Monday, December 21, 2009

The Twelve Days of Moving

This is a piece I wrote several years ago. It was pre-baby and pre-many other things. It marked the first of our many moves in not so many years, most of which seemed to happen around this season. I'm posting it now for Kim, despite the shift in life phase and the fact that she is moving farther than across town.

The Twelve Days of Moving

On the first day of moving…

People congratulated us heartily. Moving to a house? We would no longer share walls, and so they wished us well in our new place, in this new, exciting chapter of our lives. I was taken back by the level and sincerity of their enthusiasm. We smiled as they cheered us on. There were hugs and good-humored razzing about the work ahead.

On the second day of moving…

We've been driving back and forth, back and forth. The old apartment still looks full. Every road in Monterey County is under construction – no, I swear it! The rain and wind are here now. Mudslides to the south of us. Flash floods to the north. The boxspring struggles to win its freedom, bucks and lifts from the roof.

On the third day of moving…

I'm scrubbing the shower tiles with products I'm morally opposed to. My sinuses are coated in bleach. "Is this good enough?" I'm thinking, as I scrub some of the grout lines cleaner than others. "Our deposit was only $800."
("Only??" – this thought born of those too many trips back and forth, over the same four miles, back and forth, a numbness.)
"$800, eh?" I think. "I could earn that back in…" I start to scrub harder. "Shit!" I say out loud and with force. "Whadja say?" Mike calls, his upper torso inside the frig. I imagine his sponge red with the mixed berry jam that spilled after the Halloween party.

On the fourth day of moving…

"Who knew we owned so many cookie cutters? Do we need all these cookie cutters? When was the last time we made cookies? Does any one person really need more than one dinosaur cookie cutter?" Mike apparently assumes all of these questions are rhetorical, but he would be wrong. I am studying the human condition. I am out for data. When I look over, he's engrossed in a pile of old PG&E bills.

On the fifth day of moving…

is our garage sale.
"Is the glass suncatcher your brother gave you for sale?" Mike asks.
"No, definitely not," I tell him.

The early birds are there at eight, want jewelry and CDs. Others sleep in before coming for our junk. No one touches the electric potpourri pot my sister-in-law thought was just-what-I-needed, or the shoe rack I've always hated. But there are other finds. Colored bottles for a quarter. Our $10 Goodwill chair for five. I make change and strangers tell me about their cancer surgery, the size of their kitchen.
"How much for the suncatcher?" a round-faced woman in a bulky coat asks. "Three dollars," I hear myself say. "Will you take two?" "Sure."

On the sixth day of moving…

I'm so tired my wrists hurt. It's New Year's Eve. This evening, I'll turn down Angela's invitation to come hang out at her place—floor space free of boxes—in order to take a "nap" at 9:30 only to have Mike shake me awake at 11:55 and shove a Bailey's in my hand. "Happy New Year!" he'll say and mean it.
But for now, it's morning, and I'm on the phone with my mom telling her about our first night in the house and all its funny quirks. I mention something in passing about the washing machine. "Oh!" she squeals with delight. "Your own washer!"

On the seventh day of moving…

We're packing the car again in a perpetual cycle I feel is eroding my mental health. The grouchy alcoholic old woman from two units down tells me what wonderful neighbors we've been and how much she'll miss us. Apparently, all those days of calling the cops on my friends for parking illegally while dropping me off are bygones. I'm forgiven, exalted even. She gives me a huge bear hug. She is teary. She is drunk.

On the eighth day of moving…

My in-laws, who've never looked up the Central California housing market (as we've often suggested during conversations like these), want to know why we didn't buy the house instead of rent it. "How many bedrooms does it have?" my father-in-law, who can still count his grandchildren on one hand asks into the phone. "Two," I tell him bracing myself. "Interesting!" he replies, and the conversation steers dangerously away from mortgages.

On the ninth day of moving…

Perspective renters.
The property manager's son and his friend come to look at the apartment. "Are you students?" I ask the friend automatically. I don't know why I ask this. I hate it when people ask me this.
He is a strikingly handsome olive-skinned man with long dark curls pulled into a ponytail. "No," he says, "I work for a sculptor," then locks in on my eyes with his, extends his hand. "I'm John." Of course the ruggedly good-looking olive-skinned man of dark curls works for a sculptor. Yes. Of course he does. You would think we wouldn't notice things like him at times like these. But we do. We always notice.

On the tenth day of moving…

Looking at the garden we'd planted over five and a half years bloom and climb without apology, Torrey had been the one with the million-dollar question: "But what will you do if you move?!" She'd asked it with wide eyes and the wisdom of someone who knows – someone who's rented. At the time I just shrugged, not knowing the answer and not planning a move. My precious plants. Later, I'd decided: "I'll just do it somewhere else."
I was proud of my answer – the one Torrey never heard. I felt it was a kind of evolution. I could let go. I'd beautify a next place and that was okay. Keep moving, I told myself.
But as I survey for the last time the primroses bravely blooming in their fourth year despite the snails, or the bougainvillea – my troubled orphan, a Kmart clearance sale save – finally starting to bud after so much prodding and patience, my gardener's heart shreds on its thorns, and I feel "evolution" slip from me like old snake skin.

On the eleventh day of moving…

We have a fireplace at our new address which is nice since our old crappy couch is now firewood. Mike ripped it apart today, which is why I pull back my hand when he tries to take it as we leave for the new house again tonight. "Ew! Your hands are so rough!" I tell him. He looks at me dejected. "Did we eat lunch?" he asks. It's 7:30.

On the twelfth day of moving…

At the new place, the cats still hide under the bed most of the day. At first, they were afraid, now, they're just mad. Sometimes they come out to complain about their food or to scratch the carpet in the hallway. I leave the shades up and park dressers and bookcases under the windows.

Eventually, they'll love it here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The holiday quotes have begun

I: "Mommy, how do people who celebrate Hanukkah keep Santa Claus from coming to their houses?"
K: "Well, I think Santa just knows, Isaac."
I: "Yeah, prob-ally he just looks into the house and sees all those candles."

(Decorating the door for Christmas.)
K: "This is going to be so cool, Iz, it's not even funny."
I: "OF COURSE it's fun, Mama! What are you TALKING about??!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the ethics of secondhand

You've seen them. If you spend any time at all in antique stores or thrift shops, you've seen them. Other people's old family pictures. Some with frames interesting enough to warrant a second look. And you feel sorry for those people. All done up in buttons and corsets, or newer faces smiling unwittingly while their loved ones haven't even had the decency to remove them before chucking the frame they're in into the trash bag of other junk -- candle holders still clinging to their drippy stubs, jeans that never really fit them in the first place, a decorative plate stamped with the name of some foreign city they've never been to personally, that someone (who??) will buy for 50 cents, though they too have failed to stroll the streets of the named city.

Those discarded family members are proof of perhaps the most blatant of evils committed in the name of spring cleaning, but there are others – subtler to be sure, but still reeking of severed ties and desecrated memories.

And that's where my husband comes in.

He runs. Jogs. Whatever you call that odd pastime where you become sweaty for no good reason apparent to me. As part of this activity, he likes to have brightly-colored teeshirts. I suppose it's a good idea for the Hummers and Expeditions to have their attention called to something human as they drive by him hoofing it on the side of the road. Or, should his broken body have to be recovered from a trail somewhere, the Coast Guard helicopters would hopefully see a smudge of orange in the brush before it cost them too much money.

Every once in a while Mike goes searching for new shirts.

Plain, solid-colored teeshirts are few and far between, and he's come home with some interesting ones. Like the green one printed for the Bautista family reunion. A yellow tree snaking up it, its branches are labeled with related surnames, its roots hailing the patriarchs and matriarchs of a proud line. This is almost as bad as the pictures in the frames. Some Bautista, embittered, perhaps, indifferent, maybe, has dumped off this tangible piece of a celebration of his ancestry. And Mike is willing to parade around in it, in essence, wearing a lie.

Additionally, if you peeked in my husband's dresser, you might think him one of the most charitable and social men around. He apparently volunteers for fundraisers involving research on any number of diseases. And while Isaac and I weren't looking, he's attended numerous festivities culminating in a souvenir shirt – clearly, hard won, of course.

“I like to live vicariously through my clothes,” he tells me when I question the ethics of his wardrobe.

“The irony of the name 'Goodwill' is not lost on me, either, honey. – You, my friend, are no ambassador. Oh no.”

Recently, he was lamenting having to give away his family reunion shirt, his shoulders, he decided, a bit broader than most of his kinsmen, it seems. Once again, I confronted him. “May I just remind you, you are NOT part of the Bautista family, dude! Nor were you on 'STAFF' at the Juvenile Diabetes Walk for the Cure!”

“Maybe not,” he shrugs smugly. “But I sure did have a great time volunteering at that beach festival in Santa Cruz!”


Monday, August 10, 2009

whatever it takes

I had searched and searched, straightening the house as I went. Pretty much nothing short of a visit from the in-laws could have gotten me to clean the place these days. That, and the tearful pleading of my son.

Hannah had not been seen for days, and although Banyan Bunny was much loved, I was getting the feeling that her substitution days were coming to a close. I'd position the 3-inch blue stuffed rabbit on Isaac's pillow at night and watch him pause, just for a second, before lifting her to his face and proclaiming his love for her. Last night, the pause lengthened until it was replaced with a long, low wail.

“Where's Hannahhhhhhh?”

The truth, something that involves much tact and trouble on average anyway, becomes a virtual land mine while parenting a young child. What is God? Why do people throw trash on the ground? What are you eating, Mama? Where do babies come from? Why do people die? Is there really a Santa Claus?

Recently, a friend was admiring one of Isaac's small wooden cars that run on his wooden car track. “Did someone you know make this?” she asked. Before I could answer, Isaac chimed in with “The elves made it, Silly!” It was charming and sweet and I loved him for saying it. I also walked away with the tiniest of lumps knotted in my stomach. Maybe it's my memory of an assignment I once gave my college freshmen – to write about a family myth, or something to that effect. One particularly apathetic boy who most classes enjoyed spending discussion time showing off his new piercings wrote a passionate piece on how angry he still was that his parents told him when he was 7 that his dead dog “went to live with another family.” It was the best thing he wrote all year. I had a mentor once who claimed that all writing was persuasive writing...

The truth was I had no clue where Hannah, Isaac's prized baby doll, had gotten to. Like the rest of the household, I was beginning to think she was quite lost. Slightly bigger than your outstretched hand, Hannah, whose name until recently when Isaac took seriously to naming things, was “Baby” and for one brief inexplicable period “Nacho,” was a $4.99 job from Target. Only the best for my kid. On the day we brought her home and for months afterwards, Isaac had ignored her heartily in favor of any truck with a scoop, but lately she'd become irreplaceable for bedtime and would often join us at the table for meals.

“I think she's missingggg!” Isaac says the tears streaming in fast little rivulets down his cheeks. “Where is sheeee?” I talk him down with much time and effort, reminding him that we don't know for sure if Hannah is actually lost and promising to scour the house for her in the morning.

“If we can't find her, wi-wi-wi-will you buy my another baby doll? Ju-ju-just like her? Little, s-s-s-so her clothes fit?”

“Of course,” I soothe. “Of course, I will.”

And then the WCS – Worst Case Scenario, proving once again that he is truly my son his brain spins out the ultimate in sorrowful outcomes: “Wha-what if...What if.. we took her somewhere and w-w-we dropped her on the streeeeeeettttt?” While you and I can think of all the terrible things that might befall a young doll on the street, for Isaac, I'm pretty certain the terror in his eyes had everything to do with the possibility of Hannah being raised by ANOTHER CHILD. The cooing and calming have to start anew.

I left Isaac's room well after 10, when he had finally fallen asleep and wrote “Hannah” at the top of my to do list for the morning.

And so, there I was cleaning my house in the hopes of locating Hannah. I had pretty much given up when my eyes landed on the radio flyer rocket ship my niece had bought Isaac the Christmas he turned one. Suddenly, I was moved to flip up the seat – and there she was, naked but for a Bandaid covering her left arm – Baby “Nacho” Hannah. With my clothes hung up, my rug vacuumed, the puzzles in the puzzle drawer, and just the two of us face to face, all I could think to say to her was, “Thanks.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

the boy believes in second chances

"Can you skip like THIS?"

"Like THIS?"

"No, that's not it, Mama. Like THIS!"

"How's this?"



"Anyway, I've been practicing my skip since I was one. Maybe when you're all done and you start again, you can start trying it when you are one and then you'll get it."

"Are you saying that maybe I'll learn to skip like you in my next life?"

"Uh-huh." (Skipping away across the park.)

"Gee thanks, Iz."

a little music if you would, maestro

"Hot Cross Sponge, Hot Cross Sponge, One-a-Penny, Two-a-Penny, Hot Cross Sponge."

Monday, August 03, 2009

the biggest challenge to this union puts in another two cents

Me: "Isaac! Tomorrow is the day 8 years ago that Daddy and Mama got married and decided to be together forever!"

The Kid: "And it's dinosaur week at school!!!"


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How to know if you are ready to be a parent

Remember all those programs that made teenagers go home with an egg for a week pretending it was their baby, trying not to break it? Or baby dolls with timers hidden in their plastic bellies to send them crying in the middle of the night? The idea was to try to show kids how difficult it is to be a parent. Unfortunately, they had it all wrong.

Here's what you need to be ready to do:

Walking on the hiking trail with our son, he stops us for the 2 billionth time. “Daddy! Daddy! A hole!” he trills.

My husband turns without the first hint of bitterness, and walks back 500 feet to where Isaac is standing. He looks down, the man who biked through Wales and Ireland, stood on the equator of the earth, programs robots that drive along the floor of the Pacific Ocean, and with passionate enthusiasm says, “Wow! A hole in the ground!”

Forget lost sleep, the years of weighty responsibility. If you are wondering if parenthood is for you, think instead of this.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger:

Please don't close the California State Parks.

Love, Isaac

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Would you like your receipt?"

Always prepared and ready to have fun at a moment's notice, Mike and I usually start our dates - when we're not pumping up the tires of his 16-year-old Honda, at the gas station filling it up. Gas prices are rising again and California is, as usual, above average. Just add it to the list of fan-fabulous things about my state like how the Supreme Court in their mighty and grand evolutionary retardation just -somehow - upheld prop. 8. Reminds me of a Lewis Black routine about Starbucks - "It's expensive, but at least the lines are long!"

The other day we were pulling away from a station when Mike commented, "Gas stations are ahead of their time. If you don't want a receipt, they don't print one."

Along with a list of other failed projects I'll spare you from hearing the details of that I've been engaged with in the last several months, I've been tracking receipts. Yes, receipts. No, I haven't come to my senses and made a budget. I mean the literal receipts. In the 2009 world of "reduce, reuse, recycle," receipts are quietly, steadily slaying acre after acre of forest. Have you happened to notice just how large they are getting? The current leader in my collection is a Rite Aid receipt I obtained somewhere in New Jersey which measures just over 3 inches wide and 17 3/4 inches long. That's a foot and a half of receipt!!! Item(s) purchased? Lip balm.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the good days...

Here's the anti-rant (there has to be one once in a while).
More reasons my kid is so very cool (I figure since I bitch I also get to brag).

1) His favorite color is brown – because that's what you get when you mix all the colors together.
2) When I recently mentioned I had artichokes I needed to cook, Isaac shouted, “Artichokes! Yummy!” and after demolishing the whole thing told me it was better than ice cream.
3) Unsolicited he informed me that a friend of his thinks bad guys are just bad, but he believes that “they're people who haven't learned stuff yet.”

Did someone give this one magical pills this month?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

trying to post and it won't let me!!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

why worry about the swine flu when there's Lyme disease? - or, a frog, a lizard, a tick, a fork, evolution, and a Tetanus shot

I. Eyes on the Prize
Back in March, while visiting my family in south Jersey, we made a trip to the local zoo. It was a windy, cold day and before we left we spent considerable time in the amphibian house where temperatures were more suitably toasty.

We were watching some frogs, or maybe they were toads – I admit, I don't know the difference, have no immediate plans to figure it out, and let's not even go into hedgehogs and porcupines – and I innocently glanced up at the description sign above them. It said (and I paraphrase): “Like all frogs, this species uses its eyeballs to help push their food into their stomachs, moving them down the sockets to squash the food into the body.”

Now, I've already admitted I don't know a heck of a lot about frog-toads, but you can't tell me this shit is common knowledge. I mean, what's with the casual turn of phrase “like all frogs?” This isn't “As you know, most watermelon are pink inside.” or “You're probably aware that many trees lose their leaves in winter.” Even Mike, who seems to me to know just about everything there is to know in the universe except how to play racquetball well, balks. He laughs out of nervousness, then takes a step backwards toward the turtle tank where what appear at first to be limbed stones serenely paddle.

Nature: amazing and disgusting – all in one, shall we say, swallow.

I have a theory on the reason this digestion scenario grosses us out (and, forgive me, I'm presuming you're on my side here). It is completely alien and freaking bizarre while still something we can't entirely divorce ourselves from. After all, it was only a short evolutionary what? millennium? ago that our ancestors crawled out of the pond and grew legs and lungs. We could safely still refer to ourselves, and some do, as fish with legs. In other words, whose to say one of us doesn't have an Uncle Bubba somewhere who shows off his special talents at Thanksgiving dinner, jamming canned cranberry sauce down the hatch with the help of those baby blues.

II. Blood Brothers & Foreshadowing
Over Easter weekend we spent 3 lovely days at an organic farm and wilderness preserve outside of Palo Alto, California. While we were there, we went for a hike and spotted a horned toad. Here's where I get to wow you with my knowledge of nature, momentarily at least. As you may already know, a horned toad is not, in fact a toad, but a lizard. (See, and even if you didn't already know that, you wouldn't be so surprised/horrified that you'd want to sprint away and wretch. Careful use of language, people, is key.)

As we'd begun our trek, we'd passed a group of people coming down the hill. One of the men called out to us. “Watch out for the squirrels!”

We were still taking this odd warning in when another man passed. “Forget the squirrels, watch out for the ticks! - It's high season. Don't touch the grass. Two percent Lyme disease.”

“But don't worry about that,” he'd continued making an extraordinary leap in evolutionary thought within seconds, “The important thing is the hike. Do the hike.” Fins to legs, just like that.

Our heads spinning with all kinds of dubiously helpful advice, we'd trod on until at last we found ourselves within a camera's reach of the aforementioned horned toad at which point I splayed out, belly down and shimmied through the leaves to take its picture.

We saw some ticks on the hike, but none of them bothered us, though my sweater was banished outdoors for the night to be safe.

Shortly after returning home from that visit, we received the new issue of Isaac's kid magazine which featured some common and not-so-common ways that various animals protect themselves. And that's how we learned about the horned toad. As you know, they squirt blood from their eyes to frighten away enemies.

Yeah, it might work, ya think?? Like when some poor hungry coyote gets a face full of blood. He may not even be scared so much as unequivocally offended. As in, “Dude, that's just WRONG.”

III. Flying with Flu

Just this past weekend we were in Massachusetts visiting Mike's family, staying at his parents' house.

Before we could get there though, there was the proverbial delay on the San Francisco to Boston leg complete with all the Bostonians storming the desk, blackberries blazing, getting their east coast in an uproar as if that would fix our broken plane, so eager were they to be in an unsanitary enclosed area with strangers from around the world.

When we did board, two hours late, there was an older Asian couple with no English in our seats. Mike adeptly motioned that they were perhaps meant to be on the other side of the aisle and they quickly moved. It took a bit to notice that the gentleman seemed unwell. Several sneezes into our 5 ½-hour pleasure trip, I turn to Mike.

“So glad Captain Swine Flu was sitting here before he was sitting there. Not that it matters, we're all infected now.”

“He sneezed like twice,” my husband replies.

“It was more than that.”

“Four times?”

“That's enough.”

“That lady's cute,” Mike says.


(Mike points to the man's wife sleeping curled into a ball across the aisle.)

“Oh, you mean Mrs. Swine Flu? Adorable.”

This partner of mine is easily charmed. Could explain how he ended up with me.

IV. Progress Goes Tick, Tock

Our stay at my in-laws (or, as I like to call it, the Church of Our Mother-in-Law of Perpetual Motion) included a trip to Northampton, of course, an afternoon in the new kids' museum in their town, much time delving into Grandma's basement for Isaac, a ride in the wheelbarrow driven by Grandpa, a raucous game of cards, and, naturally, the extended family gathering. This one wasn't as extended as some of them can get. It was mellow, with cousins to chase and bocce ball to try out. Then, at some point, someone, I'm gonna say it was my darling son, suggested a walk in the woods.

It was a brief, uneventful encounter, marching through oak leaves and pine needles trying not to step on the ladyslipper orchids. Just enough time for Mike and his sister to lament the way the trees have been thinned over the years, more and more houses visible.

We soon returned to the g-parents' sun room and the feeding frenzy. Sometime after the dips and veggies and before the pineapple upsidedown cake, Mike's sister discovered a tick on her neck. Ew. In 20 years in those woods, Mike claims, never a tick. Things evolve and, when you least expect it, changes snap into place. Still, somehow, we think evolution only happens to the other guy.

V. Continental Drift & Making Evolutionary History

Despite delays on the Mass Pike due to construction (thanks for the advanced warning, not!), we made it to the airport with a healthy amount of time to spare, but not so much that we'd be sitting around the gate forever.

We were happily planted on the shuttle bus from the rental car place to the terminal, when I began to wonder why my sunburn of a week ago was beginning to hurt all over again...

(Inward Scream) ... “Mike, I have a tick!”

“Okay. We'll take care of it.”

He's supposed to say that. He has no idea if we can “take care of it.” How? Where? Ew. Ew. EW. It's been there a day. I'll die of Lyme disease. I want Isaac to know I tried. There's a bug eating my side!!! I need a hospital, not a plane. But anyway, we'll crash and a tick will be the least of my problems, except that my body, amazingly preserved, discovered after the human race has evolved into furry robots, will be examined and I'll be on the front cover of National Geographic with a tick in my side and they'll discuss – through the computers implanted in what used to be their knees – the quaint nature of ancient parasitic organisms. I HAVE A TICK SUCKING MY BLOOD AND I WANT TO VOMIT!!!!!

There it is again – that evolution of thought. Quick as lightning. Don't be left behind.

We go to the newsstand and ask where we can buy tweezers. We can't buy tweezers, they won't pass security.

We go to the nail salon and ask if we can borrow tweezers. (Try this; people REALLY like you when you do.)

We go to information and ask where the medical center is for the airport. Really far. Our plane leaves in an hour.

We go to the gate and ask if they have a first aid kit...uh, tweezers...a tick. “I'll check the plane,” she says. Finally, hope. “I'd be wigging out too, if I were you.” Compassion.

She returns with the dullest pair of plastic tweezers I've ever seen, and an alcohol wipe. “Thank you.” (I'm going to die.)

Mike and Isaac are buying a sandwich. I walk in circles while people speed past me, onward to a future I'll never know.

“Did you get it?” It's not my husband's voice. It's an unfamiliar voice behind me. Again, “Did you get it?” I turn and see the crew from the plane – the ones who must have procured the plasto-tweezers. “Yes.” I smile. “Did it work?' “I haven't tried yet.” “Well, good luck!”

Mike and Isaac return with my last meal. We retreat as a family into the 3x5 baby changing room, conveniently located near our gate. We are armed with 1) Neosporin 2) three packs of travel Advil 3) one alcohol wipe 4) dull plastic tweezers 5) one child's fork 6) a Bandaid

“Isaac, why don't you tell Mama a story? You're a good story teller.”

“Like what kind of story? I don't really know any stories.”

Mike is digging around in my side with the tweezers.

“Isaac, TELL Mama a STORY.”


This is the child who could keep his preschool class enraptured with tales since before he turned 3, who would create scenarios that regularly fooled his teacher and even made me believe I might have forgotten that in fact we did ride inside a giant spinning wheel.

“Isaac, honey, maybe you could sing me a song.”


“How about the continents song.”

“Okay! I'll sing it over and over again.”

“Per- OW!-fect.”

“Nort-America, Sout-America,... uh...What's dat odder continent?”

“Europe, Isaac, Europe!”

It was about this time that Mike began scurrying frantically around shouting, “I need the fork! I need the fork!”

David Sedaris has an essay called “Old Faithful.” It's a story about the love of his life. It's also a story about lancing a boil. Well, Mr. Sedaris. I see you one puss-filled lump on your tailbone, cured in the bathroom of your hotel room, and I raise you one embedded tick, gouged out in an airport baby changing room with a kiddie fork! Let's just see who the famous writer is NOW!

“That's the best I can do,” Mike sighs. “The pinchers are still in there.”

“This is so disgusting.”

“You'll be fine.”

“You don't know that.”

“I do.”

“Use the insurance money to send Isaac to a good Montessori, will you?”

VI. La Vita Dulce

The whole plane ride, my side is killing me. The next morning we drop Isaac off at school as if everything were normal, and there wasn't a foreign body lodged in my skin. Then we drive to Doctors on Duty.

I've sat in that waiting room a handful of times before including one Christmas Eve when Mike's calves swelled up like beach balls, red with poison oak. It's been six years since I was there myself. I know this because that's what the woman at the desk tells me after a brief look at her computer. I don't remember the cause, but I do remember the doctor. An affable Italian whose name, it turns out, is the very one slotted into the “on duty” space this morning as well.

When I'm called, I make Mike come with me.

If I didn't already know this doctor, I might suspect he'd pull a Monterey Police Department move and go all woozy when he read the “reason for visit” on my chart. Back when we first moved to the West Coast, Mike was out of town for work and my mom was visiting. Around 3 in the morning, we heard a scratching noise coming from the extra bedroom. I entered to find a young possum attempting to get the hell out through the closed window. Long story short, the police came and when I told the tall, solid, uniformed gentleman standing with a frown at my door the problem, he lost all sense of stoic professionalism, literally crumbled, and began to whine. “Awwww, maaaaaaan! I hate those things!”

But this aging 5-foot nothing doctor was not afraid of a tick, nor, I suspect, a possum. We talked about hiking, ticks, Italy. After extracting the pinchers with real metal tweezers, that didn't hurt nearly as much as Mike's operation (go figure!), he ordered a tetanus shot and a couple pills he said I “didn't really need.”

The tetanus shot (which STILL HURTS) was probably the best idea yet – though we never 'fessed up to the fork.

Isn't modern medicine wonderful? We've come so far.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

sharing my man

We're deplaning in San Francisco from our Monterey puddle jumper and a woman with a foreign accent and shocking red hair approaches my husband.

"Do you swim at the Sports Center?"
"Friday nights?"
"THAT'S where I know you from! I kept saying to myself, 'Where have I seen that man before with no clothes on?'"

Friday, April 03, 2009

There's a hole in my bucket, Dear Liza

Once, in a previous rental, we had to have some plumbing done. My landlady was a rather suspicious person. And a little crazy. She lived half a continent away from our place, thank god, but insisted we call her and have her on the phone while the work was being done. I dutifully phoned when the workman arrived. “Does he look smart?” she asked. I held the receiver away from my ear and folded my hand over my face, my head hung, then returned it to the crook of my neck. “Very,” I told her. Perhaps she thought I could peer into the bathroom and spot the hint of a diploma tucked into the crack above his jeans. Or maybe she kept one of those ancient metal instruments in the shed that measured the size of a skull. I had just never noticed it there next to our box of Halloween lights and my upstairs neighbor's hibachi.

There was no doubt she was a nut case, with more than a small margin of elitist thrown in. At least, that was my view at the time. Then today happened. And the washing machine repairman happened, who arrived an hour earlier than we'd agreed interrupting my jet-lagged son's attempt at a nap and stared into the tub of grey water standing in my washer to ask, “It won't drain?” and her question seemed pretty relevant.

I could surely win the crazy landlord contest. But this time, we lucked out. The couple that owns our house seem normal, pleasant even. We send each other Christmas cards. Things are good. So when Simon told me his buddy didn't have time to come until Monday, I was okay with that. And then when he told me, no, wait, he can make it after all, at 4:00, I said great.

I had just finished reading Isaac a nice relaxing tale of fast-running meat-eating dinosaurs, when the banging began. The religious peddlers have nothing on this guy – pounding on the door like the place was on fire. I could have easily ignored him. Denial is something we carefully cultivate in my family. But then Isaac got all whiny-ass on me, “Mama, I don't like that noise!” What noise? The sound of a forest of logs being repeatedly pummeled into the castle door? So I was forced to get up and let him in.

I showed him to the culprit in question and informed him I needed to return to my child. That's when he came out with his brilliant statement about the lack of drainage at which point I confirmed for him the issue and promptly closed him in the garage. He called me out again, twice. The first time to inform me that before he could do anything we'd have to get the water out and the second time to inform me that before he could do anything we'd have to get the water out. That second time would have been about when I stepped backwards in bare feet into a pile of fresh cat vomit. Nap was so far going well.

After we parted with the joy of knowing that Monday we'd see each other again, I miraculously managed to get Isaac to sleep with reassurances that on Monday he could watch the “worker guy” fix the bloody machine. Before drifting off, Isaac wanted to know how we'd get the water out. “With a bucket, (Dear Liza).” “Then we can water the plants with it!!” he announced. And I knew right away. I'm raising an optimist. He has his father to blame for this.

So there I was, wasting a perfectly good nap time scooping water into a bucket that, yes, had a hole in it as it turned out, and tossing it into the backyard which by now was decorated with my family's underwear since the wind had blown down the clothes hanger containing the load of laundry that had had the misfortune of getting stuck in the cycle that never ended. That never ended. Never ended. Never ended. Ended. Ended. Ended...

Friday, March 20, 2009

In Defense of the Only

Here's a scene from my past:

“Time for another one,” my mother-in-law quipped as I strapped my 2-year-old in his carseat to head back to the airport and our home on the opposite coast.

“Oh, no,” I said firmly, disabusing her early of any idea of a swelling brood of new grandbabies populating any nest I was to be in charge of.

She gasped. “He's going to grow up ALL ALONE?”

“All alone,” I confirmed, kissing the wretched island of a boy on the forehead and shutting the door.

There is much talk and even more tacit agreement among parents and non-parents alike that one just isn't enough. They turn out selfish. C'mon, everybody knows that. Spoiled. Not to mention, they'll miss that close relationship with another sibling when they're older. This is just common knowledge. Right? I mean, word on the street is a sibling is the “greatest gift you can give your child.”

Yawn. Sorry. That was just me, tiring of the standard line of thinking, weary from continually pressing my face up against the glass of the Status Quo Shoppe. I'd like to propose something radical – the idea that just maybe, being or having an only child isn't so bad after all.

The duos and trios and foursomes have had their due, and clearly there are many advantages to these tribes. Now let's examine – a little differently – the singleton.

Allow me to first err on the side of sanity. When I got pregnant, my first thought wasn't “Whew! Now I'll have two more hands to help on the farm!” Things moved more along the lines of “I only have two hands and no family close by and how am I going to raise this child without help?” Add subsequent human beings to this daily craze of isolation and death-defying speed? I chose no.
One child means if that child needs to nap, he gets to. And when one child is napping, mama can relax. One child is not hauled off to big sister's field hockey game or little brother's doctor's appointment, spinning along in the car from one thing to the next that's not about him.

I also firmly believe that single-child homes build social skills. You may think this counter-intuitive. However, one child, in the safety net of the home can successfully practice and see reflected back through modeling, manners, sharing, and other basic social interactions since they get to do these things with parents. No, no parent is a perfect model of any of these, but for those of us that are conscious parents, we at least have the chance to present what we want them to see on our better days.

Experimental play has greater possibilities for the only. I can let Isaac do things and carry his imaginative ideas further than I ever could if there were a younger sibling crawling around, for reasons of safety or just chaos control. We don't worry about small pieces, and I know that I can handle one child “cooking” with water, granola, and anything else I'll let him have at the kitchen table, let's say, but if it were two or three? I fear the mob.

There is great value in focused attention and uninterrupted solo play, as well. Celebrated writer John Updike, whom we lost just two months ago, said, "I'm sure that my capacity to fantasize and to make coherent fantasies, to have the patience to sit down day after day and to whittle a fantasy out of paper, all that relates to being an only child."

But I believe the greatest gift – if I can steal a phrase – gleaned from the social puzzle that the only child enjoys is bigger even than those pieces. He/she knows early on the necessity of reaching beyond our own home to people we have to work a little harder to know. Circumstances create the opportunity for them to reach out for connection. What could be a more important a skill for our world today? What could be more basic in terms of human need? Connecting with and appreciating connections with others is one of the most dire needs we have, something we will work toward all our lives. My kid has a jump start.

Remember that “wretched island of a boy?” Since he doesn't have to compete with anyone else for time, attention, food, or toys, our primary work is about hearing each other and connecting with other people.

I'm the first to admit that the young only child is a challenge for the parent who is asked to play on a continual basis – speaking hypothetically, of course (eh-hem...). And it's often at those times – when my boy is begging for a play date that can't happen, or I'm having to decide whether to sit down and play demolition blocks or try to have a moment with my own thoughts – that I question my wisdom. But I also know I'd not do anyone any favors if I went through the infant stage again with another baby. I was not good at it. I did not like it. I'm not supposed to admit that. Too bad. It sucked. And here we're right back in the sanity argument. I think my son deserves a mom who knows her limitations and can stay on the sunny side of them.

Besides, those fabulous siblings? You don't get to choose them. And despite parents' attempts to write a rule book on this, there are surely no guarantees about siblings becoming best buds as adults. All of us can think of multiple examples of siblings we know or we are that don't share this rumored unbendable bond.

I grew up the youngest of four. With eight years separating me and my closest sibling, however, to a large degree I experienced the situation of the only child. There is no doubt that I didn't always prefer it. I have memories of unwelcomed alone time and of times when I pleaded futilely with my oh-so-grown-up sisters and brother to play with me. And I also learned the value of reflection, solo play, and the immensity of inner worlds.

I entered the larger world with a better understanding of my own inner world. To this day, there is nothing I value higher than connecting with others.

Recently, we visited friends who have a single child – a daughter about six months older than my four-year-old. We hadn't seen them in three years and the kids didn't know each other at all. Immediately after walking in their house, our friend's daughter announced, “I have lots of toys!” She waited, wide eyes fixed on my Isaac. The tone of the statement was not gloating, nor was it that kind of arbitrary information that kids frequently offer. It was quite clearly an invitation. During our stay she shared readily, and when we said goodbye, presented Isaac with her largest teddy bear to borrow when he left.

Certainly every child has his or her own personality. Some might even say that this little girl's eagerness was a sign of loneliness. However, I have another take on it. What if even as children we regularly had to reach out to the larger world to find the kind of strong connections that sustain us?

In the end, of course, we deal with whatever we are handed.

But just here, just this once, may we hail the only, who thrives perhaps not despite his circumstances, but because of them.

It's a big world out there.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

the making of a vegetarian

Here's another book post that was just too big for the sidebar.

For Isaac's birthday last month, our sitter got him the book First Thousand Words in Japanese, a picture dictionary, essentially. Isaac is obsessed with it. We must read it at any nap and every bedtime. "I can't find the 'kai,'" he'll say at the beach scene, searching diligently for the boat oar. We don't put the oversized purple volume back on the bookshelf anymore. It just lives by the bed.

It has also become an unlikely forum for discussing the inevitably complicated world of food choices. We've come across the butcher on the professions page, and the various kinds of meat on the food page. Isaac studies them with the ultimate in consternation, or, some days, simple curiosity or confusion.

We are vegetarians. Let me revise. Isaac and I are vegetarians and although Mike hasn't eaten any meat to my knowledge for years, he rejects the title. Whatever. The only animal product that Isaac consumes is fish oil vitamins. For now, it is easier to break with our morals on this one point and get some important stuff in him.

Even more interestingly, our sitter is a vegan. And yet here we are, among the bikes and boats of the book, the scenes from the countryside, the living room furniture labeled in Japanese, stuck on a couple pages that provide us with a new education and, can I also say, just a bit of torment for parent and for child.

Here are a few of the encounters we've experienced lately:

Day One: Professions

We open the book to where Isaac and his dad left off the day before. It's the professions page. Before I can get started on anything, Isaac zeros in on the butcher slicing ham. Pointing he looks up at me and reports seriously, "Pig."

"Hmm, yeah, pig."

He stares at the picture, not ready to move on. We are quiet.

"That would be ow-y for the pig if it got cut like that."

"Yeah, Iz, I think it would be."

Day Two: Food

"Pig," Isaac announces pointing at the ham.

"Chicken," he says, mashing his finger into the picture of the headless, roasted bird.

His dad beat me to the punch again.

We look at the whole page - the words for toast, rice, honey, circling back again and again to the meats - Isaac's choice. He insists on calling the ham "pig," which is fine with me since I have this crazy idea about honesty.

My kiddo is in deep contemplation, then, "Mama, maybe they eat the eyes too."

"What do you think, Isaac?"

"I don't know," he says accompanied by a troubled look. "Probably before they caught the pig, the pig tried to run away."


"But they just had a gun and they shot the gun at it."

"What do guns shoot?"

"Candy, mostly."

"Hmm. So what do you think of all that?"

My heart nearly breaks waiting through the pause, heavy with what is maybe the weightiest thing his four-year-old mind has had to sort...

"I think it's not very nice."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Donald Hall

Here is a link to an audio interview I did last month with poet Donald Hall.
If you go back to the homepage, at least today, there are also a couple additional intro paragraphs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

dollar store book part II

I'm still reading this book and laughing so hard I could rupture something.

What you need:

18- or 20-gauge tin
Rubber cement
Aviation snips
Drill and drill bits
Jeweler's saw
Abrasive scrubbing pad
2 feet of copper pipe
Soldering gun or propane torch
Spray enamel
Large glass jewels
Scrap of red glass
Epoxy glue

...If you're like me, maybe you're looking at this list thinking "What You Escape Alcatraz?" In fact, it's all you need to make a whimsical cat craft for your garden, silies!

Monday, March 16, 2009

the dollar store and messing with the parent market

This post was originally going to be part of an updated books sidebar for the blog, but I quickly realized it needed its own post.

File it under Lessons from the Dollar Store. There are always reasons. There are always reasons something is being sold at the dollar store, for a dollar. The end.

We may credit Obama for re-inventing hope, but truly, people, it's been there all along. So full of hope is the human race, that time after time, we *hope* the spatula we buy at the dollar store will not break in the first week we have it. We *hope* the socks we get there will feel like cottony clouds and outlive the tired feet they cradle.

File it under people screwing with the market niche for parents.

Perhaps it goes without saying that Mike and I have little time together these days, that the precious few dates we get, we must savor, revel in, that the average day sees us say not more than a sentence to each other that doesn't involve our offspring and ends us in exhausted heaps. This would clearly explain why we found ourselves recently, together, without our son, at the Dollar Store. As part of this intimate and fulfilling journey, we discovered a book. It's called Making Crafts from Your Kids' Art by Valerie Van Arsdale Shrader. We debated over it. Hemmed and hawed and wondered if we'd employ the know-how hidden within the colorful volume, until we looked at each other and exchanged those fateful words: “It's only a dollar!”

Come to find out, there was a reason.

My first clue was the lists of things you needed for each project. Some started out with things like

graphics software program
color laser printer

Whoah. Hold up. Um. Well, okay. I guess. I mean, which graphics program? Nevermind, 'kay, sure. Then, just to reassure you, the list would continue this way


Oh, right. Okay. Yeah. I get it. Well, heh-heh, can't do much without a computer these days, can ya? And look, here we are: scissors and glue, ah, the comforting world of crafts. Then it would go on to

color photocopier

Whaa? Well, you say, still wanting to make sense out of what you've come upon, no problem. That's what those monster stationery stores are all about – I can just pack up my scissors and glue and head on down to the self-serve color copier! I'm with the program. No sweat.

In following projects, however, certain items would steal my balance without warning. Beside things like “paper” and “Popsicle sticks” came other things, like band saws, or, plain metal lunch boxes. Huh?

Things really heated up once I got to the “picture sweater” - a child-sized sweater stitched with the charming landscape your child drew and signed with her name. It wasn't so much the items on the list that got me, but what wasn't mentioned. The list of what to have goes something like this:

simple sweater pattern
knitting needles
graph paper
colored pencils

She forgets to kick in that you might also need THE ABILITY TO KNIT.

In keeping with its good cop/bad cop attitude, the book departs from the sweater to show how to get your kid's drawings onto normal-ish things like wrapping paper and post cards. Then it comes out with this one: the clay tile project. I'll reproduce the actual list of “ingredients” here followed by my editorial comments.

What You Need – sadly, I can't quite recreate the cheery font of this line.

Photocopier – alright.
low-fire red clay – can manage.
rolling pin (optional) – got it.
fettling knife – no idea what this is, but reasonably confident I could find out.
Plastic – uh...? more direction, please.
Slips, in colors to match the artwork – like the kind we used to wear under dresses? I hope the artwork is white, black and taupe.
Paintbrushes – with ya.
Pencil or sharp tool – this causes me some nervous laughter, but, okay...
loop tool - ??? I might still have that plastic loop for making cool ponytails that I bought years and years ago from the “As Seen On TV” store.
low-fire glazes – okay, there is likely a source for these around.
Kiln - WTF?????????????????????????

I could go on to other examples, but I think you probably get the idea. This chick's next book is going to be titled Walk To Anywhere In the World! (If You Have the Time).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not the freaking apple again

(After eating orange almond cookies and reading an article from the NY Times about “greatness” in poetry that was a front to simply weep over the ol' boys club of letters.)

Kitty: “Boys suck. They're mean, they're bossy, and they smell. They want to control everything; and they make war.”

Mike: ”They tried to make cookies, but apparently they made the wrong kind and so they decided to make war instead.”

K: “Who makes cookies without chocolate?? So, you're telling me that all the ills of the world are because women nagged men who in turn felt like they couldn't get things right and so lashed out?”

M: “Pretty much.”

K:”Nice, hon, nice.”


“Do you wanna see my M I made now that I'm 4 that's even gooder than the Ms I usually made when I was 3 and 11 months?”

Friday, February 20, 2009


"Mama, I'll STAY four tomorrow too, right?"

"Yes, Isaac."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

the bizarre bits of the moment

Isaac's grandmother always wants to hear about the goofy things he says. Isaac quotes are very much in demand. At this stage – on the precipice of the fourth anniversary of his arrival among us earthlings – the volume of amusing – or not – goofy things he says is such that I really couldn't keep up if I tried.

I admit to becoming one of those parents who, when her child informs her that the frisbee in his hand is really a magical strobe light that sends streams of stars toward other planets, is wont to reply with phrases like, “That's nice, honey.” and go about my business. Because, honestly, it is the rare occasion that I am not required to do something with the magical strobe light myself, or when I am free to roam the house without being accosted in some way by said strobe, or that I'm not begged to make various and sundry stuffed animals speak about their impressions while watching stars shoot off into the galaxy, so that if he wants the washing machine to be a volcano from which explosions of lima beans erupt every 12 hours, except when he presses this special button that only he can see located atop the refrigerator and he must wear Daddy's socks on his hands to protect himself from excess applesauce – a natural by-product of this whole phenomenon, I'm all for it, just let me drink my tea; I'll clean up later.

I know, these years go too fast, and I'm a terrible person for not cherishing more every nano-second. I'm okay with that. I excel at being a terrible person.

But, still, to save myself, if that's still possible, in the eyes of a few, and for the sake of his grandmother, I will leave you with this: Instead of a dream last night, Isaac reports that he had this song quietly playing in his head:

Twinkle little star.
An octopus fell into the mud.
He found water under the mud.
Hippo, hip-hip-hip-hippo.
The lion knocked down a building.

If you ask really nicely, I might upload the video covering an expose on wildebeests. Maybe. If I'm feeling in the mood to embrace the moment.

Monday, February 09, 2009


we thread the needle
of our cars down
the crowded streets
sewing the neighborhood
in exhaust, stitching ribbons
of hurry. Behind us,
our children strapped in
for the ride didn't ask
for this pattern.

Isaac in the hood

I am reminded again and again by my small person that nothing has a value until you place one on it.

Lately, when we get in the car – at 7:50am, say, to drive the mile and a half to preschool, Isaac has taken to asking us me to turn the radio up and open the window. As he explained, he's seen other people do this – Kanye West blaring from their low riders – and he, too, would like to share his music with folks who happen by.

What you must know, however, is that Isaac's favorite stop on the local radio dial is the R&B and Old School station. This means that as our Mazda 3 hatchback cool-mobile heads down the hill, we are rocking out to tunes like the Four Tops' “Ain't No Woman Like the One I Got,” Al Green's “Let's Stay Together” and that all time favorite of the cruisers bad beats - the Temptations spitting “My Girl.”

Sometimes when I sing along Isaac will ask me wide-eyed, “How did you learn that? How do you remember all those words?” I start to explain how we absorb what is around us. How we have almost unlimited capacity to learn. But then, this seems a redundant lesson.

My son is nothing if not generous. And why shouldn't he share the meaning he makes of this insane world with same?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Weather's great. Don't wish you were here.

William Stafford was one of those people who exuded serenity. One of those people who when you heard him start to speak, your shoulders left their place next to your ears and traveled back home. By all accounts he was kind and gentle and onto to some kind of portal to the self. He is one of those people I often find myself longing to meet, though he's been gone some 15 years.

One of Stafford's writing habits was to get up before anyone else in the house and write a poem, every day.

There is a video that was made with Stafford and Robert Bly called "A Literary Friendship" in which Stafford describes a period of time when his then-young daughter started getting up with him. Naturally, this defeated the purpose of getting up early for him. He solved the problem in a very Stafford kind of way - not by telling his daughter to go back to bed or by altering his routine, but by getting up earlier and earlier each day until he was up at something like 3 am and the child finally couldn't manage to join him.

Whenever I get up, Isaac's mama-radar goes off immediately and there he is next to me. Every time, every bloody time. I have a piece of poem in my head and there he is; I want a cup of tea in the dark fog to collect my thoughts, here's my baby; I have a revision nagging at me and think I'll get a jump start on the day's short work hours -- good luck to me with the King of Questions sidled up beside me.

Today, it was 5:45 am, and I couldn't sleep. All I wanted to get to was reading this article and I would have been satisfied. But somehow my quietly snoozing boy who'd been sound asleep since 7:30 pm last night after a tearfully napless afternoon was sitting on my lap before I could even make it to the website.

I am not William Stafford. Nor, you may have noticed, do I possess his infinite supply of patience and acceptance. And I'm just gonna take a wild guess here and say that patient healing soul or not, when that man got his ass up at 3 am, he didn't also have to make breakfast and haul his kid to school 4 hours later. I'm just going out on a limb here and say that his wife picked up the non-writerly slack in the family.

It has been one of those weeks. The kind when I want to send my family postcards from a lovely nook of country - very far away. The afternoons are too long and I guiltily find myself wondering if that new "Bob the Builder" DVD has come in at the library yet. It is the Only-Child week - the kind of week where I tell myself "See, this is what you get!" and my singleton dances on my every nerve, from atop his throne that happens to sit right at the center of the Universe.

It is a vicious circle I live with -- The more I need space, the more my son senses something and clings. Isaac is very similar to me emotionally. I understand his moods and his reactions and his needs - and they drive me batty. Some might call this pay back. Sometimes I call it part of the learning. But that's just the William Stafford in me talking.

Just Thinking

Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window.

No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held

for awhile. Some dove somewhere.

Been on probation most of my life. And

the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments

count for a lot--peace, you know.

Let the bucket of memory down into the well,

bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one

stirring, no plans. Just being there.

This is what the whole thing is about.

-- William Stafford

Monday, February 02, 2009

if I had a hammer

Barn's burnt down--
I can see the moon.

When we first moved to California, we got an apartment that was a good apartment, one that we felt lucky to have landed – both because of the housing crunch at the time and the fact that prior to that we were living in a tent. Should I have to mention we had no jobs? – and me, the about-to-be-grad-student, with no prospects for getting one.

We stayed in that apartment for 5 and a half years. Longer than I can remember staying anywhere for quite some time. At about the five-year mark, I got antsy. Maybe we should move. I was aided in my thought process by a rat-bastard property manager that was dumber than mud and with whom I had multiple heated arguments. Most of them involved some invasion of privacy and loss of garden. We were renters in a majority owner-occupied condo complex and enthusiastically ignored. I've written poems about this experience. They aren't pretty.

Mike wasn't so sure about the move. I couldn't explain in any real terms why (besides the manager) I wanted out. It just seemed like maybe it was time.

After getting really ripped one night at the bar around the corner and complaining loudly about each of our neighbors as I gripped Mike's arm while teetering along the path back to our place, we decided it might indeed be that time.

We found a new place and voila! the move was on. Two months later our new landlord called to say she wanted her house back. And so began our next 5 years – move after move after move. My friends hauled away furniture while I lay curled on whatever soft thing was left, queasy as all get out, 6 weeks pregnant. Then, for Isaac's first two birthdays we celebrated by moving. If we refer to something in the past or if we look at pictures, Isaac will ask whether it was in the old house, the old-old house, or the old-old -old house.

Nowadays, we talk about the possibility of having our very own house some day. Of buying one or building one. When I first brought up the concept of buying a house, Isaac went pensive for a long time, then came the questions: “How will we get it home? Will it fit in Auntie Bridgett's truck?” Since then, my boy has moved along with us in our dream. Sometimes he'll tell me about how when he gets bigger we'll have lots of trees in the yard. And lots of grass and lots of garden. He'll show me just how crazy he'll run around when we have all that space. He speculates on how many pomegranate trees we will have in the orchard.

Not one to dismiss his history, however, Isaac has also started to talk about the time when he can come back to this house, “when this house is old.” Despite the fact that we have many fond memories accumulating in our current locale, pretty much all of Isaac's conscious ones, and are about to celebrate – imagine – his third birthday in a row! in this same house, he, quite frankly, can't wait to knock it down.

Demolition as high on his list of interests as building, he describes to me in detail the demise of our hearth and home. The windows is his room are going first, or, some days, the front door. BAM! SMASH! Down it will come – WHAMMO! Crumbling into tiny pieces under his direction and ambitious agenda. And then this wall, and the bathroom that mama's always hated anyway – VROOM! CRUNCH! All of it razed. He'll be using his current tools – sturdy colorful plastic numbers our friends Barb and Chris got him when he turned one, plus the piece of oak branch he uses for a jackhammer.

When I first arrived in Hungary in 1994 to take a job teaching English in a secondary school, a woman who remains a friend to this day, Anna, toured me around the city. It was an odd kind of circuit. Every so often, she'd point and say something like, “See that spot over there? There, where there's nothing. That's where the Lenin statue was.” “There?” I'd try to confirm, never sure I had the right spot of nothing picked out, scanning the plaza or bus station or street corner. “Yes,” she'd say, “There. Just there. You see?” “Uh-huh,” I'd say, not wanting to be disagreeable.

While the metaphor doesn't carry over so smoothly – our house is not a Lenin statue, not a representation of oppression and loss, sometimes you have to get things out of the way to move forward. Even things that aren't obvious obstacles. I'll admit I've started to fantasize about when this house no longer stands – in the figurative sense – hoping (because we're allowed that emotion now) that this will be the last one we can't paint the walls of, the last one we look at on moving day and say, “Why wasn't it ever this clean when we lived here?” Maybe it's no Lenin, but it's one in a line of rentals, a line of not-ours. Maybe the last one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

updated book sidebar

Well, after too long there is an update on the books - of sorts. For some reason my links aren't showing up as links in my little paragraph, but they work if you click on them. So, should you want to know more about the Etruscans, Donald Hall, and/or Frank Gaspar, just click on their names where they are mentioned over to the left there.

Monday, January 26, 2009


This past weekend, between the rainstorms and the bouts of illness, we managed a very cool, very fun O-Par-tay. We came together to continue the celebration. O-shaped pizza, O-shaped bread stuck with “O” candles, donuts, apple rings, and other O-licious snacks abounded. We played Six Degrees of Separation from Barack (in these parts lots of Leon Panetta references) and BUSH...GO! - the Bush Bingo game, where I called out Bush quotes instead of numbers to the amusement and horror of all participants. Our living room was strung with flags of various nations to symbolize our re-entry into the world community. Floating Obama heads greeted guests who donned various forms of Obama-wear.

While it all starts to sound a bit like idol worship, we were really going more for kitch. And, of course, joy – sheer joy.

And if I ever had any doubt whether Isaac will remember these days, it is drifting ever-so-constantly away. My evening culminated this way:

(post-toothbrushing) “Mama, know why I did extra spits? For Mr. Obama. Cauz when we brush our teeth real good hearts pop up on his shirt. Like it just goes through the computer and prints out. And the hearts say, 'We're really glad you're here. We're really excited you're president now!”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"...we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals"

Ahh. Welcome, friends, to the other side. I feel as if we've all just walked through a magical forcefield and now, firmly planted in the land of Hope, we can start down the path in front of us.

President Obama...wait, I'm just gonna say that one more time, cause I want to... President Obama, also said that the road is a long one.

Indeed, the poetry revolution got off to a slow start yesterday. While I thought there were lovely moments in Ms. Alexander's poem, I'm not clear why she had to read it as if each word stood at its own bus stop in her throat, their rides all running behind, popping here and there out of the crush of commuter traffic. Two million people in front of her who now think of poetry as revealing itself in jerky syllabic fits and starts. But I'm glad she was there.

Furthering my frustration, however, was my discovery, upon visiting my local public library to request they post on their board a flyer for the upcoming poetry reading in which I will be a co-feature, that only free events can be posted on their board. Apparently a suggested donation of five bucks that might, if we're lucky, cover copying costs for the flyer they're planning on tossing disqualifies my reading and denies the citizens of my town knowledge of a locally-grown cultural happening. But I see their point, what with the glut of poetry readings everywhere, the overwhelming lineup of literary spectaculars, the performing arts soup we swim in every day here in my less-than-metropolitan home arena, I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

Friday, January 16, 2009

my ESL degree comes in handy

Isaac and our next door neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, have what you might call a symbiotic relationship. She likes to give out chocolate; he likes to eat chocolate. Creatively subtle conversations about how we like to limit treats, my dental bills, our family history of diabetes, haven't really made an impact.

I get complete agreement, but ultimately, what she as an 80+-year-old widow who never had children of her own and is an ocean away from her Austrian family likes to think of as “once in a while” and what we as parents having to share close quarters with a scheming sweet-tooth wielding almost-4-year-old consider so, are different.

She piles treats into my arms, onto holiday plates. Things she's made (lemon bars. Mmmmm.), or things that her niece in Salzburg has shipped over for her favorite aunt: “Schoko-Bananen” - chocolate-covered banana-flavored cookie things (barf), or the squares of German and Austrian chocolates shot through with almonds and hazelnuts.

The other day Isaac was digging in the front yard speculating on which kind of dirt might keep away the gopher while I ran in the house for something or other. Before I could get back out, Isaac came barreling in to tell me that “Mit Johnson wanna know if I can hab a tookie, tauz me wortin so hard.”

I sighed, resigned. “I suppose so,” I told him. And out he went like a flash.

A minute later I came back out and found Isaac and Mrs. Johnson in deep discussion. “He can't have a cookie?” she called to me with great umbrage.

“He can have one,” I corrected, surprised.

“He said you said 'no.' Okay, let me get him something.”


“Isaac, did you tell Mrs. Johnson I said 'no?'”

“Me toad her 'poze toe.'”

“'Poze toe?'”

“Yeah, you said, 'Poze toe.'”

“Oh, yeah. I guess she must have heard you say 'no' instead.”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding thoughtfully, “Tauz Mit Johnson speat Wing-gwish dit-went-wy den us do.”

“She 'peat Wing-gwish,” he added again generously, “jut dit-went.”

“Yeah, that must be it, Iz.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

inaugural poet

I've been waiting...Yes, there will be one!

Elizabeth Alexander.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Isaac's Quotes of the Week

To Daddy:
“You're furry. How'd you get so furry?”

To Mama as she puts on tights with a pattern of thin criss-crossed lines:
“You're gonna dress like Spiderman?!”

Conversation at the Frog Pond:
“Mama, how far ducks can fly?”
“I'm not sure, Isaac.”
“Maybe you could make it up.”

Racing himself down the path at the Pond:
“Ready, set...or not set... GO!”

To Mama during imaginary play involving Bob the Builder and a dreidel (and my personal favorite):
“Otay. 'tend Bob cel-da-bwates Han-a-ttah... ”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

neighborhood vignettes

I want to write about how my heart clunks to the ground and everything inside me goes all fidgety when I pass the chain link of Broadway dressed in popsicle wrappers and fast food bags. How my breathing goes ragged and my eyes hurry to the stop sign, the bus stop bench, anywhere else, but it's everything – plastic-coated wire defining yards of sand and rocks, planted in broken clothes hangers, soda straws, losing lotto tickets.

I want to write about how my heart fills to capacity each morning before 8, when I see, along the trash-strewn sidewalks, the same two women – or sometimes three of them – walking - slowly - like there is all the time in the world. One limps profoundly and leans on a cane, all are dressed in long skirts and hats, the colors plums and wines, or chocolate brown and gold. In the crooks of their arms, they carry their pamphlets and books of dire predictions. They are beautiful in their mission, and I often regret politely shooing them away from my own door when they come. Sometimes we talk about the garden.

I am in my car on Fremont. Beside me on the seat, a bottle of blue pills because I'm allergic to penicillin and the root canal is tomorrow.

It takes longer than it should to notice the singing. And just as the light changes to green, I turn and see him – a man of 50 belting out the blues, walking home through the Safeway parking lot. We have just enough time and his smile lights up the darkness of his face, of the night air all around him, and we wave and wave like little kids before I drive on.

If you are far enough up in the turn lane, you can see the giant cypress, its glory framed perfectly by the freeway overpass. Behind it, sand. I would do anything to rescue it – lonely bit of beauty – but I need it there too much.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What's the job, Bob?

I know, he looks innocent enough, doesn't he? But this little man has invaded my home.

Right now, we are using the stuff-pack-after-pack-of-cigarettes-in-their- mouths-until-they-can't-wait-to-quit-smoking method.

Put down the phone, the CPS need not be involved. I haven't started Isaac smoking. But I have been letting him watch his library Bob the Builder DVDs until he actually turns them off himself and agrees to come outside with me. I'm doing the best I can here in the trenches.

Now, should I be offended that the "female" trucks are named "Lofty" and "Dizzy?"

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Lists at the New Year

There are so many:
top 100 whatevers of the year that's passed,
famous people who have also passed,
or the worst:
personal resolutions.

There they are.
Bulleted or numbered.
Not even sentences!

All that wasted space beyond

organize garage


take up tai chi

Our optimism getting the best of us,
one after another, items machine gun us
with their righteousness, pound us with all they are
that we are not, yet. Like a whipping
with so many beautiful scarves,
hand-painted colors at our eyes,
delicate fringe at our feet,
softest silk at our throats.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

May your year reflect joy.

Share Related Posts with Thumbnails