Monday, October 31, 2005

Second Child Syndrome

Although I'm a first-born, I'd heard enough complaints from my younger-child friends about having no baby pictures that I was determined E would be adequately photographed. And she was. I think there may be more pictures of E than of M, so many pictures that eventually I just stopped taking any photos at all. (It's generally feast or famine with the camera around here: we'll take dozens of pictures over a week or two, then none for six months.)

But where E really has been ripped off is in little kid activities. We were never big on storytime, but I'm sure M went at least half a dozen times. E went once. I think I blogged about the art museum activities that we used to take M to every month? E went once.

There are consolations, of course. M didn't go to the ballet till she was eight; E went at four. E's been scrambling up climbing walls since she was two. And don't even ask how much big-kid TV she's gotten to watch...

But the other thing she doesn't have much of is control. So many things we do are M-centered, and even during family activities, M is still there, leading the way.

Today M was out with my mom and I took E to a farm. It was all E. She held the map. She decided to go see the pigs instead of the sheep. She made a friend. They dug in the garden and scared the deer by the pond and hiked through the woods. She got tired and I gave her a piggy-back to the car. We both had a great time.

Must remember to let E lead the way.

[M is reading over my shoulder as I write. Here's what she has to say: "You're saying second children are better than first children. And like E never leads the way! And never is in charge--NOT. She gets carried. Come on, Mom. You gotta think. You aren't thinking, Mom. Think of all the things that she gets and I don't. Such as carrying, perhaps, as an example. Why are you writing everything I said? Mom!"]

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I'm glad we turned on the heat

because IT SNOWED all afternoon.

I Give Up

I was determined to wait until November. But it got to the point where we all kept our fleeces on in the house. M would put on a hat when she got home. At night, S and I would leap from our clothes into winter pajamas and then dive under the covers, only to huddle against each other, shivering. When we returned from dinner last night, the thermostat read 58.

The heat is now on.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Morning

This week I think we've finally gotten the routine down (knock wood). The last tantrum was Saturday night--it was a doozy, but we haven't had one since (KNOCK WOOD). S was home Friday night, Saturday, and Tuesday, and that definitely made a difference. M has quit swim team, for now, and that has made a huge difference.

I no longer attempt bedtime starting at 8; instead we go to bed when the evening is over: when the kitchen is clean and the homework is done and the clarinet is practiced and there has been a bit of relaxing and I can just say "ok, time for bed," rather than "Come ON. Hurry UP. It's TIME FOR BED!" E is still usually down by 9 and M by 9:15 or 9:30 at the latest, and neither seems the worse for wear. E doesn't fall asleep during nap at school, and while M is her usual grumpy self in the morning, once she's had her oatmeal and hot chocolate, she's good to go for as long as we let her keep going (that girl is going to be a total coffee addict some day).

S has been home in the mornings for a while now, so he does breakfasts and lunches while I get to go running or take a shower and get dressed in my own sweet time. I don't need to kick in till about 7:45, when I dress E, make sure everyone has what they need, and participate in the general departure. Then S walks M to her school, I drive E to her school, and we are all off on our respective days.

But then Friday morning arrives. S goes in early on Friday, before we wake up. This is good because it means he's home Friday night. This is bad because it means that after four days of not worrying about the morning, Friday morning is all mine to worry about. And I tend to screw it up. I get up too late. I get the girls up too late. I don't know what goes in the lunches. I'm making breakfasts and lunches at the same time and I forget to make the hot chocolate, so M is still drinking the hot chocolate when it's time to be brushing hair and putting on shoes, which is when I'm getting E dressed so I don't notice that she hasn't brushed hair and put on shoes. We're inevitably running out the door, and M is annoyed that she's not getting her usual walk to school with S. Ugh.

But--we're making progress, really, we are--at least this week I didn't yell.


What is perjury? It's lying. Not telling the truth. Saying something that you know is wrong. It's what Scooter Libby apparently did.

I read the indictment, all 22 pages of it. It's right there. The first charge: Libby told the Grand Jury that 1) Tim Russert asked if he knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA; 2) he said he didn't know; and 3) Russert told him that all the reporters knew. According to the indictment, 1) Libby did not discuss Wilson or his wife with Russert; and 2) Libby did know. There's more, of course, five counts worth, though only two are perjury, but I'd say that's good enough, right there.

If M did this to me, I would send her to her room. If I did this to my boss, I would get fired. If Libby did this to the Grand Jury (and I know, it's an indictment, not a conviction, but it's a pretty convincing indictment--well-written too), he should go to jail.

Sorry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, this is not "some perjury technicality." This is bullshit.

Curriculum Night

The Good: I was worried that I'd feel like the New Mom in Town, skulking around with no one to talk to. But I walked in the door and there were the fourth grade moms I know: G from down the street and C and K from religious school. As we headed toward the classroom, I ran into my friend from work and finally met his wife whom I've only talked to on the phone. After the teacher's presentation, I introduced myself to the mother of the boy who sits across from M, and it turns out he talks about her as much as she talks about him. I felt like a veritable East Town Mom.

The Bad: If I never hear the word BSPT (Blue State Proficiency Test) again, it will be way too soon. My god, you'd think all that kids need is to be drilled until they can pass a fucking standardized test. Oh yeah, that IS all they need in this No Child Left Untested era. Math problems to practice for the BSPT. Reading comprehension exercises to practice for the BSPT. Learning to write long essays to practice for the BSPT. And I tell you, I started getting tense just looking at those math problems--and I don't have to do them. When I asked the teacher if they have time for anything else, she looked sad and said that she'd like to spend an afternoon doing a project, but she feels guilty that she's not working on the curriculum and it might hurt them in the BSPT. This is where I start to wonder how much is the BSPT and how much is the teacher.

And this is where I once again revisit the question of whether we've made the right decision, a question I revisit at least a dozen times on a bad day, maybe once in a good week. M and E were accepted into a fancy progressive private school this year, the kind of place where they have themes and all-school art projects and affinity groups for biracial adopted children of queer refugee parents (I mock, but I respect, really I do). Where there are 14 kids and two teachers in each class. Where children write endless journals and spell creatively and read stories about little mineworker children learning to organize in the golden sun. Where there is nary a xeroxed work sheet to be seen, and the word BSPT is not allowed to cross the precious lips of children or adults. Where you pay $17,000 a year for pre-kindergarten, and it only goes up from there.

Um, not an option.

But would my kids be better off? Would they be happier? Would their intelligences be flowering under the gentle nurture, rather than withering under the pressure?

Um, I don't think so.

Why is M at East Town School, and why is E joining her there next year? Because we can afford it. Because the kids at the school speak 40 different languages and live in projects and fancy condos and have parents who drive buses and teach at fancy universities. Because in M's class there's a kid from Somalia and a kid from China and a kid from Nepal and a kid from Ecuador and a kid from Greece and a kid from New Mexico and a kid from Red State and a bunch of kids who've always lived in Town. Because they can walk to school. Because when we go into the bakery we always run into families from the neighborhood and kids from school. Because they are learning to get along with kids who are different from them, rather than reading books about kids learning to get along with kids who are different from them. Because M is learning about minerals and long essays and King Tut, and while that might not be what she'd learn in Fancy Progressive Private School, it's still worth learning. And because we teach them all the time at home and help them follow their passions and remind them that standardized tests are stupid but sometimes you've got to do stupid things.

If M hated school, if she was miserable, if she was keenly suffering every moment she was in the building, I'd pull her out. I'd scrape up the money for Fancy Progressive Private School, or I'd cross-enroll her in City or Other City or some other nearby community, or if I had to, I'd homeschool her. But she's not. Sometimes she's a little bored, but she loves to kick the boy who sits across from her, and gossip and play with her friends. She loves her gifted program and her clarinet lesson and gym and music and art. She loves the scary story she wrote this week and her first long essay, "All About Me." She's fine.

OK, you thought that was long-winded and self-justifying? You've heard me say all this before? (Sorry, mom). Imagine having to go through that entire thought process a dozen times on a bad day, and at the very least once a week. Obviously I'm still conflicted. And what I would do to that BSPT if I met it in a dark alley...well, let's not go there. But hey, M had a great time at childcare during curriculum night, running around with L from the other class and pointedly ignoring the boy who sits across from her. I got to read her scary story and her "All About Me" essay and they were fabulous. We came home and she wrote spelling word sentences and did a xeroxed reading comprehension paper. Then she went to bed. Tomorrow she'll get up and go to school, and then she'll come home and tell me about the day's egregious behavior from the boy who sits across from her, and then she'll read for two hours, and life will go on. It can't be that bad.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I Heart Jonathan

This morning I heard a Velvet Underground song on the radio, I don't remember which one. The Velvet Underground is one of those bands that I know I should like, but I don't really know. I don't go "hey, that's the Velvet Underground," or "wow, I love that Velvet Underground song" when I hear them on the radio, though when a DJ says "that was the Velvet Underground," I usually liked the song.

But really what the Velvet Underground makes me think of is Jonathan Richman. Either you're nodding your head, or you have no idea what I'm talking about. Let's just say that as much as I love Jonathan, which is simply enormously, Jonathan loves the Velvet Underground; indeed, one might even go so far as to say that Jonathan IS because of the Velvet Underground. And whenever a DJ says "that was the Velvet Underground," Jonathan's voice in my head goes "How in the hell did they make that sound? Velvet Underground."

I feel like a frivolous bimbo blogging about Jonathan Richman, but I don't have anything meaningful to say about the 2000th American death in Iraq or the death of Rosa Parks, much as both have been on my mind. These days I'm leaning toward the blog-as-minor-vehicle-of-pleasure-and-connection-in-the-face-of-the-world's-horrors model, rather than the blog-as-place-to-share-my-deep-thoughts model.

Listening to the Velvet Underground and thinking about Jonathan Richman were bits of pleasure in my day, and bits of pleasure are well worth holding on to, not to mention sharing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Paradox of Maternal Love

All I want is to escape my children, but I can't bear to leave my children.

M's Firsts

Yesterday M baked her first cake and stayed home by herself for the first time.

It was a lemon poundcake from a mix, but she did everything herself, even melting the butter. E was her assistant, and I was allowed in the kitchen only to get the rest of the batter into the pan and to take it out of the oven--though she tested it to see if it was done. It was delicious. And she even put all the dishes in the sink and sponged the table.

She has actually stayed home by herself before, but only when she was sick and I needed to go get E from school and she spent the whole time talking to me on the cell phone. This time she was on the phone too, but she was talking to L in Red State, and she stayed by herself for 20 minutes while E and I went to get Grammy. Definitely the beginning of something new.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Funniest Bad News Hughes Post Ever

His brother's wedding.

Just click on it.


I mean it.

Unless you are at work.

What I'd really like to be doing this weekend

is seeing Wilco in Paris.

It's Wilco weather. And I'm in a Wilco mood: modernist pain and beauty and all that. I've been playing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for three days now.

Wilco is not in Paris; Wilco is in Brazil. But I figured if I were imagining my ideal weekend, which began with wishing I could see Wilco, I might as well imagine it in Paris.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chocolate Banana Cake

It's been a long time since I did Nigella. First there was summer, which isn't really a cake season for me, though I did bake Chocolate Guiness for my brother-in-law's birthday and Chocolate Meringue Truffle for my mom's. Then it was fall and I was ready to bake, but I haven't had time. Plus there's the lack of interest in the remaining cakes problem. Then a few weeks ago, Nigella had a ridiculously-easy-looking chocolate banana cake in her column, and we even had browning bananas in the fruit bowl, but I didn't get to it.

This week I got to it.

Nigella's Chocolate Banana Cake is perhaps the easiest cake in the history of cake, as easy as my favorite Joy of Cooking brownie recipe where you just melt the butter, add everything to the pan, stir, pour, and bake. In fact, it's basically the same recipe except cocoa instead of melted chocolate, and bananas instead of no bananas, and sour cream--ok, it's not the same recipe. But it's just as easy, and in fact the girls did most of it, except for the heavy stirring and pouring the batter into the pan. And the icing, which I made long after they went to bed--with the Valrhona that we bought at the Very Nice Gourmet Shop (and which I apparently forgot to put on the list of things we bought at the Very Nice Gourmet Shop).

This cake is outstanding.

I kind of don't want to say any more, but you know me, why not say anything when you can go on and on? We ate it last night at Grammy and Grandpa's after vegetarian moussaka and a delicious salad (what did E eat? even less than usual--she went into the living room and fell asleep on the couch before she'd even finished her challah). The cake? Well, the cake was up there with Chocolate Guinness (hmm, rereading that post, I see that I am a bit repetitive when it comes to Nigella). It was beautiful (I just poured the icing on the top and let it a drip a bit down the side), moist (the bananas and sour cream), chocolatey (the Valrhona had the perfect bittersweet tang), and altogether exquisite. Everyone loved it. I'm guessing the rest will be eaten for breakfast--there isn't much left.

[Because the NY Times link thing is still bedevilling me (I tried the link generator, but it didn't work for this one), I am throwing copyright to the wind and cut-and-pasting the recipe below (I wish I could do that below the cut thing, but I don't know how that works either). This one's for you, Libby.

Chocolate Banana Cake
Time: 1 hour plus cooling

For the cake:
Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray, for cake pan
3/4cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 3/4cups flour
2 1/2teaspoons baking powder
1/2teaspoon baking soda
1/4cup best-quality cocoa
1 cup sugar
2/3cup sour cream
1 1/2cups mashed banana (about 4 whole bananas)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Pinch of salt

For the icing:
1/2cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Yellow sprinkles, optional.

1.For cake: heat oven to 325 degrees. Oil or spray a 9-inch springform cake pan and set aside. In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter with olive oil. Remove pan from heat.

2.Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and sugar. Mix well. Add sour cream and mashed banana, and whisk to combine. In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together vanilla extract, eggs and salt. Add to saucepan and whisk until smooth. Pour into cake pan.

3.Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Allow cake to cool on a rack for about 15 minutes, then remove springform and allow cake to cool completely before icing.

4.For icing: In a medium saucepan, combine cream, chocolate and corn syrup. Place over low heat, stirring gently with a spatula to avoid creating air bubbles, until mixture is very smooth. Place cake on a stand or a plate and spread icing over it with spatula. Garnish immediately with yellow sprinkles, if using.

Yield:One 9-inch cake, 10 to 12 servings.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Jen and Vince

Yeah, it's been grim around here, hasn't it? And I know what you all really want to know. Enough with the bombs and the murders. What do I think about Jen and Vince?!

You know, I don't think much about Jen and Vince. I mean, obviously the question isn't Jen, it's Vince. Who cares who Vince kisses? Certainly not me. But Jen, well, everyone knows I have a soft spot for Jen, so I want things to work out for her. Which doesn't necessarily mean that we are considering the implications of a long-term relationship, but does mean that we want her to be hanging with a nice guy.

The thing is, I don't really have any feelings about Vince. I saw The Wedding Crashers and thought it was funny but not funny enough. Vince was funny, definitely funny, but not exactly studly. Then again, he's not a junkie, or a Scientologist, or a womanizer (whoa, just googled Jude for a picture and found out that he and Sadie might be back on??? what is the world coming to?!).

Mainly I just want Jen to be happy, and if Vince makes her happy, I'm happy. Besides, you don't end up with your first post-break-up boyfriend, so it might as well be Vince, for now.

And you know, I'm kind of ok with Brad and Angelina too. Oh dear, I must be falling for the earth mother/UN goddess thing. Stop me, now!


The murdered wife of the famous defense lawyer is the kind of story I get obsessed with. I don't think I'd actually heard of Daniel Horowitz, though I read an article about the Susan Polk case a few weeks ago (that's one biased link, huh?). But mysterious, scary celebrity murders in the Bay Area...well, I just can't help it. I'm glad it wasn't the husband, though the punk kid neighbor thing is pretty frightening--not to mention getting hit in the head 39 times.


As I was obsessively checking the San Francisco Chronicle for murder investigation updates, I of course had to read about the mother who obeyed the voices that told her to throw her three kids in the Bay. I don't spend a lot of time in the blogosphere these days, so I don't know if the maternal murder debates have already erupted, a la Andrea Yates. But it just seems so obvious to me that a woman who strips her kids, throws them in the water, stands there and waits for the police, and then tells the police that voices told her to do it deserves only our profound pity. Poor children; poor mother.


My great aunt died yesterday afternoon. She was 95, the last of her generation. She was the youngest of four sisters, not the rich one or the smart one or the tough one, just the youngest one who married the kind of nerdy annoying guy, not the rich guy or the smart guy or the tough guy. But she and her husband outlived them all, and in the last decades of their lives, they were truly the patriarch and matriarch of the family, discovering their own magnanimous wisdom. Until my great uncle died last year, he kept a close watch on his senators and representatives, and one of the last things she said to me was "this damn war, there's nothing good about it." She knitted sweaters and made quilts for all the babies. They had three children, nine grandchildren, and I'm thinking maybe eleven great-grandchildren (Mom, how many kids does S have?). They called her G-g-ma (pronounced Gigi-ma). She was M and E's only great great aunt.

This summer she developed cancer of the pancreas and discovered that people loved her. She spent her last months at home near her daughter and got to see her youngest great grandson every week. Last month about 40 of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and nephews, and great-grandnieces and nephews came to a party for her. At the party she said that now that she'd seen us all, she was ready to go. She said that when she died, she would be the happiest dead person around.

She died yesterday afternoon, quietly, peacefully, with both her daughters by her side. When I told M and E this morning, M said that now she was the happiest dead person.

There is such a thing as a good death.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It's Too Hard to Even Think About It

The other day I heard a talk about the current state of arms control. It's not good.

For the first time in 50 years, the U.S. is not involved in any arms control talks--and the administration is explicitly not interested. Yes, Eisenhower supported arms control negotiations, as did Nixon, Ford, and Bush I. Not W, though.

As we've been not talking, Pakistan and India have gone nuclear, and North Korea and Iran are on their way. There are 1200 tons of uranium and 200 tons of plutonium hanging out in the former Soviet Union (the bomb dropped on Nagasaki used 12 tons of plutonium, and weapons have certainly gotten more efficient in the last 60 years). Significant poundage, if not tonnage, is unaccounted for. Meanwhile--and here I'm going to stop being specific because just googling this shit stresses me out--there are umpteen nuclear missiles and more countries doing the research and basically we're in a very bad situation here.

By the time the guy stopped talking, I was shaking. He was reasonably cheerful, but I guess he thinks about this stuff all the time, so he's used to it. I figure, though, that if you're in the arms control business, you better be playing Haydn sonatas or painting watercolors in your spare time, because the only thing that's going to counter that grimness is the temporary pleasure of beauty.

I feel about nuclear weapons the same way I feel about avian flu: totally petrified, totally powerless, and, as a result, barely able to think about it for more than a moment. Which doesn't help anything, but then again, me thinking about it doesn't help anything.

These are some grim times we live in.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Apparently Attachment Is Not An Issue

E [holding up the shabby purple bear that became absolutely crucial when we went to England, and has been only marginally less central ever since, that is to say, the teddy whom S and I tear the house apart to find at least once a week]: I need a new teddy.

Me: Why?

E: This teddy is dirty. And he's chewed.

Me: You could stop chewing on him.

E: No, I want a new teddy.

Me: Well, I think you can pick another teddy to sleep with, or another stuffed animal.

E: OK. And then can we throw this teddy away?

[Note: I just read this aloud to the girls, and when M asked E if she wanted to throw teddy away, she said no. Phew. I'm not quite sure why I care, but somehow it seems psychologically problematic. Plus I know that if we throw it away, she'll want it the next day. Though I suppose I could tell her I'd thrown it away, but really keep it. Except I'm not that kind of mom. In fact, I told her in the original conversation that it wasn't a good idea to throw teddy away because she might want him later. Maybe that sank in.Or maybe she's just being her normal random self.]

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sycophantic Overstatement of the Week

Over the past decade or so, Walter Kirn has been to literary journalism what Bill Gates is to software.
--NY Times
review of Kirn's new novel

I think not.

Try: Over the past decade or so, Walter Kirn has been to macho overwriting what Hemingway is to macho understatement.

Except that Hemingway is a good writer.

Phrases I Would Like Never To Utter Again

Let's go.

Hurry up.

Come ON.


What's in your mouth?

Get that out of your mouth.

Stop chewing.

Stop chewing your hair.

Stop chewing your sleeve.

Stop chewing your zipper.

Stop chewing your necklace.

Stop chewing your bracelet.

Stop chewing your seatbelt.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Friday Night Movies

E - Strawberry Shortcake. She liked it. M read a book. I checked my email.

M - Pee Wee's Playhouse. She liked it. E was scared. I read the newspaper. (I posted a while ago about my heretical lack of interest in Pee Wee, but I'm too lazy to find it.)

Me - The Upside of Anger. At first I watched impassively, thinking, great, here's another supposedly good movie that's doing nothing for me. Have I lost all ability to respond? Slowly, though, it grew on me. Joan Allen is another one of my favorites and she is excellent (if ridiculously thin) as a suburban mom who loses it when her husband disappears and leaves her with four troublesome teenage daughters. Kevin Costner does his shambling dude with a good heart thing, but he does it well. There is crisis after crisis, but some very funny scenes too (I laughed particularly hard when the bungie-jumping gay teenager crashed through the French doors, though perhaps the best was when the DJ overheard Andy breaking up with the producer because the mic was left on). Think The Virgin Suicides meets The Ice Storm, but I think I liked it better than either of those. Though I could have done without the precious voice-over. (And I wonder when I started identifying with mothers rather than daughters. Whenever it began, the identification is now complete.)

[In weather news, we are now well into our ninth straight day of rain. I took advantage of the rare occurrence of S's presence to go for a run this morning, thinking that perhaps it was only drizzling. Wrong. Then I washed my hair--at 8:30--and it's still not dry--at noon. Where's Noah when we need him?]

Friday, October 14, 2005

I Wonder Why I'm There

Sometimes I sit in synagogue and wonder what on earth I'm doing there. I have no strong feelings about God, religion plays little role in my daily existence, and my independent prayer life is limited to "please, please, please, please make everything ok" in circumstances of dire uncertainty. But come Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there I sit, on Yom Kippur without even the benefit of food in my stomach.

Why do I do it? Why do I fast? Why do I recite prayers in a language I can barely read, let alone understand? Why am I ruining our Sunday morning bike rides by sending my kids to religious school?

I don't know.

The question does not loom on Hanukkah and Passover. Those are holidays that take place at home, among family, plus I can get behind their rationales. While the militaristic underdog overtones of Hanukkah don't do much for me, I'm all about standing up against oppression, which both of those holidays explicitly celebrate. Not to mention the food.

But while I'd like to atone for my sins, or even--now this would be a miracle--get rid of them, I rarely experience spiritual breakthrough on Yom Kippur. Mostly I sit. And wonder why I'm there.

M has just started religious school again, after dropping out in Red State Capital City. Starting religious school means joining a synagogue, and we love our new synagogue. The rabbi is funny and smart and friendly and remarried (which we like, because it means he's human). The cantor is friends with my friend E and has a wonderful voice. The synagogue values community and music and respecting other faiths and social action (I know, because the president said so at Kol Nidre). Two kids from M's class at school are in her religious school class, and half a dozen families from our neighborhood belong. It's synagogue heaven, after years of synagogue alienation.

Still, I wonder why I'm there.

I know what I want. I want my kids to be able to recite the V'ahavta without looking down at the page. I want them to know the difference between l'hadlik nair shel shabbat and l'hadlik nair shel yom tov. I want them to hang out with their friends at services and, when they grow up and live far away from me, to call me up for the red cabbage recipe for their first seders.

But why do I want this? Because I had it? Because it will give them a sense of community and identity? Because they are Jewish and I want that to mean something to them? Yeah, I guess.

Still, I wonder why I'm there.

Yom Kippur didn't do much for me this year; it rarely does. I don't pay enough attention, and hunger is not a conducive state for being my best self. But in the late afternoon, M and I went for a walk, which I like to do to distract myself from the hunger. We ended up down by the pond, and I told her that when I lived in California I used to go for a walk on Yom Kippur and do my own private tashlich. So we picked up sticks and threw them into the pond to throw away things we want to be rid of. We threw away getting fussy and being mean to E and worrying about work and the war and natural disasters and George W. Bush. Then I suggested that we sing the Shehechyanu. M said ok, so long as nobody could hear us, just as I said, there's nobody around, no one will hear us. So we sang it, quietly, and M knew all the words.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I've been thinking about the cross country trip that almost ended in Santa Fe since I wrote that post. That trip was at once sheer bliss and torture. I loved traveling with P, but at that point, the ambiguity of our non-relationship was making me insane. We had a pretty twisted thing not quite going, on and off, for a few years there. I won't go into detail, because there are things my mother and mother-in-law don't need to know, but I do remember once saying to a friend that P and I would have a great divorce, if only we could skip the marriage, and then I remember saying to another friend that the only two people I could imagine marrying were P and S, and since S and I are still married after thirteen years, I guess it all worked out.

But the point here isn't tortured interludes in my love life, it's the relationship between a good experience and a good story. That trip cross country was an ambivalent experience that makes a good story. Our vacation this summer was a great experience that makes a boring story.

I was in Kathmandu in February 1990, at the protest that began Nepal's democracy movement. I saw government troops turn their guns on protestors, and a tall blonde Danish guy pulled me into a courtyard just before the residents pulled down the gate. We huddled there with dozens of thrilled and terrified Nepalis, trying to hear what was happening on the street outside. The story is as exciting as it really was.

I left Nepal the next night. Our visas were about to expire, and though we could have renewed them, it was unclear what was going to happen and when we'd be able to leave the country if we stayed. My friends flew to Bangkok, and I took the bus to Calcutta. That bus ride was one of the worst experiences of my life. I was sitting by a window, and a family of five or six came on and sat in the two seats next to me. They handed me the baby, and then the mother kept leaning across me to throw up out the window. This really happened. When we stopped for a break, some Indian guys took pity on me and brought me up to the front of the bus with them, where they proceeded to harass me for the rest of the night. I kept myself calm by repeating to myself "This will make a great story. This will make a great story." Which it does.

That's one where the greatness of the story rests upon the misery of the experience. But what I've been thinking about is the times that sound so good in retrospect, but in the living of them are complicated, or hard, or bad and good at once. It makes me wonder about stories I envy, about Paris in the 20s or San Francisco in the 60s, eras that have always seemed to me so desirable.

Probably there were great days, when you looked around the cafe and there was Hemingway, and there were Scott and Zelda, and over there Gertrude and Alice, and everyone was brilliant and you were too. Then there were bad days, when it rained and your garret room was freezing, and the guy you liked was mean, and all you wanted was hot chocolate (forget cafe au lait) and your mom. But at least it made a good story.

Why I'm Not Really A Foodie

I did something for some people, something they would have had to pay a lot of money for if I hadn't done it. In appreciation, they gave me a large gift certificate for a very nice gourmet shop in City.

How did I feel? Not ecstatic, not eager, but stressed. How could I possibly spend such a large gift certificate at a gourmet shop? S did not share my feelings. He was eager and ecstatic. He had no doubt that the money could be spent, and he was ready to spend it.

Yesterday we set out on our shopping expedition. We walked into Very Nice Gourmet Shop and there was a tray of cheese to sample. Not one, not two, but four kinds of cheese, and around the corner another tray with four more. We ate some cheese. We decided to buy a piece of very delicious cheese--I forget what it was called.

Then I got distracted because E was hungry. A gourmet shop is not the best place to feed E. I got her a bottle of expensive chocolate milk and a banana. I paid cash, rather than crack the gift certificate. I sat with E while she drank her milk and ate her banana.

M and S cruised the store. They had no stress; they just had desire. I, however, was anxious. Should one stock up on high quality staples (olive oil, French sea salt, Madagascar vanilla), or should one blow it all on one delicious meal (imported pasta, marinated anchovies at $22 a pound, good wine)? I love cheese, but there were 100 kinds of cheese. How does one choose? Better to go home and have a bagel. But there were bagels too!

We decided to just put things in the basket until we had spent our gift certificate. Mainly M and S chose. I wandered around and was overwhelmed. Here's what we bought:

- really good olive oil (says S--what do I know?)
- champagne vinegar
- French sea salt
- Punkin' Ale
- Samaki chocolates
- imported Italian pasta
- Rao's eggplant sauce
- jellybeans (for E)
- two kinds of cheese
- two kinds of ham, one of which was speck, which M says is delicious
- marinated anchovies
- potato salad, pasta salad, Orangina, and potato chips (for M's lunch)
- acorn squash
- pearl onions
- organic apricot preserves from somewhere in New England (I'm not being cagy--I can't remember and I don't feel like going into the kitchen)
- berry preserves from France

A pretty good haul. And a delicious dinner: rainbow trout sprinkled with sea salt, roasted acorn squash, sauteed pearl onions (J's recipe), Punkin' Ale, and chocolates for dessert.

I guess that wasn't so bad.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Another Candidate

for nastiest review ever. Here's the first paragraph:

THIS book by the editor of The Threepenny Review is like a novel-writing kit: inside are a few rudimentary characters, plot lines in need of development, the choice of three possible eras and three writing styles, bags of banal banter, a small assortment of intellectual interjections and the bare bones of jokes. Not bothering to read the instructions, Wendy Lesser has excitedly dumped all this stuff straight out on to the page. She'll be painting by numbers next!

If you want a more salutary review experience, try Robert Pinsky on Joan Didion. Joan Didion is one of my secret passions. When I was finishing my undergraduate thesis, I read a Didion book a day (they're slim and I read fast). Her essays are the sine qua non of the form. My favorites are everyone else's favorites: "Goodbye to All That," "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," "On Going Home," "On Keeping a Notebook," "John Wayne: A Love Song." I read the excerpt from The Year of Magical Thinking in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago (September 25--you can link to it if you have Times Select, the bane of stingy bloggers everywhere). I'm not quite sure what I thought of it. Her precision--technical and emotional--is dazzling, but the moves from individual to general, moves I suppose she has always made, irked me this time. I don't know if I'll read it. Probably.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Heather Has Two Mommies

Tonight for her bedtime book E picked Heather Has Two Mommies, a book that we, unlike many people who have a lot to say about it, actually own. Putting aside the heinous 80s feminist ink drawings, Heather is generally a lovely little book. It depicts Heather and her two mommies as a totally ordinary family, and it has a nice riff at the end on how there are all kinds of families: single moms, two dads, divorced and step-parents, etc. It's kind of didactic, but I've found that small children tend to like didactic books that relate to their own lives.

However, there is a real problem with Heather, and the fact that this problem never shows up in discussions about Heather is what suggests to me that the people so avidly discussing Heather have never actually read the book.

Heather Has Two Mommies is clearly aimed at the 3-4 demographic. It's about a three year old, it treats preschool anxieties, it has pictures drawn by preschoolers, it addresses family issues in young children's terms. But it also has a ridiculously explicit passage about Heather's conception:

Kate and Jane went to see a special doctor together. After the doctor examined Jane to make sure that she was healthy, she put some sperm into Jane's vagina. The sperm swam up into Jane's womb. If there was an egg waiting there, the sperm and the egg would meet, and the baby would start to grow.

Now I know this is a zeitgeist 80s feminism kind of rhetorical strategy. But come on. Who talks to their three year olds about sperm, let alone artificial insemination? I was never a stork and cabbage patch kind of mom. But I started with "babies grow in their mommies' bellies." That sufficed for three year olds. Later I expanded the narrative as needed. What did they grow from? Tiny seeds (ok, I should have said eggs, but seeds are more evocative for a three year old thinking about things growing). How did the seeds get there? They were always there. Eventually, after a long time, we got to the daddy's role, and sperm and eggs. I've never not answered a question, but there are some things that small children just don't need to know.

You don't get much more liberal and open than me, but for years I skipped that passage in Heather. And I really hope that none of those conservative ideologues who want to ban the book ever actually read it, because if they start complaining about explicit artificial insemination scenes, I, for one, will have a harder time defending its appropriateness. Somehow, though, I don't think we need to worry too much about that happening.

[And, to return for a moment to Knuffle Bunny, several readers have written in (comments, people, use the comments, so that it at least appears that this pathetic excuse for a blog has a small handful of readers) to suggest that the subtext of Knuffle Bunny is that the dad is an idiot and the mom figures out the problem, which is certainly true and opens up potentially significant gender readings, but hey, what makes texts exciting is that you can read them in lots of different ways!]

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dreams of Santa Fe

Many summers ago, I drove cross country through the hot south with a guy I was not quite having an affair with. We visited a mission in Kentucky and swam naked at dawn in a cold lake in Tennessee and went to Graceland and sped all the way across Arkansas in the middle of the night and sometimes discussed the affair we weren't having and sometimes came close to having it and listened to wafty jazz across Texas. When we got to Santa Fe, we had lunch at the Coyote Cafe and walked around the Plaza and went to a beautiful church and talked about just staying there. We both had summer paychecks, and we thought we could rent an apartment and find jobs and see what happened. But we had a wedding to go to that weekend in L.A., so we didn't.

We had a great breakfast in Flagstaff and hiked in the pine forests near Prescott. In L.A. we stayed in Koreatown and went to the wedding of my ex-boyfriend who was also his ex-roommate. Then we drove up to Santa Barbara and stayed in a commune with some hippies out in Isla Vista. We camped by the side of a dead-end road in Big Sur and I lay awake all night, sure that the rustling in the bushes was ax murderers about to get us. We spent a few weeks in San Francisco, and went to a party in the Mission at the house of another college friend who had a homemade hot tub in his backyard made from an old bathtub. That friend joined us for a backpacking trip in Desolation where the full moon reflected off the granite and it never got dark.

Then I went back east and he went on to Oregon to meet another girl. Years later, he came to dinner when S and I lived in Berkeley. He brought beer and hot sauce with crazy names, and they played guitar and we laughed all night.

I wonder what would have happened if we'd stayed in Santa Fe.

It's ok that we didn't.

Tonight I talked to my friend J who just moved from Red State Capital City to Santa Fe. We talked about what it's like to finally live where you feel you're meant to be and how hard it is to move.

I miss her.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Knuffle Bunny and the Perils of Parenting

The other night I read Knuffle Bunny to M (she was feeling sick and babyish). Knuffle Bunny is the quintessential picture book. It's got great pictures, for one thing, and a story that is at once suspenseful, humorous, universal, and succinct. If you have a small child, you must get Knuffle Bunny. If you know a small child, you must get them Knuffle Bunny. If you live in Brooklyn, you probably already have Knuffle Bunny, and if you don't, what are you waiting for?

What struck me this read was when Trixie says "Aggle flaggle klabble," and her father is absolutely certain he knows what she means: "'That's right,' replied her daddy. 'We're going home.'" Of course that's not what Trixie means at all, and she keeps saying "Aggle flaggle klabble," and he keeps misunderstanding her, and by the time they get home, he is furious and she is miserable.

Been there, done that.

Trying to understand what your children are saying is one of the great tasks of parenthood. And when they can speak, it's not necessarily easier. Sure, the speaking child never confronts you with "Aggle flaggle klabble," but there's plenty of room for (mis)interpretation nonetheless.

I have enough trouble understanding myself. When I feel like I can't go on, does it mean that I'm tired? hungry? coming down with a cold? depressed?

Who on earth thought I was fit to understand other people?

When M woke up this morning and said that her belly hurt, did it mean that the virus had moved to her stomach? that her body was cramped and tense from yesterday's ordeal? that she was constipated? that she was worried about being sick and missing school? that she hates us for making her leave Red State Capital City Suburb? all of the above?

In Knuffle Bunny, the dad figures out exactly what Trixie is saying (don't worry, I won't give it away). That's the great thing about picture books, indeed, about fiction more broadly taken, or at least fiction that obeys the rules, as picture books are particularly prone to do. Fiction can give you answers, wrap everything up, make order and sense of the chaos. When you're done with a picture book, you, along with the characters, understand. I don't think I wish my life was a picture book, because I do, in fact, like complexity and ambiguity, not to mention length. Still, there's clearly a reason I'm addicted to fiction and rarely turn down an opportunity to read a kid a picture book, even when I know what happens.

[In case you're wondering, I'll take Jane Austen over Don DeLillo any day of the week.]

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Day at the Hospital

I started to write a post in my head as I drove to the emergency room. It went like this:

“Why I Believe in Modern Medicine”

The week after M was born, UNICEF published a study saying that in Africa between 40,000 and 60,000 women a year die of obstructed labor. That, I remember thinking, would have been me. After four days of pre-labor, ten hours of Pitocin, and three hours of Pitocin plus epidural, the-baby-who-would-turn-out-to-be-M showed no signs of emerging. Rather than keep trying and risk an emergency c-section, we opted for a non-emergency c-section during the course of which we discovered that Baby M, for by that point she was identifiably M, had been stuck. She wasn’t coming out, no how, no way, and if I lived in a small village in Africa, we both would have died.

It’s quite possible that if I had been laboring under the care of Ina Mae Gaskin in a yurt at The Farm, things might have turned out differently. I’m not being facetious at all: M’s position wasn’t inevitable, especially given that E slid out relatively easily four and a half years later, and certainly the process of labor has a lot to do with its outcome: maybe if I’d been drinking herb tea and getting massages during those four days of pre-labor, I would not have been so exhausted that I wanted to be induced, and if I hadn’t been induced, maybe I would have labored in a different position and she wouldn’t have gotten stuck, and so forth and so on. But the fact is, I did the best I could in the circumstances, and it turned out the way it did, and modern medicine saved our lives.

Then, when M was five, she had a stomach ache. A bad stomach ache. Our pediatrician was away so we went to his partner which was a mistake, as always, though it was the last time we made that mistake. She said it was constipation and recommended an enema, but, just in case, she sent us to the local hospital for an x-ray which didn’t show anything (and that was the last time we went to the local hospital for an x-ray). At midnight, M was screaming in pain so we went back to the local hospital. She threw up in the car as we arrived at the emergency room and the pain subsided. They sent us home but told us to go to Children’s if she didn’t improve. The next day she felt better, but the day after that, she was miserable again. I took her to Children’s where we spent a long time waiting to see if she had a bladder infection, which she didn’t. Finally a renegade resident ordered a CAT scan, and lo and behold she had appendicitis and went straight to an emergency appendectomy.

I remember people kept telling me what a terrible thing it was, how sad, how awful, how horrible. But it wasn’t. My kid was sick, they found out what was wrong with her, and they fixed it. At Children’s there were kids with cancer, kids who’d been in the hospital for months, kids who weren’t going home any time soon, kids who didn’t go home. M had surgery and IV antibiotics and lots of flowers and teddy bears and went home after a week. But if she had had that stomach ache 150 years earlier, she would have died.

That’s how far I got in the car this morning. Then we got to the hospital.

M was sick yesterday, with a headache, and I was annoyed because we had such nice Rosh Hashanah plans. But with Motrin she perked up and we did make it to the picnic with all the people in our new neighborhood who go to our new synagogue. By night, though, we were alternating Motrin and Tylenol every three or four hours for the headache. Then at four in the morning, she started throwing up. By 8:00 she had thrown up four or five times, her head was killing her, she was a pathetic heap of sick-childness, and we headed for the pediatrician's office.

M threw up in the parking lot. The pediatrician did a strep test which came out negative and gently suggested the emergency room at Children’s. I pushed her on her gentle suggestion and she said if it were her kid she would go, so I went. M threw up on the walkway leaving the office. She threw up in the car on the way to Children’s. She threw up in the waiting room outside triage.

This is where the story doesn’t go exactly as I expected. I thought there would be another effective diagnosis and (perhaps dramatic) treatment. Then I would use my punch line again.

Instead, they hooked her up to an IV and gave her an anti-nausea drug and some Tylenol. She clearly worried the doctors, because we were on our way up for the CAT scan within half an hour. It was normal, which made everyone happy. Then they gave her some ibuprofen and put us in a comfortable room and…well, nothing much happened. Mainly she slept. I had, in a moment of practical inspiration, stopped at home on the way to the emergency room to get a sweater, my book, my cell phone power cord, and M’s teddy bear, all of which were essential. While M slept, I read my book. Every once in a while, a doctor came in and we woke her up to see how she was. Mainly she was tired, but she also seemed to be improving. We discussed whether to do a spinal tap. We discussed meningitis and encephalitis and migraine and virus. Finally, we were sent home with lots of instructions, including to come back to the hospital if she got as sick again as she’d been in the morning.

She slept all the way home, and ate toast and chicken soup, and went six hours before she needed Tylenol. Now she’s asleep. I think she’s going to be ok. It’s probably a virus or maybe a first migraine (apparently you can't diagnose migraine until there's a pattern, so I'm hoping if it's a first migraine we never know).

How’s my faith in modern medicine? I think it’s still pretty good. She threw up nine times this morning, and if she hadn’t had that IV and anti-nausea medicine, well, I don’t think she would have died, but she would have been much sicker and even more unhappy. And, yeah, the CAT scan didn’t find anything, but I’m sure glad that I’m no longer thinking brain tumor, as I was at about 9:30 this morning. And though it would have been rhetorically powerful, I’m glad not to end this paragraph with “she would have died.” I'll take real life ambiguity over a punch line any day, especially a day at the hospital.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Solipsistic Wishes

I wish I were:

- elegant

- smart about money

- patient

- taller

- able to function effectively on less than six hours of sleep a night

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Kate and Tom

I know I'm not adhering to the immediacy of blog temporality by commenting on events of a few days or even weeks ago. But I feel that I owe some substance to those of you who continue patiently to click on this pathetic excuse for a blog, hoping that someday I will return to my penetrating yet witty yet sentimental when necessary self.

So let's talk about how Tom DeLay is like Kate Moss.

Not intuitive, is it?

He's American; she's British. He's ugly; she's not (or so people seem to think--as you may remember, she's not my cup of English Breakfast). He goes to Scotland with Jack Abramoff; she goes to Glastonbury with Pete Doherty. But they are both, at the moment, vehicles for the absurd hypocrisy of contemporary culture.

Don't get me wrong, I think Tom DeLay sucks. A lot. And I don't really care one way or another about Kate Moss. But let's face it, everyone in electoral politics does everything they can to get around campaign spending regulations, even if they support them. Why do you think Emily's List bundles checks? And are the DCCC and the DNC any financially cleaner than the RCCC and the RNC?

Um, no.

Then there's Kate. The heroin chic, rock star girlfriend model (I can't say she's the original, because that would be slighting Anita and Marianne, but at the moment she's certainly the paragon). What?! She does coke?! No! My illusions are smashed!


Who care that Kate does drugs? She's a consenting adult. If she's neglecting her child--and we have no evidence thereof--I'm sure the kid is no more neglected than any other offspring of wealth left most of the time with the nanny.

OK, so campaign finance shenanigans have significantly broader consequences than a few lines of coke in a recording studio, and my parallel does not hold much water. But my point is that this holier-than-thou need to scapegoat one exemplar for what everyone does is...well, it's lame. And actually maybe my parallel does hold, for in heaping opprobrium upon both Tom and Kate, we are implying that the flaw in each is individual: personal wrongdoing. In fact, however, the difference between them is that Tom's real faults are emblematic of a particular Republican ethos that has wreaked havoc within our government, while Kate's just a girl who wants to have fun.

There, politics and celebrity gossip all rolled into one. I feel like myself again.

[And I know this should have links, but I'm just not up to that.]