Monday, February 28, 2005

Trauma, Life In the ER

Before I tell you about today, I have to say two things.

1. If you have a weak stomach, go watch Everybody Loves Raymond,
2. I didn’t do this in order to create material for this blog.

This morning, post-shower, I was standing in the bathroom, jamming a foot into a shoe while brushing my hair and (and this is where people who know me start to wince) gently using a Q-tip on the outside of my ear. I don’t know exactly what happened, but somehow the Q-tip caromed off the hairbrush and ended up deeply embedded in my ear, leaving me with a sensation of, well…a large cotton object jammed in a small area. Sorry, but the pain involved left little room for metaphor. My ear has been steadily leaking blood all day, which is apparently fairly normal for a punctured eardrum. Other than that, as open wounds go, it’s pretty low-key, although there is an odd breeziness on that side of my head. Yes, Mother, I do have an appointment with my ENT Doctor tomorrow- but according to the medical websites, (a) they do heal on their own, (b) no one should ever use a Q-tip. You know the saddest part of this? This isn’t my strangest injury. This isn’t even in the top ten.

Some combination of being naturally quick-moving and being fairly oblivious to my surroundings combines to make me the scourge of insurance companies. In my mid-twenties, I had my tonsils removed (another story, but doesn’t getting an Academy Award nomination at nine and your tonsils out at twenty-six prove exactly how backward I am?), and had gone to my local hospital for the pre-op paperwork. The nurse punched in my Social Security number, and the screen filled with information. “What is that?” I asked. “That’s all the times that you have been admitted to our Emergency Room” said the nurse. I started scanning it. There was the spider bite that went septic, and there was the cracked rib when I was playing with the dog. Oh, and falling up stairs on my way to a fencing lesson and putting my foil point into my shinbone. The time that I was trying to clean up a broken water glass when I had bare feet, got some glass in my rather grubby foot, and decided to sterilize it with tequila. Wow, the lizard bite, which the Doctor told me that he had never seen before. Four concussions, one of which I didn’t remember, but that’s a concussion for you.

Good times.

Nothing has ever been life-threatening; I have never started walking towards the light. They are always just one hill away from killing me; I’m not on Death's door, but I can see it from where I am standing. This might be part of the reason why I never indulged in some of the more potentially lethal forms of adolescent entertainment. If you have already been cut out of a car that has melded with the center divider of the Long Beach freeway, you can only assume that you’ve used up all of your vehicular luck. I have had five cars totaled out underneath me, which makes it difficult to convince people to carpool with me.

“Thanks Quinn, but I’ve been meaning to try out the Los Angeles bus system!”

Really, though, I have been a passenger in four of five of those cars, which should make people rest easy about driving with me. Although, I probably just gave up any chance of being offered a ride anywhere, ever.

Oddly enough, I have only broken one bone, my little toe. I did it by walking the horse that I was riding through a river, and choosing to use my foot as a place to guide the hoof of a 1,500 pound animal. I guess that you can lead a horse to water, but only Quinn needs Vicodin afterwards.

But here’s the good news. First of all, I am not dead. I have a marvelous pain threshold. I rarely become terribly upset when I get injured; the sheer repetition of wounds leaves me feeling an emotion closer to boredom, so I am not one of those people in the ER who is stressing everyone else out by screaming “My liver is exploding!” I may be holding my abdomen together with a Kleenex, but I’m doing a crossword puzzle. I even have my own personal protocol for hospital trips based upon the fact that I don’t want my loved ones frightened by hearing some nurse say “I am calling from Cedars-Sinai, are you related to a Kim Cunningham?”, so I insist on making my own call. I might be tied to a board waiting for an MRI, but as long as they haven’t wired my jaw shut, my telephone voice can exude health and vigor.

And then I can hear the loved one sigh very softly and say “Oh God, Quinn, what did you do now?”

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Dress for Sex-cess

Let me describe three events, and see if you notice the common element:

Friday night, I took Daughter to a dance class, and was getting her ready when I saw a disco ball out of the corner of my eye. Turning, I saw that I had been confused; it wasn’t a disco ball, meant to turn endlessly to the throbbing beat of “It’s Raining Men”, it was a seven year-old girl with a full face of makeup and a bottle of glitter decanted on her hair. I overheard her her mother tell another mother she had taken her daughter for a make-over at the mall, to which I can only say thank God -- that whole “Small girl” thing she had been working was so 2004.

Saturday, Daughter and I went to an event for children and while waiting for the lights to go down, I happened to look behind me and see a tiny prostitute. I looked again. Foolish me, it was just a small girl with metallic beads and glitter in her hair, a fake fur chubby and a layer of lip gloss so thick it needed a Zamboni to smooth it out. Finally, we met friends for dinner and I noticed a girl of no more than eight tottering out of the restaurant. I say “tottering” not because she’d been slamming back Sex on the Beaches, but because she was wearing platform shoes, which went so nicely with the leotard top and flounced cheerleader mini-skirt.

If I promise to go back to obsessing over my own foibles in the next installment, may I please have a word with these mothers? The mothers who think that six to ten year-old girls should look as if they are working their way through grade school on their knees? I know some of their arguments, so I am going to answer them in print, which is better than in person, because I don’t scream in print.

Argument #1- You just don’t know, Quinn, all the girls are dressing this way.
Man, I wish you had been my mother. I tried that line of reasoning in the late seventies over high-heeled Candies, and got nowhere. For your information, very few girls are dressing like that. You may have a fairly skewed vision of the word, because girls in tight pants tend to congregate with girls in short skirts, so your daughter’s friends will tend to look just as trashy and common as she does. In reality, no more than 20% of the girl population is wearing those clothes; another 40% are driving their mothers to drink because they want a pink t-shirt with the word “Hot” picked out in rhinestones, just like your daughter wore last week. For future reference, the only girls in my sixth-grade class who actually got the high-heeled Candies both ended up in rehab by high school graduation. That’s probably a coincidence, though.

Argument #2-She has a cute little body; it’s not sexy, you’re just making it sexual.
Ah, the “Eye of the Beholder” argument. I’d find more meat on that one if I didn’t understand something of evolutionary biology. Fashions flourish because they draw the eye to parts of the body that have to be healthy and bounteous for fertility, which adults subconsciously find appealing. For example, hip-hugging pants draw attention to the swell of the sexually mature female hip, an indication to a male that we are ready to breed. Lipstick and lip gloss mimic the flushed and swollen look of arousal. Cropped shirts again note the difference between the smaller waist and larger breasts and hips, again indicating fertility. Please explain to me how putting this clothing on your little kid isn’t creepy. Here is a hint; if they don’t have a secondary sexual characteristic, don’t put something on to flaunt it. Your daughters have their whole lives to decide how much skin to offer the parking attendants who make those weird hissing noises when they walk down the sidewalk.

Argument #3- Shut up. I didn’t ask your opinion.
But you did. If you put a bumper sticker on your car that says Guns Don’t Kill People, But Really Sharp Bullets Do, that’s a statement. If you wear a t-shirt that says I Brake for Spotted Owls; I Also Date Them, that’s a statement. Your seven-year-old daughter has highlights in her hair, a standing mani-pedi appointment and a need for thong underwear? Statement.

Is it just me, or is there a pretty good chance the mother of Princess Slutina is wearing some variation of the same outfit? It sometimes seems the mother cannot understand they are not twenty-four year-old twin sisters, working as DJ’s and hoping to dance in a 50 Cent video. I speak to those mothers right now, using the only weapon that I have that they might hear. If you continue to not only let your small daughter dress this way, but encourage it, you are leaving her no choice in adolescent rebellion but to become a complete truck-stop crack whore. Or Amish. Either way, you know you aren’t going to want to trade clothes with her.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Perchance to Dream.

My lifelong responsibility as a mother is to create an environment where my daughter has a chance to learn, to play, to love and be loved, and to see people treating each other fairly and well. My daily priority is to make her tired enough to sleep that night. At any given moment, I am far more aware of the second sentence than the first.

Today we went to the Getty Museum, a place dedicated to beauty, inside and out, modern and historic. And they have wonderful programs for children. We arrived early and while waiting for friends I suddenly realized that “Daughter hasn’t panted yet today”. The travertine marble Arrival Plaza made an excellent venue for wind sprints. Having to dodge around other visitors was good for her lateral equilibrium. Because, really, if it’s a choice between a few more minutes with art or her going to sleep before Saturday Night Live, there is no choice. Of course, some callous non-parent is saying, “okay, so you make her run. Whatever. How hard is that?”

You amateur.

All parents are constantly calibrating The Zone -- the area between tired and over-tired. I fear my Daughter’s state of over-tired in the same part of my brain that fears my own death. Not quite to the same extent, but I am willing to go to great lengths to make sure that neither event happens today. And since in the case of my child at least, over-tired initially reads as “Slightly more cheerful than appropriate”, I become Cassandra, the Greek seer who spoke only the truth, but was fated never to be believed. I have said “Yes, she’s happy, but it’s the bad happy” at more events than I could count. Ten minutes later, she’s spinning in circles making dolphin noises, and it is too late. The entire trip home will be an ordeal of tears, poorly-articulated threats and seat kicking. And that’s just from the driver’s seat.

And God help us if she falls asleep in the car. Some parents swear that their children can be removed from the car seat and put to bed without waking up. No offense meant, but these parents are stinking liars who drink straight gin before noon. For my kid, a twenty-minute nap in the car, her head bent in a way that would have a chiropractor dreaming of a weekend house, has the same effect as a full night’s sleep and a day at a spa. She must not be allowed to sleep. So when she is over-tired, I am in the counter-intuitive position of trying to engage my daughter with banter while her mood can be best described by the phrase “spitting cobra with PMS”.

SOBBING CHILD: Take me back to see Nana RIGHT NOW!

ME: I know, sweetie, you love Nana very much. Please stop kicking the seat. How was school today, did you do any painting?

SOBBING CHILD: I’m a cat who is biting you!

ME: Who did you sit with at lunch?

SOBBING CHILD: I want cake!

You know that we hit traffic on the way home at this point, right? This is why there are fingernail indentations in my steering wheel.

There are a lot of situations where two parents are better than one. Sadly, having both parents there to appreciate Overtired Flame-throwing Child actually makes it worse. Child lashes out at Parent #1. Parent #2 comes to the defense of Parent #1, which makes Parent #1 turn on #2 in defense of their child who now starts singing a loud tuneless song about how she wants to live with Kaitlin’s family. It’s like a segment of “Cops”, only everyone is sober and wearing clothes.

We finally get home, and enjoy the unique experience of brushing the teeth of someone who is about to start screaming “I am the Lizard King!” Finally, using our combined weight, we wrestle her into bed. It’s a long progression down to sleep from hysteria, but I am patient and implacable. I would die for my daughter without thinking twice, but that doesn’t mean that I want to talk to her after 9:00pm. I need at least eleven hours where my main conversation isn’t:

ME: Yes, it would be nice to have a big enough house for 75 kittens, but we don’t…No, we don’t…No, we don’t…I am counting the garage, we don’t.

So, you can see where the perfectly tired, but not over-tired, child is far more compelling to me than a well-rounded child. I live in Los Angeles; I can always find a recital of traditional Javanese Monkey Chant another day.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Degree of Difficulty

“Must you do everything the hard way?” my mother asked, in a tone that mixed irritation, exhaustion, and something akin to awe. I was six years old, and while I remember the question vividly, I am not entirely certain of the inciting incident. It may have been when I spilled cereal all over the floor at breakfast, and had to clean it up. When Mother came back into the room twenty minutes later, I was found taking one Froot Loop at a time to the trash can. I was using her good tweezers. I was also balancing my cereal bowl on my head, as a new way of getting it to the sink. Or it could have been any one of a hundred times that my problem-solving skills gave my loved ones tension headaches. I remember the question because I stopped whatever crazy-making behavior I was doing to think “Wow, I guess this was the hard way, now that you mention it”. It might have even occurred to me that the solutions of other people didn’t seem to require secondary solutions as often as mine did. But, the moment passed, and I picked up the tweezers again.

Like so many of my quirks, it begins in a place of reasonably normal behavior. The trouble seems to come with the phrase “Yes, and…” If other people feel confident getting one problem fixed with one solution, I simply cannot rest until several problems are getting corrected at the same time. The solution will get more and more extended and ill-conceived until it is creating smaller problems of its own. For example, one morning last week along with the usual morning school run, I had to get the dog to the vet, the library books returned, the dry-cleaning to the cleaners and, most critically, a bag of valentines and a tray of pink cupcakes for the school party for Valentine’s Day. Any person old enough to understand the concept of gravity would have made more than one run to the car. But not me; my cunning little brain deemed several trips of fifteen feet to the car “Completely unnecessary”. Why, once I tied the dogs’ leash to my wrist, looped the library bag over the same arm, and carried the dry-cleaning bag in my teeth, I had scads of room to balance a tray of frosted cupcakes on my other forearm while tucking the bag of valentines under my chin! And who doesn’t enjoy yelling “Come ON” to your child through the straps of a canvas bag while trying to maintain balance while a dog maniacally tries to get the squirrel that is taunting her from a tree across the street? The Goddess who watches over mothers allowed me to not drop the cupcakes, although I was begging for such an event. I was only left with bruises on my arm from the leash and the library bag, and a lingering taste of canvas in my mouth for the rest of the day. But, damnit, I only made one trip.

Sometimes, I can even feel myself losing the battle. I can see, clearly, where others might have stopped, and have been perfectly content with the outcome. But onwards I plunge, with only the voices in my head for company. When asked what she wanted for the theme of her third birthday, Daughter requested an Animal Tea Party. This was to be a very low-key birthday party, just a few friends from the neighborhood, so I decided that I could bake the cake.

REASONABLE QUINN: Just get a sheet cake; the kids only want the frosting, anyway. If you are feeling fancy, buy animal-shaped candles.

OTHER QUINN: You know what would be totally cute? A cupcake for each guest.

RQ: Sure, you can buy that.

OQ: Or, we could make them at home. No, wait. I could make them in those little molds that I have been saving.

RQ: Or, you could buy them. Put some sprinkles on them yourself. Better yet, just serve the children cups of frosting, if you really want to make them happy.

OQ: OH MY GOD! I had the best idea. I will make each little cake look like a garden, and I will put a homemade frosted animal cookie on it. Standing up. With candied violets in the mini-cake garden.

RQ: Are you even aware that I’m here?

Her birthday is in summer. It was a warm day. I was found in our kitchen screaming at small animal cookies because they wouldn’t stay upright in their frosting grass, which was melting. Consort gently led me to our bedroom, and put a cold compress on my neck until I stopped sobbing. The children ate the green frosting, and left the virtually untouched small cakes scattered throughout the backyard, creating an Easter egg hunt for the dog for weeks to come. I still can’t look at those molds without shuddering.

And still I learn nothing. Tomorrow I have a lunch meeting across town. I am taking with me two things that need dropping off. They don’t need dropping off anywhere near where I am going, you understand. But, damnit, I will make only one trip.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Take Me To the River.

My family and I went for a walk yesterday. So now I have a turtle.

First, a word about the weather in Los Angeles. The goddess of Southern California weather is a cheerful and lazy deity who will go for months on end in a seemingly permanent cycle of seventy-two degrees and fair, when she suddenly thinks “Shit! If I don’t do some weather changes, I could get ,like, totally transferred to North Dakota”. We then get 15 inches in rain in less than two hours. The last week has been like living under a spigot. Yesterday, during a period where it was only raining and not pelting, all three humans in my house and the dog took off to look at the Los Angeles River. The LA River was designed by nature and redesigned by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930’s, so it is aesthetically pleasing only if you are really into concrete. However, it does move water well, and very dramatically. Normally no larger or more energetic than the urine stream of an elderly man it turns into a riparian diva if it rains for longer than an hour. Yesterday, it was a churning, roiling, eddying expanse of icy cappuccino moving at least forty miles an hour. Having lived in Los Angeles my entire life, I can tell you that every year that we have a big rain some teenage boy in the full throes of testosterone poisoning decides to white-water the river in some home-made contraption. If he’s lucky, they end up dredging his body somewhere off of Long Beach. Usually, his corpse gets caught in a tree. Knowing all this, I still found myself staring at the water wonderingly, thinking “In the right raft, I bet I could do that”. Maybe that is the benefit of age and estrogen -- you can have a really bad idea, and not act on it.

Yes, Quinn, you are saying very patiently, but you were going to tell us about a turtle. Of course. We were walking home on one of the waterlogged side streets when I happened to look down into a puddle in the shoulder and saw a turtle, about six inches long. “Look,” I said astutely “a turtle”. Daughter shrieked in delight and Consort neatly scooped up the turtle before Daughter could tongue-kiss it. It was green, with a natty red stripe on its head, and an expression that could be summed up by the word “Feh”. It was the sort that I have seen in pet stores, so it wasn’t indigenous. A glance around saw no open gate to a back yard, and no small children who could have decided that Tommy the Turtle wanted to take a walk. It was just us and many cars, one of which would inevitably send it to Turtle Valhalla. Consort looked at me and said gently “I guess we have a turtle now”, which was very nice of him and shows how completely I have broken his spirit; at least twice a year, I come home with a stray animal which lives with us and creates chaos until I find it a home. Consort has gone from “Why must Quinn persist in bringing animals home?” to “Quinn brings animals home. Put turtle in pocket”. Daughter named it Dave, after a dashing and handsome musician/dad who lives across the street. I think it looks more like a Shmuel (“Feh”).

No previous stray, however, possessed a shell.I did a little research online while Dave rested in the wading pool in the backyard. Given that the rain had restarted its pelting mode, I would read for a few minutes, and then run outside and keep adding bricks so Dave had somewhere to climb to get out of the water. Mt. Ararat for an amphibian. Dave seemed to be content, although it was hard to tell, as Botox-ridden starlets have more of a range of expression. As night fell, a friend of a friend, who had owned a box turtle, called me. When she heard that the animal was outside and in the water, I was told to get it inside right now, as it could freeze outside. Also, box turtles should be hibernating. So into the dusk I went, grabbing Dave, patting Dave dry, and putting Dave in a box with towels for warmth and comfort -- never let it be said that I am a miserly host. Consort came home an hour later, and heard of the change in plans, as I pointed to the closed box and whispered, so as not to wake Dave up. Consort said “I think that’s a water turtle, not a box turtle”. Oh. Back online I went, and yes, it is a water turtle. So Dave left the box, changing habitats for the third time in five hours, little green legs waving strenuously in the air as if to say “Sweet Jesus, being run over by a car is starting to sound like the better option”, and went to spend the night in a plastic laundry basket in the bathtub.

This morning I went and got the cheapest turtle set-up that I could. Dave is currently sitting in a tank, enjoying the benefits of a heat light. This does not, however, mean that we are keeping it. This just means that I want my laundry basket back. He cannot stay, as his presence is having an unwholesome affect upon the other pets. I believe that the dog, Polly, means it no harm, and is just innocently curious about this little moving thing. But if something is forty times your size, gentle interest and murderous intent don’t look very different. Lulabelle the cat is deeply annoyed that I would bring a hard-shelled taco for cats into the house, and then perversely insist on caging it. I had to put a towel on one side of the cage so that Lu would stop leaving nose-prints. Daughter doesn’t understand that this is a fairly lousy pet for children, as they can bite, and their shells can have salmonella, so the bulk of my parenting for the last 24 hours has been “Put Dave back in the wading pool!” and “I don’t care, wash your hands again!” And yet, I cannot take him back to the street where I found him, and wish him Godspeed. Where does this leave me? Hoping to find a "Lost Turtle" sign in my neighborhood.Starting every conversation with “Do you want a turtle?”, and reminding myself that this is what happens when my family goes for a walk.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Food, glorious food.

Imagine if you will, Sunday buffet brunch someplace fancy. A group of friends and relations, having partaken freely of both the seafood island and the omelet station, sit down and prepare to devour a ziggurat of food. As the first bite of egg/croissant/ham/fruit salad is ingested, someone wonders aloud where they should have dinner. Does this sound friendly and convivial, if a trifle gluttonous? For me, it’s hell. Hell with napkins shaped like swans. Like many women in Los Angeles, I have a food issue. But my issue is a little odd.

I am neither overweight nor underweight. I work out, but not to excess. Being five pounds overweight still sounds better than vomiting on purpose, so it’s not bulimia. My food issue is that I cannot think about food. Rather, I cannot think about food while eating it, or right before eating it, which makes preparation a challenge. If I do think about it while preparing it, I can serve it, but I no longer have the appetite to eat it. I don’t know what the problem is exactly, I just know that if I think about food long enough, I start feeling as if I have already eaten. If forced to talk about food while eating food, it has the effect of consuming two meals simultaneously. Since I am not suffering from massive organ failure I suspect I take in the same amount of calories as anyone else my weight and height. I snack frequently throughout the day; it’s just rarely a premeditated act. I’ll see almonds and eat them, spy some tabouli and snack on that. Then I’ll eat a slice of pie. Or the pie will come first, followed by a tablespoon of spinach salad that I had gone to some trouble to put back into the fridge, rounded off by soy bacon. There is very little sense of order to my ingestions (I don’t see anyone calling them meals). It’s as if I am a Stone Age hunter/gatherer barely able to imagine her good luck at being given bedding and potable water, grasping whatever might be edible.

Remember the group at brunch? When I am faced with piles of food, and someone starts talking about yet more food, all I see is an endless procession of food-laden platters stretching to eternity, hissing at me “Plenty more where we came from”.

I’ve been like this ever since childhood. I remember avoiding going to a friends’ house because his mother was Greek, and the phrase “Thank you, Mrs. Knight, but I’m not hungry” was interpreted to mean “Just half a leg of lamb and drum of yoghurt, please”. If I had a nickel for every time during my youth that someone used the phrase “Barely enough to keep a bird alive” when eating with me…well, I could pelt some cliché-ridden adults with nickels. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy eating dinner at someone’s house. Since I have not had to think about the food in any way prior to its arriving at the table, I’m thrilled with it. It’s just so hard to convince everyone you know to set up a rotating schedule of feeding you and your family.

And does this affect my mothering? Of course it does, you big silly. I force myself to sit and eat dinner with the kid, even though it goes against my entire metabolism and psychic makeup, so that ten years from now she won’t think that a proper dinner for a grown woman is handful of vitamins and Cosmopolitan. But, in order to be seen eating in front of my daughter, I must not think about it in advance. My final meal of the day basically must leap out from behind a door and mug me. I open the fridge and mumble “White thing, green thing, fruit thing”, while grabbing the elements that make a reasonably balanced vegetarian meal. I then spoon them on to the plate and get them to the table before I can start to really ponder the hidden depths of my meal. My daughter gets things that are heated, I rarely do. If there is a club that represents the polar opposite of the kind of thoughtful dining that the French and Italians do, I’m their Queen.

However, when massive amounts of money rain down on us in some manner to be determined, I think that I would hire a chef. I like to imagine that I would be a wonderful boss. As long as he never spoke one word to me about what he was making for dinner.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Goody, Goody

If you happen to be an adult without a small child, you would be forgiven if you thought that the only thing that children took away from attending a birthday party was a juice box/frosting headache. You would, however, be painfully mistaken, because each one of those sugar-cranked cherubs is carrying a goody bag. I don’t know which mother first decided to make these a must-have, but I need to have a few words with her out behind the Gymboree.

There are so many parts that irritate me that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, have we decided as a culture that our children are so delicate that they cannot handle the stress of giving a present without receiving something in return? I will grant you that my daughter does not handle well knowing that her friend is getting something that she herself wanted. So, guess what? I alternate between having a Painful But Necessary Learning Experience, where we discuss the nature of giving, or I wrap the present before she can see it. If she espies the My Little Pony, and covets it loudly and lamentingly, I crisply inform her that she can ask for it, either on her birthday or on Christmas (her birthday being in June works well for that, as I have six months with each). Of course, I can also tell her that she is going to get a bag full of shiny crap at the party to distract her from the unspeakable horror of not getting every single thing she wants, exactly when she wants it.

Which leads me neatly to Gripe #2- If the first three years of the life of a child are about foul-smelling semi-liquids shooting from their bodies on to the floor, the next three years are about wee plastic things, shooting from their hands on to the floor. Every single toy in my child’s room generates at least one element smaller than a quarter that is inconspicuous on the floor and capable of reducing the arch of my foot to a kabob. I estimate that I spend up to 17% of my waking hours dealing in some way with small plastic accessories. But the place where the plastic doohickeys really thrive is my car. Biology be damned, I know that in my car they are frantically copulating, doubling in population every two days. And it seems that just when I finally remove enough plastic flotsam from my car to melt down and create Legoland, she attends another birthday party. The bag is given to my daughter, before I can get at it and remove the most egregious elements. She tears it open with the abandon of a frenzied predator. Within minutes, I cannot make a left-hand turn without hearing the pounding surf of themed plastic crap rolling around under the drivers’ seat.

And then there is Gripe #3-The contents. Opening it on the ride home should be a simple pleasure, to help wind down from the party, and I dearly wish that it could be so. However, the bag inevitably contains some pesky little surprise. To entertain myself, I have started a game where I pick the most, shall we say, unlikely element in the goody bag. Some past favorites have included hard candy balls in the bags made for two year-olds, nail polish, and my personal favorite, small whistles that make a sound so awful that the Geneva convention should be invoked. More than once I have managed to grab one of those whistles away from my daughter in her car seat while I was driving on the freeway, all the while never taking my eyes off the road, expecting to see packs of maddened dogs leaping towards our car. Her howls of outrage were loud, but my eardrums were already pierced, so it didn’t trouble me much. I have to inspect the bags that come from any female-oriented party especially closely, as they usually have some kind of make-up, or glitter make-up, and my daughter cannot be counted on to practice restraint. Let’s be candid-the beauticians who work at funeral homes have a lighter hand. In her defense, I have done my makeup in the car many a time, and it’s not where you do your finest work. But if I have any hope of taking her somewhere within the next 48 hours that doesn’t involve the words Discotheque or Amateur Nite, she needs to be separated from the fairy dust.

I do have sympathy for the parents who do goody bags. It’s a neat way to let the guests know “Hey, you’ve eaten pizza, ruined our new sod and left half-eaten cake under the sink in our guest bathroom. Please go now”. And maybe it’s just me, but I would really take another hint.

Air horns are festive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

That's Entertainment

Apparently, it isn’t enough to be one of the HUNDRED TOP CHILD STARS (It really would sound better if I had a voice-over guy doing that), you must have an opinion on the other TOP CHILD STARS, and be prepared to have some nifty little sound bite than can be used in their segment (It’s not enough to see Molly Ringwald; you’re just dying to know Quinn’s opinions on her oeuvre). Before the interview, the production people sent me a list of the other 99, and asked for me to have something ready on 30 of them. I scanned the list, and my heart sank. It went something like this:

I hadn’t heard of 30% of them,
I had watched 20% of the other shows or movies, but didn’t remember a child in them,
I had dim recollections of about 10% having some catchphrase like “Not with my shoes, you don’t!”, but had nothing to say beyond that, and
I have all sorts of opinions about the final 40%, and have no intention of recording them for posterity.

I’m not a nice person, but I am a fair one, and I don’t see where saying exactly how I feel about children (even former children)that I don't know benefits any one. And what am I supposed to talk about? It’s not like we’re discussing their stirring interpretation of Chekhov. These were, for the most part, small children parroting lines written by men who worked incredibly long hours and saw their own children only when asleep or on custodial weekends. What most child actors do isn’t acting, it’s mimicry of what an adult thinks that other adults would find funny coming out of the mouth of a child.

This is not to say that I am whining about how I hated being an actor. I loved it, mostly because on a set I could act like the fully-formed, albeit short, adult that I knew I was. I did, however, see a lot of kids doing this who were clearly living something out for their parents. But guess what? I could have been in gymnastics, debate club, or (shuddering slightly) beauty pageants, and have seen the same parental abuse. The fact that there is money stuck to acting just brings out more bottom-feeders. And the money can end up creating a seriously strange dynamic where the smallest person in the house is painfully aware that his series needs to get picked up, because Mommy really likes the new BMW 7 series.

For those people who read People, and care about such things, here is a clue that the personal situation of your favorite child actor might be a little off; the parent is described as the manager. That is a nice public way of saying that the parent is taking at least 15% of the salary of the child. Maybe more-the laws protecting a child actor’s income aren’t filled with loopholes so much as one big loophole. The original law, which was created after a child actor had virtually all of his money siphoned off by his folks, only protects a small percentage of income from long-term contract deals. Movies, series, and the like. I have known of children who made six figures from commercials, and the parents could have spent every dime on lap dances and private sessions with Dr. Phil. Or, lap dances from Dr. Phil. In my situation, my mother viewed my earnings as sacrosanct,and never touched a penny. She kept a job that didn’t involve following me around telling me that my hair looked like hell. I mean, she did, but it was pro bono work.

So, tomorrow, when I am interviewed, I will talk about the people that I knew, all five of them. I’ll say something nice, because I actually did like them.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Talking Points.

I have never gotten high on marijuana. I don’t say this out of some desire to eventually run for Congress (although I would appreciate your vote), or because I think that pot is from the Devil’s terrarium. Statistics prove that alcohol is a far more dangerous drug, both to the user and to bystanders, and I have been known to partake of that. No, the reason that I didn’t take up pot was that I kept hearing stories from peers and friends about being high. Specifically, about being high and obsessing over whether you were talking enough, or too much, or saying out loud what was meant to stay in your brain, or whether you were making any sense at all. And I thought, other people need drugs for that?

Let me describe myself as an introvert who talks loudly. I know I don’t appear to be the shy sort, but take my word for it. The socially awkward can hide nicely among their normal brethren, with nary a pocket-protector to clue you in. If I go to a party (and that is assuming that I haven’t feigned food poisoning), and you were to walk up to me and ask a question, I would answer it, comfortably and easily. Then I would then stand there, quietly freaking out because I would know now is the part where I ask you a question, and I just can’t do it. It seems intrusive. I’m not talking “Wow, you’re tall for a woman. You weren’t born male, were you?” I’m talking “So, how do you know the host?”

So what do I do with this toxic silence? I start blathering about myself, because talking about me isn’t intrusive; it’s just mind-bogglingly self-involved. Luckily, I live in Los Angeles. You’d have to set someone’s head on fire to light your own cigarette before your self-involvement was really noticeable. All the same, it’s irritating. I start jabbering to someone about myself, and since I have heard these stories a thousand times, not to mention lived them, my mind drifts. I come back a bit later and find that I am still talking. I am then filled with horror and remorse for having held this blameless person hostage to my five-part story of why I haven’t had my teeth bleached yet, and go buzzing away with only a mumbled “Yeah, um, excuse me”. I then hide in the guest bedroom until I've spent enough time at the party so I can leave.

Even when the situation requires nothing more than the least possible human interaction, I can find a way to extract a maladroit moment. Today, I was at the grocery store (side note-why do I end up going there every day? Am I the only one?), and the bagger asked me whether I wanted paper or plastic.

“Well, let’s see. I’m eating the salad here, and reading the magazine, but the fruit is heavy and I do have that salmon, so…plastic”.

Look, I’ve become an annoying elderly aunt! You know her, the one who is so starved for humanity she has taken to dressing her cat in doll clothes. The one who pays in pennies at the Piggly Wiggly, just to make the conversation with the check-out girl last a minute or two longer. I’d be less bothered if this were the first time I dragged some stranger into the minutiae of how I choose things. Sadly, it is not. I appear to be losing the ability to weigh decisions without hearing my voice.

But if I had to pick a favorite conversational peculiarity of mine, it would be the Stupid Question. Every living thing in my house has benefited from this talent. More than once, I have asked my daughter “Do you feel like throwing up?” when she was clearly unwell. Stupid Question. You either throw up or you don’t, and having the image of vomiting injected into your brain helps neither outcome. The only information that question has ever gotten me is that my daughter can scream “NO!” while nauseated.

I have said to the dog “Oh God, what are you eating?”, and actually waited a second for a response. Maybe someday she will look up and say “A little cat shit and half a dead bird”, but for now, Stupid Question. I ask Consort “Have you read these magazines?”, when any idiot knows that magazines aren’t for reading. They are for piling next to the bed, to create a shield in case of terrorist attack. Eventually, they are tall enough so that they can be used to build that home gym that I have always wanted. But, reading? Stupid Question.

The nice thing is, we’re aging as a culture. I am hopeless, but no one in my demographic is gaining brain cells. Soon, there will be millions of me.

They might have to give us our own grocery stores.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I Feel Pretty.

Being as I had a caesarian, and was given all of the drugs that had been denied me for the previous nine months, a lot of my daughter’s birth is less first-person recollection than third-person anecdote for me. However, for the first two years of her life, I would have sworn to you that I felt some bizarre indignities to my abdomen, and then heard a voice say “You’ve got a lovely little girl”. After her second birthday I started to wonder whether that person had said “You’ve got the girliest girl ever born north of the Mason-Dixon Line”.

This certainly was nothing that I had nurtured, or could have seen coming. She had worn a few dresses for major events, but most of her clothing was of the “You can crawl and vomit in it, and still look presentable” category. Girl baby clothes looked too tricky for me. There always seemed to be an extra layer that would finish the outfit, and I couldn’t see myself flying around the house screaming “Has anyone seen her pistachio-colored crinoline?” Somewhere around twenty six months, however, my daughter became an acolyte in the cult of pink. It took her no more than three months of vile temper tantrums when forced to wear any other color before I became the mother in the store hissing frantically at the sales person, “Then tell me what store does have this in pink in a 3T.”. She refused to wear a denim jacket until I put pink flowers on it. I don’t think that this is inherited: my mothers’ default clothing color is navy, and Consort’s mother seems to be able to wear all sorts of colors without lying on the ground and screaming. Nor can I blame it on peer influence, as my daughter looked to her contemporaries at that age for nothing more than new ways to fling sand. This was her destiny, my small daughter as Joseph Campbell hero.

Time has passed, and mercifully she has loosened up a bit. Pink is still the ideal, but there is room for the other pastels. She has also created her very own look. Dresses should be fitted with full skirts, worn with knee socks and patent leather shoes. Given her head, my daughter resembles a child in a 1950’s school film about traffic lights. I have no objection. It’s adorable, and it doesn’t take any real effort from either of us anymore, as I know where to get all the elements. So, she has moved on to her next project. She has decided to become Stylist to the Indifferent. That is to say, me.

If my daughter is in a 1950’s school film, I am dressed for a music video set in Seattle, the Nirvana years (maybe I am the bassist for a band called Sleep Deprived). I buy my clothing from catalogues and even if it arrives and isn’t exactly the right color, or doesn’t fit quite right, I forget to send it back in time and end up wearing it. It’s all about least possible effort for me. Really, I am one step away from saying to Consort “Honey, as long as you’re going to Costco to get tires, could you get me some bras?” It’s not as if I don’t like fashion, but I have lived through certain fashion trends three times already in my adult life. Metallic eye shadow, for example, was unflattering to me twice; I’m not heading there again. We won't discuss the mirthless little bark that I let out when I saw something like knickers on the runway. And why was I going to buy cargo pants a couple of years ago when I knew from past painful experience that they make me look like a Humvee? In the style wars, I am Switzerland. But my daughter is not prepared to let this go quite yet. In that graceful, insistent way of hers that I associate with beauty pageant coordinators and that guy on “Queer Eye”, she keeps trying to get me to walk towards the light side. In high heels, of course.

I was getting dressed to take her somewhere, about to slip my feet into loafers. Daughter stared at the shoes in poorly concealed disgust, and then brightened.” I know some wonderful shoes for that outfit”, said she and skittered into my closet, bringing out a vertiginous pair of heels that I wore once, during which time they soldered all of my toes into a funnel. I said gently “Yes, they would look nice with my khaki pants and the button-down that is missing three buttons, but I don’t have a matching lipstick for those shoes”. Got to speak to them in their own language.

And yet she keeps trying. I choose to be flattered that I merit this much attention, rather than focus on how awful she must find my appearance. When she isn’t reminding me that I would look so much better if only I put on a little blush, she is pulling me over to a magazine stand and pointing to the model on the cover of Cosmo, saying “You should get that. In pink.” If you gave her a black American Express card, I would resemble Donatella Versace.

The most recent Teaching Moment came when we were in the grocery store. The store was crowded, and even though she is entirely too big, I had her up on my hip. I was waiting for change, and not paying too much attention to the tiny fingers plucking at my head, when she said quite loudly “Why do you never color your hair?” I told her that I thought that my hair color was fine, and she refused to make eye contact with me for half an hour. I guess that a stylist can only stand so much.

Friday, February 11, 2005

You Great Big Beautiful Doll.

You will never go wrong assuming that I am strange, and that I was always strange. Without trying, I am totally indifferent to the conventionally popular goods and services.For example, as a child I was completely tone-deaf when it came to America’s Teenage Fashion Model, Barbie. I probably would have been all agog over a Little House in the Prairie Barbie (Now, with stick-on locusts and malarial shakes), but I just didn’t see the point of the normal kind. Putting a tiny pair of hot pants on legs that refused to help just struck me as annoying.

My mother, undoubtedly grateful there was one thing that didn’t require steady money seepage, never tried to dissuade me from this little oddity. But one Christmas, a friend of my parents who had only sons bought me the equivalent of a Barbie Planned Community. I had dwellings, cars, and enough Barbie and Kens to make up my very own key party. This munificence was completely lost on me. I sent them up and down in the townhouse elevator, chewed on their feet, snuck a scissors from a drawer and then cut their hair. It was probably like watching a rhesus monkey let loose at Mattel. In a short time, having exhausted their potential, I undressed them and sent them to bed for eternity.

I open this particular mental junk drawer in order to explain how my daughter completely gamed me. When it comes to most things material, I am proud to say I am a total killjoy. I think we consume too much as a culture, our house isn’t big and I’m really cheap. In my brain, the only things in the Essential category are food, shelter, and education. Everything else is negotiable. I encourage creativity:

“Play with it at your friends’ house!”
“Use the incredibly weathered sample at Toys R Us!”
“Draw a version of it, and imagine playing with it!”

But, last year, Daughter got it into her head that she had to have a Groovy Girl. She could find the Groovy Girl corner in any toy store merely by echo-location. She’d find pictures of these dolls in a catalogue and give them the kind of longing looks that I didn’t expect to see until she learned about Orlando Bloom. Without prompting, she would recite a list of her top-twenty favorite Groovy Girls by name, hair color and outfit. It was love, it went on for six months, and even I finally understood that I was to be defeated by a ten-inch cloth doll. So, I caved, announcing to no one in particular “But she is not getting one of those Bratz dolls”. Have you seen them? Apparently, Dead-eyed Meth-smoking Teenage Prostitutes was too long a name for the box. But, I digress.

Christmas day came, and she got her doll and three little outfits. It was a huge hit. She said, rather winningly, “Oh, this was just what I’d been hoping and hoping for!” I had visions of her being one of those children I see sometimes, carrying their favorite doll with them wherever they go, mothering it tenderly. Perhaps this doll would one day be placed carefully on the bed in her dorm. And some sweet day, the worn and much-loved doll would be given to her own daughter, with admonitions to treat it well.

Does anyone see what road we’re on? Does anyone forecast that before Valentine’s Day, the only living thing in the house that wanted this doll was the dog? When I asked Daughter about this, her answer was “I don’t play with her because she needs a friend”. I could have pointed out that she played with the Lite Brite, and it had no friend (though it had been seen lying on top of the Etch-a-Sketch on occasion). She didn’t need a book in each hand in order to be able to read, so clearly books didn’t need friends. I could have said this, but I didn’t. I didn’t say this because I am Doll Deficient. And some voice in my head said “Maybe you do need more than one Groovy Girl in order to play…whatever the hell it is that you do with dolls”. So Sucker Mom bought another Groovy Girl. And, as dolls apparently just hate sharing their clothes, another couple of outfits needed to be purchased.

And today all of these items spend quiet, dark time together in the toy chest, along with the Groovy Girl unicorn that she simply had to have for Christmas. It took a year, but I am wiser now. The getting of dolls is infinitely more exciting than the owning of dolls. If someone else chooses to buy her a doll or doll accessories, I cannot stop them, but I will no longer be a participant in this sector of the economy.

Unless it’s on eBay.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Art of Craft

Today, I will discuss how I fail at one of the critical aspects of Professional Mothering: the Making of Crafts. There are whole magazines dedicated to every sort of project that a parent (read: Mother) and child can do, sitting around the kitchen table as a pot of homemade soup bubbles on the exquisitely restored stove. There is no holiday so obscure that a photogenic craft can’t be found somewhere to commemorate it. For now, let’s ignore the obvious questions such as where in the hell do you put the Arbor Day tree made out of old neckties, paper clips and a wrapping paper roll where it isn’t knocking over the Earth Day four-foot-high collage of renewable energy sources or the Columbus Day giant faux ravioli made out of a pillow and red poster paint? Let us go to the larger problem.

I cannot make anything attractive that involves glue.

This problem goes back to elementary school. I remember, with terrible clarity, sitting in class staring at a Valentine that I created for my parents. It didn’t resemble the traditional winning confection of lace and love that children make so much as a 3-D model of the actual heart of an elderly person, complete with clogged arteries and tissue necrosis. This was just one in a decade-long parade of artwork best described as “unsettling”. It bothers me to think about how many trees lost their lives just so that I could create something that would lead teachers to say things like “well, Rome wasn’t built in a day”, while patting me sympathetically on the shoulder. If there was Remedial Crafts, I would have been in there, stringing macaroni necklaces well into high school.

Flash forward a couple of decades. Daughter recently took a class on California’s natural history at the local museum. Since the children were between three and four years old, this was mainly an excuse for the parents to get out of the house and for the children to eat Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers in an educational environment. But the (clearly childless) person who devised the class decided that it would be nice to have the children make Conestoga wagons out of shoe boxes, construction paper, pipe cleaners...and glue.

The children did exactly what was expected of them. That is, they wandered off to eat crackers and try to remove each others’ eyes with pipe cleaners. The mothers were left to create whatever tangible keepsakes might justify the money we'd shelled-out for the class. If I had been handed a person suffering from a major gunshot wound and told to stitch them up, I could not have been any more anxious, ill-equipped and under-qualified for the task at hand. But I tried.

I cut, I glued. I attached tiny wheels made out of toilet paper rolls. And, in total candor, it did resemble one of the covered wagons our pioneer forefathers used to travel across our great land. Unfortunately, it resembled the wagon after an especially bad migration, where the native people threw boulders at it, shot it with flaming arrows and then stomped on what was left. If you looked at my wagon you would have sworn you could hear tiny pioneers sobbing.

I carefully shifted the remains into a paper bag and bore them home furtively. Later, Consort found the Bag of Shame, and asked Daughter about the class. She said brightly “That’s mine!” For a person under the age of five, it was some fine work. This was one of those times when her three-year-old impulse to claim everything as hers worked in my favor.

I didn’t correct her.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

How To Win Friends and Influence People.

Anyone can be tactless, but I take it new levels. Let’s call it…Macro-tactless. Pan-tactless. Just-drink-strychnine tactless. And, along with the inability to go braless or finish a sentence, I can attribute this to giving birth. Not that I was the Princess of Protocol before conception, you understand. Far from it. At least four times a year, since I was capable of holding a pen, I have written some variation of the following letter:

Dear Blah,

Please forgive me when I said blah. I meant to say “Blah”, but it came out “Blah”/I had no idea that you had a blah in your family/ were briefly married to a blah/had a blah surgically removed last year. If it is any consolation, nearly everyone I know thinks that I am a big blah.

Yours apologetically,

But, somehow, since having the Best Kid in the World, my ability to insult people has taken on a complusive energy. I don’t know whether repeating myself comes from having spent the better part of three years needing to say things like “Put the vase down. Put…the…vase…down. Down. Put it down. In your hand. Put it down.”. But now, apparently, anything worth apologizing about is worth saying several times.

Case in point:

This school year, I made an offhand comment to my daughter’s pre-school teacher that I thought another child was behaving like Satan (Oh, stop looking at me like that. If you knew what this kid did, you’d have blurted it, too). Turns out, this sweet woman took some offense, what with my having referred to an innocent (ha!) child as Lord of the Underworld, and the teacher being a devout Christian and all. I apologized, sincerely. And I meant it. So, could someone please explain to me how, since then, in every conversation with this teacher, I cannot stop talking about sin, and sin-related words? And I’m talking small talk.

It goes like this...

Teacher: Wow, you were almost late today for pick-up, you never are.
Quinn: Yeah, well, that Godless traffic was really Hellish today.
Teacher: Really, in mid-afternoon?
Quinn: Completely evil. And Godless.
Teacher: At least you got here in time.
Quinn: I think that Satan was running the stop lights.

See? Somewhere in me, some piteous little voice is screaming to talk about anything but the forces of light and darkness. Her new skirt, the stomach flu outbreak in the class, construction paper, something. But, no, somewhere in my brain, I have concluded that the best way to atone for a prior faux pas is to keep making larger and larger ones.

The other problem with my conversational skills right now is that I have none. Politics depress and frighten me, I don’t understand any of the major sports (Want to talk fencing?), and I haven’t seen a single reality show that is currently on the air. Not one.

“C’mon,” you say, impatiently. “You must have seen Survivor”.


Apprentice? Even once?”.


America’s Top Bulimic?”

Please don’t take this as a judgment against those people who live and breathe for any of these shows. Nor am I a member of some incredibly minor cult. It’s just that I saw four seasons of The Real World -- including those tumultuous Puck in San Francisco episodes -- and I have come to realize that reality shows make me feel as if I've eaten two pounds of Jelly Bellies in one sitting. [Unfortunately, I can speak of that sensation firsthand]. So, there is one less topic I can work into adult conversation.

I’m mildly pleased with the amount of information I have accrued on the subject of raising and entertaining someone born in or after the year 2000, but it’s not an area of expertise that lends itself to sophisticated banter. My opening gambits are:

1. So, what pre-schools have you seen?
2. What time does your kid go to bed?
3. I can get gum out of hair in under three minutes.

Or, of course, I can offend you.

This is why I am found at most social gatherings standing near the chips with crumbs dribbling into my cleavage. We all know people shouldn't talk with their mouths full. And I’ve decided that chewing (and its resultant hours on the stair-master) takes less energy than writing all those notes of apology.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Where Am I Now?

So, a cable network got in touch with me. They are doing a special called The Hundred Greatest Child Stars, and they would be ever so happy if I were to participate. My first thought was “Sweet crap, there are a hundred of us?”. Then, I realized that they are probably going to use some dead child stars as well, and I calmed down a bit. I don’t think that a society can maintain its integrity with a hundred adults walking around who were in Teen Beat magazine. My second thought was, “Can I bring any question that they ask me around to The HipHugger?”. Because there are only two reasons to be on one of these specials:

Person One - You have something that you want the world to buy, and this is free publicity. The thing that you want them to buy, however, cannot be you, or else you become…

Pathetic Person Two - The highest point of your life was before you hit puberty and your sitcom was cancelled. Public attention is the only thing that makes you feel whole and you will rob a bank just for the sensation of having the security camera trained on you.

In order to make sure that I am never mistaken for #2, as it were, I am now going to explain why I want no part of acting, and then I will finish with a fairly mortifying example.

Actors love Acting, and Acting can take or leave Actors. Acting is a Bad Boyfriend. The kind of boyfriend who trashes your car, knocks up your kid sister, and ruins your credit. Acting takes and takes and takes, to the point where any person with the teensiest bit of self-esteem finally says “To hell with this. I’m moving back to Billings to live near my folks and make a go of strip-mining“. Only then does Acting finally realize that you’re nearly out the door, and briefly pulls it together. You get a job, maybe two, and Acting croons in your ear “Baby, it’s going to be different this time. I’ll stop setting the garage on fire”. So you think, I can make a go of this, my luck has turned. You refund the one-way ticket to Billings, and Acting, knowing that you have given up all power again, promptly sleeps with your ex-boyfriend. Metaphorically, of course.

About two years ago, I was interviewed for another “Where are they now” show (From those of us who love free publicity, I sincerely thank the group of people who keep watching these things). The interview was fun and easy, mostly because I didn’t care about making myself an acting commodity. Because I didn’t care, the network liked me (Networks are the physical embodiment of the Bad Boyfriend, and we all know how Bad Boyfriends feel about indifference), and induced me to sit on a panel for a game show. I could mention The Hiphugger as often I could organically work it into conversation, and it was presented as being fun.

Before I knew it, the Bad Boyfriend was back next to me, pointing out that if the network continued to like me, I could maybe do some humorous segments for their news show, maybe something about parenting. Or silly pieces about Hollywood. Nothing big, nothing that would cut into being able to take care of my daughter, I assured myself. Well, I might need a nanny, if I had to travel, but it would have to be for a really good segment.

This was a lovely little fantasy until I got to the studio. It was a makeover show, done in the style of a court case, with me and two other lost-soul celebrities as jurors. It was “People’s Court”, with Daisy Dukes. The lighting was so bad, when I caught a peek of myself on the playback monitor I started to worry about liver failure. My only consolation was that the show was to air on the network's lesser channel, and I could take this sordid little secret to my grave.

It got reviewed in the Los Angeles Times.

The reviewer didn’t mention me by name; I was merely one of three “Celebrities that no one has ever heard of”. My first thought was: Hey, pal, I’m not an unknown. I’m a has-been; an entirely different form of invasive weed!

In the end, of course, I have no one to blame but myself. I know that The Bad Boyfriend never gets better, and never respects you. If there is some actor right now who is getting everything that he or she wants, it's possible he or she is being set up for the really humiliating fall later. If you have a well-known celebrity that really irratitates you for some reason, you might find that thought soothing.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow.

If punctuality can be said to be pathology, I’m nearly there.

I carry a book with me wherever I go, for reading while I wait for everyone else to arrive. I have seen more caterers set up than a hotel manager. So I fell madly, helplessly in love with a man whose relationship with time is…elastic. His brain is like a casino; there are no clocks or windows in there. This actually affects us less than you might imagine, as we have a small child who takes 648 classes a week, so we rarely spend time together. But last month, we had to be at his nephews’ Bar Mitzvah, across town, at exactly 3:30. Miss Punctuality likes words like exactly. This meant we had to leave no later than 2:30.

1:00pm - Find Consort at computer, inform him we are leaving in ninety minutes. He nods and continues writing e-mail. I put Daughter in bathtub, watch synchronized swimming as performed by fifteen My Little Ponies, wash her hair, remove her from tub, dry and style her hair, dress her in anklets, party shoes, and hair bow and plop her in front of video that lasts exactly forty-five minutes, giving me plenty of time to put on the party dress and do final touch-ups on us both. Give her a non-stain-inducing snack, and tell her to not touch her hair. Take refreshing seven-minute shower.

1:30 - Find Consort at computer, apparently writing the same email. Inform him we are leaving in an hour, and that he needs to get into the shower. He nods. I leave to walk dog.

1:45 - Return from walking dog. Consort is writing the same e-mail. I hiss something under my breath which makes Daughter yell from living room, “What did you just call Daddy?” Hover over him and whine until, with a great sigh, he glides into the bathroom. Glance at daughter who has removed bow and is twisting her hair with the same fingers that had just been holding cheese slices. Run for brush. Take four minutes to put on my outfit.

1:45 - 2:15-Stupid woman! Stupid woman who forgets that Consort must find out how long the hot water heater can manufacture hot water! I bounce in twice, remind him with increasing volume that time actually moves forward. I am informed that he is on his way out, as soon as I left him alone in the bathroom. Being as I am stupid, I go to get Daughter dressed, and to remove cheese from her hair.

2:20 - Daughter and I exit her bedroom. She looks exquisite; the cheese has actually added a flattering shine to her hair. But where is Consort? At the computer, wearing a robe, putting the final touches on The Lord of the Rings of e-mails. I stand at the door to the office making guinea-pig sounds until he inches towards the bedroom. Having perhaps learned my lesson, I maintain a vigil over him until he is in his pants, his shirt, and is observed tying his shoes.

2:25 - Head toward Daughter's bedroom to do final touch-up. Daughter is missing. Locate Daughter in her closet, covertly eating day-glo beads off of the candy necklace she had secreted from a recent birthday party. I quickly remove her to the bathroom (without allowing her to touch me or herself with day-glo finger paint). Wash her. Check in on Consort. HE IS NOT WEARING PANTS!!! We’ve lost ground! He is holding up two ties, both of which he likes with this shirt, and neither of which go with the pants that he is wearing, and what do I think? Experience has taught me that anything less than total attention paid to the Tie Issue will lead to him wondering whether it wouldn’t just be better to dash to the dry cleaners and get his other suit. Showing my emotions with only the tiniest burst blood vessel in my right eye, we calmly debate the merits of the red tie with the yellow blobs over the other red tie with the yellow blobs.

2:35 - We’re all dressed. I am racing for the back door, hustling my family like a deranged Border Collie, when the phone rings. Consort grabs phone before I can howl, and looks immediately happy. The person who got his e-mail wants to talk about his e-mail. Consort holds up the index finger that means “This will just be a minute. Two, tops,” and says into the phone “But, this goes back to the original problem we discussed six months ago”. When he and the child are looking away, I covertly hold up another finger. Daughter indicates she is hungry, which makes sense being as it's been twenty minutes since she ate. She wants yogurt. Nothing else will do. I wrap her in a tablecloth and spoon-feed her yogurt. Somehow, we still get some in her hair. I would weep, except that it will screw up my make-up. Make-up!…Run to bathroom to gather make-up to apply in the car.

2:50 - Daughter is pestering me for more television, Consort is wrapping up phone call, I am sitting on the ground in a daze. He hangs up, smiles winningly and says “So, let’s get going!”.

3:00 - We’re in the car. The key is in the ignition. He turns it, stops and frowns.

“Is it sunny out?”

“Gee, I don’t know. It was when we started leaving the house. But it was also winter when we started leaving the house.”

He goes back into the house to get his prescription sunglasses. Daughter indicates that Daddy should get her a book while he is inside. Only one particular book will do. This shouldn’t take any time at all, considering that my daughter’s room looks like the Library of Congress if it were staffed by princess-fetishists.

3:10 - We’ve gotten the glasses, we have the book. The garage door opens, the car is put in reverse. He stops. Is his phone in the car? This will be quick, being as it is small and matte black, exactly like everything else in his car. A thorough search of the car produces four more books on princesses and an invitation to a lecture on time-management, but no phone. He ambles inside.

3:20 - It’s so quiet in the car when the ignition isn’t on. You can really hear my teeth grinding.

3:25 - We’re on the road. He took an extra few minutes while hunting for his phone to find a Motown CD, and Consort and daughter are singing along happily. He reaches over and takes my hand, smiling.

“I love going places with the two of you. I wish we did this more often”.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Mother of the Year

I am a private person. One reason that I gave up acting was that I wasn't comfortable living part of my life eternally in the public eye (The other reason that I gave up acting was that nobody could conceive of hiring me, but that's another story). So why write about my life in a place where someone could read it? Why choose, as I have, to focus on the more embarrassing moments of my existence? Because my life, right now, can be summed up by a mathematical equation:

PP+ 20m= PH(e)2.

That is, any Private Pride I feel about my ability to run my life, take care of my child, attend to my business or behave in a way that could be described as competent will be followed, in less than twenty minutes, by a Public Humiliation that is equal to the Private Pride squared.

Example #1 - When my daughter was six weeks old, I had my very first date by myself. It was an adventure both heady and exotic. I made a trip to the car wash.

Leaving Consort and Child at home, I put on a bra for the first time since leaving the hospital, crammed myself into clothing, and headed off. While sitting at the car wash, enjoying the sensation of not having someone hanging from my nipple, I noticed a woman waiting for her car with a tiny infant in a bucket seat. She and I started to chat, and I told her about my child at home. She looked at me appreciatively.

"You look good", said she.

I thanked her.

"No, really, you look great. I can't believe you had a kid six weeks ago."

I blushed becomingly, got into my car to go home, and mused about what she said. I did look good, I acknowledged. Better than good, I looked...great. Really great. I started to imagine that people in our neighborhood, seeing me walking my new baby, might wonder if I had adopted her, or assume I was walking with someone else's' child. I looked that good. Gliding home on steel-belted tires and arrogance, I walked into the house, and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

My shorts were on inside-out.

Pockets flapping, seams gaping, no-way-that-anyone-missed-it, inside-out. Four and a half years later, I still don't understand how I managed to button them.

This wasn't a one-time event, either. There were other times when people told me how together I looked -- being the parent of an infant and all -- when I would later find out I had gotten some major piece of clothing catastrophically wrong. It got to the point where if someone seemed to be heading towards me saying something pleasant, I'd instinctively grab my hipbone to make sure my underwear wasn't on over my pants.

Example #2 - Recently, there was a terrible car accident on the major road leading out of our neighborhood. I won't try to minimize the death, horror and pain of this, but I am a mother and can only hold one thought at a time, so my most immediate concern was about the morning commute to Daughters' school. I hustled her out of bed a little early, got her dressed, got her into the car, and found a route that neatly circumvented the emergency crews, while also missing most of the traffic jam that had been created by this tragedy. Considering the extra levels of stress, and the hair-brushing fit she threw, I was commending myself for staying calm and cheerful as we pulled up to school. Why, we'd even made it a couple of minutes earlier than usual.

As I parked, a small voice piped from the back. "Are you planning on feeding me breakfast?".

Oh. That.

We rummaged around in her lunchbox and I decreed that raisins, eaten while walking into school, are "A fun picnic! A picnic with all your friends! Who had their picnics at home!" Nothing says Quality Parenting quite like skulking across the schoolyard frantically feeding raisins into your child's mouth like a slot machine.

So, if I continue to blab about what I have gotten -- and continue to get -- wrong, then maybe the equation will work the other way. In the algebra of karma, maybe I will build up enough Public Humiliation points that I can start to feel genuine pride about the most important work I am doing: raising my daughter.

More likely, by actually feeling a little pleasure in having finally written this down, I have set the original equation in motion. Within twenty minutes, I will be in a parking lot screaming at my child, "You have to eat three French fries before you can have any ice cream! Did you hear me?"

I will then notice no less than five women from Pre-Natal Yoga, watching me in mute horror.

When this happens, I promise to report on it.