Sunday, December 25, 2005

A spin of the wheel

Sitting in the examining room in a paper gown, the obstetrician spun the wheel that would tell my future, and I held my breath.

Making the decision to have a child after a young adulthood filled with dreams of a single life and self fulfillment seemed such a longshot, I wasn’t really sure how I got here.

Five months earlier, I was saying “I do” with such trepidation; even though my mind was clear and I was happy, I worried. Would things change? Would I be different now that my life was going to be joined with another’s?

I balked at every step of the way, from the proposal to the license. I refused to change my name with such a ferocity that I might have become just a little unglued. I feared losing my identity. I feared a change that would make us both different people. I held on to each moment with a white-knuckled grasp, treating the bridal shower and the rehearsal dinner as wake and funeral for my single self.

Every detail became important as I waited for the date when I would walk down the aisle and laugh my way through the vows
we’d crafted together.

Looking back on it now with the distance of just a few years it seems as if it was all just a colossal waste of energy.

The idea that I would be someone’s mother was infinitely more important and powerful, not to mention irreversible. I had planned every detail of the wedding and seem to leave the baby to chance.

Once the stick test confirmed the happy news and I’d made the official appointment, it dawned on me; the wedding hadn’t changed me in any tangible way, but this most certainly would.

A year of planning a wedding and nine months … less by the time the first appointment was made … to get ready for something huge and tiny in one.

As you might imagine, we had a typical reaction to the news: We bought pregnancy books, which my husband lovingly hid from me once I peeked my head up from chapter seven and exclaimed “…OH my GOD. Vericose veins? … hemorrhoids? … WHO on Earth would ever get pregnant if they knew what the side effects were?” during dinner at his mother’s house.

Then the strangest thing happened. I relaxed.

Through 39 weeks of measurements, ultrasounds and blood tests, I meandered toward motherhood happily enduring heartburn, nosebleeds and being awoken in the middle of the night by jabs from tiny little feet.

All of that was still ahead of me, though, as I sat on the examining table swinging my feet, anxiously waiting for irrefutable proof that I would wreck this child’s life somehow with this haphazard planning.

“It looks like you’re due date is Dec. 22,” said the doctor. “We’re looking at a Christmas baby.”

“Nice going, mom!” I chastise myself. “You’ve already robbed the kid of a lifetime of birthday loot.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I just feel better when it's not around

It’s midnight and I’m sitting up with a glass of wine and my favorite holiday movie — “Barfly.”

OK. “Barfly” has nothing to do with the holidays, really, but lately I’ve been relating everything Christmas-y with a Mickey Rourke/Henry Chinaski/Charles Bukowski sensibility: I don’t hate Christmas, I just feel better when it’s not around.

How is it possible to love everything about the holidays except the holidays?

I love the music and the sentiment, the hustle and bustle; I even enjoy buying presents for family and friends to find under the tree.

It’s just that, for me, the perception of Christmas and the reality of it are two divergent things.

The joy that Christmas promises, in my estimation, requires the distance of a season or two for full appreciation to take place. Summer, for example, would be a perfect time to have Christmas.

When it’s uncomfortably hot and I am willing the skies to explode into fat snowflakes is when I pine for Christmas. Not when I am frozen to the core and trying to scrape the ice off my windshield with a credit card in the mall parking lot.

If you were to ask me in August what any thoughts of Christmas bring, I would envision myself toasty-warm in a big fluffy robe, sitting by the tree with a mug of coffee and nothing to do but look at the lights and relax in the moment.

Come December 24, however, and I have a new picture in mind that usually has me in a frenzy, surrounded by a tangle of tangibles, trying to wrap Christmas gifts that at the time of purchase I thought were brilliant but I now fear will fizzle. The last straw usually comes around midnight when I’ve lost the end of the “Magic Tape” for the 17th time and I am seriously considering using a glue stick.


But how?

Two years ago I was successful in abandoning Christmas by having a baby a week prior.

Christmas came anyway, but it was trumped by something infinitely more important.

We missed every Christmas party thrown, every cookie exchange and even the family gift fest that year. Christmas came to us. Our stash of pre-made cookies went to the hospital staff, and our presents to each other were small tokens.

It was a wonderful Christmas, but one that won’t likely be duplicated with any precision.

I still have my picture of that comfortable Christmas morning by the fire in my own house with nowhere to go and nothing to do as I book the 1,243-mile flight to Minnesota, where, with a toddler in tow, we will spend the holidays this year.

I suppose there’s just no way around it. No matter how much I plan, I know on Christmas Eve I will be furiously wrapping presents left naked for the baggage screeners to peruse and wishing the tape really was MAGIC.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

G'morning, neighbor

Sometimes I think the neighbors I know best are the other motorists I encounter each day on my hour-long commute to work.

They’re the folks who share the country back roads that wind their way to the babysitter’s house, and the highway that takes us all into the city and to our respective jobs.

It’s a kind of moving community that shifts and changes every time my routine varies by just a minute or two.
I spend more time each week reading their bumper stickers and noticing the dings and foibles of their cars than I do chatting with any of the folks who share a portion of my street address.

It’s an easy relationship that doesn’t necessarily require much effort. All I have to do is glance in any direction while traffic slows to know who they voted for in the last election or if they are pro-choice, anti-war or if their kids have made honor roll.
Of course in any neighborhood there are problems: there are pushy people trying to get ahead, people who don’t take care of their property and people who just don’t pay attention to concerns of their fellow compatriots. They yak on cell phones, honk their horns and occasionally scream obscenities. There are some otherwise nice neighbors who retaliate with equally unneighborly behavior, because, after all, it’s not as if they are going to encounter each other over the fence line.

I know that most people rail against their "commuter neighbors" for any number of real or perceived infractions - edging into the lane without the prop¬er turn signal; following too closely or doing any number of dim-witted maneuvers that clearly indicate the fellow trav¬eler may have obtained a licenses from a discount department store - but not for me. Much of what I see day in and day out is what makes such a long drive bearable.

I’ve seen a guy who plays a wooden recorder whilst driving, and another gentleman tooling along with two parrots, one perched on each shoulder; I’ve seen cars packed with any manner of interesting cargo from Styrofoam peanuts to rubber play balls. I’ve seen people sing to themselves, play silly games in traffic jams and even doing good deeds. What I’ve witnessed on the roads is as much a community as any neighborhood in which I have lived.

For two hours each day, the mundane becomes interesting and strangers become friends.

Just about every morning I start my day by waving to a man who rides his bike (or walks) to some job I imagine he has on a local farm. I don’t know his name and I haven’t a clue as to what he really does for a living, but this cordial relationship goes back more than a decade. Sometimes he has tools with him, sometimes he’s empty handed. One year he sported a sling on his arm for several months. When he’s not there for a few days in a row I worry about him.

I vow that someday I will stop and introduce myself.

In recent years I’ve baked an extra batch of cookies at Christmas just for him. But on those days, with the bundle on the seat beside me, our paths have not intersected.

Perhaps this year they will.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Letting off steam


As I read the instructions on the chamomile ‘aroma therapy’ shampoo bottle to make sure I’ve gotten it right (… do I rinse and repeat or is one wash sufficient?) the bathroom door swings open and a draft of cold air wraps a death grip around my cocoon of comforting steam.

A tentative voice cuts though the fog. … “Have you seen … ?”

Immediately, a new kind of steam swirls around me replacing the quickly receding mist from the spigot.

Before I even know what it is that I should be looking for among the tub toys, empty soap bottles and … oh, right, the whisk I use to make bubbles for ittybit’s bath … scattered haphazardly on the shower floor, I have lost patience as if it were that last sliver of soap through my fingers.

There are no keys, shoes (work boots or sneakers), wallets, pens, tools or utensils (except for that whisk) in the general vicinity of my shower. There are no cell phones, belts, black socks or that favorite shirt swimming among the suds that I can see.

Why is it, I wonder, that I am the keeper of the whereabouts of items big and small, which, for all intents and purposes, I might not even know what purpose they serve in the first place?

I am picturing the looming question and the steam is reaching my ears:

“Have you seen my collapsible flugal binder with the non-conducting elastic grip? I bought it yesterday, but now I don’t know where I put it.”

I don’t know, perhaps it’s with the expandable ra-mastan with the protective cover that came in the mail last week, I silently respond to myself.

Shallow breath … then explosion:

“Listen, I don’t know where your soccer clothes are, check the laundry. The mail is in the basket and your car keys are hanging on the hook /where they always are/! If you’re looking for your Leatherman: I think he left the building with Sarah Lee, but you might want to look UNDER that three-foot pile of flotsam and jetsam that’s been accumulating on the kitchen counter just to be sure.”

One would think I would be a little more sympathetic.

After all, I am the same person who loses my wallet at the drop of a hat and can never find my keys. The difference, of course, is that in most of those instances I am able to mentally retrace my steps and come up with a probable location in fewer than five degrees of separation.

Even when I think it’s a lost cause, such as the time I dropped my wallet in the Bowery and discovered it was missing on the train ride home, a few days later I found the wallet had miraculously appeared in my mailbox — credit cards, license and all (minus a four-dollar finder’s fee).

But I can’t think about any of that now, with suds stinging my eyes. I turn my attention back to the question feverishly answered but not yet asked.

“… Uh … I was just looking for the whisk. I was gonna make waffles. … Never mind, don’t worry about it. I’ll just use a fork.”

Friday, November 18, 2005

Thanksgiving needs more hurdles

In August I was so hungry I told my husband “I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.”

He suggested I make myself a sandwich, and perhaps that would tide me over.

Food holidays are the best of all. There are no sizes to get wrong or cards to address, and when the fourth Thursday in November rolls around the toughest decision any of us are force to make is what kind of pie to slab on our plate. Of course it’s a problem easily solved, just try them all.

Perhaps I haven’t learned enough about cooking to be intimidated by turkey day, or perhaps it’s just because I don’t have a love affair with food that makes the possibility of a kitchen disaster more fun than fearsome.

My mother once steamed a turkey over the stove after the element on her oven decided it was quits midway through a 30 lb. bird. She came up with the plan out of desperation, as she was hosting a houseful. The fact that her mother-in-law raved it was the most succulent turkey she’d ever had became a bragging right for my mother.

My own mother-in-law tells about the time the cloth she soaks in broth and drapes over the turkey disappeared following the final baste. It turned up during the meal, when, to her horror, her dog came coughing into the dinning room and retched up the rag.

We have friends who have scorched their lawns beyond repair or nearly lit their houses on fire by frying turkeys in the backyard. And there’s been talk of people cooking all kinds of things by accident along with the turkey — from band-aids to sink stoppers and even, sadly, pet rodents. Every time I hear the tales all I can do is furrow my brow and wonder —

I think those little catastrophes are exactly what our Thanksgiving needs. How else would we know to be thankful? How else are we to tell one from another if not by the year the turkey blew up, or the time the dog ate all the pies while we were watching football?

I’ve hosted Thanksgiving more than a handful of times, and the most exciting thing that’s happened is the time I forgot to remove the package of gore the people at the turkey factory leave behind.

I am by no means a perfectionist. There is no innate talent that causes the turkey to always be tasty, the potatoes to be fluffy and light or the stuffing to have just the right blend of seasonings. My husband’s specialty — creamed pearl onions — are always tender and savory. My mother’s gravy is consistently creamy and smooth, and the wine, thanks to my father, is always reserve and plentiful.

Somehow it seems as if there should be some obstacle that makes Thanksgiving a headache. It is after all a HOLIDAY.

I’m fairly certain that if the electricity went out in our house on Thanksgiving morning and stayed out all day, my husband would figure out a way to cook the turkey with a blow torch or a space heater. If it didn’t work, of course, we could be the first in our family’s history to serve a gathering of 10 hungry souls cold cereal and juice boxes. Now that would be a story we could proudly hand down to the grandkids.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A little leftover logic

For a society that has gone to the moon and back, figured out a way to send a 3,000-page manuscript through the phone lines (if you’ve got the time and paper to receive it) and brought the suburban shopping mall experience into our living rooms (or wherever you keep your computer), how is it possible that there are kids sitting at a school cafeteria table at 9 a.m. sinking their teeth into lunch?

One would think with all these time-saving technologies that have come to the marketplace in the past two decades, there’d be enough time for a midday meal somewhere round about midday.

I know we’re all wired a little differently, but I’m fairly certain there are few of us who are sitting down to eat our Wonder Bread sandwich an hour after eating our eggs and toast, but that’s just what’s happening in schools across the nation as populations grow and educators try to do more with less.

There are so many problems with education in this country, it may seem a little nitpicky thing to rail against such a practice as the time lunch is served, but I can’t help but think such inconsistencies are indicative of the problems and not aside from them.

How is it possible that this type of scheduling isn’t considered as inhumane and school-yard bullying? How is it possible that we all just don’t stand up and demand satisfaction?

It almost seems as if the more we know about nutrition, health and its impact on learning the less we are inclined to intervene.

Is it possible that convenience is something that we have come to rely on more than our sanity or even our own well being?

I bristle mostly because I picture my own ittybit, just a few short years from now, sitting on a bench eating her ham sandwich at some ungodly hour (presumably minutes before gym) and I want to scream, despite the fact that she routinely asks for, and I provide, chicken for breakfast and waffles for lunch.

I marvel at her choices: She’ll consistently pick green peas and yellow peppers over cookies and potato chips. She likes vegetables and meat, although she’s tasted chocolate and heartily approves.

My mom likes to remind me that she thinks we were all born with perfect appetites but our diet — whether it be self-imposed restrictions or monthly menu plans — is the monkey wrench that gums up the works.

Deep down I know she’s right, and I know the example I’m setting isn’t to be exalted. After all, I’ve been known to eat out of vending machines far too often, and practically live off of meals-ready-to-eat packages I horde in my desk drawer, ‘nuking’ them promptly at 10 a.m., starving because I’ve eaten nothing but leftover Halloween candy for days.

Perhaps eating a turkey sandwich at 7 a.m. wouldn’t be the worst thing I could do, after all.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Having a war on war

To my utter horror, I find that I have a tendency of stating the obvious time and time again.

I’m the person who, when asked what I think something is, will read the printed words on the package aloud as if others hadn’t thought to do just that.

“Gee, thanks.”

But my flair for the obvious has made me wonder whether why seemingly fundamental things are not as evident as some of us consider them to be. Such is the notion that we live in a violent society.

We bemoan the advent of video games and movies that progress in their depictions of blood and gore with each passing year, and yet we use the words of battle in a celebratory way to deal with anything that causes us grief.

The War on Drugs, The War on Crime, The War on Terrorism, The War on Poverty: Seeing a trend yet?

It seems that we can only get a handle on our lives by beating the proverbial life out of our problems.

But when have we ever won, or for that matter gained ANY ground, in these battles against what ails society? It seems the only war we have any hope of winning is the war on literacy. Illiteracy, after all, seems to be advancing quite nicely.

Now the good president has declared a War on Avian Flu.

As soon as the words were spoken, I shuddered. If this is how we’re going to deal with a pandemic, I fear things do not bode well for the health of our beloved citizens. (Ok maybe the BELOVED will be okay, but the rest of us saps are going to be hurting.)

Perhaps they’re just trying to get their ducks in a row, but I wonder in this new war where will we deploy troops? Where are the embassies that have to be pulled? What types of ammunition will be dispensed and to whom?

I struggled to find the humor that must be hiding in their voices as I listen to talking heads say that the reason we don’t have vaccine manufacturers in this country is that the liability is too high. I translate their words to mean that, in all actuality, the profits are too low.

Does anyone really believe that we are a country of entrepreneurs who are afraid to take risks?

One need only look toward car manufacturers to see the method to the madness. They ratio cost averages — the cost of lawsuits versus the costs of a recall — to determine whether or not to let consumers know that a defective component in hundreds of thousands of vehicles needs to be replaced.

There’s a lot wrong with the world, and while I don’t presume to know the answers I’m certainly tired of the spin.

I’m leary of the swagger and the bravado, which makes it seem that we are being handed more public relations than public service.

I would like to think that the potential worldwide devastation of avian flu is never realized.

However, I think the country and its people deserve more than such a brash and flashy pseudo solution as “take personal responsibility.” This seems tantamount to doing nothing more than hoping the person with whom you’re shaking hands washed them first.

Perhaps it’s time we declared war on wars.

We don’t need another fear-based war we can’t win. We all know what “mission accomplished” has meant thus far, and it’s of no comfort.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

This is why we can't have nice things

This is why we can't have nice things ...
This is why we can’t have nice things

I almost got out the door unscathed this time.

Two steps from the threshold and out bounds the dog through the dog door and up the stairs in my direction. All 75 pounds of her, a scampering mass of wiry hair and canine courage — to my delight, and sometimes consternation — she seems younger than her quickly advancing 10th year.

Before I can say ‘down,’ her paws are upon me, leaving behind perfect mud prints, a gift from the yard where she’s been digging.

I haven’t been able to leave the house without some form of dishevelment for a decade now.

Whether it be pet hair, paw prints, strawberry jam or coffee stains, it’s a foregone conclusion that /good /clothes in my closet are a magnet for catastrophe.

She sits down and wags her tail oblivious to my discontent, and I pat her head knowing the damage is done.

“OH! Why do you have to be such a DOG,” I growl as I race to the sink and try to undo the damage. “She THIS is why we can’t have nice things.”

In truth, however, I laugh at her antics, and wonder if she has any true dog-sense.

When she was a puppy, she had an uncanny knack for getting into all kinds of trouble I had previously thought would require opposable thumbs: opening doors with knobs and stealing fresh-baked goods from the stovetop without a sound, not even the tinkle of dog tags or the click of toenails.

Doting dog owner that I am, I even gave her an old pair of sneakers to chew to bits, kicking myself the whole time knowing I’d just given her the green light to chomp shoes. To my surprise, she stayed away. She seemed to know the difference between “hers” and “not hers.”

Of course there’s an occasional temptation that’s just too great to ignore.

Baby toys are in that category.

I had envisioned finding kidlet toys scattered all over the dog yard, when we first started bringing them home from the toy stores in anticipation of the impending arrival. I thought, if nothing else, a playpen would be as good a toy box as any other, and would be a good preventative for the resident thief.

But even here, she surprised me with her uncanny ability to know certain things were just off limits. We lowered our guard and put off picking up the disarray of playtime.

So it was somewhat shocking to find ittybit’s Fisher Price horse ripped to jagged shreds on the living room carpet. A no-no, we thought she knew better.

‘Oh! Why must you be such a DOG,’ I rant as the scoundrel sits and watches me collect the evidence, her tail wagging away.

This is the second Little People toy is as many days that has become a canine casualty, and one of dewdrop’s favorites.

“I’m sorry, boo,” I coo as the little dewdrop toddles over to look at her newly decapitated toy. “The dog made a mistake.”

She just looked up at me shrugged her shoulders, petting the suspect gently between the ears. … “Oh well.”

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Toodle toddler

NOW it's time for BED

Every journey is an adventure these days. Even a trip to the mailbox — a solid 50-yard stroll from our front door — is filled with all manner of enchantment.

Of course with a toddler in tow, every step is also a stop. Every rock must be handled and inspected; each cat that saunters out from the neighbors’ yards is greeted and hugged, and all variety of things, from bits of grass to specs of dust, are scrutinized with a scientists’ attention to detail.

As ittybit squirms to get down, a somewhat welcome event now that she weighs more than two sacks of groceries, I can pretty much guess the task at hand will take three times as long and will likely include my needing to rearrange shelves and other assemblages to their condition prior to our arrival.

I suppose I was prepared for this day and all the days to come when she will push my hand away in a loud protest of pint-sized independence.

From grocery shopping to gardening, with a toddler tagging along it has become painfully obvious that my little peapod is becoming a do-it-herself-er.

Well almost. It’s actually more similar to the Bob Villa-style of DIY … I often refer to it as a “Do-It-YOURself-er.” Behind the scenes you know this guy’s got carpenters, set dressers and other folks who do the real work while he makes the final cuts for the camera. Similarly, our toddler has a whole cast and crew at the ready to do her bidding: from Mama and Daddy to Ama and Papa, and even ‘Yaya’ her babysitter — she’s got a plan and we’re holding it up.

Our little kumquat approaches playtime pretty much the same way a contractor approaches a job site filled with subcontractors.

I picture my little squash blossom donning a yellow hardhat and a clipboard in hand as she points to the crayons before exclaiming, “HELP ME!”

We are patient as we try to get her to finish the task she started. Reassuring ourselves at the same time that, ‘Yes, she can roll clumps of play dough into balls, fit that puzzle piece into the slot and take the lid off the teapot.’

Most people would probably be elated if their children shunned finger paint, not wanting to get their hands messy. But then, how many toddler artists have assistants willing to paint by proxy?

But there we are, coaxing what would otherwise seem counter intuitive — messiness in an effort to make the bath more than just a bedtime ritual.

‘No, No! Mama.” … she directed from my lap as I dip my finger in the tub of green goo at a recent birthday party for her newly two-year-old friend. “Blue!”

I wipe off the green from my fingers and reach for the blue, while her hands stay neat and clean.

It would seem we’ve got a long way to go.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Combing through memory

Sipping coffee with our babysitter as my kidlet gets down to the work of play, I hear my future — and a little bit of my past — playing on her answering machine.

“This is the school nurse. … It’s not an emergency, but I just want to let you know that your daughter’s in the office and will need to be picked up. … It seems she’s gotten a comb stuck in her hair and, well, we just can’t get it out. I think she’s going to need a hairdresser.”

It’s that time of year again: school pictures. The season when your intellect sits back and laughs while impulse takes over. Compelling you to try a curl in your poker-straight hair with a flimsy comb and some stiff gel.

It can make just about any kid go a little crazy.

Oh sure, my little ittybit doesn’t have enough hair to get caught in a barrette yet, let alone one of those flimsy combs handed out like business cards by traveling cameramen, but she comes from a long line of precocious dimwits who will try just about anything to get the right look. Even when the look is just wrong.

My husband, after all, ventured into the cold climes of Minnesota, transferring in his high school freshman year from the preppy northeast, wearing his ‘Miami Vice’ garb — an outfit so out of place among his heavy-metal, black t-shirted peers that he still hasn’t completely recovered. Nor, for that matter, has he been willing to get rid of the signature white blazer, which would undoubtedly produce an Incredible Hulk effect were he to try it on today.

When I was in kindergarten, my mother tells me, I stood at her dresser mirror for nearly an hour practicing my smile.

As strange as that may have seemed to her, I knew exactly how I wanted to look for my first school photograph. Dressed in my favorite brown plaid jumper, hair parted on the side, I practiced my “sweet” smile until I knew it by rote.

After all, I didn’t want to be caught off guard, letting my mischievous grin or my crooked smirk to accidentally creep into the frame.

Of course, I didn’t take into account the possibility that the pictures would come back mid blink.

Suffice it to say the next 12 photos sessions did nothing to graduate my styling abilities. … My dos were all don’ts — a self-styled shag haircut, the Dorothy Hammel, the Farrah Fawcett, a bad perm (thank-you Flash Dance) — and I committed every fashion faux pas one can imagine, from acid-wash jeans to camouflage coveralls.

It’s inevitable. The idea of having an image that will hang around to haunt you for years to come is temptation enough to put on your best face even if it’s not really yours.

I can’t imagine what my sugar pie’s penchant for fashion misfortunes will be as I watch her playing with blocks on the floor, but I know she’s got some stiff competition.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yoga for speeding

When I got my first car I bustled myself off to the local insurance agent and plunked down half of my yearly salary — all $300 of it — to make it legal.

As I sat in his office the grandfatherly figure handed me all manner of pamphlets explaining just how dangerous drivers of my ilk were: young, inexperienced, not to mention that they let their boyfriends get behind the wheel. He didn’t even utter the word /alcohol; /he didn’t have/ /to, it was the elephant in the room with us sitting next to the Don’t Drink and Drive poster.

Instead, he peered over his spectacles at me and asked the BIG question?

“Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?”

“No,” I answered briskly, feigning surprise.

“Well, you’re lucky.”

Actually, I didn’t consider it luck. I considered it simple logic: “I don’t speed, so why would I get a ticket?”

Of course we think of speeders as those people of questionable intelligence who infuriate us as they pass on the highway in a thunderous blur complete with the sound effects of screeching tires and worn out mufflers. Speeders are not the folks who undoubtedly infuriate the people behind them by driving just a few ticks below the limit as a general rule.

And yet, it’s people in the later category who seem to make up the bulk of the documented speeding population. I count myself among them.

Yup, we are the ones who drive 40-miles-an hour regardless of where we are. Solitary country road where speed limit is 50, we drive 40 mph; highway in the rain, 40 mph; city, speed limit 30, oops … 40 mph.

Flashing lights, screaming siren and 40 heart attacks later I’ve pulled off to the shoulder and am fumbling through my bag for my license and registration. With my heart beating rapidly from somewhere in the center of my throat, my mind was a blur with decisions I couldn’t make. Should I turn the car off or leave it running? I should turn the stereo off. … I need to relax. Perhaps I should try yoga. … Wait. Where is that registration?

The first pass with just a “warning” is always a miraculous occasion. You analyze every aspect of the event and try to pinpoint what it was that got you off the hook. Once it happens a second and third time, you are left to wonder when luck will actually run out. I eventually began to anticipate the ticket the way others might unconsciously look forward to that first dent on a new car.

At 8 a.m. one Sunday morning during my eight-month of pregnancy I was offered another chance to even out the cosmic disparity — I was stopped driving 40 in a 30 mph area on my way to the yoga class that I vowed I’d take at that very first siren.

The officer poked his head into the car, took a look at me and immediately asked if there were any medical emergency that would warrent my going above the posted limit.

I just started laughing: “No, officer, I have no good reason at all for speeding.”

I didn’t let him in on the joke — I had been rushing to yoga so I could relax.

Oddly enough, despite my unusual display of mirth at the thought of finally getting the ticket I so deserved, he let me go without a sobriety test and with a just warning.

Perhaps yoga works for tickets, too.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Camera shy

Standing at the end of the slide from the backyard Bouncy-Bounce at a neighborhood party, I did the unthinkable. I slung my camera over my shoulder, balanced it on the small of my back and took a turn at playing catch.

Silly mommy.

Ittybit had been having the time of her life. At 17 months old, she was finally free. Inside the inflated room she defied gravity with wild abandon. Up until this point she had been happy to have her father’s arms at the ready. This time, though, only mommy would do.

It was a children’s party and I had been milling around taking pictures at kid-eye level; getting my lens as close as humanly possible to the water, and keeping my fingers crossed that the sand would stay on the beach.

It had been a success up to this point. As the family photographer, I had amassed a veritable treasure trove of colorful shots of children doing what they do best: engaging in joyful noise. I quietly observed and tried to translate those observations into images that could stand on their own.

I could only hear her constant giggle when I felt the clunky camera body slide off the flat of my back. Instantly I felt a weight in my stomach as it contracted into the realization that the weight of it would hit her squarely in the forehead.

Game over.

“She’s going to hate you for that one,” says my conscience.

Often, when I raise my camera, a collective groan trickles through the room. My family loves me, and they complement my abilities, but they don’t always want to indulge my passion for collecting all their moments for posterity. I worry that my friends chatter in my absence that they would rather I take a walk and aim my lens at the proverbial tree falling in the forrest. Sometimes I can hear them whispering to each other:

“Does she HAVE to do this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t she have enough pictures yet?”

“One would think so ...”

I have become so sensitive to the perceived criticism that I have politely asked family members if they would mind being photographed, almost as if they were strangers.

I muddle on with my obsession none-the-less. I use only the light available in the room to minimize my impact on the event, and I force myself to be satisfied with what I have when the gazes coming back into my viewfinder turn icy.

I know there will be only one good image for every 100 mediocre ones. I can wait for another opportunity. Magic, after all, only lasts for a moment.

I suppose having my own child become a casualty of this obsession put it in perspective. For three days the camera never left my bag, and I used that time to reconnect with the person I was trying to lock away in a photo album minute by minute.

When I picked up the camera again, it came with a new sensitivity. A new idea of what it was I was trying to capture: A life that I was shaping. Not just physically but psychologically as well. Yes, I wanted to watch her discover things, but I also wanted to be there. I wanted to be in the moment, too.

We try to balance work and family, but how do we balance parenthood and building a photographic record of that history?

Like every obsessed parent, I was showing rafts of personal images to a friend, and as he marveled at the sheer amount of photographs I had amassed of my growing girl, I voiced my concern about the intrusiveness of having every moment documented and preserved

He stopped me.

“I was the youngest of nine,” he said a little mournfully. “I think she will feel lucky. ... My folks have exactly one picture of me under the age of 10. I wish I had something to look back on to show I’d once been small.”

Perhaps that’s the way I shall have to look at it. Something to look back on to show we were here, we were happy and we were loved.

And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a small supply of Band-Aids handy, either.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The interpreter

When children start acquiring language, a whole new world opens up to parents, too.

Each morning, as we drive to the sitter’s house, my little kumquat bombards me with questions and commands that I can only humbly (and barely) translate. When the occasional passenger looks on they act amazed as I juggle CDs, popping them into the player as an answer to the mono-syllabic requests that have come from the backseat.

“Moo.” She wants the CD with the picture of the moon on it. (This is, of course, mildly different than the sound a cow makes, which would be Mooooooo); “Bey, Bey, Bey?” Oh, she wants the “Bed, Bed, Bed” song — not the version on the yellow CD but the one on the blue disc; “Kikki?” Finally, an easy one — the Long-haired Hippy Kitty song.

What I’ve ended up with on this long road of listening trial and error is a personal dictionary that few outsiders would be able to interpret without the help of a Rossetta stone.

The question is invariably, “How did you know that’s what she wanted?”

Simple. I just happened to be there when the light went on.

But of course, it’s not that simple. Not for any of us.

We sometimes forget that every time we speak to another human being we are trying to decipher some weird set of hieroglyphs that are colored by everything from place of origin to era of upbringing, and any number of little ticks and foibles that just crop up out of the blue.

During every family vacation, I inevitably confuse my mother-in-law by speaking in movie — a foreign language to all those people who live in the world of intelligencia instead of its shadow world, insomnia.

As she and her children converse in French with a Parisian house guest, I and my similarly afflicted brother-in-law breakout into “Nemo” while setting up the dominos.

HIM: “What’d he open with?”

ME: “Gator Gliben drill.”

HIM: “He’s been favoring that one lately.”

Looking across the table at my mom-in-law’s doe-eyes staring back at me, I immediately feel guilty.

“Do you understand what they’re saying?” she searchingly asks her French friend.

Of course, the ackwardness of speaking about sensitive subjects can make perfectly good words go silent.

Our babysitter has her own lexicon for all items personal: She uses no clinical nor colloquial terms for intimate body parts or their corresponding items of clothing, just throat-clearing noun substitutes — “a-hems” — and spellings.

Of course, the topic is unavoidable as my itty-bit jams her hand down my shirt as she chomps down on her bottle.

“You really should think about getting a better B-R-A.”


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Temper, temper

Storm Clouds

She’s looking up at me with a scowl on her face, eyes growing smaller and more certain by the moment. She is silent.

I’m not sure whether she’s going to cry because her lips have disappeared into her mouth, but I know if she does it’s going to be loud.

I quickly scan the last few moments in my mind for a clue: No toys were dropped, lost or otherwise taken away. No toes were stubbed, no fingers jammed. No voices raised or lowered. I don’t remember looking at her cross-eyed. I didn’t utter the words nap, or no, or uh-oh.

Too late: the tears have come as she drops her head back and opens her mouth wide.

These days being the mother of a toddler is a lesson in composure, comprehension and just plain self control.

I can pretty much rest assured that public place will turn it into a three-ringed circus with spotlights turned in our direction the minute we arrive.

Not that it’s a bad thing. We can be quite entertaining at times: We growl and bark and dance around. We speak with silly voices. We sing and chant, eat and drink, and toast each other with cheers and clinks of glasses.

But that dime only goes so far until the meter runs out and our little squash blossom is flailing her arms and turning full-on tantrum.

We can always trace the gloom back to ourselves. We kept her out too late, didn’t feed her on time, or just didn’t understand that she wanted The Dog and not The Daddy. We don’t have a Rosetta stone for her personal lexicon and her words are growing by the day.

Meltdowns are inevitable. I used to think it would be embarrassing to deal with tantrums in public, but I found that carting a toddler through a football-field-sized expanse of hardware store, searching for the nearest exit while her piercing shrieks escalate with each passing aisle, can be strangely liberating.

I learned I could withstand the piercing looks from strangers. I wasn’t even compelled to interpret the stares or whispers. I just needed to find “Out” so I could deduce the syllables streaming out from between the sobs.

Most new parents will tell you that they have trouble keeping their face straight as their little one’s turns from red to purple, or when little flapping arms pick up enough momentum to seemingly take flight.

Some might even admit dealing with problems — stacks instead of rows, yes instead of no, blue instead of green, up instead of down — can be fun.

When all goes well, a parent can be part detective, part linguist and even part superhero.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hey, what do you think we live in a barn?


“What do you think we live in a barn?” my husband asks as I lumber up the near-vertical staircase that leads to our living space; front door flung wide open, schlepping armloads of groceries from the car.

“Uh, yaaah,” I answer in the most adolescent tone I can muster.

It never gets old.

Of course, any time I tell people I live in a barn they usually ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ and marvel at how romantic such a dwelling must be. Understandably, they are equating barn with the catalog antecedent, Pottery.

No. I live in a B-A-R-N — a big, red structure that is drafty in winter and sweltering in summer and for more than 100 years, in a meandering order of succession, has been used to shelter horses, cattle, a Laundromat, a plumbing contractor, a telephone company and a string of the town’s more established homeowners.

Rooms have been constructed and reconstructed by inhabitants of equal or lesser skills than our own, and each addition unflinchingly boasts the era of its commission.

We’ve even learned parts of our estate have been hacked off and dragged to different parts of the neighborhood. A garage here, a house there; each starting out as a pod from our monstrosity. All this slicing and dicing has made it necessary to send out search parties for my visiting Maine mother-in-law, who always thinks she can ‘get there from here.’

Of course, with two full-time jobs, two perennially shedding dogs, an overflowing diaper pail and only one airless closet of a bathroom, our humble abode has a thick carpet of dog hair and sometimes smells like the Bronx zoo. When we welcome visitors it is usually after a frenzied cleaning and straightening session that goes late into the night. Otherwise, we turn off the lights and pretend that we’re not home.

It’s the story of our lives: With two-dozen family members invited for Christmas, we chose right after Thanksgiving to replace the kitchen. Our wedding prompted the complete gutting and renovation of main room of the building so we could host 135 guests for the reception. And when our daughter was born she was welcomed into a new room of her own painted only minutes before her homecoming. Of course, none of the rooms have trim.

No matter, the words on everyone’s lips after the grand tour is always the same: “it’s got potential.”

Since we’d bought the place for a song and are paying far less in mortgage than we could have ever wrangled in rent we couldn’t disagree, we just didn’t know how potential would make the leap to polished.

The answer, happily, is that it won’t. Our home will always be a barn. It just evolves with us and mirrors our every wonderful imperfection.

I can’t wait until our daughter leaves the door open as she tracks in all manner of seasonal detritus.

“Hey, whah-da-ya think we live in a barn?”

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Out of the closet

Once a reluctant bride comes out of the closet, she comes all out.
There's no dancing around it. Once the date is set, no matter how solid and down to earth she seemed beforehand, every little incidental increment is scruti¬nized as if she were solving world peace.
It is in fact my guess that if the G8 summit had a registry instead of an agenda, women on the verge of wedded bliss would make short work of solving some of humankind's toughest prob¬lems.
I'd like to think I was different. I'd like to think that I was calm and didn't ever let it get away from me that the marriage was the big deal, not the wedding.
The fact that I spent more than 400 hours putting together favors and trinkets for the tables and proofread the same 40 words on the invitations 4,000 times, how¬ever, is evidence to the contrary.
It was the dress that brought me back to reality.
My mom was ill at the time, but it was important to me that she be a part of the selection process. So, on one of her good days, off we went to a local wed¬ding warehouse to check out the sales.
I wouldn't have minded getting married in jeans, so a cheap dress didn't seem too off the mark or the money. But no soon¬er had I made the decision to go gown, I was wishing I'd eloped. I was put out that I had to make an appointment to look through racks of dresses. I was livid when I got there and found out the appointment left me only one hour to do so before the store closed. I hated that every clerk in the store was more giddy about my wedding than I was.
After wasting 15 minutes while our attendant listened to my desires and gathered every dress in direct opposition to them, I turn the job over to mom and she selects a few that look accept¬able.
While waiting for the fitting room attendant (another useless construct as the place is mostly empty), a woman with a thick Jamaican accent, tidy suit and a measuring tape slung around her neck heads my way. "I can take you here, honey."
As I cram myself and my selec¬tions into the mirrored cell, my mom eyes a sullen looking man who loudly complains to his betrothed that her dress doesn't look sexy enough. I close the door just in time to hear my mom make her way over to the couple and inform them directly about a little thing called SUPER¬STITION.
Twenty minutes elapse as I change from dress to dress. I start to feel a little dejected as I realize I look a little too much like Morti¬cia Addams in white. The atten¬dant swings open the door peri¬odically to throw in a hoop skirt, shoes and a veil that costs more than all the dresses combined. I find myself jamming a shoe through the handle to keep her out. Finally, I emerge from the closet wearing the last of the designer specials - a $99 gown that my mother fished from the bottom of the sales rack. Oddly enough, it looks O.K. Mom thinks it's 'old fashioned.' A good sign, I think.
At that crucial decision-making moment, a woman in the dress¬ing room next to mine bounds out in a long, jewel-encrusted dress. A tattoo of a dove peeks out from the lace neckline. "I'm trying the dress on for my daugh¬ter," she gleefully tells me. "She's pregnant now, but she'll be my size again when she gets married ... You know, after the baby comes."
It occurs to me then that some experiences just can't be dupli¬cated. In fact, I might venture, this very moment is the kind of experience a bride should savor. So, as the fitting room attendant fiddles with the sleeves of the gown I am wearing, endangering my balance atop the carpeted dressing perch, I make an execu¬tive decision ... "I'll take it."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

I'm never getting married and other fairy tales

generations III

Like many little girls, I started planning my wedding at the age of 5 — I was determined there wasn’t going to be one.
No bride, no groom, no maids of honor. No triple-tiered cake, vows or cantatas.
From that day forward, I made it perfectly clear to anyone who’d inquire that I didn’t want to get married. Ever.
I can only imagine what danced through my grandmother’s head when she asked my pre-school self about being a mommy someday.
She must have gaped when her three-foot tall gnome of a grandchild, crayon in hand, matter-of-factly informed her there would be no husband, nor child in the picture she planned.
“There are so many kids who need Mommies ... maybe I’ll adopt one of them.”
Of course, the following year at Christmas I asked for a stapler ... It’s possible she never knew what to make of me.
As youth usually does, things went along quite well for a number of years. My parents were good acomplices for my aspirations: “Don’t get married until you’re 25,” my father instructed.
“Don’t get married until you’ve been to Europe,” my mother laughed.
“Don’t get married until you’re 30,” dad revised.
It also helped that the boys-turn-men I dated were equally as uninterested in walking down an aisle.
No pressure there.
You meet people, you go places. Take this job over that one. You date, you meet more people. Life swims along.
Then, something I hadn’t anticipated went horribly awry. My mother’s grammalogical clock started ticking.
“Oh, she’s never getting married. ... I’m never going to be a grandma,” she’d complain at family gatherings.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
It also didn’t help that I had just met “Mr. Right.”
(Unfortunately, they way I felt about him was such a cliché, the “I-just-knew” senario and all, that I might as well name him accordingly).
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
My world slowly turned upside down. It didn’t change my opinion of marriage at first, but it made me wonder about what people actually want and what they say they want.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
Did I really, actually, WANT to get married, or was it the diabolical effect of one biological clock setting off another?
When I started asking myself: ‘Is this it? Shouldn’t there be more? ... What if I’ve made a mistake?’ I knew my axis shifted 180 degrees.
You take an inventory, make your decisions, meet all the wrong people and then, if you meet the RIGHT person, you throw every preconceived notion you had right out the window and start picking out china.
The fairy tales my five-year-old self dreamed up have been dashed, and I couldn’t be happier. Of course, I could still use a stapler.