Monday, June 27, 2005

Pet Sounds

Here’s a conversation I dearly wish could take place:

QUINN: We need to talk about your nighttime friends.

DOG: You mean the special cats?

QUINN: Exactly.

DOG: I love the special cats!

QUINN: Those aren’t cats. Cats don’t come out only at night. Cats don’t have a white stripe running down their backs. When a large affable dog bumbles up to them, cats don’t raise their tails and saturate the dog in breathtakingly foul-smelling oil.

The dog thinks a moment.

DOG: What are you saying?

QUINN: Okay, if I promise to set up play-dates with the Petunia (the pug next door) and Dolce and Gabbana (the Boston terriers up the block), and maybe throw in a couple of pig’s ears every week, could you possibly stop making yourself the recruiting poster for a career in HAZMAT?

DOG: You bet.

That conversation would be sweet. Of course, I also think it would totally rock if the dog could carry and utilize her own plastic poop bags. I know with absolute certainty that the day Johnny Depp pulls up to the sidewalk to ask me directions, I won’t be carrying Prada.

Sometimes, I think we keep Dog around because it comforts us humans to know that no matter what we do, we are still not the dumbest mammal in the house.

Late Saturday night I woke from a sound sleep to Consort shouting “Oh NO! You (expletive deleted) idiot!” followed immediately by the sounds of dog being dragged to back door, the back door being opened, the dog being ejected and the back door being slammed. Hard.

I decided it was wise to get up. I walked from the bedroom corridor into a solid wall of vile odor. Consort was returning from the back room with a towel over his nose.

I said, “She got skunked?”

Consort shot me a piercing look which said “...for the sake of our child and our future together, I’m going to let that pass.”

Pointing to a pattern of drops on hardwood floor, he said, "She had to go out. I let her out. She must have gotten this close to the skunk because she was dripping stink-oil all the way across the damn house.”

This is one of those situations where being physically defective comes in handy. Thanks to a lifetime of sinus problems, my nose has only two gears : 1) There is a smell present; and 2) There is no smell. I don’t recognize big smell versus little smell. This is why I am not allowed to apply my own perfume. [Remember the weird kid from grade school who walked around half the year with a Kleenex permanently attached to her nose? The one who had laminated doctor’s notes excusing her from outdoor exercise? That was me.]

So while Consort was gagging and retching and clawing at the window, my brain was saying, “Skunk... Huh... You might want to do something about that.”

I sent Consort to the bedroom, opened all the windows, and washed the skunk-saturated side of the house in Murphy’s Oil soap. I waited twenty minutes and rewashed the floor yet again. Twenty minutes later, I invited Consort back out into the main part of the house. He stuck his nose in nervously.

“So,” I asked. “Any better?”

He sniffed.

“It’s like…” he said cautiously, clearly not wanting to dismiss my post-midnight mop marathon. “…It’s like a skunk. A skunk with a pine-scented air freshener around its neck.”

I sent him back to the bedroom and washed the floor again, this time with vinegar-based solution. Consort was recalled. He sniffed.

“Now it’s a skunk making Easter eggs.”

I dismissed him and lit some lavender and jasmine candles. I called Consort back.

“A skunk having a massage? Maybe a little Windom Hill music might help?”

I gave up and went to bed.

If I wanted to be a positive sort of person, I could focus on how our dog tends to be an eager-to-please pet. Granted, she only has seven brain cells, two of which are dedicated to eating Kleenex, but when she does something wrong, she looks appropriately abashed. She has no idea what just went wrong or how to avoid doing it again, but my standing there shouting in her direction makes her manifest some form of canine guilt. I know this because she gets this “guilty eyebrow” thing – an expression of such pure, pitiful sorrow I lack the literary skills to describe it , so you’re simply going to have to take my word for it.

The cat is a whole different story. I guess being a completely different species might have something to do with it. The cat and I could have had the following conversation this weekend:

Cat is grooming her stomach. Quinn walks in and sits down on the couch next to cat.

QUINN: Lulabelle, we need to talk. I found another one today. You’re out of control. You need to recognize this. You need help.

Quinn waits. Cat continues grooming. After a minute or so, cat looks up.

CAT: Oh, hey. When did you get here? Shouldn’t you be pouring out kitty stars or something?

QUINN: No, we’re not talking about food right now. We’re talking about birds. Birds in my house. Baby birds. Elderly birds. Wounded birds. Dead birds. And what appeared to be a Cessna. You have to stop this.

CAT has fixated on removing something from between her toes. After a while, she glances at Quinn.

CAT: You like it well enough when I kill mice and rats.

QUINN: Yes, because they are vermin. They eat cheese. They poop tiny cigars. They spread plague. Most birds are harmless.

CAT: Tell you what. I’ll tear the wings off the birds, and you can pretend they’re mice.

QUINN: That’s it. I’m getting you into rehab.

CAT: Fine. I’ll kill all their birds. Then they’ll send me back here and I’ll do something unspeakable in your closet.

Lu is a portly, middle-aged cat. After the Stink-Eye incident, I belled her – which, to those of you who are too smart to own a cat, means I attached a little bell on her collar. Of course, she merely considers this a sporting handicap and continues to stalk and capture birds with gusto. If she had her own nature show, I’d watch it. Being in the middle of a nature show, however, wears on a person.

I’m not a fan of indoor/outdoor cats, especially in my neighborhood where children learn about the automotive risks to pet life early and often. But she came to us as an adult, having already been “owned” by two other families on the block (I think she arrives in the Welcome Wagon gift basket) and she has always been an indoor/outdoor cat. There are just so many times you can fling yourself between the cat and the front door as if saving a fellow soldier from a live grenade before you start to say, “Fine! Go outside. See if I care!” It may be good preparation for having a teenage daughter, something I can’t even begin to consider at this juncture.

But I will promise you one thing: if the cat starts dragging in skunks, I’m moving and I am not leaving a forwarding address.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Mission Responsible

“Quinn, can I put you down you as the back-up person to contact in case something happens to Hayden at summer camp?”

“Of course.”

And with those two words, I am now on every Emergency Notification List in Los Angeles County.

If you are reading this and don’t have children, here's the deal: when you are a parent, every week at least 10% of your waking hours are spent filling out Emergency Notification forms for your child. The school/camp/church group/chess club simply can’t rest with only fifteen different ways to find Parent and/or Guardian. No, they must have two back-up people who can be contacted in an emergency. Sometimes, if they want to see how easily you cry, they demand three.

After the parents, the first back-up is usually chosen for geographic desirability or familial obligation. That is, it is either someone who already has a kid at the same school (“I’ll be your contact person if you’ll be mine”) or it’s a relative who, in a crisis, can be counted on to trek across town to pick up your child without complaining -- at least not until Christmas when said relative goes a little heavy with the brandied eggnog.

If this was the only emergency contact, I would be on maybe fifteen lists. Twenty, tops.

But there’s the second spot. The second spot is both deeply inconsequential and terribly fraught. I know when I start racking my brains for a person to put in the second spot I think: Okay, this person will never be called upon. But, suppose they are? Somehow, I am unavailable. Consort is unavailable. The other mother at the school cannot get there. This would be an extraordinarily unusual situation. Clearly, this would be a...catastrophe. A cataclysmic earthquake, say, followed by a devastating fire, which leads to an outbreak of some pavement-eating bacteria which renders the Santa Monica freeway a kind of goo. Whoever is in position two might be required to tie Daughter to her back and barricade themselves in the nearest Chuck E. Cheese until the crisis has passed.

That part's easy. I also need someone who answers his or her cell phone.

I suspect working at home plays a large part of what makes me so popular as a backup. I also suspect being the kind of mildly obsessive overgrown Girl Scout who keeps a well-stocked emergency kit in her trunk adds to my popularity. But why stop here? I also have four different kinds of sunblock in my glove compartment. Four! I keep two different kinds of dental floss in the car as well and a change of underwear for a medium sized caravan of nomads. Plus, I have a book on local hiking trails -- but mostly because it has an illustrated pull-out section on what to do in case of snakebite. This should give you a sense of the kind of edgy risk-taker I've become in my maternal phase.

I also suspect that it’s the same part of my psyche that, when I was young and unattached, made people rush up to me and say “Could you drive me to the airport?” In my 20s, I was Girl Scout-ish (which, in Los Angeles, meant you said things like “No, your cat doesn’t want to get stoned. No, she doesn’t…No, she...Look, just give me the cat.”) and I was punctual. These weren’t qualities young men looked for in a date, but they were qualities yound men looked for in a limo driver.

No sane person likes stalking a parking spot at LAX on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I, however, would bask in the inner glow of accomplishment when the debauched young man in my passenger seat would mumble something like “Uh, yeah. Thanks. Whatever...” before jumping out and heading off for a long weekend of anonymous sex on a Caribbean island.

More than a few times I'd find myself stuck in the bumper-to-bumper morning crush, heading home to try to grab a shower before work. But I was a good friend. That is what mattered. I was needed. Only lately did I realize I was needed by people I wouldn't trust alone in a room with my purse. I no longer feel the need to be needed by people who must be reminded “Please don’t bring complete strangers home for sex. They might kill us in the night. And if they don't, talking to them at breakfast is awkward.”

But I still like to be needed in a responsible, maternal way. I like knowing that a former child actor, perhaps the least likely candidate for normal adult emotional responses, is someone reasonable people can see taking care of their kid. And sometimes I like to imagine the disaster which has devastated Los Angeles, somehow incapacitating other parents and first-contact people. I envisage myself on a main thoroughfare, capably driving a commandeered Metro Bus, delivering the first forty of my little charges to higher ground, calming the younger ones, inspiring the rest.

“It’s okay, kids,” I say in a tone both strong and soothing. “I happen to know the Bakersfield Chuck E. Cheese bolts from the inside, and we’ve got plenty of tokens in the emergency kit”

I Owe You One.

Dear Readers,

As you may have noticed, I have been trying to write something every other day (Some might argue that a little less frequency might result in a little more quality, but I ignore such people).
This week, however, has risen up like a four-story tall Persian cat and batted me around like a catnip mouse.

I promise you something shortly.

Watch this space.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Blind Faith

You find the weirdest things in other peoples’ blind spots.

At Gymnastics today, we Parents of Whirling Children were talking about TV shows we liked. I mentioned “30 Days”, a new documentary series on FX by Morgan Spurlock, the guy who gave us “Super Size Me”.

I explained to the parents who hadn’t seen it that “Super Size Me” is a funny, horrible and fascinating look at what happens to the body of a documentary filmmaker (Spurlock) after eating only McDonald’s food -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- for 30 days. This led to a conversation about what we fed our kids. One father was particularly emphatic about what we’re doing to our kids’ health in America:

“…Too much processed food! That’s why so many of them are fat. You go to places like France and China, you don’t see them eating so much fast food. It’s fresh, what they eat there. The body metabolizes fresh food better...”

Having never been to China or studied nutrition, I wasn’t prepared to agree or disagree; but at least he seemed to be genuinely concerned about what kids were eating. Up to that point, I had been talking with him without actually looking at him, being as I was distracted by the exercise Daughter was doing, which seemed to be titled Concussion in Three Easy Steps. Now, however, Daughter was waiting in line to break her neck in some new way, and my eye naturally followed my conversation buddy’s daughter as she ran over to her health-conscious father…

…and grabbed the bag of Doritos and Big Gulp he was holding for her.

She inhaled a handful of crunchy orange triangles and a mouthful of some brown liquid and headed back to class.

I winced in empathy, having been caught in moments of hypocrisy so many times myself. Then I stared off into space so he shouldn’t have to look directly at me while he explained…what? His daughter had a life threatening lack of cheese like powder in her body? There was only the slightest pause before he continued his tirade.

“…As I was saying, the European people have it right. How hard is it to feed your kids well?”

I goggled at him discreetly, probing his delivery for any possible tones of irony. Finding none, I flipped open a four-year-old gymnastics magazine so I could contemplate the Personal Blind Spot undistracted by further contradictions.

The PBS is that place where your decision-making abilities plummet downwards in inverse proportion to your sky-rocketing convictions. If you like your new perfume, that is not a Personal Blind Spot. If you refer to the scent as your “Signature fragrance” and you wear the perfume as a soap, body cream and cologne and in such quantities that swarms of bees follow you, that’s a Personal Blind Spot.

Any man who has ever grown out a single hair and created a comb-over of such complexity that it resembles a macramé hammock is suffering from a PBS.

The mother who informs me her fifteen year-old had cigarettes in her bedroom because “she confiscated them from her best friend” and had alcohol on her breath because she was “making chocolate chip cookies at a friend’s house and wanted to check the freshness of the vanilla” might actually keel over from her Personal Blind Spot.

There is a friend of my family who will tell you how, thanks to not eating white sugar, she hasn’t had a cold in twenty years. Two problems with this: 1) she eats white sugar nearly every day, but since each time is a “special occasion”, it doesn’t count, and 2) she gets a severe case of bronchitis or pneumonia every winter. Textbook PBS.

A person who refers to a finished basement with a DVD player in it as a Media Room, however, suffers not from PBS but from DOG -- Delusions of Grandeur – an entirely different disorder.

Of course, this all comes back to ME. I too have a Personal Blind Spot. I just don’t know what it is. There is something I do, say, wear or eat which has made friends of mine at some point look at one another and shrug in that expressive “I know, but are you going to tell her?” sort of way. The mere thought of this gives me the yips. I must know where my big delusion hides.

It can’t be my wardrobe. I’ve never said my clothing was attractive or flattering. I do believe it will keep me from being arrested for indecency. And if you remember my definition of Personal Blind Spot, the afflicted person has to believe deeply in it. Clothing becomes a PBS when you believe in the possibility of transformation:

“Nicole Kidman looks lovely in pink ruffles. I will wear pink ruffles, and people will confuse me for a woman fifteen years my junior and ten inches taller.”

“The horizontal stripes on these pants make my butt look smaller because the stripe is black, and black is thinning.”

“I wore a size eight comfortably for a week, ten years ago, right after my gall bladder surgery. Ergo, I am a size eight!”

In my case, realistic expectations of my closet pretty much assures me no place on any Best-dressed list. But I don’t make any major gaffes, either.

I think.

It could be the food, but I have discussed my weirdness before. Not only am I generally uninterested in food, I have virtually no sense of smell. This renders most culinary experiences, for me, mere variations on texture. I can eat the same meal three times a day for many days on end; you can’t be bored if you don’t care. Again, unlikely place for Personal Blind Spot.

And then, just while writing this, I found my Personal Blind Spot. I have had ten nails of approximately the same length for several days now, and have been treating them with the delicacy and attention you associate with breeding Pandas in captivity (I had a night-vision camera trained on my nails at night, while I slept, for security purposes). So imagine my rage when I looked down and saw a big fissure, left hand, ring finger. And right down near the quick, if you must know.

I ran and got an emery board and squared off the nail while railing against the gods “How did this happen? I’ve been keeping them buffed and polished. I use gloves when washing dishes. I… I…“

I stopped mid-thought and mid-file. I have lousy nails. They have the consistency of balsa wood and splinter if you raise your voice. Over my entire life, I have had ten long nails for ten short months: specifically, nine months of pregnancy and another thirty days spread over the remaining thirty-something years. I could start the Museum of Failed Nail-Care Products. And yet, somehow, I still believe devoutly I am meant to have long nails. I would swear to this in a court of law.

It’s irrational, it’s heartfelt, and it’s my Personal Blind Spot!

Unless, of course, my real Personal Blind Spot is using the nail issue as camouflage for my true demon...

I’m going to bed.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Loving You Is Some Kind of Wonderful.

Because the rest of this is going to be a love letter to Consort, I feel we must begin by mocking him.

Last winter, I woke in the middle of the night to Daughter shouting “I don’t want to throw up!” which is her way of saying, “I am about to throw up!”

Consort slept.

I got in there just in time to witness the full digestive display. She burst into noisy tears. I comforted her while stripping the bed, whisked the sheets into the washer while carrying her, got her into the bathroom, cleaned her up, remade the bed, and popped her back under the clean linens.

Consort slept.

She said sweetly “I feel much better now.”

Since she was cool and her eyes were bright, I figured mild food poisoning was the culprit and went back to bed. Twenty minutes later, I was finally drifting off when…

“I don’t want to throw up!”

I arrived just in time for the second show, which involved the blanket as well as the sheets this time. I comforted Daughter, stripped bed, whisked sheets, started load of laundry, cleaned child, remade bed, popped her into it.

She said hopefully, “I think I feel better now.”

Consort…rolled over, mumbled and slept.

Food poisoning can only make you throw up twice, right? It’s amazing how stupid hope can make you. I actually went back to bed. Twenty-five minutes later, I was finally drifting off when…

(Sounds of vomiting and sobbing)

I staggered in to her room to discover that several children had snuck in through a window and thrown up with her; there was no way one kid could have done this much damage. Without getting too specific, her blankets, her hair and light fixtures were all involved somehow. I squared my shoulders and set to work.

I popped Daughter into the bathtub and filled it a few inches with warm water, stripped bed, put on her last set of sheets (which she hates, as Dora the Explorer’s face on her pillowcase is huge and appears ready to devour Daughter’s head, but we had no other options). Then I attacked nearly everything in her room with Murphy’s Oil soap, went back to the bathroom and thoroughly washed a miserable, smelly child, toweled her off, put on a fresh nightgown, and put her back to bed.

I returned to our bed and, as I was starting to suspect we hadn’t seen the worst of it yet, I took out a book. A minute later, Consort’s eyes fluttered. He saw me reading, and touched my arm gently.

“Can’t sleep?”

“No, dear,” I answered, my voice dripping with paint-peeling sarcasm. “I must have had iced-tea for dinner.”

“Mmph,” he agreed, and rolled back onto his other side where he fell into an immediate coma.

I tell that story because I can get mileage out of it forever, and because it is the most clichéd Clueless Dad anecdote I could think of. For the most part, he is top-drawer, and always has been.

Swaddling? He was a far better swaddler than I ever was. Diapers? He changed them without trying to leverage even a single poop-a-palooza into nine holes of golf. And when my eyes would start whirling like pinwheels at the sheer physical and emotional exertion of tending a small child, he would suddenly remember an errand he had to do, and spirit Daughter off with him. I don’t know whether she sat in her infant car seat as he circled the block for an hour or two, and I don’t care. We made it through another day because Consort knew what needed to be done.

He has never viewed Daughter as “Quinn’s baby, and my occasional baby-sitting gig.”

Whatever choice I have made for Daughter, from when to start solid foods to where to send her for pre-school, he has stood at my side and said, “You’ve done the research. I trust your decision”. The few times he has questioned my choice, he waited until Daughter was out of earshot. For this I am grateful, as she has yet to get the memo explaining how she’s supposed to play one of us off the other.

He knows stuff. In our house, the phrase “Ask your father” isn’t just a cop-out. It’s…well, it is a cop-out, but he often knows the answer.

Just yesterday, Daughter wanted to know how planes “stayed up in the air”. I was about to make clear how they can’t and that Mommy holds the plane up in the sky by digging her fingernails into the armrest and lifting it there. Fortunately, before I could start this lesson, Consort told her some charming tales about air density and lift effects. Within minutes, they were both blowing pieces of paper into the air. I’m still not taking my nails out of the armrest, but she bought it.

He thinks I’m spectacular, and he lets me know it every day of my life. He thinks his daughter is spectacular, and he lets her know it every minute they’re together. We’re both braver for having a cheerleader in our corner (Although, the idea of Consort in a pleated skirt and those pom-pom socks is most unsettling).

He can look under a hood intelligently and I can’t. He can tell which way is north, and I can’t. He can drive stick shift, and I can’t. This is all going to come in very handy when it’s time to teach her to drive.

But most important, he has helped teach Daughter how to expect to be loved: with heart, humor and honesty.

Happy Father’s Day, Consort.

Happy Father’s Day to Consorts, one and all.

And an extra special Happy Father’s Day to any woman raising her kids on her own.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Graduate.

“If you keep touching your hairdo, I swear I’ll just leave right now. You can drive to school with Daddy”

We both knew I was bluffing. Between the video equipment, the presents for her teachers, the dessert I made for the “bring something from your heritage” luncheon and the raft of flowers, there wasn’t any room in Daddy’s car for her.

Welcome to Kindergarten Graduation, Circa 2005.

I had reacted to a sweet milestone in Daughter’s childhood the way I always do: I lost my mind and did too much stuff.

For example, I chose to take the “bring something from your family's heritage” luncheon menu very seriously. [When I mentioned this to my mom in passing, she suggested I show up with scotch-and-soda and Lean Cuisine.]

I chose instead to make a cheesecake with a fabulous recipe I had stashed away. This recipe demands intermittent attention for over three hours, which I provided; and yet it still managed to slant so drastically to one side the neighborhood boys wanted to use it for a skateboarding ramp.

Of course, before I could make the cheesecake, I needed to clean my trusted KitchenAid mixer, which, when not in use, lives above the refrigerator like some abandoned farm equipment. Since it is not in use 364.9 days a year, and since it has plenty of crevices where worrisome grime accumulates, using this labor-saving device required an hour’s worth of scrubbing with a toothbrush, now retired.

I decided it would be cute for Daughter to write a thank-you note to her teachers. This became a typed note once I realized a hand written version was going to resemble a ransom note.

A typed thank-you note required an hour of monitoring Daughter on computer. I wasn’t worried about her spelling or grammar. I was worried she might feel a pressing need to see what happens when a person slides a tortilla into the CD holder.

I suggested she might want to decorate the thank-you note. This became an evening’s research into How Many Ariel Stickers Can You Fit on One Page? In case you’re curious, sixteen. And, lovely as she is, each Ariel looks even better with a kitten sticker on her tail.

I had already decided to write a note to her teachers commending them on the wonderful job they’ve done with my kid, but that took several nights, as I kept breaking down and singing “Sunrise, Sunset” and dashing in to her room to stare at her sleeping.

And yet, today, I was calm and focused. Tears are for someone who doesn’t have to get her hair and then her daughter’s hair into picture-ready shape. Since, between the two of us, we possess twenty-seven cowlicks, I combined a promiscuous quantity of mousse with a drive and determination seldom seen outside a war room. I was firing on all cylinders. I believe I styled the dog’s hair at one point. Consort ambled into the bathroom to ask how we were doing. I thought I had a pleasant and welcoming look on my face but since he caught my eye, blanched white and whispered “Uh, never mind”, perhaps I didn’t.

Before I had a child, I assumed Kindergarten graduation was yet another in the long line of indulgent Baby Boomer rituals. You know, “We’re so special that our offspring aren’t merely children, they are future CEOs who also head up Doctors Without Borders, and each passage must be celebrated!”

Or something like that.

And then I had a kid. And she spent two years in the same classroom with the same teachers, many of the same students and one remarkably patient rat. Daughter has been there for almost half of her waking hours, five days a week, growing and changing at a rate almost visible to the naked eye.

What I didn’t understand until today is how this pint-sized ceremony really isn’t for the parents. Not that we weren’t all cooing over the tiny mortar-boards, and Tom Cruise had fewer cameras trained on him this week than these graduates did. But watching the kids do their meticulously rehearsed walk to a pre-recorded “Pomp and Circumstance”, I saw pride wafting off them in waves. They weren’t looking for parental approval; a child would catch her parent’s eye for a brief instant, and then go back to remembering which hand of the teacher’s to shake, remembering what to say when handed her flower, remembering to stand still and tall.

They were once little, and now they are big. Some of them are working on new teeth. Some are working on yellow belts in Karate. All of them are gobbling up life in exuberant mouthfuls, eager to begin the next adventure; and for one lovely moment, each parent got to watch his or her child savor the satisfaction of a hill climbed, and the wonderful anticipation of higher ones to come.

The graduation over, the kids were flinging themselves around the playground, but I couldn’t find Daughter. She was sitting in her former classroom, on the little couch which was not yet stored for the summer. She was looking at a book.

“Whatcha doing?”

She looked up.

“This is my thinking place. This is where I always come to read”

My heart wilted. Was it possible she hadn’t understood the point of all this? Was what I had assumed to be complete sang-froid in fact miscomprehension? Or worse, denial?

“You know you’re going to another school in the fall, right? Not here?”

“Oh, yes. I just want a few more minutes.”

Looking at her sitting there, I just wanted a few more years.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Girls Will Be Boys and Boys Will be Girls.

Here’s a tip: if you dread being stared at or suffer from debilitating self-consciousness, never stand in the middle of a busy pet store and loudly inquire “Can anyone here sex a rabbit for me?”

The rabbit in question is temporarily living in the back room of said pet store, which is also home to a neighborhood rescue group. I help out when I can. Generally, this entails petting abandoned kittens that tend to reward my efforts by clawing painfully up my shirt. I have become expert at holding down seven-pound bundles of blind fury while their nails get trimmed. Here’s a little-known fact: a cat getting his nails trimmed can escape the grasp of a Sumo wrestler, levitate three feet in the air, and embed his one remaining claw into your nostril. I also administer stinky food in all stages of digestion. You know, cat stuff.

Last weekend, someone dumped a rabbit with these hard-working people. I mean, dumped it. Shoved it in a box and left it on the doorstep like a bad melodrama. I believe they actually stapled the lid closed, just to be sure the rabbit wouldn’t…what? Leap to freedom? But they did have the sense – however dim – to punch three very small air-holes in the lid. The rabbit managed to breathe shallowly until saved from this idiocy by the arrival of the shop’s morning clerk.

Astonishingly, the rabbit is really cool. I’m not usually a rabbit person, as I find it hard to become fond of something which endlessly mistakes me for a bloodthirsty predator.

(leaning over cage with carrot)
Hi, sweetie. I have a treat for you.

(darting into shoebox)
Eek! A hawk!

No, I’m not a hawk. Hawks don’t wear khaki shorts and offer treats. Please come out and let me admire you.

I wait patiently. Smelling the carrot, a nose appears from the box, wiggling wildly. Emerging further, the rabbit catches sight of the horrible creature in loafers waiting to devour it.

Eek! A coyote! A coyote trying to confuse me by wearing conservative footwear!

Rabbit darts back into box.

Repeat until Quinn gives up in disgust.

I don’t need to be worshipped by an animal, but I also don’t know how often I am prepared to explain I’m not even thinking about a nice mustard/tarragon sauce and a side of parsnips.

However, as I said, this rabbit is cool. It’s a perfectly social lap-rabbit with a complete understanding of the theory and practice of litter box. I could wax on about dating men with fewer social graces, but I won’t. It was somehow comforting to know that my little friend needed the right home.

It was also comforting to know it wasn’t going to be with us.

Frequently, when animals get that mournful “Whatever am I going to do?” look, they end up in the animal equivalent of my guest bedroom (See: Dave, Stink-Eye). However, I am completely allergic to rabbits. Even the smallest amount of that deliciously soft fur nears my eyeball and I’m Cyclops; both eyeballs get furred and I’m Oedipus before the final curtain. Even my overly-developed guilt muscle has come to realize that dying from anaphylactic shock is counter-productive.

But, since I can’t give Buster the home he deserves, I am simply not allowed to rest until this rabbit is in a new home (Please imagine this last being said out loud while pointing my index finger in the air and jutting my jaw in an especially noble jut). One side effect of this kind of obsessive mission is that there will be no such thing as casual conversation until it has been accomplished.

School Playground. A handful of Mothers are waiting to pick up their children. QUINN sidles up to another mother from Daughter’s class. She is watching her toddler throw wood chips at a bench.

QUINN: She’s getting big. Is she two yet?

MOTHER: September.

QUINN: Speaking of which, aren’t you going to miss the class rabbit this summer?

MOTHER: Uh…I guess.

QUINN: Didn’t you take it home one weekend?

MOTHER: Once. He chewed our computer cords in half.

QUINN: HAHAHAHA! Nothing more fun than a rabbit. You should get one.

MOTHER: We were talking about getting the girls a dog. Maybe when they’re eight and ten or so.

QUINN: In the meanwhile, you should totally get a rabbit. By any chance, is your back yard fenced with chicken wire?

I assume she was going to change schools anyway, but it’s hard not to take personally.

So imagine my shock when asked point blank “Could you be talked into a rabbit?” one of the first grade teachers said thoughtfully. “Maybe”

I perked right up and began selling Buster’s charms. Clearly, some ancestor of mine was a marriage broker. I think I alluded to Buster’s intelligent forehead and strong thighs.

“The only thing is…” she said, interrupting my Paean to Buster. “It would have to be a male. I have a female rabbit, and she’ll try to kill another female. Territoriality, you know.”

I nodded as if I had seen another gear on any rabbit beside Asleep and Cowering from Predator. Nevertheless, Buster was one quick gender check away from a new home, and I wasn’t going to screw it up by talking.

I went straight to the pet store, walked into the back room where the rescue animals are kept, and stared at Buster. Buster, asleep, was soft, black, and shaped like a furry dinosaur egg: not much in the way of gender clues there. I reached in and grabbed Buster. I slid the protesting body out and flipped it over. I saw fur. I moved the fur around daintily. I saw nothing which would indicate manliness, but I couldn’t remember if they kept their bits mostly inside. I palpitated gently. I palpitated less gently. The rabbit thrashed as if to say “Hey, at least buy me dinner first”.

I went outside and broadcast the rabbit sexing question. Customers shrank away from the crazy scratched-up lady who wanted to date domesticated rodents. Fortunately, one of the salespeople who knew me followed me back to Buster. She and I took turns staring at the rabbit’s nether regions, while its not-nether regions were placated with a carrot.

She said slowly “If they’re like guinea pigs, the stuff is inside”, and fondled the rabbit tentatively. “It seems male to me.” She concluded with new-found authority.

I breathed out in relief. Buster had been given a second chance at a good home. Of course, by that point he had also been given a rather thorough hernia examination.

I bounded from the pet store to pick Daughter up at school where I sought out the teacher and informed her that Buster was all man – he was the Antonio Banderas of rabbits -- and gave her the address of the shop. I left school today with a genuine sense of accomplishment.

If you have read any of my previous entries, you know what happens when I feel a sense of accomplishment. It took only twenty minutes to drive Daughter to a friends’ house -- a friend who, as luck would have it, owns a rabbit. I was telling the friend’s mother about my good deed for the day and the hard science of rabbit-sexing, but her brow curled before I could finish.

“You’re kidding, right?”

I shook my head. I plan to kid about rabbit-sexing, but not quite yet. She reached in the pen, grabbed her daughter’s rabbit and quickly turned him over. Moving the fur aside, I saw…them.

“Male rabbits develop these by the time they are about a month old. You really can’t miss them”.

You really couldn’t. If male humans had the same proportions, we’d all be wearing kilts. I swear the rabbit smirked at me.

So… What part of today was more embarrassing?

The sending a teacher on a pointless errand several miles out of her way part?

The not being able to recognize the basic sexual anatomy of a domesticated mammal part?

Or the part where Daughter and her little friend walked in to find me pondering a rabbit’s testicles?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Big Daddy

In keeping with the upcoming holiday, I want to introduce you to my father. His name was Sumner, which I include not because I called him by his first name -- I called him Papa -- but because I think it’s a cool name: unusual without being precious or bizarre. If any of you are pregnant and thinking about giving the world yet another Jack or Ethan, I humbly suggest another option.

The house in which I grew up was perched on a narrow winding road in the Hollywood Hills. It had a porch which ran the length of the three bedrooms on the top floor which, because of the nature of hillside architecture, was four stories above the street below. On airless summer nights, I would sleep out there on the chaise enjoying the random cool breeze that meandered up from the ocean a dozen miles to the west.

One morning, just as the sky was pinking up, I awoke to the sound of a voice. It was Papa’s voice. He was in the middle bedroom, which my parents used as an office, and he was making a business call to somewhere in Europe. I lay perfectly still, watching him through the French doors, and I remember feeling completely secure. The city below spread out huge and daunting in every direction, the world beyond it was even more immeasurable to a girl my age, but when I woke up that morning, I could see my Papa, so everything was as it should be. The world was perfect and I was safe in it.

I doubt anyone else would have looked at him and thought “This man can protect me”. He was short (sadly, I didn’t get any of my mother’s Northern European height genes) and slight. He had suffered through an adult case of a typically childhood illness, which triggered a life-threatening fever, which somehow caused most of his hair to fall out, of which very little came back. This wasn’t a dad you would see modeling a kayak in the L.L. Bean catalogue.

But short men can do heroic things, and members of the Cummings family can do heroic things in offbeat ways. Papa graduated from Cornell with a double major of Classics and Astronomy -- apparently, during the late 1930’s, there was a thriving job market for people who could point out Polaris while reciting The Iliad.

When Pearl Harbor happened, the flying inventory of the United States Air Force was almost entirely comprised of aircraft left over from World War I. These were little more than winged, canvas-covered crates and lacked even the most rudimentary navigational technology of the day. The war effort began frantically manufacturing modern planes but that didn’t help the fearless airmen who, in those dreadful early days of the war, took to the skies over a smoldering Europe or the vast and hostile Pacific. What did help these heroic men was a small book an Air Force Lieutenant quickly wrote about how to navigate by the stars.

That Lieutenant was my Papa.

And he helped bring many of these men home.


He was terrifically funny, but in a weird, quiet way, which happens to be my favorite kind of funny. One night, as my mother was making dinner, the phone rang and Papa got it. I will give you both sides of the phone call, as Papa explained it to my mother that evening, who recounted it to me many years later.


“Yes, may I speak to Mrs.…Cumming please?”

(From the slightly askew pronunciation of his name, my father figures this is a telephone solicitation of some kind. He has a few minutes to kill while the chili cooks, so…)

“I’m so sorry. We lost her last week”

The telephone solicitor now has something much more interesting to do than call the next mark. Besides, Papa sounds unnervingly cheerful to be delivering this kind of news.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Uh, was it sudden?”


“If you don’t mind my asking, what happened?”

“We went to a Dodger game. She went to the bathroom and never came back.”

“You mean… you lost her as in you can’t find her?”

“That’s right. No idea whatsoever. I looked around for a while at the park, but it was getting late, so I decided to go home”

“You didn’t think to wait for her?”

“No. She knows where we live.”

That was my Papa.


Papa was already in his forties when I was born -- a far less common age for paternity than it is now. He had two sons from his first marriage who were twenty and twenty-two years older than I am. I can only imagine how he could not have imagined having another child at this stage of his life. But he fell for and married a woman who wanted a child, and here I am.

I’ve been told he had some ambivalence about starting a new family before I was born. I can see him being the kind of father who only gets interested when the kid starts talking in full sentences. [You’ll be shocked to know I started talking very early and very emphatically.] But by the time I remember him, I never doubted for a second that I was thoroughly adored right down to my toes. In certain emotionally lean times of my life, I have drawn from that deep well of unconditional paternal love. I’m sure he would have been amused by all the nonsense surrounding “The Goodbye Girl”, but he couldn’t have loved me one iota more than when I was simply running around the house, making noise, chasing the dogs and generally being his nutty little kid.

My mother and I were in Manhattan for the final three weeks of shooting “The Goodbye Girl”. Papa, of course, had stayed home in L.A. to work. He had experienced something odd on the tennis court a few weeks earlier but a quick trip to the ER had determined it wasn’t a heart attack. I was outraged when told about this at the time. “Do they think he made it up?” I groused. “Papa doesn’t lie!”

I was nine.

On the eve of the last day of shooting, Papa had a massive heart attack and died at the hospital. They reached my mother early the next morning and told her what had happened. Somehow, she held it together for the entire day so I could finish my last day of work in ignorance. She told me that night back at the hotel.

He was 57. He was in good health. He ate decently and exercised regularly. There was no history of heart trouble in the family. What he did do was worry. He had been promoted to President of a large manufacturing company the previous year and I still sometimes imagine him walking around with the entire factory and all its employees sitting on his shoulders. The man I saw making an overseas call at dawn was probably making a call to Japan late the night before. For years before he had the title of President, he had done the work and carried the stress of the job. A man probably best suited for the inner life of a scholar and writer had worried himself to death.

It still saddens me to remember how the board of directors of the company – a company for which he literally worked his heart out -- sent a sympathy note and hired a new president within two weeks. They had to. I understand. He was replaceable to them.

He was irreplaceable to me.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Pretty Pretty Princess

Consort came through the front door, flipping through the mail.

“Does our daughter have a friend named Isabella?”

“Our daughter has six friends named Isabella. She also has four Chloes, five Ellas, three Avas and eighteen friends named Emma. Why do you ask?”

“Birthday party invite,” he said, opening the purple envelope. A cutout of a woman in a ball gown slid out. He flipped the invitation over.

“It’s a princess party. She’s supposed to wear a princess outfit. Does she have that?”

I stared at him in disbelief.

“Are you new around here?”

We have a princess outfit for an outdoor run-around party. We have a princess outfit for an indoor tea party. We have a slightly stained princess outfit for a party which will involve poster paint. We have a princess outfit for a piñata party on a yacht. I can dress up any of those outfits with three different tiaras, which were party favors from previous princess parties; or I can keep it casual with sneakers and princess-themed socks. Usually, Daughter votes for a tiara and princess socks. In short, the princess trousseau has gone from being just a play-at-home accessory to a mandatory wardrobe for any well-dressed 21st century girl.

When did the Princess gown become the Little Black Dress of the under seven set? I know there were always fairy tales, and I think Barbie had a wand or two in her accessory pile, but it wasn’t that all-encompassing when I was a kid. Somehow I managed to choke down macaroni and cheese without the pasta being shaped like a crown. Was it Ariel? Was it Belle? Was it a generation of little girls being raised by women who stayed up all night to watch Charles and Diana get married?

I am a feminist who is the daughter of a feminist, but I am not mean: my kid has princess stuff, and swans around in it with imperial abandon. However, since I am a feminist with a loathing of cross-merchandising and a wish for Daughter to be creative in her dressing-up (and who also happens to be cheap), my daughter’s princess outfits are…singular.

Her favorite princess ensemble to date is a traditional costume from El Salvador, with an off-the-shoulder blouse and a full polychromatic skirt. My mother found it last year when she had gone to El Salvador for a Bat Mitzvah [You probably didn’t need to know that, but I like saying “El Salvador for a Bat Mitzvah”. It makes people frown.] When Daughter wears this particular outfit, and people ask her what princess she is, I have taught her to say “Frida Kahlo”.

It entertains me.

Her other princess outfits are a hodgepodge of hand-me-down leotards, hand-me-down tutus, some ill-advised shoe purchases of mine, and silk scarves and costume jewelry she inherited from friends of her Grandmother who moved to Florida.

I never need to see the return of the Big-Clip-On-Earring look of the early 80’s but, I must admit, giant coral drops hanging nearly to Daughter’s shoulders look really fetching with a turquoise leotard, a gold turban, some leopard mules I bought on sale (it’s embarrassing to admit, but she doesn’t walk any more clumsily in them than I ever did), and a rust and green leaf-patterned scarf, worn like a cape. If the American Association for Retired Persons ever has a super-hero, she will look something like this.

Every time we’ve attended a princess party, I’ve waited for Daughter to look around at the more traditional princess outfits of her peers, turn to me and wail “I want those!” So far, though, she hasn’t. She seems to like being the Princess of the Gypsies and I like standing around at birthday parties watching little kids pull their high heels out of the grass. Where little girls see glamour and elegance, I see valuable lessons to take into their adult years:

1. Complicated clothing seems like a good idea until you get to the party.
There’s always one little girl in a princess outfit which involves some kind of complicated belt/sash thing which doesn’t stay tied, or a puffed sleeve which is supposed to stay on the shoulder but prefers living on the elbow. As an adult, this girl will never be sales-talked into buying some complicated Japanese raincoat with an extra sleeve you can use as a purse.

2. You can either look incredible, or you can move.
For the outdoor parties, the girls frequently arrive in something regal, parade around a while for their friends’ admiration, and then go change into shorts and a t-shirt. It’s hard to win the bean-bag toss in a bustle. I think more adult women need to consider this option. Imagine you walk through the bar, making sure everyone gets a gander of you in the tight skirt and pinky-toe-eradicating heels. Then you slide neatly into the bathroom and change into sweats. Everyone who matters has now seen what you’re capable of looking like, and you’re much more likely to be witty and engaging if you aren’t worrying about your shoes filling with blood.

3. Sometimes, you shouldn’t care what anyone else is wearing to the party. You’re feeling princess-ish, and the tiara is coming out.
We have actually been to three parties this year which weren’t princess- themed, and at least one girl showed up wearing her full regalia. She felt wonderful about herself, and everyone else was too involved in trying to sneak open the present they brought to really care about what she wore.

Now, if you will excuse me, we have a Princess party tomorrow, and those rhinestone bracelets don’t just clean themselves.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Target Audience

It’s just wrong how much I like going to Target.

And so out of character.

I have a deep-seated belief that Americans consume too much. We own more things than ever before, we’re racking up credit card debt faster than ever before, and no one has ever shown me a psychological study proving that buying more stuff makes you more happy. I practice “Reduce, Re-use, Re-cycle” to an almost absurd extent (ask Consort about finding shriveled jellyfish cadavers on the stove; they were exotic tea bags, waiting to be used for a second dipping). I also have an allergy to anything tied to Saturday morning cartoons, an upcoming movie or a line of toys. This alone should make the entire children’s clothing section of Target a life-threatening experience.

And yet, Target makes me happy. It’s like a pilgrimage to the temple of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. My domestic skills and impulses are only slightly better than those of a guinea pig, yet walking down an aisle at Target, I’m briefly transported into the Land of the Bountiful Homemaker:

“...Oh, look! Dishcloths with bright flowers! How practical, because the bright flowers will hide stains! And I can get matching oven mitts and a tea cozy! And I can pick up the minor color in matching coffee cups and a place setting for eight! Ooh, a coordinated barbecue apron and outdoor umbrella!...”

I bask in the Quinn I have created in Aisle 10. This is a Quinn who bakes themed cakes for every holiday (Specialized cake molds - Aisle 24). This is a Quinn who whips up blueberry muffins on the spur of the moment on Sunday morning (blueberry muffin mold - endcap, Aisle 23). This is a Quinn who never says to her daughter, “Did I feed you dinner yet?”. Having satisfied the need to imagine myself this way without having to do any of the actual work, I go on to the next aisle, where a whole new Quinn awaits.

Today, I was prancing merrily through Target with my friend Veronica. Somewhere between grabbing the new Carl Hiasson novel and finding the dog’s worming medicine, Veronica enquired “How is this different from Wal-Mart?”

I stood frozen in place, holding a flex-headed toothbrush and a box of moth balls. Veronica knows, as anyone around me with ear drums knows, how I feel about Wal-Mart (See: Sexual discrimination; Anti-union policies; Death of Main Street mom-and-pop stores; Mandatory unpaid overtime. etc). So why don’t I feel the same way about Target?

I said slowly “Well, I know about the Wal-Mart abuses… and I don’t know of any Target abuses…not that there aren’t any… and I really hope there aren’t... because…” I stared at her helplessly.

Veronica said flatly “You want Target to remain pure because it’s cuter”.

My mind cleared as if it had been scrubbed with Murphy’s Oil soap, which I had just thrown into my cart along with shish-kabob skewers, shoe polish and pudding. Target is cuter! I don’t expect them to be the good guys, but I want them to be the neutral guys, which in the weight class of big-box, mega-store retail chains would make them the good guys!

And what is it about Target that I like so much it affords them this moral lattitude?

Forbidden dessert.

Fact: In the early 1970’s, a multi-million dollar study was commissioned by a consortium of major advertising agencies and their clients to address the most pressing question of all time: “What do Women Want?” While all this effort and expense would have made Freud blush, the results were conclusive enough to shape the American cultural landscape for the rest of the century; and probably for the rest of history.

What did women want? We wanted to eat.

It seems women loved talking about food, thinking about food, planning food, and most of all, eating food. The advertisers took heed, and we’ve had thirty years when any product purchased by women must have some thematic connection to food. Subtle or overt, it didn’t matter as long as it got us salivating.

Looking around the kitchen and bathroom departments in Target, I notice the common color schemes are bright pink, orange, bright green and red. The marketing mavens at Target have determined that while most women will not buy themselves a cupcake with rainbow sprinkles every day, we do like to be surrounded by things that remind us of dessert. Buying a regular toilet brush makes even a supermodel feel middle-aged and dreary. Buying a translucent pink toilet-scrubber at Target combines the virtuous feeling of doing a tedious errand with the naughty satisfaction you’ve just bought the world’s biggest Jolly Rancher.

I walked around with my newly enlightened eyes, and saw subliminal candy everywhere. The make-up department might have had neutral colors in stock, but they were hidden behind eye shadow apparently designed by the Jelly Bellies people. I didn’t know whether to wear the lipstick or eat it. [I was more likely to eat it since pink lipstick and I have a restraining order against each other]. The blow-up exercise balls looked like giant Everlasting Gobstoppers. The only places in Target where the colors weren’t derived from a children’s dessert menu were in men’s wear and electronics. I found those departments drab and tedious and left quickly. What, would it kill them to make a Play Station candy-apple green and shaped like a Sno-Cone?

The in-store music was playing something vaguely familiar, what was it? I hummed for a second, and then got it.

“My Girl Lollipop”

I popped a stick of hot-pink sugarless gum in my mouth and headed for the check-out line.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Miss Behavior

Daughter tested me yesterday.

I failed.

For the last two weeks, Daughter has been giving me little glimpses of herself as an adolescent: insolent mumblings, opposition for its own sake and the occasional dramatic eye-roll. I am beginning to think all this is so I will have plenty of time to get her on the list for the right boarding school. For the most part, however, I have done what the books suggest. I’ve praised her when she’s behaved correctly and corrected her behavior when it reminded me too much of The OC. All month, I have been chalking up a rising trend of moodiness to end-of-the-school-year anxiety. But yesterday Daughter’s behavior crossed into a new dimension. A dimension not of sight or sound, but of mind.

Specifically, mind over mother.

Just above her head was a neon sign spelling out “I need to test my boundaries, and I need to do so while walking over my mother in baseball cleats.” Needless to say, I didn’t see it.

We were getting dressed for our Saturday-morning, bookstore-sponsored story time which she loves, and then on to Karate which she also loves. (I have too lightened her schedule!) Plotting the day’s wardrobe changes in my head, I offered her a t-shirt and Karate pants.

“I want to wear cowboy boots” she sulked, already preparing for battle.

I considered this. An orange t-shirt and white karate pants tucked into black cowboy boots with red filigree. She might appear to have dressed while fleeing a burning building but what did I care? If anything, the boots were easy to take off before Karate. I granted her request. So, of course, her sulk deepened. When you want to mix it up with mom, getting your way is supremely irritating.

“I hate pants. I want to wear a dress”

“Please save the word hate for something larger than pants, sweetie,” I said automatically.

Her brow darkened further. Now, at least, I was giving her something to work with. “I won’t wear pants,” she barked. “I’m wearing a dress.”

I explained how wearing a dress would mean changing her clothing in the car, a procedure about as graceful as examining a feral cat’s prostate.

“Put on the boots you wanted, babe, and then we can go to story time,” I said firmly, and went to make myself a cup of tea to pour into my lap while driving.

I came back a few minutes later. Daughter was lurking under her night table, reading a book. She wore no more clothing than before but, worryingly, had unearthed a pair of hot pink tights which are way too small for her. The mood was considerably more ominous than when I’d left.

“I’m wearing a dress and tights. And you can’t stop me.”

Oh, a nice strong offensive move. She adores these tights. She can’t wear them to Karate, however, because she needs to have bare feet and they are so small on her, taking them off in the car requires me to lie completely across the center console and pull while she braces herself in her car seat with both arms .

I said levelly, “You wanted to wear cowboy boots, I said fine. We don’t have time to do a full change between story time and class. So I need you to wear what I suggested before, the pants and the t-shirt.”

Still staring at the ground, she mumbled something in an especially snotty tone. Then she locked eyes with me as her words sank in.

I said flatly “That was a hurtful thing to say. I need you to apologize for that, and then get dressed. If you don’t apologize, I won’t take you to story time.”

She breathed deeply and repeated the same snotty barb, emphasizing a few adjectives for added flavor.

I looked at her deeply and said quietly, “That’s it. No story time.”

I walked out of the room, found Consort, and gave him the update. (Actually, I believe my exact words were “She’s yours now, Bucko!”). Meanwhile, a full-blown tantrum had erupted in her room.

I will go to story time, and I will wear everything I like!

Knowing what he knew, Consort nonetheless bravely offered to take her for the morning while he ran his errands. I left the house quickly and went the local mini-mall, where I had a pedicure. [I should note that, faced with a zillion shades of nail polish, the color I responded to was named “Fed Up”.]

Three hours later, I met Consort and Daughter at Karate. Clearly, they had spent some daddy-time discussing how one treats a mommy. Daughter handed me a very sweet card in which she had written an apology, which Consort swore she composed without coaching. She and I hugged and all was forgiven. The mood around here has improved considerably.

But since I cannot leave well enough alone, I’ve been thinking about how I am teaching my kid to be a thoughtful member of society. Teaching children that people who are rude don’t get as many benefits as people who are nice is fairly typical, I guess, and certainly commendable. But isn’t it also kind of a self-serving way to encourage good citizenship?

Today, I asked several friends if they encouraged their children to behave well simply by staying on the positive side -- by demonstrating that a good person treats other people well because that’s just the best way to behave? By my thinking, these are all good parents and to a person they found my question absurd.

Here are some of their responses:

“I pointed out to my son that I was more likely to buy him something if he appeared interested in his family. Now, whenever he asks me how my day was, I know he wants a new Game Boy.”

“My daughter saw the Miss USA pageant, and now she wants to be Miss Texas. I told her that Miss Texas would never bite her brother. So right now, we’re good.”

“I told the twins Jesus cries when they hit each other. They still hit each other, but now I’ll hear one twin screaming at the other ‘Jesus likes me better’.”

“Since I told my son I have Santa on speed-dial, he’s been great.”

Reward-based behavior might be an age thing. Small children are simply too self-centered and impulsive to respond to an abstraction like “Good for its own sake”. It might be that the best strategy is to get good behavior wedged in there any way you can, and then attach a higher meaning to it as they develop a frontal lobe.

Or maybe it doesn’t really matter why you behave, as long as you do. I don’t run red lights not out of some ethical devotion to the traffic code, but because I have no need to be broadsided by a cement truck.

The Golden Rule takes on deeper personal significance when it’s backed up by thirty tons of roiling concrete.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I Tunes

I hate four-day weeks. Whatever benefit I get from a day off is negated by my confusion for the rest of the week. For the last three days, I’ve been acting like someone with an undiagnosed concussion, plaintively and worriedly asking everyone “What day is it again?” and “Is it street-cleaning day?” and “Are those trash trucks I hear? Is it Trash Day? Did they change Trash Day…!” I get very fragile during four-day weeks. Sometimes I cry.

My brain’s ability to create an ongoing soundtrack, however, remains unaffected.

Maybe it has something to do with always being about the same age as the characters in a John Hughes movie (only I was never as neatly categorized into Snotty Popular Girl or Cool Outsider With Great Fashion Sense), but there is no event in my life so small that I don’t have some mildly relevant song chorus going through my head. You will note I didn’t say “Appealing song” or “Enjoyable song”. My brain offers up, at most, four lines of some song I never knew that I knew, and plays it until it sees something else it can set to music.

Let’s follow an average day.

In the morning, I flew into Daughter’s room, switched on the light and told her “You need to wake up so we can get going”. My ever-vigilant brain leapt into action and repeated “Wake me up/Before you go-go/Don’t leave me/Hangin’ on like a yo-yo” for the next hour.
I got Daughter to school and headed to the grocery store. Listening to the news on the radio, I heard the report there might be a link between Viagra and vision loss. My brain, never lazy, offered me “She Blinded Me with Science” (“Good Heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you’re beautiful!”). After a half-hour, my brain sensed I was ignoring it, and switched to “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, which might have had something to do with being relieved that I am not the Viagra target audience. Unfortunately for me, the only lines of the song I remembered were “When I have a brand-new hairdo / something something curls / something something rhymes with hairdo / I enjoy being a girl”. My brain, confident that I was incapable of thinking of anything else, played that quatrain for an hour.
I parked at the Y and went inside to work out. A gym acquaintance asked me if was still cloudy. I answered “No, the sun is shining” and like some horrible musical only I could hear, my orchestra in my brain started the song “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO (“Sun is shining in the sky, There ain't a cloud in sight/It's stopped rainin' Everybody's in a play/And don't you know, It's a beautiful new day.”). I was actually impressed by the inner musical director: I would have thought it would have been “Stormy Weather”. But I know all the words to “Stormy Weather”, and what fun would that be? With “Mr. Blue Sky” I was left power-walking on the treadmill while trying to do its mildly operatic chorus. Luckily, I was walking next to the guy who seems to have Tourette’s syndrome, so I didn’t stand out too much.
During bicep curls, my brain needed me to appreciate that it knew four lines to the song “Physical” so it was prepared to repeat them until I lay down and wept (In case your life is meaningless without this information, the lines I know are “Let’s get physical, physical/I wanna get physical/Let’s get into physical/Let me hear your body talk.” I believe the writer of this song is the Poet Laureate of the Outback).

A trip to Rite-Aid was accompanied by “I want a new drug / One that won’t make me sick.” Considering I was buying Metamucil, I was just grateful the reflex wasn’t “When I’m Sixty-four”.

Dry-cleaning? “You don’t have to take your clothes off/To have a good time, oh no” (Please let me be the last person who actually knows any words to this song)

Picking up Daughter from school, I noticed one of the second-graders has been allowed to get highlights in her hair. “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/Soon, you’ll need a man”. Some combination of horror over its implications for a seven year-old and the driving need to scrub any and all Neil Diamond lyrics from my head forced me to panic-hum the dumbest, catchiest song of the year;
“A few times I've been around that track/So it's not just gonna happen like that/’cause I ain't no hollaback girl”

“Hollaback Girl” is powerful medicine. It actually kills brain cells. But it does clear out anything else you might be humming.

I Hollaback-ed until dinnertime, when it was replaced by “Food, Glorious Food” (“Rich gentlemen have it, boys -- In-di-gestion!” which says something about my culinary skills).

Getting Daughter into bed apparently needed “You’ve got to fight for your right. To party.”
Since that’s the only line I remembered, it got old really quickly.

After Daughter entered a dormant state, I went in to watch TV with Consort. Shockingly, he had found an episode of “Law and Order” on cable which had just started. This meant I hummed the theme, complete with the “Chung-CHUNG”, until eleven o’clock.
Lying bed, sliding into sleep, my brain preparing long lists of musical selections for the next day, I hear someone on the street yell to a friend inside a house:
Oh, no.