Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Mayor of Simpleton

If you have seen me in person, there are a few things I need to clarify:

1) I’m not actually incontinent. But I can see where you would get that impression.

Every weekday morning I drink hot tea. I make one cup to get me through waking up Daughter, arguing about brushing her teeth and whether she needs to wear her formal Easter dress to school. Just as we are finishing the last bits of morning junk, I make a second cup to take with me in the car. This is to give me the energy to hold up my side of the “why can’t the class rat stay with us this weekend?” debate.

Someone once pointed out that if my car were to be rear-ended, the piping-hot beverage in the cup holder would catapult between the seats and might very possibly splash into Daughter’s face. I’m not comfortable with my daughter needing progressive skin grafts because I like to drink and drive, so every weekday morning I put the travel cup of tea between my knees while we drive to school. And every weekday morning, while making my first left-hand turn, I hit the cup with my elbow and knock the tea into my lap.




I have yet to drop Daughter off at school where I am not frantically trying to air out the lap of my pants. I carry the now half-full cup of tea into school with me so when people stare at me with pity and concern, I can smile weakly and wave the cup as if to say, “It’s OK. Not urine. Just scalding hot liquid.”

2) On weekends, Daughter has free rein with her wardrobe. For anyone who might have seen us today, it is imperative you understand that I didn’t say “Gosh, honey, you know what would go really well with pink and orange Madras Capri pants? Your black cowboy boots! Now, let’s just put a green bow in your hair and slip on a faded USC t-shirt (colors: cardinal and gold), and we’re off! Nordstrom’s will crown you their queen!” I was able to veto the purple sequined dress-up purse. Nevertheless, she was very pleased with the overall effect so for most of the day I tried to give the impression of being a kindly stranger helping this little girl back to her real family of carny-folk.

3) Contrary to a rumor going around, Daughter and I do not live out of my car. But, I must admit, we do keep enough inventory in there to stock a modest tract house. First, there are foodstuffs and beverages of varying kinds. In an emergency, I suspect we could invert Daughter’s car seat and, shaking it vigorously, reclaim about 1,500 calories in crumbs, raisins and naturally aged morsels of string cheese.

I have four changes of clothing for Daughter, and one for myself. Nothing suitable for presentation at Court, I’m sure, but we could go a couple of days dressing from the contents of the back seat before people started to talk.

I have books and magazines for Daughter as well as myself. These tend multiply like fruit flies and collect in the foot well of the back seat. This can be explained by the fact that we both have a habit of walking out of the house reading something, and no complimentary habit of walking back in to the house reading something.

Because Daughter doesn’t like to be in any environment where a scratch only visible to an electron microscope cannot be covered, I have Band-aids. Five hundred thousand band-aids.

I have about ten empty glass bottles rolling around because I cannot throw away a perfectly recyclable ice-tea bottle; yet as with the books, I cannot seem to remember to take it back inside. As we drive around, the bottles tend to roll back and forth into each other creating a low-rent alternative to wind chimes.

I even have something resembling an outdoor play area in the back seat. No matter how thoroughly I brush her off before we get back in the car, Daughter deposits six ounces of playground sand on the floor every day. Sometimes, at long stop lights, I can relax by getting down on the floor and making sand angels.

In short, Daughter and I are one rooftop rocking-chair away from becoming the Clampetts.

4) If you ever hear me saying to Daughter, “Do that again and there will be consequences”, it means that while I don’t like the current behavior, it’s relatively new, and I don’t know yet whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony. Sometimes, just uttering the word “Consequences” stops the behavior in its tracks; or at least buys me a few minutes to decide whether the punishment is going to warrant the pediatric version of community service or hard time.

Lately, Daughter has been threading her own snare. She’ll squint up at me and say “What kind of consequences?” as in, “Is the punishment worth the sensation of throwing the bag of flour one more time?”

I stare at her levelly and say coolly, “What do you think I mean?”

She gets nervous and blurts out whatever luxury happens to be in the front of her mind. I will then nod sagely and say “Yes, that is what you will lose”. It’s like some maternal martial art, where I use her love of Barbie against her.

My understanding of karma tells me that about thirty years from now Daughter will be saying to me, just as icily, “Which nursing home do you think I mean when I say ‘consequences’?”

And don’t you just know I’ll be so busy blotting tea out of my lap that I’ll tell her?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Mother Load

For any woman reading this who is not yet a parent or pregnant, but is considering the Life of Maternity, I offer some unexpected benefits to being a mother. For example, after becoming a mother, certain words acquire a new depth of meaning. There are the expected ones:




But there is also: Humiliation.

Sure, you’re all familiar with the occasional humiliation:

- Someone opened the dressing-room door, exposing you to the rest of the store while you were trying on a thong bikini for which you really hadn’t prepared for, wax-wise.

- During a staff meeting, your boss took a half-hour to explain exactly what a company liability you were.

- Your boyfriend decided the ideal place to break up was at Thanksgiving, at his parents table, where his hard-of-hearing uncle started demanding of his eight-year old niece that she repeat, loudly, the essence of the conversation:


We’ve all suffered the occasional awkward moment, but if you desire the constant possibility of gross public humiliation, may I suggest a child? A child who can sit quietly in her stroller as you walk through a department store and who, unbeknownst to you, can grab low-hanging items and hide them under her blanket, thereby setting off a whooping alarm as you leave the premises? Retail security guards are well-known for their open-mindedness and their willingness to believe that a not-quite-two-year-old would have both the agility and the motivation to grab seven pairs of ankle socks and a four perfume bottles off the displays. One security guard berated my friend at the exit near the food court for trying to steal things, and then switched to berating her about being a terrible mother. The people waiting at Cinna-bun had a marvelous show with their meal.

Not humiliating enough? How about the three year-old who waited until he and his mother were stuck in an endless grocery line, with nowhere to hide, when the boy decided to tell his new best friend, The Complete Stranger Next To Him, how he caught his parents having sex in the living room. He speaks quite clearly for a three year-old, but somehow, you already knew that. And of course, the shopper at the cash register had only Bulgarian currency and was quite insistent on being allowed to use it, so there was plenty of time for this child to do his entire monologue. After Sex I Have Seen, my friend’s son moved neatly into a medley of obscene songs his older brother had taught him. He finished his program with a physical demonstration of how their dog looked when it defecated. On the way home, my friend called her gynecologist from the car, demanding a tubal ligation that very afternoon.

And how about: Privacy.

How can I keep forgetting to lock the door when I enter the bathroom? More intriguing, perhaps, is what kind of compelling pheromones do I emit when I enter the bathroom at home, and why must everyone be drawn to them?


I walk in and shut the door. At moment of maximum need for personal space, the door bursts open and Daughter strolls in.


QUINN: What did I say about knocking before coming in to the bathroom!

Daughter tries to remember, decides whatever I said was superfluous, and cheerfully ignores me.

DAUGHTER: I want pizza for dinner.

QUINN: Well, this isn’t a restaurant, you had pizza two nights ago, and it’s nine-thirty in the morning. Did we really need to discuss this now?

DAUGHTER: I cut my leg. I need a Band-aid.

QUINN: Where?

DAUGHTER: In the medicine cabinet.

QUINN: No. Where did you cut your leg?

Daughter cannot find said wound on her leg.

DAUGHTER: It’s on my hand.

QUINN: Please go find your father and talk to him and let me have some privacy.

Daughter leaves. After a beat, there is a knock.

QUINN: Person in here.

CONSORT: I know, she said you wanted to talk to me.

QUINN: No, I want you to talk to her. I want you and me to have some mystery left in our relationship, so can I please have some time to myself?

CONSORT: Of course. Of course.

In the hallway, I hear Daughter approach.

DAUGHTER: What did Mommy want?

CONSORT: She wants some alone time, sweetheart. Let’s go for a walk.

DAUGHTER: I don’t want to.

The dog, having heard the word “Walk”, comes prancing over to Consort and Daughter. The dog needs her nails trimmed, so now, along with listening to my family debate a walk, it sounds as if the road company of 42nd Street is warming up outside the bathroom.

CONSORT: Put on some shoes, sweetie, and we’ll go out for a nice walk.

DAUGHTER: May I wear my new shoes?

Simultaneous, from two different sides of the door:

CONSORT: Sure, whatever. QUINN: Not the new shoes!

Daughter stands closer to the door and negotiates.

DAUGHTER: Pleeease?



QUINN: Not your new school shoes.

Door slams open again. Daughter and dog enter as one; Consort stands in the threshold, looking apologetic. The cat slips through the open door and starts batting around a disposable razor.

DAUGHTER: I want to wear my new shoes!

Seeing no hope of ever being alone, I offer a compromise.

QUINN: How about cowboy boots?

DAUGHTER: (After a sulking beat) Fine.

Consort tries to hustle everyone out, but Daughter stands her ground.

QUINN: What?

DAUGHTER: I have to go to the bathroom. You all have to leave.

Humiliation no longer holds much fear for me, but I would like a bit of privacy back. And two smooth legs at the same time strikes me as a reasonable ambition.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Control Top

I don’t have control issues, you can ask anyone. In fact, let me print out a list of the people you can call, the best times to reach them, and what you should say once you get them on the phone.

I’ve never had control issues. I just know quite a bit about how certain things would go best. It’s not as if I’m irrational about this. If you drive across town, I might suggest the best short-cut. If you have an appendectomy, I probably won’t scrub up and give pointers to the surgeon. Unless, of course, you’re a very good friend and I think I might have seen the surgeon on Dateline for some reason that might possibly have had something to do with malpractice. And then it’s really about your needs and not mine, right?

But parenthood seems to take the least-attractive aspects of your personality -- the parts you’ve spent years shoving into a lead-lined vault in the deepest recess of your brain -- and shines a klieg light on them. My desire for control doesn’t show up all the time in my mothering. Anyone who has seen the inside of my car can testify to this. I went from a policy of “No food in my car, ever” to “Please don’t spear your ravioli until we’re at a stoplight”.

Still, there are certain things I simply cannot let go of.

Play-Doh breaks my heart. It really does. It arrives in the house in its neat little cylinder; lid forced on so securely it takes both hands and sometimes my teeth to open it for the first time. Once inside, I slide out the perfect, untouched fat little tube of color, the nothing-else-like-it smell redolent of my own childhood, the sheer neatness of it a marvel of engineering.

I hand it to Daughter, asking plaintively “Please don’t mix it with another color, and please put it back into the cylinder when you’re done so it doesn’t dry out.”

I might as well be a field mouse asking a Red-tailed hawk to keep an eye on my kids while I get some seeds. We all know what’s going to happen. I walk out of the room, and come back minutes later to find Daughter making flattened circles out of several colors. I ask tightly “Hey, whatcha doing?”, and she answers “Making pancakes for the fairies”. I cannot help but smile at the sweetness of it, and the fact that if she keeps the pancakes separated I can return each color to its own cylinder. She stacks each color carefully on top of another and just as I am about to suggest, “Now, don’t press down too hard on those, so we can…”, her fist comes down on the fairy breakfast, mooshing all the colors together at the molecular level.

“Uh, honey. What was that about?” I moan.

She answers vaguely, “The fairies said they wanted stew instead”.

She feeds the invisible fairies their Goulash of Many Colors while I find some occupational therapy picking tiny bits of Play-Doh off of the kitchen table. I am comforted, however forlornly, that these gnat-sized flecks are untainted by another color. When the time comes to put everything away, she divides the now swirled-mud Play-Doh into four or five cylinders, replacing the color-coded lids randomly. I clamp the lids down airtight but I also know with dull certainty that unless Daughter wants her pretend fairies to eat Louisiana bayou sludge, she’s never going to play with this stuff again.

And then there is me at her Gymnastics class. Why am I the only mother there who is assiduously reading a book? Do I care so little for my only child? Or it is because I care too much? Let’s just say I have a hunch that screaming at her across the gym floor would, over time, be detrimental to her emotional well-being. The way I see it, she’ll either complain to the therapist about how I never paid any attention to her in class, or she’ll relate through chattering teeth about the time I shrieked, in front of seventy-five people, “Would you stop tugging at your leotard like that! Do you have to pee?”

Between the potentially limb-splintering activities Daughter is practicing on the mat, the girl doing back flips next to Daughter (missing her sweet little skull by microns), and Daughter’s constant removal of wedgies, there is no benefit to me looking up at all. I can only watch the class if I pretend that by some strange occurrence, Daughter has cloned a doppelganger who happens to take the same class Daughter does.

Finally, there is Lite-Brite. Hours of fun! Days of cleaning! After creating a picture I named “Possibly Boat or Maybe Clown”, Daughter and I hand-swept the floor, put the pegs away, closed up the box, and put the box away. An hour later, I stepped on an orange peg which had secreted itself in the floorboards. I unscrewed it from my foot and put it away. Five o’clock in the morning, the cat found a lavender one and swatted it around the house until I couldn’t stand it any more. I got up, removed the peg from the cat, snuck into Daughter’s room, pulled out the box, and put it away. The following morning, while squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush, I found a clear peg nestled in the bristles. Daughter and I shared a bonding experience putting this one in the box together. While searching for a parking stub in my car the next day, I found a red peg in the ashtray. This is one of those times when the Control Freak leg-wrestled with the Good-Enough Mother. The Control Freak put up a fight but eventually admitted defeat and, even though we would no longer have an equal inventory of every color, I threw it away.

Yeah, I’m out of control.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pillow Talk

Forgive me if I seem a little light-headed, but we attended a birthday party on Saturday and another on Sunday. If you cut me, I believe I would bleed sheet cake right now. Not Daughter, however; she’s powered by butter cream and butter cream only. In the four years she has been eating birthday cakes, she has eaten no more than four grams of actual cake. She views the stuff as a delivery system for frosting. She’s also been known to body-check another child in order to get his slice of cake, if it included the rosette. And this is a slight digression, but has anyone else noticed that frosting dye gets on the skin and clothing of children and doesn’t come off for days? Long after the cake has been digested, you are still scrubbing Cinderella-blue frosting dye off of their ears.

But this isn’t actually my topic for today. At the first party, I was eavesdropping on two mothers I don’t know very well, and came in right about here:

MOTHER #1: …hasn’t slept in his own bed since the night we brought him home from the hospital.

MOTHER #2 (Gasping) And I thought I was the only one with a five year-old in my bed!

MOTHER #1: Oh, please. We’re everywhere.

I started to think. How many familial sleep configurations were represented in this backyard? I walked around the party and brought up the conversation as naturally as I could with friends and acquaintances, and I quickly noticed a trend. Every mother started off looking a little guilty. She would then explain what the plan for the ideal night’s sleep was. Finally, in a gush of shame, she would mumble how her family actually slept. I have not heard about so much bed-hopping since my early twenties.

None of the following names are real.

BETH: Well, we have the baby in with us at night, because he’s still nursing, and Brandon sleeps in his big boy bed…unless he has a nightmare, then he comes in to our bed. Usually then, I’ll put the baby in his crib in our room, because Brandon sometimes bites the baby accidentally.

KATE: The twins were Ferber-ized, so they’re pretty good sleepers. They go to bed at eight, and don’t get up until six-thirty. (Pause) Except for lately, because Stefano has started sleep-walking into the kitchen and eating condiments. Also, Alex is wetting the bed again, and I need to wake him at eleven and make him go to the bathroom so, right now, I’m sleeping on an air mattress in front of their door. The doctor says the sleepwalking should stop in a few months, and then I’ll go back to my own bed.

ELLEN: I’ve been lucky; Iris has always been a great sleeper. She listens to James Taylor singing “Shower the People” eight times (Thank God for that repeat button on the CD player, right?), hears me read “Olivia Saves the Circus”, and recites the name of every person she loves, and she’s out. Unless, of course, she saw something scary that day. Yesterday morning, for instance, we went out to get the newspaper and there was this big spider sitting on it. So, last night, I had to lie on the floor so she could hold my hand until she fell asleep. Of course, I fell asleep before she did. I woke up at two-thirty in the morning, in the dark, lying on the floor, my hand completely numb, and no idea how I got there. (Pause) Mostly, though, she’s a great sleeper.

BONNIE: Emily’s room is down the hallway from ours, and it’s pretty quiet in there after nine. That’s because I am in Emily’s bed, because Emily only falls asleep if she can play with my hair. Somewhere in the night, she must get hot, because she usually gets out of her bed and goes in and sleeps next to her father. But she kicks, so usually when I wake up in the morning, he’s asleep on the couch. I’m pretty hopeful this is going to resolve itself soon, because Emily’s cousin has invited Emily to spend the week, and I told Emily I am not packing my hair in a bag to take with her.

When I was talking to two of these women, they were standing with a third woman who was due momentarily with her first child. This soon-to-be mother listened in confusion to these chaotic evenings, and said, finally, “But how can you have any intimate time with your husband?”

The women looked at her kindly. She had labor to contend with. There was no need to give her any shocking news right now. She shuffled off to the bathroom, and those of us with small children laughed until we wept.

Intimate time? As in: “Hey, sweetie, let me just figure out whether your son ate the cat food or just put it on his lips, and then I’ll go put on something pretty”? Or: “I could be talked into sex, as long as we’re done in twenty minutes, because I need to wake her up for her ear-drops”?

Actually, a father who, without being badgered, took over the ear-drop dosing would qualify as the perfect Mr. Romance for most women I know. The thing I didn’t understand at the end of my pregnancy -- the thing my bathroom-bound friend doesn’t understand yet -- is how easy it is to plan to compartmentalize your life as a parent, and how nearly impossible it is to enact. That kid will go everywhere you go and instinctively claim anything you value, including your time, your sanity and your furniture. Even the marriage bed, the place (one would hope) of naughtiness of fun, becomes the first place your children head for when suffering from explosive diarrhea. I don’t know any mothers who are managing to keep even a small part of themselves unsullied by their kids.

But then, every mother I talked to ended up saying a variation of the same thing:

“Hey, it’s not like this is forever. Today, he needs to kick me in the shins to sleep: tomorrow, he’s getting married”

I am starting to wonder, though, if we’re creating a generation of children who will require us to go on their honeymoon with them.

“Mommy, I need you to get on a plane to Fiji. The airline lost the bag of hair you gave me, and I haven’t slept in two nights”.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Workin' in a Coal Mine

I would think most people agree as to what constitutes a hard job. Lifting heavy things for twelve hours a day would be hard job. Performing hours of microsurgery is probably a bit taxing. A Sherpa who guides clueless Americans up Mount Everest would certainly get a workout for the thighs. And while I would never imply what I did this week was anywhere near those jobs, I would propose that being interviewed on-camera is not so fabulous. I was interviewed yesterday for an hour, and I’m still avoiding the sound of my own voice. For anyone who thinks being interviewed is part of the Cavalcade O’Glamour which is the entertainment industry, please read on.

Let me describe the physical details. First, it’s always hot and airless. The lights are large, bright, close, and directed right at you. The noisy air conditioner has to be off during taping, otherwise the audience might miss something meaningful you’re droning on about. So you sit there, painfully aware of how your carefully applied foundation and powder is slowing beading up and dribbling down into your shirt collar, where it meets your hair which is changing from a meticulously casual coif to a damp noose around your neck. If you are lucky, there is a hair and make-up person whose job it is to make sure you don’t look as if you are under indictment or melting from Ebola. Yesterday, I had no such person, and no easy access to a mirror, so I was left saying plaintively to the guy holding the microphone, “How do I look?” knowing full well as long as I didn’t eat his microphone, he thought I looked fine. If you think I am being overly shallow about my appearance, please remember this sweaty image of me will be seen on cable reruns until our sun burns out.

So what is being interviewed like? Imagine a first date. Imagine a first date where the other person only asked questions, and never leapt in and added things to what you were saying: didn’t laugh, didn’t interject and never met your story with a story of his own. I never notice how much language is a social interaction until I am being interviewed and I realize that this person will let me talk forever. Yesterday, the producer would ask a question, I would give my regulation answer, with the appropriate anecdote, and then wait a beat. The producer would stare at me, and I would think Oh, he wants more. So I would dither, blather and then try to bring it home with some sort of tie-in. There would be a pause, and he would ask the next question. This is the conversational equivalent of piano-tuning.

The producer sits directly to the side of the camera and feeds you questions. However, since he won’t actually be part of the show, you have to rephrase his questions into your answer, in order to make it a fully-contained thought. It sounds very natural, in a “Learn English in 15 Days” tape sort of way:

“What is your favorite color?”

“I would have to say my favorite color is florescent orange”

If done right, you should sound as if the only topic you find endlessly compelling is yourself. If you are me, you start having thoughts after the tenth rephrased answer along the lines of “What kind of monomaniacal jackass do I sound like? Someone watching this is going to think I buttonhole people on the street and, unprompted, tell them my favorite memory of the People’s Choice Awards”

There is another problem with my doing interviews. There is always the bit where I talk about what I am doing now (, but mostly they want to talk about what amounts to four years of my childhood. I have been talking for twenty years, more or less, about those four years, and let’s just say I’m pretty much over the novelty. I don’t blame the producers who write the questions. If the audience is watching a show about people who were actors as children, they’re going to want to know:

How did the child get started acting,
Did the child like it,
How was (Insert name of famous co-star),
What was it like when it was all over.

But you must realize, I am entering my third decade of telling the same anecdotes so it’s not as if am suddenly going to remember something new.

QUINN: I remember walking on to my first job, which was a commercial…no, wait, I just remembered! My first acting job was Hamlet in the nude! I played Hamlet's mother! Mrs. Hamlet! Polonius was played by Danny Bonaduce!

My job on those questions is to vary my intonations enough so that the viewing audience doesn’t notice that I have slipped into a waking coma. But I cannot leave and go to my Happy Place completely, because there is always the Inappropriate Question. There is always at least one question posed to the interviewee that the interviewer wouldn’t have the balls to ask his own brother-in-law. But former celebrities such as me are exempt from the basic laws of social interaction, so I got these two:

"So you made a lot of money, right?"

I want anyone reading this to recall the last time a stranger asked you that question. You were in a bar, and he was one Kamikaze away from vomiting on his own shoes, right?

And then there’s the inevitable:

"What kind of trouble did you get into as an adolescent?"

May I be forgiven for the response I choked back, which was “Less than average. How about you? Ever catch any STD’s?”

I know these questions are there to create a fun show, and I do appreciate that. But part of the reason I stopped acting, as I have said before, is that I don’t find being poked for public amusement very relaxing. Much like a pill-bug, my instinct is to curl up and wait until the predator finds an easier meal.

I do these shows now in order to benefit The Hiphugger, and they do. But I cannot help but feel like Norma Desmond, waxing rhapsodic over how the child actors of today don’t have faces like we used to (If you don’t know the reference, it’s Sunset Boulevard, and it’s worth renting right now). This whole acting thing was great fun, but, hour for hour, ballet took up a larger percentage of my life, and left a longer imprint on me. But my bunched-up calf muscles don’t increase sales for The Hiphugger, and my brief acting career does.

So look for me on any of your major cable channels in perpetuity. I’ll be the sweaty one telling the same damn story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Conversation Peace

I sometimes wonder if the psychologists who wax rhapsodic over the importance of the Family Dinner have ever participated in one. The fact remains; we love each other dearly, but have painfully different definitions of what constitutes fascinating table talk:

CONSORT: What’s everyone been up to today?

DAUGHTER: Jason told me a joke. Why…why did the…why did…

(We wait and chew. The cat attempts to jump on the table)

DAUGHTER: Look! Lu wants my chili!

(I swat cat off table lightly)

DAUGHTER: I want to give Lulabelle a bowl of chili!

QUINN: No, sweetheart. (Prompting) Why did the…?

DAUGHTER: Oh, yeah. Why did the rooster cross the road?


DAUGHTER: Because he had poop on his tail!

(She chortles heartily at this. Consort and I attempt a supportive expression. I turn to Consort)

QUINN: How was your day?

CONSORT: Busy. I got over to Frye’s on the way home, and you wouldn’t believe how cheap 80 gigs is getting. Back in the early nineties, I remember getting a …

(I will spare all of you the following paragraph. Suffice to say, an 80 gig hard-drive used to cost a great deal more than it does now. Hard Drive Chat makes me long for Golf Chat. I feign attention. Daughter plays with food and tries to lure the cat back on to the table).

CONSORT: (Five minutes later) …which makes me think we should have gotten the bigger monitor.

(There is a pause, and I realize with a start that I am supposed to contribute something)

QUINN: That crazy Bill Gates.

(Consort stares at me. Apparently, I did not raise the level of discourse. Mercifully, the cat jumps on the table. Consort brushes her off)

DAUGHTER: Why can’t Lulabelle eat on the table?

QUINN: It’s unsanitary, sweetheart.

DAUGHTER: What does that mean?

QUINN: Gross. Besides, she has a bowl and a place to eat. She doesn’t need to be on the table, eating grated cheese (Having been focused on Daughter, I look over now and realize Lulabelle is on the table, whisker-deep in the Cheddar. I scoot her off and remove the cheese to the sink).

CONSORT: (To me) How was your day?

QUINN: Productive, sort of. And I started reading an interesting book at the gym.

CONSORT: (Fearfully) Really?

A side note: I am the most girlishly squeamish movie-watcher in the world: I actually flinch when someone gets slapped. This makes it ironic that I am endlessly fascinated by non-fiction books on subjects which would turn the stomach of an ambulance driver. I also have some personality deficit which prevents me from recognizing not everyone finds post-mortem putrefaction compelling.

DAUGHTER: May I be excused? I have to go to the bathroom.

QUINN: Yes. (Back to Consort) You’d like this book; it’s partially a history of Manhattan.

(Consort relaxes slightly)

QUINN: During the Influenza epidemic of 1917, 500 people were arrested in New York for violating “Spitless Sunday”. Sounds silly, but it was really the only recourse the public health officials had against this pandemic. They were completely outclassed by this incredibly devastating flu strain. A doctor of the time attended an autopsy and described the lungs of a flu victim as resembling melted red currant jelly…

(Consort pushes away bowl of chili. Daughter returns from direction of bathroom carrying the squirming cat and the cat’s bowl of food. She puts the bowl on the table, and starts hoisting the cat up there)

CONSORT: No, sweetheart.

(The cat bolts for freedom as Daughter scowls, grabs the bowl and huffs off)

QUINN: Put her food bowl away and come back, please. You need to eat some more food. (To Consort) Did you know “Exsanguination” is the fancy term for bleeding to death? There were flu victims who quite literally died with a gush of pulmonary blood vomiting out of their mouth. Can you imagine?

CONSORT: I can now.

(Daughter stomps back to the table, glowering. She sits in her chair, and pokes at her food disdainfully with her fork)

QUINN: Don’t give it a massage, honey. Just eat it.

DAUGHTER: How many bites?

Another side note: The phrase “How many bites?” is the small child’s most potent dinner weapon. It’s a tool which guarantees that while the child might take in another one hundred calories, at most, the rest of the meal will be spent in active negotiation. Some nights, I don’t engage. Some nights, I do.

QUINN: Six bites.

(Daughter moves the fork with glacial slowness into the food, and removes a molecule of chili, and a fleck of kidney bean. She looks mournfully at me)

QUINN: More than that.

(The fork dips in, and takes another dot of chili, from which she stops to remove a suspicious cell that might, if you added another ten thousand cells, be a piece of onion.)

CONSORT: I had something nice happen today...

QUINN: Good for you. (To Daughter) Make a decent-sized spoonful, young lady, or I will do it for you, and neither of us wants that.

(The cat jumps on the table next to Daughter, and quickly sticks her face into Daughter’s bowl. Daughter whoops in delight. I quickly grab cat, but not before I see at least a quarter cup of cat hair shower down into Daughter’s food)

QUINN: Oh, look. Dinner’s over.

DAUGHTER: What can I have for dessert?

QUINN: You have got to be kidding.

(Off she stomps to her room. There is silence as we stare at one another)

QUINN: Anyway, scientists say that it’s not a matter of if we have another flu pandemic, but when. There’s a particularly virulent flu seen in chickens in China right now with nearly 100% fatality rates. If it mutates into human form we’re all exsanguinating like crazy…

CONSORT: I have an idea. Why don’t you read that book to yourself, and keeping the interesting facts for, y’know, later? I’ll just read the paper, and we’ll have a lovely, quiet dinner. Nice. Quiet. Dinner.

That was the best thing I heard at the dinner table all week.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Stuck in the Middle With You.

The scene: Daughter was in swim class. I edged my way into the viewing section, finding the last available chair. I opened an anticipated book on the common denominators between animal behavior and autism, and began to read.

INSIDE QUINN’S HEAD: The problem with normal people is they’re too cerebral. I call it being…

MOTHER NEXT TO ME: (To her friend) …So, did I, like, tell you what Bethany’s teacher told me? Well, I had gone in to, like, talk about that pushing incident with the Myers boy…

IQH: The problem with normal people is they’re too cere

MNTM: …which, of course, had led to spitting. So, like, I said to her teacher, “What are you planning to, like, do? I can’t be, like, bringing a change of clothing at lunch every day”…

I shifted in my seat, trying to read while cramming my fingers in my ears.

IQH: Like, the problem with normal people is, like, they’re too cerebral. I call…


I looked down. Daughter was out of the pool.

QUINN: What?

DAUGHTER: Bathroom.

QUINN: Of course.

I left the viewing section and escorted Daughter to bathroom. I returned to find that my previous seat was still the only one available. I picked up my book.

IQH: The problem with normal people is they’re too cerebral. I call it being abstractified...

MNTM: (Screaming next to my ear) …GOOD GIRL BETHANY! YOU SWIM ALL THE WAY ACROSS WITHOUT THE TEACHER, AND WE’LL HAVE MCDONALDS FOR DINNER. (To her friend) I’ve been, like, cutting back on the fast food, but it’s nice for a special occasion. For instance, we went night before last when her brother had a soccer game, but we won’t go again until, like, the weekend…

Having grown tired of the same sentence, my eye skimmed down the page for a fresh start.

IQH: Screwworms can attack humans, too, and like to lay their eggs inside the nostril.

MNTM: …I think that breakfast is, like, the most important meal of the day. For instance, today I got up an extra half hour early to make them a hot breakfast.

FRIEND: You are, like, such a good mom.

MNTM: It wasn’t, like, that hard. You just have to, like, remember to put the icing on after they come out of the toaster. Otherwise, it’s, like, a total mess…

I toyed with the vision of following this woman to McDonald’s and putting a screwworm in her McFlurry. I felt reinvigorated and continued to read.

IQH: When the eggs hatch the maggots come out and eat the animal alive…

MNTM: (To her friend) …did you send in your money for the Quilting Cruise?

FRIEND: No, I, like, totally forgot.

MNTM: You, like, totally have to send it in! We can be roommates. It’s, like, going to be a blast. We can, like, quilt and drink for three days. The last cruise was such fun. They had this quilt in the dining room, only it was made, like, completely out of shrimp! I, like, almost threw up, I ate so much. It was a blast.

FRIEND: Which quilt are you bringing?

MNTM: I don’t know yet. The big ones would be, like, hard to carry, because they’re, like big. But the smaller one might not be, like, enough to do for three days. I could bring the wall hanging.

FRIEND: Have I seen that?

MNTM: Oh, sure. It’s the one with the acorns.

FRIEND: I don’t think I’ve seen it.

MNTM: Sure you have. It’s the one with, like, the leaves and acorns.

FRIEND: Is there, like, fruit appliquéd on it?

MNTM: No. Acorns and leaves.

FRIEND: I don’t think you’ve shown it to me.

MNTM: You sure? You don’t remember, like, acorns?

IQH: ..Other maggots eat dead flesh, but screwworm maggots eat live flesh and are deadly…

FRIEND: …Wait, I think I do remember it. It has, like, leaves on it, right? And something else?

MNTM: Yeah, acorns!

I would give a year at the end of my life to have two screwworm maggots right now.


Daughter is out of the pool.

QUINN: Can’t be.

DAUGHTER: Bathroom.

I escorted her to the bathroom. When I returned, my seat was still available. I was beginning to understand why.

MNTM: …I told her Doctor that, like, her eye had been all runny for three days, and he said “It’s just allergies”, and I’m like “No, it’s not allergies, because allergies don’t just show up in one eye” and he’s like “They do if she’s touched something and touched only that one eye”, and I’m like “She hasn’t been touching her eye for three days”…

I grabbed my book and opened to any page at random.

IQH: A giraffe will spend 15 percent of its time grazing with its friend, and only 5 percent of its time grazing close to any other giraffe.

I imagine myself as a giraffe. I imagine the two women next to me as giraffes who are friends, standing next to me at a tree, nibbling on leaves and shooting the breeze.

I imagine my giraffe self throwing my long body in front of the nearest lion that will have me.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Everyone who has a wild bird living under a Pyrex container in their house, please raise your hand.

Oh, we’re the only ones?

I have no one to blame but myself: I took a nap. One of the big laws of the universe is that if Mom sleeps in the daytime, weirdness must inevitably follow. So I was poked awake by Consort:

CONSORT: Uh…Sorry to wake you. You can go right back to sleep in a minute, but the cat brought a baby bird into the kitchen, and it’s alive, and it doesn’t appear to be hurt, and what should I do?

Wow, not sleeping now. In the kitchen, Daughter was levitating with excitement over a bunched-up rag in a Tupperware container as Consort ejected the cat through the back door. Peering into the container, I saw a small, half-grown bird, possibly a sparrow. It had a few adult feathers, a bit of down left, some featherless patches, and the foulest expression I have ever seen on anyone not going through menopause. Still, if anyone had a reason to complain about how their day was playing out, it was my little bald friend here. It was just as Consort said: no blood, no marks. It could have internal injuries but, at least on the surface, this wasn’t an animal needing to be put out of its misery.

However, this did not mean I was looking forward to a houseguest. I found a website which indicated any wild baby bird should be returned immediately to the wild (Hooray!). Unless -- it mentioned almost parenthetically at the bottom of the page -- the bird was brought in by a cat. Then, you had to take care of it. (Un-Hooray). Living in a big city, we are less than three blocks from a place where one could buy formula for orphaned sparrows. Daughter joined me as I drove there and I listened to her plot her new Life with Baby Bird.

Finally, I said as gently as I could, “Kiddo, the bird might live. But you have to remember that it was in the cat’s mouth, and no one in this family has experience raising a baby bird. It’s probably going to die”.

She thought for a second and said cheerfully “I’ve never seen something dead before!”

Okay. So she was good either way.

The reconstituted formula smelled just about as you would think something that had to appeal to someone who eats bugs would smell. Consort fed the bird using a small plastic syringe device he kept in his tool box for… I don’t know; teeny caulking emergencies? The cat, having snuck back into the house, watched this all in fascination. From her perspective, we were Super-Sizing her Happy Meal.

Lacking anything resembling a birdcage, Consort put the bird in one of Daughter’s old sandbox toys, wrapped in a towel, and placed the toy in our wicker hamper for darkness and protection against feline torture. It peeped a couple of times in there, and then got very quiet. I prepared myself to officiate at a bird funeral in the morning. Shockingly enough, the new day found it alive and glaring.

Consort re-caulked the bird, now called Peep, and both of them seemed to get the hang of it in a food-all-over-the-place sort of way. I didn’t know how much brown goop had actually gotten into the bird until a few minutes later when Daughter glanced in at the bird. “I think we should call it Poop”, she observed.

It seemed like a positive sign that its digestive system appeared to be up and running. When Daughter and I got back from morning errands, Consort had created a sort of cage from an upended Pyrex bowl over a vegetable steamer lined in a cloth diaper. It was really clever, in a MacGyver sort of way: he proudly pointed out that the holes in the steamer allowed air in, and the glass of the Pyrex kept it nicely warm in there. I’d have complained more loudly about my steamer working as an avian recovery room, but I have had it for years, and have steamed vegetables exactly twice -- each time after seeing an unflattering picture of myself in a bathing suit. I view steamed vegetables as the punishment for having eaten ice cream for breakfast. It was going to a better use now, and from now on I can say things like “Well, I would look better in a bikini, but we had to throw away our steamer after the bird pooped in it!” My feeling for our involuntary houseguest warmed into the affection you hold for something upon which you can assign blame.

Lulabelle, the cat, had been nearly frenzied in her pursuit of Peep Under Glass, which led to a policy of keeping Lu outside most of the day. Yesterday, however, I forgot and left the door open so the dog could get outside. A few minutes later, I saw the cat dart past me across the kitchen floor: I have never seen a cat tail look criminal before. I raced after her, and saw to my absolute horror that she had a bird in her mouth. That same instant, Consort, arrived through the back door to hear my scream “Oh my God!” and the sound of a chair being overturned as I scrambled after the now super-nimble cat.

I think “Hi, how was your day?” is so overdone, don’t you?

Consort ran to the living room, where I was trying to separate the cat from her prize. I saw in an instant that her catch was not our guest. This new playmate was a larger bird, and easily capable of getting away, as evidenced by its flight to the top of a curtain rod. After a few aerobatics, Consort was able to shoo Peep the Elder out the front door as I checked on Peep the First, which glared at me through its Pyrex dome and pooped on the steamer, again just missing the diaper.

In that second, I was filled with a rush of pure affection.

I am used to domesticated mammals, which we’ve bred to remain, psychologically, babies forever; endlessly trying to curry favor from the clumsy bipeds who feed them. Our house is filled with affection and attention, but mammalian interaction can get complicated and fraught (I have actually been heard to say: “The dog is feeling anxious again. She’s eating paper. Did she see that crazy terrier when you walked her?”). There was something sort of nice about a taking care of a living thing that viewed us with total, feral indifference.

It’s been several days now. Both Consort’s and my hands are chapped from constant hand-washing. Peep, briefly renamed Poop, then Squawk, is now called Stink-Eye. It sleeps through the night, but has a slightly more stringent definition of “first thing in the morning” than the rest of us. It prefers to be caulked by Consort rather than me, and takes any glimpse of him as reason to stand there with beak agape, waiting for food. If food doesn’t come, Stink-Eye complains at length: put a track suit on the bird, and it would be a retiree on a weekend cruise to Mexico. The bird has considerably more of its adult feathers, and is trying to fly. Like many adolescents, however, Stink-Eye has greater faith in Stink-Eye’s abilities than they merit: right now, the bird hops around and falls a lot. Without any specific knowledge avian maturity, we’re guessing our houseguest will be ready to leave by next Wednesday.

I will then try to convince the cat that soy hot dogs are delicious and, uncooked, put up quite a fight.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Somethin' Stupid

I estimate I spend up to 7% of my life doing Stupid Errands. I don’t mean Regular Errands: they take up to 25% of my life, and while I may not do them with brio, I recognize their importance. No one goes to the grocery store; my family gets thin and irritable. No one gets to the Post Office to ship Hiphuggers; my creditors get thin and irritable. No, I am talking about Stupid Errands, a separate sub-category of how to spend your day. If you are asking yourself “What’s the difference?” please take the following test:

The errand I am doing is:
a) Vital to National Security,
b) Essential to my family’s dental health,
c) Capable of being ignored for up to six months with no ill-effect.

If the errand involves an object to be returned, the person to whom you are returning it says:
a) “Thank God, now Mom can get that kidney!”
b) “Wow, I’ve been wondering where that was”
c) “Uh, you’re sure this is mine?”

If the errand involves personal improvement of some kind, the effect provokes this response:
a) “You’re either having an affair, or I must know the name of your Doctor”
b) “Did you lose weight, or are you getting taller?”
c) (Silence)

You get the picture. A Stupid Errand should do nothing more productive than remove an item from your house. It’s never about adding something to your house, because a Stupid Errand, by definition, cannot improve or really affect anything. I am thinking about this because today, I did what I hope will be one of the more Stupid Errands this year. I need to believe there isn’t an even more irrelevant activity lurking.

About a month ago, Consort was filleting out things from his attaché case, and he pulled a brown binder out and frowned at it. Upon opening it, he discovered it was a menu from the restaurant he had been to that day, which had the misfortune of resembling the, at last count, 47 other brown binders in his attaché case. I have toyed with the idea of making each one more distinctive by putting Hello Kitty stickers on one, a My Little Pony sticker on another…you know, giving him a fun surprise when he pulls one out during an important meeting. But since I haven’t done it yet, he was now in possession of a menu. His first instinct was to toss it on to his desk, to be dealt with later (“Later”, in this case, meaning “Possibly before the Earth spins into the sun”). My first instinct was to grab it before it could mate with something else in his To-do pile, forming a super-predator menu/Post-it hybrid. I assured him that I would take it back to the restaurant. Since this is a chain, and one of them isn’t far from my mother’s house, this wasn’t unrealistic. The menu went into my car.

It then proceeded to decorate the passenger floor. For various reasons, whenever I was at my Mother’s house, I was never heading toward the restaurant. Or I was heading kind of in the direction of the restaurant, but was under a time crunch. I certainly never forgot it was there: every time I hit the brakes, the menu would go sliding along the floor. The noise it made was not completely unlike derisive laughter.

Within a fairly busy life, I was starting to grow a little frantic about this idiotic task. I would not bring it back into the house, as I know my house creates a weird gravitational pull on useless objects; if it touched a table, it would be there as if soldered until we move out. I would not tell Consort that it was in my car, because then he would offer to take care of it himself, what with it having been his problem to begin with, and his car has too much room to be encouraging the accumulation of objects. I dismissed the idea of mailing it, as that would be wasteful (we won’t discuss the amount of time I spent planning days that would somehow leave me near the restaurant). Besides, this had become a thing. The sheer stupidity of my inability to move a menu to a restaurant within twenty minutes of my house was beginning to hurt my pride.

Today, I had to meet my business partner in the Valley. As I planned my day, I realized with an almost physical excitement that, by driving a scant eight miles and two freeway exits out of my way, I could UNLOAD THE MENU. I got to the restaurant, placed it on an empty table on the patio, and waited a second. Should I go inside and hand it to a waitress and explain the situation? No, that would make me look silly, unlike the rest of this journey to nowhere. Besides, what was I hoping for, a free Arnold Palmer? No, I had done it for the pure love of the Stupid Errand.
Back in the car, I took a moment to enjoy the sight of the floor of the passenger seat without a brown fake-leather menu on it. My eye then fell upon a pair of my shorts on the passenger seat. I lost the waistband button, and while they aren’t good enough to wear anywhere decent, they are perfectly good for the gym. Now, all I have to do is stop at a notions store, find the right-sized button, and convince the store to let me buy a single button.

I guess I’d feel lonely without something Stupid in the passenger seat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Dream

I know what’s on everyone’s mind: what did Quinn do on Sunday?

Well, my children, gather ‘round and I’ll tell you. I had my daughter take a one-hour nap. Yes, I see you in the back, the man without children, raising your hand and waving it furiously. You want to know what else I did on Sunday, since that nap took about…an hour. And that hour should have been fairly peaceful, what with her sleeping and all.

You foolish, deluded man: getting Daughter to take a one-hour nap will eat up most of a day. The hour she spent sleeping I spent trying to get the twitch under my eye to stop vibrating. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have bothered trying for extra sleep, as Daughter has always functioned quite nicely on the low side of whatever the average is for her age. But the last week has been lively.

First, we had relatives in town, which was exciting, but led to several evenings in a row of “Wow, it’s 9:30pm, and my daughter is leading a sing-along”. This was followed, unsurprisingly, by her getting a head cold, which meant a stuffed-up nose, which meant nights filled with whistling, honking, snorting, but precious little sleeping. By Saturday she had rings under her eyes which would have humbled a Sicilian widow and she was so cranky she was picking fights with inanimate objects. Clearly, she needed a little extra sleep.

Sunday morning, I put her through her paces; enough for sleep, not enough for Over-tired. I then solemnly announced that little girls who were sick, and who wanted to go to Gymnastics on Monday, needed to take a nap. Daughter frowned as if this was some particularly tasteless joke.

“I’m not tired”

“But you will be,” I rejoined “once you lie down for a while. You’ve had a really busy week”

For those taking notes, this was a huge mistake. As fatigued as she actually was, she was not going to admit to it. If I had presented lying down in the context of, say, being read to, she might have agreed. But now she was as leery of being horizontal as a Baptist co-ed in a New Orleans fraternity. I had to spend a half-hour negotiating the lying-down part: she would lie there and listen to a book on tape, in the dark. And if sleep were to overcome her? Well, she allowed, these things happen. Everyone got their needs met: she wasn’t actually agreeing to sleep but I did manage to put on the most soporific book-on-tape in the world. This tape requires the special three-sheet prescription pad. This tape cannot be listened to while operating heavy machinery. So, a few minutes later, I was surprised to hear:


I walked back into her room, and braced myself against the door as the words lulled me into a REM cycle.

“I’ve napped”

“No, sweetheart: you’ve briefly lain in a dark room. Keep listening to…the…wonderful-”

I yanked myself from the room before I pitched forward into sleep. Surely, I reasoned, her stubbornness would be outweighed by her genuine need for sleep, the darkness, and “The Sleepy Bunny”. Just thinking about it made me need go back out to the couch and…

I woke with a start. Daughter was poking me in the nose.

“Please go rent me ‘Mary Poppins’”

I checked my watch. Fifteen minutes had passed since she was first put to bed.

“No. Go to bed”

She spun on her heel, stormed back to her room, and slammed the door. The tape was at the part where Sleepy Bunny finds the world’s softest pillow. I could hear her throwing something solid at the wall. We were at an impasse. I walked in, and switched off the tape so that I could stay awake for the conversation. Daughter was tearfully throwing her shoes. Any other time I would have trotted out Scary Mother Look for that, but she was too tired and irrational to be glared into sanity. I offered her a Plan B: she could listen to “Mary Poppins” - the book-on-tape version. She would stay in bed, but only on top of the covers. I would leave on one light and we would call it a rest instead of a nap. The light was negotiated and agreed upon, and I left the room, still hopeful that Sleep would overcome Will.

Fifteen minutes later:

“MOMMY! Please turn the tape over!”

Fifteen minutes after that:

“MOMMY! There’s a spider on my wall!”

Ten minutes after that:

“MOMMY! My throat hurts!”

Well, dear, that might have something to do with shouting for me every few minutes. I bring her some water. She is lying on her side, looking drowsy. I have every reason to hope, and dim the light down a touch.

Ten minutes pass.

“MOMMY! Come see!”

Please let her be talking in her sleep. I walk slowly to her room. She is sitting up in bed, all the lights blazing away. She is gazing delightedly at the cat, who is batting one of Daughter’s toys around.

“She loves my felt dollies!”

Note for Monday: Flay cat.

I go to remove cat, which triggers wailing. Daughter wants cat to nap with her. Obviously, Daughter has now learned that using the word “Nap” with me virtually assures my compliance. I put the cat on the bed, and warn Daughter not to try to put the cat under the covers.

Ten minutes pass. A scream erupts from Daughter’s room. As I open the door a crack, the cat flashes past me and disappears into the far corners of the house. Daughter is sitting up in bed, tearful; her arms are covered in new scratches. Apparently, the cat didn’t want to sleep under the covers. This is shocking, because the cat never wants to sleep under the covers. I take Daughter into bathroom, wash off her arms and apply ointment. I take her back to bed, get her calmed down, read her a chapter or two of something very dull (The Hunt for Red October is always nice) and sneak out to my couch and crossword.

Fifteen minutes pass. I am so acutely aware that she’s not asleep I’ve looked at the clue “70’s show ‘______ Company’” for several minutes, stumped. I sink into the couch quietly, and await my orders. They come.


I walk in.

“Sweetheart, why aren’t you sleeping?”

“I’m hungry”

“Of course you are. Fighting off sleep works up an appetite”

We take a break in non-sleeping for meal. Daughter prolongs meal by picking at applesauce, insisting she is full, and then, when told it’s time to go back to bed, remembering an auxiliary stomach. Contents of refrigerator slowly consumed.

I finally wrangle her back to bed. I read her the instructions for the new Zip drive, and turn off the light.

Twenty minutes pass. There is no sound. It’s almost too much to hope, but I sneak in to take a look. All of her lights are on. She is standing on her bed wearing a sundress of mine with Consort’s dress shoes. Her two Barbies are standing behind her, in not-dissimilar outfits, and Daughter is singing. How is it possible she knows about the Supremes? Daughter sees me, bursts into tears, and lunges under the covers, still wearing Consort’s shoes.

I change tack.

“I have an idea”


“It’s not a sleeping idea. It’s a fun game”

The wailing lump pauses, quivering.

“It’s called ‘Moving Man’. I’ll let you move boxes wherever you want in the house”

A lawyer’s pause. The lump corrects me.

“No, it’s called ‘Moving Lady’”

At that point, she dried her tears and emerged from under her covers. For the next hour, I would pretend to be the homeowner, and she would move legal-sized file boxes filled with the flotsam of tax-time from room to room. She found it entertaining, and she never even noticed that I was wearing her out. When she took her last move (From Los Angeles to the Plaza in Manhattan, I’ll have you know) she ended up in her bedroom and didn’t come back out. Fifteen minutes passed. I looked in. There she was in bed, her Moving Lady sweatband snug around her forehead, sound asleep. I stared at her in utter peace. She is the loveliest person, inside and out, I have ever had the privilege to know. I want her perfectly healthy. Hell, I want her immortal.

By now it was four o’clock in the afternoon, which meant this nap would completely ruin getting her to sleep tonight. But that was Consort’s concern. I was going to bed.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

C'mon, C'mon, Now Trust Me Babe

In some ways, Consort is completely trustworthy, and I treat him as such:

QUINN: I found a matchbook from a strip club in your pants pocket when I was putting them in the wash. It had a phone number and the name “Amber” written in it.

CONSORT: Oh. Funny story-the battery died in the car, and I couldn’t get a cell phone connection for some reason, so I walked into the nearest place to call AAA, which happened to be a strip club. While waiting for a jump start, I ended up talking to this girl who worked there. I showed her pictures of the two of you, and the conversation got around to pre-schools, because she has a three year-old: also, because she was wearing a Catholic school uniform. Anyway, I told her that we were really happy with our pre-school, and I promised to call her and leave her the school’s phone number.

QUINN: Oh, that’s nice. I think there are a couple of spots open in the three year-old class.

In some ways, Consort is completely untrustworthy, and I treat him as such:

Consort comes to bed. I am asleep, but hearing him tip-toeing around, trying not to wake me up, wakes me up.

QUINN: Is the cat in?

CONSORT: No, I told her to stay outside and pick fights with coyotes. Yes, the cat is in.

QUINN: The alarm is on?

CONSORT: We’re trying something different tonight. I left all the doors ajar with signs on them saying “Our stuff isn’t that great”.

QUINN: Humor me. The alarm is on?

CONSORT: Yes, the alarm is on.

QUINN: You checked the stove?

CONSORT: I didn’t have to check the stove. We haven’t used the stove since last night, when you made me check the burners. Twice.

He slides into bed. I slide out of bed.

QUINN: I need a glass of water.

CONSORT: No you don’t. You’re checking the stove.

I leave the room. I come back a minute later without a glass of water.

CONSORT: How was that water? Was it turned off, just like I told you it was?

QUINN: Oh, go read a New Yorker.

I ask you, how can any person be expected to place trust in a man who can go to sleep without making sure we won’t all be turned into flesh S'mores? And this is not a completely irrational fear: Consort has the most marvelous ability to turn on the stove to cook something, only to remember he wanted to replace all of our window screens. More than once, I have walked into the kitchen to find a burner blazing in a way that would be pleasing if this were Victorian England and it was our only source of heat.

[Consort has asked me to give his side. He claims to have left the burner on no more than twice in six years. He also claims that I am a complete lunatic. I have now given his side and we can ignore any further outbursts from him.]

It’s strange to realize that I am more likely to trust Consort in Las Vegas with Angelina Jolie than I am in our kitchen with O’Keefe and Merritt.

But, in the interest of total disclosure, I must admit that there is one category where I simply cannot be trusted. Please note the following interaction:

CONSORT: This is the last of the mayonnaise. Are you going to the store today?

QUINN: Yeah, I’ll get some.

CONSORT: Because it’s really easy for me to go to the store.

QUINN: No, I’ll get some mayonnaise on the way home from Gymnastics.

CONSORT: You know what? I’ll be passing right by the store twice today, I’ll get it.


I don’t get the mayonnaise.

Unlike Consort’s irrational neglect of our stove, there is a good reason for this. Our house was built by someone with an obsession for drawers but a phobia of shelf space. We can either own a jar of Kalamata olives or two cans of tuna fish, but we do not have room for both. Consort’s response to this situation is to cram cans and jars on top of one another. I open the door to find what appears to be a refugee boat from the Land of Canned Corn. Food in the back of the shelf goes lost and forgotten for years until it has formed a separatist movement, complete with its own flag. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Pimentos. Consort likes a cabinet which tells the world, “I could whip up a Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-five on a whim”.

I take a far more mature view of the situation: minimalism encourages creativity. We’ve run out of maple syrup for the pancakes? Try honey. Honey’s gone? There’s always jam. No more jam? Soy sauce might be fun. Consort, being smart, knows my inclinations and now buys items in furtive multiples in order to make sure that he doesn’t, say, have to use marshmallow fluff as a binder for tuna fish salad. While I, being smart, refuse to tell him when I am using the last container of anything, for fear I will open a cabinet door to find The Leaning Tower of Peas.

I’d leave him and begin a new life but there is Daughter to consider. Also, I’m not sure I could convince another man to flavor his coffee with Peeps.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Private Eyes, They're Watching You

A while back, Daughter announced: “Daddy says f**k, but you don’t say f**k, so I don’t say f**k”.

My only inner response was, of course, “f**k”.

Consort is a superb father but he never really got the idea that you shouldn’t paint murals with obscenities in front of your kid, not even when the person in front of you in the fast lane is doing fifteen miles an hour with his left-turn signal on. But, I thought optimistically, at least she thinks that swearing is a gender-based issue. As long as she identifies with being female, Daddy’s words are just scatological background music. I just can never swear in front of her. How hard can that be? Not a week later, I found out. I was grabbing something from a lower shelf and stood up without noticing the upper cabinet door had swung open, and it put a divot in my skull. Thanks to Daughter and her observational skills being in the kitchen with me, my only response was:

“Heavens, that’s uncomfortable. Oh my…goodness, that’s painful. I’ll…be…darned…I think I’m bleeding. Sweetheart, could you please hold up some fingers and let’s see if Mommy can figure out how many there are.”

The ringing in my ears stopped after a day or so, and the double vision wasn’t noticeable at all after a week. Most important, during a completely unplanned painful experience, I kept it G-rated. I was smugly thinking how I was short-listed for the Alfred Nobel Mother of the Year Clean Vocabulary prize when I cleaned out the fridge a few days later. Staring in dismay at the green slimy soup in the vegetable crisper, I murmured “What the hell is that?” Daughter, in the farthest reaches of the house heard that, and has been working it into her daily interactions every since:

“Mommy, what the hell is that?”

“It’s your lunchbox, sweetie, and please don’t use that phrase”

“But I don’t know what the hell it is”

“I think you enjoy saying that phrase, but I don’t want to hear it coming from you”

“What the hell are you saying?”

What the hell am I saying? Is this about swearing? Not as much as it is about scrutiny. If someone told you that you were going to be under near-constant surveillance for ten years or so, wouldn’t it make you a touch…antsy? That’s what having a child in your house means; someone who is constantly monitoring your actions for discrepancies and weakness. I understood I needed to model good behavior. I just didn’t understand that if I modeled bad behavior once, it would neatly undo months of good behavior. If you work very hard teaching your daughter not to scream at people when she gets frustrated, it sets your work back a touch if -- and I am not saying this happened -- while waiting for your gas tank to fill, you notice a woman at the next car smoking a cigarette while topping-off her tank so you leap out of your car shrieking “I don’t actually care whether you blow yourself up, but you’re not taking my kid with you!”

Daughter remembers nothing of the thousands of courteous small interactions she has seen me have with people, but she would remember that incident if -- and I am not saying this happened -- I were so low-class as to do something like that.

Table manners are another animal entirely. It takes Daughter about a week of reminding to get the basic idea, followed by two months of her being the vigilant Manners Police. Witness last night’s dinner:

QUINN: How did your meeting go?

CONSORT: I was pleasantly surprised. He was…

DAUGHTER: Daddy, your elbow is on the table.

CONSORT: …He was…What?

QUINN: She learned this week that you’re not supposed to have your elbows on the table when you’re eating. But, sweetheart, Daddy isn’t eating yet.

DAUGHTER: He’s having a drink.

CONSORT: But I’m not eating yet.

DAUGHTER: (Dissolving into tears)

QUINN: What’s the matter?

DAUGHTER: (Sobbing) He interrupted me! I want him to have a time out!

Between flogging her parents with dinner table manners and waiting breathlessly to see if her parents break some rule of conduct in day-to-day activities, Daughter has turned etiquette into an extreme sport. I guess I should be grateful she finds us so fascinating. I am horribly self-absorbed and completely mad for her father, but I wouldn’t watch either one of us with the focus she does. Mind you, she’s looking for flaws, but we do have her attention.

I didn’t get into the Mothering business because I looked in the mirror one day and thought, “you know, perfection like this has to be replicated”. Let me be honest here. I understand that I am a work in progress. I also understand that making mistakes and having the awareness to correct them in front of my daughter is among the best things I can do for her.

But f**k, I’d like to go one whole day being Gallant instead of Goofus.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Read All About It.

A friend just came back from her first trip to the Grand Canyon and was trying to describe her reaction.

“It’s like…” she floundered for a second, “You think everything in your life is so big and important. And then you’re face-to-face with this huge thing that was here millions of years before you and will be here millions of years after you. I could spend my whole life living in the canyon, and when I died, nothing would have changed.”

“I don’t know if that explains anything at all,” she added wistfully.

I patted her hand. I understood exactly what she was talking about. It is the same reaction I have when confronted by Consort’s pile of untouched reading material.

Even as I write, there are no fewer than five different heaps of old newspapers in this house that I am not allowed to throw out. I tipped my hand once, early on, and let him see how badly I wanted us to be a “Read the paper in the morning and put it out at night” kind of family. I held up a yellowed Wall Street Journal bearing the headline HENRY FORDS SEES ‘BIG FUTURE’ IN HORSELESS CARRIAGE, and politely asked Consort “This can go out, right?”

Consort grabbed the paper and scanned it. “No, I haven’t finished reading this”.

I pointed out, “But everyone quoted in this paper is dead. Some of their children are dead”.

He countered “Give it to me; I’ll take care of it”. Which I came to learn meant “I will secrete it in another stack of newspapers”. Knowing what I know now, I should have just run through the house arbitrarily stuffing newspapers into the recycling bin, and then denying having seen them when and if Consort asked.

I suspect Consort read the statistics on declining newspaper readership, and plans to keep the endangered papers for breeding purposes at some future date. He hoards specific newspaper sections for reasons so murky he can’t even remember them:

“Don’t throw that out, I’m keeping that to send to…someone. Is there something in there about feral cats?”


“Coal mining?”


“I know, trans-fatty acids”

“It’s the Real Estate section. From last October.”

“Don’t throw it away until I remember who I was saving it for”

But newspapers, as esteemed as they are around here, don’t end up being carefully archived into cardboard boxes and shipped to the storage space. Newspapers don’t get packed into business-trip luggage, only to return wrinkled but unread, then re-stacked next to the bed. Newspapers don’t bring out a glee in Consort that is in exact inverse ratio to the despondency in me. That special place in our life is reserved for The New Yorker.

I have tried to figure out why The New Yorker magazine forms 25% of the solid waste in our house. I used to blame it on being a weekly, but we have several magazines which arrive weekly, and they aren’t nearly as insidious as The New Yorker. For example, Newsweek arrives, Consort fulminates over politics and cackles over some article about Linux but moves on. I can slide the magazine out of the house in no more than ten days. Contrast this with me trying to get New Yorkers out of the house:

I am conveying a grocery bag out the back door, whistling. I am attempting to give off the vibe of a person walking to the trash can, not the vibe of a person taking magazines to leave in a coffee house. I am careful not to make eye contact with Consort, who is watching television. He, however, senses a disturbance in the force and looks up.

CONSORT: What’s that in the bag?

QUINN: What, this? Just…some…stuff.

Agile as a cat, Consort is at my side, pulling from the bag a New Yorker from the previous year.

CONSORT: There is an article in there I wanted to read.

QUINN: Which article?

CONSORT: The one on the cod-fishing rights in the North Atlantic.

I check the table of contents to see if he is bluffing as he filets out other elderly New Yorkers from the bag. He puts one back in, and gently caresses the other ones.

CONSORT: You can give that one away, but not these, I haven’t even started them yet.

QUINN: I can’t help that; they’re older than our washing-machine.

CONSORT: Look, this one has an article about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister-in-law. This one has a piece about sitar players in Ohio. Ooh! This one has a really interesting look into how ballet slippers are designed.

QUINN: Oh, now you’re just making them up.

But no, he wasn’t. The gift of The New Yorker is the ability to publish a lengthy article about a subject you’ve never even considered and keep you reasonably enthralled for an hour or more. This would be fine if Consort had ten extra hours a week to put into being educated in the ways of, say, Mormon entomologists or King Edward II’s boyfriend’s cook. But, Consort does not have the time. All he has is the unflagging optimism of a man who believes that his reading speed is going to double before the next issue arrives, and the engineering skill to create five foot-high towers of slippery magazines.

And all I have is patience, cunning, and the capacity to smuggle up to four magazines at a time out of this house inside my waistband.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Every year, at Halloween, I entertain myself by picking the worst Halloween mendicant. Last year, it would have to have been the adult woman, easily seven months pregnant, dressed in regular clothing shoving a pillowcase under my nose while chortling “Trick or Treat!” (She had no child with her). I must have looked slightly surprised at her costume of a Woman who was too damn old to be doing this, because she patted her stomach and said cheerfully “For the baby!” So I guess the Ny-Quil she was going to go home and drink was for her. I respectfully submit that this is the kind of thing that happens when begging is socially sanctioned one night a year.

In spite of the above story, I am not whatever the Halloween version of Scrooge would be, nor do I work for the American Dental Association. When Daughter and Consort came home from visiting the houses of friends in the neighborhood, I allowed her to unload her pile of swag on the kitchen table, gaze it at wonderingly and then eat a small bag of candy corn. After putting her to her bed that night, I set upon it to remove the unwanted elements:

1. The gum had to go. Because of an unfortunate incident in my childhood, Daughter doesn’t get to have gum until she is six (What incident, you might be thinking. Did someone get hurt? Did Quinn used to be one of twins? No, not at all. I was six, and standing on my head chewing gum, which I had been specifically enjoined not to do, when the gum fell out of my mouth and into my hair, near the roots. I decided it would be easier on everyone [read: me] if I just cut the section of my hair off. It never occurred to me that my hair would grow, and that an inch-wide piece of hair standing straight up above my forehead might be noticeable. My mother’s punishment was non-physical, creative, and frightening enough that I still cannot chew gum in her presence).

2. The licorice went into a bag for me, because Daughter doesn’t like it and I love it. Since there are relatively few licorice-lovers around, the bag looked scant, so I appropriated some jelly beans as well, because I was in labor with her for 40 hours.

3. I excised any hard candies and jaw-breakers, as Daughter is more confident in her ability to eat those than I am in my ability to perform the Heimlich. Or dental reconstruction.

This still left her with a shocking amount of candy, most of it chocolate-based. Daughter is terribly sensitive to caffeine: if she consumes any after three o’clock in the afternoon, she can’t go to sleep, and NONE OF US WANT THAT. I solved the doling-out-the-candy situation by picking her up from school with one piece of candy every day as a treat. This would have worked if Halloween had lasted one day, but the candy kept arriving. Candy from an East Coast friend of Consort’s arrived two days later. Grandparents had an open tureen of candy at their house. Every time I would take her with me into a retail establishment, some sweet sales person who was desperate to stop scarfing mini Milky Ways would shove two or three or seven into Daughter’s hand. I would let her have one, and the rest would go into the candy drawer, which I was noticing to my horror was growing more densely packed. I started offering her two small pieces of candy on Gymnastics days. I developed a loathing of licensing, and jettisoned any candy that had a picture of Shrek or Donkey on it. That got rid of half of it.

By now it was already December 1st, and the holiday candy started to appear. Some days after school, Daughter got a slightly dented chocolate Jack O’Lantern and a grinning marshmallow snowman. Or a Hanukah chocolate doubloon and a jelly-bean skeleton. All holidays were ending up in the pantheistic candy combine which is my kid’s mouth. We’d visit friends and I’d spy Daughter slinking away from the kitchen chewing furtively. Her hands were never not sticky; she was a pre-school Post-it. She had come to assume that since candy was a treat, it was also a reward, and began trying to use it as barter. My favorite: “If I do a really good job of brushing my teeth, may I have candy corn as a reward?” One day at the park, Daughter came bouncing up hand-in-hand with an unknown little girl. “May I go to her house? She has candy”.

I asked astutely, “Do you know what her name is?” Daughter shrugged indifferently. As far as she was concerned, the kid’s name was Pez. Her credo had become: All Candy, All the Time.

She sprung through January on a sugar high. All the while I was frantically throwing away the most weathered and haggard Halloween candy, because we both knew what was coming; the double-header of sugary delights: Valentine’s Day and Easter.

The red tinfoil hearts were slithering in under doors and flying through open windows before we even reached February. It arrived through the mail in boxes she ripped open before I could secrete them away. The walls were sweating sugar, the ceiling was dripping caramel. It was The Amityville Horror as designed by the Mars Corporation. But this was as nothing compared to Easter, the pinnacle of childhood candy consumption. I tried -- I really did -- to keep it to a reasonable amount. I got her non-candy items for the Easter basket, with a few jelly beans thrown in as a sop to the hard-working candy industry. The night before Easter, however, Consort arrived home with two grocery bags and that faintly guilty expression I’ve grown to recognize immediately. Inside those bags was every variant of tooth decay. I shrugged and I caved. Daughter will have plenty to discuss with her therapist as an adult, but at least she won’t get any mileage out of “Mommy was an Easter buzzkill”. She might have to cancel a few therapy appointments because of the root canals, but she can take that up with her toothless father.

So, here is the candy drawer now: a few random hangers-on from Halloween, which I have half a mind to give out again this year; some bedraggled Christmas candy with a sprinkle of Hanukah gelt thrown in to keep the conversation in there lively and ecumenical; assorted candy treats from birthday party gift bags (Gummy-bear rat, anyone?); chocolate kisses from Valentine’s Day that have melted together and now form a chocolate map of Michigan, along with some of those chalky, heart-shaped Necco wafers that are better read than eaten. And, topping it all is the Glory of Easter, Peep-ing and jelly-ing its way into every available space.

And here is my prediction: the day after we finally clear out the drawer, Daughter will look at me balefully and say “Why do you never let me have any candy?”

Friday, April 01, 2005

A Fine Romance.

The place: a romantic, intimate restaurant. Consort and I are sitting at a small table. I reach over and grab his hand, looking deeply into his eyes.

QUINN: Tell me you scooped the headless bird carcass up off the front step before we left.

CONSORT: I looked. It wasn’t there.

QUINN: Great, that means the cat hid it someplace else.

CONSORT: I hope she didn’t put it in the shower again: I can still feel it on my instep. Speaking of things that are dead, I figured out where the smell in the garage was coming from.

QUINN: Behind the lawn mower?

CONSORT: Nope. In the wall.

QUINN: There’s a guarantee we’ll have a heat wave this week.

(Silence as we study the menu. A moment later, Consort shuts the menu decisively)

CONSORT: I know what I’m having.

QUINN: Please order something besides pizza.

CONSORT: (A little wounded) I’m getting the tuna steak. (A beat) You want to split a pizza?

QUINN: No, thank you.


CONSORT: Did the insurance guy ever call back?

QUINN: Yeah, I left the information on the back of an envelope somewhere on your desk. (Glancing down, I notice a red stain on my sock) Would you look at that? I have been shaving my legs for over two decades and I don’t think I’ve ever not nicked my ankle bone. How can I keep being surprised by my own skeleton?

CONSORT: I cut myself shaving yesterday.

Let’s leave these people comparing scabs, shall we? I shudder to admit, the conversation went downhill from there. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present PARENT DATE NIGHT.

All magazines geared towards the parents of small children advocate taking time off as a couple to refresh and reinvigorate our relationships. They get quite insistent about this. If you can’t afford a dinner date, go for a walk in the park. If you can’t afford a baby-sitter and have no relatives or friends who will help, create a babysitting co-op. This is serious. Either schedule a parental date night or put a divorce lawyer on retainer. Parenting experts are unanimously adamant about getting us out of the house.

I respect the intention behind the date. Being a parent, especially in the first two years, is the most emotionally-consuming, mentally-consuming and time-consuming thing I have ever done. It eats up all available brain cells even when the child isn’t in the room. Please note the following conversation. Consort and I were attempting to not discuss our then-infant Daughter, one night after she’d fallen asleep:

CONSORT: This is nice, just the two of us.

QUINN: Yes, this is nice.

(Pause while we both think we hear her squeak, but don’t want to mention it. She doesn’t wake up)

CONSORT: So…reading anything interesting lately?

QUINN: No. But I did cut What to Expect When You are Expecting into tiny pieces and lined the cat box with it. That felt good.

(We stare at one another)

QUINN: Do you think she hiccups more than she should?

CONSORT: Is there a norm? But, remember, we’re not talking about her.

QUINN: Right. Did you get the car washed today?

CONSORT: Yeah, and the detailer found five random socks under the car seat. When she tries to suck her thumb, she usually sticks her thumb in her eye. How does she have the fine-motor skills to remove a sock every half-hour?

(Consort pulls a handful of socks out of his pocket. We stare at them in awe)

QUINN: Can you believe how tiny her feet are?

CONSORT: Let’s go watch her sleep.

And there went the rest of the evening.

Even four years later, it’s frighteningly easy for me to get lost in Mom-ness. I put her to bed with a firm “Now! Time for Quinn” and then skim a parenting magazine and a catalogue of age-appropriate toys without noticing the contradiction. And if I am losing a sense of myself, you just know I am losing a sense of the other adult as well. Some days I do need reminding that Consort was here before Daughter and -- with any luck – he will be here after she moves out. I actually liked this man well enough to buy large furniture with him. If I thought Date Night would strengthen that part of the Familial Triad, I would be the first one making reservations.

But the fallacy in this idea is that romance craves predictability. Guinea pigs crave predictability. We who don’t fear the vacuum cleaner get a certain pleasure from novelty. I’m not saying I require endless surprises in the relationship every day -- there’s a partner who is crying out for lithium. But, at least for me, I am not wooed and won over some candlelit dinner where I am squinting at the under-lit menu while estimating what this evening is going to cost us in babysitting fees and lost sleep. I am charmed by the murmured, funny aside in the faucet aisle at Home Depot; by the quick sideways look we share when someone we know does that thing they always do and have never seemed to notice they do; when I make a snarky comment about something Consort did, and he has the total style to laugh loudly. These moments are less ceremonial than a dinner date, but they are worth more to me than all the bread baskets and oversized pepper mills in the world.