Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What to expect, the first year.

You know what’s annoying about writing a blog?

(“You mean besides you, Quinn?”)

(“Oh, shut up.”)

What’s annoying is when you say something sort of topical and you hope a little funny to a friend, and they look at you with pity and say “…yeah, I read that in the blog”. Well, damn it, if there was no Internet, I could have gotten at least a weeks’ worth of entertainment value out of that line.

And then when you try to cover yourself and before you tell the same anecdote say to another friend “Have you read the blog this week?”, only to have them look at you with pity and say “…I’ve been really busy…”, which leaves me feeling as if I am Norma Desmond from the movie Sunset Boulevard, asking which of my movies they want me to screen for them. I don’t need validation! I don’t want your love! I just want to make sure I’m not repeating material!

This is my way of saying if you know me personally and have heard this already, go shopping at EBay or go to http://www.awfulplasticsurgery.com/.

Let me tell you about raising bottle-fed kittens. It’s human infancy, only incredibly fast. They arrived at less than two weeks old, which translated as about three months’ old for humans. They ate enthusiastically but ineptly, their excretory system was a dark but volcanic mystery to all involved and they were lovable only to those who cleaned up their vomit. They didn’t walk or crawl. Wherever you left them, you found them when you came back. In fact, they resembled nothing so much as those eye bags you put on to relieve puffiness, only in fur and not satin, and with the capacity to vomit.

A week passed. They started staggering around in a way which expended as many calories going side-to-side and up-and-down as forward. You could call it “Toddling”; you could more accurately call it “Careening”. Finally, they understood the bottle. In fact, they got quite violent in their love for it. One morning, they all got their teeth. That afternoon, I went through four nipples in five minutes while each one figured out that pulling the food source really hard and yanking led to a face-full of formula. A side note about the formula; Consort is breathtakingly patient with all my myriad quirks, but after a couple of days of feeding the kittens, he told me he knew as soon as he walked in the house whether I had closed the container of formula. It smells just that bad. Kittens who tear the tops off rubber nipples and end up getting a formula facial have frequent baths. Baths immediately after eating says year-old humans to me. Much as when Daughter was that age, I bought toys. Much as when she was a year old, they preferred chewing on me.

Another week passed. They were now the equivalent of a two year-old. As with my original two year-old, I was counting the minutes until they could figure out how to go to the bathroom on their own. Much as with humans, they would show moments where it seemed as if toilet-readiness was mere seconds away. One would go on slightly-less-wobbly legs towards the litter box, with something nearly resembling a look of intent on his face. I’d stand frozen, fearing any movement would distract him. He’d get within an inch of the wee little kitten litter-box, stare off into space for a second, abruptly pee on the ground, and weave off again, screaming. Add a Big Gulp cup filled with beer cradled in his front paw, and it’s every fraternity party I ever attended.

They were eating wet food, albeit mixed with their formula, which means they were now wearing their wet food, albeit mixed with formula. Whether you are a four week-old kitten or a two year-old human being, the impulse towards food remains the same: “Gloppy food? I need to wear that!”. Week four was the Sisyphean task week:

Take four kittens, covered in food in, shall we say, all of its digestive stages.

Carefully bathe one at a time in warm water using soap specifically geared towards tiny kitten bodies.

Rinse them as they scream in horror and use their tiny-yet-lethal claws to try to rappel up your arm.

Remind yourself, again, to wear a long-sleeved shirt for this task.

Rub freshly-bathed kitten dry until it resembles a calico tennis ball. Put it in the backyard pen, where it stumbles around weaving and screaming like it just got off a Tilt-a-Whirl.

Repeat three more times.

Finally take fourth calico tennis ball to the pen.

Note how all three other kittens are now sleeping in a pile, covered in each other’s fecal matter.

Put only clean kitten in the cage, clean other three again, take them to cage, where you discover the one you placed in there has eaten and has covered herself in an exoskeleton of hardened wet food and someone’s fecal matter.


This story isn’t terribly different from a friend of mine’s description of getting her two year-old twins ready for their Christmas picture. I wish I could say “…minus, of course, all the feces!”, but I can’t.

Week five is upon us, and they are now about three years-old. They are napping considerably less than I would like, but they are bolting around the yard with the daring grace of Cirque du Soleil performers. Like three year-olds, they can’t be bothered to groom themselves and they scream in outrage when I come after them with a wet washcloth. Food intake is still more of a “…here a glop, there a glop, everywhere a glop, glop…” experience than actual eating, but they do get terribly excited when they see me coming with the food. Actually, they get terribly excited when they see me at all. I’m the food source. I’m the cuddling and grooming source. I’m…mom.

Where the human pre-schooler comes snuffling into your lap, smelling of graham crackers, sweat and tempura paint and whispers “You’re the best mommy in the whole world”, the kittens take great delight in crawling onto my leg and purring loudly while I pet them. I take some measure of pride when people coo over their sturdy little legs and occasionally clean faces. But, frankly, much of what I enjoy about kittenhood is the brevity. Within two weeks, they will be packing their duffel bags and arguing with their littermates over who is taking the My Chemical Romance CD and my job will be done. Sure, there won’t ever be a Mother’s Day card, but neither will there be half-grown cats with infected piercings coming home at Thanksgiving with bags of laundry.

Most satisfying of all, I’m finally back in my pre-kitten jeans.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Surrender the pink.

See Quinn.

See Quinn drive.

Drive, Quinn, drive.

See Quinn look.

Look, Quinn, look.

See Quinn not find.

Swear, Quinn, swear.

See Quinn drive.

Drive, Quinn, drive.

Daughter’s tap teacher decided it was simply too obvious to have them wearing black leotards, tights and tap shoes for their recital. No, my baby will be flailing away at shuffle-ball-change in some combination of pink and denim. If absolutely necessary, there could be a touch of black. How we combined those colors was parent’s choice, but we’d be working within that palette.

When alerted to this three weeks ago, I did what I always do when given new information; I forgot it. When she sprung from class two weeks ago and handed me a sheet detailing the rehearsal schedule and wardrobe requirements, I carefully folded it, put in the my purse, and forgot about it again.

Last week, I noticed several children were arriving with pink clothing over their arms, showing these objects to the teacher. Being as I am a naturally curious person, I asked Daughter after class what was going on.

“The teacher wants to see our pink clothing before the recital, to make sure it’s bright enough”, she explained, attempting to untie her tap shoes while somehow managing to knot them more tightly.

Oh, right. Something about pink. I undid a shoe knot with one hand while fishing around in my purse with the other. I found and unfolded the notice. The pink item of clothing had to be bright pink. That was underlined, bold-faced, and italicized, which seemed a little insulting. I got it, you want bright pink. Once I remember the notice, unfold it and read it, you don’t have to tell me twice.

Daughter being who she is sartorially, we have plenty of bright pink options. The night before the next class, I tossed through her shirts. We have bright pink in long-sleeve, short-sleeve, long-sleeve with cat logo and short-sleeve with only the teensiest food stain on the front which I can turn to the back. We brought them all in to class, draped over her arms like overly-affectionate pythons. She spoke briefly to her teacher and walked out again.

“None of them are bright enough.”

“Really?”, I said disbelievingly. In any of these shirts, I would have described my daughter to someone trying to find her on the playground as “The one in the bright pink shirt”. I caught the teacher’s eye; she shook her head “No” and shrugged as if this was beyond her control. Apparently, she is only the conduit through which the muse of tap-dance teachers works and she is powerless but to demand brighter pink.

Daughter pointed to another girl in her class. “She said Mia’s mom found the right color”. I looked at Mia, shaded my eyes and looked again. Oh, that pink.

For those of you old enough to remember the eighties, it’s that flourescent pink. When you look at it and then look away, it still leaves traces of the color on your retina. Even without seeing it, you know you are in the same room with that color, because you hear the humming. That pink.

The girls commenced tapping. I found Mia’s mother. “Where did you find the shirt?”, I began without preamble.

“Limited, Too”, she answed, “but it was on the sale rack, and it was the only one”.

Dead end. A quick survey of the few mothers who had so far found the mystical color was fruitless. One mother had dyed a shirt, one mother had cut down a pair of leggings from her misguided eighties youth, and another mother had spent forty-eight dollars. I don’t spend forty-eight dollars on clothing for Daughter that I actually like. I am certainly not spending nearly fifty dollars on clothing for Daughter which will make me start humming “Karma Chameleon”.

After class, I dropped Daughter off for her usual time with my mother, and headed out. I had a few options, and they were all over the city. I associate the neon colors with cheap, disposable clothing, not to mention warnings of hazardous waste. Methodically, I attacked each store which specializes in low-priced trendy clothing for children, the sort of place I know of because I usually drive by them and shudder. The best part of the experience was walking into these kinds of stores and not having even a moment’s feeling of regret I hadn’t come in before. These were the sort of stores created to answer the question, “Where, oh where, can I find a poorly-made bra-cut top for my three year-old?”

If Daughter’s dance teacher had visualized them in shiny track suits with the word “Princess” across each butt in script, I would have been done in fifteen minutes. Flourescent pink, however, was notable in its absence. Across the calender I keep in my head, I started writing “Find bright pink shirt” into every day until the recital.

Driving back to pick up Daughter, spent and frustrated, I happened to see a dance-supply store. Can’t hurt, I thought, and at the very least, I’ll pick up a clean leotard for the ballet recital. The ballet teacher’s only wardrobe request had been No food stains, please. I choose to believe that wasn’t directed specifically towards my family.

I walked into the store and the owner looked up from her Anne Rice novel.

“Can I help you?”, she asked.

“Yes, I-“, I began, and stopped as something blared at me from the corner of my vision. The color! They had something in that Godforsaken color! I think I made some sort of bleating sound of triumph as I jeted across the store and grabbed it. It was a shirt of some kind, thin enough so it was meant to be worn over a leotard, I guessed. I turned over the price tag; fifteen dollars. Yes! The mental calender was cleared, leaving room for “Avoiding writing” and “Washing cats”.

I grabbed a clean leotard and brought my precious goods to the counter. Having watched my pathetic little dance of triumph, she held up the pink shirt and said smilingly, “Guess this was what you were looking for, huh?”

“You have no idea,” I said in relief, “I searched all afternoon, and then I walked in and it was right over-“ and I turned and pointed to the clothing rack where I had found it “there…”. My voice died away.

In in my excitement in finding the right color, I hadn’t noticed anything else. Now I examined the rack more closely. I turned back to the owner.

“That’s stripper’s clothing, isn’t it?”

Her smile faded.

“Well, not necessarily…”

“Are those pleather hot-pants hanging next to my daughter’s shirt? And ass-less chaps?”

“They could be” she answered obliquely.

I now looked at the shirt on the counter again, through new eyes. It wasn’t sheer because it was meant to be worn over something, it was sheer because the rent doesn’t pay itself. The shirt which was going to be slightly loose on an athletic grade-school girl was actually meant to stretch across the finest silicone America could jam under skin. My daughter might be the only person who wore this shirt who didn’t sometimes answer to the name of “Brandee”.

We stared at one another in silence for a second. She asked politely, “Do you still want to buy it?”

Without a second’s hesitation, I answered “Oh, yes.”

Because when it comes to Daughter, I am a pragmatist. No situation is perfect. I wish her school had more of a language program. I have to work around her piano teacher’s day job. Her shirt for her tap-recital was designed to be peeled off to the song “Girls, Girls, Girls”.

Eh. So long as it doesn’t come with its own pole, it should be fine.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The unforgettable fire.

( I rarely demand anything of my readers, but please read the previous blog before reading this one. Really. We’ll wait.)


I went inside and put Daughter to bed with soothing music and a book. I could hear Consort walking around on the roof and the sound of the water rushing down the walls and on to the plants around the house. I walked outside and called up to him, as I motioned at the conflagration, “You know why this happened, right?”

He sprayed and thought. “Um. Because of the year-long drought? And the homeless guy with the cigarette?”

“It’s because you finally washed all the windows last weekend.”

We both looked at the windows, which were now festooned with water-marks and sticky ash. He shrugged.

“That’ll teach me.”

I went back inside, swooping the cat away from the door as I did so. I had brought her inside and refused to let her back out again during the first hours of the fire. I had no interest in evacuating my family while also shouting “Soy turkey!” Apparently, though, when you are an animal, and you smell smoke, your first impulse isn’t to hang around and see how it all works out. As the fire grew closer, Lulabelle grew more and more adamant that she needed to get the hell out just as I grew more adamant that she needed to find another hobby. Now, I finally locked her in the office. Her gutteral growls and periodic full-body checks to the door added a festive touch to the night.

I then collected the things Consort and I had discussed taking with us and piled them by the back door. I didn’t put them in the car yet because it all seemed so absurd. It says something when a devout pessimist and a nearly-professional worrier such as myself looks at a situation and says “There is no way this dreadful thing can happen”. I understood evacuating when you are in the way of the fire, but we weren’t in the fire’s way. Did I mention we are in another zip code from where the fire was? And yet the embers were not democratic as much as anarchistic, and it was looking pretty likely we’d have to move. I could recognize that, but I wanted to pretend this was all some supremely realistic drill. Hence the pile of stuff at the door. Upon Consort’s suggestion however, I did take my car out of the garage in case our power went out and took the electric garage door opener with it.

Consort was still watering. Daughter was sleeping. The stuff was ready to go. So, I did the only thing a reasonable person could do: I washed the kittens.

I washed the kittens because as their foster mother, I was supposed to be teaching them hygiene. Had they been human, they would have been those kids you see on “Cops”, toddling around the background of the trailer park at midnight wearing only a t-shirt with Kool-Aid stains. I washed the kittens because we had gotten many calls from concerned friends offering their houses in case we needed a place to stay, and their current smell would have made us ungracious houseguests. I washed them because it was something to do.

Having cleaned up the kitties, I walked outside. The fire had moved closer and the street was now pretty empty.The photographers and the gawkers were mostly gone. There were no cars driving around besides neighbors driving away with their family and pets, so I guessed the police had blocked off the streets. I looked over at Marina’s house and saw her babysitter standing in the doorway. She was watching Consort, now back on the ground re-soaking the plants. I walked over. She was chalk-white.

“Are we going to have to evacuate?”, she whispered. She looked about ten years younger than her age, which can’t be any more than twenty-three. I got cheerful and brisk.

“This is all going to end up a great anecdote for your out-of-town friends, but we’re going to be fine,” I said, avoiding the question. Behind her head, the fire found a glen of fresh fuel. The flames flared up, turning her blonde hair orange. “But, just because we can,” I continued. “I want you to walk home, decide what stuff you would take and put it in your car. I’ll stay here with the boys.”

She nodded, grabbed her purse and trotted toward her house, about a block away. I checked the boys, asleep in their beds. They were fine. The babysitter had already called their father’s cell phone and left a message but hadn’t gotten any reply. I learned later she had called Dad’s work number, not his cell, which was on his hip all the time. Still, from the looks of things, it was possible Marina and her husband might not be allowed back into the neighborhood, what with the roadblocks popping up all around the fire.

I started doing the math.

I could get three kids, a box of kittens and a cat carrier in my car. Consort would take everything else. The baby could go in Daughter’s car seat, which wasn’t exactly the right size for his age but, really, I’m going to get pulled over for that now? I walked around Marina’s house, unplugging laptops and identifying a couple of pictures I thought looked heirloom-ish. I could now hear helicopters flying above our houses, flashing lights into every corner, looking for flare-ups. Underneath the helicopters, I could hear the fire. It sounded like a stadium full of people all exhaling loudly through their mouths at the same time.

I stood in Marina’s doorway, looking back at my house. I never actually wanted to buy a house. I always liked the obligation-free lifestyle of renting, especially the part where when something goes wrong, and your greatest concern is finding Ivan the maintenance guy before he gets his drink on. But my mother and my accountant were quite forceful that handing vast amounts of my income to the government was a mortal sin so I was told in no uncertain terms to buy a house.

I had a checklist: price, square-footage, neighborhood, age, absence of meth lab next door. This house fit the requirements so I bought it. Nowhere on my list had I written “Quinn must love it”, and Quinn didn’t. It was an arranged marriage.

As the various plumbing, electrical and other essential upgrades piled up, any hopes I had for developing an affection for my house plummeted. It became the high-maintainance friend whose name, when seen on your cell phone, causes you to grimace and mutter “Oh, we’ll let voice-mail pick up this one”. Now, with it’s very existance possibly at stake, the strongest emotion I could generate was a vague guilt that I, its last owner, hadn’t loved it more.

At some point while waiting for the babysitter to return to Marina’s, the fire turned. At first, it was just a ripple of hope from those of us watching from the orchestra section that was our street. But it didn’t seem to be moving toward us as quickly. Within a few more minutes, even the doom-sayers had to admit that while it was still hammering the park, it appeared to be dying out in our immediate foothill. The babysitter, Marina and her husband all showed up at the same time. Marina raced in to smell and touch her sleeping cubs, the sitter brought them up to speed and I walked home.

I fell into a fitful sleep somewhere around midnight, sleeping on the couch fully-dressed, including shoes. When I woke and stumbled into our bedroom, I noted it was 3:30 and that Consort was awake, dressed, and reading in bed. I got into bed without changing.

“You can go to sleep now.” I yawned, carefully putting my shoes next to my side of the bed, right where my feet would slip into them the fastest.

“I think I’ll just stay up and read a little longer,” Consort said casually. Glancing out the bedroom window, he added, “maybe do a crossword puzzle”.

Confident that he was on guard, I finally fell completely asleep.


The next morning, I raced outside. The park was the combination of black, grey and white I have seen in the marble backsplash in better bathrooms. What I didn’t see was red; our part of the fire was out. The news said the fire had been 70% contained. Astonishingly, the firefighters had managed to save the Zoo, the Autry Museum, the Greek Theater and the recently renovated Observatory. Not a single house was lost. I said a prayer for the animals in the park, and hoped more than a few ran like hell and made it through alright.

Within a day we were being told it was 90% contained. Some time after that, the fire was put out. The TV stations didn't report that moment, being as it doesn’t keep people glued to their seat in quite the same way. But the sky got banal and blue again, our important objects got crammed back into closets and our suitcases were again used in the intended way, which is for storage of winter clothes.

As the air and the mood lightened, I started to second-guess my behavior that night. Sure, the fire had been large and threatening, but the fact was, it hadn’t threatened us. We were never in harm’s way; at most, we were harm-proximal. Watering down the roof and yard was unnecessary. It was just possible I had made a production out of nothing, a phrase which might possibly be the definition of the name Quinn.

I had made my peace with my drama-queenitude by Saturday when, racing to the car, one of the lavender shrubs by the kitchen window caught my attention. I stooped in for a closer look, finally poking it with my index finger. The bottom third of the plant was burnt, a black circle in the middle, right above the ground, lightening to grey and then finally becoming green again on the top of the bush. I tried to think of a more benign diagnosis, but it did look exactly like a burned plant. A plant which started burning from the ground, possibly from an ember which flew over and landed there, and only stopped burning when the fire reached the part Consort had soaked the night of the fire.

I stood up and looked around. The plant was surrounded on all sides by native plants, most of which were dying back already, thanks to the dessicating heat and the February frost. This had clearly been after we had come inside, after the helicopters had stopped scanning.

Had the fire not gone out, had Consort not watered, it could have skipped through the entire yard. Our first hint our house was in jeopardy would have been the entire side yard in flames. My evacuation plan had factored in ten minutes warning from the police, five minutes at the worst. We would have had a minute’s warning.

If luck comes in finite amounts, we had just used up several months’ worth. If bad luck is balanced out by good luck, I think I just got paid back for the head business. If luck comes in streaks, I’m buying every Super Lotto ticket I can find. If luck is random, all I can do is bow my head.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Summer and Smoke.

The sky last Tuesday here in Los Angeles was the clear flat blue of a paint chip. I turned on to Vermont and was driving toward the hills when I saw the plume of smoke up in Griffith Park, as emphatic as an exclamation point. Within a minute, two fire trucks raced past me.

Fire, I thought, breathing deeply, fire in Griffith Park. We’ve had four inches of rain since last July, Griffith Park hasn’t had a cleansing fire in my lifetime and it’s eighty degrees.

The first helicopter streaked in from the north and started circling.

Sitting at a stop light, I examined the smoke with all the obsessiveness of a Vatican-watcher at Pope-picking time. White smoke, I decided, is good. White smoke means some moron put out a cigarette while hiking, and it burned a couple of acres but the firefighters got up there in time, put it out, and the white smoke means they’re just cleaning up embers.

Another two trucks screamed towards the park. I drove home, glancing sideways and then backwards at the smoke. It didn’t appear to be diminishing. In fact, the smoke appeared to be spreading.

Our neighborhood is not in Griffith Park. It isn’t even next to Griffith Park. Our neighborhood is a neighborhood and a major thoroughfare away from Griffith Park. We can, however, see the park from our yard. By the time I got home, the foothills and ridges near us were covered in what appeared to be a low-lying fog. That fog was smoke and, as someone once noted, where there’s smoke, there’s news helicopters. I turned on the TV and had the singular experience of looking out my window and seeing one view and then turning to my television and seeing the overhead perspective.

White smoke, it turns out, doesn’t always mean the fire has been extinguished. Sometimes it means the brush burning is so dry and the fire is so hot that it isn’t even creating ash. It had been seventy years since the last big fire and at least twenty since the last big brush-clearing. This fire was merrily skipping through the park, even the tiniest ember finding a full banquet upon which to feast. The fire was now either thirty or two hundred acres, depending on which network you were watching. It was encroaching on the 5 freeway, one of the two major arteries in Los Angeles. I called Consort and suggested he start making his way home and arranged for Daughter to spend the afternoon at a friend’s house. By evening, the fire would have burned itself out, Consort would be white-lipped from making his way home in fire-rerouted traffic, Daughter would be overstimulated by a weekday playdate, and we’d all have a laugh over what a paranoid lunatic Quinn was.

I watched the water-dropping planes attack the fire again and again.

I called Consort. If he were going to have to leave the house suddenly for some reason, what would he take? We discussed what we would take. We also discussed what a paranoid lunatic I am.

An hour passed. The fire started to edge west. My friend Marina, who lives on my block, called. She and her husband had a party they were supposed to attend that night near Beverly Hills. Did I think it was insane to leave their kids with the babysitter and leave, what with the fire and all?

I looked outside, and watched a few more minutes of TV. Go, I assured her. First of all, the fire’s heading west. Second of all, we’re nowhere near the park.


Funny thing about wildfires: they have certain times of day wherein they might not behave badly, but you can bank on them behaving erratically. Sunset is one of those times. The winds shift just at the time when the water-dropping planes and the recon helicopters stop being able to fly, because they can’t see the power wires. Things which weren’t even on the radar can become problems within minutes. I had picked up Daughter, brought her home, fed her and bathed her. Consort, having gotten home, was now monitoring the news reports. Once she was ready for bed, he wanted to take her outside, show her what was happening. Only then did I look out for the window for the first time in about an hour.

I gasped.

The fire had continued west but had also swung around and was now coming down through the foothills above the neighborhood above us. I walked into our front yard, and found about twenty neighbors standing in the street, watching in silence. Some people were taking pictures. It was still across a major thoroughfare and a neighborhood, but it was close enough so we could see discrete flames. Consort, carrying Daughter on his hip, had seen what he described as a little fire tornado whirl up and then skip a few hundred feet to start another fire. Daughter’s hair was being blown around by the hot wind the fire was now creating.

The phone I was carrying rang: a friend from the neighborhood above ours had seen embers landing in back yards. A neighbor walked up to me. Her grown daughter’s friend was a firefighter and had just called her, suggesting she water down the roof. Consort and I looked at each other. He shrugged.

“Can’t hurt,” he said in a voice which you traditionally use when talking about increasing the fiber in your diet.

“I’ll just go inside, put her to bed, and grab a few things,” I said in a way which sounded as if I was going to the dry-cleaners. Because as boisterous as Consort and I can be about absolutely nothing, we’re not bad people in a crisis. It’s the only situation where our energy level is actually useful. Also, Daughter’s total emotion at that moment was excitement over staying up late and watching a fire, and I wanted to keep it that way.

I took Daughter on my hip, and walked her indoors. Consort headed for the backyard, to get on the roof.

NEXT: More.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Meals, ready to eat.

Daughter was doing her math homework at the kitchen table. I was flinging objects out of the fridge, trying to create her lunch for the next day. I came across some vegetable potstickers which fulfilled my lunchbox requirements: they were unlikely to leak, they had trace amounts of vegetables, and they were already made. I waved the container at Daughter.

“Do you want potstickers for lunch tomorrow?”

She shook her head firmly.

“No, I don’t like them…wait, I mean, yeah. I want them, please.”

I squinted suspiciously. Something was up. The challenge now was to phrase the question in such as way as to elicit the truth, because too direct a query would unleash the fabulist in my offspring.

If I said:
“…but you just said you don’t like them…”,

it would have led to:
“Oh, I meant I didn’t like the other kind. The kind with…you know, the other kind.”

If I asked:
“So you like these potstickers? Would you like one right now?”

she would have said brightly:
“I love them! I love them so much that I can’t even eat one.”

This required a neurosurgeon’s touch.

“Sweetie, who likes the potstickers?”

“Sienna.” she said absently, drawing angel wings on her 7’s, “If I bring her potstickers, she’ll give me her apple.”

I should have left well-enough alone and just been comforted by the vision of her voluntarily eating something healthy. I think we all know that was never an option.

“Honey, I can send an apple in your lunch. In fact,” I said, reaching into the fridge, “here’s an apple. I just stopped sending them because you didn’t eat them. You said they tasted weird at school.”

Daughter looked up and thought.

“Sienna’s apples are different.”

One of my more unbearably adorable maternal flaws is when I think there is a logical underpinning to the beliefs of a small child. I plunged neck-deep into finding out how to make lunchbox apples un-weird.

“Are they sliced?”


“Are they a different kind then what I get?”


“Dipping sauce?”


“So, what’s so great about Sienna’s apples?” I finally said in frustration.

“They’re just different. Better. Can you send the potstickers so I can have an apple?”

Defeated, I shrugged and popped them into Tupperware.

“Of course.”

Because, when you stop to think about it, she’s getting fruit, I’m getting the potstickers (which she won’t eat anyway) out of the fridge, and I’m one step closer to packing lunch for another day.

I am so bad at packing school lunches. Other people seem to be able to buy and stock food suitable for putting in a box and nourishing their children without difficulty, whereas I revert to a hunter/gatherer mentality, each night a frantic scramble for a nutritious grub here, an edible Fruit Roll-up there. And when I finally prepare the lunch, I look at it and think “Diaper bag.”

Yes, I will clarify.

When Daughter was young and I carried a diaper bag everywhere but to the laundry room and to bed, I was in awe of the mothers at the park who had two of everything the child might need.

Diaper? Check.

Back-up diaper? Check.

Carrot sticks and a drink, with another snack of string cheese packed in ice to stay fresh? Check.
Change of clothes for when the snack and the drink go into the shirt? Check.

First-aid kit? Board book? Back-up shirt for mother? Back-up toddler in case you lose your original child?

Check, check, check, check.

The good parent diaper bag was like a small house with an outside zipper. My bag, however, was always a mute reminder of whatever I had forgotten the last time we were out.

If we didn’t have wipes, and I had been forced to do some rather haphazard cleaning with the sleeve of my sweater, I would go home and pack four containers of wipes. This meant when, the next day at the park, Daughter got her feet wet and needed socks, I would have no socks, because all the room was taken up by the wipes. I would cobble together a foot-covering made from wipes, go home, and put eight pairs of socks in the bag.

This went on for years.

And still, as always, I learned nothing. Last week, I looked into Daughter’s lunch and saw carbohydrates. Nothing but carbohydrates, an Atkins nightmare as far as the eye could see, or the lunchbox could hold. Why? Because Daughter didn’t eat her lunch at all the day before and spoke wistfully of Eva getting pasta in a thermos. And how Eileen had a sandwich cut on the diagonal and didn’t it look good and why didn’t I do things like this? And Sienna’s mom sends Sienna chips, because Sienna’s mom likes her better.

I knew what was required of me to make the guilty mother stabbing pains go away. The lunch which followed was carbs, carbs, carbs, a sea of off-white. I briefly contemplated mixing it up a bit, but the night grew late. I comforted myself thinking I’d make her eat an egg after school and that dinner would be a cavalcade of cruciferous vegetables. But at least this lunch would make her happy.

The next day, I picked her up and her first words to me were “Eva and Sienna both had yoghurt. We could have been triplets, but I had pasta.” She said the word pasta as if it was a kind of disease you get from unpotable water. Again, I fail.

But this trading business might possibly keep Daughter from developing scurvy. The same food which is declared both dreary and possibly carcinogenic when suggested by me becomes both glamourous and yearned-for when seen peeking from the lunchbox of another. Thanks to a class with a reasonably broad ethnic background, when I clean her lunchbox at night, I can find the remnants of Korean, Thai, Chinese, Cambodian, Ecuadorean, or good old-fashioned American cuisine. And let me commend these parents; while Daughter has traded for more than her fair share of Goldfish crackers, she has yet to come home with any remnants of what might have been a Lunchable.

What this lunchtime barter economy is, more than anything else, is an exercise in letting my child go. I can pack whatever I like in her lunchbox with an eye towards keeping her healthy and whole, not to mention bloated on carbohydrates. But the minute she’s away from me, she is going to be herself. With each passing year, each passing month, she is less inclined to fight me to assert her individuality, which would at least give me a sense of how she’s changing, and more inclined to just wait until my car pulls away so she can get what she wants.

And with each passing year, I’ll have a lot more than Lunchables to worry about.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Live and learn.

I missed church this past Sunday but I had a good excuse: we have houseguests and they refuse to get up and feed themselves breakfast. Actually, they refuse to feed themselves anything. Also, they’re whiny, demanding and incontinent. I’d worry the last observation might embarrass them in print but they are also illiterate. As are all of their friends.

It’s spring and spring is Kitten Season. This sounds awfully cute until you realize Kitten Season lasts three months whereas Unspayed Female Cat season lasts forever, and all those feline pheremones are working overtime. At shelters and rescue places the kittens arrive in waves. If they arrive with a mother cat she does the heavy lifting with respect to rearing them. If, like my houseguests, they arrive as two week-old foundlings, a human has to step in. I tend to respect mothers of all stripes but I have never felt such respect for a mother of another species.

My God, these cat babies are relentless. When you only weigh 220 grams and your stomach is the size of a lima bean, your meals need to be on-tap constantly. Were I a lactacting cat this would require its own degree of effort but when every ounce of nutrient needs to be measured, mixed and heated, and each feeding is going to require several bottles, it’s another level of effort entirely. To every one of my friends who chose to bottle-feed over breast-feed, I’m here to tell you: you worked far harder than I did.

Because the bottle and its contents are a distant second to what these kitties were expecting five times a day, they yell. And yell. And yell. And since their lungs are small, the yell isn’t attracting the attention of our neighbors just yet, but it does have a uniquely…piercing quality. There will be one particular tiny scream which seems to mean “What the $%@* is this %#&@! I spit this nipple from my mouth!” and the scream which follows immediately is obviously “Where the $&*@ did you put my food!”.

Finally, grudgingly, each kitten deigns to ingest some beige smelly liquid and promptly pee on my leg; at which point, I put it down and pick up one of its siblings to repeat the cycle. If for some reason the cat doesn’t automatically pee on my leg, I take wet tissue and rub its lower abdomen in a way which mimics its mother’s rough tongue until I stimulate the urinary reflex. The resulting spray puts me in mind of the dancing fountains at the Bellagio hotel in Vegas, only with more volume and less precision.

This procedure begins at six in the morning, takes about an hour and repeats every six hours, so you might forgive me my absence at church.

[Also, without a mother’s vigilant grooming, the babies smell like a ripe hamster's cage -- noticeable even with my compromised nose -- so they require daily baths. This isn’t exactly on-topic, but I like to give you the full effect.]

Once they get settled onto the nipple and are grunting, burping and dribbling formula on to my hand, I can relax a bit. I can look around. Sunday morning, I looked around and saw pink draped over a chair in the office. A month ago, Daughter was given a Hanna Andersson hand-me-down dress in carnation. The mother who bought it loves pink dresses. Sadly, her daughter cannot abide pink nor can she abide dresses so the item had never been worn. Looking at the fold marks when I took it out of the bag, I doubt it was tried on even once before the daughter declared her loathing of it. Why my friend didn’t return it I don’t know but hey, more for me, right? I brought it home, tried it on Daughter. We both beamed. As I went to fasten up the back one of the beautifully matched buttons flew off into my hand. No problem, I thought, just let me sew that back on the dress right now.

A thorough search of the house proved I owned nothing resembling carnation-pink thread. Okay, I thought stoutly, just let me put the button in my wallet, in with the change, and I’ll buy thread this week.

I have spoken before of my feelings about the Stupid Errand. This wasn’t a Stupid Errand as much as an experiment in inertial physics. There is a sewing store minutes from Daughter’s school. It’s actually between our house and her school. I drive past it five days a week. They have free parking. And still the button sat in my wallet for three weeks. Some days I would forget it was there until I opened the change pocket of my purse and saw the button pinkly glowering at me. Other days I would remember the button as I was driving past, but didn’t feel I had five minutes to spare to actually go in and buy the thread, or that I simply had to be at the gate when Daughter erupted from her classroom so she could moan “Oh, you’re here already. That means I can’t play. Couldn’t you come back in an hour?”.

But most days I would see the shop, remember the button and have the time but still, the sheer ease and convenience of the chore would lull me into a warm rush of procrastination.

“It’s such a very stupid and small errand!” I would think as I drove past the notions store time and again. “I’ll do it tomorrow!”.

This last week, after pulling out the button one too many times to feed a parking meter, I finally made myself buy the thread. I think I even barked aloud, “Oh, just pull over and buy thread, you idiot!”, but the car windows were closed and no one knew my shame. I went in, I held the button against thread, I found the right thread, I paid for the thread and was out again before “Stairway to Heaven” was done on the store’s Muzak.

Sunday morning, having finally finished feeding and kneading the kittens and having put my kitty-urine sprayed pajama bottoms to soak in the washing-machine, I decided to sew on the button. I grabbed the dress from the table, I grabbed the thread from my purse, I grabbed the button from the wallet…

There was no button in the wallet.

There was no button in the purse.

There was no button in the car, or the trunk, or my jeans, or my jacket, or the purse I never wear but maybe was wearing one day in the last three weeks and forgot.

Once Consort and Daughter returned home, I determined there was no button in Consort’s jeans, jacket or car. While it’s true, I didn’t check our safe-deposit box at the bank, the crawlspace under the house or the wallets of strangers, I still think it’s safe to say I lost the button.

I checked the dress; there was no extra button on the seam, and the size of the buttons makes them something of a statement on the dress, which means I now have to replace all six of them. I now have to go back to the notions store and find a button which is the right size, thickness and color and sew them all on, which I think we all agree is going to be a larger and more odious chore than the original chore of: 1) Buy thread and 2) Sew on button. And this was all so avoidable. If I could just have kept track of that stupid button.

So maddening.

But what is more maddening is how long I’m going to find this maddening. When Daughter was born, my company sent me a gift card for Baby Gap, which went nicely with the Gee, the-Internet-doesn’t-need-quite-so-many-companies-based-on-really-stupid-ideas-as-we-thought pink slip I received. Since Daughter was the beneficiary of an insane amount of sartorial largesse, I tucked the gift card into my wallet for later. For months, I would see it every time I grabbed a credit card and I would think “Does she need anything?”, and then I would remember how we were thinking of converting the storage shed into an auxilliary closet for her, and I would close the wallet. When she was nearly a year old, I needed to buy a shower present and thought “…Baby Gap! Gift card! Finally!”.

You guessed it. Gift card go “Poof”.

It’s been six years. Six years.

It still bothers me.

The waste of money bothers me, but more than that, the almost magical quality of the disappearances gets under my skin. The card existed in a single place for months and then it did not. The button never left my change pocket and then it did. These facts are both irrefutable and enigmatic. What does it mean? Where did they go? Is there a worm-hole in my wallet? Are the purse sprirts angry? Do I sleep-walk with my purse? Or sleep-clean my purse? If so, why do I still have the one Polly Pocket shoe that’s been in there for three months?

And here is where I left this blog entry for two days. Because my impulse is always to find the Big Picture, the Overarching Thread, the Thing to sum up an entry; my Raison d’Screw-up, if you will. Over the past two days, when not feeding Daughter or feeding kittens or driving places or averting my gaze from the button-needing dress, I would sit at the computer and puzzle over the literary corner into which I had painted myself. I would puzzle until the peeping from my little houseguests grew demanding enough to require bottle-warming.

Last night after the news, as I was numbly popping a bottle into yet another tiny pink gaping maw, I said to Consort, “I’ll do this tiny-kitten fostering once, but I don’t think I’ll do it twice. This is an insane amount of work.”

“Hm-hmm,” Consort responded, but he’d just found a “Family Guy” rerun on cable so chances that he’d actually heard what I said were somewhere between nil and zero. I, however, had heard what I said and immediately thought “Oh, of course you will, Quinn. If you turn down something which needs your help, you’ll hate yourself. But more important, if you turn down newborn kittens next time, that would imply you actually learn from previous experiences.”

In that moment, I had found the common denominator between missing buttons and pissing kittens. I never learn from previous experiences. I never learn anything. Not once.

It was an epiphany. I am the living embodiment of failed dramatic structure. I have no narrative arc. An acquaintance who found The QC Report fairly recently has this adorable and misguided notion that I am growing and changing as a person, and that I am just impishly keeping this fact from my readers.

As much as I would love for someone to think I am weeks away from my appearance on “Oprah” where I tell you all how to be the very best person you can be [I’d start out by telling the audience how coral lipstick is never flattering], the fact remains: I don’t learn. I don’t improve.

I still use q-tips incorrectly.

I still carry seven packed bags out to the car at the same time and I’m still shocked and irritated when I drop one.

The tea is decaf, but it’s still in my lap.

Just this morning, I drove past the notions store where I bought the thread and now need to buy the buttons. Being as I had put a second button from the dress into my wallet, I considered stopping. I noted there was a parking space right outside the front door. But then I thought, “Oh, it won’t take long. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Serenely, I drove on.