Wednesday, March 29, 2006

saving the light

Soon, it’ll be Daylight Savings Time again. Or is that what we’re in now? What I mean is, soon, we’re changing the time. You gain an hour, you lose an hour. No one is ever really clear on the concept. It’s one of those things – like how everyone always calls Memorial Day Labor Day and Labor Day Memorial Day and no one really pays attention. We know there are three-day weekends at some point in May and September and to store any more information about it would be to tax our already troubled brains, so we let the news anchors fill us in and our computers do their automatic updates.

This year I am really looking forward to the extra hour. What it’ll look like in my world is Mike arriving home with the sun still in the sky and the possibility of he and Isaac going for a walk or otherwise leaving the premises and me to myself. This will be good.

Last year, things were different. The extra hour was a smack in the face from the hand of “Shit, I’m a mom now.” Instead of relishing the extra light, the extra energy that normally accompanies it, I found myself cursing the clock and pulling the blinds shut so as to begin the “nighttime routine” and try to get my kid to bed before dawn (so that I could then try to get him back to bed another half a dozen times before dawn). That hand came down and WHAM. Nighttime routine?!? This is the long haul. This is the real thing. This changes everything.

It’s been a year now. Besides 10 hours a week with the sitter beginning when he was six and a half months old, I have stayed home with Isaac full time. They say you have to admit your problem before you can change it. I am a stay-at-home mom. Forgive me if I don’t read that sentence back for another year or so. They say babies grow up so fast, enjoy every minute. They say some people aren’t “baby people.” They say this is a “great age.” They say that about every age. They say “you look great.” They still say that. They say you seem like you are doing really well.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

snot lines on black jeans, hook-ups, and la Virgen de Guadalupe

The Laundromat. I am a foreigner here.

I have never owned a washer or dryer, yet, I have somehow racked up enough karmic skeeball tickets to cash in on years, perhaps a decade even, of accessible laundry facilities, making a trip to the Laundromat unnecessary. Until now.

Oh, we moved into a house with “hook-ups”. Big freakin’ deal. People advertise this in rental ads like it does us renters any bloody good. “W/D hook-ups.” As if we couldn’t buy the house, but we thought we’d haul a pair of incredibly heavy, unwieldy appliances with us from temporary spot to temporary spot, just stoked to pay for extra Uhaul space.

My black jeans ringed with snot lines just above the knee on each leg, I shake off my babe and head to the Laundromat.

My college memories include hauling the dead weight of dirty socks into a small, olive green room and up to old machines, half of which had their coin slots covered with looseleaf paper scrawled with the word “Broke.” I walk into our local Laundromat with a baggie of quarters and no real sense of what I’ll find.

I can hardly tell which are the washers and which are the dryers. These are chic, new models that flash the number of quarters they are still waiting for as you drop in one after another: Kansas, New Hampshire, Maine. An altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe perches on top of the vending machine that dispenses soap, bleach, and laundry bags. I am the only one who has brought reading material. Everyone else has brought family and friends to entertain them. The place is buzzing with activity.

The first thing I do is check out the huge, extra-expensive machines to try to salvage my oatmeal-splattered futon cover. Missing the sign that reads Machines lock at start and remain locked for the duration of wash cycle and concerned about screwing up my cover with detergent, I put in the soap, drop in my $2.50, and proceed to lock the empty machine. Okay. Well, I don’t think anyone noticed, and surely I’ve lost more money on less noble endeavors.

Eventually, I manage to get my futon cover and two other regular loads of laundry moving along, after which I sit, rather self-consciously, and flip through my magazine, uninterested. Kids ranging in age from about three to about seven race around laundry baskets and in and out of the doors as happy as if the washing machines were slides and swings and the dirty linoleum floor sand to dig in. At one point I make a field trip from my seat (you know, the sea foam green plastic chairs bolted to each other in a long line) to investigate the dryers, since soon it will be time in this little adventure to spread my wings and tumble. I slink over to a vacant metal monster, its big, round mouth open and hungry. I must make more coin offerings to the beast in order for it to grant my wish of dry clothes. Better coins than word puzzles or witches’ brooms, I’d surely end up schlepping home with sopping wet underwear.

I return to my seat, but without all of the information crucial to my next step. I interrupt the two men about my age talking in Spanish next to me. I ask them how much time you get for a quarter on the dryers. I’m proud of myself for pulling words like “ la secadora” out o my butt since it’s been way too long since I’ve conversed in Spanish and never, to my recollection, about laundry. The man closest to me hesitates, then tells me, “Ten minute.” Exchanges like this have always left me wondering – was my Spanish that bad that he couldn’t bear to continue the conversation in his native tongue? Was it important for him to let me know he speaks English?

Time to dry. In an effort to try and shake off my feelings of outsider, I linger over the baby clothes before throwing them into the great mouth, holding them out as if to align myself with the other parents there, looking for any place to stand in this foreign land of rinse cycles and social gathering. I have never gone out of my way to advertise my parenthood and at this point, I just want to go home – It’s Saturday for godssake!

I do go home, briefly, to hang the futon cover on the line. (Yes, we have a clothes line. How very cool. I think clothes lines were prohibited by the city in our last neighborhood. -- I am not joking about that.) I live really close to the Laundromat, and anyway, I’ve always been one of those trusting souls. If anyone cares to take my wet sudsy jeans, maybe they really need them. I’ve been known to wander from my purse in shopping carts engrossed in the differences between free-range, “vegetarian-fed” and organic eggs (does anyone know?), abandon my luggage in the middle of bus stations to go buy a ticket or visit the restroom. Maybe I’m not the smartest cookie, but I play the odds and expend less energy worrying that the old lady in the babushka may steal my dog-eared Berkeley Guide.

When I return, I wait. …

It’s an art.

I wait longer than I need to take my clothes out of the dryer. I’m still ignorant of the rules of this land and after what happened with the futon cover machine, I’m afraid if I stop the dryer to check if my clothes are dry and they aren’t, maybe I won’t be able to start it again. When I do stop it, things are burning hot. I’m not exaggerating here. I am trying not to cry out as I extract onesies from the depths of this fire pit that singe my arms with their metal snaps. I begin to understand the presence of the Virgin of Guadalupe. These machines are mean. You need someone on your side.

Clean and folded, my laundry has grown in size exponentially from what it was coming in. Lugging it in two bags to the car, I feel a little like Isaac trying to carry around his dad’s work bag. I teeter-totter, making funny faces and walking a dizzy line, finally tripping and falling forward over my burden. No one picks me up and cuddles me. No one tells me I’m cute. Inside, the demon machines roar quietly in smug recognition and crank up the heat another notch.

The week following these incidents, I am reluctant to partake in certain activities I used to enjoy, like sitting with Isaac as he practices spooning yogurt into his mouth. I’m jumpier playing outside with him. I mean, what’s that line all those parents use? Something like “Don’t get dirty, Honey!” And that certain laundry pile was much bigger. The half-dirty pile. The one of “if I get to do a wash soon, this could go in, but I’m not making full commitment to its filth and if I need to wear it again before I get to do a wash, shit, I’m putting it on.” What’s a snot line here or there, between friends?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

baby brings fit kitties

Lately I’ve been quizzing Mike on the cats’ physiques.

“Don’t you think Zappy looks thinner?” (I’m met with silence.) “Well, don’t you?”

I stroke Emily’s plush coat head to tail, beaming like a proud Mama. “Emi’s trimming down a little, wouldn’t you say?” (Mike raises an eyebrow; leaves the room.)

On the inside of one of the doors of my desk, I have a photograph of Zap Mama when she first came to us—eight months old and nursing her kittens, tiny, lithe, face angular, clearly with Asian short hair leanings, her ears sticking up like enormous grey triangles pinned to the top of her puny head. I have no pictures of Emily that soon after she arrived to us. I couldn’t have looked. Her ribs stuck out, her fur was coarse as sea salt, what food she couldn’t finish at one go she’d bury with her toys or her placemat in a heartbreaking move that screamed scarcity issues. But over the years my girls have been, shall we say, making up for time lost?

That could all change now. Our kitty cat fitness program is called: the Baby Gate.

On the Baby Gate Program™ your cat can eat all she wants…as long as she jumps over the safety gate to get to it! That’s right. You too can have a fit and trim kitty in just 90 days with the Baby Gate Program™. The extra-tall, pressure mounted gate fits any doorway space and comes in white to match all the boring walls of a rented house. It goes for a ridiculous amount of money at Target, but we have it for you here for only six easy installments of $9.95 a month. Call right now and we’ll include a SECOND safety gate for FREE that you can put between your cat and her litter pan! Just by performing her normal bodily functions on a daily basis, your cat will LOSE WEIGHT. Call NOW!

(The Baby Gate Program™ is a registered trademark of Isaac Raphael Productions.)

strings attached

Just when I think I’m all old and grown up I realize that no, I’m still Jonesin’ to be the kid in this arrangement. I’ve often used my blog as a confessional venue and here I am again: I’ve eaten all of Isaac’s string cheese. But have you experienced this stuff lately? I mean, come on! How cool is it? It’s cheese and you pull it off in long strings and eat it and it’s like food and toy all in one! And after a long day of diaper changes and crying fits, a person might need to play with her food. And did I mention it’s cheese too?...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Boy, Birthday with Cup, Large Red

mocos: welcome to the neighborhood

I’ll admit it. I had my doubts about this new place before we moved here. Isaac and I are always out and about, the neighborhood matters a lot to us. Before, I’d walk down the picturesque little tree-lined streets of downtown peering in the windows of consignment shops or craning to see the surf crashing just a couple more blocks away. It was gruesomely sweet, strangely polite, cruelly foggy, but it was comforting none the less. What would my new space bring me?

I was buying a bagel sandwich for lunch in the ugly shopping mall that is now what is closest to home – closer than the surf or the unreasonably-priced little blue sets of china. Isaac was in the backpack still sniffling from his teething (#7 and #8 are through the gum line!) and the end of a cold. The woman waiting on us was pleasant enough, kept glancing back at Isaac, admiring my handsome boy, I was sure. As our transaction came to an end and she handed me my change, she leaned in a bit and confided softly, “He’s got mocos.” Excuse me? I asked. “He’s got mocos,” the woman repeated.

Mocos is the Spanish word for snot, boogers, or whatever else might be running or hanging out of the nose. “Oh. Thanks,” I told her, not sure the proper reply to such a statement. But I walked away happy. She didn’t have any kind of accent at all; and I certainly don’t necessarily project “Spanish-speaker” when you see me coming, yet she chose to use and assumed I would know this term, never anticipated I wouldn’t, in fact, even when the unexpected nature of the comment had me asking her to repeat herself; she never altered her vocabulary. Cool. This is the product of our new neighborhood, which, I must tell you, I am enjoying greatly.

I am reminded of a trip Mike and I made once to a hiking spot about an hour away. Before we got there, we stopped in a little town called Gonzalez that sits virtually in the middle of nowhere to get gas. Mike went into the minimart store to pay. He came out beaming. “They spoke to me in Spanish! Me!” he squeaked gleefully, pointing at his Irish, French-Canadian complexion. “What did they say?” I asked him. “I have no idea!” he told me, still high from the experience. “That’s great, honey.”

I think we’ll like it just fine here.

lessons still to learn

Isaac is obsessed with shoes. He loves them. He wants to wear his all the time. He wants us to wear ours all the time. It signifies going outside, which he wants to do, all the time. So the other day I took him with me to go shopping for a new pair of sneakers, figured he’d like it. He liked it okay, but I was disturbed by the outcome in general.

I tried on one of the only pairs I saw that I liked. I put them on as best I could, since I was in one of those discount clothing stores where the security tags make it impossible to actually tell if the shoes fit, much less if they are comfortable. There you are, a grown adult in public, tottering around in jerky steps, your feet tied six inches apart, a plastic tab digging into the arch of your foot, trying to make it to those leeeeetle mirrors on the bottom of the seats at the end of the aisle so you can see how your potential purchase will look on you. You do your best to enact your imagination so that you can think of yourself striding gracefully through crowds of people who part when you approach and point in awe at your footwear instead of tripping clumsily onto the little seat above the mirror where several pairs of men’s size 10 Adidas have been abandoned, their boxes strewn about.

The problem is that I am a size 8. Sometimes, I’m an 8 and a half. The sneakers I wanted only existed in size 9. They weren’t “super” big, and I bought them. Walking home, Isaac in the backpack wiping snot all over my collar, I realized the implication of what I’d done. It’s as if I don’t or can’t expect to find what I really need, and so, I settle. It’s as if I don’t have faith enough in the Universe to provide what I need, the right thing, that I’ve learned “good enough” is as good as it gets and might give you blisters, but them’s the breaks. I realized I don’t want to pass this lesson on to Isaac. But so far, I haven’t returned the sneakers.

birthdays call for Balloons

…Brother is making
His balloon squeak like a cat.
Seeming to see
A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it,
He bites,
Then sits
Back, fat jug
Contemplating a world clear as water.
A red
Shred in his little fist.

--Sylvia Plath, from “Balloons”

Sylvia Plath’s poem “Balloons” is one I’ve always liked a lot. It’s one of my favorite Plath poems. Okay, let’s face it – it’s one of the few I fully understand. I kept thinking of this poem as we prepped for our big birthday/housewarming soiree. Like so many things, it’s changed for me now that I’m a mom. I see it differently these days. As in, what the hell is she doing letting the baby play with a balloon and put it to his mouth?! Can you say ‘choking hazard’?! Put down your pen, woman, and go supervise your child! What are you? Crazy??… Oh. Nevermind.

It’s been so long.

Wasn’t I supposed to be online on February 20th, yelling to cyberspace about my little boy turning one? One. One whole year on this planet. One. One whole year as a mom. Both of us are still breathing. It’s a triumph, nothing less. But it’s so hard to find the time.

I want to learn how to write about it. New. It’s what we all want isn’t it? To write in fresh turns what we’ve experienced as a species forever. Ha ha! No, Kitty, it’s not what we all want. It’s what you want. Or what writers want. To explain, somehow, about how it’s too much – bearing the weight of his love (i.e., dependence) and then, at other times, how I just look at him, or at the two of them: my boys, and I am overcome, want to lap them up like milk.

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