Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Disasters


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We just visited my Dad in Florida.  He does the exact same thing with my kids as he did with my brother and me.  They do exactly what my brother and I did.  The beat goes on...
(If you don't see a video of my kids marching with my dad, then switch browsers.  Chrome works; Safari does not.)

The world according to Trump has transformed from "a disaster" to "tremendous" and  "beautiful." Who knew that the campaign slogan, "It's a disaster, and it's all HER fault" would be so successful?  The Woman's march was yesterday, and I didn't march because it conflicted with gymnastics and play dates.  Seeing the jubilant pussy posts on Facebook has made me remorseful and weepy.  Instead, I spent most of the day on my hands and knees scouring the girls' newly re-arranged room.  I found 11 single earrings, over 20 fake nails, and 65 legos; I also fed the hermit crab and changed the sludgy green water in the fish tank.  This did not fill me with hope, solidarity and inspiration.

On November 8, I went to bed at 9:23 confident that Hillary would win in a landslide.  At 2 am I woke up worried about the kiln I was firing.  Knowing I wouldn't sleep well, I got up to drive to the studio and check on the kiln.  I learned that Donald Trump was our President elect in the car. My kiln had turned off in the night.  I caught it before it cooled off enough to ruin the entire firing.  I'm wondering if the collective angst of everyone I love woke me up.  Do I have Donald to thank for a passable kiln load of work?

The extent to which I'm out of touch is my big issue.  It's especially wretched to talk to minority friends.  All of them, unlike me, were not surprised by the outcome of the election.  You'd think multiple cop shootings of unarmed black men might've hinted to me that all was not well.  I thought there were small pockets of racism and sexism.  I didn't realize that I'm in the pocket.  I've been wrestling with the whole issue of race. I've chosen to raise my kids in the city because I like a diverse, bustling environment. I hope that their exposure to different races, socioeconomic levels, and religions keeps them open-minded.

My Godchildren are at a public school outside of Philly in one of the best school districts in Pennsylvania.  Hope's best friend, Tula, is one of the few brown people in the school, and Cyros has one brown kid on his lacrosse team.  These kids are all from a similar socio-economic group, so there is no barrier to their relating to each other.  Is the urban choice backfiring?  My spoiled kids have very little in common with the 60,000 kids in Philadelphia who live in extreme poverty-most of whom are African American.  I was talking about this to another Philly parent who has 5 boys.  His kids go to a charter school down town. He was driving the kids to school, and a bunch of boys piled in front of and on his car when he was about to accelerate at a green light.  He narrowly missed hitting two of them, and he muttered "ANIMALS!" under his breath.  His eldest son said, "Yeah, they are like that in class as well."  Dad was referring to kids who ignore traffic lights and bounce on the hood of his car, he wasn't happy wondering what his son meant.  He closed our conversation with, "Fuck it, we might just head to Jersey!"  

(Every time I need to contact the mother of those 5, I lovingly call her "Dumb ass."  She was dropping 2 of the sons at daycare, and they didn't want to go.  They started calling her "Stupid dumb ass mommy!"  She blew them kisses as she walked away and said,  "That's not the way to get to spend the day with me instead of going to daycare, now is it?"  I love little vignettes that make me feel we aren't the only ones raising "spirited" children.)

My kids' school is not as diverse as Philly's population would have it be were the system to be fair. Open house was at a remote convention center in Lafayette Hill that was probably difficult to access by public transportation. I checked the website daily to see when this "open day" date would be.  I also had my mother in law watch the kids when I went to the open house. So, straight away I needed a car, daily internet access, and help with childcare. Someone blew the whistle on this process, so now it's a little easier to apply, but 80% of the successful applicants now have to come from the neighborhood around the school.  It is a predominately white neighborhood, so that idea isn't going to help with racial diversity.  There is not one brown teacher or administrator in the school except for the interim CEO who, sadly, doesn't want the job full time. I chose to send them there because it's free and it has a reputation of being a great school; I didn't think about diversity at all.

We went to our local pool over the summer.  After a few minutes of waiting in line to get in, JP said, "Everyone here is brown except for us!"  I just responded, "Yeah, and you really don't need to point that out; we all just want to swim." I have no idea what being the only white people means to him.  All I know is that there won't be those long clingy white girl hairs all over the pool as there are in Northern Liberties which makes me happy.  My dad keeps telling the same joke about how successful his cataract surgery was.  The punchline is:  "The only weird thing about it is that I was looking at an old picture album, and it turns out my ex-wife was black!"  Has he ever gotten a laugh from that one???? He tells it after the one about Monica Lewinsky getting a position in the mythical Hillary Clinton administration as the Head of Internal Affairs. My Dad also greeted my beautiful 15-year-old goddaughter at 8 in the morning with the words, "Hope! Don't you look SEXY!"  (I texted her mom and got a 1-word response, "GROSS!")  I don't understand his need to say things like that.  Are those jokes going to die with his generation?  Is it really possible that people voted for Donald Trump because they hated having a BLACK MAN at the helm? 
 

Then again, my friend Patrece sent me this picture of her tiny self on a massive chair.  My response was, "OMG!  you need to get yourself made into a doll and market yourself as the brown elf on the shelf!"  Is that any different from my Dad's dumb joke?  I just googled "brown elf on a shelf" and a very faintly tinted "boy scout elf" came up.  At first I thought, there's a real window here for a Patrece-like elf, but then it occurred to me that Pisces Patrece might be too conspiratorial to be a good elf on the shelf.  As a kid, you'd get the feeling that if you gave her a wink, she might not tell Santa ALL of the bad things.  The tattle-tailing, whistle-blowing boy scout elf would get the job done.

Is all of my anxiety about the issue because we are so WHITE, and so many white people seem to suck right now?  My attempts to combat racism feel hilarious.  Will knowing the names of the brown kids and chatting with the parents on my kids' sports teams ensure that my kids don't turn out to be bigoted assholes?  I have no idea, but it's all I can think of to do. It does seem that although Mt. Airy baseball is a bastion of diversity, the white families end up knowing the white kids and the black families know the black kids.  I'm embarrassed about how hard the names are for me: James and female Avery have JayLIN; Matthew has JayDEN, Gil and Lisa are grandparents to Jamir but they are parents to 4-year-old Adnan which is only memorable because the guy in prison in the "Serial" podcast is also named Adnan.  Jamir's mom is an "M" name that might be Malia but probably isn't because that's Obama's daughter, but now that we are into the "M's," Micah belongs to Miguel. Rashid has male Avery.  The white kids names are just as brutal, but they are so much easier for me.  Nikki, Nino, Nicholas, Max, Sam and JP are no problem. Dads are Joe, Jason, Dante and Tim. I wonder sometimes if my aggressive name-knowing has done nothing except make those brown kids wonder who the hell is that distracting, cheering white lady with the pink hair???  (JP actually complemented me the other day about how much he loves that I talk to people I don't know all the time.  He said it "makes things fun." :)

For the most part my conversations with people reveal that they are exactly like me, but I did have an interesting one with Jaylin's Dad, James.  I was recounting a conversation I'd had with one of the dads on Jaylin's spring ball team.  It was a particularly lousy game, and the dad was saying to me that he thought that kids who aren't really good and serious about baseball shouldn't be playing because they bring the level down for the kids who are.  That man was telling me that my kid shouldn't be playing.  James laughed and said, "Well that's Aaron.  He played pro ball, and he doesn't see another path for his boys. That's just his point of view."  "OH!!!"  I responded. "Maybe that's why he seemed to be thinking that I was hitting on him."  (because all professional athletes must think that way, right liz???)  James said, laughing, "yeah, that's Aaron!"  Aaron had made a point after talking for about 15 minutes of saying, "that woman over there is my WIFE!" to which I merrily/awkwardly responded, "Oh! great, and the assistant coach is my HUSBAND!"  I guess my attempts at inter-racial socializing went a little awry there.

My cute husband and Toby, the only beer-loving kid bottling his first batch of home brew.


All of our parenting choices end up setting us apart from other people or bringing us together with those who make similar choices.  Aaron prioritizes athleticism, discipline and seriousness. My brother's family puts intelligence above all.  They refer to the religious families in their communities as "thumpers,"  because they Bible thump.  The "trogs."  (troglodytes)  are the narrow-minded idiots.  They are big fans of the "Darwin Awards" (when dumb people get injured or killed doing stupid stuff.)  My Toby is constantly categorizing people based on their levels of health.  She'll come home horrified that a kid was eating a "lunchable" or she'll ask me with some trepidation, "Mom, is so-and-so healthy????"  I'm sure JP has "parents allow unlimited screen time" as a major delineation in his head.  I served a huge spiral-cut ham at my last open studio. That decision was made, on the fly, at Trader Joe's with the help of ham-loving Jennifer whose husband has never eaten a mammal.  She sees her time with me as an opportunity to catch up on lost pork.  The 4-year-old son of friends made a b-line for the ham the instant he walked in shouting "YUM!!!!  Ham!" to which the bewildered dad looked at us and said, "We're vegetarians!  What the hell does he know about ham???"  

This pair of overalls came from Santa to healthy Toby, the amazing worker.  She was bizarrely thrilled

Today I asked Steel's friend, Aurora's mom how she identifies herself and her children.  There are 7 kids and 2 grandkids in the mix.  She's Puerto Rican, Native American, Dutch and Irish.  One dad is Greek.  I'm not sure about the other.  Amani is pretty non-committal about race. She refers to the eldest kid as, "my black son" because he identifies as black.  She does it with irony, though, because he is the whitest of all 7 kids. When he was little, he asked her if she was his mom.  She said, "yes!"  He said, "You have color?" She said, "yes" He then asked, "So, is my color on the inside????"   Her main response to my questions was: "People are allowed to be transgender now, so I think we should be able to be trans-race as well, don't you?"  Her family looks like a Benetton ad, so it's just not an issue.  She actually responded to my question initially by saying, "Geez  I don't KNOW how the 3 middle ones identify.  I'll have to ask them!"

I was listening to an NPR thing about a professor at Westchester University who has been using genetic testing to "break boundaries and bring people together." The program depressed me because it highlighted how all of us have these ridiculous hierarchies in our minds about genes.  I know I am baselessly proud that I might have native american genes.  I like the Scandinavian ones too. Both of those cultures seem more egalitarian and socialist, so I can feel inherently lefty and liberal.  I'm not fond of the German genes because I've met so many Germans who laugh really loudly at things that aren't funny and then there's the Holocaust.  It had also never occurred to me that the African Americans have to process being the products of both rapees and rapers. I'd given the victim part some thought but never the aggressor part.  That was depressing a. because I'm so stupid to have not considered it and b. because that fact sucks.  Why can't we all be like Aurora's mom, Amani, and not give a shit!!! 

I was driving last week and listening to Jeff Bridges on Fresh Air.  They played the scene in "The Big Lebowski" where Bridges is talking to the other Lebowski demanding that he take responsibility for his urinated-on carpet.  The logic is flawed, but it didn't stop me from e-mailing Terry Gross and telling them that in the spirit of the interview, I should be reimbursed for the huge gash I sliced through the back third of my mini van when I side-swiped a utility vehicle because I was so engrossed in the interview (enGROSSED...gET IT?????) I took my car to Rafiq.  He's the guy with the garage who has helped me, not once, but twice with a flat on my bike.  I said I didn't want the gash fixed, but I wanted to make sure the panel didn't come flying off at some point. Rafiq's guy, Stan, just put a screw through it...perfect!  I'm pretty sure Stan thinks I've got a FEW screws loose, but oh well.  Rafiq and I are facebook friends.  He'd put a call out for everyone to pray for his brother.  There was no explanation just that he was in a bad way.  I asked Rafiq if his brother was better.  My assumption was that it was probably a drugs or alcohol because that's always what it seems to be when nothing is specified. Rafiq is MUSLIM... His brother has MS and has gotten to the point that he needs a feeding tube.  Did I assume drugs because he's black or because drugs and alcohol are usually the problem with MY friends?  I always want to invite Rafiq for dinner because I like him, and his son is JP's age, but then I wonder if that would be weird and if I'd do something stupid like put sherry in the soup or cook with bacon fat which is what I did when I first cooked for my Muslim boyfriend and his also-Muslim friends in San Francisco or if Rafiq would be horrified by how much wine I drink with dinner. I'm sure I wouldn't feel comfortable inviting Rafiq over yet if he were a white WASP.  A few more flat tires on my bike (I'm a flat-tire-making savant; it's my secret super power) and a few more fender benders, and Rafiq's family and ours will be vacationing together.

We had a car renting feud last weekend that maybe touched on race and definitely involved the other thing I hate about the Trump world...money.  A lot of voters assume that Donald Trump will help all of us become rich like him.  It's absurd on so many levels-not the least of which being how rich we have been living in the democracy that he is now dismantling.  

I made an unwise decision to rent a car online without doing a search for reviews of "Economy rent a car" in Orlando. Such a search would have revealed 0 stars from multiple reviewers. We arrived with the 3 kids to a line out the door.  Two women huffed by telling us to not even bother and that it's a scam.  They were right.  The scam is to require people to buy the insurance provided by Economy rent a car for $140. The only way to avoid this is to have the declarations page from ones insurance policy in hand. We had time to get this emailed during the 2-hour wait. We did, however, have to give them $1000 hold on our credit card that would not be returned for 2 weeks.  If we didn't have that, we could pay $45 to get a $200 hold.  All of this information was delivered by beautiful women wearing really tight, short red dresses, impeccable jewelry, hair, and make-up, black stockings and very high heels. They all had the same, canned responses to the protestations that none of this was revealed on the internet, etc.  They did not have the car we ordered, but they had something that would do, and we'd waited too long to care.  It was pouring outside.  My bedraggled, not-bothering-to-google-reviews-on-this-way-too-cheap-rental-car friends were gathered under a flimsy awning to inspect, sign off and drive away in their crappy, temporary cars.

The kids were great at inspecting.  JP found dents and problems Tim and I wouldn't have noticed.  We signed off, and Tim shouted at the kids to pile in the back and buckle up.  They couldn't get in.  The back door opened neither from outside or inside the car.  I wanted the door flaw to be written on the initial papers, so I trotted back in. Tim, being smarter and more thoughtful than I, said, "No! if we get in an accident, our kids can't get out of the back of the car! Get us another car!"  We got a manager, and he said there was nothing he could do.  We could come back tomorrow morning and work out a discount and MAYBE get a new car.  He was not authorized to do anything, and there were no more cars.  I just wanted to get out of there.  I said, "Will you at least write this down on the original inspection of the car???" He said, "yes, I'll go write something up."  I sarcastically said, "Great, go do that!" I honestly did not think I was being that rude, but the guy turned on his heel and said, "I'm not doing anything for you!"  I was shocked and said, "I feel sorry for you; this is such a horrible, soul-crushing job!"  He looked me in the eye and said, "You wouldn't feel horrible for me if you saw my paycheck; it's a GREAT job!"  I don't meet people who are solely motivated by money in that way.  I was speechless. Tim said, "Fine, we'll just sit here then!"  "Let me know if you need sleeping bags!"  the guy muttered as he walked away.  At this point the kids have been shrieking in terror in the back of the car for 5 straight minutes, "Let me out!  Let's take an UBER!" "You're being mean!" Steel is spearheading the hysteria. I had to shout in my best Susie voice, "If you don't stop screaming this minute, you will not have a play date with ANYONE until the summer!"


So bad cop left and good cop came to tell us politely that we would have to move because we were creating a bottleneck.  Tim said, "I'm not going anywhere until you get me another car." and closed the window to the sheets of rain.  The guy left for another 5 minutes while we talked to the kids about standing up for yourself and the difference between rude and strong.  The guy came back and said, "OK, I'll get you another car; it's coming up next"  At this point, the whole place is in turmoil.  Cars are skidding around in the rain to get past us.  There's a headlight on the ground from a skirmish earlier in the day. You'd think people would be turning on us, but everyone was on our side.  We got our stuff out of the car and waited.  The next car was not for us; nor was the next.  Another guy came and asked Tim for the key to the car we'd left.  Tim said, "Oh no!  that's MY car!  I won't give you the key until you give me another car."  The manager said, "Sir, you can't do that!"  Tim replied, "Yes, I can.  It's called LEVERAGE!"  Tim is always up to fight the good fight.  It can sometimes seem like he's needlessly raising his blood pressure.  Other times it's just so sexy when he won't back down.  We got a car with functioning doors and drove away.  The return went smoothly, and hopefully the $1000 hold will end as it's supposed to. Our kids learned a good lesson about standing up for yourself and others in the face of unfairness.  

I, however, am still rattled.  Tim says the guy turned on me because when I said, "Go do that" what he heard was, "Go do that BOY!"  He was bald and light-skinned; he could have been any number of ethnicities.  I was furious with the whole situation, but race was nowhere on my radar, and I'm horrified that I could have been understood in that way.  I still can't get over the idea that all of those young, beautiful men and women can be content working at a place where taking advantage of people is in the business plan.  Donald Trump embodies this sort of abject greed.  Greed is the most shameful of the sins in my opinion, and Trump's election tells me that greed has become something to admire.  When did "me/America first" replace "liberty and justice for ALL?"

Another thing about Trump's election that drives me NUTS is that my friend Heather's bigoted brother in law WON.  I brought Theo and the kids to the shore for the day in the summer. Heather's nephews were Theo's age, so I thought it'd be fun for him to get some kid time and go to the boardwalk.  My kids were in front of a movie which left me hanging out with a bunch of Republicans.  I had noticed the wipe board in the kitchen said, "Life's a bitch; let's not have one for President."  This guy is from Fairfield, Connecticut.  I didn't know they HAD racist people in New England.  He, too, made fun of the handicapped reporter whom Trump mocked.  He actually clapped his hands at the prospect of "the wall," and at my brief explanation of the "black lives matter" movement, he responded that I just don't understand "where he's coming from."  He calmly explained to me that he's coming from the point of view that the "situation of the entire continent of Africa" is proof to him that people of African descent are inferior.  

The beat goes on... The first thing his son, a freshman at Boston College, asked Theo was, "So, you're from Montreal.  Are there a lot of colored people there?"  to which Theo slowly and deliberately replied, "It's very multi-cultural; which is how I like it."  Rene was so happy to have someone to witness the horror of his brother in law.  Rene asked the group if they would consider taking small a financial hit for the betterment of society.  All of these spoiled adults who are staying at their parents beautiful shore houses, replied, "No. The money will just get wasted."  I had long since been speechless.  Rene ended the conversation with, "Let's just get this straight: Hillary WILL be our next president, and, like Barak Obama, she WILL go down in history as one of our most successful presidents. :( 
I'm heartbroken.
   

Now in Trump fashion I'll list things that have happened in the past 6 months that were not disasters, but I'll call them disasters, so that this blog post feels cohesive.  Picture day: I anticipated 2 out of 3 being disasters; I was wrong.  First of all, a blind person could do a better job than the school photographers.  They are pretending that the world isn't digital.  If I took photograph of an incredibly cute kid that looked like the top right picture, I'd take another. Steel wore leggings, her t-shirt that said, "I woke up like this," and her wedge-heeled leopard-print ankle boots. I didn't allow her to put her little, tiny, spandex gymnastics shorts on top of the whole thing, but she still looked like a hooker.  (I know, she looks fine!) JP eschewed his normal, picture day, 3-piece suit for under armour, shorts, and dark grey socks.  (He's thrilled with his.  He thinks he looks really OLD-at least 12!) Toby risked missing the bus to run home for him and entreat that I find hairspray.  According to Steel, JP's Bad News Bears hair needed some expert Steel styling on picture day. Toby had no idea what to wear. I put out some dresses for her, and she picked one to match her sparkly butterfly top.  She asked for a french braid, and put a bow directly on top of her head; she did not look like a hooker. She's not too cool yet.  (Apparently my french braid was swiftly dismantled on the bus.) We recently opened a box of hand-me-downs.  Steel turned up her nose at all of them.  Toby gleefully grabbed these get ups and put them on.  I thought she'd need fake eyelashes, a huge up doo, or at least a vodka tonic to pull off that floral Ann Margaret number, but no.






Toby had her 7th birthday party in October.  7 is too old for bounce houses; she wanted an inflated slide. We went out and measured the lawn late one night (which is how we caught Rocky pooping by moonlight in the kale patch)  The fire truck was the only one that was narrow enough to fit.  Tall, narrow-based, inflatable slides are death traps.  This one was tethered to the house, so it didn't lean over and deposit the kids 2 stories down onto Idell Street.  Instead, when too many kids were up top, it would careen into the house to a deafening chorus of terrified children confronting their mortality. We had a stubbed toe gushing blood, a twisted ankle, skin burns, a fall from the loft of the tree house, quite a few battles over presents and who would be playing with whom.  The "make your own sundae" idea went over pretty well.  They are still able to hear their little bodies say, "ENOUGH." (unlike me with a bottle of wine)  "I will never force anyone finish a bowl of ice cream" was my response to their apologetic little faces as they handed over the half-eaten glop for me to discard. Tim spent the entire party outside monitoring the fire truck slide.   I just got up from writing and noticed that the floor is moving.  It's ants.  I wonder if there is a half-eaten sundae under the couch.  The "disaster" verdict is still out.

(Cindy Loo Hoo is in white with the pencil in her mouth....adorable)

We had Steel's birthday party in the summer.  She wanted a slumber party, and I told her that October is too crazy for a slumber party, so we'd bump her birthday up to August.  It was looking manageable when a couple friends couldn't come.  Steel, then invited 3 friends from her old Northern Liberties life, and it became unmanageable again.  All of her friends are either Scorpios (like her) or Virgos (like her dad) or Sagittarians. (like me)  I take this as proof that she loves us and herself.  Steel wanted to give everyone make overs.  She also wanted to be the ONLY aesthetician.  She was a wreck.  Some kids were interested and felt she wasn't giving them enough time.  Some were bored and wanted to do something else.  Steel is addicted to fake nails.  They aren't cheap, and they involve super-toxic glue which "it's got to be organic" mom should not allow. They end up all over the house, but I can't control the fake-nail loving beast.  She took the "buy 2, get 1 free" sale on nails as a sign from the gods that she should buy fake nails for everyone.  

We thought we'd gotten them all to bed by 11, but by 12 one of the girls was in tears and insisting I call her mom.  I lay down with her on the bed, and she calmed down.  I dozed off and woke to the smallest guest hovering over Steel and shout-whispering Steel's name.  I jolted up.  Every minute that Steel was asleep was a minute without irrational melt downs in the next month, so I really didn't want this little girl waking her up.  I shriek-whispered, "What do you NEED?????"  to which this little one, who will forever be named "Cindy loo who" in my head, responded, "I need a drink of water!"  In the unlikely event that I allow another sleepover I will make sure everyone has a tiny little water bottle by her side.




Speaking of disasters, we had a rough visit to New England last summer.  First of all, it was 47 degrees and rainy for the first week.  We did sand candles, make-your-own marshmallow shooters out of plumbing supplies and a bunch of other projects.  I was in charge of my 3 and my brother's 2.  It seemed that my mom was much more easily annoyed with the noise and chaos.  No one agrees with me about this.  All kids said, "Grandma Susie is ALWAYS like that!"  Which means that I now can't handle my mom's annoyance with the noise and the chaos...(is this pre-menopausal thing?  I wonder that about EVERYTHING now) My answer was to load all 5 into the minivan and go visit my friend, Tanya, in Maine to give Susie a break.  The two problems with this solution were 1. my nephew, Owen gets violently car sick, and 2. Tanya has 4 kids and her chaos makes mine look tame.  Her second child, Bear,  wasn't there.  I had to be content with his school picture.  I will call him Bearrah Fawcett here forward. 






I now understand the hype about Maine.  It's like Massachusetts minus the Country Clubs and the annoying people with the addition of hot lobstermen with cool accents-one of whom is so in love with Tanya, he took ALL 8 kids and a kitten out on his boat.  Tanya had just let her oldest come home with a new kitten to add to the shoe-eating dog and blueberry-shitting bunny. Tanya makes me feel normal; this is rare.  Owen survived.  He popped out of the car and puked only once.  He is an "Olympic puker." When we went on the whale watch last summer, he never missed the trash can.  When his family arrived in Philly on their way back from Florida, he puked onto my neighbor's grass.  My only complaint is he chose the impeccable neighbor's grass to puke on; I've cringed whenever I've walked by the wee bald spot-singed by Owen's stomach acid, but at least it wasn't in the car.  

I just had insight on my mother's kid-tolerance levels.  We decided to have our post-Christmas family get-together in Philly.  Curt, puking Owen, Gillian, Jana, and Kellen drove 16 hours up the day after Christmas.  My mother was ecstatic.  She said, "Oh great! Now I don't have to drive to Florida, and when I get sick of everyone, I can just GO HOME."  See!  We are more annoying to her than we used to be.


We have spent the last 6 months fixing up a house to flip.  I use the word "we" pretty loosely.  I worked for 2 weeks in the summer scraping wallpaper from the ceilings in 97 degree weather.  Shaina, my lovely assistant, is 5'1, so she got the lower half of wallpaper stripping.  How to make someone appreciate her job?  Have them strip wallpaper for a month.  Yes, she kept at it 2 weeks longer than I.  We both would look like we just walked off of the set of "Les Miserables" every time we left.  That was my contribution to the project.  If we make money on the house, then I guess it won't be a disaster, but adding to Tim's already-full plate seems dim-witted at best.  The best thing about the project is that it allowed us to get rid of our food-freezing fridge.  We spent $91,000 on a house to justify buying a fridge.  I was also coveting the old wall-mounted pencil sharpener, but that seems to have disappeared. The annoying thing is that it has turned out so beautiful.  It has made me wish that we had a house with light streaming through it and beautiful floors and a brand new kitchen.  Hopefully the fridge will perform better in this new environment or the new owners will not be produce eaters, so they won't care about slightly frozen food.

I still don't have my shit together enough to have anything nice like that.  We trash everything.  Today I've watched the kitten whack the blooms off of the orchid, dump mail on the floor, and play the piano with sticky paws for longer than I would have thought would interest her. I had the kids all weekend while Tim was gone.  They each got to have a friend over.  Steel busted out the snow cone making machine she got for Christmas. There are blue rasberry, cherry and grape rings all over the place.  I'm sure soft scrub or bleach would get rid of them, but I can't be bothered.  Last time everyone had play dates over, I attempted making lye soap.  All of the caveats about soap making involve "respecting the lye."  They all say things like, just make sure you don't have pets and children running around when you're working with lye. I had just dumped my soap mixture into the molds which were volcanoing all over the place because I did something wrong.  There were 6 children running around, and then my neighbor stopped by with her Shitzu who took off after the cat.  It was textbook disastrous.  No one was blinded, and the soap is pretty nice if you don't care how it looks.  One of our friends is a hunter and shot a bear.  He said that more than half of the bear was fat.  He stripped the fat and left it because he couldn't carry it.  I've been obsessing about making bear fat soap ever since. 

How cute is Steel's first 24-hour boyfriend? and a Sagittarius to boot

So JP is spending most of his time looking forward to his 2-day 5th grade sex ed class this spring. He's got a lot to learn.  He suggested one evening that a stick covered with spider webs would make a great, in the woods, emergency tampon.  Steel had her first 1-day relationship with the cutest boy in her class.  At the end of the day she told him that she just isn't ready for a boyfriend.  He asked if they could still like each other, and they left it at that.  Toby got a drivable truck for Christmas that is black like her father's. Watching her careen around in it is worth every penny and every inch of garage space that her dad mourns.  Tim is building again which has him out at 5 every morning.  He's on fire, happy and invigorated.  This is great except that all of the morning yelling about getting up, eating, brushing teeth/hair, packing bags and missing the bus is on me.  I'm a wreck by 7:45.  I've upgraded my Pandora music account, so I don't have to listen to advertisements.  I put "Boston Baroque" on in the morning because I grew up listening to Robert J Lurzuma playing baroque music on NPR.  It's taken the edge off a little.  "Duke Ellington Radio" has made the evening routine a ton more enjoyable.




Thanks guys.  Honesty isn't always the best policy.

I realize I am both boob and race obsessed.  I fell into a Facebook hole about how few women wear bras that fit. You had to fill out a questionnaire about your bra problems.  Mine are: gathering because there's nothing there to fill the cup and straps falling off when I make pottery because the bras are trying to tell me that they are living an unfulfilled life.  I had to choose my breast shape from images.  I was going to pick "athletic." Steel and Tim calmly corrected my choice.  Apparently I'm in between "relaxed" and "east west."  I did end up with a bra that seems to like its job more. In yet another humbling moment about my appearance, I had to get my license renewed.  I was looking forward to it because my last picture was terrible.  I was pregnant with some poor, flawed fetus.  I'd waited with the kids for 2 hours, and I'd not bothered with a brush or make up.  This time I decided to get it done on a day that I was just too cold to make pots in the studio.  I primped, and headed to DMV on my bike in the rain.  In the 66 minutes between my arrival and my picture, I'd been scrolling through Facebook with my parka on in a room that was 104 degrees.  The picture looks like I'd just run a marathon in under 2 hours-drunk. That old license is now looking pretty good. 

I'm still making pottery, but I probably need to market my work a little more which I do not love.  I've been making pots that need assembly for Shaina to put together because I really don't have much for her to do at the moment.  I was reading an article about Heath Ceramics combining with Tartine Bakery in San Francisco to make this amazing store. The article said, "They wanted to do something humble, but in an elevated way"  Maybe it's sour grapes because I'm not in San Francisco anymore selling pottery, pastries and bear fat soap in a trendy venue, but "doing something humble in an elevated way" sounds as puke-worthy as blowing Donald Trump.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Rest Relaxation, doctors and vets




Tim convinced me to go away for a long weekend for our 10th anniversary.  I always question the brilliance of going away when preparing for it is utter chaos. Tim was leaving early in the mornings before the kids woke and working pretty late.  That left him exhausted and me to deal with gymnastics, playdates, piano nagging, cooking, laundry, etc.  On top of all of that I was doing my best to fight a urinary tract infection.  I was also spending a fair bit of energy denying that Steel was sick.

I just found the following quote in my blog notes:
Being nice to Steel when she's feigning being sick.  All she wants is love; why don't I give it to her????  Steel had the most ABSURD, marauding ailments the week before we left.  Her head ached, her stomach ached, her neck hurt, at one point she had Toby wake us in the middle of the night to tell us, "Steel CAN'T WALK!!!"  The loving response was, "Steel doesn't need to walk; tell her to go back to sleep!"  The next morning she was over acting her pronounced limp; I screamed at her to GET HER SNEAKERS ON and GET TO THE BUS STOP!!!!  

To Tim's utter shock, I decided to skip gymnastics and take her to the doctor.  I needed someone else to tell her that she is fine.  We couldn't get an appointment, so we did a walk-in.  This meant we had to wait for almost an hour.  Her young, sympathetic doctor was not there, so we met with a Grandma Susie-type older doctor.  I told Steel she had to do all of the talking.  I wanted to make the visit as unpleasant as possible, so she didn't think of going to the doctor as fun, mommy-Steel time.  I was pretty impressed  by her composure as she sat and told the doctor all of her problems of the past week.  I was catching the doctor's eye and practically rolling my eyes and circling my index finger around my ear (Did anyone else do that in grammar school to indicate that someone was crazy?)  I was saying things like, "Some of these things might be coming more from her head than from her body."  The doctor did a great job of making both of us feel heard.  She ascertained that Steel's headaches were more likely from tension than anything else.  She dwelt on the joint pain a little, but we talked about stretching for gymnastics.  The diagnosis was, "Steel, you need to run around at recess rather than sitting around and gossiping with your friends."  At the end of the appointment after she'd been stretching Steel's legs for her, Dr. Clarke told us that she'd be remiss if she didn't order a Lyme test "just to be sure."  PERFECT! Steel was going to have to endure a blood draw!  Now she definitely won't be asking for gratuitous trips to the doctor.

She survived the blood draw, but it was pretty dramatic.  Meanwhile, I'm getting crankier and crankier as my UTI isn't going away, and we are leaving in a day.  My inability to resist wine was the culprit. Meanwhile, Toby ends up getting ferried around during the week because she doesn't like being home alone with JP, so she has to come with me during both of Steel's gymnastics classes.  I try and set up a play date for her with Lilly every now and again. Lilly finishes her class right before Steel starts, so there's a perfect opportunity.  The plan was to make the hand off at 6 at gymnastics.  It occurred to me in a fit of UTI agony that I could make the walk-in time at the clinic if I got there before 6. I texted Lilly's mom, Rachel, that I'd hand her Steel and Toby, and she could take them both with her to drop Steel off and pick up Lilly, and I could rush to the clinic. We waited on Lilly's porch until the last minute while Rachel was looking for us at gymnastics; my text was not clear.  Steel was going to have to miss gymnastics because I was going to get antibiotics before going away to celebrate my 10th anniversary.  Toby was hysterical because she was going to miss her playdate. 

I was in and out of that clinic in FOUR MINUTES!  It was a miracle.  I had Toby back to Lilly's house just as they pulled up.  Steel had missed gymnastics, but that seemed to be providence as I was noticing her scratching her head.  We were going to take the hour and do one more olive oil, nit pick lice treatment. What else would I want to do the night before going away? We arrived home to Tim making dinner while shouting at Jack Peter because he'd caught him playing on the computer while he was home alone in lieu of doing his homework. The phone rings.  It's Dr. Clarke.  Steel has LYME DISEASE.  Steel gets hysterical and is screaming over and over again, "I don't WANT to have Lice and Lyme disease!!!!!"  The bottom line is that I'm leaving Tim's mom to deal with my kids, and now she's got to feel itchy the entire time, and she has to administer antibiotics to the biggest drama queen on the planet. Everyone is either crying, whining or shouting, and Tim reveals that he had THE WORST DAY ever.  He'd discovered that he was scheduled to lecture to 120 people at U Penn an hour after we were to arrive in New Orleans.

Steel does make an olive oil lice treatment look glamorous...

Our flight wasn't until 1, so Tim had time to figure out how he was going to lecture via computer. We got to the airport, grabbed lunch and made our first flight.  I rarely get sandwiches, so when I do, I want them to be worth the empty carbs of the bread.  I went to the "Earl of Sandwich" and ordered and Italian.  I was informed that the Earl hasn't pickles or onions or hot/sweet peppers.  I have difficulty accepting this.  I want to picket with a huge sign that says,  "Not Earl, Not Viscount, Not even Baron of sandwich...this is the squire of Sandwich..."  I decide to make my flight instead.

The planes were uneventful.  After so many nightmarish flights with kids, I cannot express the pure joy I feel when I'm on a plane, and I can read a four-month-old Vanity Fair swiped from the optometrist's office from cover to cover. On our final descent, the flight attendant announced, among other things, that we should change the time on our watches.  I turn to Tim who has heard nothing and ask him if he was aware that there is a time change between New Orleans and Philly.  He responds confidently that there is not.  I suggest that he check to make sure. Suddenly his plan to get to the hotel and give his lecture in our room is foiled. He has less than a half hour until lecture time.  He then has an altercation with the woman in the aisle seat.  I tell him that even if she lets him by, the 36 rows of people in front of us will not, so he needs to just RELAX. We deplane and scurry around the airport for 6 minutes asking random people in uniform if there might be a quiet room with fast internet access hidden somewhere in the airport. Obviously this leads to blank stares and nothing.  We get in a cab and drive 30 seconds to the Days Inn.  We secure a room, and I go for a swim rather than listen to Tim scream at the poor internet connection.  

My handsome husband having a beignet after a successful remote lecture. Beignets are so overrated.

After my healthy hour I end up at the bar.  The sympathetic concierge had given us 2 free drinks because she felt bad that renting a room was our only option. My companions were: Jason, the injured diver from the oil rigs who wasn't being compensated for his injuries and was in constant pain.  Bonnie, the mother of six who works at the IHop next door.  After having told her five kids that they could date anyone they wanted except a black person, she married a black man and her 6th child is bi-racial.  I thought she was my age or older, but she turned out to be 36.  I had to ask who she was going to vote for.  She can't vote because she's a felon. My third drink date was another oil rig worker who was more mainstream.  We talked about snowboarding.  The bartender had just blown $400 in a night of drinking and had to show up to drive the Days Inn airport shuttle with 2 hours of sleep and 16 drinks under his belt.  Tim came and wrestled me away from my new Days Inn family, and we Ubered to our hotel downtown.  Poor Jason wanted to come with us.  Toby, our posture police, would have admired the fact that the rod in his back prevented him from slouching (and, sadly, turning his head) but we weren't going to take him on for our anniversary weekend.

My review of that hotel was as follows:
So, the International house has pretty nice rooms, linens, and Aveda products. The maid was sweet. Our room had a "garden view" which was absurd: our window looked out on a concrete-enclosed area with a few shrubs.

The truly bad part of our stay was awakening to a COCKROACH as big as my thumb scuttling up my body towards my head. I shrieked, and my husband frantically shoo-ed it off of the bed. That was a dumb thing to do because it was then invisible on the dark, mottled floor. (I also didn't get a photo which made me sad...) I remembered the incident at breakfast; we called and requested something be done.

We returned late that night to a note from the manager saying she'd be in by 9 the next morning to talk about it. That lead me to believe that NOTHING had been done. We went to talk to the concierge. He said, to my request for roach hotels or spraying, "We don't have those things here! This is REALLY weird, and it's NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!" ummmmm...There are these amazing places called stores where you can send someone you pay minimum wage to go buy things. He seemed to be insinuating that we had brought the roach with us.

The manager wasn't there at 9 the next morning, so we left a message. The coffee is wretched, so we weren't going to sit and wait. She did call and told my husband that some spraying had been done but that they would wait to do the super-toxic spray. They also had no rooms to move us to. We saw her when we were leaving for dinner. She gave us a ticket for 2 free drinks at the hotel bar. 

OFFERING SOMEONE A FREE DRINK AT A HOTEL BAR IN NEW ORLEANS IS LIKE OFFERING SOMEONE A BIG MAC IN PARIS!!!!!


Other than the cockroach incident, our entire stay was perfect and marriage-affirming.  (I'm only really mad about the cockroach thing because I didn't get a photo.)  We did Tulane and the garden district; we shopped on Magazine street; we listened to great music on Frenchman's; we rode bikes to the 9th ward to check out Brad Pitt's new construction and the aftermath of Katrina.  Both of us were in the mood to treat everyone we met during the 3 days as guests at our personal cocktail party. We did make the mistake of asking a very large native American marine who he was going to vote for.  The ensuing conversation was fun and civil, but somehow he was asked to leave the bar by the quiet, bespectacled, bartender in white tails who had repeatedly asked us to change the subject.  I've never experienced that sort of Southern "we don't talk about those things here" gentility. Tim and I paid our tab and left.  We exited the bar and were greeted by a lovely 4-some of well wishers.


Our re-entry was less-than-smooth.  Somehow Carol had been coerced by Steel to go to Petco.  There Steel fell in love with a kitten.  Despite 4 out of 5 of us being allergic, we already have a cat.  Rocky arrived because I was complaining about rodents at a fall ball game last year, and one of the dads needed to relieve his girlfriend of a surly cat.  Rocky has been PURRFECT.  He's not cuddly, so we don't feel bad about not cuddling him, and he is a phenomenal hunter. He takes his job seriously.  He does (as Toby informed her teacher) "poop in the garden" but that's better than the litter box, right?  Steel, the most allergic of all of us, said that she'd pay for the kitten herself, and it would be her birthday present.  

Steel's birthday is Halloween; the day after our return.  Yes, I'd sorted out costumes before we left.  JP's got done in 20 minutes although he nagged me about it for the entire month of October.  He's not a perfectionist.  He was fine with wearing the crotch of one of his sister's tights over his face and my less-than-manly jacket, and he didn't care that the Sharpie he used to make the face (I still don't know what he was) was faded and crappy.  Steel wanted a Target sexy witch outfit (which hurt my soul, but it's her birthday)  She's definitely going to be one of the the "sexy whatever" girls for the rest of her Halloween career.  This year Toby wanted to be a stalk of asparagus.  Given Toby's dimensions, making her costume to scale was a challenge.  We nailed it; she had a spray bottle filled with "asparagus pee" to make her that much scarier.

The photo on the left is, I fear, a future Steel Halloween costume from New Orleans.

Tim took on the kitten quest.  He went to Petco and confidently filled out the application.  (not unlike his confidence in there not being a time change between Philly and New Orleans)  All went well until he described Rocky as a "mean cat."  The woman took her glasses off to look him in the eye and said, "No cat is mean.  Meanness is a response to its OWNER."  We were denied not only for Steel's kitten, Sunshine, but for any future kitten.  (I wanted to call that woman and tell her I'd kept a goddamned HERMIT CRAB alive for 3.5 years and counting, and our carnival gold fish have doubled in size and are thriving -ok we lost another 6 fish, and I was calling the tank Fishwitz for a while, but she didn't need to know that!)  I suggested Craigslist.  Tim wanted to check the "get a kitten" box off on his 'to do' list.  A few days later, he told me that they were going to buy a kitten in a parking lot 40 minutes away on a Monday night after gymnastics.  (?????)  JP and I opted out of this craziness.

JP achieved his first ponytail.  He was thrilled.  Man bun to follow, I'm sure.

An hour and a half later Tim and the girls returned with Nola Pearl McDonald, the tiniest, cutest kitten on Earth.  She was perfect.  She puffed up her 13 oz self to stare down growling Rocky.  She attacked the fringe on the rug, fell down the stairs, and chased her tail.  More importantly, she was there for us when we discovered that Hillary Clinton had not, in fact, won in a Landslide and turned the House and the Senate democratic-even winning TEXAS because she turned out the Latino vote so successfully.  (This was the cycling reverie I entertained on my way home from the polls.  I went to bed at 9:23 on election night confident that there was no need to watch the returns)  

Nola was the belle of our ball for 2 days.  She came with us to a local restaurant and nibbled on my Bronzino while the entire clientele passed her around. One killjoy told me, "That kitten is WAY too small to be away from its mother!" I published a Facebook video of Nola aggressively eating Steel's pancakes.  Pat's ex wife commented on the post that "that kitten is probably too little to be eating anything like pancakes."  Yeah whatever, Michele.  

Nola almost died.  She started diarrhea and puking and not eating.  It got to be so scary I took her to the vet.  (Remember I don't even take my kids to the doctor, so this was a bold move)  $250 later I am rebuked for having such a small kitten and told that I should probably put her in a 24 hour care unit with and IV for $1000 a night and that she still might die.  Clearly that wasn't going to happen, so Tim and I nursed her for 48 hours.  It was TERRIFYING.  She could keep nothing down and shat/puked everywhere.  Nothing the vet had given me worked-goat's milk, tinned kitten food, crazy expensive molasses lick-nothing.  Tim called the vet and was told to get baby food for her.  A Facebook post elicited a "canned peaches syrup" suggestion.  In desperation I asked the groovy neighbor, Grace, whose birthday is also Halloween.  She hands out cognac and cider to the parents all night.  She said I had to force feed her kitten formula.  She was right.  Nola is back to her tail chasing, Rocky-confronting self.  

Poor Rocky, first Nola came, then I got coerced into taking him in for a round of shots by the rapacious vet, and then we had houseguests who arrived with their "puppy." The puppy was an Irish Wolfhound that was the exact size of 3 Tobys.  It was a pony in my kitchen. Nola stood up to the dog as well.  Rocky was HORRIFIED.  So now we are a 2-cat family, and we have a bigoted moron as our President elect. 

I was a hastily thrown together Andy Warhol's Queen Elizabeth

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Death, parenting, playdates and the usual miscommunications

I woke up yesterday to a message from an old friend, Maria, telling me her ex had died.  I had always loved that guy.  His name was Tim Cloonan.  His eyes went down at the corners, and he designed and built base guitars in a space next to mine.  He'd come in daily for his mail, and we'd chat for a short while because both of us were alone all day being craftspeople, and we had similar gripes with UPS.  Maria had bought a wedding gift for him and his new wife from me.  I hadn't seen him in a while, but I still felt close to him.  Upon hearing of his death, I thought, "Oh geez.  This is going to be on Facebook."  I wanted to tell our old nanny.  She knew him through us and because her boyfriend, also a guitar maker, worked with him.  I texted him the news because he tends to be less fragile than she.  

I rode my bike to work.  I got sadder and sadder as the ride went on.  When I arrived at my studio, I got a call from a guy who did not know Tim chastising me for texting and not having called about the death.  How quickly my grief turned to rage.  I was shaking.  I could not believe that someone was lecturing me on etiquette on a day that they knew I'd lost a friend.  He was understanding and contrite.  He had projected his anger at someone in his life who'd texted rather than called onto me.  He apologized.  He asked that I not mention his phone call when I eventually talked to his roommate.  I know it's not traditional, but I love hearing things via text.  I can process the news on my my own or with my husband.  I don't have to speak or be evaluated on my response.  Clearly I'll think twice before I do it again, though.



At the end of the day, I called the nanny's boyfriend because the contrite friend told me he was suffering and needed to speak to someone on the phone.  During the entire phone call he discussed the inadequacies of texting.  I came away from the conversation so sad that I couldn't just spend the day visualizing Tim Cloonan's beautiful face and lovely voice.  Instead I was processing how much it hurt that someone needed to make me wrong when my intentions were to be kind.

I'm not used to death.  Last blog I was marveling at being with family in Montana and seeing little snippets of traits that have manifested in my children.  I lost an Aunt last November.  My aunt was a Kinder.  I know Karen would have been my friend had we been contemporaries, and that's not just because she was a Sagittarius.  My senior year in college, I'd brought a friend to visit with Aunt Karen and my Uncle Carl.  It was great.  She lived her life on Nantucket.  She was a kindergarten teacher and then she was a librarian.  She sent the coolest books to my kids.  She and Carl were both into the environment and healthy food way before it was chic.  


After Karen's death, her daughter, Katherine came to visit me in Philly because her daughter was spending a weekend at Swarthmore trying to decide between it and Tufts.  Katherine is my first cousin, but I know Tim's first and second cousins better than I know her.  First of all, she's 6'2".  She has Kinder hands which means they are like slim flippers.  She walked in the door, and Steel said immediately, "CAN I DO YOUR NAILS????"  Katherine gleefully obliged even though she's raised her family on a farm in Vermont without any access to the vile chemicals one finds in nail polish.  During her manicure, Katherine and I discussed "Kinder genes."  Her mom could not negotiate opening things.  The well-designed cardboard boxes for vegan spelt crackers would be tragically torn apart with no hope for the little tab-tucking closures.  This was my experience with my dad; his cardboard tearing usually involved a stream of expletives to brighten up every new box of Raisin Bran.  I, too, open the half and half on both sides of the carton.  I consistently render "zip seal" packaging useless on the carrots and craisins by using scissors to open the other side.  It's nice to know that it's genetic.  Every time Steel slams her 54 pound body against a door that says "pull;" she looks at me and says, "Yep! I'm a Kinder!!!!"  The beat goes on; rest in Peace, Karen.



My kids aren't used to death or anything bad, really.  I always wonder if my kids aren't going to turn out as well as my niece and nephew or my godchildren because, unlike those kids, my kids don't really have true hardships.  Last spring we were listening to "Where the Red Fern Grows" in the minivan on the way to school.  We carpool with another family.  Their dad is violent, bi-polar and was in jail for assaulting a police officer.  The boy was listening to the audio and said, "I remember this!  I saw the movie!!!"  I asked him if he cried like crazy, and he said, "NO!"  I was ribbing him that he thinks he'll never cry in a movie, but on his first date with a girl he'll be blubbering at the movie theater.  He responded, "I won't ever cry at a movie.  I know it's not real life."  Shit...I guess when you've had something in real life to cry about you can make that distinction.  Our lovely California nieces have had to confront their dad's prostate cancer.  He caught it early and had successful surgery, but still, I'm sure it's been hard for them.  When Tim and his brothers had to go get theirs checked, he told me that I should do mine as well "even though I'm not technically related to Mike."  I'm not sure Tim is going to live down not knowing that women don't have prostate glands.  His is fine, though :)



On a lighter note, this year Toby and I have a little hang out time while Steel does gymnastics on Mondays and Wednesdays.  JP opts to stay at home by himself.  Usually I hide all access to the internet although 2 weeks ago, Steel and I had our first bet.  It was $5 on whether or not JP was going to be on the computer when we returned.  She bet, "no;"  I won.  She cried for an HOUR about the $5!  That was my first clue that the only way to motivate my children is money.  I had a cognizant flash before we left that Toby needed to pee.  I didn't follow through with it, so as soon as we'd dropped Steel off, parked the car, and started our fun walk in Chestnut Hill, Toby started to wiggle.  She needed to pee PRONTO.  We ducked into the co-op grocery store, and while she peed, I told her not to flush, as I was going after her.  This is our little pattern.  Maybe the mutual desire to pee is the thing that makes having kids when you're older not so bad.  Successfully finding nits in kids' hair while trying to avoid admitting that I'm far-sighted is the thing that makes me wish I were a young mom.  


I'm on my swampy butt in front of my potter's wheel lately. My muscles don't roll with sitting, and when it's hot, my skin objects as well.  I got up from my pee with Toby at the co op, and told her that I have a painful zit on my ass.  She looked at it and said, "It's white!!!"  At her request, I squeezed it.  She lamented that she didn't have one to squeeze.  I told her she was tempting the fates.  She'd have big pimples on her face if she didn't watch it.  She responded calmly, "At least I'll get to pop them!"  One of my ex-roommates used to collect her boyfriend's belly button lint in a cute, little, lidded box.  Now the girls have started scab collection, so why should I be surprised by relishing a good zit explosion?   Speaking of explosions.  Toby told us last year that when she gets let out of school for recess she likes to be first in line, and she runs as fast as she can to the log.  She told us she farts the whole time she's running.  I love thinking about that.  She still says cute things like, "deaf in the eyes" to describe blind people.  She brings home hilarious, phonetically-written schoolwork.  I'm so glad her teacher is privy to the fact that our cat poops in the garden.
We are starting to enter the realm of our kids' dictating their own social lives.  The, "I get along with the parents, so let's all hang out." days are numbered.  I just learned that Jack Peter doesn't actually like the kid that would come over on Fridays because his mom and I got along.  The kid covered all of our toilet seats with Vaseline.  Maybe my relationship with the mom isn't all that important.  
We are dealing with parents we don't know.  I had a HIDEOUS miscommunication based on a playdate the girls had.  We realized at soccer on a Saturday morning that another family who lives right around the corner has 2 girls the same ages from the same school.  I hastily invited their girls over to diffuse the fallout from an aborted Toby playdate with her BFF.  It turned out to be a fabulous 4 hours where the girls ravaged my make up, their own closets, and I was left to garden.  At one point they all decided they needed fake nails.  I often let Toby and Steel go to the 2-block-away CVS, so when they'd gathered a posse of 4, of course, I let them go.  They all returned, and noxious glue and plastic prevailed for the rest of the afternoon.  The only part of the visit that gave me pause was when I was preparing for a date night, and there was a knock on my door.  I was naked.  One would assume that, as a naked person with non-family members in the house, I would not respond to the knock with, "Yeah?!"  Steel's friend came in looking for a bobby pin.  I didn't want to make her feel weird about my being naked, so I told her where they were and left her to forage while I dressed.


2 weeks later, Steel is begging to go to the neighbor girls' house after soccer.  It's not ideal because Toby has plans, so I leave Steel to negotiate.  Steel comes back and tells me that her friend's mom is angry that I let them all go to CVS!  Now I have to run home and write an email explaining that it never occurred to me that letting them go to CVS would be a problem.  I was wrong and had no right to let them go on their own and was so sorry. AND by the way, I had inadvertently put their older daughter in the position of seeing my saggy-boobed, pre-menopausal self without clothes on...
The crazy footnote to the story is that these two sisters were the ones approached by a crazy person in the winter.  The girls screamed and ran home.  The parents posted this information on a listserv, and it was a great segue into a conversation about strangers in our house.  Those two girls maintain rockstar status for how they reacted to the situation.  This fact did cross my mind as I OK'd the trip to CVS.  What should have gone through my head was, "these parents have PTSD from this hideous experience IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!"  What actually went through my addled brain was, "Oh! I know they let their girls out of their sight sometimes as well..."

That same day I had another frantic e-mail with Jack Peter's amazing new teacher.  She'd contacted me about his 3 homework referrals in the first 2 weeks of school.  I guess I'm not a helicopter parent, because I had no idea he wasn't getting his shit done.  I'd responded with my usual, wordy, life-explaining e-mail which evoked her response of, "This is the funniest e-mail I've ever gotten from a parent."  We back and forth-ed about JP and his strengths and weaknesses.  


I have no idea how the school chooses which teacher for which kid.  I obsess over which one they are going to get and read so much into these decisions.  No one knows how these decisions are made.  It's just another example of how much precious and limited pre-menopausal brain space I give to things that have no resolution.  I read a book about menopause over the summer.  Its premise was that stopping bleeding is not the anomaly in the life of a woman.  She only spends 40-ish years bleeding.  During that time she gets an influx of nurturing hormones that make her happy to prepare different lunches for every kid, do laundry with every free moment, and be loving, focussed, non-confrontational and hospitable.  It's the rest of the time that defines who she really is, when she's a spoiled, needy pre-pubescent child or a post-menopausal woman who no longer wants to dedicate every waking moment to someone other that herself.  We've been duped to think that we have gone crazy when we stop taking care of everyone when in fact, we are back to being selfish and sane.  Maybe I just liked the title, "the madwoman in the volvo"


Back to JP's teacher, an inquiry by me about some dumb, online reading comprehension program that other 5th grade teachers are assigning lead his thoughtful, smart, funny, methodical teacher to believe that I wasn't happy with her decisions.  She actually told me that if I wanted another teacher, she'd arrange it although she'd miss Jack Peter very much.  I haven't been that misunderstood in a long time.  She'd mentioned something in one of her e-mails about putting JP in the corner with a dunce hat on or giving him some kind of Hester Prynn-esque scarlet letter "A."  She thought later that I didn't know she was kidding.  I'm actually happy about the whole thing.  We trick or treat at her house.   I think I'll wear a dunce cap for Halloween, and then when Christmas comes I'll make her a cup AND a belt buckle with enormous scarlet "A's" on them.  I'll write something about how she gets an "A," so it'll seem fine to JP, but hopefully it will crack her up.  I'll take any excuse to make an adulterous-looking belt buckle.


Back to playdates.  Steel and I were driving home from a play date.  I'd arrived at the play date looking pretty put-together.  I like to look pretty on Sunday mornings because then people might think I've been to church.  Now that I don't know the parents piety is a good thing to convey.  I'd returned to pick her up looking like I'd been through a spin cycle and hurried her into the mini van cocoon.  On our way home, we passed a CVS with an upturned shopping cart on the berm below the store.  Steel wanted it.  I told her that nothing would come from our owning a CVS shopping cart except that people would then know we were the kind of people who steal CVS shopping carts.  Steel responded that Fern Duffy told her that "When people are drunk, they run funny, and they almost always have a shopping cart."  I love 8-year-old world views.


We went to Kohl's to start our back-to-school shopping.  I was focussed on $5.99 leggings, hip uniform khaki/leggings (kheggings?) and on-sale bathing suits for $9.00 that might work for next year.  We survive on hand me downs, but the hand-me-down bathing suits tend to make that creaking sound of dead elastic, sag in the bums and are see-through.  I'd actually hidden a bathing suit that I thought Steel might like.  Sneaking into Kohl's and digging out a hidden bathing suit tickled her to no end.   I was contemplating the 7/8 versus the 10's; Steel will be 9.  Why do kid's sizes leap 20% of their lives?  It's as if I had to decide between my current height 5'9" and 80% of my height which would be 4'6", and my weight of 148 lb and the next size down being 118 lb.

Steel grabbed herself a padded bra to try on.  I had to witness her trying it on, admiring it, putting her shirt over it, thinking it looked stupid, then putting it on via stepping into it, admiring it and attempting to again put her shirt over it.  I told her she's 9, and she's not getting a padded bra. "When you actually have to wear a bra, you'll look back fondly on these days."  During the ride home, she lamented that because she's built like me she won't have big boobs.  It reminded me of her giving my boobs a sound effect.  She had been talking about her friend's mom who had just had her 7th child.  She said "A's mom's boobs are like this."  She made an appreciative sound as she gestured out in front of her chest.  "Mom, your boobs are kind of like this!"  She made a swooshing sound and gestured with her hands to indicate two ski jumps starting at her neck and hurtling downwards at great speed.  Who knew my boobs came with a downward swoosh sound effect?  Boobs have a lot of currency in my brother's family.  His step son has a new girlfriend.  The old one was ADORABLE!  She looked a lot like my niece which means a 12-year-old, elf-like, could-be-a-strawberry-shortcake character.  The new girlfriend looks like she's 30.  She's pretty, but the truly remarkable thing is that she's tall and slim and has massive, gravity-defying, round boobs that she's not afraid to emphasize.  My brother refers to her as, "the upgrade."

my niece who does, indeed, look like a character out of Strawberry Shortcake.  Even with her tongue out she's cute.

Steel and I returned home and were gloating about the amount of clothing we'd gotten at Kohl's.  It seems that they pay you to shop at Kohl's with all of their weird discounts and coupons.  I said, "How do they sell ALL OF THIS for $87???"  Theo, our 16-year-old French Canadian responded, "slavery."  Of course I know this to be true.  It caught me, though.  I will drive to 3 different grocery stores to make sure that the pork I'm buying was humanely raised, and yet I'll buy clothes that were sewn together by kids my kids' ages working 16-hour days.  My mother in law said, "The kids who have those jobs are probably so much better off than the ones who don't!"  Living with a Republican has its perks.  Carol was with us for much of the summer while her house was getting re-built.  Honestly having her for the summer was like being in a parenting spa.  She would do ALL of our laundry on Thursdays.  Poor Theo had been threatened by his parents that they'd be PISSED if he didn't do his own laundry while staying at our house.  He'd see the neat, folded piles on his bed and panic.  Most days at work around 4:30 I'd get a text saying, "What should I do to get dinner started?" or "I'm at the store, give me a list of what to get!"  It was kind of annoying that she'd never let us pay for the groceries.  In general, the kids behaved better with her around, but sometimes having her witness the chaos was ever-so-slightly embarrassing.  Those "drawbacks" are nothing compared to the benefits of having her around.  We miss her.


So Theo stayed with us for 6 weeks this summer.  He's the son of one of Tim's best friends.  He came to work on Tim's new project.  I'm quite  sure he won't be having kids anytime soon, if at all, after his summer with us.  The girls TORTURED him constantly.  Steel definitely had a crush.  She would scream dramatically and run downstairs saying, "MOM! I just saw something DISGUSTING!!!"  "WHAT?????"  "Theo WITH HIS SHIRT OFF!!!!!"  Because he's French, he'd get misty-eyed about his favorite Aunt who would give them foie gras.  One night he made dinner for us.  It was a lovely Risotto.  He was sad because the parmesan that  my mother in law had bought was pasteurized.  We started to call him "Prince Pondi-theo (after Prince Pondicherry from Charlie and the Chocolate factory)

 It was great to have him.  We went on a couple mountain bike rides together.  Apparently the seat on his bike kept collapsing down, so maybe he literally won't be fathering children after staying with us.  I am SO GLAD he's a heavy sleeper.  He was in JP's room most of the summer.  At one point he left for a couple weeks, so JP went back in there.  I came in late one night after a date night.  Normally Tim is the one who has to sneak in an peek at the kids before he can sleep.  I was tipsily looking at the body of what I thought to be my son.  I could not figure out why he looked SO BIG!!!!  Imagine if poor Theo had awakened to my teetering self looming above and staring at him.
(Wouldn't it be just disgusting to see Theo with his shirt off???)

We had the first 2 days off last week because of the Jewish New Year.  Tim took the kids one of the days because he was going to Washington state for the rest of the week.  They had to go from work site to work site with him; they stopped by the office/my studio.  The kids hadn't eaten in 4 hours.  There is no "bag of snacks" when dad is in charge.  I split the second holiday with another dad.  He took them to a park to run around with all of the other kids in our hood.  A mom had organized this, and I let him know.  I will say nothing sexist or offensive about what makes social things happen in kids' worlds, but suffice it to say that a penis is rarely involved.  After the running around part, I had them for lunch and the rest of the afternoon.  I don't allow screen time, so there was complaining, hair dying and baking.  The girls were talking through one of their cupcakes.  His name was "Paul."  Who names a cupcake, "Paul???"  Then again, Toby (whose name really should be SLOW-by because she's so damned slow) has been talking about a new kid named Larry.  Who names a first grader LARRY?




JP got a blue dye job.  It went really blue because we'd bleached it before the summer for him to look like an authentic Danish Tycho Brahe for his project.  Theo was instrumental in the creation of the Tycho mustache.  Putting that thing on different people was en entire evening of hilarity.  I think I look like a pretty great 70's country singer trying to break into the rock world.  Theo looked like a slave owner.  I'm officially the GreenWoodsCharter School hair-dye mom.  I'm proud of my work.

The one thing I regret is not speaking French all summer with Theo.  I'm still getting a lot of guff from the kids about practicing piano.  They just don't want to do it.  I told them that as long as they don't have a foreign language at school, they will be playing piano.  Steel insists that she wants private French lessons.  When Tim was gone, I lost it.  All of the "leaving stuff on the floor," "griping about piano," etc. worked my last nerve.  There's been another "problem" lingering in the air.  We started a "paying kids for their good grades" thing when JP was having troubles at school.  Then Steel comes along.  She loves school.  She had to give a presentation and was gleefully saying, "I get to get up on the PODIUM!"  (At her age I would have been TERRIFIED by that prospect.)  In 2nd grade kids get graded for way too many things.  I think she got an a+ in nose-picking.  Now each of those A's is worth $2.  We owed Steel somewhere around $80 for her final report card.  We owed all of them a chunk of change, and I'd not paid up all summer long.

In disciplining desperation, I wrote the totals that we owe each kid in 3 columns in a blue notebook.  I told them I'd pay them what I owe them by Halloween.  Since then, I've been docking them.  Steel will take the tags off of those new kheggings and THROW THE TAGS ON THE FLOOR.  I charge $.25 for everything I find on the floor or for every object that does not get back to where it should go.  A pair of socks and shoes together is $1 total.  I'm not messing around.  Hitting is $1.  Lying is $2.  Complaining has varying costs based on my irritation level.  It's WORKING!  First of all, JP is much tidier and complains less, so he's losing less money, but that's good because he made less money as he only got graded for things that actually matter.  The girls are whining, fighting slobs, so they are losing money hand over fist.  It's perfect...