Saturday, June 21, 2008

under the wing

We are in a heat wave here in Central California. Things are, as they say, hot as blazes. The first fire of the year early this month in the Santa Cruz mountains saw thousands of acres burned and homes lost. Then it was Bonny Doon, also in Santa Cruz County. As our plane made its descent on the way home from our trip last week, our pilot informed us we might see some smoke to the south – there was a fire in a part of the Ventana Wilderness called The Indians. Number three. At least three more areas ignited to various degrees all yesterday afternoon.

So, when driving home from the dump (well, fair reader, it IS Saturday after all and you KNOW my family's habits) we were a bit surprised to notice clouds in the sky. Not just any clouds – these were quite clearly rain clouds.

There we were driving along in hot sunny weather while in the distance on three sides of us, the sky was dark, illuminated every now and then with wicked jags of lightning. Thunderstorms are practically unheard of here. Don't have the right mix of stuff in our climate.

I would say there was an electricity in the air, but obviously, that's redundant. Still, I was awed by the dark cloud formations directly ahead of us which looked exactly like a giant eagle with its head turned to one side and its enormous wings spread wide over us. As we drove it stayed just above us in a feathery embrace, dark wings contrasted against white puff.

By the time we made it home (about 15 minutes), most of the bird had morphed into other things, but its right wing was still distinct and reaching out above our house and the line of neighbors to one side. The thunder and lightning got closer until beautiful rain began in oversized drops plunking like witless parachuters on the front walk. The winds convinced me to turn off the ceiling fan for a while. I shut down the computer and dragged our 18-gallon rain catching tub to its most auspicious location before Mike had a chance to tell me I was crazy.

I'm out of practice with these matters. Indeed, the rain ended as quickly as it had started. I sent the fans spinning again and got my head back in the game: summer in Central Calif. We're not likely to see water fall from the sky again until at least October. Forgive me, I guess I was in the mood for some magic.

What we're reading

updated side bar since it was way out of date. a bit of a rush job as little one wants mama to be ALL DONE. it's time for weekend play. see ya.

Cape Cod

I admit that before I went to Cape Cod, I had no geographical clue.

My knowledge extended only to the fact that I would be north of New York and south of Maine. I thought it was just “a” place, like somehow that little curly cue sticking out off the upper right side of our country was “Cape Cod” - the one place. As many of you more versed in New England and common knowledge than I am I'm sure know, it is in fact hundreds of miles – a whole peninsula leading up to the curly cue with lots of places along the way.

The names of these spots are what I would like to talk about first. You'd think since I was born on Long Island that boasts some killer indigenous names like Massapequa and Ronkonkama, I'd be over the funky indigenous sounds, but I never get tired of these: Sippewisset? Sandwich is always good for a chuckle, and there is East Chop and West Chop, as if the place has side burns. Mashpee, Mass. - Do they make baby food? Then try out a few like – out loud remember and with your creative caps on – Falmouth and Hyannis.

My far-and-away favorite Massachusetts town name, however, is no where near Cape Cod but too good to pass up: Athol (long o). I just bounce around the house saying it over and over again – Athol, Athol. It makes me so perversely happy. The only thing I find funnier than pondering why on earth a town would retain the name Athol, is thinking about what exactly the people from that town call themselves...

Maybe it's because I was raised on a crowded, touristy peninsula, home to the newly wed and nearly dead that touted “dockside dining” (read: seagull poop on your table) where the streets - depending on the tides - had a way of smelling like various shell fish and other stinky catch. Or, maybe it's because I am currently living on a crowded, touristy peninsula that touts similar residents and dining options and indeed reeks like yesterday's clams when the wind is right. While I felt quite at home in Cape Yawn, I'm not rushing back. I must say also that people were friendly – to the point where as I walked along the bike path talking to Mike on the cell phone they continued to greet me. My side of the conversation: “Hi. ... No, not you. What? Hi. ... No, not you. What?”

Just before heading out to CC, I was going on and on to Mike about how I just didn't know if I could ever live away from the ocean as we walked around groovy Northampton, Mass. with its rainbow flags outside the churches and its Poetry Center at Smith College which this past spring apparently hosted Tony Hoagland, Sharon Olds and Mark Doty – a trifecta of holy cow in poetry (“All events free and open to the public”). Flash ahead to Camp Dockside Dining (I hate seafood, have always, and now am a committed vegetarian) with its accompanying aromas and its sleepy pace and I started to wonder about myself. Luckily, we can sniff out the rebels pretty much anywhere and so stumbled onto the proverbial café/bakery with its menu in big chalky orange letters, its fair trade coffee and its bulletin board advertising yoga classes and Westfalias for sale.

Just to put a face on my passive hostility to the homey little Cape, I left without purchasing a teeshirt, not even one with a black dog on it. I'm reasonably sure I could have been held at security in Logan Airport for such an offense had they cared to investigate (though when you come right down to it, Logan needs no extra reasons for delay...).

What I did do is something I like to try to do in places I visit whenever possible. I seek out craftspeople, the tradesmen, the artists, the workshops. In Santa Fe, it was the indigenous people shaping storyteller bowls out of clay. In Otavalo, Ecuador it was everything from reed boxes to felt hats. In Cape Cod, it means potters.

In the days before Isaac, I was free to creep up to someone's home where there was sewing happening in the back room, a wheel spinning yarn in some tiny shed in the yard and tap lightly, hesitantly before being let in to view their wares and watch their process. These days I get to pick one potter that I can check out briefly while Mike and Isaac are around the corner at the beach.

I didn't get to meet the artist herself, unfortunately, but I did get to spend time with her lovely mother who said the most irresistible things, the first memorable one being: “Go look over there, dear. There's a beautiful piece you can't have.”

I spent a good while poking around the laundry room/studio before emerging back up the stairs next to the pantry with three ceramic cups that fit wonderfully in my hands. Mom was on the phone drumming up volunteers for something or other. I stepped gingerly over the extended hose to her oxygen tank and watched the turtles splashing wildly in an aquarium nearby.

“Hello, Steve and Alice.” She was talking to an answering machine. “I'm calling because I know you'll want to take the Wednesday spot again from 12 to 2 for July. That's the one we need filled. I know you have so much fun doing it and I so appreciate it. Maybe you'll call me back soon and confirm that you're going to do it. You know...” (I was beginning to wonder what kind of time allowance Steve and Alice's voicemail carried.) “... you can bring lunch and just sit and enjoy th view. We really need the help, and I thank you; I thank you. They say you should only do it if you really love doing it, but of course I know you really love doing it...” (apparently, a hefty time allowance. I looked around at the art on the natural wood walls, more artists in the family judging by the signatures. I felt the grip of my new cups painted in ocean blues and greens.) “...So, Alice, I meant to thank you for the flowers you brought me...”

The message continued for what seemed like another three or four minutes, after which I wanted to put down my cups and take Mom home instead. “Okay, then, bye-bye now.” Click.

“Ooooooo!” she hummed, turning her attention immediately back to me. “You've made some good choices. I have to get down there and get one of these for myself,” she mused, turning my favorite in her hands. I started a bit imagining her headed down the steep, narrow staircase with her tank, but had no trouble believing she could find a way to do it.

“I think this one's $18,” she told me, estimating up $2 from the smaller cup, the only one with a price tag. “If it's not,” she continued, eyeing and immediately disregarding my California address in the guest book, “you'll be back again and we'll give you $2.” The turtles tumbled off their rock, mouths agape, jaws working under water. I was glad to have had this moment in the inner sanctum of a real life in a foreign/too familiar place, but the turtles and I both knew it'd be a while before I'd pass this way again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

HFCS/DVD Nation, what we're feeding our kids

(I'm starting to feel like a really preachy prude, but here is something else that was in the chute. You can give at least part credit to Barbara Kingsolver whose book I'm reading and which I will post in "What We're Reading" shortly.)

There are no two ways around it. This trip was the most sugar-laden episode of Isaac's 3 years and almost 4 months here on earth.

Who knows what he was lapping up in utero with my chocolate pudding pie cravings (you-know-you' keep an ample supply of graham cracker crusts in your house at all times.), but since emerging into this little red state – blue state game we call life in the U.S. he has been spared much of mine and my husband's addiction to the sweet stuff.

I was somewhat prepared to throw my hands up for this special adventure and return to eating beets, broccoli and peas from our garden again once we got back home. As we settled in to our flight three hours behind schedule, I was also relieved that the video monitors were limited to the area high above us in the center aisle so that I wouldn't spend the “in flight entertainment” portion of our journey keeping Isaac from watching incredibly violent movies. Even “Alvin and the Chipmunks” - a video version of which hung directly in front of our seats on the last air travel sojourn, involved scenes of stress and violence that put Isaac on the verge of tears - “Me no like dit mobie!” For the moment, all was well. Then we arrived, and we were back on track for the original issue.

We won't even count his grandmother's Rice Crispie treats and frog eye salad (some sort of jello, marshmallow concoction if you must know). Or her proclaimed “healthy” supply of snacks for our plane ride back including chocolate fudge granola bars. Just joshing – of course we'll count those! “You don't want him to have it, do you?” my mother-in-law would chuckle while offering the cookie jar. I'm so glad flaunting our lifestyle choices for our son amuses you.

Then there is the little moments of earned yum or of stress that sent Mike after bread pudding covered in whipped cream at one dinner, and my cave to chocolate chip cookies another day. The convenience store shopping turned up yogurt (high fructose corn syrup) and wheat crackers (high fructose corn syrup). The choices at our breakfast bar were so scant I agreed to a fruit bar – always bad news (high fructose corn syrup).

But the crowning moment of sugar rushes was when we were finally escaping for home. After driving in circles at 4:30 am trying to follow our hotel's directions to the airport, we arrived at our rental car return. The only person there at that hour was the same man who'd been whipping cars around the lot when we got the thing. He was about the size of the SUV he was standing next to and he addressed my son:

“You're not awake yet, huh?”

Isaac blinks.

“Want some candy?”

I checked – no trench coat. No van parked outside the school playground....What the hell kind of line was that??

“Nooooo!” Isaac squeals with a giggle twisting into me. He too believed it must be a joke.

“Oh, c'mon,” he continues, “I'll share my Mike n Ikes with you.”

“No, thank you,” I tell him this time, still convinced he must be kidding.

“Cookie?” he persists, ignoring me and speaking again directly to Isaac.

“We're not doing candy for breakfast and we're not doing cookies for breakfast,” I say more firmly.

“Aw, why not? He's gonna have Duncan Donuts in the airport anyway. What's the difference?”

This is Duncan Donuts country. The prevalence of Duncan Donuts stores here is second only to discussion of the Celtics and Red Sox as a cultural marker, (and of men like the one I saw in a “YANKEES SUCK” teeshirt, the letters a foot high on his chest - miraculously I managed to hold my tongue; he was with his elderly parents and I thought it best not to cause a scene). We know people who wanted to name their son Duncan but were discouraged by family members who feared that his recess buddies might nickname him Donut, or worse. I think to be incorporated as a town here you must provide habitat for no less than 3 Duncan Donut establishments.

While I was not about to accept Mike n Ikes (even if they do carry the names of my boyZ) from the 5-foot, 300-pound model of healthy choices, to some extent, he did have a point. Under the lean tutelage of his father, Isaac picked out a giant corn muffin at the airport. My bite tasted mostly like cake.

I have a dentist appointment for my dear one in about 3 weeks to fill a small hole in the far back upper right side of his mouth. Our pediatric dentist is very nice and while Isaac does not relish going, I'm hoping for the best. The office does have an unfortunate habit, however, of turning on the enormous video screen in front of the chair to “entertain” the kids while they are worked on. When we were there for our cleaning, just as Isaac sat down it was the part in “Ratatouille” when someone is shooting a gun at the rat – ah, how soothing.

Wish me luck.

Monday, June 16, 2008

may Bob the Builder rot in hell

I may be joining him, but let’s talk about little-mister-fix-it first.

My son likes trucks. A lot. Blame it on Salvador – our garbage man from when Isaac was approximately 11 months old until he turned 2 – who would faithfully wave with umph and spirit as Isaac gawked in admiration from the window. Blame it on the Y chromosome. Blame it on the fact that I live in an area that refuses to accept the housing crash or the scarcity of available land or of open space as a natural and needed resource and so is constantly under construction. Blame it on Bob the freaking Builder and the fact that in a weak, unguarded moment, his father and I actually willing rented Isaac a video entitled “Bob the Builder Meets the Real World” which, besides “visits” to real work sites, featured squirrels and bunnies and other forest creatures excitedly begging Bob to tell them more about how to build roads. Cut me a flipping break already.

Let me tell you, this “phase” of Isaac’s has lasted WAY TOO LONG.

And let me tell you something else: I HATE TRUCKS. The trucks and construction vehicles I hate include, but are not limited to: garbage trucks, front loaders, fork lifts, excavators, mini excavators, back hoes, cranes, graders, rollers, pavers, dump trucks, giant dump trucks (yes, this is a category of truck), tractors, scrapers, street sweepers, cement mixers, skid steers, bulldozers, utility vehicles, snow plows, and logging trucks.

One more thing – the only thing I hate more than trucks is PLAYING trucks. One of the nicest things about being away this past week was getting us out of our routine and doing some different things – a swim in the hotel pool, a ride on the bike path, a visit to a new library, the beach. Isaac couldn’t drag me out to the driveway and begin “You’re gonna me dit truck, ‘n’ me gonna be dit truck.”

Today, while we are still all feeling the jet lag, I brought my obviously tired boy home after preschool, betting on an early nap. Before we were out of the car Isaac told me, “me weawy busy with some work trucks ober hewe, so I haffa go do dat.” And off he went to pick up where he left off this morning, and the day before, and the week before that. It’d be just fine, except that after about 3 minutes the inevitable happens…

“Mama, dit a weawy bid job. So I need you to help me.”

I told him I’d come out and sit with him and check out what he was doing while I read a little. (He wasn’t the only obviously tired one.) That lasted not so long before the whining started up. “Me need SOMEBODY pway wid me.” Boing!!

Did you hear that sound? It was my heart strings singing out their best twang. Now, don’t get me wrong, we do LOTS of discussion about the adventures and advantages of playing by oneself. “Isaac imagination time” is implemented more and more often around these parts. But truth be told, I hadn’t played with him in a while and was hoping between a (fingers crossed) extended nap and the arrival of his dad not to have to sit in gravel pushing a plastic four wheeler at all on this particular day in history.

Here’s the equation: Jet lag/exhaustion + bad back + old game + new magazine in the mail + bad mommy attitude = no wanna play.

But that little whine plugs right in to something else – the idea that Isaac is an only child. That I am making that conscious decision for him. That he, like I did, spends the vast majority of his time with adults, without other children around, and often with just me, while he clearly, like I do, absorbs his energy by being part of a group. Under the circumstances, I feel like I should be a better play-with-me mama. But I can’t stand it. I admit it. Sorry. I don’t have the lose-myself-like-a-kid-in-play-gene. Perhaps I never did. I really go crazy. I do it – I lie on the floor and pick up his building blocks with the truck of the week, but I am always looking for an out. There are a few things I’m good at doing – puzzles I’m okay with, drawing I’m down with, but trucks – I’d really rather slam some remote part of my body in the garage door.

The pouting escalated to stone throwing and stomping on mama’s camping chair. Sometimes I wonder Isaac’s under-motives with his behavior, but it didn’t take an early childhood education major to figure this one out. Here I was, planted with a magazine. Here he was asking me to play. Maybe another day I would have caved. I often do. But shit. What’s the recipe when I just don’t want to? I just don’t. It’s mama mental health day. I told him (reluctantly) that if he let mama read for a little while then I’d play trucks with him. Not good enough. With tantrum at full capacity, I got to pull out the old “you must not want mama to play with you at all then” and we both came in the house.

After a few “I want DADDYs!!!” and much snot on his newly washed jean jacket, we figured out that a snack might help along with a visual depiction of the rest of our day, into which I (reluctantly) built Mama and Isaac play time.

I don’t know how to resolve this long term. I don’t really enjoy my days at home and that sucks, it’s tiring in and of itself. I can’t always blow him off to play alone. And then there are the trucks themselves and what they represent.

Bob, may you and Scoop and Rollie and whoever else those ridiculous characters are, pave yourselves a road straight to hell.

Stay tuned late this week as I explore more on the Y chromosome and the lives of bugs in the balance.

Eco-mama – Oxymoron?

(apologies for the soap box rant, lots in the chute and hopefully I'll have time to write it all down but gotta get some things out of the way to clear the path)

In a personal essay I read recently, the author was discussing how environmental parenting often feels to her like a contradiction in terms. I don't actually remember her examples, but I have plenty of my own so that the idea stuck with me:
- We're tired, so we order take out. The giant maw of Styrofoam shells mock me, the numbers on the bottom bordered by a swirl of arrows a joke since no program or municipality I know recycles them.
- Isaac is almost asleep, so I drive just a bit longer. The thought of not reading that blasted construction truck book again AND risking no nap at all in the end when he tells me “My body weawy wants to wate up” outweighing the waste of our nation's favorite limited resource.

On vacation, as we just were (Well, as vacation-y as we get anymore. Consider a visit to the in-laws and a work conference for Mike.) things can get even dicier. At first, I felt good doing my part to save the Great Hospitality Waste since Isaac was always napping – or his mother was trying for one anyway – during the times housekeeping normally wants to pull their trolley up to your room and give you a new everything. The Do Not Disturb sign, as it turns out is nature's strongest advocate.

There are those perfunctory attempts at ecological awareness now in most hotels – that card you leave or don't on your bed depending on whether you want them to wash your sheets every freaking day or just when you check out. Still. These nods to water conservation don't go nearly far enough.

They sneaked in once, those housekeepers, while Isaac and I were returning our rented bike and trailer – and what the hell?? Where is my soap? They took away the perfectly good soap I'd unwrapped less than 24 hours before and replaced it with another, wrapped soap. I understand that they are supposed to supply you with a new little wrapped soap, update your tiny shampoo and whatever else they are mandated to waste, but where the hell did the other soap go? Are we that seduced by “luxury” that we want to open a new fucking bar of soap every day we're on vacation? War time rationers we are not.

There was a restaurant near where we stayed called the Landfall Restaurant. We didn't go for perhaps obvious reasons. WAY too close to Landfill for me. There's one they didn't research all that well. Just say it out loud, people. It's a crucial stage in my creative process and one, I think, everyone should employ. (Have you ever heard that NPR show called “Open Source” - Not. Good.) Despite the fact that we avoided the Landfall, the breakfast buffet at our hotel proved nearly as harrowing an environmental catastrophe. Plastic utensils. Styrofoam cups next to the water pitcher (Yeah, those mugs full of water would be a bitch to wash!) etc. etc.

But my ultimate plea is this: please, don't kill the environment in the name of my child. Honest, he can drink from a real, live, breakable cup – even (gasp!) without a straw. As much as we appreciate the acknowledgment of the possibility little people may enter through your doors, I'm begging you not to do it through purchasing mass quantities of plastic panda cups with sippy lids or disposable tumblers covered in cheery jungle scenes, the likes of which may be long gone by the time they finish manufacturing the bloody receptacles.

A new one this time was the addition of Pooh characters smiling out at us though they suffered the ends of plastic forks, knives, and spoons jammed up their yellow, orange and pink rears. They are just cute enough and strong enough to save and we decided to salvage another ecological travesty and take them home. When we realize Pooh has just been swept away with Isaac's mostly uneaten lunch (honey yogurt and apple granola were unbelievably not on the menu), we ask the server if she can retrieve it for us. “I can get you a new set,” she offers. “No, no, really, it's fine,” we protest. So off she heads to the kitchen, returning in seconds with a new set. “Just brought a clean one,” she explains, “We have SO many.” Then by all means...

Monday, June 02, 2008


(Mom, this is for you.)

“Your daughter...”
“...Uh, your son has such beautiful hair.”

Top ten pieces of evidence on how groovy men with long hair are/why I shouldn't cut my son's hair.

10. Long hair plays a part in animals' natural selection since it is associated with health.
9. Zeus, Achilles and Poseidon are all depicted with long hair.
8. Many Native Americans prized long hair in men.
7. Chinese men wore the culturally identifiable long braid down their backs (called a “queue”) beginning in the 17th century.
6. Samson.
5. Orlando Bloom, Owen Wilson, and Johnny Depp (Okay, two out of three isn't bad.)
4. Counterculture movements such as the Rastafarians and the Hippies used long hair to separate themselves from the establishment.
3. Sikh men refuse to cut their hair as one of the most important parts of their religious practice. Their hair – “kesh” - is allowed to grow naturally out of respect for what god created.
2. The hair salons all give out candy.

And although I, frankly, could go on and on, the number one reason, I shouldn't cut my son's hair...
1. He doesn't want to cut it.

menu of a 3-year-old

We all hear about kids who are picky eaters. Like, they eat raisins. Exclusively. Only with a fork. The one with the blue handle. Or, they won't touch vegetables, even the ones their mothers shape into intricate facial expressions, the green beans giving the brows that oh-so-surprised look.

So here's my little one's alimentary hang ups.

-Every day for the last two weeks at least two meals of the day have consisted of honey yogurt and apple granola.

-He does not like grilled cheese, or any kind of hot, melted cheese-like dish. When I wasn't downing Minute Rice and TV dinners as a kid, I lived on “fake pizzas” - i.e. toast with a spoonful of spaghetti sauce and a piece of cheese stuck in the broiler or toaster oven for a minute. I can barely comprehend that my child does not fancy these delicacies. Recently when serving him a modified version of same, along with carrots and cucumbers, the boy cleaned his plate of vegetables, leaving his cheesy goo untouched.

-Isaac hates muffin tops. I'm not even joking. He will only eat the bottoms of muffins and begs me to let him eat the paper too.

-I know things are getting weird now, so let me bring you back to something you can hold on to. My kid's not a total odd ball – he loves ice cream. Today, he talked me into making some via a single serving recipe from one of his National Geographic magazines. Marching around the kitchen grinning with his bowl of frozen half and half, he could hardly contain his joy, and, just to take his place in the classic scene of child with food – boy with ice cream, he promptly dropped it upside down on the floor and burst into tears.

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