Monday, June 23, 2008

fire storm


Our boys hosted a garage concert on the last day of school. Three bands were slated to play and kids had been invited representing several Bay Area high schools. I don’t recall ever fully signing on for this, and was silently panicking at the thought of 700 moshing metalheads. I demanded a guest list and again went over the house rules of no booze - no drugs – no disrespectful behavior. Only one mom phoned to make sure parents would be home and I confessed that this was uncharted water for us too.

As the bands warmed up, our driveway resembled the scene in Bambi when the forest is on fire and all the bunnies and skunks are evacuating in a wild panic. All wildlife in a 2-mile radius had scampered or flown away. The sheriff that arrived moments later helpfully suggested closing the garage door. He gave me his card in case I ran into any trouble. I gave him my name and number for my pissed neighbors to call so he didn’t have to drive back.

The first two bands were lite punk if such a thing could exist. They were loud for sure but I could still watch Colbert Report without a problem. Then the hosting headliner band came on, with corpsepaint and a plastic skull goblet with homemade corn syrup blood for the full effect. As their mother I can honestly say it was horrible. Like a fissure had opened at the end of our driveway and drums as loud as a Hell’s Angels memorial ride and vocals like gargled nails. My garden wilted. Paint peeled from the walls. The mosh pit was at full tilt when the garage door opened just a few inches and a kid literally rolled out and the door shut behind him. I was refilling a bowl with chips and asked him if he was ok. He was holding a broom. He said, “I’m fine.” I went back inside and waited for the phone to ring.

The first call was from a man who asked if they could please take it inside. I told him it was in the garage. He asked if they could close the door. I told him that sadly the door was closed. When I told him the sheriff had already come by he then claimed to be from the Sheriff’s dispatch office. I thought it was curious that he had a British accent but told him I’d have the band turn down the amps. He lightened up and admitted to having been in a band and I told him it was their first real gig with girls. Those poor girls.

The next neighbor was civil and politely asked if we could please never do it again. She asked if it were perhaps Satanic Jazz. No, not Satanic, but in that Back Metal tradition of Norse mythology, the earth based pre Christian…… never mind I’ll be pulling the plug soon. She told me I was a good mother for letting them flex their creative wings and hopefully for all our sakes it was a phase they’d quickly outgrow. I gave the band a 5-minute warning.

In the end only twenty or so kids showed and the bands were disappointed at that, but clearly they’d earned their stripes by the sheriff coming and pissing off the neighbors. We earned major kudos from the other parent roadies who had opted to go out to dinner during the concert and were now loading amps and guitars into their sensible hybrids.
While my older son was dutifully washing the corn syrup blood off the garage floor I heard a rustle in the tree and a mourning dove coo. One of our cats squeezed back under the fence and reclaimed her perch in the garage.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Granny and I were walking through the high grass of a cow pasture full of hidden lichen covered grave markers. Many predated the civil war and were on their sides or cracked in half. Some were so encrusted with black green that they could hardly be read. The going was slow and the cow pies were numerous. This west Texas cemetery has a name but no sign and if Granny hadn’t told me to turn down this dirt farm road, I’d have never seen it. There was an old hitching post next to the metal gate and several live oak trees to shade the few cows lucky enough to fit in their shadow. The morning was nearing 95 degrees.

I listened to her tell me about the people who were buried here. She’d stop and pull a handful of grass away to read the stone and then tell me who they were kin to or if we were related. One name led to a story about a woman with eleven children who had hung up the wash on the line, then walked down to the creek and drowned herself. There were little marble lambs for baby graves and one marble cube said simply “Baby”. I had brought a camera and some large sheets of paper and black crayons to make rubbings. There were many blank white crosses. We were quiet for stretches, with me documenting and Granny staring off at the low hills. She was ninety and very healthy, but almost everyone she had every known was gone.

She waved her hand at a stone and made a spitting sound, saying the name with disgust. “You know about him?” She looked at me. I had heard the name and knew we were related somehow, cousins? It was getting hotter and cicadas were buzzing in the tree. “He was KKK." Granny blotted the sweat above her lip with a tissue, put it back in the pocket of her tunic and turned headed back to the car. “well …. we knew. But…….” She didn’t finish. I picked up my papers and followed her, my legs shaking.

I didn’t know how hard to press her on this. She had wanted me to know, and I didn’t think she had ever talked about it. When Granny and I returned to my aunt’s house, I told my three cousins what she had said. After their initial shock, we gently encouraged her to unburdened herself of this evil knowledge.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bad Hand

My oldest had the week off. None of his high school vacations mesh with his sibling’s elementary school, and most of his friends are out of town. Before he went up to the snow with his dad and brother all he wanted was to sit with me and watch all of season 3 of Lost. I am suddenly his only pal. This is a huge shift, and I’ll take it, though I did have scads of other things I wanted to do. I had started painting his brother’s room and needed to finish so he could move back in. There were books stacked on the dining room table I wanted to sort through and take to the used bookstore. I needed to buy mulch.

Now my boys are up in the snow and the youngest is welded to my side. She had an episode of acid reflux. The burning feeling sent her into a panic and I pick her up early from school. The tears and fear have increased the raw feeling in her throat so now we are doing deep breathing and she is in bed with me drawing and writing in her journal. She makes a list: relax, breathe, drink water, eat saltines … Her drawing shows a knife going into her stomach and fire in her throat. She can’t swallow pills and it sends her into another panic when I try to put one in her applesauce and it doesn’t work. It was the beginning of our girls only weekend and she was not up for much more than snuggling in my bed.

The phone rings and it’s my middle son. I’m happy to hear from him, but I’m not so delusional to think that with endless pizza and violent movies he should think to call me just to chat. “Hi Mom, I broke my arm.” He’s thirteen and vague on the details: ducked a snowball while snowboarding, x-ray, splint, Tylenol, out for the lacrosse season. “Guess I’ll get my French homework done. Here’s dad.” Dad is even more vague. “He’s fine. Don’t worry.” I know I won’t get details until I can physically corner one of them.

I’m fanned out like a bad gin rummy hand.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Salt Point

I watched a beautiful sunset jiggle and dip through the redwood trees that lined a winding two-lane road out the small back windows of an ambulance. I was strapped down and every few miles the driver would pull over and he and my attending EMT would switch roles, take my vitals and I finally asked, “is there some regulation that you have to switch drivers after so many miles?”

The older of the two, the one who looked like he was maybe 23, looked embarrassed. “No, it’s just, we both get car sick”. This cracked me up.

I focused on the sunset. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t in pain. I was uncomfortable and sad. My husband was following the ambulance with our two young boys. We had planned this camping trip on the last day of school and they were so excited. My achy back I attributed to the packing and the drive. I had taken the boys for a walk while my husband set up the tent and started a fire for dinner. I lay down in the tent for a while and when our 4 year old came in for a shoe tie, I sat up and Pop! A warm water balloon leaked into my lap and I knew. I felt responsible for holding this crew together while I told my husband that we were not having this baby and telling our boys that they were not going to sleep in tents outdoors with s’mores, but that we were now going to pack the truck after 45 minutes of camping and drive for a few hours.

We drove up to the ranger kiosk and my husband says to the female ranger, “We need a doctor, my wife’s not feeling well.” Just as she is asking what is wrong I push my husband back and lean forward meeting her eyes, “I’m having a miscarriage”.
She tells us to pull over. The ranger has two teenage sons who take my boys for some marshmallow and fire fun as the local EMTs arrive.

The Salt Point EMT crew is a young outdoorsy woman in her mid thirties and her partner, who is scrappy with a white beard and is a dead ringer for the Burt’s Bees dude in that little postage size ad in the New Yorker. He is very gentle and kind and as he takes my pulse, tells me about his wife’s miscarriage years ago and how it was sad but that they went on to have several children. There had been some talk about medi-vacing me out but I nixed the helicopter idea in the bud. As Burt and the young EMT’s load me into the ambulance, I worry that I might be too heavy.

After two and a half hours of a winding road in an ambulance I welcome the cool night air when I am unloaded. When I see the entrance to the Emergency Room of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, I am immediately panicked about what we will do with our boys. My husband finds me as I am being wheeled inside. He has called our friend Saskia and she is on her way up from Mill Valley to get our sleeping boys and take them home. They will wake up in their own beds and tomorrow this will all be over.

Inside the ER, I was transferred from the downy comfort of an ambulance gurney to a steel table with a disposable paper mattress and met the least charming nurse in North America. The queasy ambulance boys said goodbye and wished me well. It was almost midnight on a Friday and the room was chaos. A curtain was drawn around my table. To my right I hear the wheezing of an old man and his wife crying. He’s dying. Through the gaps in the curtain I can see a young woman across from me who is writhing, screaming, gagging and has my vote for the best string of expletives growled in a single breath. She is having a really bad night. I learn later from a nicer nurse that she was ODing on ecstasy. Somewhere there is a burst of yelling in Spanish and two Hispanic men were being tackled and pulled off each other. They had been brought in with knife wounds and were still going at it with their fists. Their loss of blood and the alcohol content of what remained were throwing off their aim and they were losing steam. So was I.

My drama was not even a blip on the radar in this circus. I was happy to be low priority. All around me was death and agony. I kept my jiggly sunset in my mind as the nurse came by to bully me and I cried as the final bits of our former baby made it’s exit. I was sad and tired and lucky to only have those complaints. I kept bleeding though and that got their attention. Bully nurse took one more swipe at me when she asked my blood type and I couldn’t remember. Hers was no match for Miss Ecstasy’s mouth. I was eased into a wheel chair and taken upstairs to a dark and very quiet sonogram room. I bled on everything and nobody seemed to notice. I kept apologizing. The sonogram revealed a quarter sized bit of placenta attached to the tippy top of my empty uterus and that was what was causing the blood loss.

I was prepped for a D & C. It was 2 AM and I was a wrung out rag and had to be helped to take out my earrings and remove my watch and wedding band. Then I remembered the navel ring. We couldn’t get it open and the anesthesiologist and surgeon found that amusing so they let it slide. I asked the surgeon if I could have a pair of scrubs to wear home, since my clothes were trashed and then I told the anesthesiologist I didn’t want to remember anything. They both smiled and assured me not to worry. I woke up coughing and a nurse reading a magazine next to my bed gave me ginger ale and wheeled me to a recovery room where I tried to sleep, but heard babies crying, and realized I was in the maternity ward.

We have a third child now, and the five of us drive through Salt Point every year when we vacation at Sea Ranch and I get a shade less sad each time. I don’t tear up immediately, like the first few times we drove through, I just get quiet. I don’t feel like we lost an actual baby, or a person, but rather a hope was lost or a promise was broken. Less a death than a wish that didn’t come true.

Villa D'Oro .....a fictional village in '70s Phoenix

Annie loved crawling into her bed at night.

Before the divorce, the new baby, and the summer move to Phoenix, back when she was a housewife who lunched with the Junior League, her mother had painted the twin bed olive green with streaks of black and glued a curly cartouche to the center of the headboard. This fit of early 1960’s do-it-yourself decorating fever had been corrected, sanded and restored to the original blond Heywood Wakefield mirror finish. This was during her matching handbag and pumps phase, when she had once put a rinse on her blond bob and it came out light blue, perfectly matching her cornflower blue shift. This was a very fashion forward moment for Roswell, New Mexico.

Annie made her bed every morning looking forward to when she could crawl back in. The Winnie the Pooh cotton sheets were smooth and cool and the heavy cotton bedspread sealed her in and she could escape in her dreams from the sad disappointing place she now lived. She rubbed her cheek on the pillow and looked at the shelves made of stacked plywood cubes her mother had painted white. Inside were her Disney musical jewelry box shaped like an upright piano, a rainbow coin bank with snoopy lying on it, many miniature clay dishes she got in Mexico, a small eclectic collection of picture books, a children’s bible, The Chronicles of Narnia, Stuart Little, Wind in the Willows, Runaway Ralph and the Little House on the Prairie books and a yellow threadbare wind up sleeping rabbit with blue striped ticking in his ears.

She untucked herself from her cocoon to hold the rabbit and brought it to bed. It had been wound so many times over the years that she couldn't wind it even a full turn and all it’s fur was rubbed off around the key. It slowly plinked out ‘Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail’ and very gently the rabbit rolled its head back and forth. The musical rabbit had been given to her when she was in the hospital as a very sick newborn baby.

She wasn’t able to keep milk down, and was losing weight. The doctors thought she might have a virus. Then they thought she might be allergic to her mother’s breast milk and put her on formula. She was fed around the clock and continued to projectile vomit and was getting dehydrated. This led to surgery and the diagnosis of infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis. The lower portion of the stomach that connects to the small intestine is like a ring muscle that allows food to pass from the stomach into the small intestine. This opening, the pylorus, narrows when the muscles around it enlarge. The surgery is called a pyloromyotomy, and the surgeon slices the pylorus to relax it while the inside lining is left in tact. Dr. Lemon fixed her tiny insides, and for a few weeks she kept her milk down and started gaining weight. Then she started giving up the bottle again and loosing weight and strength. She was readmitted to the hospital for X-rays and observation. The X-rays showed that the pylorus was again not letting the milk through, and this time the doctor prescribed smooth muscle relaxers, scopolamine drops to be put in her milk. From noon until 5 P.M. she took three bottles of milk and formula with the drops and began to come back to life. Her grandmother would talk to her and she would respond by kicking and cooing and emotion that was heart warming to everyone present. Annie knew all these details thanks to notes her grandfather had taken that she found in the back of his client address book. She of course had no memory of this, just a ragged scar on her stomach and this rabbit.

The music slowed and stopped but she was already asleep.

It was windy and she was barefoot on the damp grass wearing only the oversized Jerry Jeff Walker t-shirt she slept in. It was dark but she knew she was outside of their old house in Roswell, where she had lived before her sister was born. There was only the light of the moon when the clouds blowing by didn’t obscure it. The neighbor had a light on in the living room but her old house was dark. The backyard where she used to play on a swing set looked so much smaller. Everything did. The wind was blowing the swings and the trees were groaning. She wanted to see into her old room so she lifted up her arms and pushed off. Up she flew to the window, but it was too dark to see in. Annie leaned to the left and circled the yard and swooped down low over the split beam fence and landed on the neighbor’s balcony. She knew she was dreaming now, the color was different in dreams, like a Batman comic book. She didn’t know much more than her old block, which was made up of three houses with hers in the middle, and that’s as far as she flew. On the next block over was a large house where she had trick or treated. Her mother had fashioned a pair of pink sleeper PJ’s into a rabbit suit and she had hopped. The man who lived there was a wealthy oil man and drove a big convertible and he and his wife had made a big fuss over the rabbit at their door and had offered to get her some radishes.

When Annie woke up she knew she had been flying. The sensation stayed with her for a few seconds and then it was gone. She was energized by it and always woke up famished.

How Can This Be?

How can this be possible? How can I be reading the local paper and stumble across an obituary of someone I know? I am stunned. A vibrant hip mom of two young children is suddenly gone. I had fun conversations with her about parenting and kids and politics and fashion while I shopped in her Mill Valley boutique. I hadn’t been in her store for a while and I wasn’t a close friend. I didn’t know she was sick. We said hello to each other when we crossed paths on the street or in the market or at a coffee shop. The write up said it was cancer. This infuriates me.

I know too many Marin moms who have been victims of this disease. They all led healthy lifestyles. I try to be aware and thoughtful when I choose our family’s foods and food containers and lotions and potions. I take care of my body and try to scrub out all carcinogens from our home and environment. And yet still this bright important mom wife and sister is gone and it makes me feel like it’s all completely pointless.

I also feel that my time vacuuming the living room and unloading the dishwasher this morning was an absurd waste of precious time. I should have been hiking or painting or writing an overdue letter to a friend. If I knew I would be gone in a few years, I sure as hell wouldn’t care about the dog hair on the couch or folding the towels. I’d be at the beach or on one of Mount Tam’s many trails. More likely I’d be on the couch eating an entire vat of garlic mashed potatoes right out of the pan and watching a Viggo Mortenson movie. My holiday cards might be late this year and my house will surly be a wreck, because I’m going to get the leash and put on my trail shoes.

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.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Road Builder

Like modern dinosaurs, construction machines have the best of everything: they’re big, they’re loud and they can crush stuff. What’s not to love? Of my three kids, my first-born loved them the most. Jack had a real hardhat, not some play version, that he wore like some kids have a softy they can’t part with. He slept with it. This was a good thing as Jack was the original stunt baby. He walked at 10 months and soon took great joy in running and leaping off of things. Jack’s first word was POW!

When Jack was about 15 months old PG&E were replacing something all along Sacramento Street. Backhoes figured prominently. I would pack a large bag of snacks, get the paper, and Jack would wear his hardhat and sit in his stroller completely transfixed for huge stretches of time. Sometimes 5 whole minutes.

We moved to Marin before our second son was born. Jack was not yet two and during the unpacking and minor construction he would watch construction foreman Dave in his “There Goes A Truck” video. One time I walked into the living room and there was Jack in his little chair wearing a diaper and his hardhat and three guys I was paying to finish the baseboards standing behind him all transfixed by a giant dump truck.

When Jack was almost three, he and his new brother and I would head over to Marin City for the afternoon to watch the complete transformation of a whole community into a shopping center and apartments. Many different construction machines were involved and some, like the sheep’s foot, we had only read about in our home library of truck books. Jack stood next to the car, hardhat on, looking down at all the action and named each machine.

While visiting family in Texas, Jack was able to help drive a large tractor that my uncle used to cut weeds. His smile was almost painful. When he was twelve, Jack and his brother and a cousin were playing with a golf cart my uncle uses to get around his self-storage business. They were extremely responsible until it came time to park it and Jack accidentally crashed into a flagpole, knocking it over onto the roof of the golf cart. Sadly he had outgrown wearing a hardhat. Good fortune was smiling on him as the golf cart did have a metal canopy. My uncle told him he’d been thinking of replacing that flagpole anyway. The new one has a low metal barrier around it.

I found that hardhat the other day. Good thing: Jack will be eligible to get a learners permit in a year.