Thursday, December 27, 2007


Central Calif. -- Midday on Tuesday, The Squash lost its two-month battle to be completely consumed, landing in pieces in the compost pile of its Central California home and quickly being covered by a layer of sycamore leaves. It is survived by a gunky, rusty-orange-colored ring on top of the washing machine. Plans for a memorial service are pending. In lieu of sending flowers, the family has asked that you eat all your vegetables.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dear Santa,

Me 'mall bi-ickle no hab pedals. I want... (You should ask Santa nicely, Isaac) I would wike a bi-ickle wid pedals go real fast and a fire hat. I want a baby doll shirt come off. No come in house. Mama drive meet you and get da presents.

Love, Isaac

we all have our heroes

Some kids write letters to Santa. My son has some concept of the man, though he clearly prefers the reindeer. No, instead, Isaac is obsessed with the mailman – uh, postal carrier - the man who TAKES the letters to Santa. Rock breaks scissors, paper covers rock, brown knee socks beat velvet red suit every time – look it up.

He can't identify an elf to save his life and sometimes he forgets what a chimney is. But the very idea that you put things out at the mailbox, someone comes to collect them, then they are delivered to the houses of people you specify is pure magic in his eyes. He wraps presents for his friends (i.e., items he finds in his room) and leaves them out by the mailbox. I've gone running out to rescue various books and CDs and from the rain, only to have to hide them from Isaac.

Isaac is particularly obsessed with getting presents to his friend Adam. He asks us if Adam will be here for Christmas. He wonders aloud what Adam might need, if he has a plastic cow already or if he'd like a garbage truck. I hedge, tell him Adam has everything he could want. As hard pressed as he is to take in this one holiday, I don't know that I can gather my energy to explain another just yet. You see, there are things Isaac doesn't know. There's information he's missed. When all the other little kids were gathered around the menorah at Adam's latke party, my kid had to go pee.

spoiling the surprise

When Isaac was quite small, an acquaintance mentioned to me that she always opened all of her boys' Christmas and birthday presents sent from relatives ahead of time to monitor what they got. It sounded a little extreme at the time. But when boxes started arriving the size and shape of a gun rack from relatives you wouldn't put it past, I wondered if maybe she was on to something.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

slippery slope

Isaac was singing this to himself while we were getting ready for school this morning. Couldn't make this stuff up. (NB: He's never had a lollipop.)

“I wanna wowipop. I wanna wowipop.”

“I need a wowipop. I need a wowipop.”

“I want wotsa wowipops. I want wotsa wowipops.”

“I wanna be a wowipop. I wanna be a wowipop.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

tomorrows - full of possibility

“Jindoo bells, jindoo bells, jindoo all way!... Mama?”

“Yes, Iz.”

“Sing 'Jindoo Bells.'”

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open slei-eigh!”


“Yes, Iz?”

“Me no been dat sleigh.”

“You've never ridden in a one-horse open sleigh?”

“No. Me daddy tell me no go on dat sleigh.”

“Your daddy has told you not to go on that sleigh?”


“If you say so, Izzy.”

“Mama been dat sleigh?”

“I have not been on a one-horse open sleigh lately, no.”

“Me daddy tell you no go on dat sleigh?”

“Well, I don't think Daddy so much forbade me from going on a one-horse open sleigh as I have just not really seen one around. I'm sure if I saw a one-horse open sleigh, Daddy would be okay with me going on it.”

“Dat sleigh have wheels. Um, um, and horsey pull it. Um, and it white. And blue and orange.”

“Thanks, Iz, I'll be on the look out.”


“Yes, honey.”

“'morrow me ask Daddy me go on dat sleigh. He say yeah.”

“You're gonna ask Daddy if you can go on that sleigh and he'll say 'yes'?”

“Yeah, 'morrow.”

“Sounds like a plan, buddy.”


Friends of mine often send me links to blogs they think I'd groove with, which I appreciate. But they usually include in their recommendation lines like “You probably already know about this one” - as if I spend my many free hours grazing about in the thousands of mothering blogs, reading until satiated with diaper woes and preschool epiphanies. Really, I only ever read two public blogs regularly, mostly out of habit, I think, and sometimes for other reasons I'm not completely sure of. They are wildly different from each other – one caustic and cynical, the other dreamy and laden with reverence.

A couple months back each of the blogs posted news about pregnancies – in one case a sad loss, in the other a thriving fourth-month-old fetus. In both cases, the pregnancy was planned and hoped for.

It all settled in me to extract a thought I had never paused on before, that something in me was still in the midst of full-on grieving. I grieve for the loss of opportunity to move into pregnancy willingly, to know what it might be like to have chosen to have a child and to have celebrated that choice. I grieve for the woman who might have walked hand in hand with her partner into this sleepless tumult, this joyful insanity. I wonder what she would have dreamed about, what she would have written. I envy her freedom, the lightness in her voice when she woke for the third time in the night to go pee and murmured to her husband, “What were we thinking?”

She is regal like a queen as she approaches questions from the other side of pregnancy; she is giddy like a child as she naively believes she can know the answers. – What will we do about work? Childcare? Discipline? Her excitement at finding out she is going to be a mother threatens to fell me with its dangerous optimism.

Sometimes the pain of not having her, of not being her, overwhelms me. My breathing goes shallow. I feel old and broken. Lost.

Facts are strangely compassionate in their cold truth: I cannot be her. And emotional images are what sustain us: There is a silvery ghost of a woman who visits me now and then, like someone long dead, someone with something to teach me.

Monday, December 17, 2007

squash update

I recently passed the Squash. I hadn't noticed it in a while. But there is still was, on the washing machine in the garage.

It was surrounded by bags of ribbon and wrapping paper. Trying to lay low and blend into the holiday commotion, no doubt. When I looked closely I saw it had spawned a soft spot on one part of it orange eyeball. Not good. It seemed like it might gets oozy soon. So, I did what anyone in my position would do. I moved the bags of ribbon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

it followed me home, can I keep it?

“You’re going to have them trim the top of the tree?” I ask warily.

It is four years ago. My husband and I are standing with our latest landlord in the courtyard of what will be our home, staring skyward at a crooked-trunked tree with a shaggy mane that every once in a while gently sweeps the upstairs window of my neighbor’s apartment with a fan of silver-green leaves.

“You can’t kill those things,” my landlady is saying in a way that makes me wonder if she’d rather it weren’t true. “Wacked off the top last year and before you know it…” She waves her arms above her head, flapping and wriggling like a child portraying a tree in an elementary school play.

“Well, I love trees,” I tell her. She laughs. “Ooooohhh – kaaaaay,” she says.

The house I’d rented before that one, I’d picked based to a large degree on the beautiful live oak that grew in the corner of the yard and that we named Jack. I left the apartment before that because the property manager had a proclivity for chain saws and constantly referred to “evening out” the branches of the oaks in front of my patio that rose from grey trunks I likened to elephants’ legs and counted on to steady me as I wound willy-nilly through six years there, a grad-school thesis, my mother’s cancer diagnosis, my wedding.

When I was little, I planted a maple tree seed. It grew. We moved it from New York to New Jersey and again from the first Jersey house to the second. It’s still there. It’s my tree. Any time it would come up in conversation as “Kitty’s tree” my sister would roll her eyes. “Oh my God. Would you shut up about the goddamn tree already?”

The quickest and surest way to stab me in the heart is to cut a tree down. My apologies to the thousands of people who cut trees for this blasted Christmas holiday, but I can’t stomach it. I don’t care if it came from a “tree farm” – something I find to be a perverse notion altogether.

In the past, Mike and I have tried buying small potted trees that someone shaped to look like the perfect triangle, only to have them reveal their true nature later, stretching out their pine needles all lopsided and unhappy. One such tree (Mel) is now planted on city property. We watered him religiously for the first year he was there. He’s grown to five times what he was when we made him suffer the indignity of tinsel. We visit him regularly. He’s never asked to come home.

Mike had been hinting about a tree all weekend. I’d said okay, we’d try again. Something small, something potted.

He leads me over to a fat four-footer – twice the size we had been imagining. It has a nice shape. Looks Christmassy.

Outside, a worker is guiding a chainsaw through the trunk of one of the unfortunates – though it’s already been harvested to die, he makes a fresh cut so it’ll soak up more water in someone’s living room before being left on the curb to brown.

Mike is circling the potted tree. It’s branches seem strong. “It’s nice,” I tell Mike noncommittally. “It’s big.”

He calls Isaac over to see how high he can reach on it. “Almost to the top!” they both lie.

“What kind is that one?” I ask casually.

“A rdwwo,” my husband mumbles looking off into the distance.

“Pardon me?”

“A redwood.”

“A REDWOOD?? ARE YOU NUTS??? What are we going to do with a redwood?”

“Hang ornaments on it?”



“And where do you propose we plant a redwood after Christmas?”

“It won’t take up that much room. They live 800 years, how fast can they grow?”

I might as well have been standing next to the bathtub, a baby crocodile thrashing in the bubbles while he promised, “It won’t be any trouble, really.”

Becoming a mother has brought me more responsibility than I think I can shoulder. I haven’t slept in almost three years. Even while I was still pregnant, I posted a raving blog (you, Kitty, naw, go on) that talked about how some days the only reason I get up is because I feel guilty about leaving the blinds down for the plants. I once left the SPCA crying because there were no kittens I could foster. I take my commitments all too seriously and my dear husband knows it.

Do I have to tell you we have a redwood in our living room? This real estate collapse better keep on keeping on, cauz we need to buy a house with a BIG ASS yard for my new tree.

'Tis the season

"Do you like parties, Isaac?"

"Not so much. Widdle bit."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

good instincts

Have you seen the ads on Yahoo? There are little cartoon people lined up and the tag line is “Train to Be a...” Each little face takes an occupation: Social Worker. Graphic Designer. Health Care Manager. Accountant. Bounty Hunter. Whaaa? Is this one of those things that they throw in to see if you are paying attention? Like when Mike wants to know if Isaac is asleep yet and Winnie-the-Pooh starts asking Piglet whether he thinks the other candidates are picking on Hillary because she's a woman or because she's ahead?

But now, it's time for another edition of everyone's favorite game of speculation: What Will Isaac Be When He Grows Up? (roar of cheering crowd)

- That guy who used to bring all the exotic animals on the talk shows. Think Johnny Carson scrambling away from his desk as someone in a beige zoo-keeper's shirt and safari hat suggests that the unusually large rodent clawing through his notecards really likes it if you scratch him under the chin. Isaac's new favorite game is called “Hi.” I have to hold one of his stuffed animals (the Carson figure) while he introduces his other animals to me one after another. Take his sting ray for example. (Yes, my son has a stuffed sting ray.) “Oh, hi. Wook my wings. I wap, wap wap my wings in the o-ton. Biiiiiiiiiiig wawa. Touch my tail. Me have eyes, see?” etc.

- I've decided that stage or movie director isn't nearly as bossy or hands on as Isaac would require in a profession. I think he'd do better as a permanent guest on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” specializing in that game where two people act out a scene but can't move until another player moves their limbs and bodies for them.

- and finally, I may be out on a limb here, but I'm feeling reckless today: poet.

Of course, as off the beaten track as Bounty Hunter may be, you still would never see one of those little faces promising to train you to become a painter, folk singer, stand up comic, poet. One must supplement.

Isaac loves to tell us about his dreams. “Me had deam 'bout, 'bout, 'bout...Mama, me had deam 'bout...oranges!”

I am not concerned in the least that his “dreams” have to do with the first thing his eyes light on. On the contrary, it shows good poetic instincts. Start from where you are. There is a story in the daily details.

“Where going, Mama?” Isaac asks as I head out to my monthly poetry hosting duty.

I answer the same way I always do. I bust out, “I'm going to host a POETRY reading!” making sure to light up like an all-night drive-thru.

“Me too??” he begs, jumping up and down.

Train 'em young.

it won't die

I have a list of blog ideas that hope to write on in the next couple days, but I think first I owe you a Squash update. Yes, I'm talking about THE Squash.

Well, the pumpkin muffins that were scheduled for the day after the initial entry on the Squash didn't materialize, but they did come to pass a day or two after that. The thing about the Squash is, it doesn't go anywhere, it's like the dishes, or your fourth grade teacher at the front of the room folding her hands against the rambunctious bodies ready for recess saying “I can wait.”

The “Fluffy Pumpkin Cookies” that Katie sent a link to happened too (Thank you, Katie.). We have entertained ideas of pumpkin bisque though none has happened yet, because really, we have nothing else to do with our time but manage large winter vegetables.

As serendipity would have it, a list appeared at Isaac's Montessori for parents to sign up to bring something toward the Thanksgiving meal the kids were going to prepare for us. I saw it as my ticket to ride. I snatched up the clipboard and hurriedly wrote my name next to “Pumpkin – enough for two pies.” Mike cooks down two enormous pans of the stuff and when it is all over, the clock reads midnight and the damn stuff was only enough for a single pie. We supplemented with a can of pumpkin that's lived in the cabinet for quite some time, making one if not two of the last moves with us.

With hopes high I head for the garage to see how much the giant orange lump has shrunken. It looks exactly as it has for days. “I used the hunk in the frig!” Mike explains.

At the pre-school meal, I try to explain to the other parents about the Squash as they eat tiny slices of the custardy dessert, but they only nod briefly and turn to tell their three-year-olds to put their shoes back on. They just don't understand my pain.

And that is where we are today. I'm afraid it doesn't make for stunning literature or really even a good blog read. It just is. I'm thinking of possibly carrying it around and introducing it to people as our second child, a la “Lars and the Real Girl.” Or charging it rent. Or maybe I could travel with it like the proverbial garden gnome, sending back e-postcards of the Squash at the Eiffel Tower, the Squash in front of the Colosseum. All I want for Christmas is the Squash...gone.

Monday, November 19, 2007

and you thought it was the snow

Overheard at my house today:

(sung to the tune of the alphabet song, of course)
"A,B,C, D, E, F, G,
H, I, J,...Yellow Peas."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

family portrait with squash

The large green oblong thing in this picture is what will henceforth be referred to in these entries as “the Squash.” It looked cool and on a whim we added it to our pumpkin selections back in October when pumpkins were still all the rage. It weighed somewhere around 30 pounds.

From the moment we got it home, Isaac wanted to cut it open and see inside. I told him we would open it, but first let's just enjoy it as decoration.

Several weeks went by with Isaac asking every so often about cutting it open. Finally, when he asked again last week, I said okay. “Yay! Yay! Dut it o-pin! Dut it o-pin! Hurray!”

We put in our guesses on what color it might be. Isaac went with white. We ruminated about the size of the seeds. Isaac's estimate was “Big-big-BIG!” So I chopped. Bright orange and Big-big-BIG, in case you were wondering. And then came the dilemma. What the hell were we going to do with 30 pounds of pumpkin guts? A heavy veil of guilt fell over me. I could feed a small nation with this thing and here we were pretty much thinking – eh, compost pile?

Day One with the Squash: Initial dissection. Mike makes squash for dinner. “Me no like it,” concludes our son.

Day Two with the Squash: Pumpkin muffins for breakfast, enough to distribute among friends.

Day Three with the Squash: One hunk takes up half a shelf in the refrigerator, the rest won't fit at all. It sits at the fourth place at our kitchen table. “What punt-tin doing?” It's watching us with that big orange eye.

Day Four with the Squash: Trim off the dried ends and make pumpkin pie for dessert. Mmm. Whipped cream in a can. Sign me up. “Me no like it.”

Day Five with the Squash: It moves from the kitchen table to the top of the washing machine in the garage. Now we can almost forget it's there except when I come around the corner to get my shoes or retrieve the cat food, then BAM.

I feel like we're harboring a criminal, or at least a secret. An old Russian professor of mine liked to collect propaganda posters from the 50s. One that hung prominently in his office read: “ARE THERE BOLSHEVIKS IN YOUR WASHROOM?” You can see the slippery slope – squash on washing machine, Bolsheviks in washroom.

Day Six with the Squash: I throw away the bowl of giant seeds that I never dried out and are now nasty gross. “Mama, what you doing?” Nothing, son. You didn't see a thing, you understand?

Plans for Day Seven include more pumpkin muffins, praying to the gods of abundance, and carving out a ski chalet for Isaac to play in. Stay tuned.

"the eye"

day two without a nap

From the back of the car, on the way home from the store right around nap time: "Mama, why people sleep in daytime?"

Friday, November 09, 2007

just a couple o’ working stiffs

“Me go work,” Isaac announces upon mounting his rocket ship. “Bye bye.”

“Have a good day, honey,” I call while checking to see if that director or this organization chair emailed back yet, another deadline looming over my shoulder.

I am a journalist. No, a reporter. No. I write articles sometimes for the paper. I have found myself in one of those professions, like a bartender or a cabdriver. People tell me things. I am a keeper of secrets, a seer of souls.

“This is off the record,” they say.

“Well, between you, me, and the wall…” they say.

“I wouldn’t want you to print this, but I’ll tell you the real reason,” they say.

And so the things they tell me in confidence dangle like mischievous poltergeists between the lines of black newsprint.

They tell and I receive. Maybe they never knew they had these things to say until some question I managed to write down on the fly set them on a path to divulge, a route blocked with emotion. There’s a need to get it said even if it can’t go any further, like a journal entry, like a terminal degree; I understand. I have those things.

We live in a world of large, public everything. Our internal worlds – what ARE those again? What good is it if it isn’t going to reach a thousand people? a million? If it’s not on Oprah? If we aren’t shouting? If people, lots of them, don’t know about it, it must be pointless.

And yet, again and again they reveal, in the intimacy of the impersonal, in the safety of the temporary.

I have interviewed loads of people over the last year and a half. Many of them connected to events I would not have given a second look if it weren’t for my job. Some of them connected to events I actively dislike and find in conflict with my philosophical, political and moral beliefs. But at least for the time I am in their company (even if the article I ultimately write takes a different turn) I must give myself over to their point of view. And, for the twenty minutes I am sitting across from them or have them on the phone, I do. I go there. It’s something most of us can avoid, though none of us can afford to.

“Me home from work, Mama!” The rocket ship parks beside the bookcase.

“That’s great, Izzy. Welcome back. What did you learn at work today?”

Monday, November 05, 2007

sing for your pumpkins

Before we get too far from pumpkin time, and until I have the time to post something real. Here's a check-in visual with the kid.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

flash forward

I arrive to collect my boy from his preschool on Halloween. They had a "carnival." Isaac is lingering on the patio where he has begun dismantling the Halloween basket from his teacher. Monster magnet. Giant rubber spider. Flying propeller thing. Playdoh. Ah. There we are. The thing you're looking for is always at the bottom, isn't it?

While I foolishly attempt to engage in adult conversation with other parents in my vicinity, Isaac spreads his playdoh on the bench. By the time I think to look back, he is throwing his face into the big old green pancake of dough repeatedly and laughing insanely at the imprint he can make.

For reasons I can't fully explain, my mind flashes ahead a couple decades to my son at college, after hours in an office to which he has earned the keys, being that upstanding workstudy individual of great character. And he is xeroxing his butt cheeks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

out of the loop

Though Isaac has decided to forego his past habit of entering the library at a run screaming “TRUUUUUCK!!!!! BOOOOOOOK!!!!!” at the top of his lungs, he still expects that these bastions of literacy be equipped with an unending supply of books on vehicles of large proportions and the holy scripture on which his religion is based is a slim volume titled My Truck Is Stuck. My open-minded child is not opposed to reading books that aren’t about trucks, but while on site, it isn’t his mission to deal in such things.

Any library visit involves Isaac pulling book after book off the shelf in search of trucks, and me lagging behind him pulling off anything that looks like maybe it could contain a story or theme of interest or at least is nicely illustrated. Since I am usually trying to keep him from unshelving the entire children’s section, I don’t look very carefully at the books I’m grabbing. Often, when I get them home they are not so hot. The pool of horrible kids’ books is wide and deep.

Some of you may be familiar with Elmer the patchwork elephant who stars in his own series. I knew of Elmer, had seen the stuffed toy, and even own a bilingual board book about his colors that I quite like. And sometimes when you get to know someone too well, it ruins everything.

Apparently, Elmer has a cousin – Wilbur. Wilbur is checkered (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Wilbur is also, apparently, a ventriloquist.

Now, some women complain that they feel divorced from the professional world after having kids and leaving the workforce for a while, like they are out of the loop and haven’t kept up with new developments. Has something crazy happened in the world of literature while I was busy getting my son to 2 and a half? Have I missed something? Is this now a common or useful literary device? – to supply your patchwork elephant with a family member who can throw his voice?

The set up was smooooth. It went something like “Wilbur was a ventriloquist.” Uh, yeah. So, Elmer sets off into the jungle to find Baby Elephant’s lost teddy bear. He talks to the lions, the tigers, and a few other wild creatures, who tell him they haven’t seen the teddy bear. Then, he discovers the bear, who calls out to him “I’m lost! I’m lost!” to which Elmer responds in utter shock, “You can talk?” But don’t be silly, it was Wilbur, his black and white checkered cousin ventriloquist playing a trick. Whew. For a minute there, I thought they were going to step over the line and ask me to suspend belief in a way I just wasn’t ready to.

Friday, October 26, 2007

how far the apple falls from the tree

Isaac has been whining about Daddy all morning, so we drive up to Mike’s office and meet him for lunch.

We wander together into one of the lunch rooms that shares space with a book exchange library. Isaac takes to the shelves and begins flipping through mystery paperbacks.

“What’s that book about?” Mike asks him.

“Words,” Isaac says plaintively, placing it on the floor and digging out another.

After a brief look, his fears are confirmed: “Dit one ‘bout words too,” he sighs.

tell tale signs

A sure way to tell if someone has no children, or alot of extra time on their hands (actually, the two are synonymous): They watch you walk to your car with babe in arms then decide to wait for your parking space.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

success comes with its own challenges

In a crowded restaurant at lunch, Isaac returns from the restroom with his dad.

At the top of his lungs:

so close

"Mama! Knock, knock!"

"Who's there?"

"Ummm. Me not sure."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

false dichotomies

I still remember when Isaac was about 10 weeks old. I was talking to my sister on the phone, telling her that lately Isaac wouldn’t always fall asleep right after I fed him and I didn’t know what was wrong.

“What should I do?”

- a beat, then…

“Interact. With. Your. Baby,” came the reply.

I was panicked.

How? What do you mean “interact??”

I know how to change diapers, take walks, and breast feed (sort of). Now you’re expanding my job description? I’m not ready!

So it has been ever since – running to catch up with the next phase Isaac has moved on to while loathe to relinquish my comfortable hold on what I had worked so hard to get down in the last phase.

Something else has also stayed the same – the choice of “to do for” versus “to engage with.”

“To do for” is the more comfortable of the two – the rules are clear and the route is (mainly) undisputed, e.g., baby needs lunch for preschool tomorrow. Action: make lunch for baby. These lists of “to do” not only fill time, but release me in some small way to my adult thoughts –
call about playdate,
buy diapers,
return library books,
wipe son’s nose.

Naturally, baby barges in on the “to do” list. I find I usually become most annoyed at Isaac when I’m on a roll with “to do” and he’s mucking it up with “engage” –

call about playdate = “Me talk! Meeeeeeeeeeee TALK!”
buy diapers = “No sit in cart!” followed closely by begging for some sort of dinosaur cookie lamentably placed front and center at the check out.
return library books = scattering books randomly about the building then stamping his entire body with the due date.
wipe son’s nose = hiding in the closet to the tune of “Not see me, Mama!”

I once held a job (I know, just stay with me here) in which I had much creative freedom in how to fill my days. New projects were welcomed, new directions expected. Sometimes, it was nothing short of torturous, my battered soul longing for a form to fill out.

Prior to the job, I once had a graduate professor who warned me in the margins of my thesis draft to “beware false dichotomies.” I’ve thought of that advice more often than I can relate in the last eight years. “To do for” and “engage” are likewise part of the same whole. The part of me that wants to find out where they meet, leaves the list lying around the house until, “Mama, me draw on dis?”

“Yeah, Iz, go ahead.”

Monday, October 08, 2007

Vancouver continued (again), i.e. Chapter 3

There is a longing that comes and goes. It's about my former life, or at least an imagined former life, in which I might visit a city, say, a city in the Pacific Northwest, a cosmopolitan city of great beauty, with more water sculpture and fountains per capita than any other, a city full of coffee houses and playhouses, and restaurants. I might go in them, enter and be entertained, enter with a partner no less, speak softly over goblets of shiraz, wiping the corners of my mouth with the sage napkin before replacing it on the black lacquered table and rising to leave again. It is in these settings that the longing comes rather than goes.

Isaac chose this moment, this time of longing to act out what are no doubt growing pains of the emotional, psychological and physical kind. What I mean to say is, he is intolerably hyperactive and rebellious. Read: BRAT. Oompa-Loompas, anyone? (I know I should be laying out examples of his evil ways rather than reporting simply that he is on my nerves, but sorry, my writer self has been under siege in too many ways for me to creatively relate much of anything.) Mind you, this is my son who not long ago waited patiently and happily in the DMV with me for an hour watching the monitor for a “G” to appear, signaling our turn at last.

It's a little like parents who complain about their infants who started out sleeping through the night but now are waking up once or twice. I have no sympathy for these people. Zero. They are just getting their bleary-eyed come-upance. So it clearly may be that neither am I entitled to any shoulders to cry on. And yet, if you offered, know that we could likely float away on the deluge.

Vancouver continued

Would it have been so very hard for the concierge to have spent a little less time on her make up and a little more learning about her job? Then, she could have told me about Science World – a kid wonderland just a couple quick metro stops from our hotel rather than sending me out by taxi to the Maritime Museum with its broken magnetic boats to dock.

But I had pretty much established that our hotel – the big fancy one that Mike's organization was paying for and that was situated just a few blocks from the conference center – wasn't really set up for assisting families of young children round about the time housekeeping, being careful not to knock on the door since the privacy sign was out, called my room during Isaac's much-needed nap to ask when I'd like service.

What if I accept that someone or something is testing me; and what if we all agree that I've failed miserably? Now may I PLEASE be dismissed???

Maritime Museums. Dreary places playing news reels from this and that sea-faring disaster, counting up the numbers of crew and passengers lost, the bell recovered by divers hanging over the display (it tolls for thee). Cold, metal instruments and cumbersome equipment I don't know the names of. Claustrophobic cabins with logs laid out as if the bearded captain has just stepped out on the deck to smoke his pipe and will return any moment. Ladders and ropes and wheels that speak of icebergs and rats.

Just so you know, Isaac marked the Maritime Museum just as he marked most other stopping points on our trip – with a potty training accident. My son was apparently a cat in a former life. So stand back, all this glory is his and his alone.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Chapter I
in which the Complaining is discussed and a husband gets some sleep
(After A.A. Milne)

She had been right in the midst of the Complaining, a Complaining she'd worked hard to design, build and now, execute, revised as it was at 1:45 am lying in her Unacceptably Small hotel bed, eyes moist, next to her two-year-old, Only Recently Asleep after a Hysterical Meltdown brought on, no doubt, by Utter Exhaustion, and a body away from her husband, Sleeping Reliably Well.

The Complaining was revised again at 3:05 am, and again at 5:14, 6:29, 6:50 and 7:12.

She was right in the middle of laying out the Personal Assault, aka, the Complaining, made on her by the Night Clerk when she had arrived tired and hungry in the dark and rain at just past midnight, when the Day Clerk, aka Recipient of the Complaining, had said, “I'd be happy to take care of your breakfast tomorrow to compensate for any inconvenience.”

And she looked at the Day Clerk, who in turn looked neat as a banker, and she sighed. It was a Helpless Sigh, and she thought the woman, the manicured banker posing as a hotel clerk, saw the glimmer of sorrow that must have passed over her face. And then she paused, unsure how to proceed. And this woman, this clerk/teller in her post pearls and her square, white-tipped fingernails, in her navy blazer covering a predictable red satin camisole, was somehow just like her husband, the Reliable Sleeper, as he too was always jumping to Solutions and not wanting to listen to the problem at hand (in all of its grand and careful detail). And in the next moment, the one after the sigh and the sorrow, the one after the indecision, she said, “I'd like to make one more comment about my experience...”

Afterwards, now, for example, thinking back, she was proud of the Phrase. It felt Dignified – a solid recovery from the Sorrowful Sigh of Indecision, and also quite polite.

In her room, her new room, for they had given her a new room, proving that she sometimes succumbed to Solutions, she found, very accidentally, the print out of their reservation. There it was, right there, “1 King Bed – Nt Gtd.” Naturally, it was the “Nt Gtd” part that had caused all the fuss, and so she threw it away post haste, so as not to have to look at it.

Her husband, now Awake and presumably Well-Rested, had disappeared to a conference where he would attend a series of tightly packed 20-minute sessions during which Some Soul was to explain to a room full of Other Souls things like “An Augmented Reality Architecture for the Creation of Hardware-in-the-Loop and Hybrid Simulation Test Scenarios for UUVs (070427-011).” He had kindly left her a copy of his itinerary from which she could determine at which time he'd be listening to a speech on Inductive Power Systems for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and when, exactly, he'd be lulled to the rhythms of Time-Series Data Exchanges Using the Geography Markup Language.

Since there is no such thing as Too Much Sharing, he had also said he would update her over email about when he might have a break. But she felt pessimistic about her chances for retrieving the information. In the drawer of the hotel room desk was a cable and a book marked “Internet” and under that “User Guide/Guide l'utilisateur.” Seeing how she'd failed to operate the coffee brewer properly, she thought she might leave the cable and its storybook where it was and just lie down a bit next to her two-year-old, Recently Asleep, on the Acceptably Large hotel bed and try to get some rest, maybe review how the Complaining of the morning had gone.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

language: the end of an era

“Hey, baby boy, whatcha doing?”

“Me not baby.”

“Oh, that’s right. You’re bo.”


It doesn’t so much tear at my heart that he doesn’t want to be called a baby anymore, but, forever and ever, like almost half of Isaac’s life, before all the other words he can say now started popping out of his mouth like fake snakes from a can, “Big” has been “Bo.”

It has even taken on the status of family language – you know, those weird distortions that are only understandable to an intimate group of people. Mike and I had begun routinely saying things to each other like in serving pizza - “I want the bo piece.” Or in throwing away a poopy diaper - “Bo poop!”

It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of bo.

If you don’t hear from me after this for about a week, it’s because we’re headed to Vancouver (although, I think I’m bringing my laptop so we’ll see.). Isaac asked me where we were going on our trip. And then on receiving the answer he tried out his favorite new construction replying with, “Me like Van-oo-er.”

Usually the efforts to be a big boy and the parrot repetition that has grown exponentially in the last months are amusing and endearing – e.g. exhibit A above, and e.g., below:

Isaac and Mike are in the bedroom getting Mr Iz dressed.

“Can you take off that shirt yourself?”


“You almost got it.”


“Keep going… You did it! You’re a regular Houdini.”


“Yeah, he was a guy who could get out of lots of shirts,” says Mike.

But there are times when it just isn’t cool:

We are driving in the car with the radio on NPR, as usual, when the news comes on to report, as usual, a suicide bombing. “The Taliban took credit for the incident,” the news anchor says. “Tal-bon!” my two-year-old calls from the back seat. Mike and I exchange a glance before I quickly punch the button for the bad 80s compilation CD. Somehow, I’d rather end up hearing “Me like Jesse’s Girl!” more than some other possibilities.

It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of oblivion.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

controlling the environment

We live in a world where meteorologists apologize for weather that does not comply with expectations or weekend agendas.

Whenever possible, if our environment doesn’t suit us, we change it. We play sports under domes - the rain delay only a fond memory, killed off is its spontaneous song and dance put on by soaking wet idiots in the nosebleed section. We burn holes in the ozone with big, climate-controlled SUVs. We cut down trees that block our view and build dams to divert water from where we want to live. We hose the shit out of what should be desert until it snaps to at our heels, growing a lackluster shade of green.

Luckily for me, as a renter, I get to enjoy old-fashioned helplessness when it comes to my surrounding environment. Once upon a time we lived as renters in a condo complex where we were actively disregarded and left uninformed. We never quite knew what we’d wake up to – chainsaws in the live oaks, power washing on our patio. Finally, when the condo association entered our patio to rip out a young acacia tree that had happily started up on its own outside my kitchen window, all bets were off.

We had friends around the corner having some work done on their house and the craftsman just happened to leave his sledgehammer there for the night. Mike smashed up one of the squares of cement on our patio to make way for a 3’ x 3’ water garden. While the sledge hammering was in progress, a neighbor passed by. “What are you doing?” he asked Mike. “Gardening,” said my husband, resting the sledgehammer on his shoulder and wiping his forehead. We carried the crooked pieces of concrete to the dumpster after dark.

But even when we are gentle in our campaigns to mold our environment to our liking, things can get ugly. This summer, my garden was the site of The Great Aphid Festival. Aphids moved in with their tiny little aphid suitcases, greeting long lost cousins with relish, hosting aphid raves, where they would swing from vines, trees, flowering buds, make out on the underside of leaves, and generally go wild. (I think I might have spotted teeny-tiny little glow sticks, but it could have just been the slant of the sun.)

And where there are aphids, there are ants – big bully bouncer ants standing at the doors of the biggest raves with their arms crossed over their tee shirts that read “Security” across the back. Some of you may know about this symbiotic relationship – the aphid generates a substance called “honeydew” that the ants dig. Apparently, if you’re an ant, this stuff is so way yummy that you actually protect aphid eggs to ensure their buddies and future generations will stick around. And it goes on from there…

Like a good organic gardener, I went out and bought ladybugs to spread around that would hopefully dine on the partying aphids. I decided to put them in the garden while Isaac wasn’t around still concerned as I was about creating the kind of scene I witnessed when Isaac was around a year old… (I need a “Wayne’s World” flashback sequence sound here.)

We were with friends at a local organic farm for an Earth Day celebration that included food, entertainment, a train for the kids to ride on, and a woman dressed as a giant ladybug who was supposed to take the kids out into the field to release real live bugs.

So, the key phrase here is “out in the fields.” You, see, the giant ladybug didn’t really go out into the fields, but rather stood on the edge of the field. Four- and five-year-olds swam at her feet as more and more real ladybugs crawled out of her bag, onto the ground and the people there for the spectacle. It was a tickly, joyous atmosphere until, lo and behold, the train came around again and everyone who could stepped out of the way.

You’ve probably guessed what came next – Yup. Sobbing preschoolers fretting at the wheels of the mini-train, beside themselves, crying, “You’re killing them! You’re killing them!”

(Return from flashback.)

Not wanting any unforeseen massacre to jar Isaac, I went it alone – just me and the bugs.

Everything was smooth, I thought. I went out into the garden a couple hours later to check on them and found them here and there, though their numbers seemed a little thin. Then I noticed an ant who seemed to have hold of one of the ladybug’s legs. Odd. Then I noticed several ants who, if I didn’t know any better, seemed to be ganging up on a ladybug, like, kind of, attacking it. By the evening, I could only find a couple of my spotted friends hunkered down in the crook of a calla lily leaf.

A little research confirmed my fears. Ants actually protect aphids from predators, organizing to fight them off. (“You’re killing them! You’re killing them!”)

I guess we aren’t the only ones that manipulate our surroundings to suit us better.

I have stopped killing bugs since Isaac was born, fixated as I am on teaching him to respect all life. I have even stopped hurling snails into the street, which if you know me at all, is huge. (Isaac likes to transport them in his bulldozer to the shabby patch of vegetation in the island of our street, from where, he believes, they “go home to mama.”) But these freaking ants are testing me – invading our pantry, swarming whenever I water – carrying their eggs frantically to higher ground, coming in with garden bouquets to jog across the coffee table, and – for godssake – killing my ladybugs?? while the aphids party hard.

And after the domes can help us no more, and the dams kill off the river life, and the SUVs kill off the ozone layer, you thought it was going to be the cockroach that survived.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

party games

So, Isaac went to a real live kid party the other weekend. With games and cake and favor bags.

Alright, I confess: This is actually his second. Mike took him to one while I was out of town this spring, but that one doesn’t count, since I wasn’t there. This time I got a chance to have a complete panic attack in the middle of it while talking to a couple I don’t know very well about where they got their daughter’s little backpack – you know, world changing stuff – and suddenly needed to leave immediately as I realized, the energy level rising, the backpack talk coming into focus, a four-year-old racing a dump truck by my feet at mach speed, that I was the adult at a kid party.

So, as I was saying, I went to a real live kid party the other weekend.

The first game was pin the balloon on the fire truck (?) Isaac did not participate.

The second game was throw the water balloon at the drawing of the house on fire. Isaac was slow to participate, but managed to get to throw one balloon before the other kids trashed the rest of the bucket. (“Where more?”)

The third and final game was the fire truck piñata. Isaac held back until all the other children had two turns each. Then, without warning, he swooped in on the action claiming his turn and hammering on this piñata like a star student of anger management class (And then, mama wouldn’t let me have ice cream. (Wham!) And then, daddy told me to come inside. (Whack!)) He so far outstripped the feeble attempts of the other children that parents started turning to look at Mike and I, while I slunk backwards through the crowd pretending to be interested in a toy helicopter.

And then came the logical conclusion to all this whacking…Welcome to California: where the blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid smacks the hell out the piñata and runs back to his mama with pride gleaming in his eye and an organic fruit leather clutched in his sweaty little fist.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

can’t argue with that

I’ve always felt that logic was way overrated.

You’d think, then, that living with a two-year-old would be easier for me than it is. We aren’t anywhere near logic, being some four years away from the “age of reason” as they tend to call it. Isaac is safely immersed in imagination – his own. We don’t watch TV; he’s never seen anything produced by Disney.

So what do I do when Logic shows up with its pesky tentacles reaching, getting all up in Imagination’s face and has the nerve to wrangle with Safety, that prim little witch with a permanent scowl?


Isaac is dropping pebbles from the yard from as high as he can reach. “Rain! Rain, Mama! Come down! Weeeeeee!” Handful after handful spatter the driveway in a musical twinkle, the energy with which they are thrown growing.

“Isaac, you have to be careful with those. You can’t throw those. You shouldn’t land them on your head. They could hurt you or they could get in your eye, or they could get in Mama’s eye.”

He frowns. “Mama, not rocks. Rain. RAIN. Get WET, not hurt.”


Isaac is playing train. He asks me to be the car behind him. We choo-choo around the front yard until he approaches the end of our walkway and announces,

“Go in weet.”

“We can’t go in the street, Iz. We don’t go in the street, you know that.”

“Me TRAIN. Train go in weet!”

Sometimes I get scared that it’ll be my kid with the pillow case tied around his neck jumping from the roof, invincible.

Monday, September 10, 2007

the signs were all there...

Halloween 2005.
(see entry below regarding vocational directions)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Isaac’s career paths – part III

Here we go again. More possible vocational directions for Isaac.

- Deep sea explorer. (The daily mantra: “Mama, Mama, me sea lion. Me go down deep. Wawa right dere! Me have f’ippers. Splash!!!”)

- Songwriter. (Commonly heard at our house: “Brannew song. Um, ‘Starwish.’ Come see? (starts to sing) Starwish, starwish, starwish. La la la. Starwish. All done. Otay. Brannew song: ‘Wain.’ (sings) Wain. Wain. Dome down. Turn aroun’. Rain.” etc.)

- choreographer for “So You Think You Can Dance.” (“Mama, jump up n down? Watch.” “That’s great, Isaac.” “Mama?” “You want Mama to jump up and down?” “Yeah.” (I jump.) “No. Like dis.” (repeats his jump) “I think I did do it like that, Isaac.” “Mama, dant?” “You don’t like the way I jump, but you want me to dance?” (takes off into a dance not unlike Elaine on that “Seinfeld” episode) “Mama do?” (I attempt to mimic him) “No! Like dis.” “I give up, Isaac.” “Like dis.” (dances in circles, down the hall and throws himself on the floor of his room).

- Finally, I’d like to replace my previous suggested occupation of underwater cave dweller. I wasn’t really tuning in to my son’s tendencies when I said that. But now, after observing him repeat each morning, “Mama, the sun is out!” like some kind of accusation while crossing his arms over his eyes and retreating like he’s been actually struck by a fireball, I’d like to enter the option of vampire for my son’s future job.

save the children

from this world of quick fixes and dubious charity.

I’m in the vitamin store hunting down powdered colostrum for Isaac, which we’ve given him as an immune booster ever since the only two ear infections he got (within two months of each other) and seems to be working.

The saleswoman bustling around in a would-be efficient manner accosts me with the week’s sales flyer – a glossy thing printed, I’m sure, in the millions. I reject it. She’s confused, momentarily thrown off balance, until she recovers and says to me, like she’ll say to the next 250 customers that walk through the door, “Let me know if I can help with anything.”

I then proceed to stand waiting at the check out counter while she flits like a garden bug around her shelves of sealed white caps.

Ultimately, she does see me and propels herself toward the cash register. I’ve take vague notice of the green circles taped to the counter denoting “Vitamin Angels” when she asks if I’d like to donate a dollar to their cause. “Not today,” I tell her.

“Well,” she counters, “one dollar will save the eyesight of four children in developing countries. Something you might want to keep in mind for the future.” She reaches for a bag for my palm-sized, self-contained purchase.

“I don’t need a bag, thanks,” I hurry to get in. Then, mumbling into my inexplicably long receipt, add, “One fewer bag can save the world unknown amounts of fossil fuel. Something you might want to keep in mind for the future.”

Monday, August 27, 2007


I have always lived between worlds.

I am bi-coastal, defending east when I'm west, west when I'm east. I know my way around various lines of underground transportation, but I won't look twice if your house smells of cleansing sage and you ask all the guests to leave their Ugg boots on the porch.

I spent three years hosting poetry slams shouting encouragement at the crowd, the largest chunk of which was under 20 and overflowing with angst, and then would be invited to read for a Jeffers' Tor House benefit, where the white-haired attendees would sip wine and no one begged to get in for a buck cuz it was all they had, man.

When I taught in Hungary, I learned all the polite-isms to nod at my colleagues, but would spend all my free time with my students (learning cooler stuff).
So it doesn't surprise me that I'm here again, in a borderland.

As a poet, I avoid cliche - oh, let's just say it - like the plague. The glue of poetry is fresh, rich metaphor. But as someone who writes for newspaper (we'll just stay clear of those needling little titles like "reporter"), I am asked to embrace cliche with - indeed - open arms. Newspapers are built on the idea of cliche. New metaphors are frowned upon, edited. You need look no further than the headlines.

My life as a mother falls right smack in the middle of the scale where metaphor and cliche are concerned. I want to find new metaphors for what I'm doing, what I'm burdened by and blessed with, but the easy ones, the old, tired comparisons are so easy to walk into, their little siren voices calling, calling...

My son wraps himself in a ribbon and asks me to tie it.

"Present!" he then tells me. "Open!"

"What could be inside?" I wonder as I untie the bow.
"Me!" he squeals and leaps into my arms.

As required of any toddler game, it is repeated over and over again. And each time, I receive my gift with equal parts joy and discovery.
What's a poet to do?

Friday, August 24, 2007

open letter to the Uber-Mom

Listen, we need to talk. Things are hard enough around here. You think I want to listen to how after searching and searching, you finally located the sippy cups made of some magical material that doesn’t leech toxins into your kid’s system? Hurray. Hurrah.

Now, look, the human race will go on not because of you and your greeny, green, green, lala, overachiever, making the rest of us look bad ways, but thanks to those of us who continue to give our toddlers the bot-bots they are madly attached to – the ones they chewed the (toxic) nipple half off of, putting them at risk of not just leeching but swallowing bits of the (toxic) plastic. We’re talking the difference between garlic powder and whole fucking cloves. I’ve seen the fish with legs on your hybrid, sweetheart, so I know you’ll follow along when I explain that that (toxic) plastic will assist in our genetic evolution after all the farm land has been turned into subdivisions and vineyards and we are forced to wash down our asphalt lunch with a (fruity yet earthy, wood-like flavored) Pinot Noir. Our kids with (toxic) plastic running through their veins will survive the shit out of your pussy-footed little organic baby doll.

And could you PLEASE not ALWAYS be so freakin’ excited to see your kid – the whole crouching down, sneaking quietly up to the door of the preschool grinning like a ninny to peer in on little pooka-pooka, then sweeping button-button up like you’ve been separated for weeks? Okay, so maybe I should slow the car down just a tad more as I throw open the door and honk for Isaac, but you really push things too far.

PS - Check it out - I'm the featured reader on today. (They may regret that after this entry...)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

just listen to yourself

In grad school once, (language analysis course), we were tasked with transcribing speech of some kind or another. A conversation. To hear what we really say and how we really say it or don’t or say it again and again or say it over each other or “um” our way through it or in general, talk. It was pretty durn fascinating.

So lately, I’ve been wondering what it would sound like if you could really hear the conversations that go on in our house these days. Absent a recording device, I’ve tried to recreate one as faithfully as possible. Let’s check in with reading time. Children’s literature is fascinating, sends you places you’ve never been before…

“’N’ dat?”

“And that looks to me like a donkey dancing with a chicken.”


“I don’t know why a donkey would dance with a chicken, frankly. Couldn’t tell ya.”


“Why couldn’t I tell you?”


“Well, because I just don’t know. Seems a bit odd, don’t you think? Maybe the chicken is a really good dancer.”

“Dood dan-er?”



“Maybe he took dance lessons.”

“Dant le-uns?”

“Yeah, like maybe it was always his dream to be a dancer and he took lessons and now he’s stuck dancing with this donkey who has four left feet.”

“Wo feet?”

“Yeah, donkeys have four feet. See?”


“Why not?”

“Don-e feet?”

“Yup, the donkey has feet. Four. One, two, three, four.”

“Right dere?”

“Yup, right there.”


“Wanna count them with me?”

“Un. Ooh. Wee. … Un. Ooh!!!” (raises both arms in triumph)

“Yay… One, two, three, four. Four comes after three. Wanna try?”

“Don-e dant?”

“Yeah, the donkey dances.”


“Should we turn the page?”

“Why, Mama? Why?”

“Why should we turn the page or why does the donkey dance?”

“Um, dat, dat don-e…Um, um, dat don-e… dat don-e dant?”


(Giggles) “Dat don-e dant!” (Giggles.)

“That’s kind of a silly donkey, huh?”


Sunday, August 19, 2007

dolls and ‘dozers

When Isaac was an infant, I went through a phase in which I was determined to supply him with the perfect baby doll. It would be there for him when he got home, despite whatever kind of genderization of toys he experienced out in that larger world of small boxes and segregated clothing sections. It would be there when he wanted to nurture his nurturing nature. It would be not too big, not too small, not too hard but not a simple stuffed cushion. It would be something other than the blue-eyed blonde-headed doll that he is, reflecting difference where possible, since reinforcement of his mirrored reflection was not hard to find elsewhere. It would be a friend, a teacher, a companion, going everywhere with him, speaking for him when necessary, loving him back.

I searched Ebay. I scoured the web for homemade dolls, artists’ work, something special. I compared 12 inches to 18 inches, debated jewelry the older dolls wore, wondered girl or boy. I found one site that sold extended families of anatomically correct cloth dolls of various ethnicities for a lot of money.

Finally, I dropped it. The obsession just faded away and as my infant became a toddler overcome by the sight of the garbage truck, I bought him likenesses of mechanical beasts and settled for taking pride in the fact that I also bought him pink clothes hangers and yellow socks that the other mothers of boys wouldn’t touch.

I’d nearly forgotten about my desire for Isaac to have a doll when he began, just recently, to wrap random objects in blankets and cradle them lovingly in his arms: playdoh, police cars, bits of his lunch. He’d shush me, tell me his baby was sleeping. So I asked him if he’d like to have a doll.

“Yeah,” he said. “Doll. Baby doll. My baby doll.”

As we already had plans to fill in his truck collection with a long-absent bulldozer, I thought we might as well pick up a doll on the same trip.

Something I essentially have never done – take my kid shopping for toys. In a break with his usual M.O., apparently aware of the uniqueness of the opportunity, Isaac actually readily agreed to sit in the front of the cart.

We found the doll aisle first. There wasn’t a big selection, but I’d left my craving for the ideal doll months ago, back at hormonal surge #346, so this would do.

A woman pushed a cart with her grandson in it past the shelf we were peering at. “I want one of those!” the probably four-year-old said pointing at a Cabbage Patch Kid. “Oh, I don’t think you do,” said his grandmother keeping her stride.

“Which doll do you like?” I asked Isaac. We looked. We held. We debated colors of hats and flexibility of limbs. We changed our mind. We changed our mind again. Iz decided on a small doll in a purple outfit whose eyes closed when you laid it down. It cost $4.99.

“Is this the dolly you want to take home and love and take care of?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said my son, and promptly threw it over his shoulder into the cart without looking back.

There wasn’t any better a selection in the bulldozer aisle. There was only one truck we could find that was officially a bulldozer, besides the remote control monster model I was determined to ignore completely. We discussed scoops and the possibility for indoor or outdoor ‘dozing. Finally, Isaac picked out a small but sturdy dozer with slow crawler tracks – the “real” thing.

Off we started for the check out, but at the end of the aisle there was something else, a packaged pair of friction-charged trucks – a front loader and a tow truck – his two biggest weaknesses. Soon, we’d made a deal for door #3 and the dozer was history.

He wouldn’t put the package in the cart. He insisted on holding it, staring down at it with genuine affection.

“Truck!” he’d squeal every few seconds. “Brannew truck!” he sighed, as he cradled it in crook of his arm.

Monday, August 06, 2007


It was too good to be true. In bed before 8:30.

It was too good to be true.


“Your son is awake,” I told Mike coldly.


He's awake.”

And then I was walking. Sandals dove into at the last moment; hair in a ratty ponytail all day, now flapping in messy lumps on my head, coatless in a foggy chill; I was gone.

I headed up the street, aimless and determined, cursory nods to the men with their heads in the hood of a car. Furious.

Anger. They skipped that topic in Mommy n Me. It never appeared on the whiteboard signs outside the classrooms with their cheerily painted doors. “Good morning!!! Topic: parallel play. Art: stamps and markers. Glad your here!!!” I could just squash those women. Stuff them whole into cracks in the sidewalk, cracks in my veneer of coping. It wouldn't have to be those women. It could be anyone right now. Anyone. Just give me the smallest reason. The men working on their Buick don't know how easily they got off.

I turn up the hill toward “Watertower Mountain” as my friend's four-year-old calls it. There are stairs snaking steeply upwards in front of me. I have always avoided them like the plague before now; I take them. I haven't been this driven on a walk since I was in labor, but this is more desperate. Much more.

I leave our crummy neighborhood behind and surface in the one with the views, with its own name and fancy cars in wide driveways, where all the dogs get haircuts. The houses almost look inviting, their archways over carved wooden doors, their flowering vines climbing charming half-walls. I want to live somewhere other than my house. These will do.

There are more stairs. I take them too. My throat is burning and I'm out of breath.

I notice a plant stand out at the curb for trash, but I passed it by. This is not about nesting. This is about flight.

Finally, I'm out of places to climb. I circle around and, against my will, begin to descend.

The loop will likely take me 25 minutes. It has to be long enough. I won't face the possibility of returning to a house where my child is awake.

He may have already worn away the fingerprints on my pinky for all the time he's spent rubbing it in an effort to fall asleep over the last umpteen nights, then again in an effort to fall back asleep when he climbs into bed with us in the middle of the night. I have nothing left to give. Once the fingerprints are smoothed out completely, there'll be no way left to identify me. The rest of me has vanished already.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

neighbors - another chapter

When I 'd brought him roses from the garden for his birthday, it was the first time I’d seen him without his glasses on. His eyes were smaller than they usually appeared, kind, smiling, without the glare in the way.

I’d told him, “I don’t know anyone else who’s 89.”

“Me neither,” he’d said.

“Three sisters, all gone. A brother, gone. My mother died when I was just three years old. My father lived to 55.”

His drinking buddies were all gone too. And his big band radio station. Cats from the 30s and 40s with jazz tubes and fine blues. Now it’s just oxygen tubes. His wife put his 6 o’clock asthma treatment on the table in front of him.

“I’m not complaining. Wouldn’t do any good.”

Most of the few conversations we got to have took place outside, him leaning against his ‘73 pick up.

Never out of his blue mechanic’s coveralls, he told me about being drafted in 1941, basic training in Wyoming. Going to England from NY, a caravan of ships – everywhere you looked, ships, all of them scared to death of the U boats. 800 troops had just gone down.

He interrupts himself, points to our driveway. “I been meaning to ask you, what kind of car is that?”

Fought in France, Belgium, finally made it to Germany in 1945.

When his time was up, he said, “I decided it wasn’t that bad after all. I got to see places I would never have seen. I’d heard of them, but I’d never been there. So, I thought, let’s try it again.”

To the next tour of duty, Mr Johnson. May the music be as good as you hoped.

James Johnson (May 17, 1918 – July 30, 2007)

Monday, July 30, 2007

passing on knowledge

In a past entry, I discussed possible career paths my son might take based upon observances I’ve made of his personality and preferences. Here’s a quick review: So far we’ve had geologist, astronomer, underwater cave dweller, and American tourist abroad.

I’d like to add to those - sound engineer, Pig Latin interpreter, and, I’m afraid, teacher.

In terms of the first, I can only say that my son enjoys sound effects. He knows perfectly well the names for things like dog, fire truck, swing, drink. Yet, without fail, a dog is a “WOOF-WOOF!” a fire truck is a “WOOOO-WOOOO!” and a swing is a “wee-wah” (the sound it makes as it goes back and forth, pronounced with a sing-songy lilt). Drinking is denoted by a hand to the mouth and the sound “Zzzsssssooop!” The list continues.

Regarding number two, foreign languages are a specialty of Isaac’s. He speaks his native Isaac, some English, some sign language, and as far as I can see, is on his way to fluency in Pig Latin. He routinely drops the first consonant of any word as it is. He eats “‘nacks” and rolls his play-doh into “‘nakes” (also known as “Ssssssssss,” see explanation of “sound engineer” above). He also looks for birds in the “’wees” (drop ‘t’ replace ‘r’ with W sound) and never runs in the “‘weet” (see grammar rule for “‘wees”).

Okay, I know that you are supposed to drop the whole consonant cluster, but come on, he’s only a baby, he does his best. Once I teach him the addition of “ex-” and “-ay,” he’s in. Besides, he’s a fast learner (see explanation of “teacher” below).

All this is intriguing, but I can’t help wondering if Isaac’s true calling is teacher.

I swear I only told him once not to eat the green part of the strawberries. My son is not only a fast learner, he passes on his knowledge with generous enthusiasm. At every subsequent encounter with a strawberry it goes something like this:

“Mama, me no eat geen pawt.” (models)

“Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. DAD! No eat geen pawt!” (instructs)

“Okay, Isaac, I won’t eat the green part.”

“No eat geen pawt, Daddy.” (checks for comprehension)

Much of Isaac’s knowledge base seems to center around what not to ingest or how things are ingested. On some fateful day some months back, Mike asked Isaac where the food went after it left his stomach. “Um, knee!” Isaac pronounced, at which point, my dear husband made the unfortunate decision to confirm the theory.

At random moments during meals, Isaac can now be heard discussing the obvious trek his food takes through his body, from mouth to stomach to knee, with great sincerity. Watering out in the garden recently, he had more lessons to share with me.

“Mama, ‘wees no have knee. Have woot. Woot ZZZZsssooop up wawa.”

Hey, ya learn something new every day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

potty training

The year is 2025. “Harry Potter: The Musical” has just opened on Broadway, and Isaac, my 20-year-old son, rises from his seat in seventh row center as the curtain closes for intermission and wades through the crowd to the men’s room, where, miraculously, he makes use of the facilities all by himself.

I try to keep that glorious day as my vision. But most days, it’s hard.

More lies. They just keep coming. My sister told me, “Oh, potty train in the summer – put them outside naked and then they see when they have to go.” As if that were the issue.

My kid knows exactly when he has to go. Sometimes even informs me while the act is in progress. And we have our good days – the days when I can get him excited about all those commercial cartoons printed on his underwear. On those days, we do well. Very well. It’s getting to that point that’s the biggie. Most of the time the battle cry is “DIE-boo! DIE-boo!” How we love our captors.

The other part of the lie about the summer being the best time to potty train is that since you have to be home to do it and the summer is filled with festivals and beach days and stuff that is much cooler than watching the dust bunnies burrow in the living room, it demands sacrifice. Isaac and I don’t care for sacrifice.

The potty seat has become part of our household décor. Tattooed with stickers, a symbol of both pride and horror, it stands by us, whether loved or forgotten, plastic blue and white receptacle that fills my days and that I, were it solely up to me, would have filled in return.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


It is not yet twilight.

My toddler finds the slim crescent
barely illuminated in the sky.

Words come with effort,
syllables tow their funny vowels
across his still-new tongue:
“Moon. Out.”

And with that, he leaps skyward
grasps something precious and invisible
in his little fist, lands flat-footed.

His fingers peel back and he presents me
his open palm. “Moon,” he tells me.

But before I can respond, he is snatching
the air above him again, cups his two hands
against his chest.

Beaming, he holds out his hands.
“Stars,” he says. And suddenly,

I have everything I could ever want.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007

fences and neighbors

I don't yet have a toddler who clutches a toy with his whole body screaming “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Maybe because he doesn't have a sibling (mother-in-law: “He's going to grow up ALL ALONE?” me: “ALL ALONE.”)

Still, Isaac understands ownership. He also understands who is part of his community and who is outside of it. The two concepts are related. He flatly refuses to share his cars with a random boy at the park, but when his friend Joshua whom we've been waiting for arrives, he readily hands them over. Or at the beach recently it was “Girls, too! Girls, too!” as I handed him his cheese stick, and so I third it, giving a piece to my friends' twins and to Isaac.

Ownership and our ideas of property have gone wacky these days. “Share!” we tell the kids. And on what model might they grasp that idea, I wonder? Just look at our “communities.” In a past era, fences meant freedom, used to demarcate land ownership. Only free men could own land. There's a jumbled, ironic feel to all of that, but let's move along. These days, fences aren't keeping anybody free. They are the border between us and them.

I'm interested in exploring fences and neighbors. I've had the idea to make it into a radio program for over a year now.

The last radio show I produced for public radio was on elementary school kids' views of libraries closing in their neighborhood. It aired a few days before Isaac was born. Since then, I've done a few interviews with touring writers, but nothing like the time-consuming endeavor of mobile interview, collection of ambient sound, selection of music, writing intro, transitional and closing texts, tunneling through editing programs in the dark of a studio for hours, slicing up and rearranging my victims' sentences and creating narrative. Perhaps oddly, I crave to go back to that work (or at the very least a life that would afford me such time).

I want to interview the person with the two-foot green chainlink number that has four, count them, Beware of Dog signs on it. Huh?

I want to talk to the person who lives behind a crumbling white picket fence leading to a Pepto-Bismol pink house decked out in peace signs.

I need to get into the mind of the person who constructed a concrete block barricade to their rose garden, leaving planter openings at even intervals along the top, only to see whatever lived in them at one time shrivel to brown sticks and now host a flock of empty beer cans.

Those are the old fences. But people are constantly constructing new fences and walls in my neighborhood too.

The McMansions and renovations all seem to call for a second (or third) floor for the view and towering fences. Wood, brick, iron, take your pick.

Some of the McMansions can be described as nothing short of fortresses. Thick adobe-colored walls squaring off cement patios in a dizzying progression that ride higher and higher lest the inner sanctuary be sullied by the outside eye. There is, of course, a Beware of Dog sign posted prominently on these chateaus of welcome, and – centered over my favorite one – a fat, gold crucifix nailed above the door. (We're Christian, goddammit! Stay back!) The only thing missing is the jagged pieces of bottles poking out along the top of the wall.

I would ask questions about whether they considered their fence decorative, functional, other. I'd talk to them about who knows their neighbors. And how far in each direction they can name them.

Recently, a friend who is looking for a place to rent lamented how he'll probably have to deal with neighbors. “You guys lucked out here,” he told me.

At our house, we have few direct neighbors. There is the church I've written about, the 80+ year-old Johnsons I've written about in passing, and screaming children behind us, though we've never seen them. That would be because on the sides and back of the house there is a six foot high wooden fence topped with another two feet of lattice.

There is also our pseudo neighbor on the other side. His house faces the street perpendicular and he has a big yard that touches ours in just one place really, so were it not for the baby raccoon, we may never have crossed paths without going out of our way to introduce ourselves, which, well, people don't often do and which, well, is part of my point in doing a story, and, well, aren't I always whining about community? I still don't get why he didn't see the raccoon across his empty yard over three days. I'm just gonna throw this out there, and it doesn't mean it explains anything, but, well, he drives a Hummer. Anyway.

Recently we visited both families on the east coast in one week-long trip – something we had sworn we would never do again.

The day after we got home was a beautiful sunny Sunday and we were out in the garden reminding ourselves what our yard looked like when I heard a knocking on the fence.

My eighty-year-old neighbor Mrs Johnson was standing on an upturned bucket, peering through the lattice over the six-foot high barricade. “I said to James, I said, 'That woman with the truck has come a few times already, I better go out and see if she has a key. If she has a key,' I said, 'everything's alright.'”

We had really intended to let them know we were going. Really. We just didn't see them outside and knocking on people's door these days...well, it's that direct thing...don't we all hesitate? (e.g. knocking on the fence).

Despite the fence knocking, what is obvious from this exchange is that Mrs Johnson comes from another generation, where maybe neighbors were important. Not to mention another culture (she is from Salzburg, Austria), where maybe neighbors were important.

For the first three months we lived here, Mr Johnson, also from another generation and another culture (he's from Mississippi) addressed me solely as "neighbor." "Hello, Neighbor!" he would call from beside his light blue Mazda pickup (purchased new, don't ya know, in February of 1973). In truth, he couldn't remember my name, but who cares? How cute is it to be called "Neighbor?"

After we straightened out with Mrs Johnson how long we were gone and that the roses had indeed been watered, the conversation turned to more meaningful matters.

Still straining to hang onto the fence with one hand, Mrs Johnson motioned with the other. “Give me a plate, honey, I made cream puffs.”

Neighbors rock.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

back again

So, Mike's back is out again.

Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. That's me I'm describing.

I failed to write about the last time this happened - a year ago...on VACATION. ("What do you MEAN you can't pick up the baby?? I'm on VACATION!" Watching Isaac waddle in the direction of the street, I felt not unlike Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka warning away the brats from the dangers of the chocoloate factory. "wait. stop. don't." he managed unmoving.)

Anyway, I did write about the time before that - almost three years ago...when I was PREGNANT. The entry is here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

what it means to have kids

Mike had started cooking dinner and I had completed reading a good eighth of an article on Kurt Vonnegut when Isaac pulled out his dollar store recorder.

Before Izzy came along, I held to the unfounded, untested, and ultimately false belief that when it's your own child you must not hear his noise at quite the same decibel level as when listening to the random brat in the supermarket hollering in his campaign for Fruit Loops. How young and foolish I was.

You may train yourself to eventually tune it out (I am not the authority on such training as I have yet to complete the course) or you may pretend not to hear, but your child shrieking or playing what might pass as a musical instrument is just as painful on the ear drums as any other kid doing same.

Toot-toooooooot, went my son. Emily Cat bounded toward the garage.

Toot- tooooooot-tooooot, he played on. And I applauded, trying not to lose my place as the wisdoms of Mr. Vonnegut were remembered and turned about by lesser writers.

“Done!” Isaac waved at me gleefully and ran to his room.

“Hurray,” I applauded absently. And then he was back.

“Oh, God,” I said aloud, “I've caused an encore.”

And for his next act... “Mama, dum!” He gestured me over. “Daddy, dum!”

The next thing I know we're dancing like maniacs. Mike is spinning; Isaac is flailing his arms; and I am playing the blasted instrument – somehow – I couldn't recreate for you the chain of events that led me there. Family psycho band.

It was soon after that that I changed our answering machine message from the one we'd had for the past two years: “You've reached Kitty, Mike, and Isaac. Please leave a message” to “We can't come to the phone right now; we're probably having a dance party.”

A friend was so thrown by the new recording, she didn't even recognize my voice. “Um, um, this used to be Kitty and Mike's number...” came her startled message on the machine.

Some people just have no idea what it means to have kids.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

tell me when it's over

How quickly we become accustomed to what is out of place.

We'd heard the crying creature on and off for three days going on four. The first day I had resolved to go look for what it was, on the instinct that something was in distress. But it stopped for a while and after I got Isaac down for his nap I became distracted with whatever I'd chosen as my nap activity. Likely food or paying the past due bills.

I'd gone out eventually and located where it was coming from – just the other side of the fence by or in my neighbor's tree. The calling stopped when I got close. I'd settled on baby bird waiting for its mother to return and went back inside.

On the fourth day, Judy would be the one to find her.

A baby raccoon had gotten one of its back paws wedged in the slats of the fence and hung head down, its front feet resting on a crossbar.

“Stuck?” Isaac repeated over and over again. “No walk,” he told us, paddling the air with his hands in the ASL sign.

I dialed numbers, and more numbers the people at the first numbers gave me, pacing my garage, cursing myself for not investigating more closely, panicked that I had figured it out too late.

The SPCA wildlife division arrived within half an hour, but not before we tried to feed the little bandit a chopped up apple by broom handle.

“Stuck?” Isaac continued, but he refused to go and see for himself. He just wanted it better “Help,” he told us, “help.”

Yes, they were coming to help we assured him.

The thing is, I get it. In truth, my own gander at the critter was brief. I pawned off the apple on Judy and she took broom handle duty.

There are stories my son once loved that he won't let me read anymore, or at least he stops me before the conflicts arise. There's P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother? in which we must skip past the pages showing the “snort” truck that scoops up the baby bird, and Mama, Do You Love Me? which threatens with its page showing the Mama angry.

When I was little, I would leave the room midpoint during the Flintstones. I couldn't stand to watch when Fred messed everything up or while the other set the stage for mishap and misunderstanding. – I just needed everything to work out and for someone else to get it to that point. I'd reclaim my seat on the couch for the happy ending.

You could say occupations like ER nurse never really occurred to me. I'm a poet who's afraid to look. I live with the irony. But what to teach my Isaac?

The baby raccoon was recovered successfully from the fence and I'm hoping to read about her release back into the wild of our neighborhood garbage cans in the next SPCA newsletter.

To witness suffering and help stop it, you must have compassion without caving in, you must hold the other's story gently as if it were your own while remembering it's not.

Isaac is small now and most of the world is out of his control. It's almost unfair to ask him to watch such things, a trapped animal, a scary snort. Life is unfair. I don't know how to nurture his sensitivity while cultivating in him the strength to take action when he can. There is another gap in my parenting knowledge, about the length of a broom handle.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

word of the day

“The world is made of names; my son is learning to speak. He has faith. He believes in things. Rock, I tell him, leaf. No, this, he says, holding the rock. This, he says, holding up the leaf.”
--from “Days – poems by Gary Young”

Somehow, in Isaac’s language, the words diaper, table, garbage and strawberry all come out exactly the same: “DIE-boo.”

If you aren’t paying attention, things can start to get all tilt-a-whirl on you.

“You want Mama to draw a diaper truck?”
“You can’t eat garbage for a snack, Little Mister!”
“I see. So, what you’re telling me is the ball has rolled under the strawberry?”

Sometimes I get the exasperated look. You know the one. The one that erases almost four decades of life on the planet and lets you know you know nothing. Zero. Sometimes, I get the sly, slow smile. “Yeah!” he agrees to the diaper truck or the ball vanishing under berries. “Why not,” he implies, handing me the blue crayon.

I’m not always prepared. It’s been years since I’ve lived abroad spending day after day in conversations in which neither party knew the other’s language. I was younger then, quicker on my feet. One more reason that come nightfall parents should be hermetically sealed into sleeping bags while carefully trained elves commute to our houses from their nests in the forest ready to battle any waking children by dancing them back to sleep, bringing them water and warm milk, or gently tying them to the bed. The sooner we organize the elves, the smoother this will all work out.

“DIE-boo!” my son tells me, tapping his fingers on each of his hip bones.
“DIE-boo!” he insists, pointing at the coffee table.
“DIE-boo!” he says, stomping and lifting his arms like a mechanical claw.
“DIE-boo!” he sighs, signing the word for the fruit with his twisting pinky finger.

Dictionaries and vocabularies are for those with less imagination living in the showy world of verbal subtlety. With his whole being, no matter the sounds from his mouth, he is teaching me the same things. The tilt-a-whirl is three tickets to ride. The elves are busy filling dandelion wishes. And, please, pay attention.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

July 4, 2007 - Esalen

Big Sur, CA
Here's where we spent our fourth.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

my own independence day

Some days I want a little more space than I get.

(Let me start over.)

Some days, what I want is space, away, I mean, more time, I mean, to myself.

(Eh-hem. Again.)

I wish Isaac napped longer. I don’t want to have to choose between lunch, nap, watering the garden or writing.

(Take four:)

Why can’t he play by himself?!? I mean, other babies do it? If he does it, for all of ten minutes it means he’s pooping in his pants. Why potty train the kid when it’s my only respite?

(Wait. Back up. Breathe. Okay.)

Some days I want a little more space than I get. I consider myself to be an emotionally demanding person. Like mother, like son.

They say: “I just read a book, turn off the light, tell him its nap time and leave the room. He goes right to sleep.”
Drinks milk. Asks for more. Finishes that milk. Rejects book number five, asks to read something else. Starts to drift off. Sits back up. Fills his diaper. Change him. Asks for more milk... The tendonitis in my wrists I got from lugging him around as a baby has returned full force because the child seems to have to hold my pinky finger in some awkward angle in order to fall asleep. I want a nap that’s longer than the time it takes me to get him to nap.

Mama, come peez. (Just a minute, Isaac, I’m feeding Emily cat.)
Mama. Mama! Mama!! Mama? Mama!!!
Mama, watch. Mama, watch. Mama, watch. (I’m watching, Isaac.) Mama, watch.

They say: “He just plays by the door while I’m in the shower.”
I can usually count on Isaac freaking out at least once a week when I take a shower – while Mike is home - and several times a week when I tell him I’m going to the bathroom.

Mama, has to go to the bathroom, Izzy. I’ll be right back.
No! Uh-uh. No!
Honey, it’s just the bathroom. I’ll be right back.
No-uh-uh-no. Nooooo! (cries)
Isaac. I have to pee. Can I please pee.
Well, I have to pee anyway. No one changes Mama’s diapers so I have to make it to the potty.
Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (cries frantically and busts through the bathroom door)

They say: “Isaac sleeps through the night now, doesn’t he?”
It took Mike and I three days to finish watching a movie because the creature has it in for us.

Mama, where’d do dough? Mama?

The child is Wearing. Me. Out.

And I wonder why I’m still a clockwatcher. I’m not proud of this in the least. I’m not nearly as bad as when Isaac was first born, but nonetheless, it goes something like this: “Okay, if he sleeps another half hour, but the time he wakes up, I’ll only have two hours to go before Mike gets home.” Shouldn’t it be more like …He wakes up, I drift into the yard with him, play baseball, deadhead some marigolds, he rides his radio flyer around, we watch a spider together, and seamlessly the time passes until, surprised, I look up to discover Mike pulling in the driveway.

Lately I’ve been getting them again. The comments. The ones that assume. The ones that come with shackles attached. The “Don’t you LOVE being a mom?” comments. And “You must enjoy your son SO MUCH!” Immediately, after these lines are spoken, invisible ropes of untold strength shoot toward my wrists and ankles from all directions. THWAAAAPPPP. THWAAAPPP. SHUKSHUKSHUKSHUK. I am bound. Where can I go? I am an awful person. But worse, I am an awful mother.

(NB: Don’t even think about the comment on how someday he’ll not want anything to do with me. Post it and I will eat you.)

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