Monday, January 30, 2006

Rational Discourse.

(This is not my usual kind of blog. I promise to be found back in the shallow end of the literary pool very shortly)

There are a few blogs I jump into whenever I feel like trying on someone else's life. One of them is written by a woman named Mel, who has written some very kind and very funny comments on this little blog right here. Considering that her life would be best described as "Everything, all at once, while trying to home-school and run day care", I am amazed at her output, which is thoughtful and entertaining.

Anyway, a few days ago, I danced into her blog and found that she had written a blog entry about the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. She presented her feelings about this subject clearly and passionately, but without ever degenerating into lecturing or haranguing. I noticed, though, that she had a fairly long list of comments underneath, and my heart sank. This isn't a subject which lends itself to polite discourse, and I knew this was going to be a series of escalating, increasingly venomous, attacks, guaranteed to make the reader (me) feel angry, slimy and sad. For no other reason than masochism, I clicked the "Comments" button.

I read one, and then another, and then all of them in something approaching shock. The readers had opinions on abortion ranging from "Never, never, never" to "I helped transport women to abortion clinics when it wasn't legal, and I believe that was the right thing to do", and every single one of these writers took the high road. Each person managed to convey the depths of his or her belief without having to make another person feel badly or look stupid. And this on the Internet, the place where the promise of anonymity has brought out the jackass in the most unlikely people.

Was this because Mel has an audience which naturally selected out the bombastic trolls? Did she set a tone of "Conversation, not conversion" with her blog that her readers unconsciously followed? Or is it just possible that while screaming and name-calling gets attention (and money and ratings), more people would really rather find a way to look at and discuss the large issues without drawing blood and causing pain?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Time, time, time, see what's become of me.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it’s possible that there is a tear in the time-space continuum in my house.

Every morning, I awaken Daughter with plenty of time to get her fed, dressed and out the door. But at some point along the way every morning, we go from Plenty of Time to Only Going to Get There on Time if We Make Every Single Green Light. I have tried getting her up earlier; I have tried having her eat in the car; I have tried sending her to school in the t-shirt and leggings in which she slept. It doesn’t matter. At some point, I will be standing by the car screaming like a fishwife “Get in the car NOW; we’ll brush the back of your hair tomorrow!”

Let’s take this morning as an example. I am kind of a lunatic about punctuality. So the shame of being taken aside by Daughter’s teacher with a whispered “Perhaps you have forgotten what time school starts…?” would be more than I could bear. Ergo, an hour before we have to leave, I wake up Daughter. She is a small child, so there isn’t much to dress or feed. An hour should be an embarrassment of riches. We spent ten minutes in her bedroom where we both worked assiduously at our own goals; I wished to see her upright and heading towards the kitchen, and Daughter wished to put a tiara on the cat and discuss a dream she had where all the kittens in the world lived in her bedroom.

Lulabelle the cat shook off the jewelry and made a break for the kitchen, which meant we all headed towards the kitchen. I headed smartly towards the table, where Daughter’s breakfast was waiting, and Daughter headed towards the laundry room, to do her morning chore, which is to feed the pets. I heard the food being scooped out, but I did not hear small feet padding towards me. I went into the laundry room, where Daughter was rapt, watching the cat masticate.

QUINN: What are you doing?

DAUGHTER: She’s eating!

QUINN: And it’s just as interesting as it was yesterday. Now it’s time for you to eat.

(I noticed the dog’s bowl was empty, and that the dog was gazing at me piteously)

QUINN: Did you feed the dog?


Note to readers; Daughter’s favoritism of cat is almost shocking. I have come to the conclusion that it’s because Lulabelle fits into more of Daughter’s doll clothing. It might also have something to do with the dog’s mystifying habit of eating Daughter’s sticker books.

She fed the dog, and somehow we made it to the kitchen table. A quick glance at the clock told me that we had forty-five minutes to get out the door, which should have been plenty of time.

Physicists in the crowd, take note: The kitchen table is where the worm-hole exists. Daughter ate a sliced apple and a piece of cheese. I watched her do this. She ate at a nice, regulation speed. She attempted to read the comics, but was gently discouraged from that, as it slows down her eating. In short, this was, at most, a fifteen-minute activity.

Two slices of apple eaten; we had forty minutes before we had to leave.

Three slices of apple and half the cheese eaten; we had thirty-five minutes before we had to leave.

Four slices of apple eaten; we had ten minutes before we had to leave.

What just happened? I saw no slowdown in eating; we did not leave the table to change the oil in the car, so how did we lose twenty-five minutes? Did we have some sort of alien visitation?

Sadly, I had no time to ponder one of the great mysteries of life. Daughter’s hair resembled over-cooked spaghetti and she was still in her nightgown. I leapt from the table.

QUINN: Wow, we’ve got to get you dressed. Grab the rest of the apple for the car.

Daughter crumbled into tears. I, already halfway into her bedroom, her hairbrush between my teeth and her socks in my hands, stopped.

QUINN: What. Is. It…? (I wish I could say I said this in a loving and supportive tone.)

Daughter tearfully, and slowly, went to her backpack, inched out a sheet of lined paper, and dolefully waved it at me.

DAUGHTER: I have to write a paragraph about a book I read.

I stared in horror. I glanced at my watch. We had nine minutes before we had to leave. I hurdled nimbly around the house, located a pencil, and handed it to her.

QUINN: Listen to me. You are going to write. I am going to dress you. Tonight, we are going to have another conversation about how much Mommy dislikes surprises.

In four minutes, I managed to dress her while she wrote. Was the dressing my finest job? No, but all the major bits were covered. Was the printing her finest job? Probably not, but Daughter proved to herself she can write while someone is tugging at her legs -- a useful skill should she pursue writing in any professional capacity.

I glanced at what she had written: “I read a book last night.”

Five minutes before we had to leave: her teeth were unbrushed; her hair was unbrushed; her book paragraph was a masterpiece of minimalism. I quickly prioritized.

QUINN: Keep writing. I am going to brush your hair.

And didn’t that go well? Daughter likes a whisper-soft touch when it comes to brushing her hair. When I have ninety seconds to banish the worst of the snarls, I use what I would describe as a “Firm” touch. Daughter’s howls upset the bloodhound that lives three blocks away. And here’s what I had to say to my sweet, wonderful child; the child I would never knowingly cause pain; the child I would, without hesitation, die for:


I wrestled the hair into a ponytail and looked at what she had written:

“I read a book last night. It was funny.”

Three and a half minutes. I barked “BATHROOM!” and chased her in there. We spent a tension-laden two minutes brushing, gargling and washing the larger clumps of breakfast from her face. Nothing was done well, but it least the school wouldn’t call Social Services.

Ninety seconds to go, we raced for the kitchen, where I handed her the lunchbox and backpack, and I flung lunchbox, backpack and Daughter towards the front door as I went in frantic pursuit of my keys. A minute later, having found them in only the thirty-fourth place I looked (my hiking boot), I raced to the front door to find that Daughter had removed nearly everything from her lunchbox and put it on the floor. She looked a little miffed.

DAUGHTER: Could you please make me some pasta with Parmesan cheese? Carly likes that.

I couldn’t even contemplate where to start. So I chose to yell incoherently.


Daughter remained calm.

DAUGHTER: I give Carly half of my pasta, and she gives me her pickles. Can I watch television?

Daughter has the cunning negotiating skills of a labor lawyer. She knows when I am near emotional collapse, and takes advantage of those moments to shoot for the moon, request-wise. To her way of thinking, the worst thing that’s going to happen is that I am going to yell and say no, and I’m already yelling; it’s just possible that the first symptom of a complete nervous breakdown will be me turning on “Dragon Tales”, after which I will go drink schnapps in the bathroom.


DAUGHTER: No to television or no to pasta?

(Sound of popping brain cells coming from the region of my head)


I grabbed the nearest hardcover book for her to write on and started us out the door. I then noticed the book was “The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu”, and spun back into the house to find a book which wouldn’t cause Daughter to sob and curl up into a fetal ball. The next book I found was “The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco”, and then there was “An Intimate History of the Black Death”

Pray to God you’re never stuck next to me at a dinner party.

I zoomed into the kitchen and grabbed a cutting board to use instead of a child-terrifying book. Carrying it like a baton, I sprinted the length of the house, grabbed Daughter with my other hand, and made it to the car in less than ten seconds. We lost another minute or so to the classic debate “Please let me unlock the car, fasten my own seat belt, and rummage around for that Gummy Bear I seem to recall seeing under the floor mat last week”. By this point, I had stopped actually hearing her, and was just shouting “NO!” randomly.

By driving just barely outside the legal definitions of “Safely”, I got Daughter to school as the final bell was ringing. I pulled up to the front gate, turned around and smiled in sweaty triumph at my wonderful, punctual, child, who was putting the final exclamation point on her paragraph. Even with losing twenty-five minutes to the Time-Eating Gremlins, we had done it. Tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow, I’ll get her up fifteen minutes earlier. Tomorrow, she will have done her homework the night before. Tomorrow-

DAUGHTER: Mom, I’m still wearing my bedroom slippers.

Tomorrow, her shoes won’t be shaped like rabbits.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Snow Days.






CONSORT AND DAUGHTER ARE OUT OF THE GARAGE AND ON THEIR WAY! I am a free woman, accountable to no...

Wait. Consort’s back.

He needs backup contact lenses.

[Ten minutes later.]



Fire up the DVD player, insert Season One of “The Golden Girls”, bring out the pint of Dulce de Leche ice cream and the pedicure kit, because Quinn is living LARGE!

In the winter of 2004, Consort got it into his head to take Daughter to play in snow. Consort grew up in a place with snowy winters and thinks it’s unnatural to wear shorts in January. Having grown up here, I think it’s unnatural that people pour salt on the street and it has some positive effect. What, paprika didn’t work? Hey, it’s not as if I don’t have weather war stories. A Los Angeles natives’ winter story usually goes something like: “Remember when it rained for three solid weeks and our neighbor’s Volkswagen floated down the hill...”

But snow?


So, Consort drove Daughter many hours to a national park, and for two magical days they communed with the cold wet stuff. The trip was charmed. It didn’t snow while they were winding their way up the mountain roads, but it starting snowing in some incredibly picturesque way just as they were arriving and snowed all the time they were up there, stopping six hours before they left, just in time for the plows to get through. They got to make snowballs. They got to make snow men. They got to use the borrowed sled. They stopped grinning just long enough to drink hot chocolate and go back outside to grin some more.

And where was I during all of this? It’s not as if I hadn’t been invited. Sure, I’m annoying and a lot of work, but they’re used to me by now. At the time, Consort had just finished two years of a taxing Master’s program, and anything adventurous Daughter had experienced in the previous two years had been with me. Consort and I agreed they needed some time and some memories where it was just the two of them. And I needed some time where I wasn’t cutting up someone else’s food.

In all of Daughter’s life, I had been away from her for two days -- when I attended a La Leche conference to sell Hiphuggers. I recall being perfectly happy on my own. But, I reasoned, I had been busy being a retail drone at the Orange County Marriott so the time away was short and distracting. Surely, being left at home without them, without my usual all-enveloping job of mother, would be fairly traumatic. I imagined I'd end up in a corner of Daughter’s room, sniffling into a tiny pair of socks, wearing a t-shirt belonging to Consort, while humming “Sunrise, Sunset”.

Once they finally got on the road last time, I cringe to admit how giddy I was. For two intoxicating days, I didn’t have to model good behavior for anybody.

I ate pie for breakfast and while the dog was interested, she was in no way judgmental.

I ate pie again for lunch. [Couldn’t have it sitting around once they got back, see?].

I turned on the Lifetime network in the daytime.

I cleaned out old craft and hobby books and finally made peace with the fact that I cannot knit; having knitting books around is just a physical manifestation of my inner lack of worth.

I called a friend I hadn’t spoken to in months. I used obscenities and gossiped freely about a mutual friend Daughter knows without using code words.

I turned on “Sex and the City” and ate the rest of the pie. [Why yes, I was wearing drawstring pants, how did you know?].

Consort called that evening, and Consort and Daughter gave me the highlights of the trip so far. I thrilled to the sound of their voices but didn’t feel some horrible, overwhelming guilt that I wasn’t with them. I waited for a few minutes, to see if I felt guilty over not feeling guilty, but that one didn’t show up, either. What I felt was…relaxed.

And bloated from pie.

The only moment when I felt genuinely confused was the next morning. As usual, I got up early, fed the dog, fed the cat, got the paper and waited for Daughter to come stumbling, fluffy-headed and gummy-brained, out of bed. A half-hour later, it dawned on me...

Consort is currently combing the tangles out of her hair! Consort is enjoying the negotiation of teeth-brushing! I have another eighteen hours before I have to ask another human being if they need to go to the bathroom!

I could have gotten more pie, but for me dessert in the daytime kind of wears thin pretty quickly. So, I ate chips and salsa for breakfast and considered how to spend my last free day.

I could go hiking, but I like to tell someone where I’m going, in case I fall off the side of a hill, and it seemed selfish to call a friend and say “I’m going to climb Temescal Canyon. If I haven’t called you to check in by seven tonight, please alert the Park Service”. That’s the kind of thing you can really only do to your life partner.

I could go to the gym, but I was looking for self-indulgent hedonism to last me another year, and my gym isn’t the kind of establishment which offers massages and salt scrubs. The guy who lives under the hedge next to the parking lot has offered to rub my shoulders on occasion, but I find it hard to believe he’s actually trained to do that.

I could rent another DVD or three of chick shows, but all the episodes of “Sex and the City” were starting to blur [“Wait, I’ve seen this one: Sarah Jessica Parker ruminates while wearing a full skirt, Cynthia Nixon dates a loser, and we get to see Kim Cattrall’s breasts!”].

I could call a friend, but most of them were doing stuff with their kids.

I finished the last of the chips, and stared bleakly down at the remnants of the salsa. Turned out, I had only 24 hours of non-maternal relaxation in me.

I spent that last day polishing the wood furniture, taking the dog for a long walk in the neighborhood and doing the Sunday crossword puzzle. I toyed with going out and eating macaroni and cheese at a local diner, but decided it would be more practical to make inroads into the weird and unloved Valley of Leftovers in the fridge. I was, in short, completely unworthy of two days off. I spent the last few hours before they got home mooning around the house, almost preternaturally alert to any sound which might be the garage door about to open.

I finally had some empathy with how the dog spends her day.

* * * * *

But this year is going to be different. For the last two weeks, whenever I came across something which required time, attention or quiet, I thought to myself, “I’ll do that while they are out of town”.

The last five movies I need to see before I feel I can honorably vote for the Academy Awards? They went right into the When They’re Out of Town basket.

Those seven books kind friends have loaned to me over the last few months which have somehow fallen to the bottom of the “To be read” pile? They go into the When They’re Out of Town basket.

The three needlepoint projects which each only have about 10% left undone, but remain unfinished because they’ve been around too long? Oh, I can do that while watching a movie, while they’re out of town. I wonder if I can train one eye to watch a movie while the other one reads.

At the moment, the biggest challenge is going to be not sleeping, because that’s the only way everything is getting done. But if I chase that Dulce de Leche ice cream with a little Coffee Chip, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Consort and Daughter will come home, pink-cheeked and happy. I will welcome them home, Krispy Kreme-cheeked and happy. I will put my special pie-eating fork away for another year.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Read Me Like A Book.

Daughter and I were standing at a magazine rack, as I was scanning the gossip rags for any other pictures of a certain pregnant celebrity wearing a Hiphugger, when Daughter spoke up.

“Black men, sex, and relationships”

My, she certainly speaks clearly, doesn’t she? Everyone but the guy hiding in the porn rack looked up.

I glanced down to see where this little outburst might have come from, and noticed her eye trained on an issue of Ebony, which someone had thoughtfully slipped in front of the Ranger Rick January issues.

“Mommy, what does that mean?”

“It means…grown-up things. Boring, grown-up things. Here’s a Ranger Rick. Look, meerkats!”

Why I thought this would distract her, I don’t know.

“Why is it only black men? Are they different?”

Oh, we’re going to do this now? The guy in the shoulder-length dreads thumbing through Martha Stewart Living sidled a bit closer, to see what insights I had to offer.

“No, they’re not different…it’s just…that...some people have…a hard time finding the right person to love and…sometimes, different kinds of people have…different kinds of problems. Not that being black is a problem! Sometimes…they have…problems…with….certain….situations. Then, they can…read an article.”

Daughter, wearying of watching me hyperventilate, glanced at the Cosmopolitan, jammed behind American Girl magazine.

“Letting Go in Bed. Mom, where do they want me to go?”

Ah, the literacy of a child is a gift with teeth.

This isn’t going to be a column about Mean Old Man Media, trying to corrupt my kid. Last time I checked, newspapers, magazines and TV networks are for-profit ventures (although I think most newspaper owners might weep at the naïveté of that statement). People really like thinking about sex and violence -- actually, people really like committing sex and violence, but these modern times prefer we commit conference calls and golf -- ergo, people will pay to read about sex and violence. When strong evidence comes out that people will pay money to think about office supplies, there will be articles like “These Aren’t Your Father’s Ring Binders!” and “Toner Trauma -- Our Favorite Office Managers Tell Their Stories”, not to mention “Black Men, Staplers, and Relationships”

This is going to be a column about how reading does for your child exactly what it promises to do: it opens the door to the world. And I don’t know about your life, but apparently my daughter’s life is filled with fascinating and unfamiliar words which need definitions. Now.

We don’t turn on network TV during her waking hours. I don’t listen to the news on the car radio when she’s in the car, not even NPR. I try my level best to whisk away the newspaper just as quickly as I can. And yet, in the last week, from nothing more than brief glimpses of the front section of the paper as I bring it in the house, we’ve still needed to talk about:


And let me tell you, the grocery store check-out aisle is a cavalcade of salacious and unsuitable questions for her inquiring mind. I was prepared for the “Where do babies come from?” series of questions. But what parent among us is really primed for “Who is Lindsay Lohan and what’s a bulimia?” as you’re trying to buy cat food and mouthwash? And I defy anyone to come up with an obscenity-free-yet-accurate answer to the question “What does Paris Hilton do?” I think I answered that query with, “She stands in front of a camera until the light goes off. Then, she finds another camera. She needs the warmth.”

When this investigation of the written English language first started, I tried thoughtful and measured answers, suitable for any high-school senior looking to enter Georgetown and get an internship with his local congressman. Then, as the weeks progressed, I finally degenerated into “You don’t need to know that yet”. It was fabulously unsuccessful; Daughter would just look at me as if to say: “Sure, mom. I understand. I’ll make the time pass until I am old enough to know about the right-to-die law by following you around the house and whining ‘PLEEEEEAAAAAAASE tell me!’”.

Being stupid but self-preserving, it quickly occurred to me that a calm, bloodless, one-sentence answer could make nearly all words get defined and forgotten. I didn’t have to give the Supreme Court rulings on the subject. I didn’t have to put the word in historical context, I didn’t even have to be fair, giving both sides to some controversial topic. Daughter’s brain works something like this: the world has ponies, gymnastics, felines, princesses, and things that are none of the above. She just wants to ascertain “Hostage’ isn’t some heretofore unknown variant of Japanese Bobtail cat.

Once we clarify that, she’s content, and can go back to reading the back of her antihistamine box.

“I can’t take this if I have an enlarged prostate gland. What’s that?”

Friday, January 13, 2006

No news news.

I am having a bit of a problem with the Blogger website. Please be patient, there is a blog entry out there somewhere.

Monday, January 09, 2006

These Boots are Made for Walking

Thanks to ill family members, we're in re-runs today. If you have already seen this one, sorry. If you've already seen this one and you didn't think it was funny the first time around, terribly sorry.

My life, two years ago:

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

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

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

I dribbled into the Doctor’s office, who listened to my lungs, flinching only slightly when I breathed, x-rayed me, and declared it “walking pneumonia”. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to go to bed. I called everyone on the way home.“I have walking pneumonia!” I informed my mother happily, “I have to go to bed!”“Yep, walking pneumonia” I left on the answering machine of a friend “I simply cannot do anything but rest!”“I don’t want to go to bed and rest,” I told the 411 operator “but what else can I do? The Doctor insisted”

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

I was about to call Consort, willing to field a few “I told you to go in last week” type phrases in exchange for enforced bed rest, when, in my mind, I started to automatically run over our schedule for the upcoming week. Consort, who was then in school, had a huge project due; I had taken to calling him the Holy Ghost, because you just had to have faith he was there, without really having any evidence. He would step up to the parental plate in a heartbeat (or a racking cough) but he really needed to stay focused on school. Daughter would miss dance and gymnastics classes that she loved, which would lead to her having disturbing amounts of energy and wanting to stay up to watch and discuss “The Daily Show”.

Against my will, I started to think things like “I don’t actually feel that bad” and “As long as I take the antibiotics and keep a tissue near my mouth, I should be fine”. My bed rest skittered away from me like a shy wild animal.

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

That day dawned, and I finally got to have walking pneumonia. The dog tap-danced around for her breakfast, Daughter shuffled here and there, Consort made himself coffee without actually opening his eyes, and I lay in bed. I wouldn’t say I rested, though. The sounds and words I was getting from the rest of the house were like a mildly stressful radio show.

Breakfast was being made, but the wrong sounds were coming from the kitchen—what could he possibly be feeding her that required a can opener? I got up on one elbow, and then lay down again. I have walking pneumonia, I reminded myself, and I have five hours bed rest coming to me.

The dog yapped once at the back door, in a “You can either let me out, or what I will do will diminish both of us” sort of way, and I didn’t hear the door open immediately. Again, I rose. Again, I lay down. A minute or so later, the back door opened. Consort and daughter finished consuming Dinty Moore’s Breakfast in a Can and went to her bedroom, where more worrisome phrases issued.

Things like “I don’t know if your dress-up bracelet goes with your dress”. No bracelet goes with any dress she is wearing to school unless she is Joan Collins. I heard “Mommy said I could wear my party shoes to school”. I rose, I lay down. But I did croak out “I never said that”. I think it came out more like “Aghnev (cough, spit)”, but Daughter was cajoled into her school shoes.

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

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

The rest lasted twenty minutes.

Then I went and got the newspaper, because reading in bed was restful, as long as I stayed away from any section that upset me. Seven minutes later, having finished the comics, I recalled seeing dishes in the sink. One simply cannot rest in a house with the vertical Epic of Encrusted Cheese sitting waiting to be washed. I took a few minutes to do that, and went back to bed.

Of course, I did take some bills with me, because lying in bed and paying bills is resting, if not pleasant.

I then noticed that one of them needed to be mailed that day.

The trip to the Post Office took just a few minutes; it was the dry-cleaners and the library which really ate up the time.

I went back to bed just long enough to decide the sheets weren’t clean, and how restful are grubby sheets?

Once I got the bed remade and a load of laundry started, I had a glorious fifteen minutes in bed before I had to get Daughter from school. The extra time definitely put a spring in my step. The bright eyes and pink cheeks, however, were due to the 102 degree fever.

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

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

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

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

I am woman, hear me wheeze.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

An Accomplished Lady.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been such a colossal under-achiever in school. [Unless the person reading this is my daughter several years from now, in which case I was a diligent and thoughtful student who spent her spare time reading Dickens to the elderly.] Maybe I could have saved myself a lot of confusion, dead ends, and auditioning for the part of The Unappealing Wacky Best Friend in an unfunny sitcom had I buckled down and followed friends to Ivy League schools. On the other hand, if I had, I would now be thinking things like “I busted my hump at Yale for this?” My life has grown so small the things I manage to achieve take on disproportionate grandeur.

Does anyone else out there feel a sense of accomplishment over things that are either completely out of your control or don’t matter to anyone but yourself? I know, intellectually, I should find value in the big things: being a loving partner, a good mother, living a life of integrity and kindness. All of that business is certainly nice, but if I want to change the tone of my day all that's needed is seven envelopes needing stamps and a stamp sheet with exactly seven stamps left on it.

Look, world! I am a good person! I needed not one more stamp than I had!

Also, and I don’t want to inspire too much envy here, but I can fold fitted sheets. Not all the time; I have to be completely attentive, or else I create what amounts to a flowered marshmallow which I then shove into the recesses of the linen closet -- an ecru embodiment of my failings. But, on a good day, I can do that trick with the corners and create a flat little rectangle of success. I get so inordinately proud of it that I want to decorate the living room around it. I want to take it with me when I walk the dog.

NEIGHBOR, WALKING HIS DOG: Hi, Quinn…Um, what’s that in your hand?

QUINN, WALKING HER DOG: Oh, this? Just a fitted sheet that I folded.

NEIGHBOR: I thought it was a really elegant bag for picking up dog poop.

QUINN: (Laughing gaily) That would be absurd! Tell me, have you ever seen such a flat fitted sheet? (Turning my hand in a graceful arc so the neighbor can see how uniform it is)

NEIGHBOR: (Looking nervous) Is this some sort of hint? Because, you know, my wife and I, um, we don’t…swing. Not that you’re not an attractive woman, but...

Later, I would end up writing an apologetic note of clarification.

Something else that pleases me for hours is when I get the leftover/container equation right. If I scoop the last bit of Tofu Something into a Tupperware container, and there is a quarter of an inch of room on the top, my pride expands to fit the room. There are, at last count, 637 storage containers in my kitchen, and I PICKED THE RIGHT CONTAINER!!! Technically, only seven of them have matching tops that can be located at this exact moment, but I STILL PICKED THE RIGHT CONTAINER!!! I could have picked the container which holds a tablespoon of food; I could have picked the one which can comfortably hold a goose, but I PICKED THE RIGHT CONTAINER!!!

I find reasons for the rest of the evening to open the refrigerator and gaze happily upon my creation. Never mind no one in the family actually liked Tofu Something and that I will end up feeding it to the dog in two days; it will be dumped into the dog food bowl FROM THE RIGHT CONTAINER.

Exact change is a big one for me. I can float on a cloud of goodwill and self-confidence for the better part of a morning if I have exactly enough for dental floss and cat litter and not one penny more. This means, of course, I will have to break a five for something else that day, thereby creating change, but it doesn’t take away from the highlight moment of the morning:

“…Four dollars and thirty-seven, thirty-eight…thirty-nine cents! YEAH! Who’s your MOMMY!” In the grocery line, I have to restrain myself from doing the Cabbage Patch.

You want to talk about feeling like one of life’s winners? Try having your small child eat something new without first demanding it be sent out for chemical analysis. Not long ago, Daughter was fed something new and unfamiliar. She put it into her mouth, chewed and swallowed without informing me that:

A) It was weird,
B) It had onions, and she hates onions,
C) She thought she was getting a stomach ache.

Daughter even allowed as how it was "kind of good" and, unprompted, ate a few bites of salad without preemptively leveraging a larger dessert for doing so. For one brief shining moment I saw myself smiling sagely on the cover of “Parenting” magazine, under the headline “Quinn Tells You How to Happily Eat Dinner as a Family and How to Raise Polite Respectful Children Who Will Voluntarily Talk to You When They Are Teenagers”. The fact that she wouldn’t eat the exact same meal a week later was nothing more than a speed bump on the road to petty achievement.

But, like all drugs, the sensation wears off, and I am left longing for more. Even as I write this, I am mentally casting around the house. Is there more than one bottle of ketchup I can marry, thereby creating the satisfaction of making refrigerator space? Should I put my unused and disorganized needlepoint thread from old projects into color-coordinated bags for easy access?

No, wait! I can do a hot-water, bleach load of white socks, white shoelaces and Daughter’s white tights. Strangers might never acknowledge we no longer resemble Okies on the run from the Dust Bowl, but I will have accomplished…something.

Oh, that’s good.

I gotta go.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Nightly Grind.

I lay in bed, alternately deflecting a small foot from my windpipe and contemplating the nature of heredity.

First, the foot. Daughter is quite fond of her bedroom and devoted to her bed, as long as it’s covered in stuffed animals wearing tiaras and Lulabelle the cat, ideally also wearing a tiara. But, every once in a while, a nightmare will attack her with such ferocity so as to render the entire bedroom unfit for sleep that evening, at which point she starts migrating towards our bedroom. The migration begins, as so many things do, with her screaming “MOM!” and my flailing my way down the hallway, trying to focus my pupils while not running into the wall.

We determine quickly that:

a) She has had a nightmare,
b) It probably involved a dragon of some kind, and
c) We can either continue this conversation until dawn or I can accept the inevitable and let her sleep with us.

We shuffle back to my bed. Daughter curls up next to me and falls instantaneously asleep, just in time for me to feel my brain start to wake up.

BRAIN: What…is it morning? Where’s my tea?

QUINN: Not morning, go back to sleep. Look, here’s your pillow!

BRAIN: Our feet are cold. That makes me anxious. I think we should obsess over the cost of a college education in fifteen years.

QUINN: Shh, here’s Daughter. Smell her little head. Bask in her warmth. Her innocence.

BRAIN: I think we left a credit card at the gas station today.

Being now fully awake, I can fully appreciate Daughter’s aerobic sleep. Daughter exercises more in a night than I do in a week at the gym. She alternates between leaping around the bed like water on a hot griddle, doing a Martha Graham-ish interpretive dance on a parent’s vital organ, and sitting bolt upright, announcing something incomprehensible, and falling face forward, without ever waking up. It’s experimental theater on percale.

But all of this is nothing next to her most notable sleeping quirk, and I have only myself to blame for that one, which takes us back to heredity. When I was pregnant and people would ask me what I wished for, I would truthfully say, “A healthy child.” If pressed, I would request humor, intelligence and kindness. There was one request, however, I kept securely locked up: the child should not get my nose. It doesn’t photograph well, doesn’t age well, and doesn’t work well so a dead-end on that genetic trait would be no great loss to my progeny.

Actually, as the pregnancy progressed, I realized there was very little of Quinn I needed to see travel up the family tree. If this child was to favor anyone physically, it should be either grandmother who, in their times, were both nothing short of gorgeous. [I took after my Dad.] As far as other biomedical stuff, a friend put it best when he once described me as a “Beta test for a model of human they ended up not going with”. There are days when I’m just grateful I haven’t yet spontaneously combusted.

And then Daughter was born, and she was wonderful, and I was grateful. All of things you hope to see in your child were clearly there, and I was very grateful. Within a year, I had every reason to believe she hadn’t gotten my nose, hair texture, or skin color, and I sang my gratitude to the skies.

But, she did get one thing from me.

She grinds her teeth.

I have heard about how I grind my teeth my entire life. While I was growing up, my mother swore she could hear my gnashing away in my room, which was twenty feet from hers. I chalked this up to my mother exaggerating this because I was giving her nothing else to complain about. [Cue sound of my mother hooting in laughter in the background at that statement.] I would go to sleepovers, and friends would shake me awake, thinking I was choking on my retainer. Or eating it.

As I went out into the world, I would have to warn people about this:

QUINN: You should know something. Apparently, I grind my teeth a bit while I sleep.

OTHER PERSON: Oh, okay. Don’t worry, I’m a heavy sleeper.

(The next morning)

OTHER PERSON: How do you have a tooth left in your head?

QUINN: Did it keep you up?

OTHER PERSON: I think you woke up my downstairs neighbor. I lived over a subway stop, but that was nothing compared to you.

After a dentist told me that I could either wear a tooth guard or start putting money away for dentures at thirty, I began to wear something which resembled a fighter’s mouthpiece, only uglier, and every night I would macerate it. The dentist would construct a new bite plate out of a harder material and within six months I would return carrying a contorted piece of plastic the size of my pinky fingernail. Imagine a Bic pen after the dog had it for a week. I understand my current bite plate is made of Kevlar.

I don’t grind because I am unhappy or stressed. I have ground in good times and bad, in times fat and times fallow. Western medicine has no cure. Eastern medicine hasn’t worked. I grind my teeth because I grind my teeth, and because I am always asleep when it happens I hardly ever think about it anymore; until I am sharing a bed with my child, the Tiny Tooth Terror.

How to describe what Daughter does? Imagine the cringe you feel when someone cracks their knuckles next to your ear. Now, imagine the sound of knuckle-cracking went on for minutes at a time, and was loud enough to interfere with normal conversation. Every fiber of the listener screams, “Oh, PLEASE, stop that!”, but the grinder is wily. Attempt to massage our sleeping jaws into a relaxed state, and we will flail at you and hide our mouth in the pillow; would you mind, we’re busy pulverizing our teeth.
So, I’m lying in bed, watching Daughter do the Somnambulist Samba across Consort, who unaccountably wakes up when she sticks her elbow in his eye socket. We watch our angel thrash and grind.

I whisper, “Do I make that much noise when I grind?”

Consort shakes his head definitively.

“No. That’s not one-tenth the noise you make.”

I wonder if Lilly Pulitzer has matching mother-daughter bite plates.