Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Just the Way You Look Tonight

When I first met this particular friend of Consort, two years ago, he and his girlfriend were engaged-to-be-engaged. We saw them last year, the week after they got engaged, and heard the happy details of the wedding. We got the “Save the date” notice four months ago, the invitation two months ago, and an email confirmation a month ago. Why am I telling you all this, unless I think you’re fascinated by organized people? Because I had simply no excuse for looking aghast day before yesterday and howling “Why didn’t someone remind me that we’re going to a wedding this weekend?”

I flung open my closet doors, and stared in horror. My wardrobe is suitable for washing cars or walking on a treadmill at a really shabby YMCA. I have nothing even remotely dressy for warm weather. For a minute, I dimly hoped that the invitation for an evening wedding at four-star hotel would read “Dress: Casual, poster paint stains preferred”. I found the invitation and my hopes were dashed. This was going to involve shopping.

After a certain time in your life, dressy clothes are no longer a wondrous adventure in expressing the feminine, alluring parts of yourself: they are damage control. If you are anything like me, you have a photographic graveyard of ill-advised evening choices. Here is the slide-show:


Here I am in my backless dress, my one attempt at going braless. Please note how my arm is up to my elbow down the front of my dress. I was trying to create a strapless shelf bra with my forearm. Later in the evening, I snuck into the kitchen and took some of the string they use to truss up turkeys and created a sling-like contraption.


This one I call “Why do I keep wearing black to formal events? I should try color”. Please note how the color, which was a lovely bright tangerine in the store, became traffic-cone orange in evening light. People keeping shading their eyes to look at me. I eventually draped myself in my date’s jacket, claiming to be cold, just to create an area not capable of scorching the retina.


Yes, I am in this picture, but I can understand the confusion. I chose a cocktail dress with a pattern. Unfortunately, the pattern exactly matched the wallpaper in the reception room. Look carefully and you can see a blur: that was my arm, which I kept waving so the caterers would stop leaning extra chairs against me.


This was my most recent bad purchase. After seeing several tweed suits being featured in Vogue, I bought a pink one for two winter events this year. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that the reason the models looked so winning and adorable in this look, besides being a foot taller than I am, is that they were fifteen. Post-pubescent girls in matronly outfits can look sweetly incongruous. A woman who is well into her thirties in a pink tweed suit looks like she is sixty. Several men offered to find me a chair and a defibrillator.

And yet, I shop again. But this time, I am shopping FRENCH. I am going to find something classic, timeless and expensive as hell, with the unwritten expectation of wearing it for the next forty years and being buried in it. I entered the department store, went to the “Hemorrhage Money Here” section, and tried on a navy suit. Fitted jacket, straight skirt, nothing that said “This year” or “Next year”, “Ingénue” or “Crone”. What it did say, and quite loudly, was “Flight Attendant”. I tried on a red suit: unless Consort runs for the Senate from a conservative Southern state, I am going to look a little dowdy. The black suit was timeless, all right: I looked exactly like some pictures I have seen of women being processed at Ellis Island, circa 1890. I looked as terrified as they did, because it was starting to dawn on me that this wasn’t working. I had booked in exactly two hours to find my inner Frenchwoman, and she was off somewhere having a Pernod and sneering at me.

Scarf, I thought desperately. French women do things with scarves, and everyone thinks it’s neat. I put the navy suit back on, and went to the scarf department and grabbed some colorful silky bits. I tied one around my shoulders, leaving it draped to the side.

The look said -

“Hi! I got a coffee stain on my shoulder, but you won’t even notice it now!”.

I moved the knot to the back, putting the fullness in the front-

“I’m eating lobster!”

I moved the knot to the front, putting the fullness in the back-

“I’m a Girl Scout Leader!”

I yanked that scarf off of my body before it hollered anything else at me.

When it came right down to it, I couldn’t buy any of those suits. They were perfectly fine, if you like giving up. Because that is what it felt like, failure. These suits said I am no longer capable of prettiness, just practicality. In the war between the sexes, I would become Switzerland. It’s unrealistic to expect an evening outfit to transform you but, damn it, it’s the only unrealistic fashion goal I have left. I gave up thinking I could wear boy-cut bathing suit bottoms, metallic eye-shadow or ankle-high boots with skirts. I need to keep the moment from every cheesy movie where our dowdy heroine comes down the stairs in her formal dress, finally wearing her contacts, and her date forgets what he was saying. Yes, I know, those characters are in high school. Getting dressed up in the evening is all about high school. And I will find my prom dress before Saturday.

I've Got You...

This is going to be a little different from what I typically post.

Consider it a Public Service Announcement. Or one of those segments on the local news where the newscaster looks seriously into the camera and intones “Coming up next: A new way you’ve never even considered by which your child can die horribly”. Unlike the local news, however, I won’t keep you waiting for 27 minutes through the happy-face weather and the sports wrap-up.

A friend of mine did the responsible thing last month. She took her mid-thirties body to the Dermatologist, to get all of her sun damage checked out. The doctor was telling her about the kind of moles and freckles he doesn’t want to see, the kind that are potentially dangerous, and my friend felt a chill.

“Uh, Doctor,” she said. “My son may have one of those on his head, under his hair”.

The Doctor had her bring in her son from the waiting room. The doctor found the original mark and found another small mole on the kid’s head, He declared them both meriting removal and biopsy. Keep in mind, these moles would not have drawn the attention of even the most anxious mother without the doctor’s warning. I saw the first one. It was a small brown mole, about half the size of my pinky nail, with a little black dot in the middle. And they had to come off.

The kid is five years old.

It took a week to get the biopsy results, which put my friend through hell. She was then told one was fine, but that the other needed a second opinion, which put her through hell walking on broken glass for another two days. The results were that these things definitely needed to come off. They weren’t melanoma yet, but they certainly had the potential to become melanoma with very little warning. Apparently, this child has a predilection for this kind of cell growth, so they will keep an eye on any freckles or moles he might have or develop. But they got everything, and he will now be more closely monitored, which is the good news.

If you have a kid, I want you to ask yourself:

1. Do you know what a normal mole or freckle look like? How about an abnormal one? Have you ever asked a doctor?
2. Do you know where your kid’s freckles and moles are? If he or she is old enough so that you aren’t seeing the whole body with frequency, does your kid know to keep an eye on them?

Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the US and throughout the world. It is the most common cancer in adults age 20-30.

My friend lucked out. Her son lucked out. I want any child of a mother reading this to end up being exactly that lucky.

We will now return to our regularly-scheduled programming.

Monday, March 28, 2005

In Sickness and in more sickness.

These, my friends, are what I like to call The Petri Dish Years. Since Daughter began pre-school eighteen months ago, we have had only three gears: Getting the illness, Manifesting the illness, Waiting for the new illness. I’d like to think the following rules would help someone out there, but I suspect every family is sick in its own way. However, if you are reading this while waiting at the pharmacy for your child’s ointment, perhaps this will help pass the time.


1. Five hours before the first symptoms show, Daughter gets cuddly. She crawls into my lap before bedtime and demands that I read her a story, and I am charmed. “Oh, you sweet thing,” I croon, “you just want some time with your Mommy”. Somehow, I always forget that this isn’t a wholesome affection: it’s just the germs looking for a new host. When she is sporting two endless ropes of green snot and the glassy eyes of the undead, I’ll be less inclined to breathe in her exhalations.

2. Vomit prefers to manifest at three a.m., or in a public space. The middle-of-the-night hurl happens no less than four times, at twenty minute intervals. This is because it takes about fifteen minutes to get her cleaned up and put fresh sheets on her bed, and she has only three sets of sheets. It’s not officially the flu until I have made her bed with one of our top sheets and a beach towel. The public-sector hurl will occur no more than a half hour after eating blueberries, which answers the question “What could possibly be worse than watching your daughter throw up on the carpet at the bank?” Watching your daughter throw up something indelible on the carpet at the bank.

3. Whatever you think you know, you’re wrong. That is probably a fair summation of motherhood in general, at least for me, but it certainly covers my experiences with Daughter’s childhood illnesses. She appears sick in the morning, so I keep her home. By nine a.m., the fever is gone, she’s doing cartwheels through the house and wanting to stage an opera based on Horton Hears a Who. She appears identically sick the next week, so I send her to school. The school calls at nine a.m.: “Perhaps you could blow off your Pilates class, you negligent mother, and take care of your deathly ill child?” (I paraphrase). I slink in to school and find Daughter lying on the school cot, ranting with fever, and spirit her away before the principal can take me aside and explain how they only want caring parents at their school. Daughter appears even more ill that afternoon, so I whisk her in to the Doctor’s office, where she does sit-ups and jumping jacks in the waiting room. In the examination room, she does pom-pom splits for the Doctor while singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, and the Doctor looks at Overreacting Mother and says kindly, “She might have the sniffles. Make sure she drinks a little extra water”. Moral? There is no moral. But the end of any story that involves my daughter typically involves me looking silly in front of a non-family member.

4. No matter what plague is going through your house, another mother will be unsurprised. Any real friend is going to be supportive but if you are looking for shock and outrage call a child-free friend. A mother-to-mother conversation sounds like this:

MOTHER #1-We didn’t see you at school at all last week. Did you go on vacation?

MOTHER #2-No, she was really sick. The first 24 hours was ceaseless spitting of millipedes and ear wax, and then she started speaking Serbian. Her fever was 114 degrees for all five days. Then she grew and shed a hard carapace.

MOTHER #1-Yeah, my older son had that last month. It’s going around. Did her toes emit flames?

5. Daughter waits until we are standing in a long line in front of a woman with a small child and an infant before informing me, in a sweet frail voice, “Mommy, after this errand, can we go home? I’m still feeling a little sick, and I may have a rash”. She then coughs wetly. For the next ten minutes I get to avoid eye contact with this woman who is convinced I am exposing her family to the first official case of Avian flu in North America just so I can pick up a registered letter. I do the thing where you talk to your kid as a way of conveying information to the audience at large:

“Sweetheart, you know you haven’t needed medicine in two days. You’re going back to school tomorrow. Would I take you out in public if I thought you were ill?”

I then distract her with the contents of my purse before she relates the “Vomiting at the bank” story to her new friends on line.

The best thing I have gotten out of running the Developing-the-Immune-System gauntlet is the truism that everything is temporary, which may be the big take-away from being a parent. It’s all terribly big when you’re in it, but a little Robotussin and your kid is like new. A little Spray N’ Wash on the duvet cover…well, it still has the puke stain, but it’s pretty faint. And the next thing you know, they're off at college, vomiting for entirely different reasons.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found.

Let me introduce you to the ritual dance Consort and I do before either of us leaves the house:

First, we move toward the door in a purposeful manner. If you have never met us, you would think “Why, those are people about to leave this house”.

You would be wrong, as the minute either one of our hands touches door wood, we freeze. Consort scowls, I look vacant. Each person proceeds to pat their own hips, backside and pectoral area with a thoroughness that, were we doing it to someone else, would be described as “groping” or might require a Miranda recitation.

Then, each of us pivots and walks through the house touching every single object located on a horizontal surface, moving it slightly, looking under it, putting it down and then looking under it again. We move through the entire house in this manner, growing increasingly frantic and obscene, mumbling things like “I just saw it” and “Why can’t anything stay in one (expletive deleted) place” and “I’m not asking for eternal life; I am asking to find these (long string of deleted expletives trailing away into a grumble)”.

Having walked through the entire house, we find ourselves back at the front door, at which point we do the exact same thing again. Very rarely does either person move anything he hasn’t already moved. Mostly, we move the same objects over and over again, with increasing noise and agitation, until something catches our eye next to the butter-dish, which is inexplicably on the television. At that point, the person lets out a roar of triumph and clutching his glasses (Consort) or her keys (Me), leaps from the house as if released from prison.

While each dance has certain similarities, a trained eye notices the unique flourishes each performer brings to it. My Dance of Loss and Redemption is not a solo piece. Daughter trails behind me, my own little Greek Chorus.

“You’ve lost your keys again”

“I am aware of that, sweetheart”

“You lose them every day”

“Also aware of that”

“Maybe you should put them someplace that is easy to find”


The situation with my keys is nothing less than physical proof of poltergeists. I know I am a little hectic and vague, but the places my keys end up being found is less an indication of poor organizational skills than a capricious and possibly malevolent spirit toying with me. It’s not as if I walk into the house and think “Hey, you know what makes sense? Putting my keys in the soap holder in the shower. Then I’ll put the bar soap into the dog’s food bin, and the dog’s pills in my lingerie drawer, and LET THE FUN BEGIN!”….

When I am running around the house like a caffeinated squirrel, I cannot use logic to find my keys. I have to use surrealism. Where would the most striking and ill-conceived place to put my keys be? In the wading pool which has been hibernating behind the trash cans since last summer? No, but there is a black-widow spider the size of a salad plate and my dress pumps back there. Are the keys in the steamer trunk of dress-up clothes in Daughter’s room? No, but there is a potato peeler and a car air-freshener shaped like the Playboy Bunny. Oh, look, the keys were in with the boxes of 2001 tax receipts that haven’t been opened since they showed up last month. Clever, imaginative poltergeist!

Consort’s game is a little wilder, because he has more possibilities in his game. Consort has (I take in a deep breath): reading glasses, driving glasses, driving glasses that allow him to read maps, reading glasses that allow him to drive short distances, sports glasses, glasses that are scratched and worn but still good enough for cleaning the garage, and glasses that keep him from falling down while walking the dog but aren’t clear enough to let him see what he is picking up in the plastic bag. If Consort meets the former Undersecretary of Health and Human Services socially, he has a pair of glasses for that. If he meets the former Undersecretary in a business capacity, I believe that requires a different pair of glasses.

So, when he is touching the door the question is not: “Gosh, do I have my glasses?” The question is: “I need to go to Home Depot and buy a drill bit, so do I need my ‘Looking at microscopic numbers on hardware parts’ glasses”, or: “Do I need my ‘parking in a lot where no one cares about their car’ glasses?”.

This is a game, sadly, that he must play alone, as only he understands the subtle gradations among the numberless hordes of eyeglasses which dwell in my house. As penguin mothers have no problem identifying their bit of gray fluff from the hundreds of other penguin babies, Consort is the only person in this house who knows one pair of black-framed glasses in a black carrying case from another. In more cynical moments, I have wondered if his optometrist is just selling him the same prescription over and over again. But who am I to take away the pleasure of finding his “Looking at paint chips and driving to the airport” glasses?

Who I am I to take this process away from either of us? It has its own charm. First I get the stress and the fear of “Will I ever find these keys? What kind of jackass loses their keys six times a week? What kind of stupid jackass loses their keys six times a week and fails to make copies?”. I’m irritated, I’m disgusted with myself, but you have no idea how alive draining the sandbox through a spaghetti colander makes you feel.

And then I find the keys, and the day gets shiny and loaded with potential. It is the closest thing I have to a roller-coaster ride every day and, unlike a real roller-coaster, there is no danger of soft-tissue damage to my neck. I eat more Rolaids than someone my age usually does but, luckily, I rarely lose those.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Egg(s) and I

It must be one of those traditional, family-oriented holidays; I just lost it with my kid.

In my defense, what kind of sick mind puts Easter in MARCH? March is St. Patrick’s Day, April is Easter, and May is Mother’s Day and me eating an undercooked omelet at an upscale brunch. It’s just wrong to be making sure Daughter is wearing green on March 17th, only to have some other (prepared) mother sing out “And Easter is less than two weeks away”. I took this news as one would take the news that the biopsy came back iffy--“No! It can’t be”. But it was.

For my own twisted pleasure, I looked up how the Easter Sunday is decided. In case you don’t know, it is “the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox”. And that isn’t some astronomical Full Moon, you understand, but an ecclesiastical moon, which is determined from tables that are unavailable to laypeople (They might be in the Vatican Times, next to the Daily Jumble). I guess the moral of the story is I should just be happy that it didn’t land in February. I took my usual tack with an unpleasant situation: I pretended that Easter was a show on premium cable. As a basic cable-type person, it didn’t apply to me.

But you can only ignore the Pinnacle of Peeps at the grocery store for so long, not to mention the steady inflow of Easter-related artwork coming in from the school. This is the time of year that I pity the observant Jew, not to mention Buddhists, Muslims, and the odd Atheist; the Christians took what was a fairly adult, somber event (There was this guy, or maybe a God/Guy. He said a bunch of things that were really worth considering. For this, he had a terribly bad Friday. But the weekend got better), and turned it into “Hooray! Jesus sometimes resembles a chocolate rabbit with a marshmallow filling! Eat him!” It’s hard to compete with that.

But you really lose the Minimal Parenting Standard if you don’t get the eggs dyed in time. I could buy her a PAAS kit next week cheap, but everyone looks at you funny. I suppose we could pretend to be Greek, and celebrate the Greek Orthodox Easter on May 1st, but I’m not fond of lamb. So, I got the egg kit a couple of days ago. On the way home from swim class tonight, I simply could not remember whether we had more than three eggs in the house, so I dragged a chlorine-scented daughter to the grocery store to find a dozen unbroken eggs. Three days before Easter, this is harder than you might think. For the last week, people have been opening the egg containers, removing the cracked ones, placing them in other egg containers and grabbing unbroken eggs for their dozen. This means that what was left tonight was sort of like the Island of Lost Toys. It wasn’t a situation of “I need twelve unbroken eggs”, it was “Let the cracks be small, so that I can pretend it’s a cat hair on the egg. No, I don’t know why a cat hair would be on an egg in a grocery store. Shut up”.

I took my damaged little friends home. Since, due to scheduling, this is the last night that Consort and Daughter could do them together, I set the water to boil while opening the egg-dying package, while simultaneously removing swimsuit from Daughter and getting her into the tub. Daughter realized I was completely hectic and distracted, so she tried to outdo her personal best of 6,732 questions in under ten minutes:

“What makes the bubble bath bubble?”
“If an owl ate a raccoon, would it die?”
“What makes the tide?”
“How about if an owl ate a raccoon which had eaten a poisonous snake, would the owl die then?”

Somewhere during a storm of questions which were the follow-ups to “Why do dog farts smell worse than human farts, but not as bad as cat farts”, I finally broke down.


Words fail to express just how loud and whiny this was. If I had been my own kid, I’d have sent me to my room (which gets a little complicated, but there’s cloning for you). Daughter didn’t cry. I apologized immediately. The eggs boiled without my watching them, which only proves that an unwatched pot always boils. And I considered plural marriage.

I’m not saying I want another couple of women hanging around the house, laying equal claim to Consort and eating my jalapeno olives. But, the tasks of mothering are frequently brainless at the same time that they are mentally taxing. If I could divvy up the mind-sucking essentials of motherhood, I promise that I would be so much more excited about the frills. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a couple of friends in the house and be able to ask one “If you can cover bathing the kids tonight, Betty over there will make dinner, and I'll check the Vatican Times to see what holidays we need to plan for”?


Meanwhile, I am going to eat a blue egg-salad sandwich.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Reach out and...what?

Cue SFX: Phone ringing.

I answer it.

- QUINN: (Speaking into receiver, but actually talking to Daughter in the other room)…I TOLD YOU IF YOU KEPT PICKING AT IT, IT WOULD BLEED…uh, hello?

- LISA: Hi, it’s me.

- QUINN: (Shrieking in delight) Yea, it’s you! You have time to talk?

. LISA: The baby is sleeping, Theo is watching a Wiggles video, and Matthew is working from home this evening and will cover anything they need, so…yes!

(We squeal in mutual joy)

- LISA: So, how are you?

- QUINN: Wait a sec. (I cover receiver with my hand, and call to Consort) PLEASE SUPERVISE A BATH, AND WASH HER HAIR.

(I take hand off receiver in time to hear--)

- LISA: (Talking to her husband) ...if it isn’t in his toy box, then his Thomas Train could be anywhere. Try under the couch. If not there, look in the dishwasher. (Talking to me again) So, how are you?

- QUINN: Wow, where to begin. Oh, last week I had these stabbing pains after I ate milk products or cilantro, and I started to think I might have...

- LISA: Hold on a second. (To her husband) ...Not there? Well, then did you leave the toilet seat up? He likes to let the train go pee, and then it usually falls in. Try that. (Back to me) Sorry, what did you think?

(During her train conversation, I have seen Daughter darting for the bathroom looking suspiciously colorful for a naked person)

- QUINN: Hold on, Lise... (To Daughter) Come here, please.

(She comes inching out of the bathroom, wearing her bathing suit)

- QUINN: You’re not wearing your bathing suit in the tub.

- DAUGHTER: Daddy said I could.


- CONSORT: (From bathroom) NO.

- QUINN: (To Daughter) Nice try. Forget it.

(Daughter stomps off in a huff. I reengage with the phone)

- QUINN: Hi, I’m back. Where were we?

- LISA: I have no idea.

- QUINN: So, how is everything?

- LISA: Did I tell you that Matthew might be thinking about chucking the whole…

(Horrible sounds are coming from my bathroom. Apparently, guinea pigs are being used as dog-fighting bait)


- LISA: Don’t you just hate washing their hair?

- QUINN: I am seriously considering how she would look in dreadlocks.

(Sounds of tiny car alarm emanating from the receiver)

- LISA: Oliver’s awake.

- QUINN: Do you need to get off the phone?

- LISA: No, he just needs to eat. Just let me grab him. We can talk while he nurses. You want to say hello to Theo?

- QUINN: Oh, why not?

- LISA: (voice trailing away) Theo, do you want to say hello to Aunt Quinn?

(Small but emphatic “No” heard from that side. Sound of phone being handed to three year-old)

- QUINN: Hi, Theo.


- QUINN: It’s your Aunt Quinn.

- THEO: I have a truck. See?

(Scraping sound against the mouthpiece)

- QUINN: I see it, it’s nice.

- THEO: You don’t have a penis.

(Lisa takes phone back)

- LISA: Okay, Oliver is nursing. We can talk until…Theo, I know that feels good, but please do it in your room. (Louder) Matthew, please explain the concept of privacy to your son. (To me) His penis is like a magic fairyland he never wants to stop visiting. What were we talking about?

- QUINN: Uh…I’m stuck on fairies flying around holding their penises.

(A moment of silence)

- LISA: So, how are you?

- QUINN: We’re doing okay. Actually, we got some good news this week. My daughter might be the first person ever to…to…wait, hold on. (Daughter is running from the bathroom, naked, damp and weeping copiously. Consort is walking after her, irritated). What is going on?

- DAUGHTER: (Blubbering) Daddy won’t give me a (unintelligible under tears and snot)

- QUINN: (To Lisa) One sec. (To Consort) What won’t you give her?

- CONSORT: Your toothbrush. To use on My Little Pony’s mane and tail.

- QUINN: (To Daughter) Your father is a wonderful man. You may use the ratty hairbrush with the pink handle on the plastic Pony hair.

- DAUGHTER: Who is that on the phone?

- QUINN: Santa Claus. He wants to know if you’re being a good little girl. I would hate to have to tell Santa that you’re not getting ready for bed.

(Daughter darts for her room. I take hand off the receiver to hear--)

- LISA: Theo, I’m not kidding. Stop tickling Oliver’s feet, it gives him gas.

- QUINN: I’m back. So how is everything?

- LISA: It’s busy, but good. Though I have wondered recently whether anything we do in life has any meaning whatsoever (She lets out a half cry, half moan).

- QUINN: Are you crying?

- LISA: No, the baby just twisted his head around to watch the Wiggles video.

- QUINN: Pulled your nipple like taffy?

- LISA: Yeah.

- QUINN: Ow.

- LISA: Hey, I just looked at the clock, and I’d better start something for dinner.

- QUINN: Yeah, I should think about that.

- LISA: I miss talking like this.

- QUINN: Yeah, me too.

- LISA: Love you, sweetie.

- QUINN: Love you, sweetie.

-LISA: Theo, do not pee into the fireplace again…


Monday, March 21, 2005

Active Listening

I have been asked whether it is difficult writing something when I have no idea whether it’s actually being read. Do I find it strange, people ask, to seek contentment putting my words and thoughts out there without expecting a response? Clearly, they have not met my family. No one has heard a word I’ve said since the turn of the millennium.

No, that isn’t exactly the situation. They all hear me, but my words are anemic and frail, barely able to inch their way from outer ear to inner skull before they collapse from exhaustion. My words rarely make contact with the decision-making parts of the brains inside the rest of my family. Let’s start with the cat, as cats created the Ignoring Standard the rest of us can never hope to measure up to.

Scene: I am sitting in armchair, doing needlepoint. Lulabelle walks into frame.

QUINN: Hi, sweetie.

LULABELLE: Yeah, whatever. I'm going to sit in your lap now.

QUINN: But, there's needlepoint in my lap.

LULABELLE: I’m on my way up.

QUINN: This is an expensive canvas.

LULABELLE: Gonna feel good under my toes.

QUINN: How about I pet you while you’re standing on the ground?

Quinn pets Lulabelle. Lulabelle considers.

LULABELLE: (After a beat) Nope, I'm coming up.

Quinn sighs gustily and moves the canvas seconds before cat projectiles into her lap.


Then there’s the dog. Polly has, without doubt, the most aristocratic bloodlines in the house, but her intellectual inadequacy would transform the most ardent monarchist into a Bastille-storming revolutionary.

Scene: I am walking dog. Dog spies something weird on the street next to the curb. Dog lunges for it.


QUINN: (Yanking leash) It’s not food, you idiot. It’s not even digestible. I think it’s part of a car’s cooling system.

POLLY: (Lunging) FOOD!

I grab the dog by the collar and start dragging her down the street. I expect the PETA S.W.A.T. team to rappel down from the sky at any moment.

QUINN: Two thousand years of careful breeding and you’re the outcome? You were the most they could hope for?

Polly does the “lying down and feigning death” thing. As I walk towards her to hoist her up, Polly darts back to the weird street thing and eats it. She chews and swallows quickly.

QUINN: AUGGHHH! You freak!

POLLY: You know, that might not have been food.

(Later trip to the Veterinary ER is both too expensive and too unpleasant to relate)


Now we shall discuss the bipeds in my house and their inability to hear my voice. The only time Daughter seems able to hear and remember my words is when I am whispering in the other room:

Who gained a ton of weight, Mommy?”

Mostly, however, our conversations go like this:

Scene: As always, we are in the car. Daughter is humming tunelessly and playing some game with her Ariel Barbie that involves pulling off and torturing all of Ariel’s crustacean accessories. I glance back.

QUINN: Babe, please don’t bend the tiara like that, it’s going to break.


A second passes. I hear the same sound of plastic being torqued.

QUINN: I mean it, if you keep doing that, it will break. I have no idea where I would buy another Ariel Barbie tiara, nor do I have any intention of buying another Ariel Barbie tiara.


QUINN: What did I just say?

DAUGHTER: Don’t break the tiara.

QUINN: And if you break it?

DAUGHTER: I’m not getting another one.

QUINN: All right, then.

Sound of small plastic thing snapping. Sound of small girl child, crying softly.

QUINN: May I guess what just happened?

DAUGHTER: (simpering) It broke.

Please note she was never directly involved with the process. It broke. As in…Time stopped briefly and when we regained consciousness, this object was mysteriously broken.

DAUGHTER: (Simpering turns to full-on sobbing) I need a new one.

QUINN: Um, no.

Daughter wails in outrage and shock; this is entirely new information to her.


As far as Consort goes, I am partially responsible for his inability to hear what I say. After years together, he knows that I spend about 10% of my speaking energy on anecdotes about people he doesn’t know well, with whom I speculated about the motivations of people he doesn’t know at all. I will be telling him a hair-raising story entitled: Why This Complete Stranger Who Knows an Acquaintance of Mine Cannot Be Trusted to Drive Carpool and he will frustrate me by asking questions like “Wait, how do you know this person again?” or “Have you ever met this person in your life?”

I finally trained him to understand he needn’t listen at these times; he doesn’t even have to make eye contact. Just don’t obviously be reading or overtly talking on the phone and I can pretend this is a conversation. What this means, though, is that at least part of the time, I have given him permission to tune me out completely. This leads to the following:

Scene: I fly in the front door, Daughter trailing behind me. Consort is at the computer.

CONSORT: Hi, where have you been?

QUINN: I told you that she had a Traditional Ixtec Poetry and Cooking class. (To Daughter) Please go get your exercise bag and the party dress from your closet. (To Consort) Now, let me walk you through the rest of our day.

Consort’s eyes do not leave the computer screen.

QUINN: You’re listening, right?

CONSORT: (Irritably) Yes.

QUINN: Good. She has Karate class until 12:30, at which point she and I will swing over to Amanda’s birthday party, which is (Raising voice to Daughter in her bedroom) WHY I NEED YOU SIGNING AMANDA’S CARD RIGHT NOW, PLEASE. We will then try to stop by Ethan’s birthday party, so PLEASE GET YOUR SWIMSUIT AS WELL, SWEETHEART. After that, please arrive at La Cabana at 6:30, because we’re meeting Veronica and her parents there for dinner. Okay?


I grab a bottle of iced tea. Grab Daughter. Grab accessories. Have one foot out the front door, when I hear:

CONSORT: Wait a moment…what?

QUINN: What do you mean “what”?

CONSORT: What are you doing this afternoon?

QUINN: What did you hear?

CONSORT: I am supposed to bring…a birthday card and my bathing suit to Veronica’s house?

The presence of my daughter saves him from the most punishing verbal blows.

I have to keep it in perspective, I guess. As my mother says “They ignore you because they love you. They have to take you for granted to a certain extent; you’re the fulcrum that allows them to go spinning off and do wonderful, brave things”.

Or something like that.

Frankly, I wasn’t totally listening to her.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Book of Judgement

Recently, at a party, I could not take my eyes off the outfit of another guest. She was wearing a snug ankle-length skirt, leaving little in the way of guesswork as to her underwear choice. The matching top cut so widely and deeply at the neck that I needed to glance at my nails whenever she leaned over to fix her platform shoes. This outfit was compelling to me for two reasons:

1. It seemed dressy for a Sunday morning birthday party at Build-a-Bear,
2. The wearer was six years old.

After a while, I simply had to find her mother, to see what possible justification there might be for letting a child out of the house like this (Although, to my way of thinking, the only possible excuse was going to be: “my daughter has incriminating Polaroids of me with the termite guy”). I sidled up to her mother and said something neutral like, “Wow, your daughter’s outfit. Did she pick it out herself?”

She smiled proudly. “Oh, yes. She has way more taste and style than I do”.

I was left so completely speechless that my response went something like, “Oh…sure. I…(breathe)…Look, a spider!”

She looked where I pointed, and I danced off, ostensibly to peel my daughter off the bear-stuffing machine. But, in truth, I needed space to have the following interior monologue:

Well, there’s one girl Daughter will never see socially. If she is dressing like Heidi Fleiss’ newest intern now, and her mother thinks that’s fine, she is already ruined for life. That child will have the Sex and the City DVD set for Christmas, and a diaphragm for her eighth birthday. Next thing you know, she’ll sneaking away at Bar Mitzvah parties to give the Bar Mitzvah boy a very special Coming of Age Present. High school will be a procession of alcohol-based blackouts and STD’s. She will then attend a state college known for partying and get her degree in Radio/TV/Film.

I drank my juice box and considered my inner judge. Was I always this horrible? Would I want to be judged this completely by a single act of mine or my notoriously headstrong daughter? Admittedly, this child’s outfit was a huge statement, but maybe these were basically good people who suffered from some genetic defect that prevented them from knowing what appropriate clothing looked like. The style equivalent of color-blindness, perhaps. I vowed right then and there to give all parents and children the benefit of the doubt.

It lasted a week.

Daughter and I were at a bookstore event which involved lining up and waiting to dress up in Olivia’s wardrobe. If you have no children, or they are over ten and you don’t know who Olivia is, she is a pig with an extensive wardrobe. Lining up and waiting are two things children do not do with any style or grace – especially when they sense that the box in front of them contains many tiaras – so it was a mildly stressful environment. The parents were, for the most part, keeping their children within “hissing threat” distance, with the exception of one father. His little girl kept cutting ahead in line, trying to insinuate herself into some family closer to the almighty Olivia clothing. The father said “Maya, sweetie, come here” (Maya wasn’t her name, but I allow her anonymity, because she can’t help having a stupid father). His tone was so ineffectual we all understood he had no back-up plan for when she completely ignored him. She wormed her way into the next family and attempted to appear African-American. He sighed and looked at other parents for sympathy, as if a five year-old girl was as impossible to control as lava.

My inner judge whipped off her gag and set right into work:

This is why some people shouldn’t have children. If he can’t get his daughter to respect him while waiting in a relatively short line, he is going to be completely outclassed when she figures out the alarm code at their house. She’ll be sneaking off with her biker boyfriend, while he stands at the front door saying “Maya, sweetie, you might want to rethink this”… Oh look; now he’s on his phone. Because nothing says Involved Dad quite like watching your child power-grabbing a feather boa out of the hands of another child while you arrange your golf game this afternoon. Why don’t you just hire someone to raise your kid for you so you can make your two o’clock tee time?

I winced, but I smiled. I had missed my hostile little friend. It was good to have her back. There is a snake in this Eden, though. As vicious as she can be to outsiders, she is even more unforgiving of my own missteps. Perhaps, if I were to refuse to accept the things she said about other people, I could stop listening to the things she finds fault with in me. On the other hand, I would never again get to hear “You like splashing water on my kid, you little toad? Let’s see how much you like water when I am holding your head underneath it for a few minutes”.

Oh Lord, give me tolerance, but do not give it yet.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees

There were things about my anatomy I knew wouldn’t be the same after I had a baby. My hairdo wasn’t one of them.

Pregnancy is a huge shift for the body and I thought I was prepared for all of the changes. I understood about skin tone not returning. I comprehended that my bladder would become a strategic factor in planning long excursions (Actually, my bladder now has veto power on certain non-essential car trips). I even knew that my feet would change size. What I didn’t see coming was how The Bob With Bangs that served me loyally, if routinely, for the better part of my life would now make me look like Lurch. This betrayal was along the lines of a trusted boyfriend putting intimate pictures of you on When I wore knickers in high school, my Bob didn’t judge me. I wore a cat suit in public and Bob was still proud to call me a friend. I fell off platform shoes at a party, and Bob caressed my cheek in a gesture that said “Don’t worry; everyone is way too drunk to remember what just happened”. I rewarded my Bob with expensive shampoo. We were friends, partners in crime. It was the longest relationship of my life.

After Daughter arrived in the picture, my love affair with Bob went badly awry. Bob With Bangs now managed to leave black craters under my eyes, draw all buoyancy from my cheeks, and compressed my lips into a thin line. I needed to either Photoshop myself into a Dorothea Lange picture, or get a new look. Since my hair has always had the same texture and I have never had a deft hand with hair product, I had no knowledge of a follicular Plan B. I had no back-up. I was an innocent child in the ways of hairdos, and now that Bob was revealing his cruel and unpredictable side to me, it was time for us to seek professional help.

I flung myself into a hairdresser’s chair, and we headed off into unknown terrain.

“Shorter in the back, with some height on the top!” I proclaimed.

I resembled a tired mushroom.

A month later…

“Less height, more movement all over!”

I resembled a tired mop.

A month passed…

“More bangs, fewer layers!”

I resembled a tired Joey Ramone.


When I was a child, and learned that colors mixed together produced secondary and tertiary colors, I decided that all the paints mixed together would produce the best color ever. I then learned that all colors mixed together produce brown. As an adult, I was about to learn the hair version of that: four different haircuts in four months produce a mullet. I looked as if spiders were getting to third base with my neck. I flew into the nearest salon and screamed “Kill it!” Once they removed the bottom wisps, I had dowdy hair. I had aging hair. I had Mom Hair.

In case you should ever want to, you can create Mom hair at home. Stick a bowl on your head, cut around it. Don’t worry about not being able to see while you’re doing it, as no one is ever going to look at your handiwork. When you are finished sawing away around the bowl, remove the bowl and cut a few bits to accentuate your crows’ feet and loosening jaw. For the price of a Tupperware bowl, you have now created a hairdo that says to the world “Rice Krispy treats” and “I collect ceramic sheep”. Of course, I had taken four reasonably expensive haircuts to get there.

Then began the agonizing process of growing it out or, as I like to call it, the Cavalcade of Cowlicks. The upside was that any time I caught an accidental glimpse of myself in a mirror, I had something to focus on besides how freaking tired I looked. I could stare in wonder at the spout of hair sticking up from my forehead; gaze in awe at how all the hair on the back of my head grows to the left, leaving me with something resembling a guinea pig under my left ear. On the bad days, when I was prepared to hack it off with a toenail clipper rather than wait for another cowlick to strike, I would gaze on the one picture taken of myself during Mom Hair. The resemblance to Captain Kangaroo was uncanny and I would find the strength to soldier on.

Two years later, I have a shoulder-length Bob With Bangs, nearly the exact same haircut that led me down the path of destruction to Mom Hair. I could look better, I know it. But I don’t have a gambler’s soul. And I still don’t understand how to blow-dry the back of my head without dislocating my shoulders, so any real hairstyle is beyond my ability. In the world of hair, I ride the short bus. Proudly.

Besides, someone has to keep the Scrunchie people in business.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Official Taster

Consort was already in bed for the evening, bashing away at a crossword puzzle, when I slipped in next to him. After a second, he sniffed.

“What is that smell?’

“I brushed my teeth” I answered, removing the cat from the exact middle of my pillow.

“No, that’s not it. It’s a…sweet, chemical smell. Almost like…watermelon, if watermelons had been engineered by DuPont”

“Like I said, I brushed my teeth.” I answered evenly.

A truly heroic worrier is never appreciated in her own time. I can look at the most benign object and, without working up a sweat, imagine three different ways it could kill you. Part of this comes from having injured myself with things most normal people would consider quite harmless; once you’ve cut yourself on a soup spoon or gotten a severe bite wound from an animal without teeth, you tend to give all new objects wide berth.

But I digress.

Earlier that evening, I had opened a new container of toothpaste for Daughter. I noted that the plastic sticker sealing the lid closed was terribly flimsy. Hmm, I mused. A deranged psychopath could have opened the container quite easily, secreted some horribly lethal poison down the teeny little hole, resealed it with this flimsy tape, and no one would be the wiser. With its syrupy toxic scent, you could enhance “Weird ‘N Wacky Watermelon” with an equal volume of 12-year-old Kim chi, and it would go unnoticed. I stared at the toothpaste doubtfully, and imagined rushing Daughter to the ER in the middle of the night with strange and terrifying symptoms. I imagined the Doctor shaking her head in sorrow and regret. Sorry, there was nothing they could do. Then I saw the article in People Magazine:


This leads me to a side note: when you hear the phrase “Former Child Actor…” don’t you automatically assume the next words will be “…arrested for immoral use of a ferret” or something like that? After much thought, I know why this is. Former Child Actors do get arrested constantly; in any given month, they make up over 20% of the Los Angeles jail population, and 100% of the embarrassing infractions. But why is that? And why isn’t it across the entire FCA population? [This would be a good time to mention that I've never been arrested.] The answer is: free time.

No one ever refers to Jodie Foster as a former child actor because she has done many worthwhile things with her adult life. This is not the case with many child actors, who seem to have used up their reserves of career energy before they were old enough to vote. If you were an actor as a child, but have done nothing worth mentioning since you were 13, you will probably find yourself with lots of free time. Once you’ve appeared on The Surreal Life and alphabetized the videotapes of your Merv Griffin appearances, you’re going to get bored. Soon enough, you’re buying a black-market ferret and making her pretty little outfits. So the moral is: save your money, stay busy, and no video store or transsexual prostitute need ever fear you.

But I digress.

In order to be able to sleep at night, I was going to have to test the toothpaste before I’d let her use it. So, I grabbed it and put it on the high shelf, alongside the truly dangerous medicines and the really pricey eye shadow I wore only once because it makes me look as if I have conjunctivitis. Then, using an opened paper clip, I extracted the remaining seven flecks of toothpaste from the old tube and applied them to her toothbrush, so she could finally brush her teeth. Later that night, I squeezed a bit of the new stuff onto my finger and stared at it distrustfully. It had the same bright, mildly iridescent green hue I associate with Central American cockroaches of a lethal variety. This was a color that announced “Ingest me and experience massive organ failure”. I dabbed a little on my tongue and waited for the seizures to begin. A few minutes passed, during which time I stared at the bathroom tile floor and thought “If this doesn’t kill me, I really must re-grout”.

The first exposure didn’t appear to do any lasting damage, but then I thought “What if it’s a cumulative effect? What if a month from now, Daughter starts reeling around the house as her nervous system shuts down?” (This is why typing the words “poison symptoms children” into Google is a really terrible idea). More research was needed. I decided to brush my teeth with the stuff for a week, to see if I'd lose the ability to feel my fingers or earlobes. Of course, that means I will have used up nearly this entire container of nature-defyingly green toothpaste, but Daughter will be safe. And if I buy and use two more containers, and send in the Proofs of Purchase, I can get a Power Puff Girl tee-shirt in a size 6X.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

These Boots are Made for Walking

I ran a fever for a week [I have a cold].

I had a cough which could make a consumptive back away from me [I have a bad cold].

I started coughing up blood [Maybe this isn’t a cold].

I dribbled into the Doctor’s office, who listened to my lungs, flinching only slightly when I breathed, x-rayed me, and declared it “walking pneumonia”. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to go to bed. I called everyone on the way home.

“I have walking pneumonia!” I informed my mother happily, “I have to go to bed!”

“Yep, walking pneumonia” I left on the answering machine of a friend “I simply cannot do anything but rest!”

“I don’t want to go to bed and rest,” I told the 411 operator “but what else can I do? The Doctor insisted”

I drove, coughed and day-dreamed. I dreamed of magazines. Of crossword puzzles. Of books that didn’t involve cats who were princesses who also solved crimes. I dreamed of napping.

I was about to call Consort, willing to field a few “I told you to go in last week” type phrases in exchange for enforced bed rest, when, in my mind, I started to automatically run over our schedule for the upcoming week. Consort, who was then in school, had a huge project due; I had taken to calling him the Holy Ghost, because you just had to have faith he was there, without really having any evidence. He would step up to the parental plate in a heartbeat (or a racking cough) but he really needed to stay focused on school. Daughter would miss dance and gymnastics classes that she loved, which would lead to her having disturbing amounts of energy and wanting to stay up to watch and discuss “The Daily Show”. Against my will, I started to think things like “I don’t actually feel that bad” and “As long as I take the antibiotics and keep a tissue near my mouth, I should be fine”. My bed rest skittered away from me like a shy wild animal.

I came home and looked at our calendar. The following day, I had to go get my x-rays from one doctor and transport them to another. Why, I don’t know. Maybe shouting at other drivers strengthens the lungs before bed rest. Unless I could think of a balanced meal based upon capers and fruit popsicles with freezer burn I also needed to stop at the grocery store. And then Daughter had gymnastics, so tomorrow was shot. But the day after that, I could have walking pneumonia for five hours. Consort would take her to school, and I would have bed rest.

That day dawned, and I finally got to have walking pneumonia. The dog tap-danced around for her breakfast, Daughter shuffled here and there, Consort made himself coffee without actually opening his eyes, and I lay in bed. I wouldn’t say I rested, though. The sounds and words I was getting from the rest of the house were like a mildly stressful radio show. Breakfast was being made, but the wrong sounds were coming from the kitchen—what could he possibly be feeding her that required a can opener? I got up on one elbow, and then lay down again. I have walking pneumonia, I reminded myself, and I have five hours bed rest coming to me.

The dog yapped once at the back door, in a “You can either let me out, or what I will do will diminish both of us” sort of way, and I didn’t hear the door open immediately. Again, I rose. Again, I lay down. A minute or so later, the back door opened. Consort and daughter finished consuming Dinty Moore’s Breakfast in a Can and went to her bedroom, where more worrisome phrases issued. Things like “I don’t know if your dress-up bracelet goes with your dress”. No bracelet goes with any dress she is wearing to school unless she is Joan Collins. I heard “Mommy said I could wear my party shoes to school”. I rose, I lay down. But I did croak out “I never said that”. I think it came out more like “Aghnev (cough, spit)”, but Daughter was cajoled into her school shoes. They came in to say goodbye to me, and it was a scene from a Victorian novel:

“Hello, my angel. Give Mummy a kiss right on the hand not holding the bloody handkerchief, before she has to go to the sanatorium in the Alps. And if Mummy doesn’t come back, and Daddy marries the governess, please remember that I loved you. And don’t let the governess have Mummy’s jewelry”.

I was so happy to be finally reveling in bed rest I didn’t even ask what Consort packed her for lunch. It might have been a prune Danish and a thermos full of espresso, but it didn’t matter. They were gone, and I was resting.

The rest lasted twenty minutes. Then I went and got the newspaper, because reading in bed was restful, as long as I stayed away from any section that upset me. Seven minutes later, having finished the comics, I recalled seeing dishes in the sink. One simply cannot rest in a house with the vertical Epic of Encrusted Cheese sitting waiting to be washed. I took a few minutes to do that, and went back to bed. Of course, I did take some bills with me, because lying in bed and paying bills is resting, if not pleasant. I then noticed that one of them needed to be mailed that day. The trip to the Post Office took just a few minutes; it was the dry-cleaners and the library which really ate up the time. I went back to bed just long enough to decide the sheets weren’t clean, and how restful are grubby sheets? Once I got the bed remade and a load of laundry started, I had a glorious fifteen minutes in bed before I had to get Daughter from school. The extra time definitely put a spring in my step. The bright eyes and pink cheeks, however, were due to the 102 degree fever.

Some might read this and see a pathetic creature, unable to take time for herself, even when her health is stake.

I see a woman of rare strength who can overcome a formerly fatal disease with only a half hour of extra rest and a really potent little antibiotic.

I see a mother who didn’t let fever-fueled hallucinations keep her from freeway driving.

I see a woman who, although winded by walking across the bathroom, could still find the lung capacity for a lecture entitled “The cat doesn’t want to wear accessories”.

I am woman, hear me wheeze.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Keeps on Giving

The bell tinkled over the door as I walked into the toy store, having finally found its front door down an alleyway. The woman behind the counter welcomed me, apparently thrilled with a customer. I complimented her on the store, and asked if it was new.

“We opened about two months ago.”
“How’s it been going?” I enquired.
“A little slow, but the people who have stopped by have said they will come back when they need a toy” she said brightly, only a hint of panic in her eyes.
“I’m sure they will” I agreed, and walked around a bit before taking my leave. She hadn’t even opened her printed stationery yet, and she was doomed.

Back on the sidewalk, I was torn. As part-owner of a small business (, I feel empathy for anyone displaying the courage to open a store. At the same time, the predatory, reptilian part of my brain thinks “Good…Presents for the gift drawer within 90 days”. One can choose to open a toy store on a block with no parking for customers. One can choose to open a toy store between a burned-out apartment building and a casket showroom. One can choose to open a toy store across the street from Toys R Us. But when the inevitable happens and you’re forced to close the store and sell your inventory for 50% off, I will be there. I am the Angel of Death in Lilly Pulitzer.

I am not callous. Given my druthers, I would avoid the Consumer Deathwatch at all costs but Daughter goes to ten birthday parties a month. I think some of her classmates have four birthdays a year. I have taken her to two birthday parties in a single day (I could be convinced to do a third in one day, but the venue better have a hard liquor license), and all of these rapidly aging children require presents. I have established an upper price limit on all but her closest friends, but the sad fact is nearly everything in my price range is crap. I’m talking the kind of junk that fails at the basic requirements of whatever it is supposed to do — pouring cups that leak, trains whose wheels don’t roll in the same direction, baby dolls who spit blinding venom when held close to the child’s face (okay, maybe not, but the dolls in my price range are really ugly and look as if they might). My preferred option is to buy cuter, more expensive toys at deep discount.

Once the store in the alley lets out the death rattle, I’ll be there, grabbing everything suitable for a 4-7 year old with shelf space and a short attention span. If the item is good and reasonably priced, I will grab four or five, although nothing makes a person feel as uniquely awful as swooping down on someone’s broken dreams and buying in bulk. The store owner is behind the counter, alternately dabbing at her eyes, and hissing pleas to the credit card people that keep calling, and I come bounding up chirping, “Do you have any more Fairy Woodkins in the back of the store?”

I get the presents-to-be home and turn into the Jealous Keeper of the Gift Drawer. I worry that if I were to die suddenly, Consort would have no idea how to decide who gets what. The riddles of gift-giving go something like this:

1. Does Daughter know the child well? Could I identify this child in a crowd of three? If not, why the hell are we driving to Woodland Hills?
2. Do I owe the mother a favor? How big of a favor? I have a Mafia-like list of favors done and favors owed in my head, and while the gifts never get smaller due to the owing of favors, they can certainly get larger. Hold my daughter’s head when she throws up on the schoolyard, and your kid’s gift just doubled.
3. Is the parent mounting some extraordinary event? I will resent the snot out of you for hiring Cirque De Soleil for the afternoon but I will increase the value of your kid’s gift to reflect the magnitude of the spectacle.

Once these questions have been answered I am ready to make my choice. I do attempt to choose carefully, with an eye toward what I have seen the particular child playing with in the past, but in a pinch, I will always revert to the gender truisms of toys — girls appreciate pink and shiny; boys will never turn down a gift that might puncture someone’s trachea. It is then wrapped, bowed, and sent off to live with some child who might actually play with it for up to an hour before it is broken by their little sister/eaten by their dog/declared dead and buried in their side yard.

And, as the gift drawer empties, I am off again, hoping against hope someone’s decided to open a toy store next to a freeway on-ramp.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Weather or Not.

The children came tumbling and racing out of school, shorts fluttering in the breeze, jackets tied around waists. Well after the last racer hit the monkey bars, Daughter came out, placing one weary foot in front of another, sweaty hair plastered to her head. She croaked “Water” and plodded to the drinking fountain. My friend and fellow maternal traveler Veronica glanced at Daughter’s ensemble of turtleneck and corduroy jumper and enquired dryly “Trying to sweat a couple of extra pounds off of her in time for bathing suit season?”

I would have defended myself but I was applying a cold compress to Daughter’s neck. Once again, I failed at Things Everyone Knows.

Los Angeles gets four kinds of days:

1. Pleasant and sunny,
2. Monsoon,
3. Scorching, hell-no-longer-holds-fear-for-me hot, (This is when an Eyewitless news crew finds some poor bastard tiling a roof at noon, so we can all agree “Wow! It’s even hotter on a roof!” No one ever asks the guy whether it’s even hotter if you’re being asked stupid questions)
4. Overcast in the morning, warm in the afternoon.

The weather for the last week in Southern California has been overcast in the morning, warm in the afternoon. Every single day, overcast in the morning, warm in the afternoon. This is not complicated; this isn’t overcast in the morning, Pi to the 15th place in the afternoon. So someone please explain to me why every morning I stuck my head out, looked at the sky, and like some especially stupid groundhog, declared six more weeks of winter? I would drag out Daughter’s cold-weather options, and she would pick the one most suited to the Eisenhower administration and get dressed. I cringe to admit I even insisted on tights one day. By the time we got to school, only five miles away, the sun would already be breaking through and the first beads of sweat would be dotting her forehead.

The question is, why? What part of my brain failed to develop causing my daughter to have to wear ski pants in May? It’s a larger issue. Much like animals without opposable thumbs, when it comes to weather, I have no concept of future. There is only now. We will be going somewhere as a family, and Consort will say to me “I’m going to get Daughter a jacket, for when it gets cooler later. Did you get your jacket?”, and I stare at him blankly. Cooler? Later? But, it’s warm now. Now is all that there is. The sun will always be at the exact spot in the sky where it is now. Consort has a post-graduate degree, but it’s not in Psychology, so for a while there, he would try to reason with me.

“I know it isn’t cold now. But the sun will go down. And it will get cold.”
“It’s perfectly warm”
“I agree. Now it is perfectly warm. Later, at the beach, when the sun goes down, it will get cold”
“No, it won’t. It’s warm outside”

He stopped reasoning with me about the same time he stopped reasoning with the cat. Apparently, we were giving him the same shiny, unresponsive look. Consort just packs a spare jacket to casually hand to me when my teeth-chattering becomes irritating to people down the beach. He has also learned not to point out how the weather has changed as I become irritable and refuse to wear anything that would indicate my discomfort. Besides, Consort knows I am fully prepared to die of exposure in order to prove a point.

Heaven help me if rain is forecast for the afternoon, and the sky isn’t jet-black and threatening that morning. I refuse to accept that clouds move, and that a sunny morning isn’t an irrefutable indication of permanent good weather. I am convinced meteorologists are just trying to get everyone to pay attention to them when they predict afternoon showers. This meant that I and I alone was seen in Birkenstocks and shorts when we got a season’s worth of rain in one afternoon last month. I wrung them out and put them on again the next morning because the clouds broke for the length of time it took me to walk outside and get the paper. Every afternoon at Daughter’s school was a show I like to call “Quinn isn’t my real mommy”. I would slop into the schoolyard resembling a pile of used rags in summery colors carrying her raincoat and boots because, that morning, I had dressed her for the Perma-clime that lives in my head. Another day, I would wrap her in the outer layer of my sodden, warm-weather clothing and hustle her to the car, avoiding eye contact with the parents walking in, their umbrellas and waterproof shoes a sartorial mockery of my mothering skills.

Some day, I will prove my detractors wrong. Daughter will show up at school in a matching appliquéd shorts-and-shirt ensemble, or maybe a strappy little smocked dress; and I will have the last laugh. Oh, what a sweet November day that will be.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Take Me Out

We were in the car, coming home from the park, when from the back seat I heard

“What were those people doing in the park?”
I stiffened, but said casually,
“Which people?” (I knew exactly which ones)
“Those people behind the trees”
“Oh. That’s called soccer”
“It looked fun. I want to do it”
The car jerked slightly under my involuntary spasm. I did yoga breathing, and tried again.
“Soccer is for grownups. Most people wait until college to play soccer, or until they can drive. Some people” I added optimistically “wait until they are married to play soccer”

She saw a woman walking a poodle, and changed topics, but I was shaken for the rest of the day. I don’t think anyone is prepared for the first time their child wants to talk about soccer.

I cannot be a team parent. I would sooner donate a kidney -- at least with that, you get morphine. To look at soccer/baseball/basketball/Jai Alai schedules on the refrigerators of friends is to gaze at my own mortality. How is this any different from the cavalcade that you have now, you might ask, the locust storm of after-school activities that Daughter already takes? Diversity, my friend, diversity. At its worst, I see the same parents twice a week, for an hour, while our daughters take a class together. A team means months and months with the same parents, hours every week. I simply don’t have the kind of personality that can hold up to that kind of scrutiny. I know enough about me to know I will manage to hurt someone’s feelings before Month #1 has ended, and she will stop talking to me except in emergencies, which will lead her friends to shun me as well, resulting in strained silences on the bleachers. Eventually, I will form an unlikely friendship with the woman who lives behind the public bathrooms. It’s hard to get excited about a situation where you know that you are only one caffeinated blurt about how ugly stirrups pants are away from your own social exile.

Also, and this shouldn’t matter as much as it does, I hate nearly every sport. I had a brief love affair with the Celtics in the 80’s, and I do enjoy fencing, a sport notable for being nearly impossible to watch and understand. I could be talked into enjoying basketball again but no genetic descendant of mine is likely to be found towering over her peers. We are a “front line in school pictures” kind of people. For reasons only a gifted psychologist could ferret out, I have a particular loathing for soccer. And if Daughter were doing this soccer business, I’d have to learn something about it. I’d have to care about the fact that she cared, as opposed to actually caring about the thing she cared about. I could do it, but it would surely sap my goodwill away from the other emotionally generous things I do. I suspect the dog would take the brunt of it.

For a woman who is trying to downsize the corporation that is her Daughter, it is illogical to add a team of anything. To have your child join a sports team is to enter the Holy Order of Activity. You think this isn’t a religious calling?

1. Vow of poverty-- Have you priced equipment?
2. A Life of Prayer-- As I understand it, team parents spend most of their time pleading to any deity who might take an interest to “Please let my kid touch the ball intentionally”. This is followed by the ultimate prayer: “Please, please don’t make the playoffs”.
3. Chastity—it’s difficult to be one of those couples who manage to forget the weird noise the dryer is making and head into the bedroom for a night of Bored Housewife and the Sparkletts man, if you have to be up at 6:30 for the Pancake Breakfast and Tire Rotation fundraiser for the team.

So why am I bothering to write on and on about something I insist is never going to happen? Why am I not writing about something fun, like my inability to find flattering light in a single lingerie dressing room? Because I need to rail like this before I give in. If Daughter really wants this, of course I am going sign her up. The fresh air will be good for me (did I mention my natural skin color is that of Elmer’s Glue?). Daughter will learn new skills (I have seen children who, while waiting for some kind of ball to arrive in their sector, have wedged two fingers into a single nostril). Best of all, I will have plenty of time to write, sitting quietly on the far corner of the bleachers, after the popular Mom makes me a pariah.

I stand by what I said to her about stirrup pants, though.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

She's Got the Look

I don’t want to appear immodest but I would put my Scary Mother Look up against any mother out there; I am including Komodo dragons in this pool.

As with so many moments of greatness, my SML began in adversity. Everyone around me has a genetic advantage when it comes to creating fear in a glance. My mother has sky-blue eyes of the kind you usually only see squinting at the sea in books about Vikings. However, when she would get angry with me when I was a kid, they would get light. The lighter they were, the angrier she was. A couple of times, I pulled some stunt in public which left her with nothing but pupils and eyelids; she was a vengeful Little Orphan Annie. That gets the attention of even the most jaded child.

Consort and Daughter share an ability to scowl which makes anything I do in the category redundant. Consort has one expression I call “Happy Scowl”, this is how ubiquitous the expression is around here. So, when forced to create an expression that would strike fear and dread in my daughter while visiting Barnes & Noble, without having to raise my voice, I labored. For those who are now pregnant, or have been feeling a little stale in this category, I will now walk you through the development.

It had to be fierce enough to make her take her shoelaces out of her mouth mid-chew, but not so gargoyle that strangers would glimpse it and call Social Services. It had to say “I will remember this moment, and you will pay in non-essential objects you hold dear”, not “You’re going in the basement with all of those brothers and sisters you never met”. I wanted her walking nervously alongside me, perhaps trying to distract me with a knock-knock joke; not clutching at strangers for sanctuary. As to what part of my face it was going to involve, I was hesitant to use a furrowed brow. First, if I go back to bangs, I’m screwed. Second, I might choose to Botox at some point and wouldn’t want to handicap myself going forward. What my expression finally settled on was, if I may say so, a poem to subtlety. The lips thin a bit, as if to hint at words of judgment and censure being held back, but barely. The eyes widen slightly; I cannot believe any child I labored 40 hours to bring forth would start making yipping noises and pretending to be a terrier in Trader Joe’s. The jaw slides forward a touch, indicating that whatever degree of stubbornness she plans to use right now is dwarfed by the resources at my disposal. Is it attractive? Not in any traditional way. But I defy any mother of a small child not to find some beauty in it.

It even works on the children of other people. I was standing in line at the bank, feeling my blood pressure both spike and plummet as pointless waiting in line does for me, when I focused on the mother and child in front of me. The woman had the petite delicacy of someone whose family originated in Southeast Asia. Her husband, however, must be a draft horse, because their child bore an uncanny resemblance to Baby Huey. While no more than five, she was ¾ the size of her mother -- the mother whom she was idly punching in the hip and shoulder as a way to make the time pass. The mother, probably worn to a frazzle from having to cook eight meals a day for this hulking mass, stood there and dumbly accepted the beating. I however could not. I leaned slightly to the side, caught Huey’s eye, and gave her SML. She dropped her arm, which had been pulled back for a maternal roundhouse, and collapsed into her mother’s arms. True, it nearly knocked her mother over, but the thrashing ended. This is amazing to me, as I had no power over this child. I couldn’t take her nightly fifth helping of bacon fat away from her; I couldn’t yell at her, I couldn’t even bring this up for guilt currency for years to come. I had nothing but SML, and I came fully armed.

Once or twice, adults have accidentally stepped between Daughter and me when I was flashing this thing (Please don’t think that I am in constant SML, but if we’re in public, it has been known to break out). The mojo is so strong that they invariably look stricken, mumble an apology and dart for the exit. It never seems to occur to them that it might have nothing to do with them. It seems to hit the portion of their brain developed as a child, which says “Maternal figure is about to emit lethal radiation for…something. It might be your infraction; it might be a sibling’s infraction, but the one who keeps moving, lives”.

The fact that it spooks adults, some of whom are older than I am, heartens me. Long after I have lost all other leverage with Daughter, when she is staring condescendingly down at the top of my head, I will have this. Someday, God willing, I will be an extremely small, wizened woman using this on her grandchildren. Someone might have to point my head in the direction of the person I am trying to frighten, but once I’ve locked in, it’s all over but the apologizing.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Great Divide

If you heard Consort and me talking, you might think we both spoke English.
Information is conveyed with much nodding on both sides. Clearly, we’re getting something across. This is an illusion we achieve by reading body language and pointing to objects. In fact, we both speak some variation of English that is nearly intelligible to the other person -- it’s as if someone from the time of Chaucer was forced to order a Toffee Nut Frappucino. This leads to all sorts of misunderstandings that could be solved easily if only a simultaneous translator would offer their services. Please take note of the following situations-

Me: Are you ready to go?
Consort: Just about.

I hear: I am tying my shoes.
Consort means: I am seriously contemplating getting up.

Me: Will you be home for dinner?
Consort: I don’t see why not.

I hear: Set the table for three.
Consort means: At the peak of traffic, I will make a 25-mile trip to see someone I haven’t seen since college, when he donated a kidney to me. I will be there through Summer Solstice.

Consort is watching a 24-hour news channel, and sees something.

Consort: What the…what is wrong with this country? What is wrong with this country?

I hear: Due to questionable intelligence, America has now invaded New Zealand. Hoard supplies.
He means: There is videotape of a housecat in Virginia who can make pancakes.

One of our most profound language chasms comes in the area of Home Improvement. Since Consort is a perfectionist and I am indifferent, and we don’t speak the same language, what might have become a simple misunderstanding in any other household becomes a siege in ours. For anyone who has ever romanticized owning an older house, I want you to meditate on two words:

Standard. Size.

Our house was created by people, not machines. People who could put their passion and individual stamp on the house. People who also could have chosen to, say, drink moonshine before they come to work. When I first got the house, the drawers in the kitchen had some aggressively ugly handles. They had kind of a “HEY! You seen me? You find me unattractive? Well, ha ha ha, because there are seventeen more of me on this wall alone” thing going on. Of course, I took them off, only to find out that the handles must have been designed for this house alone, because they resembled no other handle in any known marketplace on earth (I actually think the designer of these handles was doing unspeakable things to women and children in his basement, and this was his cry to be discovered).

When we tried to put new handles in, by drilling new holes, we discovered the front of the cabinets was made of some kind of paper product that exploded upon contact with a drill. Since I had thrown away all but one of the old handles, we couldn’t go back. And there we were with more drawers than a morgue, and not a single handle. After three weeks of opening the cutlery drawer with a butter knife, Consort exploded:

Consort: That’s it! We have got to take care of this!

Quinn: Yeah.

Consort: We should just take off the facing and replace it. Do the retiling on the counter, while we’re at it.

Quinn: We should.

He hears: We are both in agreement, and will start collecting historically appropriate catalogues.

I mean: Living with a kitchen renovation will age me decades in weeks. The butter knife works just fine.

Six months pass. The weather changes and all of the drawers start sticking. The butter knife breaks off in the plastic-bag and aluminum-foil drawer. Consort stomps around a bit.

Consort: This is ridiculous! Let’s find a contractor. We’ll peel off all of the bad 1950’s renovations, finally finish the floor. We could even discover why if we try to put a bulb in the pantry light fixture, it makes that sizzling sound.

Quinn: We should do that. Soon.

Consort hears: Now, the work begins.

I mean: My small and nimble fingers no longer need the butter knife. As long as no one touches the pantry light fixture, we can go another year, easy.

Six years have passed in this house. He has stopped mentioning the drawers; I think he pretends we don’t have drawers in the kitchen. He simply keeps a supply of cutlery in the drying rack next to the sink. Rather than fight the drawers, which have grown surly and arrogant without handles, I just keep using the same three plastic storage bags over and over. I chalk it up to environmentalism. Apathy, once again, has battled passion and won.

The bad news is this work will never be done. The good news? When we retire to Florida, we will be able to include thirty years of Bungalow Renovation magazine in the price of the house.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Lost (Noun) Weekend

Verbatim conversation I had with a friend, also a mother, about someone she might know socially:

Me: Do you know Michael O’Neill?

Friend: The name sounds familiar.

M: He’s got kids the same age as ours. Also, he’s an actor, he was in….that movie….about a horse….it starred….What’s-his-name. Michael played…What’s-his-names father.

Friend looks blank.

M: (frustrated) you know What’s-his-name! He was… (Making motion of jabbing the open heel of my palm at her face…).

F: Oh, him! The one in…the horse movie. With that actor…from the…flower movie.

M: Yes. Him!

To an outsider, we sounded like a meeting of the Stroke Victims Support Club. In less than two minutes, we couldn’t remember the words Tobey Maguire, Seabiscuit, Chris Cooper or Adaptation. I completely forgot the name of Spiderman, a movie that was seen twice by every living creature on the planet, including krill and germs (yet, I could remember the gesture for throwing out a spider web). So, what I am asking today is: does anyone out there still have nouns readily available to them?

This is karmic retribution, I know. I used to tell my mother that living with her was an endless game of “$20,000 Pyramid”-

Mother: Have you seen the (making whirling gesture with her hands)?
Quinn: Things that are kitchen tools?
Mother: No, it’s a machine.
Quinn: Things that clean our clothes?
Mother: (frustrated) NO, you use keys in it.
Quinn: Things that are cars?
Mother: Yes! (Beat) Have you seen it?

And Consort endlessly uses my brain to file proper nouns that he isn’t using right now, and has no compunction about calling me from meetings-

Consort: Who is that actress I’m thinking of?
Quinn: I’m going to need more than that.
Consort: She was in the movies with…the brothers, she was always annoyed, and she wore jewelry.
Quinn: Margaret Dumont?
Consort: Thank you.
Quinn: You’re welcome. Please lose my phone number.

I didn’t mind providing this service to my mother; it meant that when I was annoyed with her, I could choose to keep a vital noun to myself and watch her writhe in frustration. I chalked up the holes in Consort’s memory to having gone to an art college and having had many chances to recreate pharmaceutically.

I was smug in the knowledge that I remembered everything. My brain was made of some kind of Velcro-like material that would serve me well for life. The fifth lead in a movie that I saw once; the names of Henry VIII’s wives, in order; the name of my parents’ silver pattern; I remembered it all. What no one could have convinced me of is that all of that information would stay forever, because none of those things are important. When brain damage comes, as it inevitably does after you give birth, the noun-sucking virus begins with essential words. I didn’t believe the word “Napkin” would leave my brain so thoroughly that I would be forced to say to a salesman,” I need eight…things…that you put in your lap when you are eating. Or tie around your neck if you’re having lobster. In blue, please”. The look of pity that crossed his face won’t leave me soon. I’m convinced he discreetly smelled my breath for schnapps. Had there been any history of Alzheimer’s in my family, I’d be at the Doctor’s office weekly.

At first, I thought that it was merely a function of sleep deprivation. There were points in the first year of Daughter’s life when I would lie down and start dreaming before I went to sleep, I was that tired. How could I possibly be expected to remember the name for the glass thing in the wall of my house, which you open for fresh air? When the sleep slowly eased back in and the symptoms persisted, I chalked it up to being a full-time, stay at home mother. I longed for the day when she went to school and I could converse with the wit of a Dorothy Parker, only sober and not suicidal (which really isn’t Dorothy Parker any more, now that I think about it). But, she’s in school now and I get enough sleep to safely operate heavy machinery, and the nouns are still gone. Apparently, the brain damage is permanent so I should just accept it and start carrying a sketch pad to carry me over the difficult spots.

The only people I can talk to these days are other parents. I need to know that I won’t be judged when I point to my purse and describe something as
“You know, like this, only you take them on planes. Sometimes they have wheels”. I also now understand why couples tend to socialize with other couples. It isn’t, at least in my case, fear of some nubile single woman reminding Consort that he is still a man [as long as I have taken half of his clothing to an unknown dry cleaner, he’s sticking around.] We socialize with other couples so that no one mocks us when one of us says “Oh, you know her. Small child who lives with us. What is her name?”

Friday, March 04, 2005

Drop Your Drawers

Has everyone got their protective eye gear and snake repellant? Good, because today, we’re heading into my junk drawer.

Junk drawer really understates it. I have an antique desk that has no less than three really capacious drawers in it. If I wanted to, I could rent two of the drawers out to other people and let them put their junk in there. If I lived in Manhattan, I could rent them out as studio apartments. But this is the only real estate in the house that is truly mine, and I hoard my trove of the worthless greedily.

I open the door in the desk that leads into the largest drawer, and Christmas cards that I bought on December 26th fall onto the floor, which is to be expected, as they don’t actually fit in there. However, they don’t fit anywhere else either, so there they must dwell. I comfort myself thinking, “the cards aren’t getting dented and covered in dog hair, only the box. And at least I’ll know where my half-price Christmas cards are when I need them.” The day after Thanksgiving, the boxes will go missing, not to be found anywhere. I will destroy the house attempting to find them, finally decide the dog has eaten them, scream at the dog, and buy new Christmas cards at full-price. In March, the Christmas cards will turn up in the storage space, several miles away, in a box labeled “Easter Basket Grass/Broken VCR/Breast Pump”.

Behind Land of Yule are several art and science projects that Daughter has done; or, as I like to think of them, fodder for Daughter’s future therapist. The pictures the children draw, I understand; these you put on the fridge until they get spaghetti sauce splatters and then discreetly replace them with new artwork. Three-dimensional productions, on the other hand, have the half-life of uranium. Daughter took an art class one Saturday, and came home with her very own sculpture. It was kind of The Thinker, if Rodin had worked in Styrofoam balls and poster paint. We kept it on the table for a week and then, when she was at school one day, I gave it a quiet burial in the Sea of Hefty. When she came home that afternoon, she for once put something in the trash, found her artwork, and brought it back to me, eyes ablaze.

“Mommy, you very nearly threw this out!”

We couldn’t have that, could we? She now keeps an eagle eye on me and her art. The Getty should have such security. I had to create a new policy where I keep something out for a week, and then slide it into the desk for another week or so. If she asks where it went, I can produce it triumphantly. After that, I figure it’s safe to jettison. This must happen under cover of night, however, and I’m usually asleep before I remember to empty the holding cell so this drawer currently contains:

1. A tiny faux terrarium in a baby food jar,
2. A crab made out of an egg crate,
3. A snake made out of an egg crate,
4. Gwyneth Paltrow made out of an egg crate.

Behind the Land of Arts & Sciences is a letter proclaiming I am a member of the genealogical society of a Midwestern state (I can only assume I am the youngest person in that group by at least one World War). There are also a pile of papers about my ancestors. This started off as something for the Daughter; my mother’s family has been in the United States over 200 years, and I wanted her to know about her background. However, this has devolved into a masochistic exercise for me. Did you go to your High School reunion and have someone come up who seemed to have been in every single class with you, and you had no idea who this person was? Imagine an entire family made up of these people. They had the ability to leave absolutely no impression whatsoever and did nothing of any consequence, either positive or negative (A friend has a direct ancestor who condemned Salem witches to death. How jealous am I?). My family has lived below the radar since long before there was radar. Others in my extended family have done research, as have I, and what we discovered is the one thing our family did exceedingly well: not dying before they bred.

Under the Land of the Dull are lists of books for children I have amassed. Not the books, mind you, just lists of them. Caldecott winners, best books for each decade, best books for each age, I am knee-deep in lists. But what I really need is a list of books about cats who are also Princesses who live in Fairyland and talk about eating candy for entire chapters. That’s the list in which my daughter would be interested.

Nestled below the Land of Books is a two-inch high stack of receipts. This represents every single home renovation that has been done since I moved in, no matter how picayune. I suspect that I could go through the pile and throw out the receipts for certain things like nails and sandpaper. But it would be depressing to see how much we have done and contemplate how squalid the house still is. Therefore, the papers lie quietly, unobserved and unloved, quietly becoming compost. I should probably fabricate some sort of wall covering with them.

And here, in the Land of Plumbing Estimates, is where we will take our leave. Perhaps another day, we shall strap on the miner’s hat and go into the middle drawer. If it is the right season, and we are very quiet, we might see the paper clips mating.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bodies in Motion

Conversation this morning:

It’s time to get up.

I’m tired.

I know, but it’s time to get up. You don’t want to be late for school, do you?

I think I’m sick. I coughed last night, and now I feel like throwing up.

Your forehead is cool, you’re fine.

You are sooooo unfair!!!

Quinn, get up.

Some of my most heated arguments are internal because right now, I am an unwilling participant in nearly all aspects of my life. Any suggestion from anyone to do anything draws a reflexive sigh and a pouty shoulder slump that hasn’t been seen since I was 14. If Jesus, Buddha and Yahweh showed up on my doorstep, arm in omnipotent arm, and invited me to lunch my response right now would be, “well, okay, but that means I have to find my shoes.”

It’s not depression. I have felt that black beast on occasion, and this isn’t it. It’s that my daughter is enriched and I am depleted. Because I have an only child and we live in a city full of neat things to do and learn, I have spent the better part of the last three years driving to distant neighborhoods and looking for signs that say things like Puppet Making for Pre-Schoolers or Love Them Lizards! A Herpetological Adventure for 3-5 year olds.

I do understand how the brain works. [Daughter took a weekend class called Nuts About the Nervous System and I picked up some facts. Sad fact number one: she is not going to remember any of these classes.]

Nor is this, I swear to you, a closet fixation to tee her up for Harvard, with Yale as her safety. It’s like this: an ex-boyfriend once described me as “idling higher” than anyone he ever knew. Apparently, I just have to keep moving, and giving birth didn’t change this. And, as an alcoholic probably isn’t well-served by living in New Orleans, the compulsively mobile person with a child shouldn’t live in Los Angeles. Even if you do nothing, you are still in your car for at least an hour every day. And my baby and I, we certainly don’t do nothing. If it’s cheap and age-appropriate, you’ve seen us there. Or, you have seen me circling the block outside, my mouth contorted into a spasm of rage as I stalk a parking space.

Of course, even I have a limit for enrichment activities. The thought of her schedule today makes me want to lie down on the floor, whimper, and kick my legs. And today’s a relatively simple day -- two after-school classes, but they are in the same place, consecutively. I hate that the trunk of my car looks like the dumpster behind Capezio (I tried describing it as a Capezio warehouse but Consort said unsympathetically “No, a warehouse is organized"). I am tired of finding hobbies that can be done while sitting in unstable folding chairs in narrow hallways. I know, I built this little life. But now I have to find a way to pare it down or, failing that, finesse an open-ended Valium prescription.

Cutting back isn’t going to be easy. I have helped create a child whose first response upon seeing something new and interesting is “I should take a class in that!” And who doesn’t want to encourage that kind of passion for learning?


So, I am now going to do my impersonation of Martin Luther, and nail some new rules up on the Church of Enrichment.

1. Daughter is taking Spanish in school. Ergo, I am not responsible for finding her a class in Mandarin, no matter how pretty she thinks the Chinese restaurant menus look.
2. Daughter may take one dance class a week. Said dance class should be proximal to my house. No matter how much she may like the outfits, I am not driving across town to a Flamenco class. She may click castanets at home, if she feels so inclined.
3. I understand that Math scores are improved by learning piano. However, I do not have the strength right now to take on any activity that comes with a nightly nag (“I want to hear you practicing young lady, and I mean now!”).
4. If the sports equipment is taller than she is, I don’t have to think about it yet. No tennis, no skiing, no fencing. This also includes French Horn and Harp.

Down time is important. Boredom, for children, is part of growing up. The rest of her life is not going to be centered on feeding her fun facts and themed snacks. I now understand that a mother who doesn’t have to take yoga to get rid of cheap-chair sciatica is a better mother in the long run.

As soon as we finish the Shakespeare for Tots season, and the History of Rabbits in Painting class at the museum, we are so kicking back.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Mini-Love, Mini-Hate

I picked up Daughter at gymnastics today, and girded my loins for the conversation ahead of me. We got to the parking lot, and her eyes widened in delight.

“Yay,” she crowed “you bought a mini-van!”

“Rental, sweetie,” I snapped. “Don’t get too comfortable”

My daughter is a lobbyist for the Ugly Auto PAC. For the last year, she has been on a tear to get me into a mini-van, and I simply cannot figure out the appeal. Why would a girl who is a founding member of the Church of All Things Should Look Cute respond so profoundly to a car that looks as if it should be transporting shut-ins to podiatric appointments? Is it the square footage heretofore unavailable to her, the opportunity to create a moving museum to Hello Kitty? Or is it evolution? The mother driving this might be spotted by Viggo Mortensen at a stop light, but he certainly won’t follow her home and convince her to move to Tahiti. He might, however, ask her where the nearest Target is -- she would know.

It’s not as if I drive a Porsche Boxster the rest of the time. My own car inspires no adjectives beyond “Practical” and “Generic”, but at least it doesn’t suck all of the life force out of me when I'm behind the wheel. You can drive my car and, I sincerely hope, retain a shard of cool. It might, conceivably, be possible to retain a teaspoon of cool in a mini-van, but you would have to start off with buckets of cool to begin with.

Pools of cool.

The Sargasso Sea of cool.

Would Johnny Depp retain a degree of heat behind the wheel of a Town & Country? Possibly, but are we willing to take that risk?

If you drive a mini-van, and your windows are open, you cannot listen to Beyonce. If you listen to “Crazy in Love,” you will sing and car-dance to “Crazy in Love”. People in other cars who see you singing and dancing will not be reminded of Beyonce Knowles; they will be reminded of high school and finding their mother singing along to “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, which made their feelings about Sting all blurry and weird for several months. The only music that can come from your stereo in a mini-van is either Radio Disney or “Last Train to Clarksville”. If you like, you may listen to “The Bridges of Madison County” as a book on tape.

If you drive a mini-van, you may not wear anything stylish. You can certainly try, but it will be futile. You will step into the driver’s seat wearing an edgy little Helmut Lang suit that somehow references the fall of the Berlin Wall in the cut of its lapels; you will leave the mini-van wearing light blue denims, white Reeboks, and a cardigan that announces you went to Disneyworld and have a special affinity for Goofy. You will suddenly own a theme sequined sweatshirt for each major holiday. Your husband will open his closet to find that everything in there has now been designed by Docker.

If you drive a mini-van, your bumper must not remain unadorned. The world wants to know that one child was citizen of the month at his school, another plays soccer, and your daughter enjoys riding quarter horses. If you don’t put on a bumper sticker that is about your child one will be applied for you. But be warned, they will probably give you the I my Irish Step-Dancing Son sticker.

If you drive a mini-van, you must coach something. No one cares if you are a great coach; you don’t even need to know the rules. What is incumbent upon you is to roll up to the parking lot next to the field of play at some ungodly early hour, and bound out wearing a whistle. You may wear clothing, if you like, but the whistle is the key element. You don’t even need to let a team know that you have decided to coach them; just find a game in progress and yell “Let’s see some hustle!” Having seen you come out of a mini-van, each team will assume that you belong there. Later, you can share orange slices with the real coaches and compare Dockers.

On the other hand, the mini-van has one magical power: it renders you completely harmless to the outside world. The driver of a mini-van gives off all the “threat” vibe of a newborn guinea pig. I might think about buying one if I were a felon. I could be dealing cocaine out of the sliding side panel, Daughter sitting in her car seat waving a Glock at people, and any cop driving by wouldn’t even slow down.

“Huh,” he would think “must be some Girl Scout thing”.