Thursday, November 8, 2007


Fourth of July at the Sushi Ran bar, I watched two metrosexual executive producer types compare their gear. The more heavily accessorized of the two was experiencing major phone envy. Wearing a pork pie hat over a white do rag, Bono shades and a meticulously trimmed goatee wasn’t enough. His buddy was flashing an iPhone, and the Treo in his hand was so 48 hours ago.

I’m gonna get one. I have to get one.

He poured more sake into his tiny cup and looked very sad.

At the Marin farmer’s market, I witnessed another green moment. A vendor was describing his encounter with his sister’s iPhone. For hours they played with it. A customer interrupted scooping organic arugula into a bag long enough to detach his phone case from his belt. He flipped open the cover and the vendor moaned.

Oh, that’s it. It’s good you got a case for it …….it’s so cool …….

My son’s friend got one. Many parents struggle with the question of when or if to get their kids a cell phone. We resisted until I found myself hypocritically calling my son’s friend’s phones to let him know I was on my way to pick him up from lacrosse. It is without question the best way to keep contact with your 14 year old. That or lock him in the basement. After we ironed out the 400 dollars in text message charges, it has become a minor expense. But a 600 dollar phone for a kid?

As parents in Marin we are often confronted with these moments of bewilderment. Tweens are riding 2000 dollar mountain bikes. Your kid’s friend always has 20 bucks for snacks. Third graders have better laptops than yours, and now 14 year olds with an iPhone. I miss Marin’s feigned bohemia.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cold Steel

We were driving through June fog to fulfill my firstborn’s destiny. He had waited until he was in high school before we’d let him get his ear pierced, which we felt was reasonable and it bought us some time. Just a quick call to dad to officially sign off and he was golden. My husband was on a conference call and not in the mindset to deal with this life altering teen moment.

Forget it. You will regret it for the rest of your life.

We were nearing the last Marin exit before the bridge. I pulled off to mediate and call for backup: my younger sister and my husband’s younger stepbrother. Both weighed in heavily on my son’s side. This being that not only was ear piercing OK, but also that getting both ears pierced was the norm. I got back on 101 and headed for the city in the hopes that my husband would see that this was going to happen eventually anyway, even if it wasn’t today.

I scored a George Costanza parking spot off Haight and my husband called back.

Okay, one, but make sure he gets the right one, or the correct one, you know?

Gender identity issues weren’t the problem; now my son was insisting that a single earring was for dorks and that we were dorks.

Alright, get back in the car. Let’s go back home.

Fine! As I turned onto Masonic the phone rang again.

I took a poll in the office and the younger people say that getting just one ear done is a little dorky. So, I guess two is fine.

Now I had to find another parking spot.

At Anubis Warpus their piercer didn’t come in until 2. They recommended Mom’s down the street. At Mom’s the Amazonian pink haired Betty Page wouldn’t do it because my 14 year old didn’t have a picture ID. Soul Patch doesn’t pierce minors, period. Who thought a suburban housewife would be the most permissive person on Haight Street?

Since I was with him and it was only lobes, the two men at Cold Steel were lenient. Both were ambitiously modified, each embellished with ink, facial piercings, and earplugs. Our piercer could have been plucked right off the Black Pearl, complete with limp. He was only lacking a monkey. Maybe this was for my benefit, but the pirate made a big point of how he always checks with his mom before he gets anything new done. Except the time he forgot when he got his tribal chin tattoo.

After ribbing my boy about becoming a man today – the other guy insisted ‘that costs extra’- the pirate was all business. Noting that his left lobe was thicker and slightly higher, he dotted his lobes with ink to check placement. The aesthetics were key. All the while, the pirate was quick to dispense worldly sage advice: Girls have cooties.

Then it was done. With his red curls pulled back in a low ponytail, showcasing the new steel hoops of (young) manhood, my boy needed ‘za. We celebrated with two slices. Then he called his dad.

Home Ec

I didn’t know when I applied, that to be accepted into the art department at UCLA as a transfer student was not an easy thing to achieve. I remember pulling the letter out of our mailbox at our crumbling stucco apartment in Westwood and how the spring morning light was slanting through the banana tree when I read the first word, “Congratulations!” I was so relieved. I had been in limbo, had moved to Los Angeles without a concrete plan, and now I had a direction.

That fall morning when I attended my first day at my second college, it was like any first day of school. I had new binders and pencils and I was very excited to be starting a photography class. I could not wait to get into the darkroom and learn the secrets of alchemy and light.

The visiting professor was an actual living, breathing, exhibiting New York artist. The real deal and when he finally entered the classroom looking like a miniature Lou Reed, I held my breath. He was uniformed in black jeans, black t-shirt, cigarette and comical bed head. He looked us over, took a last drag on his cigarette and crushed it on the floor and then said, “I see Art has become the new Home ec.”

What a dick. More than half the class was female, and a few did look like they had stumbled in off sorority row. As is often the case, the grad student TA did the lion’s share of the teaching and I learned a lot.

A few years later I was working in a gallery in New York that was heading down hill no breaks. I had begun interviewing at other galleries, and during one test drive the owner, who was female, had me work on the computer to see if I really did know this new computer program ArtStacks for gallery inventory, I answered phones, and uncrated a painting.

While I was in the back gallery I noticed that the photographs for the upcoming show were by none other than the visiting professor. His ‘Home Ec’ comment still irked me and I realized I had the access and the power to really fuck with him. I could delete his inventory file, alter prices, or cancel the print order on his invitations. It was very tempting.

I opted to sidestep that karmic dead end. I told the gallery owner I was familiar with his work. This piqued her interest in me for a moment. Then I told her the visiting professor story. She was horrified. I’ll never know what this information did for his relationship with her gallery, but I felt like I had flicked over the first domino.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Two years ago I had the privilege of participating in my nephew’s birth. When I arrived I waited behind the curtain until her contraction peaked and then went in to say hello.

“You’re a liar and I hate you”, she said weakly.

While it was probably best that she didn’t witness my first two deliveries, watching me sneeze out my third probably wasn’t the best preparation for this day. With my third I wised up and got the epidural. It was a significantly more graceful process. I napped. I read. I glanced over at the monitor when I felt my e-fucking-normous stomach tighten. “Whoo – that was a doozy!” My sister rubbed my feet and fought with my husband for the cozier recliner

I tried to explain the difference but she wasn’t buying it. I gently suggested that she get the drugs. There’s no shame in getting relief ; no extra credit for suffering needlessly. Of course it was useless. In this Seattle birth center, we had a doula, a tai chi master-labyrinth facilitator-impending grandma, two expecting parent biologists, and me; there would be no drugs today.

I’d never been present for the birth of a baby, outside of my own three. I’ve been the big sweaty groaning mess who couldn’t remember how to breathe. Playing a supporting role was a relief. Holding her hand, lifting her knee, offering words of support and encouragement came easily. I knew my brother in law wanted to be down at the business end where I was, to watch his son’s head crown, but my sister had him in a headlock as her contractions heated up. She wasn’t letting me relinquish my post either, with her knee and hand.

When Oliver Salish emerged, after the feeling returned to my hand, his new grandma and I shared the most biologically bizarre sensation. The unmistakable tingle and ache of letdown. We were both very physically and emotionally immersed in this birth, so this must be Nature’s way of making sure the wee one eats.

Nice to know you can be useful.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mama Unplugged

Of the myriad of transformations women endure when they become a mother, I was least prepared for my complete disconnect from my body. From the moment the baby leaves the womb and the cord is cut, hormones ebb and flow. You become a walking bodily function. You sweat, bleed, shed, lactate and in my case should never have agreed to the stool softeners. My OB nurse terrorized me into thinking that my first post delivery poop would be as painful as the birth itself. She never asked me about my diet or digestive history. About 24 hours after we came home I was rocking and nursing our new baby when the sensation hit. In an NFL worthy move, I literally palmed my son, hurdled the ottoman and sprinted into the bathroom. I hadn’t moved that fast in three months.

Most mornings baby Jack and I would wheel into the coffee shop in our building and I’d get a jolt on our way to the park. Thrilled to have managed to get out of the house before noon, thinking I’m all that, I caught a glimpse of myself in the window’s reflection, and noticed I was still wearing my slippers. Not hip urban slippers either.

Weeks later while nursing baby Jack on a park bench and swapping war stories with another new mother, I put him on my shoulder to burp him. I was oblivious to the fact that my right breast was now completely exposed. I sat there like I was on a beach in France as I patted my son’s back and gabbed on. Only when I stood up to put my son in the stroller did I realize I had given a clutch of Saturday morning dads their money’s worth. Shooting the boys a withering glance as I buttoned up my circus tent, they suddenly became very concerned about junior’s height on the climbing structure.

Four months into motherhood, my head was almost above water. I hadn’t stepped into the shower wearing glasses or underwear in a while. I almost never put the half & half in the pantry anymore. I went shopping with a friend at an upscale mall. Stolling into Neiman’s I noticed that I had on one magenta mule and one black ballet flat. I physically startled as if truly frightened. The two didn’t even feel the same on my feet.

The horror of these total miscalculations is like leaving the ladies room with the back of your skirt tucked into your underwear. It is only surpassed by the compassion I now feel for new moms who look like they got dressed in the dark.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Houdini Toddler

There’s a cold dark place you go when you can’t find your child. I went there once. This isn’t the run of the mill can’t pick out your kid’s head bobbing in the pool, can’t sift through all the hooded toddlers at the park, just focused on a sale rack for a second and now you’re on your hands and knees at Nordstrom. This is an all hands on deck, EVERYBODY is looking and minutes are ticking by and your toddler is GONE. This is when someone gently leads you to a room so you can scream while they hold you.

I stepped into the Toddler Room to pick up my two year old son and in the scramble for lunch boxes and hanging up of jackets I couldn’t see where he might be. The afternoon kids were settling in for lunch and the hip-height chaos was all around me. A few seconds passed before I could move into the room and peek around the corner to the area where I usually found him painting. Not there. His teacher saw my questioning look and helped me look. She opened the door to the outside play area, asking several parents and teachers if they had seen him.

In seconds the entire school was in lock down mode with all able bodies calling his name and looking in the garden, upper school, kitchen, parking lot, office. This is when it became cold and dark, and I was led by the elbow into an office. I remember screaming for someone to call 911.

Parents and teachers had begun looking in the creek that runs behind the school and were fanning out into the neighborhood, when a local resident came out of her house and asked if we were looking for the little boy she had in her arms. He had slipped out the gate in the back of the school and disappeared up a flight of stairs leading to the Homestead Valley Community Center. Like Popeye’s Sweetpea, skirting disaster at every turn, he had gone past the pool, through a parking lot with a blind driveway, along Montford, a typical Mill Valley neighborhood street with no sidewalk or shoulder, across Montford and up this neighbor’s steep driveway. The fact that he wasn’t run down by an SUV was a miracle in itself.

Ten years have passed since that day, and the two preschool teachers have since retired and moved away. I send them both a Christmas card each year and get one in return. I know they went to their own cold dark place that day.

Albuquerque Airport

My younger sister and I started flying alone after our parents divorced in 1974. At nine years old, I soon became familiar with the Albuquerque airport. I would descend the rolling staircase onto the tarmac, holding my little sister’s hand as we walked toward the adobe terminal and look for my father. He would be inside wearing Ray-Bans, jeans pressed with a crease, a big turquoise belt buckle and new running shoes. He would pick up my sister, who is seven years younger than I am, and hug me too hard. Soon enough I would learn that he smelled like pot.

The summer he wasn’t waiting at the gate, arms crossed and Ray-Bans on, I didn’t panic. The gate emptied and we were the only ones left. I searched the faces as we went down the escalator and continued to scan the crowd gathered around the baggage claim. I found a pay phone, expertly dialed “0” before the number, gave the operator my name and it rang forever before she told me to try again later. I repeated this routine countless times for several hours.

I dragged our avocado green Samsonite into the ladies room, helped my sister use the potty and held her up to the sink to wash her hands.

When he finally picked up, I could hear him smiling at the sound of my voice. Then I told him where we were. His voice was curt, insinuating he’d been told the wrong date. The tenuous grasp I had on my father was always in jeopardy. I never told anyone about this until I had my own kids. Only then did I panic.

He rapped his chunky turquoise rings on the Volkswagon’s steering wheel in time with the music and sipped on the cold beer he had wedged between his legs as we drove north. Five years later I would feel a chill of embarrassment during Drivers Ed class when I learned that this was actually illegal. It had never occurred to me that it was a crime.

Summer visits with my father meant backpacking. On the outside of my father’s pack hung a large clear thermos of Jose’ Cuervo silver tequila that I gulped by mistake. I thought I had swallowed the fuel for the propane stove.

My father laughed and told me that the next time we drank tequila together, it would be because I’d turned 18 and he was free from child support payments. He was buying. He still owes me.

Joe Clark

My middle child is all metal. He is a rock god. He’s twelve. Last night was his second session at cotillion and he learned the fox trot. He’s quick to point out that foxes don’t trot, in case you’re curious. Cotillion teaches formal dance steps and social etiquette that my kids can’t possibly learn at home. I was a non Cotillion kid when I was in middle school, mostly because my mother was in her rejection of the establishment phase circa 1976. Of course it was all the other kids talked about at school the next day – the horror of dancing together in fancy clothes. But they were grinning like idiots and I knew I was missing out.

My guy who lives in his black Slayer t-shirt and baggy jeans with ringlets down to his shoulders cleans up good for cotillion. He had been planning his cotillion attire for two years, since his older brother was forced to attend. His attitude was much more cooperative, provided that I allowed him to wear a camoflage tux with a top hat. Sadly we never found one. In a navy blazer and khakis he’s still all metal. A rock god. James Hetfield in a suit is still James Hetfield.

Last night they learned the art of proper introduction. When changing dance partners, one introduces themselves, first and last name. The instructor gave an example: “rather than ‘I’m Joe’ say instead ‘I’m Joe Clarke’.” Each time he changed dance partners and was paired with a girl from his school, my son introduced himself, “I’m Joe Clark”. Bingo. The girls laughed. There’s more to cotillion than the fox trot. Cotillion rocks.