Monday, June 28, 2010

the whippersnapper complex

Every year the McDonalds put on a golf outing in Tim's Dad's honor. The proceeds benefit the John D. McDonald foundation which funds kids in Havertown. In the 5 years I've been a part of the family I haven't golfed. I'd babysit kids and wait for a bunch of drunk, sun burnt Canadians to come back in need of a swim at my mother in law's house. Jack McDonald was born and raised in Canada...1 of 14. Initially I enjoyed holding down the fort, but since the kids I was sitting became my own, I've been bitter about being left while everyone has a good time. I've only golfed once in my life in Idaho. My then boyfriend and I were escorted off of the course for bad behavior. This year I chose to golf in a 4-some of chicks, the girlfriends of Tim's 3 partners: 2 are his brothers and 1 his best friend from high school.

Emlyn, the latter's girlfriend came to my studio a month ago-the day I found a massive roach in one of my bowls. I showed it to her, and she said, "Can I take it home for my kids?" She emptied the contents of an Altoid container into her pocket and nestled the roach in there. She then forgot about it until she was at a picnic and a baby bird fell out of a tree. Someone yelled, "does anyone have an insect to feed the bird?" Can you imagine the stir when Emlyn produced a sewer bug as big as my thumb from her purse and cut it into baby bird bite-sized pieces?

That was off-topic, but I had to put it in there. The outing was a blast. Golfing is fine. Chatting with 3 great women and whizzing around the great outdoors in a cart full of beer, not a child in sight, is even better.
One of our posse, Chelsea, had some tutoring from "the new guy" in Tim's office. Ryan golfed in college, and, unlike me, college was recent for him, so he's still really good. Chelsea is a gorgeous cross between Sigourney Weaver and the brooding vampire girl in the Twilight series. She's also a brainy academic type, and she just had deviated septum surgery. She's been floating around for a week on codeine periodically resorting to wearing an elastic supported trough-like bandage under her nose and around her head. (The day she emerged from her post-surgery stupor, Steel, of course, demanded she remove the trough) Watching her lurch up to the tee and repeatedly deliver a resonant, sailing drive straight down the fairway was mesmerizing for all of us, including her.

Ryan's group from the office chose not to go for the beef and beer after golf. It was revealed that Ryan was disappointed by his performance. The McDonald brothers had made a big deal out of Ryan's being a great golfer, but I'm sure everyone was too drunk to notice or care how he'd performed.

A childhood friend and I called that feeling, the whippersnapper complex. She had blown off her senior year and ended up at
UMASS for a year. My godmother asked after her, saying to me, "Whatever happened to that Eliza Minot? She was always such a whippersnapper!" I relayed the question to Eliza, and she rolled her eyes as she guiltily exhaled her cigarette. (She's a successful author and a mother of 4, so it's all gone just fine, Aunt Maryanne)

In the office, I made a patronizing clucking sound as I was saying, "Oh that makes me sad! Ryan shouldn't feel bad!" After that conversation, I threw some pots and shipped an order musing to myself that I'd forgotten how it feels to have high expectations for oneself. I was in denial. I don't feel too bad about playing a bad game of pool, but I'd be lying if I said I'd outgrown the whippersnapper complex.

I recently made 24 cups for a cafe in my neighborhood. I had to get them done in a short time. I can make a cup in 5 minutes, so I wasn't too worried, but they came out craptastic. Haven't I been making pottery too long to have stuff look that bad? I shamefully delivered them for opening day and then brooded all weekend until I came upon the crazy, novel idea of re-making them. I couldn't bear continuing to define myself as a maker of gorgeous cups knowing 5 blocks away there's proof to the contrary.

It's the self-definition part that brings on the angst. I also define myself as someone who has babies easily, happily, and with little physical repercussions. A baby ago, however, I had a horrible miscarriage. Tim and I had cockily been telling everyone early in the pregnancy, and I lost the baby. Nothing has undermined my confidence, faith and optimism more profoundly than that loss. In my mind EVERYTHING from that day forward was going to fail. The mental floodgates were open to disease, bankruptcy, death and all of the horrible things that happened to other people.

Meanwhile Ryan, being 21, probably forwent the beef and beer for a shower and a date. After 4 hours in 90 degree weather drinking with a bunch of Canadians, who's going to want to stick around for another 4 hours? The Canadians are known for long toasts, drunken singing of partial songs and weepy kind of party.

Monday, June 21, 2010

transitions and torture

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Toby and the trampstamp...
They tell you, "Transitions are hard" when your kids are little. You're supposed to warn kids. "We'll be leaving in 5 minutes..." 2 minutes later, "You need to start cleaning up..." I never remember to warn them, and I feel like a bad mom when I have to throw them into their car seats screaming in front of all the composed moms and children. Who are we trying to kid? Anyone worth their salt hates transitions. I text my husband 5 minutes before we have to leave our work and go pick up the kids. He's 6 feet away on the other side of a door, but I don't want to see him do the adult version of a melt down, so I resort to the phone.

To be good at pottery you have to manage, if not embrace, transitions. You can't rush anything or else it cracks, warps, bubbles or looks shitty. If you're compulsive, the only way to avoid rushing something is to start something else. So you throw 20 cups, wedge the pieces for the handles, wax the bottoms of a bunch of bowls, glaze their insides, load a kiln, feed your baby and THEN you make and put the handles on the 20 cups. Of course I want to weep when I can't finish glazing those bowls...

Last May my mother in law told us that if we were planning to use the shore house, we should be prepared to clean it. Tim hates the shore. He thinks the beach is barbaric because it's hot, sandy and because IT LACKS BOUNDARIES...I love the beach because I don't have to scream "NO!" to my kids as often as normal. I was pregnant with #3, and I volunteered to go clean, leaving Tim home with #1 and #2. When Carol says clean, she means it. We were dusting the insides of bureau drawers, bathing venetian blinds in the tub, and hoovering mattresses and box springs. It's embarrassing, but I was in heaven; it was so satisfying to start and complete a task in one go. Am I saying I'd rather be using Tilex on some grout than parent? Maybe...

The transition issue is why parenting is torture. You have to do something for a kid or keep him/her from dying before you can finish anything. I've never understood putting dishes in the sink. Why not just put them in the dishwasher? Now I get it. I don't have the time or attention span to get them all in the dishwasher, so I spend a 1/2 hour majoring in parenting with a minor in getting dirty dishes close to the dishwasher. The next 1/2 hour will be parenting with an emphasis on getting dirty laundry near the washing machine. Nap time arrives and I get an orgasmic 2 hours of task completion.

Speaking of torture...Why do people torture each other? One of my employees used to leave sandwich baggies filled with cookies around the studio when I was pregnant and worried about gaining weight. He'd wait until I ate them and tell me he was making side money betting his friends how many minutes it would take for me to locate and consume 3 Oreos in a 1200 sq. ft. clay studio. My children spend most of their concentration power anticipating the next toy move of a sibling. They then grab the desired toy and sprint away from the grab-ee, screaming.

I'm not sure my brother and I tortured each other so intently, but we were living with parents who routinely tortured each other. Peter's favorite was to see Susie in a short mood, sashay up to the Steinway and daintily start playing Chopin's "Minute Waltz." He'd crescendo to an appalling B instead of a B flat in the 9th stanza. It drove her mad: a. because she can't deal with anything off key and b. because she was probably trying to get stuff done, and it annoyed her that he was at liberty to waltz up to the piano instead of Windexing the storm windows or putting the coffee grounds into the compost...

We spent the weekend at the Shore with another vengeful Peter and his entourage. Peter is a second cousin of my husband-as if there aren't enough first cousins to deal with; Tim's dad was one of 14. Peter is the 6-years-later-mistake after a family of 4 Irish twins. (Tim's family has one of those...Johnny.) Peter's siblings have all bred, and he's footloose and 37. Rather than give his nieces and nephews a bunch of crap for gifts, he takes them on annual trips. This time his sister, Jackie had to chaperon the "Historical Pennsylvania" trip with 3 tweener nieces. (Jackie won my heart when she read a group text she received on Sunday morning, Ladies, I don't mean to brag, but I just fit into earrings I wore in high school.)

Apparently Jackie's conservative husband, Bob, was the main balker at Peter's discretion. In response, Peter tortured her and anyone who would listen with references to intercourse with his nieces (Intercourse, PA was one of their stops....where the Amish live) Jackie created a mutiny in which she and all 3 nieces demanded to go to the Jersey shore with us instead of seeing the Liberty Bell, putting the kibosh on another day of PA history. Peter lives in Miami; the crappy beaches of the Jersey Shore were not his pick, and being 2nd in command was definitely not on his agenda. Peter's revenge: going to the boardwalk and convincing each girl to get a semi-permanent henna tattoo (semi permanent meaning 5 weeks...all summer) that read some version of, "Uncle Peter ROCKS!"

Bob and Jackie's daughter got hers as a tramp stamp on her lower back....Peter's only request as they parted ways, "Please film Bob's face during the unveiling."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

hostess with the mostess...

Who doesn't love a hello kitty pirate in capped sleeves?

I swam 40 laps and then threw 40 pots today with 2 band aids encasing the tip of my left index finger. The band aids weren't that troublesome, but they did serve to remind me that I nearly hacked the tip of that finger off on Monday evening and been grossly inept socially. I was making a noodle dish with ginger peanut sauce, basil, cucumbers, carrots, peas and pork. I glazed pottery all day, came home early from the studio with the baby, propped her on the counter, and fed her applesauce and yogurt intermittently while I chopped. I'd given myself a 1/2 hour to prepare dinner for 10...from leftovers. I think I was airing out the house, making sun tea and switching laundry too...

I knew it was a pretty bad cut. It took me 5 minutes to take the dish towel off of my hand to inspect what had happened. During those 5 minutes I was putting together the peanut sauce and mentally weighing my options if I had, in fact cut the tip off of my finger. At one point I figured I'd just go to school with the dish towel on my hand and the baby on my hip and some peroxide and band aids. I'd ask one of the teachers there to clean and dress it. I rejected that because it seemed too dramatic and needy. I've been self-conscious about being 5-10 minutes late to pick the kids up, so the clock was ticking, and I was damned if I was going to let a flesh wound make me late.

I dressed it myself. I'd cut the top half of the nail off, but the pad on the other side of the finger was still intact, so I figured I'd be OK. Of course by the time I got there the band aids were saturated, and I was trying to hold the baby on the other side and hold that finger up so the blood would stop. The "We're at the cement park" sign was up, (It's descriptive but it does give me a little twinge about bringing up my kids in the city) so I walked to the little park just as the posse was leaving. Jack Peter had skinned his knees. He saw me and refused to walk. He started wailing and continued on and off for 2 hours. He kept saying that he couldn't sleep ALL NIGHT LONG; apparently he had to monitor the band aids. He wouldn't straighten his legs at all, so I carried him to the house and dumped him in the green chair. The girls suspected that he was getting special treatment; they started howling, Steel ranting about imaginary aches and pains. I continued making dinner with my left hand in the air.

Tim came in and smoothed everything out. He put a movie on for Jack Peter and kept saying to me, "Stop cooking and sit down!" I finally did and had my first glass of wine.

I polished off close to 2 bottles by the end of the night. It's not a pretty coping mechanism. Our guests came in 2 shifts. The pregnant couple with a 2 year old stayed till kiddie bed time. The late comers were my friend Eu and his 2 sisters. They are 3 from a family of 8. I'm fascinated by people from big families. I was grilling them about their lives. Eu is conspicuously single, so I wanted a little relationship gossip from his joy. They are both single too. The younger, Faustina, had said a surreptitious grace before she ate. Couldn't that have reigned me in?

Nope...I had to ask, point blank, how their in-their-30's bodies cope with celibacy. Celibacy has never worked for me. I've always equated it with being unhealthy. The only time I struggled with my weight was during my teen years in boarding school. I hypothesize that puberty is such a nightmare because your body is telling you to reproduce and society is trying to scare you out of having sex. You eat doughnuts and chips all the time and on weekends get drunk enough to ignore what society is telling you not to do. During the week you're panicked, so you eat more doughnuts and chips. Delightful hostess that I am I
suggested that they were replacing their body's sexual needs with food. After all, 3 out of the 10 dinner eaters were children, 1 was too drunk to eat, and we went through 2 boxes of pasta and a huge piece of meat...

You'd think that would be a conversation stopper, but they stayed for a while. Maybe I was like a horrible car wreck, and they couldn't turn away. Our nanny came in the next morning. An avid reader of my blog, she said, "Was Tim angry with you for referencing his drunkenness in your blog?" I said, "No but I'm sure he wasn't thrilled last night when I told 3 of our dinner guests that they're fat..." If I'd hacked my finger off after having drunken too much, would I lay off the booze? I AM going to be really careful next time I'm cutting up
barbecued pork.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Looking Crappy

My Christening: godparents, Maryanne in lime, "Uncle Sam the kitty's pal;" Susie & Peter with little me

Looking crappy all the time has been a way of life for me. I typically have clay in my hair, snaggle-tooth fingernails, stains all over, and clay dust clouds poofing around me every time I sit down. I leave clay treads all over the floors of bars and restaurants. I don't spend money on things like haircuts, make-up and manicures because it all seems so futile, so the situation snowballs. An associate of Tim's has been using the office because he's visiting from Holland. He said to me when he arrived for dinner, "Who was the woman taking care of your child at the office?" " my hair up?"

I've always been like this. I used to ride my bike everywhere in San Francisco, so that created fashion limits. When I worked at a law firm 3 days a week, I left a black dress hanging on the door of my office and some black shoes under my desk. I wore that uniform every day for about 6 months. I don't think anyone noticed because I'd created low expectations. On top of it, I don't use a blow dryer. I'd shower before work, so I'd have bedraggled hair in the morning. I'd run and shower at lunch creating the same drowned rat in the afternoon. I'm comfortable with all of it until I see someone who's really put together. It makes me self-conscious; I wonder when I'm going to grow up.

My mom never left the house without lipstick on. Revlon's naked pink was her color. Her perfume was Chanel #5. She typically would match her shoes and eye-shadow. She sewed all of her clothes: straight mini skirts with matching fitted vests. The vests had buttons down the front, and she would make fabric-covered buttons, so it all matched. She'd make her own Bermuda bags with the same fabric. (Bags are another category of shame for me. I never have a chic bag with everything all organized.)

This weekend I was proud that I'd bathed and changed for our post-nap expedition to a music festival. (
Our weekend days are split in two: pre-naps and post-naps.) I had on a flowing white skirt and a nice blue tank top that matched my flip flops. I felt relatively put together. In the yard while putting all 3 kids into the double stroller, Toby puked on me. It was bright orange sweet potato/carrot puke. It'd taken so much to get us out the door; I just rolled my eyes and said, "It'll be dark soon; no one will notice."

Before darkness happened I bought a chicken kabob for all of us. It had that bright red bbq sauce on it. Of course one kid didn't like it and handed me a half-chewed piece while I wasn't paying attention. It tumbled down the front of my skirt. I was sitting on the grass and another kid spilled a beer onto my ass. It mixed with the dirt and soaked my backside. Toby's puke had dried to a light yellow/orange stain. It occurred to me in the beer line that I looked like I'd pissed, shit and gotten my period. Inadvertently I said it out loud
under my breath. A woman laughed and said, "It's OK; just get one of those t-shirts that says 'mom' across the chest, and everyone will understand." When did 'mom' devolve from a put-together hottie in a mini-skirt to a 40-year-old hag who's lost all bowel control?

Friday, June 4, 2010


The McDonald family on the famous couch. Tim's the one standing on the right.

Normally Toby is in the studio with me in the morning when she pukes. I don't clean it up. Clay studios can take a little vomit here and there. (It was really put to the test by my first frat boy employee) Friday, however, is mommy day, so Toby's hideous sour-milk puke was all over our bed this morning. I changed the sheets, but I was just going to flip the mattress pad around. Mid-flip I remembered that I'd already turned it last week when one of us forgot a diaper on Steel at nap time. I've reached that level of parenthood when I turn instead of launder. I opted for the pee side near my head rather than the puke. I then looked guiltily out the window....and Fabrezed it. Fabreze isn't a guilty pleasure; that's Clorox wipes. It's a desperate last resort.

I discovered Fabreze when we got our couch reupholstered by a tiny woman named Tiffany. She'd had the thing twice as long as we'd expected, and a leg fell off when we loaded it into the truck. The glue she'd used to stick it on a half hour before we'd gotten there didn't take. We turned a blind eye and chucked the leg into the front seat even though one of her main selling points had been using a carpenter to fix any woodwork issues. Her work place turned out to be her tiny row home, and the root of her tininess that she's a chain-smoker. I'm not a militant anti-smoker. In fact, I've been known to have a cigarette after a drink or 2, but that couch was so saturated I couldn't let Jack Peter sit on my lap after he'd been sitting on it because the smell in his hair made my spit hot-the way it gets before I'm about to puke. Granted I was in my first trimester of pregnancy with Toby. We Fabrezed in a last ditch effort to avoid pitching a McDonald family heirloom into the dumpster. The whole house reeked of
a breath of fresh air. We opened the windows, went to bed and awoke to an odorless couch. I was musing over this miracle to my hopefully-soon-to-be sister in law. (also Tiffany) She replied, in her matter-of-fact Midwestern accent, "Oh yeah...we used to spray it on our hair if we didn't have time to shower after a frat party before class." Why bother with baths and laundry anymore? "Honey, I packed the lunches; have you brushed their teeth and Fabrezed them yet?"

Opting for the pee side of the mattress pad near my head rather than the puke was a result of my brother's declaration that "urine is virtually sterile." I include that quote in my short list of great tips for parents. The others are: "crying is an infant's only exercise."* and "a portion of protein need only be the size of their palm."* I recite these three things multiple times throughout the day like some sort of yogic mantra.

*Lisa Randolph Strickland-best friend from home
Karen Hull Pellis-dear friend who introduced me to my husband-also a potter married to an architect