Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Weight of the World

My sister-in-law and I were talking today about our almost-six and seven-year-olds and their minor preoccupations with their own and their parents' mortality. I recalled learning at some point that age seven is when children have a rather completed sense of self--a full awareness of themselves as discrete human beings separate from others, who will die someday, and an understanding of the permanence of death. So soon is that loss of innocence, it seems! Age seven. That means I've spent the last 31 years worrying.

Earlier in the afternoon I had taken the girls for some frozen yogurt. The Little One, nearing a peak of exhaustion, asked if we would be parking the car and walking to the yogurt place.

"Of course, silly!" I laughed. "We can't drive our car into the yogurt store!"

Luckily for them, and for my whine-weary ears, we found parking right in front.

But tonight, after I put the three-year-old to bed, I noticed that the first grader looked a little sad.

"What's up, kiddo? What are you thinking about?"

Her brow furrowed. "I just keep thinking about what if you DID drive the car into the yogurt place. Then the police would come and arrest you, and my sister and I would be all alone."


"Sweetie, I was JOKING about driving into the yogurt place! I wouldn't do that!"

"I know," she sighed. "It's just that if you ever get arrested, or die, we will be all by ourselves..."

I reminded her that, should I ever be arrested, there's always her dad, and her aunts and uncles, and her grandparents...

And then hopefully reassured her that the likelihood of my being arrested was slight. And that I would probably be released, anyway, pending my trial. Haha.

But it wasn't enough that I have been slightly sleepless lately, worrying about both rational and irrational things: now I had my daughter's worries to worry about, too.

I can't help thinking about the workings of that little mind in the back of the minivan, leaping from drive-in yogurt joke to Mom's Criminal Proceedings and concerns about the Welfare of the Children.

Sometimes it's serious business, being a kid.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Care Bear Twilight Zone

One of the more surreal moments of our summer:

My daughters are playing with a stuffed Care Bear on the dining room table. It's a remarkably sedate game. Care Bear, aka "Lover Bear," is sitting up on the table, wearing some bracelets and rubber bands on his arms, and the girls are seated on either side, poking at him and talking.

I am trying to clean up the house. It's a small house, so I walk by the kids and Care Bear every minute or so.

"Hey, Mom."


"My Care Bear can talk."

"Really?" I lean in for a listen. I feel like I hear a vague "hello," but it could be the first grader, ventriloquizing.

Then I hear it. A mechanical "hello."

I look at my daughter. "Is this a talking Care Bear?"

It's a small stuffed animal, with no bells and whistles, as far as I knew. "Are you pushing a button somewhere?"

"No, Mom! But it talks!"


What the heck? I look incredulously at my daughter, who nods at me like, "I know!"

I pick up the Care Bear to better determine just what transformation has taken place, and how.

On the table right where Lover Bear's bum sat lies my work cell phone...and it's hanging up a call.

I grab the phone, click on "History," and find that Lover Bear butt-dialed our security guard from school.

Happy Summer, dude!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If You Want to Be Starting Something

Once upon a Presidents' Weekend time, we drove up to the Bay Area to visit some good friends and their kids. These road-trip visits, where you sleep over two nights at one house and two more at another's, are kind of a dream for small children in that they are a tour, in effect, of Other Kids' Toys.

I have always marveled at the ease with which children acclimate to others' homes. They dig right in to the toys and ransack cupboards, flinging items behind them like someone looking through the dryer for a wayward sock. It's overwhelming, the number of gadgets and gizmos to inspect in the limited amount of time the average playdate provides, so there's a certain frantic pace to the playing, especially at an unfamiliar home.

All this Toy Envy begets borrowing, and, well, pilfering, necessitating parents frisking their own children before they head out the door, like security guards when the alarm goes off at Target.

I try to imagine an adult version of this kind of home invasion, which would look like, I think, either a rather vicious ransacking of one's friends' home, or a more benign but blatant and compulsive inventory of their CD collection, bookshelves, refrigerator, and liquor and medicine cabinets, commenced immediately after an obligatory hello to the host at the door.

Our Presidents' Weekend Tour of Toys began at the home of some friends with two daughters our daughters' ages. And it was only a matter of minutes before the quartet had begun assessing and admiring one another's Polly Pockets, Pet Shops, and Ponies. Among our Northern Friends' cherished Plastic Playthings were some Barbie dolls.

These were not just any old Barbies; these high-heeled hobblers had the added virtue of singing songs (from the complementary movies!) with just the push of buttons disguised as a necklaces. Maybe not the most annoying toys, but certainly not the ones you want your child to take to bed with her or find first thing in the morning, before you've had your coffee.

This particular weekend, however, Island Princess Barbie and her friend Diamond Castle Princess Barbie had worn out their welcome at the Master's house. Dad was DONE. Each time he observed our three-year-old toting one of the temptresses, he threatened to give her to us. He even told his wife of his plan to send us home with both Singing Barbies. "Oh, honey," she warned him, "You'll break our own three-year-old's heart."

Undaunted, he waited till we were safely several miles away en route to our next destination before he texted me that a little gift for our daughters was hidden in our car. One pit stop later, and our preschooler was the triumphant new owner of Island Princess herself.

"If you keep her dress on," our kindergartner helpfully noted, "she doesn't sing as loudly, Mom and Dad."

Fast forward to summer, now, when this very same family returned the favor and visited us. Out of our daughters' bedroom emerged their three-year-old yesterday, Island Princess Barbie in hand and sad expression on wee face. "I useded to have a Barbie like this, but I can't finded it..." She shook her head and looked lovingly at the doll.

"That IS your Barbie," my first grader confessed. "Your dad gave it to us!"

"But it's mine now!" wailed my three-year-old.

And what came next is not worth recording play by play, except to note that the two three-year-olds had a good old-fashioned throwdown over the chanteuse, which required the two moms to caucus and sequester Island Princess in an Undisclosed Location.

But when we all loaded up in our vans for a trip to Sea World, I ran back into the house for Barbie, wrapped her in a plastic bag, and shoved her into the unsuspecting hands of my good friend. "Imagine the joy your daughter will feel when on your long car ride home she rediscovers her long-lost toy!" I offered rapturously.

She was skeptical. I was resolute. I was imagining her husband's face when Island Princess broke into song for the first time from the back of the van.

And so Island Princess makes the journey back to her original home. I suspect, however, that she will reappear.

Maybe because of two messages I received from my buddy, father of two sweet little Bay Area girls. One said something to the effect of, "I'm pissed," and the other: "It's ON."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Neighborhood Night

There's something magical about walking through the neighborhood at night. Houses look different. Landscaping I notice during the day gives way to lifescapes revealed by lighted interiors and open windows.

Tonight I was invited to a party several blocks away, and though my husband is out of town, I decided to hire a sitter and venture out alone. Our first grader has been in Art Camp with a former student and he graciously agreed to come over and put the three-year-old to bed forty times.

Perhaps he didn't know that was the bedtime routine.

I seized the opportunity to throw on a Fun Party Shirt, bid adieu to our dauntless sitter and my curious daughters (dialogue as I left: "But why don't you eat meat?" "Because I don't like to." "Okay...but do you eat macaroni and cheese?"), and swing by a few fiestas in the neighborhood, solo.

First stop was across the street, where I was treated to a glass of wine and a hug from a most cheery 11-month-old.

I cruised by my favorite local market for a bottle of wine and a Diet Dr. Pepper (where have these been all my life?), and then down to the party celebrating my daughter's classmate's parent's retirement and bon voyage on a six-week cross-country family adventure in a Westfalia named "Rusty."

The featured drink at the party was the "Rustini," and I swapped some VW van stories with Rusty's skipper, especially the one about my brother's friend puking in the plastic storage bin in the family Vanagon and my high school buddy's VW "Snotmobile" with the loudspeaker, with which he would summon me from my house as well as harass younger kids on bikes and skateboards ("You, on the red bike. Yeah, you. Go home! Your mother is calling.")

I met some nice folks with kids at my daughter's school and ate some fantastic food (the theme was "camp food," but camp food never looked this gourmet--or healthy!).

Only four blocks away was a party I discovered only hours before it started, on Facebook of all places. (As an aside here, I will give a nod to Facebook for bringing people together--its greatest virtue.) A mom I volunteered with on the elementary school's craft fair was hosting an art show with her husband in their amazing old craftsman home, a restoration in progress. There was a band in the backyard, sangria, and inspiring paintings hanging on the fences and walls. Fifteen percent of all proceeds from art sales benefited Plant with Purpose, an organization promoting environmental restoration in developing areas across the globe.

I left with half a glass of sangria, a sweet little painting titled "Hope," and a ten-block walk home on a balmy July night.

I passed a few Pride Parties in progress (Cheers!) and eavesdropped on some live piano from one house and an impromptu dance party.

I felt safe, not too warm and not too cold (mostly San-Diego-ish), and very grateful for living where I do.

And when I reached home, the sitter was still standing; the kids were not.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer AurtFest

Our breakfast nook, which felt super claustrophobic when we used it as such, has been redesignated a play space for our kids, or, as our eldest daughter claims it, "My Office." She is prolific drawer and colorer (and paper user!), to the extent that on certain days it appears she is simulating a child-drawing assembly line and must keep up with the conveyor belt Or Else. Days like these she can produce up to thirty works. Days like these I send many masterpieces to the recycling bin.

Earlier this month she began absconding with the tape and hanging her drawings all over the walls and windows. She made a sign declaring the assemblage her "Aurt," and proceeded to add more:

Then she and her cousin attended a week-long art camp hosted by two former students, which inspired her to invent her own, and she posted the following notices on our water cooler:

Not unlike the elaborate Castle-with-Princesses-and-Polly Pockets-and-Jewelry complexes she has created in her bedroom, the Aurt Installation creates that parenting dilemma: how long do we let the show run before dismantling and cleaning? When will taking it down not completely piss off or crush her?

Hard to say. So it stays. Even though, to my critic's eye, this series of scribbling and dribbling of water and then smudging of ink is not her magnum opus.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Speaking of Married Couples...

Here's my three-year-old, C, and her almost-three cousin, P:

C: (calmly, hands on hips) I am very, very, very frustrated to you because you have my favorite book about Ariel.

P: But I want to read it.

C: Can I trade you for the Cinderella one?

P: (frowning, considering) Yes.

C: I love you.

P: Now you can come to my birthday party.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Our Better Selves

It's been hard to ignore the character who's been getting all the press lately, who's been dominating the tabloids, who's been taken to court, whose reputation is at stake, over whom Americans are fighting for custody: You know, Marriage.

That poor institution. As gay couples fight valiantly for the right to adopt it, well-known heterosexual pairs are abusing and abandoning it (and claiming, in effect, that homosexuals wouldn't be fit guardians). Sheesh.

But I've said my piece about gay marriage. It's Generic Lifelong Commitment that I want to riff on today.

You would have to live in the Unabomber Shack to miss all the gibber about South Carolina's governor Mark Sanford, as well as Jon and Kate, and I have been thinking about them...mostly about the governor, since I haven't watched our generation's reality version of Eight is Enough (enough already?), and Mr. Sanford appears to be unable to muzzle himself on the issue of his "glorious" mistress.

And to bring Love and Marriage even more to the fore, I've been faithfully watching (I'll confess: faithfully! With nary a dalliance!) The Bachelorette this season; last night I went out with my sister to see the film Away We Go; my husband and I had a wee row one week ago. Someone's telling me something, and I think it is: It ain't easy, sister. Persevere.

Perhaps we could all use the reminder. Away We Go's main characters, expecting a baby and anchorless, head out in search of a new hometown and a family to model their own burgeoning one after. In one of the more poignant moments of the movie, the couple is sharing a meal with some old friends who have adopted four children. The father explains to his visitors that it takes more than shelter, parents, child, to create a home. In what has the potential to be a sickly sweet scene, he pours syrup over his makeshift pancake shanty to demonstrate how love binds it all together. But, he emphasizes, marriage--and parenting--takes "patience, consideration, and our better selves." His wife sighs, adding, "You have to be better than you ever thought you could be."

There are plenty of wedding vows which expound on the notion that one's partner makes one a "better version" of oneself, but the responsibility really lies within ourselves to figure out how best to be our own best version. On The Bachelorette last night, independent, self-possessed Jillian verbalizes her sense that amiable contender Kiptyn might just be a little too...nice for her. Citing her parents' marriage, in which her mother "wears the pants a little too much," she prods him, "I need to be sure that you wouldn't let me get away with whatever I wanted. That you would tell me when I am offside." Kiptyn seems to get it: "You need someone to call you out."

The question remains, would Kiptyn (you know, back in the Real World) tell Jillian to back off when she's overbearing, or would he shrug her off and shrink away, a la Jon Gosselin? And who's to blame when it all falls apart?

This is familiar territory for me, as I myself married a Nice Guy. And I will maintain 'til death do us part that he's the man I need, but I will also maintain that there are times I could use a swift kick in the rear and I don't get one from my good-natured husband. I can be a bossy sort, you see, albeit one who responds well to behavior modification. But I too was shocked and awed when my husband called me a "ballbuster" last week (I can't even capitalize it; that's how ouch it was). Okay, but as much as I wish he would nip my bossy in the bud, versus allowing it to build up to blurting that archetypal bitchy wife appellation, the point was not lost on me: Be nicer, Fer. Chill.

So I try.

Because I love my husband, and because I want to be a better version of myself. Because this is as good as it gets--I know, I know...some people divorce and remarry and are much happier, healthier, "righter"...okay. And if you're abused and you're a shadow of your former self because your partner does not let you grow, and you've tried...you know? I don't know. I don't know any marriage besides my own, but I think trying is what most of us have to do: Keep trying.

Because, frankly, I am fearful. And fear is what I fear too few of our fellow marrieds feel when they philander. I have a healthy fear of losing All This, and of Hurting All of Them. Why politicians don't feel that fear of losing All This That is Family, and then furthermore, don't fear losing All This That is Career, I just don't get.

I don't drink and drive because I fear killing people, but also because I fear (excuse the language, but it seems appropriate here) Fucking It Up. At what selfish, stupid point do people stop fearing Fucking It Up? At what cost? Yikes.

I think the Indigo Girls said it best: "All the shiny little trinkets of temptation/something new instead of something old/All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it's fool's gold."

No one said it was easy; no one said it would be this hard. But I'm convinced it's worth it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Best Week Ever

Seriously, I get off work, and look: we're on hiatus. So sorry.

But truly, we have had Good Family Time. Husband's only week off work was this last one, so we attempted to do more than snatch time to ourselves by passing off the progeny to each other and actually accomplish Mandatory Family Fun.

Some glimpses of the week:

1. Sunday evening at Nighttime Zoo, where our budding first grader was a contender in the Hula Hoop Contest...until her sister bumped her hoop and it was all over. You should see those hips! They barely wiggle.

2. A return to The Fair, and The Pig Races, of course! Highlight of the Pig Races: this year's Swifty the Swimming Pig actually jumped FAR into that pool/trough, after pooping and peeing admirably to crowd cheers pre-dive.

Lowlight of the Pig Races: as we waited for the action to commence, our charming three-year-old repeatedly kicked the woman in front of us as well as harassed her older sister, and then, after being moved to my other side, yelled, "NOOOO! I don't want to sit next to that Mean Lady!"

If I could have yanked her out of the Pig Races Stands without pissing off more people on the way, I WOULD HAVE.

Another highlight of The Fair: my friend who accompanied me with her two kiddoes, who hadn't been to The Fair more than once herself (in her Entire Lifetime!), wanted to try the most outrageous Fair Food available. And I was like, "I'm in!" So we wound up sharing a Deep-Fried Jelly Donut Chicken Sandwich and some Buffalo Potato Wedges with Bleu Cheese Crumbles. Verdict? Hate to say it, but Not Worth It. There's yummier-tasting unhealthy food off an exit near you.

3. Repair of a Regrettable Haircut: I seem to have finally learned that Free Haircuts or haircuts at places that are nearly free are not worth it. Adding layers to my long hair left me Metallica Groupie and mullet-like. First, I cut off an inch myself. Then I paid for another haircut. And the real reason for all this last-ditch cosmetic work:

4. My 20th High School Reunion: There was squinting at one anothers' name tags in attempts to recognize classmates; there was dancing (I released my own Inner Prom); there were revelations; there were rekindlings; there was skinny dipping; there were 25 kids in the pool at the Family Picnic.

I learned to forgo the Tequila Shot next time (and stop pretending to lick my arm, Tijuana-bar style).

5. Annual Fourth of July Chili Cook-Off: My husband entered my family's contest for the first time with "Chili con Carne y Coronitas." My niece and nephew concocted a crowd fave: "T 'n' A Chili" (with hot dogs). My own chili ("Sweet Potato Sting") was HOT! Like, really spicy HOT! Maybe too hot to taste.

Even the kids voted in what has become a serious tradition. And my brother's chili won--I swear, by adding copious cilantro right before the tasting.

6. Family Fireworks: The planets aligned and our children were rested enough for us to take them out on our boat, anchored in the bay, to watch the fireworks overhead. The almost-full moon (a "gibbous moon," we just learned from our post-kindergartner) cast silver sparkles on the water, and our daughters were awed by the spectacle--their first time, I think, seeing fireworks close up.

This morning, Daughter #1 sighed, "Last night was my most magical night ever..."