Monday, October 27, 2008

For What It's Worth

Saturday morning, at seven-fifteen, my eyes snapped open. I was probably still technically asleep, but I heard child-movement. A second later, Daughter’s form passed our bedroom doorway and headed towards the living room. I thought, “Please don’t drift through the house, for if you drift through the house, you will awaken the dog, who will need to go outside immediately and you do not know how to disable the alarm. Your drifting will also cause the cat to sing until wet food is plopped. Either activity will force me to get up. So please don’t drift.”

I stage-whispered, “HEY!”

There was no response.

I whisper-shrieked, “HEY!”

A small head leaned into my room and said “Good morning!” sweetly and loudly.

I indicated her father, still sleeping and indicated my pillow, which still had my warm head-dent and said, “It is very early for adults. Please do not make noise and wake the pets. If you’re hungry, grab an apple and read quietly in your bedroom. If you let me sleep for another half-hour, I’ll…”

We both waited to see what I offered her. My brain, mulishly holding on to a REM cycle, offered up nothing. Daughter said in a hopeful tone, “…give me candy for breakfast?”

“No,” I said flatly. “But something nice will happen later.”

She accepted this and said, “Okay.” She then disappeared from the door. I slid gratefully back down into my pillow and tried to fall back asleep. I was just feeling the gentle somnambulent threads tugging me downward when someone said, “Hssst.” I opened one eye. There was a child in my doorway, holding a cat.

“May I have buttered toast?”

I had to stop and think. A year ago, the answer would have been an unequivocal “NO!”, but she had shown real care and responsibility with objects both sharp and hot lately. She wasn’t stove-ready yet, but she was toaster-ready. I allowed buttered toast with a regal wave of my hand. She disappeared and I shut my eyes.

This time, however, there was no sleep, because I heard a scraping sound in the kitchen. Why was there a scraping sound in my kitchen? It sounded like wood on wood. I kept my eyes shut, perversely pretending I was just about to drift back to sleep, but in reality my brain was racing. The kid was dragging a chair across the kitchen. Why was she dragging a chair across the kitchen? Oh crud, that’s right. The bread is on the top of the fridge. It lives there, along with the Kitchen-Aid and a coffee-pot because counter-space is rarer than titanium in this house. Since I can reach up there, I rarely think about it. Since she can’t reach up there, a chair was being dragged, which would probably only work if she decided to put it on three telephone books and then stand on her toes; the resulting trip to the ER would fill in the rest of Saturday. The noise had also awakened the dog, who was now whining to go out and pee and I could hear the cat stomping from my bedroom. Sighing, I got up.

I’m nearly a decade into parenting, if you factor in pregnancy (and I choose to, because I view pre-natal vitamins as the preparation for a lifetime of sacrifice). So it’s embarassing to admit what just occurred to me as I doled out food that morning to various mammals: parenting is the only job besides combat soldier where you wake up on the job. Sure, many occupations work punishing hours and many professionals have been known to sleep at the office on occasion, but no one has ever walked into their bedroom in the dark of night and demanded a position paper on tort reform.

As a parent, not only do you wake up on the job, you frequently wake up to information which would make a lesser person try to hide in the box with the ski-clothes. Which parent among us hasn’t awakened to the fact that: a) There’s a lot of vomit in the house, b) It’s someone else's vomit, and c) It’s your job to take care of both the vomit and the person who is currently generating more vomit.

And need it be said that a sleepless night or two with children hosting an especially energetic stomach virus – one that causes the washing-machine to actually die from overuse – should result in a little extra bonus in ones parenting paycheck? Of course, in the real world, the little extra bonus is the parent getting the stomach flu herself, which arrives the morning she signed up to chaperone the field-trip to a pig farm.

In her entire life, I’ve been away from my daughter less than six nights, total. That means I’ve spent nearly three-thousand days with her. Averaging that we’ve been in close proximity at least ten hours each day, that’s thirty-thousand hours. No wonder it feels like such a slog on some days. And no wonder I think most of the parenting I do is pretty average; that’s entirely too many hours to hope for greatness. Parenting experts use to talk about quality time; it seems I went for quantity. I recently estimated that if you divided the hours I’ve worked on the book against what I’ve been paid, I’d have earned more money per hour steaming cappucinos. In Ghana. This merely proves that I’m either doing this because I love writing or I have a terrible sense of personal economics. Candidly, I think it’s both. But I never doubt that the things which take up the most time in my life are those things which matter most to me, and I’m damn lucky that way.

The child ate her toast, grudgingly accepting some peanut butter. The dog ate, then went out to have a luxurious morning peeing and sunbathing in the back yard. The cat ate her breakfast and stalked off to Daughter’s bedroom to harrass some shoelaces. Consort stumbled out of the bedroom, blinking. He kissed us good-morning and asked me kindly, “You been up for a while?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, clutching my tea.

“You can go back to sleep, you know. I’ll take her this morning.”

I looked around at my family and said, “I’m good.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Today, I had a glimpse of my own mortality: I will not live long enough to use all the coriander I own. Off the top of my head, I can think of two recipes I have which involve coriander, both no more than a quarter of a teaspoon. Because, you know, you wouldn’t want to give coriander its head or anything; it would just take over. So every year or so, I go through up to a teaspoon. At some point very long ago when I bought the coriander, I decided I would make these recipes all the time and I bought the jumbo bottle of coriander. Or that was the only size they had. Or someone had overestimated their own need for coriander and I inherited it; the coriander’s appearance is lost to the mists of time. What I do know is that I have coriander and plenty of it.

Except, of course, one day within the last year when I needed coriander and I couldn’t find it and so I went and bought yet another fifty-five gallon drum of the stuff, from which I removed a quarter of a teaspoon. Two days later, the original tub o’coriander showed up, possibly having been used as an improvisational end-table in the living room. Today, I asked a friend who actually cooks if she had coriander. She said, “I have this huge container for this one recipe I use. Why,” she added eagerly, “do you want some?”

I also have the same eight bay leaves I’ve had for a decade because I don’t make beef stew. I wish to have them woven into my hair upon my death, so that I can take them into the next world with me, where I will also not make beef stew.

This whole spice cabinet is like a graveyard of my hopes and dreams. Two years ago I made spice cookies at Christmas. I have this delicious recipe which is deeply spicy and heavily based on molasses. You roll the dough out thinly, which is insanely aggravating with a cookie heavily based on molasses. Ideally they are so thin that they bake in about eighty-one seconds and burn in eighty-seven seconds. The entire afternoon is spent hovering obessively over the oven waiting to see when they turn just the right shade of light brown and shouting at any living thing which walks into the kitchen and distracts you from color-monitoring. The making of these cookies is so emotional and exhausting that it takes me up to five years to forget and try them again. But, lucky me, I still have the cloves in two forms, the ginger, the allspice, the cardamom (Oh, so very much cardamom) and the nutmeg.

And look, it’s the cream of tartar! And another! And another still! I know I haven’t bought cream of tartar ever and yet there are three of them. I gave one to a friend and within a week I was back up to three again. I’ve stopped trying to give them away, because if they can breed and they don’t want to be moved, they could rise up against me and conspire to create some aggressive meringue which could smother me in my bed. Between the three of them, they could generate an army of angel-food cakes bent on mayhem. Best to just let them lie there.

Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute which, I took care to note, only has twenty seasonings in it, all of them spices we already have. However, in the interest of fairness, it should be noted that the 21-Seasoning Salute also looks like cheap potpourri, so I guess the twenty-first seasoning is visual.

AUGH! Chili powder! So…much…chili…powder. Ability…to…question…reason…fading…as…multiple….bottles…cloud…vision.

Really, four containers of chili powder? That seems excessive, even in a family living in the Southwest. And none are used enough so that I could blend them and create room. They just sit there, mocking me in their gritty and slightly bitter way.

The juniper berries are just aggravating. I remember I had a great recipe for something that involved juniper berries, but no longer remember what the recipe was. I do, however, remember that they were expensive. So in the meanwhile, I might entertain myself by making everything bland that I eat taste like gin.

The spices were all expensive, and aging in my cabinet doesn’t exactly improve their flavor. By the time I gather the strength to use them again, flavorwise they will be lightly-tinted eraser leavings. So beginning tonight, our meals might be as poorly planned as ever but by gum, they’ll be seasoned. Macaroni and cheese with fennel and coriander. Tofu steaks with a cream of tartar and juniper berry reduction. Salmon baked in a sleeve of cinnamon and onion powder. And dessert? Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise for the family, but I do have those five tubes of toothpaste I’m supposed to be using on the dog…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pillow Talk

I want to thank everyone who wrote in and admitted that they, too, didn’t know everything they expected to know by now. We are a timid yet hardy tribe, carefully averting our eyes from our water meter and hoping our significant other doesn’t die before walking us through the home-insurance paperwork. But this week has not been about a member of the family who doesn’t know something; this week has been about the family member who knows everything. I refer, of course, to the cat. Lulabelle has found the new place to sleep. I may pick her up and remove her, I may shout and wave my hands; I am even allowed to tempt her with the extra-stinky wet food as an incentive to take her naps elsewhere. But she knows, and she expects me to figure out eventually, that right now she simply must sleep with her capacious kitty-bottom ground into Consort’s pillow.

There are a few problems with this. The first being, of course, ewww; it’s not easy to get a good night’s sleep when your mind starts wandering to the thought that where your nose is, a cat’s sphincter was. We’ve gone through a lot of pillowcases this week. The high point was when I gave Consort the last available pillowcase, which was an ancient Boots-the-monkey-from-Dora-the-Explorer ruffled sham from Daughter’s pre-school years, but we had to take that off because the simian rictus was interfering with his sleep.

There’s also the problem that even if he wasn’t so acutely aware of the nose/sphincter thing, he’s actually allergic to cats. Most days, he’s a real trouper, sniffling quietly into a tissue and adding a shot of Bendadryl to his morning coffee, but no immune system appreciates an allergen being applied directly to the nasal cavity and the eye sockets. Anything near the Pillow of Feline Delight must also be cleaned, which means sheets and duvet covers. This past week, the washing machine wouldn’t finish spinning before I was unloading it and tossing in new piles of pima cotton with a coating of American Shorthair.

Clearly, she needed to be exiled from the bedroom. This didn’t seem hard, as it’s our usual policy. She sleeps with the kid, or draped over the couch, or crooning sweet nothings to the hard-drive. Before this week, she’d come into the bedroom once a day, in the morning, shouting something about wet food. She’d then herd me to the laundry room and make me use my opposable thumbs. But now she wanted the pillow, she deserved the pillow, and I was irrationally denying her the pillow. Luckily for us, she has the time and the patience to clue me in to our painfully mistaken I was. At first, I just kept the door shut. But during the day I’d have to go in to the bedroom, either to change after working out or grab something or possibly bring in yet another load of de-haired sheets. I’d come back out and shut the door behind me. An hour later, I’d think “Gosh, I wonder where that darn cat is now?”, and on a whim check the bedroom. I’d open the door and there she would be, sprawled on Consort’s pillow neatening up her bikini area. After the first day, I’d only go into the bedroom after clearing the hallway for all potential feline invaders; before leaving the bedroom again, I’d do a quick cat-scan.


Didn’t matter; she was in there at least three times a day, weaving her hair into his side of the bed. Such was her need to sleep on his pillow that she developed the ability to pass through solid matter and render herself invisible as needed. I tried to present this to Consort as a testimony to his charms, but he was busy removing a quilt of cat-hair from under his contact lens. But daytime apparating was as nothing compared to the nighttime productions. We go to bed, I shut the door, and there is blessed silence for eight seconds. Then I hear a football-shaped body slam against the door:







QUINN: Lulabelle, hush. Go eat your stinky wet food.




QUINN: Stop it!

(Consort pulls pillow over his head to try to block out sounds of feline rage.)

LULABELLE: AUGH! He’s touching my pillow!


And the the musical portion of the evening begins. Some nights it’s got kind of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta tone, the fair ingenue pining for the lost love; other nights, it’s a darker song, a Valkyrian maid swearing vengeful death upon those who hold her love hostage. What it is never is brief, and it increases in ferocity and high notes if she senses we’re awake. We pull the covers over our heads and breathe shallowly.

CONSORT (Softly): Come on, it’s just a little indoor-outdoor cat.

QUINN (Softly, yet resentfully): I know.

CONSORT: Very sweet and quiet.

QUINN: That’s what her previous owners had told me.

CONSORT: You’ll barely even notice she’s around.

QUINN: In case you haven’t observed, I’m under here, too.

Eventually, though, our bickering stops. We have to stay together, for the sake of the pillow.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What Do I Know?



CONSORT (Whispering): Hello?

QUINN: Hi, it’s me.

CONSORT: I know, I saw your name, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked up. Can I call you back, I’m in the middle of a...

QUINN: It’s a quick question. Do we tip our hairdresser?


QUINN: Yeah.

CONSORT: No. She owns the shop. You don’t tip the owner.

QUINN: Thanks.


CONSORT: Why are you whispering?

QUINN: I...don't know.


CONSORT: That’s it?

QUINN: Yeah. Bye.


At what point do I just start knowing the things adults know? I’m far into adulthood by any measure. In many cultures, I would be breathlessly awaiting my fifth grandchild by now. Actually, in many cultures, I would have died in childbirth, but you get my meaning: I should be in full possession of the things grown-ups know. And yet, I stand here in the middle of my life trying to remember how often I’m supposed to clean the air-conditioner vents. I’ve been driving for nearly a quarter of a century and I still don’t know whether a broken parking meter means “Yeah! Free parking!” or “Augh! Ticket!” The fact that no one I’ve asked knows the answer to that one either only soothes me a little.

I don’t even have to leave my house to feel inadequate to the task of being an adult. There are land-mines everywhere I look. Here are some things I don’t know:

I wash my towels every week. Is that obsessive or hygenically risky behavior?

[If you find it disgusting, I’m going to tell you a story to put things in perspective. In my early twenties, I was helping my then-boyfriend pack up for our move-in together. His current apartment had its own washer-dryer and, while boxing up the bathroom, I suggested we wash his towels there before packing them, to make things easier on the other side. He looked confused. “Why would I wash them? I never use them unless I’m clean.” Readers, he had lived there for two years and had never washed his towels. I moved in with him anyway, but I never let him make any domestic decisions. Ever. And yes, a cooler head might have stopped to consider that as a deal-breaker, but we had already signed a lease, he laughed at my jokes and he had the greenest eyes I had ever seen. Two years later, that wasn’t quite enough anymore. Consort’s eyes are also green, he also laughs at my jokes, and he washes towels. So, you know, upgrade.]

Does anyone flip their mattress? Really? I do occasionally, but it seems so overdramatic.

I have five virtually identical instruction manuals for cordless phones on file. We only own one phone which means I have manuals for phones which died up to fifteen years ago. Since I keep buying phones that look alike, and they all have names like VtechLogos 1800, I can’t determine which manual belongs to the new phone, so I have to keep them all. Eventually, I plan to auction off the world’s largest collection of obsolete cordless-phone manuals. This will pay for my medicine in old age. Is this normal?

In all the years we have been a family of three, I have never once been fully done with a load of laundry. If the washing machine is empty, it simply means there are clothes on the drying rack and half-load of moist gym clothes sprinkled throughout the house. The same goes for dishes. In the time it takes me to empty the dishwasher, Consort and Daughter will dab olive oil on their fingers and touch three water glasses each and then, for fun, lick spoons and leave them in the sink. I just know real adults don’t have this problem.

I suspect real adults know how to make a meal that becomes several different meals. The baked chicken on Monday becomes chicken salad on Tuesday, its carcass forming the base of Wednesday's chicken soup and the fat showing up as a fine moisturizer by the end of the week. I have no idea how to do that in our lives. Now, I’ll admit, it’s less straightforward when you don’t eat meat. Cooked black beans, no matter how lovingly prepared, tend to look like leftovers even on their maiden voyage and tofu three nights in a row has been known to make children hide under the house. But creative meal-planning feels like something adults do naturally, like going gray or watching 60 Minutes.

I own a vacuum cleaner. It is truly a modern marvel. It has attachments of great specificity and complexity. It longs to be used for everything up to and including at-home colonoscopy. In the three years I have owned this vacuum cleaner, I have never taken its small fiddly bits out of the sealed bag. Something tells me adults don’t fear their own appliances.

The entire financial situation of the last two weeks has left me studying like I never studied in any academic class I’ve ever taken, but I have to admit that I don’t understand a single damn thing that’s happening. I would chalk this up to my inability to grow up properly but I have yet to hear any governmental official sound too confident either.

Lately I have come to suspect that I will (please, please) grow old and (later, later) die without ever feeling adult. Now the only question is, am I alone in this feeling?

And this is where I come to you, readers. Is there anything you felt as if you would know by now?