Wednesday, February 20, 2008

the elephant cake

Today is Isaac's third birthday. Happy birthday to my not-so-baby. And happy birth day to me.

This day marks an enormity of change I am still coming to terms with, and still, I look outside and the world moves along in its routines as if nothing special occurred at all. I admit to feeling a bit disconcerted.

If I were a normal person, an eloquent blogger, or a mother in line with the social mores of other mothers, this is where you would find a long entry filled with irresistible pictures that began “Dear Isaac” and waxed on and on about all the ways my son has brought joy into my life over the last three years. I am none of those things listed above, however.

What I am on this day is overly emotional, sick with a head cold, and pissed as hell at my husband, again.

In three years, I am no closer to knowing how to deal with tiffs or blow ups or any other form of argument. In trying not to traumatize my son, I attempt not to fight in front of him which usually means I hold things in and then, we... what? discuss it rationally in all that free leisure time we enjoy by ourselves? Yeah, right! I add it to the last three things that I wanted to choke him for and it all bottles up until I'm ready to chew through steel. And it's not as if there are not fewer arguments after you have a child, there are more, MANY, MANY MORE. Should I name some topics? No, I won't bother, the list is long and tedious, let's just suffice to say we fight about how to fight too.

What makes me maddest of all is that if I want to resolve anything, I will have to be the one big enough to bring things up again because darling dear is fond of the method by which you just wait quietly until such a time as things die down on their own, when your sweet wife lets things go and begins to look at you without glaring and speak to you without gritting her teeth. Men are chicken shit.

Besides the little party we gave Isaac on Monday at home, they celebrated on his real day today at preschool with his friends there. Mike and I were invited to attend the ceremonies, for which we provided a cake - Isaac's second homemade cake in three days, baked and decorated, of course, by his father. Anyone who knows three-year-olds can tell you if ask them a question about what they want , you will get myriad answers over time. Isaac wanted strawberry, apple, chocolate cakes in shapes ranging from rectangle to jungle animal.

His newest request as of bedtime last night was a chocolate elephant. “Okay,” Mike pronounces nonplussed.

A few minutes later he shows me the plans he's drawn up on paper. In a carefully measured engineering feat, my dear husband has designed an elephant out of a single round cake pan. The real thing came out well, like every other bloody thing Mike does.

So at preschool today, after we watched some games and took some pictures, the kids all sat at their places for cake. Isaac's teacher passed me the knife to start divvying it up. And as I looked down, there is was again, staring right at me, the elephant in the room.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


“We have to be on our best behavior,” Mike said solemnly. “Isaac might remember this forever.”

We were on our way toward the southern entrance to Yosemite. We had voluntarily left our sunny, 60+ degree weather of California's central coast to drive three hours to snow. Is there no end to parental sacrifice?

“What are you talking about?” I asked my husband for the hundred-millionth time over the last three years.

“Well, I remember when I was three and my parents took me to play in the snow.”
I just nodded. I didn't bother reminding him he also has memories from when he was still in a crib because he is an UNNATURAL FREAK.

On the phone, the hotel had told us there is a snow park between them and Yosemite. Armed with two different friends' recent stories of visiting such places, we had visions of gliding along on rented snow shoes while pulling Isaac on a sled and watching kids of various ages toss snow balls between ice forts and try their hand at snow boarding. Awesome. We were set.

We drive through the town of Los Banos - past Olinda's Restaurant, Johnnie's Cleaners and Rooney's Liquors, and toward the town of Oakhurst and Danny's Pizza. (I don't know if any baby name books take this into consideration. If you want to help shape your offspring's commercial destiny, think about what name you pick. “Olinda's Pizza” just doesn't sound appetizing somehow, and “Johnnie's Restaurant” makes my arteries clog just musing on it. And, well, I don't think Quinton will be going into business at all, or if he does, he'll hide behind names like “Second Street Grill” or “West End Jewelers.” But, as usual, I digress.)

After sleeping for the first hour and a half of our journey Isaac woke up in order to spend the following hour and a half craning his neck and whining desperately “Me can't see the snow!”
After a wrong turn that cost us about 40 minutes more of this charming predicament, we landed at our Comfort Inn where the woman at the desk has no knowledge whatsoever about the snow park except that it did in fact exist.

It's late so we save the park for tomorrow. For tonight, we head up the hill just far enough until suddenly and miraculous snow begins to appear at which point we pull over and venture into it. At first Isaac is enthralled. Then, he becomes fearful, afraid he will sink too far into the snow and refuses to walk any further without being carried. I am slightly deflated by his reaction, but also accustomed to his odd anxieties and short-sighted sense of adventure.

The next morning everyone at the hotel's continental breakfast crowds the waffle makers in their goofy pants that come up too high and swish-swish as they walk. They have important places to go. These are snow people.

We ask the new clerk behind the desk about the snow park which, by all accounts is a mere 20 minutes away. She also claims to know nothing. By now, Oakhurst hospitality has us in the palm of its hand. We blush with the warmth of it and head out.

The conditions are perfect: the sun is shining, the roads are completely clear, there is only snow where there is supposed to be snow – glistening among the trees, on the rooftops. We pass an inn with a large sign outside it that says “Vegetarian Menu.” Our lunch, post snow, is in the bag.

Then comes the sign that reads “Snow Play Area 2 miles.” In only a few moments I expect to see a Disney Land of snow appear on my right. Kiosks of fried food and piles of those saucer sleds, each in a rainbow of colors. And finally, there it is – except it's another sign, “Snow Play Area 1 mile,” with an arrow that points off the road and up the hill. “CHAINS REQUIRED” another sign reads. Well, obviously they mean when (as my son would say) “'now coming down from da sky.” We start up.

About three-fourths of the way we encounter some ice on the road, but it's no big deal. And then, ah, at last, our resort paradise...A meadow. Goat Meadow, to be exact. Goat Meadow Snow Play Area. Which is, a meadow. Nothing more. Nothing less. A couple SUVs were unloading sleds and kids and boots. There was no piped music, no fried food. There were a few snowmen leftovers and trees. And there was snow.

“Okay! Let's go!” I chime, not letting on to Isaac that I was completely counting on a lodge with a fire, or at least an ice rink and some cocoa.

This snow is packed down at least and Isaac loses his fear of sinking in. He requests to build a snowman with his dad while I pull the old, flattened carseat box out of the trunk to attempt a sled. After a while some people take pity on us and lend us their real sled. Isaac goes down a little hill with me once and pronounces himself all done. He returns to his snowman. I take the damn sled and do a few runs myself. We putter about, take another family's picture and then decide it's lunchtime.

I'm feeling proud of us and how we made the best of things, how we got our boy to the snow he's talked about for months, how no one yelled at anyone else, how I'm completely comfortable with this being Isaac's forever memory, as we start our 1-mile descent to the highway.

Not far into it we have to stop. There's a truck in the way. Mike gets out to see what the issue is. -- A backup has formed coming up the hill because the big-ass four wheel drives can't fit by each other without sliding. The ice I thought would be gone in the noon sun is still there and it's causing problems for the burly men with Harley tees and chains on their tires, and, by extension, us. They are trying to convince the people on their way up the hill to back up again to no avail.

Half an hour goes by. Men get in and out of their trucks. No one moves. I mention to one of the men sliding by that I saw the sheriff's pick up parked at the top. Okay, he says, he's off to go get him. Next thing you know, the sheriff's truck appears in our rearview mirror. Saved? ... It loses traction and slams into the Honda behind us, almost causing a domino effect. Another half hour goes by.

We could stay here for days if we needed to. Our car is chock-full of food. Not to mention clothes – piles of it, clean and dry, none of it worn. I packed for a different family, a different child – one that would roll in the snow and giggle when he sank up to his thighs, who would beg to take one more sled ride before we left. But this is Isaac, the kid who, at the first strike of the Taiko drum screamed and climbed his father in terror, then had to be carried out of the theatre to watch the first half of the show on a TV monitor in the lobby before going home to bed. Even when he counts something a good experience, there's the sense that enough is enough. He returned from swimming with his dad not long ago with the excited announcement, “Mama! Me go down the slide!” followed quickly by “Me never doing that again!”

The men, who are once again, convened outside on the ice, my husband included, (Oh, how they must love their job of being men. Doing men things. Talking men talk. Folding and unfolding their manly arms.) suddenly break apart and head to their separate vehicles. “What? What is it?” I ask, peering out of the homestead and straightening my bonnet. “We think we heard an engine start.” Mike stations himself behind the wheel. When suddenly, the smallest Who down in Whoville started to sing:

“Me haffa go poopy, Daddy.”

“Can you hold it for a little while?”


“Well this is the kind of thing that makes things go. When things start moving, they start moving, if you know what I mean.”

“Michael, take the child in the woods.”

Reluctantly, he does. So at least Isaac's memory of the snow will not be pooping in his pants.
By the time they get back, we are moving as promised.

At the bottom, trucks are parked everywhere. Why isn't anyone leaving? Another ranger is there and he approaches the car. “I need your license and registration.”

“Excuse me?”

“You're the ones who caused all this!”


“No chains.”

Strangely, like most of us when we are falsely accused, my husband has trouble sticking to the charge at hand, but instead, as if defending his supposed guilt blurts, “The sheriff didn't have chains either!”

“Four-wheel drive.”

I wonder if this man always talks like this, in short, accusatory phrases, this sheriff of Mariposa, this sheriff of Butterfly.

He continues to make his rounds, notifying others of their crimes, and when he returns to collect the license and registration, he seems cheery, empathic, even. Perhaps he is heartened by the thought of his badge number on all those citations. “Current insurance?...Okay! No problem! I'll be right back.”

No problem! I'll be right back with your fine!

I say this out loud of course and the other sheriff, the one with no chains and four-wheel drive who slid into the Honda smirks at me.

“Why we stopping?” Isaac wants to know.

“We're going soon, honey. First we have to wait for the nice officer to give us a ticket.”
At last we are free of it all and headed below 6,000 feet. We are still buoyant about the vegetarian lunch place, but as we approach the turn, a woman waves us down. “He's stuck. He's sliding.” She points to a giant four-wheel drive about 100 yards ahead.

“Thanks! Don't say another word.”

But the Who had this to say: “Me want to go back hoooome.”

holding out hope

It's hard to live in this world.

At times, it is hard to accept that this is the only world I have to hand to my child. Yet, the world holds out hope, though in the oddest of ways.

It is not the same way we hold out hope. Not like crossing its fingers and praying - “maybe this time...” It's more like hope is a carrot the world tied to a stick. It leads us around as we bump into furniture, conflicting philosophies, paradoxes beyond our comprehension. We follow the carrot of hope because what else can we do? There is no other path but to starve.

The world holds out hope in the form of soft, rolling green hills, the kind people compare to women's bodies, and the way the horses standing on those gorgeous hills look so terribly, terribly sad.

Its hope looks like walking past the day laborers in front of the 7-11 still waiting at noon on a Friday, men with dark hair under ballcaps, cowboy hats, hoods, half of whom are sitting on the curb scratching lottery tickets. The oddest of ways.

The little yellow plane glides magnificently, tilting on its dragonfly wings, then zips over the highway and back toward the fields. It is magic in the sunlight. And it is only then that I see the trail of white begin, as it rains poison onto young leaves, and the world holds out hope in the oddest of ways.

There is Isaac, peppering his Valentines with stickers of black cats and pumpkins. There are no rules, no borders. His freedom rushes at me like a gust of wind that steals your breath and I have no conscious memory of ever feeling that free, but I must have. I must have. So I long for it, reach back blindly, groping, hope to bump into it in the dark of the day.

Friday, February 08, 2008

a funny thing happened on my way to CA

The other day I was talking on the phone to a friend. A friend from California. We started laughing, cracking up about some dumb thing. It was a joke that pretty much made fun of both of us, grabbed up each of our idiosyncrasies and ran for the goal posts. I noticed the moment (because I notice everything; I’m a writer and) because it was unusual, this moment.

And that’s when it hit me. I don’t laugh here.

When I complain about how I miss my friends or how besides the fact that I love where I live, for being somewhere nine and a half years, we still have hardly any close friends, no one that shares our daily muck, what I’m talking about to a large extent is this absence of inside jokes, HUMOR.

Here’s my disclaimer about how I think California rules and I am the first to ponder groovy inner paths, visit retreats featuring meditation halls and yoga classes, and use the word Zen as a verb. But, people, circling toward nirvana is sometimes just not funny. Look, I’ve got west coast in me - my guests threw granola at my wedding, for goodness sake! Okay, so maybe it was a little tongue in cheek (although my father-in-law who has no excuse because he’s from Massachusetts thought the honey-coated seeds in a little satin bag placed in his hand were a snack, but that’s another story all together). Actually, now that I think about it, I think the granola could have been the last really funny thing we did since moving here.

A couple years ago in a writing group I was in we were critiquing a poem I’d brought about my pregnancy which included the line “the child inside me…” One woman’s helpful comment was that the line was ambiguous because people might think I was really talking about my “inner child.” My response? ONLY HERE, FREAK. ONLY IN THIS SPACE. (AND WHEN I SAY SPACE, I WANT YOU TO FLUTTER YOUR HANDS ABOUT YOUR HEAD TO INDICATE YOUR AURA, THE OTHER AURAS INTERACTING WITH YOUR AURA AND THE COSMIC ESSENTIAL BEINGS OF ALL CREATURES, WHATEVER PLANE THEY MAY BE ON BECAUSE WE WISH THEM ALL THE BEST ON THEIR PATH.)

And believe me, I do wish you all the best on your journey, but if you are going to wear THAT HAT for the trip, I am GOING to make fun of you along the way. It’s just that, for now, I seem to have forgotten how.

I wrote a blog about my bi-coastal ambivalence before – here it is. I’m not trying to say that the east coast is funnier than the west coast…exactly…but let’s just review the data. What if “Seinfeld” were set in California? Would it have been as funny? We’ll start north and move down my state –

Seinfeld in Sacramento? (I can’t think of a more humorless place.)
in San Francisco? (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”)
in Santa Cruz? (I don’t see George with a belly button piercing, but it might be funny if you were smoking that weed you got growing in your back yard.)
in L.A.? (The liposuction episode was cut early on.)
in San Diego? (Perpetually beautiful weather and a strong military presence. Not. Funny.)

A mom walks into a bar. Aw crap, no.
A mom walks into her therapist’s office. Definitely not funny.
A mom walks into her therapist’s office drunk. Ah. Now that has potential.

My current job of mom has things in my funny world all screwed up. While the stuff that comes out of a three-year-old’s mouth is some of the funniest material you will ever hear, you spend your day trying NOT to laugh so you don’t scar the kid into thinking you’ll mock his every thought.

Then there’s the other stuff they say – the stuff you want to sell them into hard labor for.

AND the OTHER, OTHER stuff, the stuff of the world that breaks your heart or pisses you off royally because you are a mom and you need to protect this child and the deeply magical qualities he is made of and you are appalled that others would do things to compromise his present state of wonder or his future, whatever that holds, and so you walk around with the figurative keys in one hand ready to gouge the eyes of anyone challenging you while the other hand is lotion-soft and there to cover the eyes of your baby in order to block out unwanted stimuli. As you can see, there isn’t a lot of time left in the day to be funny.

We passed Measure R (just one more endearing thing about my adoptive state, any election is fair game to get the general public to vote on every freakin’ thing someone ever called out in a town meeting). I hope the cops are happy. It means money for them. And although I would have preferred to have lit dollar bills on fire and shoved them up the asses of my local police force, I voted in favor of this measure. I can forgive the satellite station no one ever goes in or out of that’s surrounded by gang graffiti, oh sure. And the fact that there are never any fewer than three cops parked at the local coffee joint doesn’t bother me a bit, I just jimmy around the billy-clubs to get to the stirrers. No problem, boys, really, you make me feel all warm inside knowing you’re close. But then I got the mail one day…

There was a half-sheet color glossy plea for making our town better that featured a photo of one of the parks with glass in the fallen seed pods and paint jobs from the 1960s and another – my fave – of police in flak jackets aiming large automatic weapons into a house. Right away, I grew sympathetic to their cause and, obviously, I left it out on the coffee table so my two-year-old could pick it up and know who the good guys were. I wish the word MORONS had more syllables, so when I yelled it at the top of my lungs I could kind of yodel for extra effect.

I had a good mind to get my mama bear on, march into the station, and drag them around by the ears, maybe even scold them for not washing their hands and eating their veggies.

The truth is though that goofy things happen all day and while a day that regularly includes wiping poop off a small human’s butt has the potential to be simply hilarious, those friends are missing, the ones who get it, who aren’t consumed in wiping poop off other small humans’ butts, or who are and can crack a joke as the small human runs off still poopy and sits on the new couch. All in all, the key seems to be to have someone to share the joke with.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

almost three

Okay, there have been better shots of the hair, but despite the fact that someone riding by us on the bike path yesterday called my son "princess," I'm not in favor of cutting his hair and either is he. I like it long. And it'll get longer, much to his father's dismay.

Thank you, Robin, for this picture.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

blog roll

Okay, send them my way. The blogs. Recommend me a blog or two, not more than two for now, please. My mother has scolded me for having no blog roll. (Okay, I admit, I had to ask her what a blog roll was.) Send me your favorites and I'll check em out. I'd like more cross action on this durn thing. If anyone is out there...?
In other news, it's election day here in CA. But then, as we all know, CA doesn't have a corner on that market today. I tell you, I was bursting with pride when I arrived at the church across the street - my voting hub - and found that American flag duct taped to the bricks outside. We went back to paper ballots apparently. I can't keep up.

In California, if you don't belong to a party like moi, you are allowed to vote in the Democratic primary but not the Republican primary. Not that I'm out there begging to pick a Republican, but the law could have interesting implications.

The Republican race feels like choosing a teeshirt color. (This is CLEARLY HYPOTHETICAL, BECAUSE WE WON'T ULTIMATELY CHOOSE ONE IN THE REAL ELECTION THIS TIME, RIGHT? RIGHT????) At first, it's harmless. There they all are, an amusing rainbow. As a pack the bold or weird or ugly balance each other. Some are eliminated off the bat -- army green or some pukey lemon green color that looks horrible on you (Giuliani...), but then you realize that one will have to stand without the rest, one will have to be everything you need. And while you thought the teal blue shade was mildly interesting in its own right (Romney), now you feel panicky, like that can't be the one and maybe you should pick a standard staple color like white (McCain), even though you have a closet full of those at home already. It's all so confusing and you liked it better when you felt like you owned them all, standing there in the store staring at the display, before you'd have to think about it for real, out on the streets of life.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

what? are ya made of sugar?

Okay, look. I really can't take this any more.

I mean the way my brain is slowly but surely melting away to nothing. Ever since the dawn of parenthood my identity has been irrevocably shifted to - I still don't know what, my sensitivities have been heightened to unmanageable levels (Just saw Persepolis. It's amazing and torturously heartbreaking), and I can't spell for shit. Door nob? Door NOB? What-the hell-ever.

I'm dissolving.

It's been raining here for weeks. Truly, I can't quite believe there is that much rain to rain. Not that I'm complaining. We need it and it's good to write to and sleep to and it goes well with the hibernation of winter/introspective time of the year. I'm just worried that with everything else I have going against a semblance of self, the rain might be the final straw and I'll just melt away completely. The onlee traise of me lefft will be my jurnal floting in a puddel.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Often, what I want more than anything in my day is a witness.

Someone around who understands the juggling act if not first-hand, then from just off to the side, who stands apart from the think-on-your-feet decisions and sees. Someone who can answer my husband with something less than murder in their eyes when he asks, "Why are you so tired?"

Someone to witness the clever ways I talk my child into brushing his teeth while getting myself dressed and writing a check for the rent. Doing a phone interview standing at the washing machine in the garage while Isaac naps. (Our house is so small and he is such a light sleeper, I'd wake him up anywhere else.) The lessons in everything from social protocol to neuroscience that spring from our book reading, water playing, phone ringing, daddy waiting, internet searching, cat vomiting, insane making days.

Luckily for you, you aren't that witness, and nor can I report my day minute by minute. But here is a moment in time, or, a mountain of moments all come together. I call it, My Coffee Table, An Inventory.

-- one hair tie
-- two newspapers
-- the alumni newsletter from my grad school
-- box of tissues
-- fliers for our neighborhood association
-- a door nob
-- Buddha by Karen Armstrong
-- The Sunny Side: Short Stories and Poems for Proper Grown-Ups by A. A. Milne
-- three stuffed dogs
-- a matchbox car
--Found Magazine
-- a Christmas card from Mike's college friend with a picture of him, his wife, and his FIVE daughters
-- a pressure gauge
-- a suction cup
-- a can of pink Playdoh
-- Offbeat Overnights: A Guide to the Most Unusual Places to Stay in California
-- How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch
-- brochure for toddler gymnastics
--"Important Voter Information" for the California Primary Election
-- Day Hikes around Big Sur by Robert Stone
-- an inflatable fire truck
-- a purple seahorse magnifying glass
-- a paper hat
-- a paper cutter
-- a paper clip in the shape of a cat

Come by anytime. We'll have a cup of tea and I'll tell you about my day.

Friday, February 01, 2008

D and D

There are some men in this world for whom the question "Did you play Dungeons and Dragons as a kid?" is unnecessary. The answer is obvious. Recently, I was attempting to joke about one of these men with my husband, who is also one of these men.

Over the last three years, I've gotten lulled away from the "a boy?!?!" feeling I had when I was pregnant. And then, something like this occurs.

Mike: I can't wait to play D and D with Isaac!

Me: Oh, god. You have a nickname for it. You really want to drag my baby into that world?

Mike: It's that or memorize baseball stats - blehck!

Me: Those are the choices for you as males?

Mike: Well, we don't know any Nascar people.

Me: You guys are pathetic, simply pathetic.

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