Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Note on Blogging

I am obsessed with Katrina. I check the news compulsively. I send another email to my friend in New Orleans each time the previous one bounces back, though I'm not really worried about him, because he makes good money and has a good car and parents and in-laws who will do whatever is necessary, plus of course he is a bit neurotic so, like I said, I'm sure he was long gone when Katrina hit. Instead, I worry about the poor people, the old people, the children, the ones who couldn't get out or lost everything and have no credit cards with which to get it all back. I worry about the oil rigs broken in the water that is surging into the city where the people live.

I am heartbroken for Badger. I think about E missing her brother, and I wonder how much pain people are capable of living through.

I feel guilty that I don't know enough about Darfur.

But really nothing that I might blog about Katrina or Badger or Darfur does any justice to any of it. I could write nothing, but that too seems self-important, in its own twisted way.

This is sort of an explanation for why I just blog away, regardless.

And perhaps--yes, this is self-important too--if someone laughs at the end of a silly post, I've put the tiniest bit of positive energy out there against all that is so terrible. Which might matter a tiny bit, at the very least for that person who got to laugh instead of cry.

Go Sox

There's nothing like a Red Sox win in the bottom of the ninth with two outs on a bloopy little Trot Nixon single. The pitching situation isn't looking good for the long run, but we'll still enjoy whatever we get.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Pox on Obligatory Creative Participatory Gifts

In a few weeks there will be a party for an elderly relative. She well deserves the party: she is the last of her generation, she is quite elderly, and she is ill. We are looking forward to the party: to seeing her and to seeing everyone else, for this branch of the family is at the stage where everyone gets together only for funerals, as we are past grandchild bar mitzvahs and weddings, and by the time we get to great-grandchild rituals, we will no longer be so close that we invite each other. So the party idea is good, very good (yay Mom!).

But now that the party is in full group email planning mode, we have come to the inevitable outcome of contemporary sentimental events: the creative participatory gift to which everyone is expected to contribute. You've done it, I'm sure: the quilt square, the page for the book, the photograph or anecdote. The request arrives, you put it aside, the reminder arrives, you ignore it, the this-is-your-absolute-last-chance email arrives, you quickly gather the children and have them scribble something on the quilt square or you bang out a quick limerick, you sigh a smoldering sigh of relief.

This time it's more annoying than most. The elderly relative has been creative all her life. We have all been the beneficiaries of her creativity. In our house, as in many, there are a quilt and a needlepoint portrait. The email arrived the other night. We are supposed to photograph our elderly-relative-created objects--in natural light, with digital camera, from six feet away, pointing straight down, send it in a jpeg, by yesterday (literally--I got the email Friday and the deadline was yesterday).

I think not.

Some of us are not creative. We don't like to make quilt squares. Some of us don't have a lot of time. We don't want to spend the time we have photographing needlepoint portraits. Some of us are cranky and like to complain.

I'm being too harsh. I have myself perpetrated the obligatory creative participatory gift. For my mother's 60th birthday, my sister and I sent out a call for photographs and anecdotes. My sister made a photo quilt and I compiled a book. They were beautiful and my mother loved them.

I am a bad, cranky person. I should go get the digital camera and the quilt and the needlepoint portrait. I should breathe in the positive karma of good deeds. But it's dark which means there's no natural light. I guess it's too late. Oh well.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Final Weekend Accomplishment

Monday morning before work still counts as weekend, no?

Mail is opened and dealt with. Bills are paid, STAMPED, and in the mail.

Note to self: remember to set up online bill pay ASAP.

Knowing My Limits

I am not too old for mini-skirts or mojitos, but I am definitely too old for MySpace (though at least I am not so old that I first heard about it from the NY Times).

Sunday Night Thoughts

This weekend I bought stamps, mailed my letter, got my hair cut, and worked on one of my projects. We bought 3/4 of the girls' first day of school outfits. We cleaned the house. I had every intention of getting to the mail and bills, but it's kind of late, we've had a lovely day at the beach followed by dinner with friends, and the Sunday newspapers are calling my name. Soon I'll go to sleep on beautiful, soft, adequately-elasticized, mint green sheets, courtesy of the best sister on the planet (that would be my sister, though S's sisters are pretty great too, and I'm sure you have a sister who is best on your planet, she's just not quite as great as mine, on my planet, at least).


One of the great lines of American literature:"Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!" went Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack, just as loud as their little quackers could quack.

Yes, E is on a heavy Make Way for Ducklings kick--we've read it every night this week. Which is just fine with me, because Make Way for Ducklings is one of those books (unlike anything starring Franklin or Clifford) which I can read over and over. Chrysanthemum* is another, and a third is Clementine's Winter Wardrobe, a sleeper that nobody seems to have read except for us and the people for whom we've chased down scarce copies.


This summer we reconnected with old friends who have lived in New Orleans for the last several years (he was actually one of the witnesses at our wedding, but the last time we saw them might have been at their wedding, and now they have a post-marital five year old). One time when we saw them, we spent quite a while talking about the fizzled hurricanes they'd been through since they moved down there. So my kids are quite obsessed with Katrina.

I'm sure our friends are fine, as he's quite the worrier and probably evacuated days ago. But we've sent them email, we've been watching the news, we've been talking about hurricanes, and we've discussed what we would take if we evacuated. M would take her Anne of Green Gables and Little House books because they were mine when I was a kid. She would also take Mr. Smith (a bear her teacher gave her when we went to England last year), S (a stuffed animal our neighbors gave us when we left Red State whom she named after one of her best friends), and her American Girl Doll of Today, if there were room. E would take Bitty Baby, Nicole (another baby doll), Teddy (surprise, a teddy bear), her All-of-a-Kind Family books, and Make Way for Ducklings. M and S decided we would also take my laptop, the photo albums, some of the oldest records, and one of S's guitars. I added the upper drawer of the file cabinet and passports. Now we're ready to go, but luckily we don't have to.

*In general I prefer to link to Powell's, as a fruitless gesture against the corporate hegemon, but alas, often the corporate hegemon just has better information...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Vanity Fair, September 2005

My sister picked up the September Vanity Fair on an airplane and passed it on to me two weeks ago. I've been trying to get through it ever since.

Of course I read the Jen profile immediately. What a puff piece. I know, I shouldn't be surprised. And I'm even sympathetic to her. But, please, when they compared her to Job, after the first pictures of Brad and Angelina were published? I don't think so. The guy I work with whose brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died six weeks later, at the same time as his mother was in the hospital with heart trouble, and while he was out of town taking care of them, his in-laws drove down to take care of his kids and got in a car accident and ended up in the hospital themselves--now that's Job-like. Divorce sucks, but beautiful thirtysomething movie stars get over it. Jen will be fine.

Then there's Rick Moody, who will forever be known as the worst writer of his generation, no matter how well he writes. Rick has a new novel, The Diviners. This is not ok with me, because my favorite novel ever is Margaret Laurence's The Diviners, and from the looks of the Amazon reviews, I'm not the only one. Laurence is the forgotten 20th-century Canadian woman writer, but she easily trumps Margaret Atwood, and I think she's better than Alice Munro, though Munro is pretty great. Go read The Diviners by Margaret Laurence; I don't care what you do with The Diviners by Rick Moody.

And finally, the Maldives, ah, the Maldives. Last year when we were in London, we were planning a vacation. There was a big map of the world on the wall of our dining room, and we spent a lot of time looking at it, trying to figure out where to go. We wanted someplace familial, someplace that would be warm enough in April, someplace logistically and financially feasible. We thought of the Canary Islands, but it soon became clear that they were package holiday hell. Madeira wasn't warm enough. Madagascar was too expensive. Then one day I happened upon the Maldives. They looked perfect. Except that it was an eleven hour flight, and perhaps the most expensive place on the planet. We went to Portugal and had a great time, but I continue to lust after the Maldives. The Maldives article, with pictures of luscious beaches, spas, and hotels, only whetted my lust. I told S if I get diagnosed with a terminal illness, I want him to take me to the Maldives. He said he would.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Working 9 to 5, What a Way to Make a Living

[Disclaimer: This post is not a complaint. It's not meant to inspire pity, or to imply that I have it any worse than anyone else. In fact, I have it quite good: I have a great job, a fine salary, and health insurance; my husband has a great job, an adequate salary, and my health insurance: we have lots of childcare options. This is just me musing on what it's like.]

1989 was the last time I worked 9-5. Since then I've worked anywhere from not at all (when I traveled for five months; after each of my children was born; this summer) to 16 hours a day, six days a week (when I directed a summer camp). Most recently I've been working quite a lot of hours but with quite a lot of flexibility.

Not any more. As of last Monday, I have to be at work at 9(ish, but not very ish), and I leave at 5. And this 9-5 is not your read-blogs-for-an-hour, go-to-lunch-and-do-all-your-errands kind of 9-5; it's more the barely-time-to-check-your-email kind of 9-5. And everyone else stays long past 5 (when I was offered the job, I said I would only take it if I could leave at 5, and they said ok). So that means I am doing in 9-5 what everyone else is doing in 9-long past 5.

But let's go back to 1989. In 1989 I had no children, no house, no significant projects outside of work. I liked to go running. I liked to read books. I liked to go to the movies. I liked to hang out with my friends and on weekends go to parties. I remember no problems accomplishing any of those things. I would work my 9-5 or 9:30-6, and then I would go running, read books, hang out with my friends, go to movies. I don't remember being tired. I don't remember feeling like I didn't even have a chance to read the mail. I don't think I got very much mail.

Now it's 2005. I have two children, a house, some projects that must get done in the near future, a blog. I have a big heap of mail and bills that I haven't looked at. I need a haircut. We need a lamp for the living room, so that when we do get a chance to read a book, we aren't reading in the shadows. We need to find a contractor. I wrote a letter on Sunday and I still haven't gotten a stamp for it.

I get home from work, I mother, I collapse. The rest of it? It's got to happen sometime, but I can't imagine when.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Time for Summer to End

They went back to school in Red State Capital City Suburb on Tuesday. M was on the phone with L Sunday night, discussing who got which teacher and which of their friends are together. She spent Tuesday marking the hours on the Red State Capital City Suburb school schedule: now they're lining up, now they're listening to announcements on the loudspeaker, now it's lunch, now it's recess, now they've gone home. Tuesday evening she was right back on the phone with L, dissecting the day in avid detail (most important detail: they miss her).

I knew this would be the hardest part of our move for her. For most of the summer it was all mommy all the time, and for a good chunk of that, it was not just mommy, but New York or Grandma or lakes. Then we came back from vacation and S and I both went to work (S has been working pretty much since we got here, but in a very mellow way for him--four nights a week; now he is working in a get-up-at-five-and-get-on-the-computer-before-going-to-work-all-day-and-then-get-calls-on-his-mobile-all-evening kind of way). M is having a good time without us--sometimes she's with her favorite cousin, getting pretty much all T's attention because E and T's younger brother C are inseparable; sometimes she's with one of her favorite babysitters ever, who happens to live in Town now (yay!).

Still, she's ready for school. She's ready for routine and a teacher and, most importantly, new friends. She said it herself yesterday: "I want my summer to be over."

But school doesn't start for another two weeks...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Don't Worry 'Bout a Thing

There are songs that make me smile as soon as I hear just a bar or two. "Here Comes the Sun" is one. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is another. Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," which you, like me, might have thought was called "Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright," is a third. When I turned on the car yesterday evening, the radio was tuned to the station with the reggae show, and I recognized the song immediately, smiled, and turned it up. By the time it got to "every little thing gonna be alright," I was filled with joy.

The first rock concert I ever went to was a outdoor Bob Marley show the summer I turned 15 (it's kind of a famous show, but I'll leave it at that). The day was hot and sunny and hazy in all sorts of ways, and it was one of the great musical experiences of my life. I'm fairly agnostic, but twice I have encountered individuals who were just clearly on a different spiritual plane than the rest of us. Once was when I heard the Dalai Lama speak in Delhi, and the other was at that Bob Marley concert. He was this rail-thin, dreadlocked, singing and chanting god of a man up there on the stage, and the entire stadium was an arena of bliss.

The following summer, my friend R and I were the only ones in town, or at least that's how I remember it. Both of our boyfriends were gone, and we spent the entire summer listening to Kaya, or at least that's how I remember it (we loved Live! and Exodus too, but that summer it was mainly Kaya). We sang along to "is this love, is this love, is this love, is this love that I'm feeling?" and "we'll share the shelter of my single bed," and "satisfy my soul." It's one of those records I know by heart, and hearing Bob Marley makes me remember that intense admixture of pain and pleasure that comes from being a teenager in faraway love, listening to the music that speaks your love and reassures you so profoundly.

I was sitting at my desk doing homework when the radio announcer broke in and said that Bob Marley had died. I remember it like I remember when John Lennon died (my dad was watching Monday Night Football, and I came downstairs and he came out of the bedroom and said that John Lennon had been shot, and it took me such a long time to understand that he was not just shot but dead, and that it was not just a random event but someone had purposefully killed him, and the next day when "Yesterday" came on the radio as my mother drove me to school, it was a completely different song than it had ever been). I remember looking at my bulletin board and trying to grasp what the announcer was saying, to get my head around the fact that this godly man, this lion of a man, this prophet, because that's really what he was, was dead.

And now what I want to say is so cheesy that I can't believe I'm even thinking it, let alone about to write it, but it's just true. The only consolation for Bob Marley dying so young, with so much music unplayed, so many songs unwritten, is that there is still the music he did play and the songs he did write. And I can still turn on my car and be filled with joy by the same notes and words that meant so much to me when I was 16 and yearning, even though now I'm 41 and happy.

Don’t worry about a thing,
'cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: don’t worry about a thing,
’cause every little thing gonna be all right!

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (this is my message to you-ou-ou:)

Singin’: don’t worry ’bout a thing,
’cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Singin’: don’t worry (don’t worry) ’bout a thing,

’cause every little thing gonna be all right!

Hugo Chavez?

This is all getting too surreal, even for me. The New York Times puts "intelligent" design on the front page, not once, but twice? Pat Robertson goes on TV and says we should assassinate Hugo Chavez because he is turning Venezuela into "a launching pad for Communist infiltration and Muslim extremism"? I don't even know where to begin with that one. A Christian minister calling for assassination? The conflation of Communism and Islam? Venezuela as our biggest threat? S says Rove must have called Robertson's people and told them to take off the muzzle and let him create a diversion. Forget Iraq--let's talk about Venezuela!

[And how about all these airplane crashes? What is going on?!]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Alterna-Shopper Speaks

Dear Green Forest,

We are your ideal customers. We pay extra to buy local. We go out of our way to buy organic. We're always up for a boycott. But here's the thing: there has to be something in it for us.

Let me give you an example: There was a little independent health food store in Red State Capital City Suburb. The kind of place you believe in. The kind of place you want to survive, especially in the face of the ongoing onslaught of Whole Foods and Wild Oats. So I shopped there, even though the selection was nowhere near as good, even though the prices were not the best. But the woman who ran it was, to put it not so politely, a bitch. She was not helpful, she was rude to me, and, worst of all, she was rude to my kids. So I stopped shopping there. Because, if you are going to sacrifice selection and price on principle, you should at the very least get service.

The problem with you, Green Forest, is not service. It's number of sheets. I'm fine with the paper towels, I love the paper towels, but that's probably because we do not use a lot of paper towels. We have dish towels, we have sponges, we are environmental like that, like you want us to be. But there's not a lot you can do to cut back on the number of sheets of toilet paper you use, especially given toilet paper habits in this house, which I will not get into, but which I assure you have nothing to do with me.

Due to the chaos of moving, we have been forced several times to buy toilet paper from the corner store. In single rolls. Unrecycled toilet paper. Thin, less-cushiony, but not unpleasant toilet paper. Toilet paper that lasts forever. A single roll that takes us more than a week to use up.

I had no idea. I've been using your toilet paper for so long, I thought it was normal to go through a roll in two days, to buy toilet paper on every weekly trip to the supermarket. But now I see that it doesn't need to be that way. The six-pack of Scott's that S bought last night could take us to...October?

So I'm afraid I'm customer history. Best of luck to you. And do let me know if you figure out a way to squeeze more sheets onto that roll.

All the best,

[And who knew there was a website devoted to toilet paper?]

What's So Intelligent?

Maybe it's me, but isn't "intelligent design" basically the same thing as Paley's watchmaker? And weren't Paley and his watchmaker fully discredited, like, 150 years ago?

And why are we talking about this at all when poor people can't find housing or health care, and dozens of people are dying in Iraq every day, and children are starving in Niger?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Whiny Foodie Post

S's parents took us to a very nice restaurant last night to celebrate my birthday and S's dad's birthday which were both a while ago, but this is how long it took us to get around to celebrating them. The restaurant was very nice. Elegant and expensive and Italian. My ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers were delicious and my swordfish with caponata and cipollini was the best swordfish I'd ever eaten. But the thing is, if you're paying that much for dinner at such a very nice restaurant, you expect everything to be perfect. And it wasn't, quite.

The menu had an antipasti section, a primi section, and a secondi section. So they expect you to do the Italian three-course thing, though I'd guess few people do. Still, there were so many delicious looking dishes, and I couldn't resist a pasta, but I also couldn't bear to give up the appetizers. So I suggested to S that we share an antipasto (the zucchini flowers) and then share a primi (risotto with corn and lobster--the lobster was perfect but the dish didn't quite work) and then have our main courses. S's parent's decided to do the same (except that they were sharing the porcini soufle and the lasagna with Vidalia onions and other yummy stuff).

I said to the waitress, "we'll share the zucchini flowers and then we'll share the risotto." I know that's what I said, and it seems to me it should be a perfectly normal thing to say. And she should bring us the zucchini flowers, and then when we're done, she should bring us the risotto. But she didn't. She brought the zucchini flowers and the risotto (and the souffle and the lasagna) all at once, along with a bunch of extra plates, and it didn't all fit on the table, and it made the risotto a bit cold by the time we got to it, and it was just not right.

My god, is that whiny or what?!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Israeli Bloggers on Gaza

For a thoughtful take on the settlers' deeply problematic use of children and teenagers, go here [link from Allison Kaplan Sommers].

Allison herself blogs the last few days, if you want to know what it's like from inside Israel (i.e. far from Gaza, if anything can be far in Israel).

Friday Night Movies: Success!

E: Meet Strawberry Shortcake--luckily I was cooking dinner while she watched it, but at least she liked it.

M: Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)--just fabulous! We all watched the whole thing. It sticks with the book, it's funny and entertaining, it's got great pseudo-period detail, and it even includes, without a coy move, having to go to the bathroom on a long car trip, birth control, and kids wondering where babies come from.

S and me: Alfie (1966)--for some reason I thought this was a ribald sex farce, but in fact it's an existential meditation on the nature of autonomy, connection, and commitment. As good as they say, and Michael Caine is brilliant.

And while we're on the subject of movies: Myrna Loy and Susan Sarandon--separated at birth?

Way To Make Your Mother Love You

M: Mommy, how come you're always so elegant?

[I think that may be the first time I've ever been called elegant in my life!]

Friday, August 19, 2005

Famous Blue Raincoat

My new commute to work takes 12 minutes in the morning (I'm not sure about the afternoon because I haven't yet figured out the best way to go, though I think yesterday I might have found it: 10 minutes!). The morning commute isn't bad at all, but it's made positively pleasant by the radio show I've discovered on an independent station at the farthest end of the dial. It plays acoustic/singer/songwriter stuff: peaceful, melodic, well-lyricked--just the thing to ease me into my day (on the way home that station has a reggae show that I used to love, but for some reason it's been annoying me, so I listen to Top 40 instead--why that doesn't annoy me, I can't tell you).

(And yes, I know that as a middle-aged, white, liberal intellectual, I should be listening to NPR, but I'm not, because I am the only middle-aged, white, liberal intellectual in America who does not listen to NPR, even though I know that Terry Gross is great and Prairie Home Companion is still funny, and I will occasionally listen to them if I come across them, but basically NPR gets on my nerves, so please don't tell me how great This American Life and that quiz show are because I'm happy for you that you enjoy them, but I'm not interested.)

But this was not meant to be a post about radio, though I've had a radio post in the back of my mind for months. (Did you know that the slogan of the classic rock station in East Coast Big City is "The Music You Grew Up With," and I really did grow up with it?! At least my kids are impressed.) No, this post is supposed to be about "Famous Blue Raincoat."

For all my supposed alt-country/punk credentials, I'm still a 70s white girl at heart. Indeed, my very first substantive blog post was about how much I love Carly Simon, and it's probably a good thing for everyone that I've never gotten started on Elton John or the Eagles. I could digress here about what constitutes 70s music, but for me it's pretty simple: the music I heard and loved in the 70s which, if we want to be technical, really lasted until 1981 (there's also a Soft Cell post coming up some day, but not today). So I count the Grateful Dead as one of my 70s loves (Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, 1970), and I would have written about the 10th anniversary of Jerry's death, but I was on vacation (does it make it any better if I say I was going to write about Jerry and Kurt Cobain? probably not). Joni Mitchell counts for 70s in my book as well.

Why am I having so much trouble getting to "Famous Blue Raincoat"? Ah yes, "Suzanne." Really I know hardly anything about Leonard Cohen, except that people worship him. I hardly know his music. But like every other 70s hippie chick, I just love "Suzanne." Whether it's sung by Judy Collins (another 70s favorite) or by Leonard himself, as soon as she takes me down to her place near the river, I'm gone, and don't even get me started on oranges that come all the way from China, let alone the fact that I'm half-crazy myself.

I don't know why my digressive tendencies are so dominant today. "Famous Blue Raincoat." There was a point here.

Oh yes, so I was listening to the lovely radio show as I drove to work, and the D.J. said he was going to play "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen, and I thought, oh, the famous Leonard Cohen whom people worship but I really know nothing about except for "Suzanne" which I love, so I think I'll pay attention. And can I just say that "Famous Blue Raincoat," as sung by Leonard Cohen, is just an incredible, mind-blowing, beautiful song?

There, that's all, that was the point.

[Of course I googled because I'm a googling kind of girl. Leonard says this about it. Now I really want this and this.]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Thoughts on the News

I am profoundly against the death penalty. For so many reasons. I don't believe in killing people. I don't believe it acts as a deterrent. I don't believe it helps the families of victims overcome their pain. I believe that our current death penalty system is profoundly racist. I believe that too often our judicial system screws up and you can't screw up with people's lives.

When the D.A. said he was going to ask for the death penalty for the woman who killed my friend's brother (trying to commit suicide, she drove into his car at 70 miles per hour), I was appalled. I was so proud of E when she wrote a letter to the newspaper saying that her brother was against the death penalty and they did not want anything to do with it.

Nevertheless, I find myself at the limits of my death penalty opposition in the case of the BTK killer. I know that the death penalty is not an option in his case, because it was not in effect when he committed his crimes. Still, that is one sick, unrepentant, evil dude, and it's pretty hard to argue against the case that he is who the death penalty was meant for. Except that I am profoundly against the death penalty.

And in other news, I am obsessively following events in Gaza. Which is interesting, because usually I just read the headlines on Israel/Palestine so that I have a basic sense of what's going on, and then I turn the page as quickly as possible. It's all just too painful. My cousin is probably there resisting in Gaza, or at the very least helping to organize the resistance. Watching the Israeli soldiers carry out the Israeli settlers is horrifying. But letting them stay is even more horrifying. And the scariest thing of all is those fundamentalist Jewish teenagers who have been brought in to resist. I think I'll turn the page now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Few Updates

S went to see the Knitters and they rocked the solar system. Dave played extraterrestrial guitar, and John and Exene harmonized as if they'd never been apart a day in their lives. Words cannot plumb the depths of my jealousy, but I did get a CD, a t-shirt, and a photo (S is very excited about his camera cell phone). Supposedly X is going to tour at the end of the year and I WILL be there.

The neighbors are lovely. They set up their hammock in the backyard and last night, when I looked out the window, M and E were lying in the hammock, Doris (their dog) was lying under the hammock, and L was on their deck chatting with the girls. Can't get much more neighborly than that. We have exchanged keys, advice on which washer and dryer to buy, and anecdotes about the ridiculous guy we bought our respective pieces of the house from. We've solved the driveway dilemma and they bought an edger to go with the mower we bought (a push mower! for our bit of lawn that takes just 15 minutes to push mow! and I, who never touched the gas mower except to move it out of the way in the garage, have discovered that I love to push mow!). So far it's just one little happy two-family condo association.

I feel like somewhere I mentioned that E taught herself to swim, but I can't find the link. Anyway, she is now known in certain circles as the four year old who can turn three underwater somersaults in a row without taking a breath!

Parental Failings

Tonight I feel like my two great failings as a parent are standing over me with giant leers on their faces, mocking me for presuming even to think about trying to overcome them, secure in their knowledge that I will fail. (Let it also be said that we went out for Mexican food and I had sangria and I think it made me mean.)

1) For the last two years, unless I am not home at bedtime, E has insisted that I put her to bed, and then that I sit with her until she falls asleep. Actually, my great advance is that now I sit with her instead of lying down with her. But come on, this is ridiculous. S can read to her, even take her to brush her teeth, but then it has to be me, in the bed, for her to fall asleep.

I know, I did it to myself, I should have been firm years ago. But I wasn't. Like I said, it's a failing. And I keep thinking that we lay down with M for years, then we sat up with her, then we sat on the floor next to her bed, then we sat in our room across the hall--yes, we really did all that, and it worked. Now she goes to sleep by herself without a problem (and we just won't mention how she wakes up every single night and comes into our bed--look, the whole sleep thing is just a failing, as I'm sure I've said before).

But this just feels totally hopeless. I know I won't be going to college with E and sitting with her every night at two in the morning after she comes home from frat parties to help her fall asleep--at least I hope not. But I just have no idea how we will get from here to...wherever we're going to go.

2) So I sat there next to E, totally resenting the fact that I was sitting there instead of reading the newspaper or putting away the laundry or blogging, and right in front of me was the disaster that is her room, that is, the room she and M currently share. I swear it was clean just 48 hours ago, but already it is chaos. And I know the chaos won't be alleviated until I go in there and alleviate it with them. Or, I'm ashamed to say, for them.

For our other great failing is that our children are total slackers when it comes to any kind of chores or helping. Oh they'll help with the fun stuff--they washed the car with their cousins on Sunday and they're always up for baking, E loves to make salad, and they'll occasionally get excited about folding the laundry--but regular chores like good parents supposedly make their children do? We suck.

They don't set the table or clear the table or put away their clean laundry or clean their rooms on their own. They say they don't know how. Which is ridiculous, because they do know how. But they don't want to and we are lazy and it takes time and effort to teach them to do it and then make them do it, so occasionally we stick to our guns, but mainly we just give up. Like I said, we suck. And as a result, they suck too. (Like I said, I drank sangria, and now I'm mean.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

I Was There (For a Moment)

In 1980 I went to California for the first time. My mom had a business trip and she took me and my sister along for five days in San Francisco, hanging out with family friends while she worked, and five days in Los Angeles, visiting her kooky cousin L. Three things of note happened on that trip.

The first thing of note was that I got one of the two horrendous sunburns I remember, the ones that presumably have some relation to the almost-melanoma I had when I was 22. I think it was at Muir Beach or maybe Baker, but the main thing I remember is how the strips of dead skin pulled right off my back a few days later.

The second thing of note was that we went to the Castro Street Fair. It was the one day that my mom wasn't working, and my recollection is that we heard there was a street fair and thought it would be fun. Can that possibly be true? Could we really have had no idea what the Castro was? In the newspapers we read or signs we saw or whatever it was that lead us there, was there really no mention of what made the Castro Street Fair THE CASTRO STREET FAIR? Perhaps. For the Castro Street Fair in 1980 is my first recollection of encountering gay life, perhaps even gay people.

So there we were with my mom, and there were the bare butts and leather chaps and bandannas and bright-hued tank tops (we bought pink and blue for my dad--what were we thinking?). There were the men hanging off balconies cheering the drag queens, and the men making out in the street, and the men doing all sorts of other things we probably averted our eyes to. I don't remember women.

It was about as much fun as could be had at the premier gay event on the planet without being a gay man--and really, that was a lot of fun. It also was a crucial event in my own political development. I mean, there I was with my mom, in case anyone has forgotten that crucial detail, surrounded by gay men living their lives out loud, really out and really loud. They were the norm and we were the minority and it was all perfectly normal. Since then, supporting gay rights has been perfectly obvious to me.

It was only years later that I realized that we had been present at an historic moment. The first cases of K.S. appeared in 1981. By 1983, even I, far away from the Castro, knew a gay man who had died of AIDS. By 1990, when I moved to Berkeley, the Castro was full of ancient-looking young men, hobbling toward their last days, and everyone talked about ACT UP and Queer Nation and AZT, not whether to go to the baths or the tea dance. The Castro Street Fair in 1980 was the peak of an era that nobody knew was about to end. If I wanted to go super-cliched here, I'd call it the end of innocence. But that's too cheesy even for me.

Anyway, this article reminded me of all that.

Oh, and the third thing of note that happened on that California trip was that I stopped eating meat. But somehow that story seems anti-climactic (even if it does include my cousin L telling her kids to say their mantras on Big Thunder Mountain), so I think I'll stop.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

We went on vacation. Everyone was on vacation. Some people had to work--B and M went home to work the first week; S and J went home to work the second week; a few of us worked there. But generally it was vacation.

It was beautiful. The weather can be summed up in one word: sun. The place can be summed up in a small handful of words: blue, green, mountain, lake, river.

There were kayaks and marshmallows and fishing rods and hikes and vodka tonics and bikinis. There were books to read in hammocks and on decks. There were children to play with. There were adults to take long swims and long walks and long talks with. There were expeditions and swimming parties and barbecues. Sometimes I felt like we were just one big ridiculous Gourmet-in-the-Ruth-era photo spread.

It was the ur-vacation. It was the platonic ideal of vacations.

And then there was the war. Here we were on a golden summer vacation with our blissfully happy children. There American marines were dying and Iraqi soldiers were dying, and their children--well, I can’t even write about their children because it makes me want to cry, or throw up, or cry and throw up.

I keep thinking about the summer of 1914. They said the summer of 1914 was the most perfect English summer ever. And then came the fall of 1914 and the next four years, and the world collapsed around them. This is different, of course: this is the most perfect summer and the world collapsing all at once. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just being melodramatic, on either count, or on both.

But I keep thinking of those children of dead soldiers as the summer burns on.