Friday, September 30, 2005

It's Nights Like These That Give You Hope

Red Sox 5 - Blue Jays 4

Is not David Ortiz one of the best ever?!

David on Tom

I'm exhausted, my computer is frighteningly virus-ridden, and I have hours of work before I sleep. So really you don't want to hear from me this evening. Instead, I'll direct you to David who is riffing on Tom DeLay today. At work yesterday, people were practically jumping up and down in glee, declaring that this is the beginning of the end, or, if you want to put it another way, the beginning of the beginning. I don't know: nothing gives me much hope these days. But it's nice to see an evil guy brought down, even if it's for a lameish reason, as David points out. Maybe Rove will be next. A girl can dream, after all.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


A confession: fourth grade boys all look alike to me.

I know, I sound like a white person saying that all black people look alike, or a black person saying that all white people look alike. And just like a white person who says some of her best friends are black, I can also say that fourth grade boys whom I know and love look different. I can see my nephew and J and J's son and some of the boys M went to school with for years as individuals. But when I look at a pack of fourth grade boys, I just see boyness, repeated again and again.

It's not like that with girls. Girls I immediately individuate, whether I know them or not. That one is short and chatty; that one is pale and looks sad; that one has dreads and wears her backpack on one shoulder. When M starts to refer to names, I can remember the faces. A, her new best friend, is Nepali and has a new baby brother. E, who lives down the street, is tall and has long red hair and walks to school with her cousin. J is round and giggles--she invited M to her birthday party next week.

But when she talks about the boys, who are clearly individuals to her, I just don't get it. Which one is C? S? Is that the nice S or the mean S? Which boy is taking saxophone lessons while she takes clarinet? Like I said, they're all the same to me, in their sneakers, t-shirts, and shorts, with their short hair and long bodies, a pack of alien beings.

Prejudice: so often rooted in ignorance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why We Were There

It had seemed like a good idea a month ago. By last Thursday, it didn't seem like such a good idea. When M came home from school sick, I had a glimmer of hope that we wouldn't be able to go. But she was fine and the plans were made, so we went.

At breakfast at the hotel, there was a family from Colorado with eleven people, but we had them beat. There were sixteen of us: Aunt M and Uncle J; my mom and stepfather; my sister, her husband, and her two kids; me, M, and E (where was S? do you even need to ask? at work, of course); my stepfather's younger son, his wife, and his two kids; and my stepfather's older son (his wife was at home and his son was partying in Amarillo, having been evacuated from Houston). E and her family made twenty, though they weren't with us the whole time.

Cellphones were crucial. I don't know how we used to manage without them. Of course they were that much more effective once my mom realized that to answer her phone all she had to do was open it--when she opened it and then pushed OK, as she did for most of the day, bad things happened. But thanks to cellphones, we knew that M and J's train had an electrical problem and they would be late--very late, as it turned out. E and I found each other with our phones: "I'm by the flag." "I'm by the flag." "I'm by the people with the blue hats." "What people with the blue hats?" "I can't hear you, they're singing." "They're singing by me too." "I see you!!! I'm over here!!" We wrote our phone numbers on the kids' arms, cognizant of the post-Katrina instructions for parents evacuating with their kids from Rita.

We stood still for way too long with E's husband and his gang. Then E and I cut out with the kids for hot dogs, pretzels, and running around on a lawn. Miraculously we found the rest of my family--my sister by accident (though we were only a block from where we were supposed to meet), the rest of them via more laborious cell phone instructions ("Come down another block, cross the street, look for us on the grass."). When we went back, there was finally movement, and we found outselves walking with the gals in pink, which was quite ok with us. E was tired, so I carried her, then P carried her on his shoulders, then I carried her and she fell asleep, then M carried her while she slept. Thank goodness for strong stepbrothers. We cut out at the White House and headed for snacks at Starbucks and more running around in a park.

Mainly it was a lot of people and logistics and trying not to lose my kids.

The next day, I was talking to someone who was the sole survivor of a military accident in World War II. I was thinking of the other people on his plane, people he'd known, people who'd lost the future he went on to have. Then I started thinking about World War I when an entire generation was lost. My grandmother, a young woman in Germany, married a man twenty years older than her who told her on their wedding day that he had a mistress and children and he wasn't giving them up. She had no choice, she said, because there were no young men.

Imagine what the world might have been like if all those men who died in the trenches had lived. Imagine if they had survived that ghastly war and come back and made it their lives' purpose to prevent another war. Or maybe not. Imagine that they had just come back and written the sonnets and painted the pictures and sold the shoes and fathered the children that never happened.

There was a field of crosses by the Washington monument. There was a long string with a photo of every single soldier who has died in Iraq so far, alphabetical and numbered. I ducked under the string at 201, somewhere in the B's, trying to find a hot dog truck to feed my kids.

I get so used to the numbers and the lists. I read the biographies and the articles about the funerals and families, and I get sad, but the biographies and articles focus on the past and the present.

It suddenly hit me that what is lost in war, especially this kind of a pointless war, is the future. Individual futures, family futures, national futures, world futures. An unspeakable waste.

I'm glad we went.

[And if you want to say that wars are fought for the future, I might agree that that is true, as well, for some wars. But not this one.]

Does Anyone Else Think This Is Hilarious, Or Am I Just Totally Stuck On My Kid?

E (who for the last two days has been dragging around a duck bath toy that looks kind of like the sixth one down here): I don't know how to turn into myself, 'cause I keep doing weird things like sleeping with a sponge.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dan Shaughnessy Says It All

Roger Angell was always my favorite baseball writer. But over the last few years, I've become quite the Dan Shaughnessy fan. Sports writing can be so incredibly bad: a veritable pile-up of mediocre cliches. But it can also be so good. Bud Collins is great (check out those pants). George Vecsey (damn Times Select). There was one I used to love at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Anyway, Dan captures the mood in Red Sox Nation. Looking grim, but then again, we're talking about the Red Sox. And yes, I know they won last night, but still, we're talking about the Red Sox.

I am so not up for the possibility of FOUR series to make it to the end (if next weekend's series against the Yankees matters, which presumably it will--I mean, they can't fall to 3 1/2 games behind between now and Friday, can they? Then again, they are the Red Sox.)

I'm Not Quite Sure If This Is Cute or Obnoxious

E: I'm the smartest kid in my class.

Me: What makes you think that?

E: My teachers told me.

Me: When?

E: In gathering.* But don't ask them!

*Gathering is what E's extremely precious school calls circle/meeting/rug--that time when they all sit on the floor in a circle and talk about the weather, listen to stories, share, etc.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Welcome Fall

I'm ready. I know I'll regret it come November, let alone February. But right now I'm ready. For sweaters and leaves and apples we picked and real pajamas and soup. And especially for root vegetables.

I never met a root vegetable I didn't like. And yes, I do like rutabagas and turnips. Especially roasted.

My favorite food is bread. My second favorite food is ice cream. My third favorite...well, that's getting tougher. Carrots or melon, probably. But then we're talking potatoes, onions, winter squash, and beets, especially beets.

K and I have a policy: if it has beets, we order it.

The other fall food K and I worship is the pumpkin muffin. Mmm. And yes, I know pumpkin is not a root vegetable. For that matter, now that I think of it, neither is winter squash, of course. But they're all part of the fall vegetable spectrum, and I'm ready to eat them.

This evening I'm wearing a tank top and all of our windows are still open, as they've been since we moved to Town in June. But tonight we had butternut squash ravioli for dinner, and I'll sleep under my quilt. I'm ready.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Here We Go Again

If this is September, the Red Sox must be tanking--or at least generating as much anxiety as they can in the process of doing whatever they end up doing.

Julia and Catherine

When I was a teenager I had a theory about women and beauty. It was a theory derived from a broad and meaningful sample: me. My theory was that the women whom other women think are beautiful are essentially idealized versions of themselves. I think mainly it had to do with hair.

Back then, I didn't understand what people saw in Farrah Fawcett. Jaclyn Smith was my Angel, no question. Jacqueline Bisset was another favorite (on my first date, in eighth grade, I went to see The Deep), and I was also partial to Brooke Adams, especially in Days of Heaven. These days, I fail to see the appeal of Kate Moss and Charlize Theron. But Julia Roberts and Catherine Keener are two of my favorite actresses.

Yes, Julia Roberts, and I'm not embarassed to admit it. I first loved her in Mystic Pizza (ok, I'm going to stop linking the movies now, but if you haven't seen Days of Heaven, which is probably the only one that needs to be linked, you really should--it's brilliant). I thought I'd seen all of her movies, but I just counted on IMDB, and I've only seen 14 out of 34. Time to get me some Julia Roberts movies. I won't recap them all, but I'll just say that Something to Talk About is the great unsung Julia Roberts movie.

I don't know why I love Julia so much. It can't just be that (most of the time) she has brown hair like me. It's something about the smile and the energy and the vulnerability and the way she's so real, even though she's such a movie star (I mean she's real on screen--for all my obsession with celebrity gossip, I am under no illusion that any of us actually know anything about the real lives of celebrities). Also, I'm partial to romantic comedies, and she tends toward reliably entertaining romantic comedies. Let's just say I'm a fan.

Catherine Keener is different, though now that I think about it, not really. Because what I was going to say about Catherine Keener is that, unlike Julia Roberts, I know why I like her, but in fact, the reason I like her is because she is so real--again, on screen; I know virtually nothing about Catherine Keener the person--in fact, I can't even manage to call her Catherine; to me she is always Catherine Keener.

Anyway, Catherine Keener makes weird edgy movies about real cranky oddball aggressive vulnerable all at the same time women. Or she makes mainstream movies and you get all proud that there's Catherine Keener, whom you treasured in Walking and Talking and Lovely and Amazing and even Full Frontal, out there showing everyone who goes to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin what it's like to be a real, interesting woman.

What made me think of all this was that last night I watched The Ballad of Jack and Rose which was just thoroughly absurd and disappointing--even Daniel Day Lewis, about whom I feel what every sentient intellectual woman into weird skinny intellectual guys feels, was disappointing. The one thing I liked about the movie was Catherine Keener. She was...well, she was real: a woman trying to make the best of a whole bunch of bad situations, loving except when she wasn't, brave and scared at the same time, ultimately needing the money as much as the love, and beautiful too, in her excellent Catherine Keener way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Women Who Work, Women Who Stay Home, Blah, Blah, Blah

Why is the New York Times so obsessed with rich, educated women staying home with their kids? This is the third such article in recent memory, and I don't seem to recall a single article about poor women who want to stay home with their kids but have to go to work at a minimum-wage job and leave their kids in sub-par childcare because of work requirements instituted by welfare reform. Isn't this "what a waste of a Yale education" riff a bit, um, elitist? Or am I just once again stating the obvious?

I try to stay away from the working mom/stay-at-home mom wars (and even writing that phrase has the potential to beget a skirmish, for stay at home moms work hard too, I know). Working is right for some women and their families, staying home is right for some women and their families, and why can't we all just get along? But two things particularly irked me in this particular article.

First, it just makes my blood boil when young women like knows-it-all Uzezi Abugo say things like "I've seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn't, and it's kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it." Then there's stay-at-home mom Carol Lechner who opines, "I see a lot of women in their 30's who have full-time nannies, and I just question if their kids are getting the best." Have you met my kids? My sister's kids? K's kids? E's kids? Great kids whose mothers work. I can introduce you to some super-screwed-up kids whose mothers stay home too. These generalizations simply aren't useful. And don't even get me started on the compulsion toward "getting the best" which seems to drive so much American parenthood these days.

The other thing that bugged me was the blind acceptance of the gender status quo amongst these college students. Guys who think it's "sexy" when women want to stay home with their kids. And Angie Ku:

Ms. Ku added that she did not think it was a problem that women usually do most of the work raising kids.

"I accept things how they are," she said. "I don't mind the status quo. I don't see why I have to go against it."

After all, she added, those roles got her where she is.

"It worked so well for me," she said, "and I don't see in my life why it wouldn't work."

Yeah, the old "it works for me" argument, coupled with general acceptance of the status quo. Mmm, delightful.

Methinks the younger generation could use a good dose of socialist feminism, But then, I'm a working mom. What do I know?

The Case of the Missing Tablecloth

When I got married, I wanted a lace huppah. I’d like to say this was a spiritually meaningful impulse: that I wanted our marriage space to be at once sheltered and open to the world. I don’t think that was it, though. I think I just thought a lace huppah would be pretty.

My first idea was to buy a swath of lace at a fabric store, but cheap lace was too ugly and expensive lace was too expensive--it takes a lot of lace to make a huppah. Then just a few days before the wedding, I was at the mall with my sister, shopping for her bridesmaid’s dress. We were in an Irish linen store, which for some reason had floral dresses (I wanted my bridesmaids to wear floral dresses, and they were impossible to find--just a year later floral dresses came back and were everywhere) (that’s me: always ahead of the curve). So anyway, there we were in the Irish linen store and all of a sudden I had an inspiration: a lace tablecloth! We could use it for our huppah and then it could be our tablecloth for Passover and other such lace tablecloth events and it would symbolize our home and our family and all that. See, I am capable of a spiritually meaningful impulse!

Right there in the Irish linen store I bought a very nice lace tablecloth and it made a beautiful huppah. Three years later, I lent it to my sister and it made her a beautiful huppah. Then it disappeared. Every time I needed a nice tablecloth, generally at Passover, I would remember the lace tablecloth, look for it, not find it, use the embroidered tablecloths from my grandmothers (which are very nice themselves), and forget about it again. This went on for years.

Saturday night at A’s wedding, I was gazing at the bride and groom and rabbi under the huppah, and suddenly something looked very familiar. The huppah was white, lace, scalloped on the edges, just like my tablecloth. Look, I whispered to S, I think that’s our tablecloth. You’re crazy, he said. No, I said, that looks just like our tablecloth, the one we used for our huppah. Then the groom said one of the bride’s lines and everyone laughed and the seven blessings were recited by five friends and a poem was read and the glass was stepped on, twice, and I forgot about the huppah.

It turns out that it was my tablecloth. I’ve tried to write about what happened next a few times, but it’s not working, and I’ve concluded that the only person who will really find it as hilarious as we did is K, so I’m just going to call her and tell her about it. Basically, after her wedding, my sister gave the tablecloth to A’s mom to save for her daughters, only nobody told me. But take my word for it, it’s funnier than that.

I tried to get it back, because really, I did have this vision of my huppah and my tablecloth and my family. I failed. A’s mom kept it for A’s sisters. She promises that once F and J are married, she’ll give it back to me for M and E, unless, of course, my sister’s kids get married first.

And you know, that’s kind of spiritually meaningful in itself.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Wedding

As we were preparing to move back to Blue State, an endeavor accompanied, for me at least, by significant anxiety, A’s wedding took on talismanic status. A is the middle daughter of old family friends; I’ve known her since before she was born. There was no question that we would go to her wedding.

If we had still lived in Red State, the wedding would have been the usual ordeal: scramble to get to the airport for the Friday evening flight which is almost always late or cancelled; arrive in East Coast Big City way past bedtime; borrow a car or split up our family in other people’s cars to get to the wedding on Saturday night in Ocean Town; arrive back at my mom’s way past bedtime; fly home at some inconvenient hour on Sunday, because Sunday flights are always inconvenient; be exhausted and cranky for days afterward. Oh, and did I mention that all this would cost at least $1200, unless we somehow managed to snag tickets during a fare sale, which we never manage to do, because we are not that kind of organized.

But it wouldn’t be like that this time, I thought, as I sat at my computer in Red State, perusing real estate listings in Town. On the morning of A’s wedding, we’d get up and have an everyday Saturday. Late in the afternoon, we’d take showers and dress--if we changed our minds about what to wear, we’d have our entire closets to choose from. Then we’d get in our own car and drive up to Ocean Town. When we were ready to go home, there we’d go: back to our own home, to sleep in our own beds, and get up the next day, ready to go on with our everyday lives.

A’s wedding was last night. Yesterday morning we got up and S took the girls to E’s ballet class. I met E (friend, not daughter) for pedicures, lunch, cosmopolitans, and complaints about our husbands. When I got home, S was taking a nap, so the girls and I picked up the house, made the beds for my sister and her family who were coming back to our house after the wedding, wrapped the present, had baths and showers, and put on party dresses. Then we got in our own car and drove to Ocean Town. We partied at the wedding (E and her cousin L only partied at half the wedding; then they fell asleep in their mothers’ arms and were laid down on couches where their parents took turns guarding them). Then we went back to our own home and slept in our own beds.

It was a daydream come true.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Fuck This Shit

Get Your War On gets it, as always. [Thanks for reminding me, Mr. B.]

Friday, September 16, 2005

No Test Left Untaken

I wonder if any of the architects or enforcers of No Child Left Behind actually have children in the public schools. Somehow I doubt it. I'd guess their children are grown up or safely ensconced in private school. Because I don't know a single person who has to live with No Child Left Behind who actually supports it.

I'm actually quite favorably impressed with standards-based education (sorry, K). If you've got a good teacher and your standards make sense, they should enable teaching rather than impeding it. That's what happened at M's old school. The Red State standards were long and bureaucratic, but they were completely reasonable. In third grade they learned how to write a letter and a paragraph, to draft and to proofread. They studied local history and Native American culture, recycling and continents (actually, they seem to study continents every year, but that's ok). I do believe that learning should be about content, not just skills, and the content in the standards was both appropriate and interesting to third graders.

M also had great teachers who were super-creative with integrating the standards. In M's class they built a doghouse as part of a school-wide Habitat for Humanity project. Writing paragraphs about what the doghouse should have in it met a writing standard. Estimating and measuring met a math standard. Learning about dogs met a science standard. I think there was a technology standard in there too. And the kids had no idea they were meeting standards--they just thought they were doing a cool project.

So the standards are fine, if they're done well. It's the damn tests. Because the fact is, the main thing you need to do well on the tests is good test-taking skills, plus a command of basic skills: reading, writing, math. But test-taking skills don't come easily to everyone, and M's new schools is 1/3 ESL students, which means reading and writing don't come so easily either. And the thing is, everyone has to take the test, and if not enough kids pass, the school is in big trouble (this is why I have no patience with the anti-testing parents, usually middle-class and intelligent, who don't let their kids take the tests, just like I have no patience with parents who don't vaccinate--the school needs my kid's good test scores, and those parents who don't vaccinate are in fact relying on the fact that the rest of us do vaccinate, so scarlet fever and German measles aren't really something they need to worry about--the community, people, you need to think about the community, not just your own kid...but I digress).

So the problem with No Child Left Behind is that the schools become totally test-focused. Not standards-focused, but test-focused. Which is boring, and intellectually ineffectual, and just a huge pain in the ass for teachers, students, and parents. Unless they're in a private school.

[Hmm, I just googled and apparently Margaret Spelling's kid does go to public school. Then again, Margaret Spelling's perceptive abilities have never impressed me.]

Read the New York Times With Me

These days I don't have much time to troll the internet looking for cool links. I don't even have time to read other blogs looking for links to steal. I haven't actively followed celebrity gossip since Katrina--it still seems blasphemous (though I am aware that Britney had her baby--I just can't help it). I don't have much to say about current events.

But I did manage to read the Times today, so here are a few links.

Anybody who reads me regularly know that I abhor David Brooks, but he's right on the mark--and funny--with this one.

Excuse me, we're going to go visit all the seminaries and ask if any seminarians have special friendships? Um, hello? Catholic Church? It's 2005, just wanted to let you know. Besides, isn't the requirement celibacy? Whoever you might want to do it with, if you're not doing it, you're not doing it, or did I misunderstand the meaning of celibacy?

I hated What to Expect When You're Expecting from the beginning. I mean, what the hell is that with the diet? If I eat an ice cream cone my kid is going to be a moron? I don't think so. Glad to hear expectant moms everywhere are catching up with me (though I have to confess that I would surreptitiously check my kids' development against the milestones in the What to Expect baby and toddler books--but only at bookstores, I wouldn't have dreamed of buying them).

Last, but not least, let's hear it for Lolita, published 50 years ago today. Funny, I don't remember if I actually liked Lolita when I read it a zillion years ago. Maybe it's time to try it again--after I finish On Beauty (ok, I'm cheating: that's a link from Tuesday).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Present, The Future

There are things you do because they are worth doing, and then there are things you do because some day it will be worth having done them.

This is one of my core parenting principles. There are things I want my children to be able to do and to love. Things like eating in restaurants and going to museums and climbing mountains. They are not things that children necessarily take to on their own, nor are they things that are particularly easy for children. So we have spent a lot of time with our children while they are small, doing these things in ways that may not be particularly enjoyable in the moment, but hopefully will pay off some day.

Take restaurants. Restaurants are important to us. We like to eat in restaurants, we like to know what’s going on with restaurants, and, of course, S works in restaurants. So we have spent a lot of time in restaurants with our kids. But restaurants are not great places for toddlers who have just learned how to walk, not to mention easily distractible four year olds, or hungry kids of any age. And we are determined not just to have kids who like restaurants but to have restaurants like our kids. So we have spent a lot of time walking up and down sidewalks outside restaurants with toddlers, we always remember to bring pens and pads for four year olds (the nine year old likes them too), and we ask the waiter to bring a bowl of rice or bread and butter as soon as we sit down. Now it’s paying off. M eats everything and makes polite conversation, E eats noodles or rice or bread and butter and quietly draws pictures, and people always comment on how well behaved our kids are.

This summer has been an interesting moment because M is generally in the pay-off stage, while E is still learning. M can paddle her own kayak, while E sits between my legs, sometimes paddling with me, sometimes paddling on her own, getting us pretty much nowhere and drenching me with the water that spills over us when she lifts her paddle too high. M powered up a 3,268 foot mountain, 6.2 miles round trip, with nary a complaint and a fabulous summit. With E, we took a gondola up to the top of a mountain and then hiked down, over two hours to go just two miles, lots of breaks, and an M&M to step ratio that hovered around 1:1. When M and I go river walking, we get into the zone, finding the perfect foothold, wading through pools, swimming through deeper pools, pointing out an insect or fish or spider web. When I river walk with E, I anxiously hover, holding both her hands on slippery rocks (just one when it’s dry), spotting her up cliffs, always watching, always careful.

Actually, though, the learning stage has its own pleasures. E and I kayaked halfway around the lake, checking out the houses and the beaches, wondering if the island had blueberries, and grasping at lily pads and sticks. On the grassy slopes, she ran down the mountain, dragging me along with her, almost making up for the woods where I had to drag her along, metaphorically and, often, literally. As soon as S thought to put on her sandals (we are not always as smart as we are with restaurants), she finally took to river walking, plunging into waterfalls and scrambling up cliffs, hardly needing my help, if making me even more anxious.

So maybe I should revise my parenting principle. The promise of the future only enhances the pleasure of the present? It’s all worth it? One small river-walking, mountain-climbing step for E, one big step for…whatever.

Eh, it sounds good the way it is. I’ll just try to remember that it’s a little more complicated--and a lot more fun--than it sounds.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Schedule Is Set

Sunday, 9:30-11:30 - M to religious school, E to religious school once a month

Tuesday, 3:45-5:45 - M to religious school

Wednesday, 5:15-6:15 - M to swim practice

Thursday, 5:15-6:15 - M to swim practice

Saturday, 9:15-10:00 - E to ballet

This is overlaid on me at work from 9-5, M at school from 8:15-2:15, and then at afterschool till I pick her up before 5:30, E at school from after we take M to school to after we pick up M from afterschool, and S, well, let's just hope that S does not keep working 8-11 (that being a.m. to p.m.). The big question is how M is going to get from afterschool to swim practice, when I can't get to afterschool till 5:20. I assume a solution will reveal itself...

This is also based on the principle that we only let each girl do one activity--plus religious school, since that's not really an activity of their choosing, that is, it's something we want them to do, though we do let them choose whether or not to do it (M dropped out in Red State, but now we're heading toward bat mitzvah and it's time to get serious, plus that was a dreadful religious school, and from all we've heard, this is a wonderful religious school). I really don't see, however, how this ever-so-reasonable principle led to such a ridiculous schedule.

I have, however, given up the principle drilled into me from childhood that you never make ongoing commitments for the weekend because you might want to go away. The fact is, my husband is a chef, he always works weekends, we never go away, so we might as well have commitments on weekends that we can just skip if a miraculous opportunity arises to go away.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Naive Comments on Race

This isn't about Katrina.

When we moved from Berkeley to Red State, I was startled to find myself in an environment where race was black and white. In California, race was white and Black and Chicano and Asian (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipina, South Indian, Nepali, Tibetan...) and, especially, mixed. But when we arrived in Red State Capital City Suburb in the summer of 1997, there were Black people and there were white people. In our neighborhood, there were basically white people, except for my white friend M's Black husband and their two mixed kids, who none of the other kids knew were half-Black, until they met their dad. By the time we left this past summer, there was a sizable Mexican contingent, but still, everyone was something obvious: white people were white, Black people were Black, and Mexican people spoke Spanish (though a good friend of mine who is Black insisted that a lot of the white people in Red State Capital City Suburb were in fact Black and deep into passing).

One of the many reasons we moved was because we didn't want our kids growing up in an environment where, as Jewish kids, they were diversity. And they were. M was the only Jewish kid in her school. There was an Indian girl whose parents owned the motel north of town. There were a few Black kids, including my friend M's boys. And then there were lots of white kids, most of whom went to church, all of whom were very nice.

When we decided to move back to East Coast Big City, we agonized a lot about where to live. There are the "diverse" neighborhoods, most of which are simply midway through gentrification, as the middle-class white people uproot the low-income people of color, and few of which have viable school systems. There are the largely white suburbs with lots of rich people and excellent schools. There are City and Other City which are technically diverse as cities, but not so diverse by neighborhood, and have highly dubious schools. And then there was Town.

It's hard to describe Town, and one of the reason I almost stopped blogging when we moved was that I felt like I had to write something about Town, but I couldn't. Basically, one end of Town is urban and the other end is suburban. To put it financially, the PTO at the school at the other end of town, where everyone lives in ranches and colonials set in the midst of big yards, raises $100,000 annually, most of it through a silent auction. At M's school, in a neighborhood of two-family frame houses, apartments, and projects, the PTO struggles to raise $15,000 a year, and the idea of a silent auction is laughable. But even this is an exaggeration, for our neighborhood itself is well into gentrification, though ironically its gentrification is bringing more middle-class people of color into what had been a lower-middle-class ethnic (Italian, Greek) neighborhood.

Overall Town is very white, but M's school is strikingly diverse, especially after Red State Capital City Suburb. After the first day of school, I asked M about the kids in her class. She said there were white kids, and a Chinese kid, and a lot of brown kids. What do you mean? I asked her. She repeated what she'd said before: there were a lot of brown kids.

The next morning when she went to line up with her class before school, I realized that she was right. The school has every which kind of kid, but in her class there are some white kids, a few Asian kids, and a bunch of kids who can best be described as brown: some, I think, are Latino, some are light-skinned Black, some are mixed, but you can't tell by looking. At home, she learned that day, kids in her class speak English, Chinese, Nepali, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and sign language. The girl she likes best moved to Town a year ago from Nepal. Today there was a new girl who moved here from Another East Coast State, but moved there from Sudan.

Not sure what my point is here, except perhaps to note the difference between the coasts and the middle--though even that would have to be modified, if one looked more carefully at recent immigration in the middle, from the Hmong in Minnesota to the Somalis in Ohio. One also could consider the class implications of color--surely visible in all the images of poor Black hurricane victims. But I don't feel up to theorizing tonight; I'm just glad my middle-class Jewish white kids are now simply part of the mix of the crowd.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Is it Katrina that makes the fourth anniversary of 9/11 seem like such a non-event? Or is it that after four years what seemed so definitively indelible, so indelibly definitive, inevitably starts to fade, at least for those of us who don't have gaping holes left in our own lives? Perhaps it's that today is a beautiful early autumn Sunday, blue-skied, like 9/11, but with a slight breeze, unlike the stillness that, far away in Red State, made that dreadful day seem unreal to the point of surreal. A bike ride seems the order of the day, not solemn reflection.

I know two people with birthdays today. One turns 14, but doesn't want a party because his whole family is still in shock from the death of his uncle, less than two months ago; still, the family is gathering and, knowing them, they are laughing and eating and squabbling, even as they are crying. The other turns 70 and played squash to celebrate. They are testimony, I suppose, to how life goes on, even as loss goes on, the one, I hope, giving sustenance in the face of the other.

Happy Birthday J!

Happy Birthday J!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Restaurant Report

We finally made it to the new restaurant (finally is perhaps an overstatement, as it has only been open since Tuesday, but we were supposed to go on Wednesday, only we couldn't because just two blocks into the half hour drive, both girls melted down and I decided I couldn't handle it) (it's been a long week or so, as S has been working 15 hour days, first to get ready for opening, then to handle the chaos of opening--he did manage to take E to school on her first day and make M breakfast on hers, but that's been about it from him on the parenting front).

I'm quite critical about restaurants, even restaurants where S works, but I have to say, this one is great. First of all, it's gorgeous. It's an old bar and grill that they stripped to the frame and rebuilt (and when I say they, I mean they: S built the shelves in the basement, the other sous chef P painted the booths, etc.). One wall is brick, the ceiling is high, there is a beautiful curved wood bar, the tables are polished wood with no placemats or cloths, there are banquettes covered in a mod dotted fabric (dots are a kind of visual theme) and Jacobsenish chairs and long skinny hanging lights and big windows along two sides, and I didn't even get a good look at the back garden.

We won't say much about the service except that they are working on it, but the food was excellent. M and I shared a mussels appetizer with the tenderest mussels I've ever eaten. Then M had the infamous grass-fed-beef hamburger that S spent so long pursuing, and she was in ecstasy. She said it was the best burger she ever ate and it tasted like steak. The fries were outstanding, and we deeply regretted not ordering the onion rings once we saw them arriving at other tables. I had the spinach and mushroom lasagna which I have to say I did not love. It was done well, but I like a higher pasta:stuff ratio in my lasagna. My side of green beans was delicious, however. E did not eat her cheese pizza--surprise!--but it was very good with a crispy crust and homemade sauce. Desserts...mmm. I had flourless chocolate torte with mango sorbet (amazing) and raspberry sauce; M had a brown butter blueberry tart; and E cream, of course (she did eat a bowl of rice after not eating the pizza, in order to earn dessert).

The place was totally packed and we can't wait to go back to try the grilled squid, the codcakes, the flatiron steak (M), the vegetarian sandwich (me), the hotdog (E), and of course the onion rings.

We wouldn't mind, though, if S spent a little less time there.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Random Friday Thoughts

The great accomplishment of E's first week of school is monkey bars. I am especially proud that both my daughters can do monkey bars, as I couldn't do monkey bars if you paid me, and never could.

When I picked up M today, she said that school was "AWESOME!" and afterschool was "Great!"

Who the hell is Sufjan Stevens and why is he all of a sudden everywhere?

I know what my next hardcover purchase is going to be. I have to finish something that's been hanging over me by September 12, and it comes out September 13. A perfect reward!

Don't know if there will be much blogging this weekend, due to said finishing...

Feel Like Getting Angry? A Few Katrina Links

Andrew Sullivan goes wild. Before we know it, the guy will be a flaming liberal. [Link from Laura at 11D]

I suspect Dawn has been spending way too much time haunting the Katrina-based internet these days, but she (and Bitch Ph.D., and probably everyone else) links to this mind-exploding story.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Have We Made a Huge Mistake?

I just left M with her new teacher in her new classroom at her new school. I was only there for a minute, and when I left she seemed happy, but when it appeared that parents were not going into school with their kids, her face had crinkled into tears. Last night she cried buckets, not because she didn't want to go to school--she loves school and she's been eagerly awaiting it for weeks--but because she was so scared of starting at a new school. Which I so totally understood.

M has been, overall, ecstatic about our move. She loves living in the city, she loves being back east, she loves getting to see her grandparents and cousins all the time. She loves the playground and the Chinese restaurant and the pond. She misses L a lot and S and E occasionally, but other than that, it's been pretty much see-ya-later to Red State.

But school is going to be the thing that makes it or breaks it. And all the indicators are good: she loves school, she's loved even the teachers that I've found profoundly mediocre, everyone says that this school is wonderful, she makes friends everywhere she goes, she has liked every kid she's met so far in Town (though I did suggest, the other day, when she was nervous about making friends, that perhaps the nine kids she has met so far are the only nice kids in Town, and every single other kid is mean--this is how we cheer up the children in our family).

Still, I can't tell you how many people have told me in the last six months that they moved in fourth grade and it was terrible. (Hmm, why are people telling me this?!) So while I'm confident in the specifics, I'm devastatingly anxious in the abstract.

Please let this not be the experience that crushes my perfect, brilliant, happy girl. Please let her find friends as good as she had in Red State. Please just let her have a good first day of school.

Updated to add: She had a great day. Phew. I guess it wasn't a huge mistake.

On Sharing My Children

I've been thinking about the responses to Tertia's post asking how to protect her kids from abuse. (Yes, I know it was a while ago, but I don't really read Tertia that much, I just looked at it when Emma Jane linked to it, since I've been checking Emma Jane daily to see if the baby has arrived. Then once I read it, I thought about it for a while.)

Like Emma Jane, I was disturbed by how many women said that to protect their kids from the possibility of abuse, they would not leave them alone with anybody. Some of these people are clearly coming from a place of great pain, and I respect that pain fully. Like everything we do, we parent out of our own experiences, and if you were left alone with a friend's brother who raped you, of course you will not put your child in such a situation.

I parent from my experience, though, and adults who were not my parents were crucial to my childhood. This is no slur on my parents themselves. This is a comment on the fact that every one of us is limited and can only offer so much. It was my Aunt M who took me to Bloomingdales. It was my mom's friend E who got up early in the morning when she visited and made me poached eggs. It was my friend J's dad who took me sailing. All things my parents simply didn't do, though there are lots of other wonderful things they did do.

Perhaps I've just been lucky. Maybe some day I'll regret it. But so far, my kids have only flourished in the company of others. With J (a male babysitter), they do crafts I would never dream of. With B (another babysitter, female), they get to romp with a big dog which will never happen in any home of mine. At their aunt's house, they run wild with cousins in a huge country backyard. With S and E's dad, they would throw footballs on the roof and tell the stupidest jokes ever (ok, I can do stupid jokes, but not footballs on the roof). Sure, all those things could have happened under my close supervision, but then they wouldn't be their own treasured experiences, like my childhood poached eggs and shopping trips.

I've taught M and E not to let anyone touch them in private places except Mommy, Daddy, and their doctor. I quiz them all the time on what to do in bad situations--if they get lost at the fair, if they can't wake me up, if someone scares them or makes them uncomfortable. But I also hope that I'm teaching them to be open to new experiences and new people, that some strangers can turn out to be your new best friends, that people can be as generous as they can be terrible (think Katrina). It's a hard line to walk, and I hope none of us fall off on the wrong side, but I want my children to embrace life, not to hide from it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Still Not Blogging About Katrina

All my peeps are writing smart, thoughtful posts about Katrina. Go read them and follow their links, if you want it and can take any more, because you're not going to get it from me. Though clearly I still feel compelled to mark its presence in my consciousness, despite the absolute irrelevance of my consciousness in the face of other people's devastated lives.

Why My Aunt M Is Great

She dotes on my kids, irrepressibly.

She provides copious amounts of delicious food.

She never runs faster than I do.

When I tell her that I have Vogue, her response is "What about Vanity Fair?"

She is ever welcoming to and interested in my friends.

She lets me use her Kiehl's shampoo.

She won't let me do the dishes.

She begat the eternally patient A, who is always willing, even, seemingly, happy, to read books, go to the park, play games, and go in the funhouse at the fair one more time.

She has an ideally located apartment in the city and an equally ideally located house in the country (ok, it would be even better if there was a pond, but we'll forgive her).

She's always up for a good family gossip.

She can't imagine not loving to read.

In short, I'm sorry she can't be your aunt, but I'm awfully glad she's mine.

[Consider this your thank you note, M!]

Monday, September 05, 2005

Life After Rehnquist

Count me in the Better Roberts Than Scalia camp.

Friday, September 02, 2005

How To Open a Restaurant

Come up with an idea. This can take as little as an evening and the back of a napkin (why the back? is the implication that the front is stained with food? or has some kind of logo on it?) or as long as several years and as many consultants.

Find a place. Again, could take a moment or forever, depending on the kind of place you want. Sometimes place and idea come together, like when you walk by the neighborhood dive, see that it's closing, and decide to take it over. Which is kind of what happened in this case, albeit with a lot more steps than that.

Get financing. (This is the part that most neophytes don't take seriously enough, which is why most new restaurants fail.)

Design and build. Takes forever. Longer, really. It may seem like designing a restaurant would be a fun little job: pick some tables, some chairs, a little art. Nope. Try ventilation. Plumbing. Endless building codes. Oops, the hood is only 39 inches above the burners, and it needs to be 40 to pass inspection. Try again. And again. Don't forget the contractors' mistakes. My favorite one last week was when the plumbers made the hot water came out of the cold tap and the cold out of the hot. Which didn't seem like such a big deal until F sat down on the toilet and almost burned her butt.

Announce an opening date. Postpone it. Postpone it again. Postpone it again. When S first talked to his boss, maybe in February, the restaurant was scheduled for May. In the first week of May when he was hired, it was end of June. When we arrived in East Coast Big City in the middle of June, it was end of July. When he started working full-time a few weeks ago, it was August 15. When they published the front-page article in the Food section, it was last Tuesday.

Find a source for grassfed beef. Powerwash the basement floor. Build shelves. Rebuild shelves because they weren't sturdy enough. Buy smallwares. Test the wood grill outside in the rain. Hire some dishwashers. Fire the dishwashers because they suck. Hire some more dishwashers. Build a smoker. Write the menu. Rewrite the menu. Rewrite the menu again. Finalize the prices. Finalize the prices again.

Get your occupancy permit. Try out your recipes. Change your recipes. Teach your recipes to the line cooks. Scramble to get home before bedtime so you can see your children for 20 minutes because in the morning you have to leave before they wake up. Don't go away for Labor Day weekend because you are doing friends and family* which, alas, your family will miss while they are away for Labor Day weekend visiting some of their favorite blog-readers. (Hi M. Hi A. Hi A.)

Cross your fingers for opening day on Tuesday.

*Friends and family is when you invite your friends and family to come to the restaurant for free so that you can train your staff live. It's generally something of a disaster, so maybe missing it is not such a bad thing, especially since M will be feeding us, which is a very good thing.

I Guess the Theme Is Gas

My Katrina thought for the day: New Orleans needs Rudy Giuliani.

Of course that's not my only Katrina thought. I'm still mesmerized like everyone else. We found out that our friends are fine--they made it to Shreveport, and now she's taken the kids to his parents by train and he's trying to drive up, but there's no gas. I have horrified thoughts and political thoughts, but really I'm sure everyone else has blogged such thoughts better than me, though these days I don't have much blog-reading time, so I can only refer you to Bitch Ph.D. who, happily for her loyal readers, who probably include most of my readers, is back from vacation.

I remember blogging several months ago about gas hitting $2.18. In July I drove for miles trying to find gas for less than $2.35, not because it made such a difference to pay $2.29, but on principle. Today I paid $3.08, after driving by $3.27 and $3.18. $27 to fill my almost-empty tank. The most expensive American gas I have ever seen in my life. I'm actually one of those people who think gas should be a lot more expensive than it is, but not so that hoarding oil companies can profiteer.

And in completely gas-unrelated news, I made the terrible mistake of telling E about 52 Pick Up and it's now her favorite game.