Saturday, July 30, 2005


It’s time to get away for an hour or two. This mission always turns out to be so much more difficult than it should be, and somehow days have gone by since your last self-preservation rendezvous. But you make the break. You jet away from home and make it to the pharmacy seconds before they close. You buy more teething tablets. The clerk has to unlock the door again to let you out. "I suppose you want to go home," he jokes as he twists the key in the lock. You suppose you want to go anywhere but home. The breeze hits you in the face as he gives the door a push. You are OUT. You are ALONE. What should you DO NOW?

You walk.

Everywhere there are babies. Everyone has a baby. EVERYONE.

You walk faster.

You notice the Mexican restaurant, its fresh coat of terracota paint shoulder to shoulder with the Bible bookstore on one side and the British pub on the other. There is music coming from the pub patio. Badly done Tom Petty covers on synthesizer. Tonight, it sounds so beautiful.

You walk slower.

You think back to the times you used to spend in that bar, complaining about how slow the wait staff is. But today, if you went in to sip a bitter Pilsner, or lick the lemon from the rim of your wheat beer, they could take all the time they wanted, and you would sit, the backs of the booth towering. You think about the dare you took once, there on the bar patio, everyone around the fire pit leaning in to hear each other, how you downed the shot, how it stung a little in your throat, your head, how you laughed, and your friends went up to the bar to order because the wait staff…how you talked that day, each one twirling a sweaty glass, about what you all might be doing in ten years, how "becoming a mother" wasn’t on the list for you, never came into your mind, and the drunks with military haircuts were beginning to sway with their arms around each other’s shoulders and sing along with the music: And I’m freeeeeeeeeee, freeeee falling.

Perhaps one of the last toothless grins - it's official - a tooth has broken through!

Mr Isaac studying up on the shuttle launch, though his mommy would prefer he not aspire to space travel.

someday sleep will find me again, embrace me like a lover, wrap me up tight in its massive, velvet cloak and spin me, slowly, through tiny, twinkling galaxies. sleep will come for me, lift me off on breezes perfumed in jasmine and rosemilk. sleep will guard me, its concubine, from all distractions, shower me in sweet, murderous kisses, call me its favorite. there will be a day, some day, when sleep will claim me again, sit by my bedside for hours, offering only the calm space of nothing. it will drop me down, heavy as water into the blackness of its well, where I will languish, happy, blind.

Monday, July 25, 2005

the trouble with postal carriers

They know too much.

Never mind that when Isaac was somewhere around eight weeks old, it was a mailman that witnessed him rolling away in his stroller as I fumbled with readying the car seat. Okay, so now I know – strollers have little break levers for a reason.

These days, our regular mail carrier is really good. I have apparently never had a really good mail carrier before because it is only now that I understand the compulsion to bake holiday cookies for the person that brings me my phone bill. This one is really good. My neighbor and I share a box; and he separates our mail. Hers goes on the left; ours goes on the right. It sounds like a simple thing, but in a world where I must look both ways before crossing a one-way street and beg the store clerk not to double bag my half-carton of eggs, it is like a glorious breath of competency. No more juggling Isaac in one arm while I attempt to sort her old-people organization newsletters from Mike’s computer-geek weekly. When we receive a package, the mailman brings it and the rest of our mail to my door. "Another baby present," he’ll usually chime pleasantly. And usually, it is just that.

However, he knows too much. I’ve greeted him at the door in various states of bathrobe and morning hair. I’ve answered the door with baby crying, cats leaping from desks to bookshelves, tossing the dirty diaper out of view and swinging open my world of chaos, bits of Pandora’s box seeping into the unsuspecting neighborhood. Afterwards, I always check the mirror, trying to imagine how my presence, my life might appear to this man, and what other slices of life he must encounter in a day’s work. I convince myself that the knot of hair askew on the top of my head says "casual artist skipping the shower to conserve water" rather than "new mom dowsed in an eau d'sour milk."

Last time he came by, I was actually properly dressed and so was the baby. Small miracle. We were, however, dancing around the house to the "Pure Funk" CD, and "Super Freak" was on. Look, Mike put it in the CD player – I was just trying to make it to nap time any way I could. Out of breath, stereo shrieking to my five-month-old about "very kinky girls," I hear the knock. "You’re so kind. Thank you." I try for a demure tone as the choir over my shoulder belies me. (She likes the boys in the band. She says that I’m her all time favorite…) Perhaps I’ll order those Baby Einstein videos with their classical music soundtracks and have them delivered express mail. Maybe I can redeem myself in the eyes of the only man besides my husband who knows Victoria’s Secret insists on sending me TWO of every clearance sale catalogue they print.

I wonder if my mailman has a blog?

can't get anything right

Well, hell. I just reread the "one year" entry and it actually sounds uplifting. It was supposed to be depressing, I think. Damn if I can get anything right these days.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

one year

I’m normally not the kind of person who pays close attention to dates. For example, if my husband hadn’t taken note of the date we met, I’d be content to discuss it as "sometime in August." (In a bow to my more ignoble memory stores, however, I do remember what I was wearing…)

I remember the date I found out I was pregnant. One year and eleven days ago. My journal from that time is conspicuously missing any mention of this momentous event. Days and weeks afterwards, there is nothing. Then a list of names. Then nothing again. Eventually, (a month and a half later) I read Operating Instructions, pried one white-knuckled hand from the ledge and started this blog. In truth, I’m not much of a blogger. I’ll confess here that I don’t even know what a "permalink" is. I’ve furthermore never made an attempt to find out.

I wrote so as not to go back to the ledge. I framed things in ways that let me rethink them, relive them, feel like I could possibly, just for the space of my thoughts on a page, be in control of the situation. And on the bad days, I wrote mad, stream of consciousness rants full of soul-searching and self pity.

Somehow, at the anniversary of the discovery that my son had latched onto a wall of my uterus – tiny, determined cells making me vomit such volatile substances as plain rice and go to bed with saltines tucked under my arm – issues I tried to deal with then have reopened. For all my writing, I didn’t finish with it in nine months. I’m not supposed to say these things. I’ve crossed over to the other side. The outside world has limits with ambivalent emotions such as mine. Like with grief, after a pre-determined but undisclosed amount of time, you should stop talking about it. With pregnancy, the limit is set somewhere around the time when they hand you your baby, wet and wrinkled, to route in your armpit for lunch.

I feel compelled to begin anything I say or write with the blanket disclaimer of "I love my baby." And really, I like him too. This kid is cool. Have you met him? He’s groovy. He talks to the cats more than I do. He’s just delicious to hug. He smiles when he sees me – me! I’m his mom. I’m Isaac’s mom. He will save the world. It’s a clear path – Sit up. Eat solid food. Save world. He hasn’t mastered anything on the list yet, but they are all inevitables.

Now on the bad days I don’t have time to write my stream of consciousness rants. And if I did, would I know how? Here on this side, it’s hard. It's terrifying for all the reasons I imagined it would be and some others that have only recently occurred to me. At this stage, I often hate my days, my wardrobe, my husband, my reflection in the mirror, fellow moms, my ability to find the negative in anything put in front of me, my need for sleep. Meanwhile, my son squeals with delight at the world around him and I twist myself into knots to show him its beauty, to hide from him his mother’s doubts, her white knuckles. This community I’m always prattling on about, this fucked up society – the healing starts here. If I can just do this for him. If I can just love him. If I can teach him he is loveable, maybe he can teach me the same.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Grandmas Tour: Summer 2005

A child can change things.

I had never before heard my mother-in-law sing "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?"

We have just returned from visiting family.

While Isaac is partial to "Itsy Bitsy Spider," my mother-in-law’s serenade was different enough from past experiences I’ve had on visits to my in-laws as to make me think that children can send all the known rules of conduct to the corner for a time out like no one and nothing else can.

We had two families to visit in two different states and seven days to do it in. We spent the first three and a half days with Mike’s folks in Massachusetts. That’s where the Doggie in the Window incident occurred, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The drive to San Francisco goes relatively smoothly. I sit in the back and entertain Isaac. We’ve chosen a night flight and it works. Isaac sleeps and eats and no one knows there’s a baby in row 28. Then we land at our layover. Charlotte, North Carolina: three and a half hours I will never have back. Exactly how many Cinnabuns can you fit between an arrival gate and a departure gate? Apparently A LOT. We avoid them all and sit to wait it out. Two airline employees are talking loudly and excitedly to each other about the free Lover Boy concert to happen in town that evening. Mike, also overhearing this conversation, bursts into jerky laughter, while I staunchly refuse to acknowledge what I’m hearing. A man’s cell phone blares out a Jimi Hendrix riff. It’s his wife calling from another part of the airport (played on speaker phone at top volume) to report back on ice cream sightings. He puts in a request for chocolate. It is 6 am Charlotte time. It is 3 am California time. I am writing notes in my "Worst Case Scenario Survival Journal" where they include advice on any number of emergency situations – falling elevators, piranha-infested waters – but nothing on airport terminals south of the Mason Dixon line. It says I can use the reflective surface of the journal itself to signal for help, but so far, nothing, and now the Lover Boy fans are exchanging racist jokes.

Mercifully, we eventually board a plane. Shortly after that, we land. Isaac could have done without the pressure change.

I’ll repeat the same mantra over and over again as we jet into summer like I forgot it could be. It is so hot here. I’ll field the same questions over and over again as we traverse a million people in airports and all other spaces connected to them. Four months. Isaac. Thank you. My internal and external dialogues mix until I’m continuously spewing a collage of short phrases, anagrams of meaningless sameness. It is. Four months. Thank you. so. Isaac. hot here. Four Isaac hot so here is thank you months. It is so hot Isaac thank you four months.

At my in-laws we settle in to sleep off the trip and gear up for the extended family get together, ostensibly for our benefit, that will include 17 adults and an uncounted number of children. Branches of the family will meet each other for the first time. I am not making this up.

Before and after the party, I watch the grandparents. I feel sorry for men sometimes. (Okay, often.) They are really just so confused as to their role. My mother in law plays with the baby. My father in law plays golf. My mother in law makes the baby laugh. My father in law makes himself a sandwich. My mother in law takes pictures of the baby. My father in law mows the lawn.

As the time approaches to leave, Grandma starts getting antsy. She offers to take the baby "off our hands." I pack, Mike packs, my father in law installs something onto his computer, and grandma dances Isaac around the house singing "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" For the rest of the trip, my mantra will include this ditty as its theme song. How much is that doggie… Isaac. It is so hot here. …for sale? … Four Months. Hot. How much is…

After the short plane ride to Philadelphia we are only a baggage claim conveyor, a rental car shuttle, and two more hours of road away from my family. No sweat.

Sometimes I manage to vary the mantra just slightly. Isaac. Four-and-a-half months. It is very hot here. His name is Isaac. Really? Yes. …in the window…Thank you.

I can always tell when we’re closing in on my old stomping ground. The signs are many: "Jersey Tomatoes!" the farm stands call out. "Blessed Mother 20% Off!" says one portable marquee surrounded by statuary. But that’s still a good CD-length away from "home." When we come to the chainsaw repair place and the taxidermist, then we’re talking homeward bound. And finally, when we meet the blinking yellow light at the blind curve… well, let’s just say it says home to me in that if-you-got-rid-of-the-car-on-blocks-you-could-fit-another-jetski-in-the-driveway sort of way.

It is so hot here. Why is it so hot here, doggie in the window? Isaac. Four months.

Here’s the short list of things I miss from the east coast:
1. fireflies
2. sarcasm
3. lightning storms
I never quite catch number three on my visits back. Number two is provided in abundance by my family. And number one flickers around the peeling bark of the plane tree in my mother’s front yard after the sun goes down.

I bet my family can take more pictures than your family. Bet me? C’mon, bet me. My family is relentless in their love. I think if we flipped the pictures fast we could recreate the entire visit moment for moment. Isaac is kissed and passed and kissed. He is famous.

Throughout his tour, Mr Isaac doesn’t nap well. You’d be afraid to close your eyes too if you never knew where you’d wake up next or who’d be pawing at you next. At one point late in the game after many a missed nap, Mike, baby and I find ourselves in my brother’s house alone. Isaac falls asleep in what could only be classified as a pass out. Toy in hand he just topples over on his side on the rug and stays there for three hours.

Before any of us realize, it is time again to take up the mantra. Four months. Doggie in the window… Thank you. Isaac. Four …for sale? It has been hard -very hard - to be here, and I balk at leaving. There have been many good things that happened here. Their significance is hard to perceive individually – little flashes like cameras, like fireflies – but if you take in the whole landscape they brighten and expand, show themselves for what they are.

On our last evening east, I fiddle with an email break while Mike takes our cranky baby away from his cranky mommy. Soon though, I am compelled to join them. Maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s habit, maybe it’s something nobler. I leave the sticky, muggy living room of my mother’s small, rented house for the sticky, muggy brown grass yard of same and watch as Mike points our son over and over again in the direction of the tiny, fleeting lights scattered through the dusk.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


On the eve of the 4th... Check out this song by David Rovics -- "Who Would Jesus Bomb?"

And here's a reprint of a commentary that I did last year for the radio station I contribute to:

It was 1997 and I was working in Washington, DC administering grants that brought graduate students from Central and Eastern Europe to study at US universities. The war in Yugoslavia had wound down not long ago and there was funding earmarked specifically for Bosnian students. We met the first small group of Bosnians in early July to acquaint them with the program and their new host culture.

We stopped off at a restaurant where they were overwhelmed by the menu. We navigated them around burgers and pastas, while the restaurant's owner made a fuss over his international guests.

A thirty-something dark-haired man named Adi charmed me from the start with his soft eyes and sweet manner. He told us about getting married to the love of his life during the fighting, and of the panic when they ran out of precious gas doing errands the morning of the wedding. They were sure Serbian mortar fire would catch up with the groomsmen and their car stalled in Sniper Alley. He talked proudly of his determined new wife who'd baked a wedding cake out of rice, as there was no sugar.

Soon it was the 4th of July. The owner of the restaurant where we'd eaten that first night had invited all of us to view the show from the rooftop there. The first few explosions of color and accompanying pops drew "oohs" from our group. Then more fireworks went off and the displays grew bolder, the sounds louder and more rapid.

Adi backed away from the roof's railing. He looked gaunt. "Too much like the bombs," he stuttered.

At the passing of each 4th of July, I remember this night when I realized what sounds like freedom to us, can mean for someone else, war.

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