Monday, May 30, 2005

That Old Feeling

You’re driving around the Hollywood Hills with seven of your shallowest friends, looking for the party this guy (Mark? Mike? Mack?) one of you met at another party told you about. “He said Vista Del Mar Place”…“No, he said Mar Vista Place”…“No, his name was Mark Vista. The street was something else”... The interior of the car is a miasma of mascara flecks and hair spray. All seven women are using the rear-view mirror to reapply lipstick. It is, in short, a very good time. Next thing you know, it’s ten years later and you’re staring at a tube of toothpaste in confusion.

While brushing my teeth this morning, I glanced at the tube of toothpaste, as I try not to gaze directly at myself in the morning until the puffy eyelids subside a bit. Emblazoned across the top of the tube there was a yellow banner and these words:


I stopped brushing for a second to contemplate my good fortune. I came of age in a simpler time; nothing more was required of toothpaste but that it remove some plaque and leaves my mouth no longer tasting like low tide. After this came whitening toothpaste. Then strengthening toothpaste. Then nerve-deadening toothpaste (for those among us made physically apprehensive by a bowl of ice cream). Now, without having broken into my forties, I have lived long enough for my toothpaste to want to excite me. I noted the color of the toothpaste was bright red with silvery flecks. Ten years ago, I would have considered this an ideal lip gloss. Now it just made me cranky.

Are we so endlessly stimulated as a culture that we need our toothpaste to excite us? Are we disappointed to go more than twenty minutes without the promise of novelty? Why didn’t the marketing guy who foisted this new exciting flavor on me (which the really old folks would call cinnamon) just go with my least-favorite marketing term, X-treme? I mean, my juice is X-treme. My cheese is X-treme. I believe my bathroom tile cleanser is X-treme. What exactly stopped the toothpaste shills from declaring their product X-treme? Might it have been that my bathroom tile cleanser and my toothpaste look unnervingly similar? Maybe some toothpaste is X-treme and I’m just not getting the full dental experience. Maybe I should not rest until I find the most intense dental experience out there, preferably with pictures of buff, semi-naked snowboarders on the box and some flavor like “X-tremely X-treme”.


Where the hell is my old tube of toothpaste?

I am starting to see why people over the age of 35 aren’t interesting to advertisers. Even though we are far more likely to have discretionary income, one of the characteristics of Neo Fogeyism is we aren’t quite as gullible as we used to be. I no longer believe a new deodorant is going to make me a runway model. I’m not likely to be tempted into trying a new dish soap because Orlando Bloom is smiling at me from the bottle. How long will it be before Charmin tells me they’ve pimped my toilet paper?

I owe so many older people in my life an apology. What I always thought was cranky tedious ranting from old people about things they just didn’t get, was… well, I won’t say what they said was always right, but there was something there.

For example, adolescents traveling in a pack are incredibly obnoxious. A pack of girls achieve a collective shriek that would irritate a pterodactyl. A pack of boys halve their collective IQ with each new friend they pick up. A mixed crowd is so saturated with hormones and hair product they need to shout and shove each other or they will combust. Sometimes a pair of them roars past me in an $800 car with $1200 rims, their stereo pumping enough wattage to pulse my sternum. Sure, this is annoying for a moment. But my discomfort lasts only a minute or two, as opposed to the ringing in their inner ears which, in a perfect universe, will last their entire adult lives.

Automated phone systems are hugely irritating and designed to make us hang up in disgust. I have taken to just stabbing “0” repeatedly, in the vain attempt to talk to some person in India who will tell me I need to be transferred to Customer Service, after which she will very politely disconnect me.

Electronics salespeople do go to a special school to be unhelpful. Last month, I was held hostage to the most mulish and uncommunicative cell-phone salesman who ever slouched behind a counter. I explained to him several times how I was looking for a very basic model and had no interest in a camera cell phone. We walked through the entire store while he explained the camera capabilities on each possible phone. I keep asking what the monthly rate is, only to have him say coyly “Well, it depends on a lot of things”

“Like what?”

“How many pictures do you see yourself taking a month?”

For a brief instant, I really wanted to be much older than I am. Hitting him with a big hard, old-lady purse would have made me feel like a kid of fifty again.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Let This Be a Lesson To You

Slogging through your mid-thirties has some advantages. For one, you are not yet slogging through your mid-forties, which I understand is just like your mid-thirties, only with older children and hot flashes. Also, by now you have learned a few useful things about yourself. If you are me (and if you were, it would be crowded in these pants), the things you have learned are deceptively simple and take at least a decade to fully comprehend. For instance:

You can do everything. Just not well, and not all at once.

When I was fourteen, I gave up ballet abruptly. I went to class one Monday and couldn’t imagine setting foot in class on Tuesday or ever again, as it turned out. This wouldn’t have been a problem except it was June and my mother, who worked full time, had planned on having me at ballet school until September. Lacking anything else to do, I spent an entire summer at home, making Italian food from a huge untouched cookbook my parents had received as a wedding present. My mother would come home to a meal of home-made tortellini in broth and ox-tail stew -- always so refreshing in mid-August. I never again approached cooking with such brio, but I certainly know how to prepare both the simple and the complicated piatti.

So why is it that Daughter is going to grow up believing every recipe I know begins with the phrase “Remove box from freezer”? Between The Hiphugger, Daughter’s fantastically variable after-school schedule, and my new strange hobby of blogging, something had to give. We can have veggie burgers (I use only the organic Purina Human Chow, thank you) and our big loud life, or we can have individual home-made pot pies and no after-school activities.

But if Daughter has no after-school activities, she will never get tired enough to sleep.

And if Daughter doesn’t sleep at a reasonable hour, I will be forced to stay up all night doing my work; then I won’t sleep.

After four or five days without sleep, I will be found wandering the bedroom section of Ikea, crawling into a bed named Knöpfgrübl and sobbing hysterically. I can either take you through what happens after I start pelting the Ikea security guards with soggy meatballs, or you can take my word for it.

Fine dining can wait.

Just because something is simple doesn’t mean you can do it.

I can’t knit. No, that’s not entirely accurate. I understand how to knit; I simply cannot create anything useful with this skill. I have more excess energy than a Yorkshire terrier so when knitting became fashionable for a few minutes several years ago, doing something with my hands while watching television sounded like a perfect pastime.

What I didn’t understand was that even though knitting and purling are simple to learn, you must keep a constant tension on the yarn in order to create a consistently-sized object. It wasn’t as noticeable on the scarf I made last winter [as of May 27, 2005, the only project I actually completed], but gauge is non-negotiable on any fitted clothing. In the basket by my armchair is a half-finished sweater: one sleeve could be a cozy for a Ford Expedition, the other sleeve would constrict a toddler’s thumb. My research into how one shrinks half a sweater in the dryer had proven fruitless thus far. I’m open to suggestions.

Loving another person doesn’t preclude thinking about ways to kill them.

I have never loved another adult the way I love Consort. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t make me laugh. He knows me better than anyone and still loves me. While he may not be perfect for everyone, he is certainly perfect for me.

But if he doesn’t soon figure out that dirty clothes on top of the hamper is not the same as dirty clothes in the hamper, I’m selling him for parts.

Beware the Wrong Adjective.

This one comes directly from my mother. When I was a child, she’d be flipping through Vogue and point out some woman wearing a skirt made of oven mitts and Christmas tinsel.

“See that?” she’d sneer. “Notice how it’s described as being ‘witty’. When a fashion editor calls something ‘witty”, he means ‘ugly and unflattering’, trust me.”

She’s right. In fashion, nothing should be described as fun (bizarre), whimsical (puerile) or theatrical (you've been cast as Brunhilde). When dining, it’s best to shy away from a restaurant described as fun (loud), hot (loud, with poor service) or fusion (loud, with a dark chocolate and herring sauce on your veal). In potential dates, avoid fun (alcoholic), artistic (unemployed alcoholic) and passionate (alcoholic, and not unfamiliar with a restraining order).

In fact, "fun" might be a neon-lit caveat for any endeavor if you’re over the age of eighteen.

The Universe Is Listening

This one has been humbling. The minute I say “I will never (fill in blank) again!”, the Wheels of the Universe start grinding inexorably forward to make sure I will (fill in blank) again, usually within the week and in front of the people who heard me swear never to do it again.

Now, instead of saying “I will never…“, I try to say “Gee, I cannot imagine the circumstances under which this would happen”. It says virtually the same thing, but doesn’t get the Universal Wheels a-whirling with such vehemence.

I would tell you I never say “I never say…“, but I think we all know how that would turn out.

And in print, no less.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Here I am at Camp Grenada

I’ve read about every camp option in Southern California, and I have noticed a couple of things. First of all, camp brochure writers are crazy for exclamation points! It’s as if they worry we might not understand their camp is fun unless they’re yelling it at us! Second, I am convinced they are all using the same picture of three children, carefully chosen for diversity and attractiveness, smiling blissfully and holding up a frog. It can be a computer camp located in the basement of the engineering department of the local college, but there are those kids and that darn frog.

In case you haven’t gotten around to finding the right camp yet, here are some of your options:

Camp Utopia - Now in our 75th year, Camp Utopia provides the ideal environment for children to grow into young adults and future leaders. Our activities include archery, horseback riding, swimming in our very own lake, toasting marshmallows while singing under a starry sky, and making memories to last a lifetime!

Some former campers have called Utopia “The finest hours of my childhood” and “The place that taught me how to be a person of honor and integrity.” All of our camp counselors have their Masters degrees in Children’s Development, and our Camp Leader, Mr. Robby, received a Presidential Commendation for his work with children!

Camp Utopia is currently accepting applications for the wait-list for the week of August 20-24, 2012. Siblings and children of former Utopians and US Senators will receive first priority.

Camp Academia - It’s summertime, and the living is easy…for losers! We here at Camp Academia know that a month not spent boning-up on standardized testing skills is a month other kids move ahead of your child. We will make sure your 5-to-13 year-old spends a productive day memorizing prime numbers. practicing Latin declensions, crafting the perfect essay and perfecting the Periodic table!

But it’s not all #2 pencils here at Camp Academia. Each afternoon, campers have an hour of Yoga for Stress Management and Excellence; our cafeteria serves only high-Omega 3, 6 and 9 foods; and each week ends with a camp-wide game of Junior Jeopardy. Camp tradition says the first child eliminated has to wear a t-shirt printed with “I’m on my way to Community College”. Our kids are wise and wacky!

Camp Academia has a few spots left for the most motivated students. Please note on the application whether your child is prone to nervous tics, uncontrolled weeping or stress vomiting.

Camp Exhaustia - Does the thought of having the kids around the house all summer make you crazy? Let us help! From 9-3 every day, we will have your child run up and down sand dunes holding weights. At lunchtime, we challenge campers to eat their lunches while doing push-ups: good exercise and good coordination!

For a small additional fee, we have before-camp and after-camp programs where your child will learn teamwork by helping excavate a swimming pool for the campgrounds, by hand! If you think your child needs even more goal-oriented physical activity, this summer we are offering a special program: Camp Persona Non Grata, where we will pick up your child directly from his last day of school and take him to work on a logging operation in Oregon until the Sunday before Labor Day. Our lucky campers spend all day, every day, in the forest, hauling cut trees over to our very own sawmill. Nature meets noisy machinery, the kids have a ball!

For a small additional fee, we can keep them through Labor Day weekend and take them directly to the first day of school.

When applying, please attach a copy of the child’s Ritalin prescription (we like to pair roommates of similar dosages).

Camp Diva - Does your six year-old demand Turandot on the way to school? Does your fifth-grade son feel left out when no one wants to go with him to the Kirov Ballet? Camp Diva is a loving, nurturing environment for the artistic temperament, ages 5-13. No class begins before 10 a.m., and we always have fresh espresso ready! We offer such classes as The Oevre of Harvey Fierstein, The History of the Phallus in Dance, Sondheim for Second-Graders and Tantrum as Performance Art.

This year we will be doing a full production of “Rent”, with our returning camper Brian Abromowitz starring in the role of Mimi. But new campers needn’t fret, because we’re going to need lots of great singers and actors to play colorful junkies and homeless people!

We offer food options for vegetarians, vegans, lactose-intolerant, glucose-sensitive, and the recovering eating-disordered.

Please include a portfolio of your child’s work along with your application. Videotapes will be acceptable for dancers, actors and singers, but please also include recent reviews.

After weighing all the options, here is the camp Daughter will be attending:

Camp Casa- Since 2005, Camp Casa has been giving one very special child the kind of one-on-one attention she just won’t get anywhere else. She’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when she empties the dryer for the very first time. She’ll learn science by classifying all the spiders she finds in her backyard playhouse. She’ll take private cooking lessons and learn the traditional Camp Casa breakfast: Cereal-eaten-without-needing-to-wake-Mother-up.

Afternoon field trips will include the beach (for no additional fee, she will learn to operate a Dustbuster and remove sand from the back seat), the park, the museum, her Aunt and Uncle’s pool and Trader Joe’s.

The camp is full. No more applications are being taken at this time.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Am I the only person who simultaneously reads a magazine and imagines herself being interviewed for that magazine? The front of my brain is dutifully taking in the pre-digested facts about some actress who plays The Other Girl in an upcoming movie, or the travails of redesigning a Gramercy Park duplex. The back of my brain is making magazine movies, starring…me.

Me, inserted into Town and Country:

“…We’re a very down-to-earth couple,” said Quinn, draping herself against the elk leather hand-worked couch at her weekend house in Aspen. “It’s really about spending time together, whether it’s here, or the townhouse in London for Christmas, or in the Gulfstream V. We’re the same people whether we’re in Mustique or Manhattan. ”

Quinn and Consort (whose ancestor, Benjamin Randolph Consort, invented ham) are best known for their anonymous acts of charity, their charming and lovely Daughter who is currently attending boarding pre-school in Gstaad, and their fabulous personal style. When asked about how she chooses the clothing which has kept her on the Best-Dressed List for seven years running, Quinn lets out a musical laugh.

“I never really think about it, I’m simply hopeless,” she admits, toying absently with a Faberge egg.

“I just have the loveliest friends who take care of me. We were at Karl’s house for the weekend and I completely forgot to bring workout clothes. So, in no more than an hour, he whipped up a Chanel suit for me which also wicks away moisture. I wore it for working out, and since I was running late to dinner with the Duchess of Alba, I just popped on this fun family tiara I had remembrerd to put in the luggage. Somehow, it all just worked.”

Me, inserted into Vanity Fair:

Quinn raced up the Malibu coastline on her lipstick-red Ducatti, her helmet giving her the distance and anonymity she has craved over the last year. After being in the highest-grossing movie since Spiderman II, writing a critically acclaimed and staggeringly popular novel based on her life and being, she says, wrongfully accused of breaking up four Hollywood marriages, sometimes she just wants a little peace and quiet.

“I’m an intensely shy person,” Quinn says, leading me through the security gate on the compound, the sounds of the ocean blending with the whinnying from her dressage horses. “I’m just at this point in my life where everyone can’t seem to stop looking at me”.

She tosses her dark hair and narrows her fabled green eyes at me -- in her biking leathers, she looks easily ten years younger than she is.

“She is captivating,” says good friend George Clooney.

I asked Quinn about the rumor that she had broken up with Clooney because he was too possessive, and had been pressuring her to set a wedding date. She grows pensive.

“He’s a good man. Somewhere out there is a woman who wants marriage and kids as much as he does” she says after a minute.

“I just need my freedom”.

Me, inserted into O, The Oprah Magazine:

It was in the late spring when Quinn first bought home the fateful cream. The bottle said it was for very dry skin. “It certainly felt rich and oily enough when I applied it every night before going to bed,” she recalled. But, one night, her partner reached over to get some for his elbows.

“Careful,” she warned him. “That stuff takes forever to absorb.”

As he looked at the bottle his brows furrowed. “This says ‘Body Wash’,” he said, the concern rising in his voice. “This isn’t hand cream. I think it’s…soap!”.

She grabbed the bottle and looked at it closely. There, in slightly smaller letters, it said 'Body Wash'. How could she have missed this? She vowed then and there never to let another woman suffer the potentially life-affecting Cream Confusion. True to her promise, Quinn has spent the last year testifying in Washington about mandatory labeling laws and raising money for CC awareness.

“We’re pushing a law through congress where SOAP or LOTION would be printed in boldface on all sides and the top of every bottle,” she says with a justifiable note of pride. Her organization has also set up a recovery house for women (this primarily affects women) who are still learning to trust again after going out in public with liquid soap caked on their arms and legs.

“I would not have chosen this path, but it has chosen me, and every day I get into the shower and know which bottle to use, I thank God for all that I have learned this year.”

Me, inserted into PC World:

“…When you right-click a non-HTML file, you will be asked whether you want to auto-open the plug-in or disable the cookie. In either case, the Windows™ Registry will auto-archive the previous settings and you’ll lose a critical file from three weeks ago, unless you remembered to set your Norton Retro-Virus on stun…” Cummings muttered to no one in particular.

There are probably some magazines which don’t deserve me.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

The QC (Book) Report

For my own amusement, I am going to start mentioning books suitable for 4-7 year-olds that might have slipped by even the most eagle-eyed parent.

"Jenny and the Cat Club" is a collected reprint of several smaller books written in the 1950's. Jenny is a small shy cat, living in Greenwich Village, who finds courage and adventure after joining the Cat Club, a motley crew of neighborhood cats.

It's a wonderful book, with short enough chapters for new readers and with some pictures, which makes it suitable for reading to smaller children. I'm always in search of books for Daughter where the lead characters are moral without being treacly, lively without being snotty, kind without being spineless. Jenny hits all these marks and more. It's a lovely book.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Objects at Rest

Deftly opening the car door with my toes, I dumped a full armload of errands-to-be onto the passenger seat. There were library books, dry-cleaning, shoes for re-heeling, a whisk, gym clothes, a bag of magazines for my mother -- all familiar Saturday morning cargo. I went around to the driver’s side, got in and started the car. Only then did I glance over and notice I had brought in a whisk. I had no errands which involved a whisk. I couldn’t even imagine an errand which would involve a whisk. Why had it been in my hands? I solved this mystery in about a second: it had been in the bathroom, and I had picked it up a few minutes earlier meaning to put it in the kitchen, but had forgotten and walked out with it insinuated in the pile of car stuff.

I puzzled while I drove. Why had the whisk been in the bathroom? It took a couple of minutes but I suddenly remembered: two nights before, I had been in the kitchen making dinner while Daughter took her bath when I was urgently summoned to witness the conceptual art installation Naked Barbie Riding My Little Pony around the Edge of the Bathtub. I must have taken it in with me then.

But why on earth was I holding it in the kitchen? My dinner preparation doesn’t involve a whisk, unless a whisk could be used to open a cardboard box of veggie burgers. The mystery of the whisk deepened. I drove onward. Finally, a dim memory from the past worked its way up: while making dinner, I had gone in to the laundry room to check the clothes in the dryer. I had found the whisk sitting on the top of the cat food container. I had picked it up, with every intention of taking it to live in the room Nature intended for it, when I was called to the bathroom.

I hear your next question. Was I preparing a meringue for the cat? I don’t believe so but, sadly, we may never know. My brain refused to give me any more information. I looked down at the whisk, resting innocently in the passenger seat, and said sadly “Oh, if only you could talk”.

Of course, what it would probably say is, “Knowing these people, I’ll be here at least a week”.

We have a terribly malady in our house. I call it Horizontals. Anything with a flat, bare horizontal surface gives the members of my family respiratory problems until we stack something on it. The thing should then remain on that surface long enough for a guest to think it’s a design statement.

For example, there is a bench in our bedroom. It’s in the bedroom because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it when we moved in, and no one I knew wanted it. The bench looks like it may have come from a railway station in Cambodia. It has ornately carved arms and a delicate curve to its back. I have no idea what the seat looks like because it has been shrouded in folded laundry for five years.

Since laundry is an ongoing story in our house (a soap opera, if you will), it doesn’t matter if I were to hiss at Consort, “please put away your clothes or I am going to set them on fire.” This wouldn’t help because while he is finally putting away the last of his t-shirts, I am bringing in a new load of clean laundry to re-supply the bench. Some of you might ask, so why don’t I just put all the clothing right away, having gotten it from the laundry room to the bedroom? Why? Because I, too, suffer from Horizontals, and I have grown accustomed to dressing myself from the bench. What this lacks in designer aesthetic, it makes up for in practical inventory management.

Ideally, we like to stack a lot of something, but we also appreciate the random still-life of completely unrelated items. The tweezers and masonry bit currently sitting next to the whisk in my passenger seat will attest to that.

In my case, my habit of leaving things to be moved later stems from having grown up in an unusually-shaped house. It was not a big house but, having been constructed up a steep Hollywood hillside, it was tall. Five stories tall, in fact. So if I collected all the coffee cups on my bedroom floor, but didn’t feel motivated for the two flights down/two flights back up round-trip, it was perfectly acceptable to leave them neatly stacked at the top of the stairs to be taken down in shifts. Today, when I leave something on a horizontal surface, it’s supposed to be regarded as a mental Post-It — Hi! Put me with my friends! Of course, what happens is that I see the object and think “Huh. A three-hole punch on the stove top. I should really take that in the office”. But since my brain works like a perpetually inverted Etch-a-Sketch, all I have to do is take one step and the idea leaves my head, slamming the screen door behind it.

Consort stacks things on horizontal surfaces because he seems to draw comfort from knowing that if the wall between the laundry room and the rest of the house were to collapse, and he was trapped in the rubble, he could still paper-clip 750 items and floss while waiting for help.

Daughter stacks things because, poor misguided soul, she thinks that’s what makes her a member of this family.

The only thing saving the cat and dog from Horizontals is lack of opposable thumbs. It’s hard to move winter sweaters to the coffee table with only your teeth.

As with many family eccentricities, Horizontals harms no one; well no one but visitors to our home who are soothed by order. Speaking of visitors, I might suggest you never try Downward-facing Dog or tying your shoes while in our house. Before you can stand up, your back will be home to a peanut-butter sandwich, February’s credit card receipts, and a radiator cap.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Inter-Planetary Travel

Daughter and I were in the car, as usual. The traffic on the freeway was progressing at a stately four inches an hour, and the next off-ramp was somewhere in the next county. A voice piped up from the back:

“Mommy, tell me again all the different ways people can die”

She might be young, but she understands the concept of a captive audience.

Here are some questions I have fielded from the driver’s seat over the last month. Please note these have always been asked when we’re driving someplace reasonably distant, so we would have plenty of time to wrestle this subject into submission:

“Why was that man in the grocery store wearing a dress and lipstick? If he can wear lipstick, why can’t I?”

(This led to heartfelt thanks for not raising the question in front of the man in lipstick, a graceless monologue on tolerance, and a brief reiteration of how small children, be they male or female, don’t need to wear Crazy For Coral Lip Luster.)

“Why does Grandma smoke, if she knows it’s bad for her?”

(This led to a short explanation of the roots and causes of addiction, a boring harangue about Daughter not smoking when she’s older, and a final passionate plea that she not lecture her adoring grandmother.)

“What does it mean to be married?”

(This led to an unspeakably dull lecture of the history of marriage, including the nature of a dowry and the trading of livestock for brides, followed by a tedious digression into the changing definition of marriage in the modern age. I then had the sense to ask her what she thought marriage was. Daughter thinks marriage is when you dance together and get cake.)

“What do people do with dead bodies?”

(This led to me mumbling “A bunch of things” and pointing out a hawk flying over the freeway.)

I actually enjoy taking a large, complicated idea and breaking it down into bite-sized chunks a small girl can manage. I had assumed, though, that Consort and Daughter were wrestling some big issues as well. As usual, I was painfully mistaken.

Daughter and I got home from some errand which had been enlivened by “Why can’t we give the man sitting on the corner money, like his sign says? Why does he need money? What was Vietnam? Did we win? How can someone’s brain get sick and how does a Doctor make it better?”

Back in the kitchen, I mopped my brow and said something to Consort like “How do you handle the car questions?”

He looked blankly at me.

“The car questions,” I repeated. “You know: life, death, our commitment to keeping Southeast Asia free from communism. How do you handle them?”

“We listen to Motown. She doesn’t ask me questions. That’s something you two do together.”


Baking muffins, scrap-booking and Hula classes are some things mothers and their small daughters do together. There are magazines devoted to such pleasures. I don’t get these magazines. What I do get are big-issue questions while attempting to merge into freeway off-ramps at rush hour, which is like juggling pre-menstrual wolverines.

But this led me to think about what my daughter expects out of her parents. I look at the parenting Consort and I do, and I would say we are consistent parents. We have similar views on education, religion, the behavior we expect, more or less, from our kid. If it’s just one parent and one child, however, each parent gets very rigid about certain things, very lax about others. From Daughter’s perspective she simultaneously dwells on planet Mom and planet Dad.

On Planet Mom, fast food is Mexican. Owing to my being a Los Angeles native, I believe food looks naked without salsa and the best neighborhood restaurants should offer goat meat stew. I won’t eat it, you understand, but it makes me feel cozy to see it on the hand-written menu which is tacked over the paper-napkin dispenser and the jalapenos and pickled carrots. The background music is Mexican polka.

On Planet Dad, fast food is pizza, and there is no time of day that pizza doesn’t enhance. I suspect pizza has been their first meal of the day on more than one occasion. Consort’s errands with Daughter somehow always manage to end right next to some pizza joint which uses only water imported from Brooklyn for the dough and has an autographed picture of Danny Aiello up on the wall. The background music is Howard Stern.

On Planet Mom, Daughter may, if she chooses, pretend to be a cat, complete with meowing for a while. Any meowing at all makes Planet Dad’s eye twitch. On the other hand, Planet Dad is always up for a weekend trip to the beach while Planet Mom finds bright sunlight and sand in her purse exasperating.

When Daughter is getting dressed in the morning, there are advantages to dual-planetary citizenship. Planet Mom can braid hair. Planet Dad will let her wear anything she wants, and will let her style her own hairdo, which recently meant wearing five small ponytails scattered across her head like bales of hay. However, Planet Dad is not a morning person and has been found sleeping with his head on the toilet tank when he was supposed to be supervising teeth-brushing. Planet Mom is flawed but awake, which makes the drive to school less invigorating, but more survivable.

Even the language is slightly different. On Planet Mom, “I’ll be there in a minute” means “I’ll be there when I finish my work, unless I hear a sudden shriek of pain combined with the sound of something heavy hitting a skull, at which point I will dash in, but don’t even try faking it to get me in there sooner, because the consequences will be simply horrifying”.

“I’ll be there in a minute” on Planet Dad means “You said something, and I responded automatically, but never actually heard you. If you really need me, please walk in here and pluck at my shirt for five minutes while chanting 'Daddydaddydaddydaddy' but know that I will only hear you when Planet Mom finally shouts ‘Am I the only one hearing that?' ”

Hmm. I’d better stop now. I am starting to realize Consort and I have no common points of parenting beliefs besides “Well-mannered girls don’t set their house on fire"

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Word Play

Since I began The QC Report, I’ve had several friends with children say to me wistfully “Oh, I could never find the time to do something like that”

“Something like what?”

“Oh, you know…creative.”

After a few probing questions, I discover that these friends imagine I either get up at 5 a.m., put on a Mozart CD and politely summon Insignifica, the muse of short-form writing, or I write while Daughter does her homework at our 19th-century partner’s desk, me correcting her French conjugations while I write about my day in quill. In the interest of not making another mother out there feel even more inadequate – like any of us needs that -- I am now going to show you how I create a blog entry. As with sausage making and Texas politics, the process isn’t pretty.

The clock starts ticking when I post a blog entry. I hit the “Publish Post” button and get two minutes of “Ah, that’s done...” before I get “...and I have to do it again in 48 hours”. I spend the next twenty-four hours hoping for a mildly compelling, funny, easily-recounted-with-a-natural-punch-line event to happen. Frequently, it does. If we’re not rescuing birds or avoiding organized sports, I’m jamming things in my ear. It’s not what you might call a relaxing life, but it often works well on the page.

Today, however, I noticed we’ve been leading a fairly dull life these days and I couldn’t count on breaking a toe before dinner, so I went to the Idea Book. The Idea Book is a notebook which lives on a bedside table where I collect…well, ideas. Ideas which might have 750-1000 words stuck to them or, at the very least, opening sentences which will trigger a memory of the brilliant rant that formed in my head while reading Vogue that afternoon. I went to the Idea Book, and found two that hadn’t been used yet:

Babies with hats.”

I have no idea what that meant to me at the moment I wrote it. Was I against hats? Did I think not enough babies wore hats? Maybe the letter H was in fact a letter B? Was I troubled by bats? Was I concerned about babies swinging sports equipment, or being stalked by flying mammals? This was, clearly, a dead end for right now, and it does humble me to realize even I don’t understand my own train of thought on occasion. But it was good for a paragraph.

That thing which makes me absolutely, completely crazy”.

It’s so sweet how I thought I would remember what specific thing makes me craziest of all, but that list gets updated every few hours. Before I get Daughter to school in the morning, I have already wished a painful rash on whomever is responsible for those military-spec foil bags of designer coffee [demanding Herculean strength and a surgeon's fine-motor skills before that first cup of coffee is just mean]. Another rash on the person who sews small, slippery buttons on a little girl’s shirt. And let’s not forget the woman who sat in front of me in the left-turn lane waiting for three blocks of empty street before she could proceed. And so on. Apparently, the specific, crazy-making thing I needed to write about last week must have caused me to have a small stroke, because I don’t remember it at all.

So, after dinner, I handed Daughter off to Consort and commenced to doing what any would-be writer does in the face of a deadline: laundry. Sometime later, I sat at the computer and typed, “I’ve been thinking lately about…".

I stared off into space. My gaze fell on the other desk in the office. Clearly, this was the problem. No worth-while creative work could be done with the Kilimanjaro of crud looming up next to me. I spent several minutes creating piles, which changed nothing but gave me a sense of accomplishment, certainly something the writing wasn’t doing. I gazed at my sentence a while then fixed it to:

“Lately, I’ve been thinking about…“

(Small thumping noise from the laundry room)

What have I been thinking about? Do I, in fact, think any more? There are some days when I suspect I have the interior life of a flatworm. Maybe I should just post snapshots of our pets.

(Thumping noise has turned into WHOMPETAWHOMPETAWHOMPETA)

Oh, yeah, the washer needs balancing.

I gratefully leap from the computer, go to the laundry room and move towels around in the machine. I then spend several minutes just waiting to see if it happens again. It doesn’t, but I take a few minutes to fold all the cleaning rags and check to see if we need more Shout. We don’t. I consider writing about the weird smell in the laundry room. This leads me to consider actually finding out what the weird smell is. I decide there are chores even less appealing than writing. I slink back to the computer.

(The phone rings. I answer it before it finishes the first ring)

QUINN: Hello!

FRIEND: Hey, it’s me. Am I interrupting anything?

QUINN: Just writing.

FRIEND: Call me back when you get...

QUINN: No, I’m at a natural break. What’s up?

We spend several minutes trading valuable information about education in America, which is to say we gossip about who’s going to summer school.

FRIEND: I should let you get back to writing.

QUINN: What…? Oh, sure.

(I hang up and stare longingly at the phone. Disobligingly, it doesn’t ring)

I could write something about shopping online. That could be fun. Need some research on that…

(Time passes. Unbeknownst to me, Daughter has emerged from her room and has been staring with interest at the computer screen.)

DAUGHTER: I like that dress.

(I jump about four inches, and close EBay quickly)

QUINN: Sweetie, Mommy is working. Are you coming to kiss me goodnight?

DAUGHTER: May I sleep in your bed?

QUINN: Honey, why would…Daddy fell asleep on your bed again.

(Daughter nods)

Consort is terrifically game to read to Daughter, but slips into a narcoleptic stupor when forced to read a children’s book. It has gotten so bad, I can silently open Madeleine behind him and he starts to yawn.

QUINN: Let’s go wake up Daddy and get you to bed.

(I spring from my home office/home prison to attend to my child and pinch my Consort into wakefulness.)

CONSORT: Mhmph…oh. How’s the writing going?

QUINN: (Sullen) It’s a stupid hobby. I’m going back to needlepoint.

It only takes another hour, a thorough cleaning of the bathroom, and packing away our winter clothes, but I get my writing done. I simply must start writing earlier in the day. I’d finally get the kitchen repainted.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Decisions, Decisions.

Last night, I remembered I left something in the car. I walked to the front door and said, very loudly, “Going outside now”.

I waited a beat and hollered “Yep, going to the car”.

I rattled the front door handle and called out “This is me, going to the car”.

Consort stuck his head out of the office.

“Is this some sort of hint? Do you want me to go outside for something?”

I shook my head as I loudly sung show tunes in the foyer.

“No, just letting the skunks and the raccoons know I’m coming out”

A hundred years ago, what is now my front door must have been a major thoroughfare for all nocturnal animals in the Los Angeles basin. A house was built but the animals, rightly, view this as an intrusion on their prior claim, and have chosen to ignore it. This means that every spring and early summer, if I open the front door after dark, I have a better than average chance of meeting something hungry, irritated by my existence, and more inclined to be predator than prey. I have firsthand knowledge that a full-grown raccoon comes to my knee. I have smelled skunk spray so fresh and so close it brought me to paralysis (Apparently, there is some sort of skunk time-share in our hedges, where all the more fashionable skunks compete to raise their families). Our dog doesn’t slow them down, they sneer at our cat, and they view us with either indifference or overt contempt, depending on how close we wander. These animals have made a decision about where they are going and what they are doing, and nothing short of my adopting a puma is going to dissuade them from their chosen path, their destiny.

I really need to tap into my inner raccoon. And soon.

Daughter will be attending a new school next year. I just wish I knew which school it was. Unlike most of my hard-working parental peers who are waiting for the schools of their choice to decide, the lack of closure is entirely my fault. I cannot make up my mind.

We have known since October that Daughter was going to need to move on. By December, Consort and I agreed it would be either School A or School B. By February, after doing the walk-through at each school and talking to friends who have kids in each, we had all but settled on School B. I then happened to have a conversation with a parent from School A, who said in passing how passionate the teacher was about science and math. My brain started scrambling. Why, science and math are just the places where girls fall behind! And Daughter loves science and math! School B made no mention of making those a priority! I need to reconsider School A! I told Consort my concerns, and he agreed with me: School A it was.

In March, Daughter had a playdate with someone who is currently at School B, but who briefly attended School A in the same class Daughter would be entering. The mother gave me all the gossip on why she had moved her daughter, which mostly had to do with one disruptive child. My brain scrambled again. Would this disruptive boy still be in the class? Why wasn’t the teacher able to keep him in line? Was I setting up my sweet daughter to be the goat of some boy with poor impulse control? Or, was I setting up my daughter to become Bonnie to his Clyde? How much was science and math actually worth to me? I told Consort my concerns, and he agreed with me: School B it was.

By April, I was hearing a rumor a week which would change my first-choice school. I heard a report that Disruptive Boy was not being invited back to School A. So Daughter shall go to School A. The next week, I learned that a girl Daughter really looked up to would be going to School B. All right, School B. School B’s teacher is certified to teach the youngest kids, but not primary school. That could be a problem, but the kids seem to be thriving. School A’s class is larger, also a problem, but the kids seem to be thriving [Disruptive Boy was thriving in a way which involved kicking].

After the fifth “I mean it, here’s where she’s going…unless I hear something new”, Consort wearily asked me just to tell him in September where he was picking her up. I kept thinking the reason I couldn’t make up my mind was because I didn’t have enough information but, by last week, I realized an excess of information can really gum you up, too. I know everything but the teacher’s blood types and whom they took to their high-school prom, and I feel less certain than ever. The principals of both schools suspect I need to be medicated. I start hyperventilating when anyone mentions the word “School”, “Choice”, or “September". I have composed so many Pro-and-Con lists I can write them in sonnet, epic or limerick form.

It’s important you know that while I admit I'm a lunatic, I have never held a flashcard in front of my daughter’s face. She has never seen a Baby Einstein video, nor am I taking her on walking tours of top colleges. This isn’t about me or Consort. This is about Daughter. And what makes this decision so difficult is because, up to now, her school experience has been wonderful.

She doesn’t know that some kids hate school. Unlike many of my friends, I've never had a sniffling child wake me up at 3 a.m. pleading a stomachache and begging not to go to school the next day. Wherever she ends up will have more of her waking hours than we, her parents, get and I just want it to be…right.

I keep hoping I will hear some magic combination of words from a teacher, and I will think “Yes, that’s it! That’s the ideal place for her”. It would be nice if, at that moment, a shaft of sunlight pierced the clouds and illuminated my careworn face as angels sang, confirming my gut instinct. I suspect it won’t work like that, though.

At some point, well beyond the absolute final day I need to make a decision, I will make a decision, and it will all work out, in some manner to be determined later. They are both good schools. She will get everything she needs at either. She might miss out on something, but she’ll get something else. I will look back on this time – and this entry -- and wince at how I let the world know how I briefly lost my mind.

Until then, what have you heard?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Labor of Love

In the last twenty-four hours, two friends of mine, both fairly new fathers, have separately said virtually the same thing to me. Both of them explained, in a cheerful yet resigned way, that now that they were parents their lives were over. Any chance they had to change the world in a meaningful way was lost in a flurry of receiving blankets and Desitin. However, both men were stoically prepared to spend the rest of their lives making money at some completely anonymous job so that their Bids at Immortality could attend a college of choice. While I applaud fathers who step up to the parental plate and accept the workload, I think I need to give them the benefit of my few years’ head start in what it means to be a parent. This topic, of course, can only be fully understood by first discussing the sex life of a lobster.

Both male and female lobsters are fully encased in a hard exoskeleton, which might make you wonder how they make more lobsters. It’s like this—when the female is feeling ready (perhaps she starts looking at the Pottery Barn Lobster Kids catalogue), she shacks up with a male lobster. At this point, she sheds her entire shell, leaving her in what amounts to the crustacean equivalent of flimsy lingerie. From here, they go on their lobster honeymoon. She remains shell-free while his job is to protect her from anyone who might want to make bisque.

Once the transaction is complete, momma lobster immediately begins to grow a new shell, they contact divorce attorneys, and everyone moves on. [Interesting side note: the female lobster stores the sperm and uses it whenever she feels pregnancy would be a fun idea. This may be the most civilized idea I have ever contemplated]. Still, it is important to realize that she had to be completely vulnerable in order to be able to create new little lobsters.

I remember the first time I held my daughter. As I stared down at this little sleeping person, I felt every defense I had ever constructed around myself crack and fall away like so much lobster shell. Everything which had been in the top ten of “Things I Think Are Important” got instantly shifted down to “Things I Can Read About in Vanity Fair, if I Have a Minute.” For the first year of her life, my daughter was this perfect, precious little bomb which went off in Consort’s and my lives, and nothing remained unaffected.

I would whipsaw between the magical and the mundane in one thought:

“I have given birth to the most breathtaking creature in the world. An unknowing little being to whom I will devote my…ooh, someone needs a diaper change”


“Let’s get her dressed and get her out for a stroll before it gets too …I am thinking about walking with my daughter. I have a daughter. I have given birth.”

That entire first year had a hallucinogenic quality. In the emotional frontier between sleep deprivation and total infatuation, I was capable of being hypnotized by the whorls of her hair when I was supposed to be paying bills. The fact that I was legally permitted to operate heavy machinery is a sobering thought. But, looking back, I could have made myself really crazy and insecure had I expected myself to achieve in the outer world as much as I was experiencing in the inner world.

So, here’s my humble advice to friends who are worrying about making a mark on this world after having a child, or who are assuming they won’t: please let all that go for a few months.

You are building your new shell, and that takes time. You will probably be a better, more creative person for it. You are already involved in a process which takes no small amount of courage and humor; and creativity feeds on both of those elements. I wrote in my twenties, but gave it up when I saw no immediate income stuck to it. I write now because my life interests me (I have already written that I am hugely self-absorbed) and because entertaining myself and, hopefully, others seems like a worthwhile pastime. The person I was a decade ago could never have written any of this -- although that person would have had a far better recall of song lyrics for ironic blog titles. I am braver now in many ways because I know my kid is happy. If people don’t like some aspect of me, there’s that, but my kid is still happy and healthy and everything else is negotiable.

The secret word, I think, is compromise. Most parents I know can’t take off to go drinking with friends five nights a week, but they can find one night a month to sit in the backyard drinking Trader Joe wine with a good friend while the kids sleep. You might not be directing the movie of your dreams right now, but you can hide in the kitchen, after everyone else is asleep, and try to carve the perfect scene from a blank sheet of legal pad. Let us remember Wallace Stevens, a major American poet whose full-time job was as an insurance executive, as soul-numbing a day job as I can fathom.

Creative work doesn’t need endless open hours dedicated to ART; perversely, the most creative thoughts can find you while staring off into space in the check-out line (I am willing to bet the next advance in genetic medicine will be thought up by someone waiting at the DMV). Your creative process might thrive under a severe time constraint in ways it never did when being creative dictated every choice you made. In no time at all, this period where your child needs your attention every waking moment passes, and you will be dazzled by how much you get done with a cherished extra hour or two.

Will you change the world in some meaningful way? Maybe not, but most people don’t. Having said that, the love of a child increases the likelihood you will feel something is worth dying for, which means a depth of dedication and feeling, which means you might be prepared to fight longer and harder for something than you ever imagined worth fighting for before. What feels like stasis right now might just be the time when you are marshalling your resources for the next big passion of your life.

To come back to my friend the lobster, once they shed that shell, that’s when they do some serious growing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Playmate, Come Out and Play With Me

We had a bad playdate.

This playdate, like so many of my worst ideas, began with good intentions. A new girl joined Daughter’s class in March. While waiting for the kids to be sprung each afternoon, her mother and I had several conversations about how her child was having a hard time making friends. Being so late in the year, the tribes were all pretty well-established. Her daughter -- hereafter called Melanie because that isn’t her name -- is shy, which wasn’t helping matters.

“Why don’t we have the girls play together a couple of times,” I suggested.

Melanie’s mother's relief was palpable. We set up a date for the following day: Daughter would go to their house after-school. On cue, the children came streaming out, and we were carried away in separate rivulets of Kindergartners. As we approached our car I said to Daughter “Tomorrow, you’re going to have a playdate with someone fun.”

Daughter said brightly “Sienna?”

Uh, no.




She went through the entire class roster, including a kid who left school after two weeks because she kept eating paper and a few names pulled randomly from her storybooks. She didn’t mention Melanie.

“No, sweetie, you’re going to Melanie’s house!”

Silence from the back seat.

“You know,” I said, smiling broadly into the rear-view mirror. “Melanie!”

“She’s a baby,” the back seat responded flatly.

“She is three weeks older than you are.”

“When we make wedding cakes in the sandbox, she doesn’t know how. And she wears bicycle shorts, and those are for boys.”

Okay, enough. I wasn’t as weird as I was throughout high school just to give birth to a Heather.

“We’re not discussing bicycle shorts again. And you are going to Melanie’s house.”

“I won’t like it, and I won’t have fun, and neither will she”

“You never know,” I said, trying to light a spark in the Stygian depths of her mood. “Melanie might have a cat. She might even have a…kitten

She has a kitten?!?!?!”

“I’m not saying that, but you never know”

“I should see Melanie today”

So she was in it for the cat potential. If not gracious, at least she was amenable.

The next morning, the day of the playdate, we happened to walk into school at the same instant as Melanie and her mother. Daughter buzzed up to Melanie, eyes aglow.

“What kind of kitten do you have?”

Melanie looked confused. “Where?”

“In your house, do you have a Persian?”


“A Manx?”

“A what?”

“Do you have…a Siamese?” Daughter gushed, barely able to contain herself.
Melanie finally looked less mystified.

“I don’t have a cat. I don’t like cats”

Daughter’s mouth opened to say something which, I have no doubt, would have damaged Melanie’s self-esteem well into graduate school. But I grabbed Daughter by the wrist, applied the steady pressure of a battlefield tourniquet and flashed her a quick scary mother look. I then spun to face Melanie’s mother.

“I have an idea,” I said, vamping madly. “I have to stay at home waiting for the cable guy, and I’ll be bored and trapped all afternoon. How about having the playdate at our house?”

Yeah, not my strongest work, as far as lies go. But “I need to keep close tabs on my kid so she doesn’t make your daughter demand home-schooling” was the only thing on my mind, and that kept me from being really creative. Whatever she thought of my pathetic story, she agreed.

I picked them up. I brought them home. I sat them at the kitchen table. During this whole time, I learned that Melanie answers most questions with “I don’t know”, and since Daughter was irritated at having a taciturn cat-hater in her presence, there wasn't much coming from her end to liven up the discourse. In fact, there were moments of such profound silence you could hear the water-meter click.

I put out a snack of Goldfish crackers. Melanie informed me she didn’t like Goldfish crackers. Daughter, who starts baying with joy when she sees them in a grocery cart, looked disgusted; clearly, another black mark against our guest. I asked Melanie what she did want to eat. Sadly, I didn’t have rice cakes with Laughing Cow cheese spread to put on top. At that moment, the cat walked through the kitchen, and brushed against Melanie’s leg. Melanie looked down and shrieked in terror.

“Make the cat go away! Make it go away!”

I moved the cat outside as Daughter ate her snack and ignored her sobbing peer. Then I snapped into Cruise Director mode.

“Hey, let’s get out the dress-up box!”

The dress-up box is as close to a sure-fire hit as exists in Little Girl World. I dried Melanie’s tears, assured her the cat would stay outside, and moved both girls into Daughter’s room where I dragged out the steamer trunk/dress-up box. Daughter opened it and immediately began claiming inventory.

“I’m going to wear that…and those shoes…and that tiara…and those shoes…”

I was explaining how you can’t wear two pairs of shoes at once, unless you’re thinking high-fashion equines or surreal earrings, when I noticed our guest wasn’t up to her elbows in shiny stuff. Instead, she was standing in the corner of the room, sucking her middle and ring fingers.

“Melanie, you want to…” I said, pointing at the upended box of clothing and jewels.

“I don’t like to dress up” she whispered.

Daughter continued to annex jewelry, so I attempted a rapprochement.

“What do you like to play?”

“I don’t know” she said miserably.


She shook her head.

“Do you like Groovy Girls?”

Daughter looked up.

“She can't play with my Groovy Girls,” she muttered, barely audible.

I spoke without unclenching my teeth, “Of course she can, she’s our guest”

She spoke without unclenching her teeth “No, she’s your guest”

My heart sank. Melanie was my guest. Daughter had never indicated an interest in this blameless child, and in my haste to be Quinn Who Fixes the World, I had conveniently forgotten that fact. Just because they’re short doesn’t mean kids don’t have social preferences. Yesterday, Daughter was merely indifferent to Melanie. If I kept forcing them together, by five-thirty I could have Daughter drafting a petition to ban her from school. There were two people on this playdate, and one of them was me. So I turned to Melanie and said the four most dreadful words I have ever spoken aloud.

“Do you like Candyland?”

Her eyes brightened.


I got the box from Daughter’s closet. Daughter looked up, miffed.

“I want to play Candyland, too”

I leaned in to her and said very softly, “You can play Candyland with me and Melanie, or you can sit in here and pretend she isn’t in your house. Which is it?”

“I’ll stay here”

Turns out, Melanie likes Candyland: we played it for an hour. Having warmed up to me, she then related the entire story of her favorite movie, “Finding Nemo”, twice. Then, she told me about how they picked out their pumpkin. At Halloween. Seven months ago. Finally, she told me about a dream she had, which sounded suspiciously identical to “Finding Nemo”. I was so bored that my blood pressure dipped below the level needed to sustain consciousness. I started loitering around the front door, waiting for her mother to arrive. I opened the door before the doorbell finished reverberating. Melanie raced into her mother’s arms, who smiled fondly down at her.

“Did you have fun?” she asked Melanie.

“Oh, yes. We played games, and talked. She likes Nemo, too!” Melanie said brightly.

“Well, that’s wonderful”, her mother said, looking so relieved that Melanie had a friend there was no way I was going to tell her Melanie’s new friend remembers where she was when Kurt Cobain died.

We said our goodbyes at the door, and Melanie hugged me. Melanie’s mother looked around.

“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to your friend?”

On the off chance Melanie would say “I just did”, I leapt in and said that Daughter had a hard time with goodbyes, and called out to her room.

“Melanie is leaving.”

A sound came from the room, and I interpreted quickly, “You may not have heard, but that was ‘Goodbye’”.

Mercifully, the acoustics in our house are odd, so only I understood what Daughter actually said.


Monday, May 09, 2005

To Talk of Many Things.

As my memory is decaying like a milk product in the hot sun, I am going to take this opportunity to write down some things I noticed well before I started this blog. I wait another week, and all these ideas could go to hide in the part of my brain which remembers where my safe-deposit box key is.

World Lullabies

Daughter had a CD of lullabies from around the world. One night, while waiting for her to settle on which stuffed animal slept with her, I started reading the translations of the lyrics. It was fascinating. I determined that from palazzo to mud hut, there are only two kinds of lullabies-

1) Pleading variety-
I love you so much
(Go to sleep)
You are the shining star in my firmament
(Please go to sleep)
I have waited countless lives just to bask in your beauty
(If I sign the house over to you, will you sleep?)

2) Threat variety-
Little child of my heart,
It is said that a wolf prowls these hills.
It is said he eats the toes of any child awake after eight p.m.
I am not saying this story is true.
But I believe I hear a soft growling coming from under your bed.
And the smell of child’s toes upon wolf breath.
You might want to shut your eyes.

These sound wonderfully soothing when you haven’t a clue what they are singing.

Temper Tantrums

Daughter was about a year old, and we were in a mother/child group. One of the women had a son who was slightly older, as well as a four year-old. She was talking about how her younger son had thrown his first tantrum that week.

I said brightly “Wow, my daughter yells and cries. I wonder if she’s had her first tantrum, and I didn’t even know it”.

To this woman’s credit, she didn’t hit me. She just gazed at me and said wearily “Oh, you’ll know”.

For those who might not have witnessed one yet, the difference between normal angry and a tantrum is duration. Imagine dropping something heavy on your toe. You might say


(Or something more obscene, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt)

Let’s say “Ow!” is normal angry. Now imagine you dropped something on your toe when you were tired, hungry and touch hormonal…


That’s a tantrum. Except they don’t have language, so the whole thing is expressed with something like “No go! Bad Mommy! Goo-bah!”
It’s a tiny little furious alien visitor and you without a Toddler-English dictionary.

I do remember Daughter’s first tantrum. I don’t remember exactly what set it off, but I do remember that we were getting in the car to come home from somewhere. I remember the horrible sound she made, and continued to make. After trying to buckle her into her car seat for a few minutes with her arching and shrieking like a feral cat, I gave up. I told her we would stay there until she calmed down enough to not damage my eardrums. I unrolled all the windows, walked to the back of the car, and cleaned out the trunk of debris while she screamed.

It took twenty minutes.*

I stuck my head in the back seat a few times to offer loving support, only to notice that my very presence seemed to set her off again. For my kid, this is what separates mere bad humor from a tantrum. A tantrum is like a random brush fire that has to blaze through her head periodically; any human interaction works like a gust of pure oxygen. I put her someplace safe and boring until it runs its course.

She recovers without incident. I recover with gin and tonic.


I think part of my brain resides in my gums. This is the only reason for the fact that when I brush my teeth, I suddenly remember something I simply have to do. It’s as if some bristle kicks a critical ganglion into wakefulness.

QUINN: (Brushing) What is our home insurance deductible?

At which point, I cannot move forward until I have learned the answer to whatever question has been jogged loose by brushing. This is why I have been found in every room of my house, and once my car, with my toothbrush lodged in my cheek. I have been known to go back to brushing, if it’s a situation where I can multi-task. Over the years, I have figured out tasks that naturally go together, like brushing your teeth while reading your insurance policy, and things that are best done separately, like brushing your teeth while emptying the cat box (Note: I didn’t do that one twice).

It’s really only a matter of time before, while trotting to the kitchen because I must have a precise inventory of our fruit leather, I trip and impale myself on my toothbrush. I can only hope it will be one of those dignified, adult brushes which massages my brain -- I mean my gums -- and that I haven’t gotten something on sale. I would really hate to be found dead with Shrek protruding from my skull.

* In the interest of full disclosure, it actually took forty-five minutes. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Oy of the Beholder

I have been in a quandary as to what to give my Mother on Sunday. Let’s just say I’d used up my clever ideas right around the time I stopped working in macaroni, orange juice cans and gold spray paint.

Here were my ideas for this year:

Chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. Mother would eat them. Mother would call me and inform me that I was out of the will for corrupting her.

Scented candle. I have abused the candle option repeatedly over the years. If every candle in Mother’s house were to be lit simultaneously, it would look like Notre Dame and smell like the Flower Arrangement of the Damned.

Small cute objet. One of my Mother’s purest joys is pruning the non-essential out of her life. Again, I’d be courting will-removal were I to show up with a cute, pointless whatsit.

I was stumped until last night. I was staring at a picture of myself, and I realized exactly what I could get her. And no, it’s not a picture of me. The gift is more delicious than chocolate, will last longer than a freesia candle, and is more practical than a small china bulldog.

Okay, here goes.

Mother, you…were… (Clearing throat)…right.

And I was…wr…wr…incorrect.

(Ow. I may have just pulled something)

So now you probably want to know where she was right and I was that other thing. Perhaps it is a consequence of having been fussed over and plucked at when I was acting, but I dearly hate high-maintenance grooming. If my hair was styled, and the lipstick was plentiful, I felt as if I had to shout over Product.

FRIEND: Wow, you look great. What did you do that’s different?

QUINN: I’m sorry; I didn’t get a word of that. My mascara is humming.

One reason I stayed with Bob with Bangs as long as I did was because that's what my hair did naturally. Straight lank hair enjoys dropping lifelessly to your shoulders. Any makeup I wore went on in the morning, and I was deeply aggravated when I'd look in the mirror at 4 pm and realize it had disappeared. I put on pants at the same time, and yet somehow they were still here.

I live in Los Angeles. I suspected any attempt at attractiveness might be seen as trying to compete with the 13,436 physically perfect women who also live here so I decided I just wouldn’t play. I’d be sort of disheveled, in a preppy yet oddly European “I read Proust in the original French when you were getting your colors done” kind of way [I didn’t, really. I made five stabs at an English translation of Remembrance of Things Past and I cannot finish it. Reading it was like being trapped with a chatty hairdresser who insists on telling you hot gossip about complete strangers].

For two decades, my mother has periodically pointed out that styled hair doesn’t take away brain cells. A hot roller or two wouldn’t kill me. Blush is not a tool of The Man (It’s the tool of a few men, but they have their own web sites). Lip gloss comes in other colors besides Taupe, Nude, Oatmeal and Chapstick. To all of these perfectly reasonable statements, I have responded:

“It’s fine” (Said through gritted teeth)


“I hate the way it looks!” (Add an eye roll for full effect)


“GET OFF MY BACK!!!” (In my defense, I was about fifteen. That was my response to most suggestions)

Flash forward. Today was the Mother’s Day tea at Daughter’s school. Last night, Consort was looking at a picture of us from last year’s tea. He was marveling at how much she has grown. I was staggered by something else entirely: I was frightening to behold. My hair was both lank and flyaway, creating the effect of coffee cotton candy. My skin color, which I would optimistically describe in person as “Pale with freckles”, was rendered on film as “Uniformly ashen”. I wanted to leap into the picture and force this poor woman to take an iron pill. My eyebrows were slinking out of frame and trying to throttle some innocent child eating a scone. I looked like Tolstoy. The eyes underneath the eyebrows were raisins pushed into dough. I’d talk about my lips, but I couldn’t find them: pale pink lipstick rendered me a lipless freak, which is a neat trick when you have nine square inches of lip, as I do. So, in order to be able to look at this year’s picture without starting to chew on my hair, I had to do everything exactly the opposite of my natural inclination.

In short, I had to take my mother’s advice.

This morning, with all the grace of a polar bear running for Miss Texas, I put in hot rollers. Daughter wandered in to the bathroom, and was enthralled. She was speechless with joy when the makeup got trotted out, and I used colors she usually associates with her Barbie Make-up Head. She was hugging my knees in what appeared to be relief with I undid the rollers and sprayed my hair. She leapt in the direction of my head to touch the hairdo, and I avoided her hand with the deftness of Jet Li.

“Sorry, sweetie, but if you want this kind of Mom, you have to stay away from the head. If you need to touch me, here’s an elbow”

She touched my elbow reverently as I looked in the mirror. I looked better, no two ways about it. Blush helps. Wavy hair is more flattering after (wow, we’re here already?) a certain age. Lipstick should be a color approaching the color of your lips. If I don’t look like Wednesday Addams in this year’s pictures, it will be because I finally listened to my mother.

So, Mother, thank you.

And Mother, you will be pleased to know that when I had to get new summer sandals, I glanced down at a pair with ankle straps and immediately heard:

MY MOTHER WHO LIVES IN MY HEAD: (With a Biblical finality) Ankle straps make everyone’s legs look short and fat.

If I live long enough, you might finally get me pulled together.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


September 7, 2004: Daughter and I arrive at school at 7:55 a.m.

May 4, 2005: I wake up Daughter at 7:55 a.m.

That should give you a hint of the inertia I am battling these days.

School begins promptly at 8:30. I draw some comfort from the fact that when we arrived at school today at 8:28, only five other children (out of her class of 22) had arrived. Right now, most of my friends with children are pretty much over the whole school year business.

We’re over getting them out the door in the morning; a process that is best compared to pushing tapioca pudding uphill with a colander. You don’t really have a full understanding of the concept of eternity until you watch a small child eat a bowl of cereal.

We’re over discussing elementary school options and passing along rumors about the selection process for certain hot schools (“…I hear they’re only interested in same-sex parents with woodworking skills.”).

Certain members of my crowd are over being wait-listed for their school of choice -- a state they can remain in until the first week of September, when the enrollment finally gets settled. I sometimes imagine how it happens: one child at the hottest school in town has a parent who gets transferred suddenly. The mother calls the headmistress apologetically -- so sorry, but Branford is coming with us to Laos, so he won’t be going to your school, which starts in two days. At that moment, every mother in Los Angeles with a kid on a wait-list feels a rippling breeze as the wait-list phone numbers are cracked open. Child #1 is offered a spot at School A, which opens a spot at School B, which is quickly filled by Child #2, and so on throughout the city. Money changes hands, regulation shoes are quickly bought, and before 18 hours have passed, the game of Private School Musical Chairs has answered the prayers of forty or so families. The parents of the still wait-listed kids come together to do the traditional autumn dance: Elementary Schools Are All Pretty Much Alike and We’re Fine Where We Are.

I am certainly over the lunch-box. Please note the plummeting quality of Daughter’s lunchtime menu:

September: Home-baked goods, sliced vegetables, note of encouragement.

January: Thawed pizza slice, box of organic juice, Fruit Roll-up.

Today: Applesauce cup, breakfast bar, pretzels.

Another week and I will be sending her shirt cardboard smeared with jelly. Clearly, I had to get to the grocery store before the state intervened. After school, we headed off to the store. Once inside, Daughter saw a display and said prayerfully, “Nuts”.

“Go on,” I said kindly. “Pick whatever kind you want to eat”. It’s not Aristotle Onassis naming a yacht after his daughter, but I felt reasonably munificent. Daughter beetled over and looked thoughtfully at the Brazil nuts while disdaining the walnuts. I then noticed a woman in her 70’s watching the whole thing. She had the faintest trace of disdain in her brow. Her gaze lingered.

“My daughter likes nuts” I volunteered, because it pleases me to state the obvious.

“When my kids were young,” she said flatly “they ate whatever was put in front of them”

Oh, no. A parenting expert. With women of a certain age who know everything but A) your kid or B) your situation, you can either start a screaming catfight or roll over and show your white maternal underbelly right away.

I rolled.

“Well,” I said neutrally, “I’m sure your children turned out wonderfully. Maybe moms these days give their kids too much of a say”.

Having taken away all of her fun, she came back with a resigned “That’s what I tell my daughter”. I grabbed my Daughter, by now holding her bag of pecans, and walked off. Having bitten my tongue as a mark of respect for an older person, I am now going to rail at her in the comfort of my own blog.

“Lady, let me give you a few pertinent facts. First of all, she doesn’t pick all her food. If she did, our kitchen would contain only macaroni and cheese, candy hearts and toast. She does get a few situations where she may be in control, like picking what kind of nuts she has. What the hell do I care? Nuts have all those…things I am currently forgetting the names of which are good for you. And yes, I could remind her of my hegemony over her by sanctioning her snack food, but if I don’t give her the occasional taste of autonomy she will run off at 14 with her gym teacher. So, in closing, if you want to remind someone my age about how be a mother, please call your daughter. But she’s probably blocked your number!”

You want to question my judgment? I suggest coming back in September.

Monday, May 02, 2005

You Better Shop Around

Daughter is trying on new tennis shoes. She is prancing around the store happily. I’m a little cross because they are the most low-key tennis shoes in the store, and they still resemble a Rose Parade float. I have, however, agreed to buy them.

QUINN: So, you like them?

DAUGHTER: I love them! They’re so cute and beautiful!

QUINN: If I buy these, you are going to wear them, right?


QUINN: “Sure” is not good enough. This is not the time to humor your Mother. These shoes cost more than the shoes I am wearing right now, and the only way they are coming home with us is if you promise to wear them.

DAUGHTER: I like them.

QUINN: And you’ll wear them often.


QUINN: Please say: “I really like these shoes, and will wear them almost every day. If my feet grow slowly enough, I will wear them to my prom”.

Daughter repeats what I have said and seems to mean it. She even insists on wearing them out of the store. I feel something akin to hope.

I am a deluded sap.

She has thrown herself into a school dress and is eyeing her patent-leather shoes. I swoop in with the nearly-unworn tennis shoes.

QUINN: (Brightly) Here, you can wear your new shoes!

Daughter scowls at me and the shoes.

DAUGHTER: I don’t like those shoes.

QUINN: But…you picked them out.

DAUGHTER: They aren’t pretty.

QUINN: You wanted to marry them when we were in the store. Just put them on.

DAUGHTER: (Dangerously quiet) No.

We stare each other down. It is “High Noon” with toothpaste breath.

QUINN: (Even more quietly) You told me you wanted them. I listened to you. And now you will wear them.

Daughter grabs shoes and runs to stand in her closet.


This is what buyer’s remorse looks like in the under-7 crowd.

I can sympathize. Please don’t misunderstand; she will be wearing those shoes. She wanted the shoes, they were freaking expensive, and her sulking expression holds no fear for me. But I am sorry to say that she might have inherited certain, shall we say, sartorial relationship issues from her mother. Daughter is just learning how quickly we go from gratified to grossed-out. I have moved on to the stage where I just hope to get out of the parking lot before I start hating what I purchased.

Buying clothing is kind of like a little marriage. I do best with the dressing room one-night stand. But, like many people with commitment problems, I blame it not on being unromantic, but being idealistic. Many is the time I have been convinced that I have found The One (The One Pair of Cream Heels Which Actually Are Attractive; The One Pair of Khakis Which Don’t Sit Strangely on My Hips; The One Bathing Suit Which Doesn’t Make Me Cry) only to take it home and discover it possesses no magic at all. Without the three-way mirrors, Kylie Minogue assaulting my ears and the moisturizer samples stuffed in my purse, the clothing no longer transforms me as much as mutates me. Some element of me knows this, but another element still wants to participate in fashion. This is why I have to shop by myself -- I couldn’t possibly hear anybody else over all the voices in my head.

I am alone with two sweaters and two skirts. I try on the first sweater, which is green.

IMPULSE QUINN: This is nice. I should get this.

RATIONAL QUINN: Yes, nothing nicer than a green sweater. This is why you already have three in almost exactly the same shade.

IQ: But, it’s one sale.

RQ: Do you need to see money leave your hands today, is that it? Does your purse feel too heavy with cash in it?

IQ: Okay, how about this yellow one. (Tugging it on) I don’t have a sweater in yellow.

RQ: There’s a reason for that. Shove an oxygen tube up your nose and you could do a Public Service Announcement about the importance of organ donation.

IQ: Fine, let’s look at skirts. I like this skirt, but this size is a little tight around the waist.

At this point, new personality leaps in.

OPTIMISTIC QUINN: We’ll drink that leek soup from that book about how French women don’t get fat! We’ll lose an inch in two days!

IQ: Yeah! Let’s buy leeks! And since I’m going to be so thin, let’s buy those boy-cut shorts I always wanted to wear!

OQ: People will describe me as lanky!

IQ: I’ll get those shorts in five colors! It will become my signature look! Vogue will interview me!

RQ: You look like the Venus of Willendorf in those shorts. And you hate leeks. Just try on the larger size.

OQ: (resentfully) I totally could have fit into the smaller skirt.

Another skirt is tried on.

OQ: This is cute!

IQ: We should get this one!

RQ: A denim miniskirt? Are we rushing a sorority? How old are you two, because I know how old I am.

OQ: Nobody in Quinn’s brain likes you, you know.

RQ: High praise, coming from two cranial cretins.

IQ: You’re the reason Quinn didn’t date much in high school.

RQ: Keep it up, and I’ll drain your endorphin stash.

That’s when the brawl broke out. When I regained consciousness, I was at home. I appeared to have purchased coral lipstick and a small bushel of leeks.