to her. Well, that and her lack of interest in digging into gift bags after skimming off the first item. (Note to self: Develop bedtime tutorial on deep-diving into gift bags, with follow-up lecture on expressing appreciation for even the bottom-most layer of presentry.)

The gaybors brought Kate a gift they’d been billing for days as “the gayest gift EVER.” When she opened the stuffed Yorkie in it’s pink-and-purple leopardskin and gold patent leather carrying tote (replete with collar, leash, and hair accessories) she squealed and ran into the house to stow it safely away from potentially-thieving guests.

Speaking of gay men, the best gift we got this weekend is that Paigey started cruising! No, no, not trolling around public parks for action… She’s walking by holding onto the couch and the coffee table! She’s making her way across the house by leaning against the toy shopping cart!

Our little lax-muscled toddler is finally gaining the fortitude of body and spirit she needs to get ambulatory. If she continues to progress at this pace, I’m hopeful we’ll be hosting another party quite soon, the promised She’s Finally Frickin’ Walking! champagne-drenched Paigey-fest.

Anyway, back to Kate’s festival of four-ness. Once all the kids were dragged home for naps and low-blood-sugar transfusions, some of the neighbs stuck around under the pink mesh tea party tent. It was lovely. We indulged in more daytime beer drinking, cupcake eating, and general catching up. There was even an engagement story to savor.

I’m so grateful the party was a hit, and that unlike her dramatic mother, Kate didn’t let the less-than-perfect moments prevent her from enjoying the day. But I can’t help but wonder if it all went off like it did because we don’t even have a clothesline.


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.


Brown is the New Green

Posted: July 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 2 Comments »

My brown thumb is on display right now. Out in the open for all to see.

You see, I’ve got these tomato plants. And, I mean, I think the Presidential Victory Garden is charming and all. And I do my best to feign interest when my fervid gardener friends ramble on with glassy-eyed glee about their purple beans and pygmy harlequin kale. Good for them for getting into it. (And good for me when they share their spoils.)

But me personally? I’m not swept up in the whole ‘grow your own’ movement.

But my tomato plants came to me special—raised from seeds from my friend Jack, whose wife packed me off with them after a visit their house. It seemed silly to pass up the offer. Coming up with a reason to not take the plants would take energy. And I’ve always maintained a healthy level of apathy with all things garden-related.

I want to be clear and say right now they aren’t dead yet. But damn they are thirsty!

I mean, I put them on the wall along our front steps—right out there in plain view—with the express intention of seeing them as I pass by several times a day, and prompting my mind to ignite the thought I SHOULD WATER THEM.

So far though, it’s not worked.

In fact, like kindly folks who feed waifish wild cats, our gaybors occasionally water them for me. Sweet men just can’t bear to watch the things die.

But knowing others have had to pick up my slack hasn’t even helped. In fact, I’ve come to learn (and accept) that I contain a finite amount of nurturing. Some people might have a bottomless-coffee-cup supply of caregiving. But mine, well, it eventually just runs dry.

I’m keeping two human children alive, people! So sorry that I can’t also tend the tomaties.

Like the front-stoop plants, I’ve positioned Kate and Paige conspicuously inside the house so when I wake up I’m bound to notice them. After padding around scratching and stretching for a while, and making myself a big mug of tea, I eventually look down at them, see the word MILK I’ve written across their foreheads in black Sharpie and think, “Wait a minute here… They might want something to drink too!”

Getting them milk makes me think they may also want food, and before you know it I’ve even thought to dress them and point to where the toys are.

So far this system’s worked for me.

But really, I’m prouder of those two girls than I ever would be about growing even four tomatoes. They dazzle me daily, in an amount equal to if not more than they exhaust me. If I’m ever in some family-packed setting where another parent asks me “which ones are mine” I’m only too happy to pull out my laser pointer to proudly identify them. I spend whole days marveling in disbelief that they’re mine.

But on the flight back from New York, and the other day at our library, people’ve seen Paigey scooting on her bottom—still not walking, and doing her asymmetric upright hopalong-like crawling thing—and have looked up at me and asked, “How old is she?”

And it crushes me.

I’ve found I ALWAYS WANT TO LIE. I’m not proud of that, but I’d almost prefer they think of her as an overgrown 7-month-old with timely developmental milestones, than an 18-month toddler who, when they learn her age, I’m certain will look at her with pity. Will think, “That poor cute curly-haired girl has something wrong with her.”

It may be egocentric or petty or neurotic (or “D, all of the above”) for me to assume these random strangers are spending any time thinking about or judging my kid. But I fear that they are, and that they do.

It doesn’t seem realistic for me to ask these people to come home for dinner with us so they can bask in the amazing loving dumpling radiancy that is Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop. For even just a half hour. Just 15 minutes! Her bionic loveableness has nearly brought folks to tears in a five-minute grocery store line. If those people experienced a drop of her charm, they’d be binding their own kids’ legs to get ‘em to scoot just like her. It’d be the Parenting cover story!

If they just knew her they’d see that all that sweet loving juju she’s sending out is just short-circuiting her walking skills temporarily. She’ll be up and about soon enough. Then she’ll be wielding her pure love power on the move. And look out people, because IT WILL BE BIG.

I’ve no doubt there’s a remote mountaintop of hopped up Tibetans looking at a photo of Paige this very minute and Google-mapping their way to Rockridge to dub her the next child lama. She’s just that amazing.

Which is why it confuses and saddens me oh so very very much when someone looks at her, raises a mental eyebrow, and assumes something’s wrong.

Something most certainly is wrong with my tomato plants. I’ve made no attempts to hide that from peering neighbors and passersby. But see and think what you will, I’m 100% confident and here to tell you that my Miss Paige is perfect.


Poppin’ Fresh

Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Daddio, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 1 Comment »

How can it be that yesterday, after the Baby Trio left, Mark and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, picked up Paigey Wiggle, and had a group hug like some back-stage reality show contestants. But today I’m stressed out and sad all over again.

Damn it. Why can’t I just stay in the happy, relieved place?

First off, the three professionals who came here could not have been any nicer. I set a tray with a pitcher of ice water and glasses in front of them, and the physical therapist reacted with such gratitude and appreciation you’d think I served watercress sandwiches fit for a queen.

And you people were so worried!

And Miss Paige. Was. A. Dream. I mean, there’s always that chance that your otherwise good-natured child will act uncharacteristically satanic. Usually during dinners at the homes of childless people. Or, I feared, when she is being OBSERVED.

And nothing feels worse than finding yourself saying, “She never does this. I’ve never seen her act this way!” While laughing nervously. And muttering apologies. And dragging your kid and bags into the car before dessert’s served.

But here’s the thing. Paige had taken a solid three-hour nap that’d make even Marc Weissbluth thump her on the back with praise. She woke up pink-cheeked and chipper. And preceded to perform acts of staggering cuteness—peering up over the coffee table to play peek-a-boo with the case manager. Putting a blankie over her doll and kissing it good night to the delight of the physical therapist. Even, eventually, getting the puzzle pieces in the right places for the child dev expert, and causing Mark and I to beam proudly at each other, and discreetly text MIT we have a live one for them.

She giggled. She clapped. She preformed her butt-scooting crawl just when the PT needed to see it. And she ran through her full course of baby “tricks” all on cue, even though Mark and I realized shamefully that in prompting her do them we were angling for extra credit points.

Be that as it may, our audience took the bait. Paige was a crowd-pleaser. She was Paige. At her best.

At less than an hour in, the PT proclaimed she had a verdict. So to speak.

“It’s not her hip or knee,” she’d said earlier on. “I want to see a few more things, but I suspect it’s something more global.”

My mind made that ahhh-ROOO? noise Scooby does when he’s surprised or confused. But before I could panic, she kindly added, “But nothing-to-worry-about global. By global, I don’t mean huge.”

And breathe!

What it appears Paigey’s wrangling with is a mild case of Benign Congenital Hypotonia. Which in non-doc talk is called Low Tone, and refers to her muscle tone. She’s not walking yet because, as the PT put it, her muscles aren’t strong enough. “Just by feeling her legs I can tell. They’re soft and doughy. More than they should be for a child her age.”

This explains why I’ve always thought of Paige as a dumpling. She really is doughy. And delicious. And sweet enough to eat.

Now a professional’s even said it.

“She will walk. She will run,” the nice lady assured us. “But she’ll always have this. So, I tell parents to lower their expectations. She’ll be able to participate in sports, but she could tire out faster. She probably won’t be a star athlete.”

Thankfully, work with a physical therapist—one hour a week, to be exact—will get her strong enough to walk.

No surgery? No leg braces? And after the ensuing hour-long assessment by the child development gal, no concerns about her smarts, cognitive milestones, social prowess, yadda yadda yadda. This tone thing can be a symptom of some more serious conditions, but, blessedly, Paigey’s is not. Hence the “benign.”

Bonus factoid: If she never crawls, no biggie. Turns out there’s no scientific link to that and learning issues, or anything else wrong or ugly. Yippee!

We were relieved. We were hopeful. We were proud of Paige’s angelic behavior through two hours of testing. We were utterly exhausted.

But today, after a good night’s sleep and a hectic morning including a dance recital, a potluck at the park, and Kate and my tandem meltdowns, well, today different thoughts are whirling through my head.

For one, I recalled that at one point yesterday, one of the therapists referred to Paige as a toddler. A term I’ve never used for her because, well, she doesn’t toddle. I mean, if that alone doesn’t underscore that she’s not doing what she’d supposed to right now—what all the other kids her age are—what does?

During Kate’s dance performance, Paige nearly jumped out of my lap desperate to take part in the Big Girl action. After the show, a grandparent walked past me and remarked, “Looks like it’s time to enroll her in a class.” I could barely muster a courteous smile, as I kissed Paigey’s head and wondered how long it’ll be before she busts a move of her own.

At the picnic, when I relayed the findings to the dance class moms—friendly folks who I don’t know very well—they reacted in a way I hated. Am I just tired and emotionally thrashed, or did they suddenly look at Paige, as she sat a blanket gnawing the rind of a watermelon wedge, with some sorta tragic pity? Like she was all different or something.

One thing the PT lady had said was, once Paigey is up and walking, she might always be less coordinated than some kids, but no one’d ever know that she has this Low Tone thing. She said, Mark and I will only notice it because we know.

Packing up from the picnic, Kate pantie-less after unsuccessfully peeing in the grass and screaming that she didn’t want to leave, I thought of my mother. By now, the impulse to call her has sadly left me altogether. Instead of wanting to talk to her—which now that I think of it is what I want more than anything—I was thinking about how closely she guarded her cancer secret. Even when she weighed 90 pounds and wore a wig that made her look like Nancy Reagan, she’d go to the grocery store and tell me she’d bumped into some old friend and chatted with her but “didn’t tell her.”

We never had the heart to tell Mom that the old friend knew, by just looking at her.

What I know she was avoiding, prideful gal that she was, was people’s sympathy. Their pity. Them treating her differently. And even though I wanted her to be open and honest with her friends about what she was going through—and to attend one of the support groups we littered her house with flyers for—I got that. Even then.

Of course, Paigey’s pudgy muscles hardly warrant the same caliber of pity production. Thank God. And since our Dream Paige Team assured us that after some therapy, no one’ll be the wiser to her tone thing, I think I may take a cue from my mom and not broadcast this to people down the road.

Instead, today at least, I’m going to focus on getting back to that positive place we were at yesterday as we sunk into our group hug. I’m going to keep my eyes on the prize that this little dumpling will walk one day. And you are cordially invited to the blow-out party we’re throwing soon thereafter. (I’ve no doubt my Dad’ll spring for some good champagne.)

Seems these sweet legs were made for walkin’ after all.


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Separated at Birth?

Posted: June 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Walking | 1 Comment »

I know my dad adores his grandchildren, but this is getting kinda weird.

When Paige was a baby—unlike her peaches and cream complected sister—she was plagued with all manner of lizard-like dermal issues. She had a savage case of eczema—or at least what seemed an inhumane amount to us. Not to mention baby acne that’d make you turn your head and blush. And she had some hardcore cradle cap that defied all homespun, holistic, and fancy-brand cosmetic cures.

For her first several months of life I endured an inner battle, compelled to take copious pictures of my sweet new baby, then I’d focus on her smiley scaliness through the camera lens, and want to just sit down and cry.

At the time I was dragging Paige from doctor to skin specialist to tell-me-how-much-longer psychic, my father was navigating the same circuit for himself, on the East Coast. It seemed that right about when Paige was stricken, Dad also got himself a case of the itchies.

And so, caring phone calls to inquire about Paige’s progress inevitably involved Dad recounting the misery of his own sudden eczema onslaught. “The itching! As a grown man I can barely take it,” he’d lament. “Oh that poor baby. Give her some extra big hugs from Gramp.”

We’d talk about what Dad’s doctors prescribed, comparing it to Paige’s piles of ungents and salves. What soap and laundry detergent he’d changed over to. If the heat really did make it worse or not.

If only Paige was talking, the two of them could’ve formed a real nice support group. Though I don’t know that I’d be too keen on the satin Back Scratcher Bad Asses jackets they might’ve made. (Or maybe they’d just wear t-shirts from The Itchy and Scratchy Show?)I mean, there’s a limit to the extent you want to broadcast some of these ailments, no matter how desperately you desire sympathy.

Yesterday, on a drive somewhere or other, I decided to gear Kate up for the fact that Grandpa was going to be in the hospital for part of our summer pilgrimage to Rhode Island. I explained, in my clearest 3-year-old concepts, that Grandpa’s hip was worn out, and the the doctors would be opening him up, taking it out, and giving him a new one made of metal—what her bike is made out of.

“Do you think,” she asked with knitted brows, “he maybe has a cat in there?”

My father promised to bring up this possibility with his doctors.

This morning, as I was on the phone talking my way into an orthopedic appointment for Paige that’d hopefully precede her prom—explaining how with the not-walking-yet thing she needs her hip x-rayed ASAP—it hit me. I mean, now the two of them with the hip issues? This is getting kind of ridiculous.

When Paige starts having to take Lipitor to keep her cholesterol in check, I might just have to do some finger pointing. Then again, it could be my dad who finds himself fighting off ear infections, swollen aching gums—or worse—a nasty bout of diaper rash.

The thing is, I’m not sure which of them is experiencing sympathetic symptoms on behalf of the other. I mean, at age 80, I’d assume that Dad was the chicken, and wee Paigey’s the egg. But it’s just not that clear who’s starting it; who of the two of them is spearheading these afflictions around which they’ve apparently sworn solidarity.

I’m hopeful that once they sort out these hip problems, the two of them’ll find other things they have in common to bond over. The first of which—if I could put in a request—I’d like to be a long spate of excellent health.

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A Mighty Worrier

Posted: June 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, Misc Neuroses, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 7 Comments »

Worrying is like paying interest on money you may never borrow.

I’m pretty sure that quote’s from Stuart Smalley, the daily affirmation spewing self help guru Al Franken used to play on SNL. And it’s brilliant. I mean, I don’t even know who any modern day philosophers are. Which is just as well, really. I’m content having Smalley as my Nietzsche.

Though truth be told, I still am worried.

Worried about little Miss Paigey. Sweet, precious dumpling of all dumplings, who, despite being 16 months old now, has apparently sworn off ever learning to walk. Something I wouldn’t have necessarily been too concerned about, if it weren’t for her doctor not liking it. And determining that we need to have her ASSESSED.

The thing is, I used to spend a fantastic amount of time worrying. My father is a world-class worrier, so I’ve learned from one of the greats. But strangely, as a mother, I’m really not at all neurotic.

It’s kind of like how you can develop allergies at a late age, or have your hair go straight after a pregnancy or something. I mean, I birthed these babies—beings I adore and cherish with a maniacal fervor—who you’d think’d be the perfect subjects for excessive irrational fears and fretfulness. Yet somehow, I’ve always just felt in my no-longer-as-taught-as-it-once-was gut, that they’re alright. That whatever little thing came up, would turn out okay.

But as some weird consolation prize for being so even-keeled, I get this walking thing. It’s like there’s some maternal anxiety load-balancing taking place. Like some Greater Being decided that some woman who’s out there devouring her stomach with stress that her four-year-old might not get into Princeton some day, that she got some sort of temporary respite from it all, and me, who’s been sailing along just fine, thanks, was given a Gross Motor Skills Delayed child to up my blood pressure.

And so, taking the bait, I go to that inevitable Mama place, wondering, “What did I do to make this happen? How’s this clearly my fault?” And, sure, I’ve expended a lot of energy infantalizing Paigey. Wanting her to stay my wee baby forevermore, and not grow up and go off to the mall or the reservoir or whatever teenage haven is hip 15 years from now, and abandon her adoring Mama. Yes I’ve thought those stay-a-sweet-immobile-baby thoughts. But I’ve never bound her legs to prevent her from crawling or anything. I mean, it’s not like I’ve knocked her down when she’s tried to pull herself up on the coffee table.

Because, sadly, she’s never really tried to pull herself up. And she’s not even crawling “right” either. She sort of scoots along on her bottom from a seated position. Uses her legs against the floor in a windshield wiper sweep to pull herself forward. And sure, when she gets up to full throttle, the girl can moooove.

But it’s just off. Way off.

Now, ask anyone whose child is 15 or so, and they’ll hurry to tell you how their kid didn’t walk until they were, like, five. That they never crawled or scooted or anything and then one day just sprang up and started walking. How the only word their kid could say until age 12 was “baa-baa.” And how today they’re enrolled at MIT and are champion breast-strokers. (Swimmers that is…)

And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE hearing about other kids who were worse off than Paigey. I mean, no parent’s rambling tale about their child is more interesting then when it’s being told just to make you feel like your kid’s superior to theirs.

Bring it on, people! The phone lines are open.

Alas, the pit of my stomach has been telling me Paige’ll be okay. We’ve already got her a great—get this—pediatric chiropractor. (I know, I know, I’ve been living in California too long.) And next week she’s getting some thorough long-awaited assessment by some state-sponsored place that’ll eventually hook us up with physical therapy for FREE. Plus, I got a lead on a nice local pediatric orthopedic guy. And when I say “nice” it’s to say he’s married to the friend of a friend, and is known to be, well, friendly. Unclear still whether or not he’s actually good at his job.

So we’re doing all these things. And even though she’s squawking during the chiro sessions, bawling and looking at me beseechingly as if to say, “Wouldn’t rummaging through my play kitchen be a much more fun use of this time?” Even though she’s not liking having her legs prodded and massaged and moved, at least I know that it’s for the best. And that in a matter of minutes she’ll be dry-cheeked and peering through her fingers, flirting with someone in the waiting room as I pay up and schedule another visit next week.

Today though, for some reason, all the things I was told we need to do—stretch her this way, encourage crawling that way, decrease her time in the Ergo carrier (my preferred mode of baby haulin’)—all the directives today seemed daunting. Seemed to reinforce in my mind that there is something wrong. That it won’t get better overnight. And that it’ll take more therapy sessions where Paige cries from discomfort or frustration, and Kate tests the patience of the once-friendly receptionist, and I realize that despite how many snacks I packed, it still wasn’t enough.

Apparently this is some parental rite of passage I must endure, so 15 years from now I can prattle on to someone else—some fretful parent of a late walker, or slow talker, or bad sleeper—letting them know that we went through it too (and far worse than them), and that eventually everything turned out just fine.