Saturday, December 29, 2007


Things I will miss when she doesn't say them anymore:

"We might get wet--we need baby suit."
"Wait! I need to smallow."
"We rode the shovel bus to Mother Goose parade."
"My shoe cane off!"
"The stunk went to the hospital."
"My ear hurts. It has a stab."
"The birdie said hello me!"

This is it. The last evening I can ever say "Well, I have a two-year-old" in a meaningful voice so that my addressee nods understandingly. As of tomorrow morning, I'll have a three-year-old, which just sounds so much more mature for some reason.

We have a lot of stuff planned for tomorrow, and I've got her gifts all wrapped (a microwave and a digital camera, because we're just that kind of gadget-obsessed household) but tonight is like any other. David and I are tapping away on the keyboard, and Jarrah is perched behind David fixing his hair.

"Does that hurt?" I ask him.

"No, it feel good." Jarrah answers. That's the way life is now. She even tells us what our feelings are.

Recently, I asked David: "She's a lot easier than she used to be, right?"

He widened his eyes and shook his head rapidly. I guess not. But that made me feel good, because it means I've gotten better at this in the past year. I keep my cool more than I used to. Trust me, I'm still a nutjob, though.

Just today, I saw the full spectrum of "three-ness." Watching her eat lunch at the next table with "big girls" Julianna and Kyra while I caught up with my friends Grace and Beth, I was struck by her tall legginess. She sat in a regular chair, ate with a fork, eschewed a bib, dunked her fries in the ketchup and schmoozed like a pro, even though her companions were both almost 9-years-old.

Then she fell off her chair without warning, and sobbed from the surprise and indignation of it. And though she was charming until 2:30, at 3:00 she was in a full, screaming 10-minute sprint around Rite-Aid with me, two tween girls and a security guard in hot pursuit, all because she didn't feel like having a diaper change (yes, there's still that, too.) On the bright side, maybe she'll be a track star?

There have been a lot of milestones this year. She started preschool a few days after her second birthday, and now she's the biggest girl in her class, and even takes dance and sports "after school." This year, she had her first haircut, and her first dentist visit, and rode her first bobsled. She mastered those scary ladders at the park--no more dangling and crying half-way up. She learned everybody's names. She developed her taste for all things chocolate. She had her first airplane trip and hotel stay since China, and took it all in stride. She started loving movies, and taking photos. She learned to ride a tricycle. She reads us books.


It's the day after now, and we still have gifts to open. Everyone has been so generous and loving towards our little girl. It was a very busy birthday. We all woke up early (two of us not by choice) and Jarrah opened her camera, which is already proving a massive hit. Jarrah carried it in its little yellow shoulder bag all day long, and has already produced a documentary called "The I-5 Freeway: A Carseat-Eye View." Look for it at Sundance.

Then we were off for a park date with Mary, Paul and Joy, with a lot of swinging "high-yuh! fast-uh!" After that, we met David for lunch at Milton's, with a surprise cupcake chaser after the mac and cheese (Thanks, Paul and Mary!) Mary made "matchy-matchy" photo albums for Jarrah and Joy that told their whole story in pictures, from the day they met to now. I told her "This feels like it's really a gift for me." She said it was okay for me to think that. ;)

We headed home for nappies (3-years-old and still napping, lucky me!) and then met Jessica, Jason and Yea-Yea for dinner at Sammy's--pizza followed by a "messy parfait." (It's really called a messy sundae, but Jarrah speaks French now, did I mention?) Before, during and after there was screaming and running around the courtyard, opening of gifts (Thanks, J, J and Y!), and snapping of many chocolate-faced candids. Jarrah was more than ready for bed when we got home, though she did tell us "My birthday's in the future," which, I suppose, is true for all of us every day, n'est-ce pas?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mothers and Daughters: For Jarrah's Birthday

Jarrah is three today.

I'm going to write a longer post later, but in the mean time, I give you this poem, read by Amy Tan, in case you like a good cry with your morning coffee.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bah Humbug

Apparently, I don't possess an immune system. This is the only conclusion I can draw from the fact that I'm a sneezy, snorfly mess for the third time in TWO MONTHS. That doesn't even seem possible. But I do live with a man who has been trying to hack up a lung for over a week now, and a child who's in training to replace Typhoid Mary, so there you have it. And it makes me crabby.

In other news, David got me Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious for Hanukkah (he wasn't trying to hint anything; I asked for it) and I finally had a chance to read it cover to cover yesterday. My findings? Jessica Seinfeld is apparently a cyborg.

She cheerfully details how she sets out trays of crudite and dip "fifteen minutes" before dinner is ready (how does she have that timing down?) in case the children can't wait until the real meal is ready. And if they only nibble at dinner after that, she doesn't have to worry, since they're getting their nutrients. Right--that would have me twisting my sheets in knots into the wee hours, too.

Then there's her Sunday evening "date night" of choice, during which she chats with her husband while she chops and processes "a week's worth" of vegetable and fruit purees to freeze, which only takes an hour (!) Then she's all set for that week's healthy recipes, into which she craftily slips a dollop of cauliflower here and a glop of butternut squash there, and her angels are none the wiser. It's so naughty; I can't stand it!

She even has the kids weigh in with charming little endnotes, such as when Sasha, age 6, comments that her mother can easily whip up whole-grain French toast with fruit puree "even when I'm late for school." Me, too, definitely. I've got Jarrah's French toast in one pan while I'm coddling the hell out of David's Eggs Benedict in another. I'm just a multi-tasker that way; there's no help for it.

The recurring graphic of Jessica, with her round eyes and pert ponytail, makes me think of the '50s, perhaps because that was probably the last time women spent their days entirely focused on their family's meals. (Ironically, I've read recently that the '50s were a low point for "whole food" consumption, because cans, bottles and boxes were seen as the wave of the future--hence all the jars of Ragu in the wonderful '50s-era series Mad Men.)

Perhaps you've heard tell of the brou-ha-ha surrounding the publication of this book at the very same time as another, very similar book which was not written by a rich comedian's wife. Of course, Jessica publicly professed total ignorance of the other book, claiming that she's been in the test kitchen for several years now, whipping up purees, tossing them into otherwise decent-sounding food, and then forcing her family to eat it so they get the correct ratio of beta carotene to Vitamin B each day.

And now that I've read the book? I believe her--100 percent. I just wish I had someone to make me broccoli-infused brownies. Clearly, I'm not going to do it, and my immune system could apparently use the jump-start.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ol' Jake-Eye

On this, the eve of her third birthday, Jarrah has picked up a preschool standard or two:

She can count to 20. That is, if you're not fussy about 14-18. She calls out "12, 13, 19, 20!!" Although we "parrot" back the unabridged version, she still shuns the all-important middle. Fingers crossed this is not some grim harbinger of how we'll wish to remember her teen years.

She knows her ABCs, even the confusing "won't you sing with me?" That syntax really nags at me. "WON'T you sing with me?" What's wrong with "Please sing with me?" or its ilk? I guess it must be British or something.

Anyway, there is a spot where she gets stuck, but I am loathe to correct her because I love it. Here's how Jarrah's ABCs go:

"A, B, C, D, E, F, G!!!!
W,X, Y and Z!
Now I know my ABCs!
Next time won't you
sing wit me!"

Now, I could understand tripping up on LMNO. Probably because that part confounded me for years. I remember the following incident (next time I see my mother she'll tell me this never happened):

Sam: (at 4-years-old, outside the closed bathroom door): Dad!
Dad: What?
Sam: I need to talk to you!
Dad: I'm taking a shower!
Sam: I have a question!
Dad: What is it?
Sam: What's an elemeno?
Dad? What?
Sam: An elemeno? What is it?
Dad: WHAT?
Sam: How come the alphabet is mostly letters but has a word right in the middle?
Dad: WHAT?
Sam: What IS an elemeno and what's it doing in the alphabet?
Dad: I'm taking a shower!

Alas, I got no enlightenment. It was another 20 years before I found the truth. By then, the damage was done, and I was embittered and disillusioned for life.

Wait. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, learning stuff. Jarrah also, suddenly, mysteriously, knows the difference between boys and girls. Now, now, get your mind out of the gutter, Readers. I don't mean in the anatomical sense. Or do I? Because, you see, it's a mystery. But a couple of nights ago David and I quizzed her over dinner on the students in her class, and she knew them all:

Sam: Alex?
Jarrah: She's a gull.
David: Ruben?
Jarrah: He's a boy.
David: Barbara! (her teacher)
Jarrah: She's a gull.
Sam: Levi?
Jarrah: He's a boy.

And so on. It was truly bizzare. How do kids learn that kind of thing? I guess I should have asked her, "And how do you tell the difference?"

But maybe that's a lesson for another day.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I'm Not Making This Up

Jarrah has become a story dictator. She commands me to spin yarns before her nap and before bedtime, but also in the car, where you can often find us. The upshot is that I have to tell five or six stories a day, and they have to be original. She wants all new and improved versions every time. She also assigns topics. Mysteriously, these topics are often colors, as in "Tell me blue story." I am a wreck from the pressure. Here's a typical session:

Jarrah: Tell me pink story.

Sam: All right...once upon a time there were two girls named Jarrah and Joy who were playing at the park. Suddenly, they saw a pink marshmallow bunny sitting on top of the slide! [at this point there's a stalling section filled with salutations and small talk] They played and played, going down the slide, swinging on the swings, and having all kinds of fun. When Jarrah and Joy hugged the pink marshmallow bunny, he was VERY squishy. SQUISH! SQUISH! SQUISH! [my discerning listener doesn't even crack a smile here: "Squishiness! That tired old shtick."] Finally, they were so tired, and made the pink marshmallow bunny promise to come back and play with them again soon. [long interlude of goodbyes and thank yous and more squishing] The end!

Jarrah: Tell me blue story.

Sam: Okay, once upon a time there were two girls named Jarrah and Joy. They were playing in the park when suddenly they saw a blue elephant flying in the sky! They waved to him and he flew down to say hello. [see above re: salutations and small talk] Then the blue elephant asked Jarrah and Joy if they'd like to take a ride on his back. They said yes, and up they went in the sky! WHEEE! They flew around and around the town, through puffy white clouds and over green trees and fields of flowers, and through flocks of beautiful birds. Jarrah and Joy had so much fun. But finally they missed their mommies and daddies and asked the blue elephant to bring them home. [long interlude of goodbyes and thank yous] The end!

Jarrah: Tell me yellow story.

Sam: I need to take a rest. Why don't you tell me a story?

Jarrah: NO! You do it!

So, you see I get no wide-eyed appreciation, no "Mommy, you tell the BEST stories" or "Mommy, you are the prettiest, smartest Mommy EVER." It's more of a job, one with ever-increasing demands and no perks. Even scarier are the times I have no idea what she's asking:

Jarrah: Tell me story. Tell me andry story.

Sam: Andry? What's andry?

Jarrah: No! Andry!

Sam: I'm sorry, I don't know what andry is.

Jarrah: NO! Don't say sorry to me! Tell me andry story!

These requests end in tears with me wringing my hands (figuratively, since I'm often driving) and bathed in flop sweat because I can't produce.

I had really looked forward to the supple imagination of childhood, and the adoring gratitude for my feats of narrative finesse. But I get no love. I just get a stern taskmaster who's always looking ahead to what's newer, bigger, better, and wants more, more, MORE. I suppose I could resort to what my dad did when we were little. He invented a single character (his name was Moishe Pipik, but I digress) and everything revolved around him. Though he often fell asleep in the middle of his own stories, they were action-packed and full of detail. Later, he admitted they were all adapted from movies he'd seen recently, or James Bond, or both. My siblings and I were none the wiser. Hmmmm. Maybe it's true that great writing comes from knowing who to copy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wherein We are Pensive about the Passage of Time

Scene: Jarrah has just awoken from her nap. I lean over the crib rail while she blinks and readjusts to the world.

Sam: Jarrah, Mommy is feeling sad today. Do you want to know why?

Jarrah: I want lollipop.

Sam: Yes, but do you want to know why Mommy's sad? You know how I teach a writing class? Well, today two of my students decided to leave. We've been together for a long time. It's hard to say goodbye, so Mommy is sad.

Jarrah: Mommy?

Sam: Yes, dear.

Jarrah: I sad, too.

Sam: Why are you sad, my sweet?

Jarrah: 'Cause I want lollipop.


We have a new name! And a new look! David's been working very hard to make it possible. This will be a short post (I know, rare for me) but there's an explanation of the name "Little Dragon Fruit" in the side bar, and I finally have a profile and a photo! After two years, it was past time for a change.

What finally provoked me into action was seeing myself quoted on another blog with the introduction, "This gentleman has an interesting writing style." ACK! Clearly, my front page has been vague for too long.

Let me know what you think, Dear Readers!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Remembering Grammy

I lost my Grammy Fannie this week. When I couldn’t sleep that night, I told David “It doesn’t seem possible for Grammy to die.” She was a force of nature. Here is a collage of my memories of her.


Grammy didn’t drive. She just never learned how. But that didn’t stop her. When she visited us in California (she and Grandpa George spent half the year in Massachusetts, half in Florida, which I thought was very civilized) she walked everywhere, even to the supermarket, nearly a mile away. She would take my youngest sister in the stroller, and then push her and the groceries back up the incredibly steep hill. She was about 4’11” and had flaming red hair. I once asked her why her hair was red when “grandmas are supposed to have gray hair.” “It’s all thanks to Miss Clairol,” she told me. I had no idea who that was. I figured Miss Clairol was a friend of hers with magical powers.


Grammy spoiled me rotten. I was her oldest grandchild, after all. Anything I wanted, she got me. She was visiting when I turned 10 and she asked me what I wanted for my birthday. “A stereo,” I said, without hesitation. I had no idea why I’d said it, except that my next door neighbor, Kristy, had just gotten a stereo and it was the most extravagant thing I could think of. But even at 10 I knew it was an absurdly expensive piece of faux-teak furniture. I would never have mentioned it to anyone but Grammy. When I got home from school on my birthday, I could hear Neil Diamond belting “Beautiful Noise” from upstairs. The music got louder and louder as I approached my room. Inside was a brand new stereo, with a turntable, 8-track cassette and the biggest speakers I’d ever seen. I stared at it, marveling at the sound, and then whirled around to see Grammy and my mom standing in the doorway, grinning.


Grammy was not shy. She had her hip replaced in the early ‘90s and spent her recovery with my parents. I was home from grad school in Massachusetts on Winter Break and dating a local guy, Brian. He came to pick me up one day and met Grammy for the first time.

“It’s really nice to meet you,” he said when I introduced them. At first there was no response. No hello, nothing. And then:

“Turn around.”

“Excuse me?” said Brian, looking a little frightened.

“Turn around. I want to see something.” Slowly, darting his eyes toward me with a “help!” expression, Brian turned his back to Grammy.

“I thought so! You have no hair on the backs of your knees!”

“What?” Brian whispered.

“No hair on the backs of your knees, but otherwise your legs are covered with hair. Why is that?” I was mesmerized, and wouldn’t have known how to interject if I’d wanted to.

“Well…I think maybe it wears off from wearing pants?" He was wearing shorts at the time.

“Hmmm. It looks very odd.”

Brian and Grammy ended up becoming quite close. In fact, he looked after her when my parents went on vacation and I was back in school. Brian never said too much about it, but Grammy was not so restrained. “Brian’s a very sweet boy,” she told me, “but he has no idea how to make coffee.”


Grammy spoke her mind. She became sort of famous amongst my college friends when I displayed her postcards during mealtimes. One of my favorites said, “Dear Samantha, Your mother tells me you FAILED the law boards. Study hard, and PASS NEXT TIME!!!! Love, Grammy.” “Failed” was underlined twice. When David and I got married, Grammy sent a card saying she’d been waiting forever for me to get married, and now that I was finally doing it, she didn’t feel up to traveling. She enclosed an extremely generous check, with the following suggestion: “I don’t expect you to piss this away on bills—buy yourself something nice!”


I guess Grammy was what you might call “a character.” But that label doesn’t begin to hint at her fabulously forthright self. The last time I saw her was in Maine, where she was living in a condo near the beach. I stopped by with a couple of friends. She made us tea and snacks and regaled us with the shockingly torrid plot of the historical romance she was reading. “Your grandmother is awesome,” said my friend Beth on the drive home. “She’s so much more fun than the average grandmother.”

She was fun. And tough. But soft—I have this image of her letting my infant sister suck on her forearm for hours on end. “Why does she like to do that?” I asked her. “It’s comforting.” Grammy said. “Babies like to suck on things.” She was nurturing--I remember her hugging me when I’d had a hard day at school. And she was industrious--I remember sitting with her for hours, helping to fold the mountains of laundry our household produced, or sometimes just watching her and listening to her talk.

Even though I hadn’t seen her in a long time, I’m going to miss her. I miss her already.

Thanksgiving for the Memories

It's so rare that the three of us get to spend four days in a row all together--that in itself is something to be thankful for. This year, Jarrah was quite aware of the significance of the holiday--"turkey, cranberry, stuffing and pumpkin pie." She actually favored only one of these delicacies (Hint: it's red, and handily consumed with a spoon to avoid other less-perfect foods.)

Here are some notes and photos from our long weekend:

Dinner at Grandma and Pop-Pop's in Orange County. It was worth three hours in traffic to get there, and Jarrah slept the whole car ride like a Thanksgiving miracle.

Dinner with Jessica, Jason and Yea-Yea at Sammy's on Black Friday, including Jarrah's first "Messy Sundae." Lately, the highlight of restaurant meals is "sitting like big gull." Jarrah is also becoming an ace photographer; you can see her portraits of Yea-Yea and "Mommy-Daddy" here.

This meal was preceded by Nia and some ill-advised sale shopping at Fry's, where the line was literally a mile long and we had to ditch our basket of goodies along the way so I didn't miss my class.

Road trip to Temecula, with a visit to Professor Pennypickle's Imagination Workshop in Old Town, a child (and adult--John, this one's for you!) paradise of science experiments and old-fangled machines.
Throw in a sunny stroll and a barbecue meal and you have the perfect complement to William's 4th birthday party, the real attraction of the greater Temecula area.

Plus, Jarrah's first pinata! The best thing ever invented as far as she was concerned: you whack the hell out of a cute monkey and then are rewarded with a shower of candy and "gummies" (which, she would like you to know, are not the same as candy.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A week ago, David and I went to see No Country for Old Men. I didn’t really want to see it. All I knew was that it was a Coen Brothers movie. Oh, and that people kept mentioning it in the same breath as Blood Simple, which David made me watch a long time ago and…the less said about that, the better. So, to put it mildly, I had misgivings.

Anyway, this is not going to be a review of the movie. Not a fair one, at least. I will not be providing evidence for my claims. It’s not that I don’t know how. I taught critical essay writing to college freshmen for five years. I know more than anyone should ever know about providing evidence for claims. Go ahead and give me a C-. I’m in no mood.

The movie opens with a super-creepy looking man in a Prince Valiant haircut getting arrested, then strangling his captor with his handcuffs for a very long time. Then there’s a shaggy dude with a rifle who chances upon an field full of dead and dying men in trucks, with lots of blood and flies. Shaggy finds a satchel of money in their midst, and takes it back to his trailer. Prince Valiant, now free and in possession of a police car, pulls over a total stranger and carefully places a cattle slaughtering machine against said stranger's head to create a perfect hole, then steals his car. (In fact, this is the only way Prince Valiant gets around the entire movie. He blows a hole in someone’s head and then takes their stuff. It’s also how he gets snacks and hotel rooms.) All this happens in the first ten minutes, by which time I had a fine little migraine brewing.

Meanwhile, the shaggy dude, unnecessarily named Llewelyn (what the hell?) brings the bag of money back to his trailer, but decides he needs to go back to the pit of festering bodies to bring someone a drink of water (I am not making this up) and since a bunch of people and dogs try to kill him while he’s there (by shooting, running over, more shooting and dismemberment respectively) he deduces that he and his wife should get the hell out of Dodge because someone will be stopping by in the morning to kill them.

And we’re off and running—literally. Already I’m thinking this Llewelyn fellow must be the stupidest protagonist in the history of movies. Sure, the bag has two million dollars in it, but about a dozen people are lying around it, dead. Does that sound like easy money? Second (and Anthony Lane of the New Yorker brought this up): has the man heard of airplanes? He couldn’t spare the dough for a couple of first-class seats to Moorea?

No, in order for there to be a movie, we have to watch him alternately drive around the state of Texas and cower in dark motel rooms while Prince Valiant (who turns out to be named Anton) hunts him down and attempts to blow his head off with nary a howdyadoo. This is pretty much the entire movie, except that along the way about a hundred people have the bad fortune to wander into the frame and get their heads blown off, too.

Here are some of the things that made me turn to David when he said, “What did you think?” afterwards and shout, “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” with actual passion.

The protagonist is not worth rooting for. And based on what happens, apparently the Coens (and writer Cormac McCarthy) don’t think so, either. There’s no redemption, no arc, no climax, no denouement. No one learns anything, gains anything, or changes in any way.

The villain is an opaque psychopath. We have no idea what motivates him--events suggest he doesn’t even care that much about the money. I’ve been told I’m supposed to achieve ironic distance from the toying banter he initiates with his soon-to-be victims, and find it funny. I don’t. I resent the idea that I’m supposed to find outright butchery ironically funny, even in a movie. This is not a fantasy. Some people have said, “Oh, you don’t like violent movies.” Guess what—I did part of my graduate work on SLASHER FILMS. Violence has a place in movies, and can be quite satisfying in its way. But there is no distance from this savagery. It’s relentless and realistic; it could happen to anyone. That’s the message—over and over—getting a clean, perfect hole through your skull is meaningless and random. It gave me a stomachache.

There’s no story. Nothing happens. Unless you count someone running with a bag of money while someone else chases them a plot. I don’t. It’s a lazy framework that just provides an excuse for all the shooting.

Everyone (including my own dear husband) keeps saying, “But it’s pretty to look at. The cinematography is amazing.” So freakin’ what? Sunsets are pretty to look at, but I don’t want to stare at one for 2 and a half hours. Am I supposed to be lulled into some coma of cinematic appreciation because someone shot the sky so beautifully? I’m too busy feeling sick about how they shot the heads. And don’t get me started on how there are no women in this movie, except lovely, doomed Carla Jean, who has the stupid luck to be married to Llewelyn and is swiftly shunted out of the way so the boys can play tag.

I could go on all day about how hideous an experience it was to watch this movie, and how much it galls me that the critics are having an orgy with it. I could tell you about how I had nightmares afterwards, and how in subsequent days I kept checking all the locks when I was at home (not that locks would help me—Anton uses the cow killer to blow out any lock.) But instead I’ll leave you with a quote from Andrew Sarris of The New York Observer, the lone dissenter amongst the critics, who came up with the word “nihilism” to describe these proceedings, which he says he “cannot look at…in any other way than as an exercise in cosmic futility” and likens to “a quick in-and-out visit to hell.” Maybe I’ll write him a fan letter and invite him to our Oscar party, and the two of us can stick our fingers in our ears and shout “LA LA LA!” over Nicole Kidman handing the Coens the Academy Award for Best Picture. Which will totally happen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Review: “So You Think You Can Dance” Tour, San Diego Sports Arena, November 19

I agreed with the Entertainment Weekly review that called “SYTYCD” the only true talent competition on television. Except for the early auditions featuring the attention-starved angling for their 15 minutes (a lead-footed hothead who calls himself Sex?) these contestants are actually professional dancers, and they challenge themselves (and the viewers) by taking on styles they’ve never performed before (e.g., ballroom dancers tackling hip-hop, and b-boys performing lyrical contemporary.)

In a twist that Fox might not have predicted (but now gleefully capitalizes on,) the choreographers for the show have become celebrities in their own right. In particular, the quiet and enigmatic Wade Robson concocts routines that range from surreally haunting to silly-quirky (Neil and Lauren’s angel/devil number to “Night of the Dancing Flame” combines both) and his name often elicits cheers even before the dancers hit the stage.

While the touring show is sans judges and chirpy host, Cat Deeley, it retains the basic structure of the televised show, with most of the numbers performed by couples, interspersed with solos (not much to write home about) and a few show-stopping group numbers that don’t skimp on the feathers. This year’s “Top 10 Dancers” perform in various combinations, with the help of four alternates, Anya, Shauna, Hok and Jesus--all four more than hold their own with the viewer-chosen Top 10.

One odd addition is the “banter” between pairs of dancers who stroll out between numbers, as when Dominic (a fan favorite for his self-deprecating goofiness and eye-popping breaking) is challenged by Sara to perform popular scenes from Broadway musicals. It’s as strained as it sounds (clearly the bits had to be scripted in advance) and goes on forever. I mused to My Companion that they must be buying time for costume changes, but he suggests (I think correctly) that the television audience became attached to these charismatic young people for more than just their dancing, and craved a little face time as a perk of seeing the tour. Fair enough, but I could have done without it. Which is not to say that the show feels padded. It begins at 8:20 and doesn't end until nearly 11:00 (including one intermission) and considering each dance averages about 2 minutes, I run out of paper scraps to record the deluge.

This year’s winner, Sabra Johnson, is a bit of a Cinderella story because she’s only been dancing four years. Despite this amazing fact, there is no style that she doesn’t make look easy, from her quick step with Pasha to “Mr. Pin Stripe Suit” to her paso doble with Neil, which finishes with her coiled around his body, dropping like a hoop over a peg in a county fair ring toss. She also wows in a surprisingly sweet Shane Sparks hip hop routine with Dominic, her first partner on the show. The two of them have such chemistry that they elicit chills from a simple lift in which she entwines her legs around his torso and he slowly spins her above his head as they gaze into each other’s eyes. Sabra appears in several group numbers, too, but doesn’t receive any more stage time than the others just because she’s the winner. On the road, they’re all winners.

Sabra performs a solo routine, as they all do, but the only one of the ten to make me sit up and clap is—surprisingly—Dominic, who definitely has the least formal training of the group. His floor spins with his legs through a plastic garden chair show both his dexterity and his great sense of humor, and Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” always puts me in the mood to boogie.

My Companion and I had wondered if some of the routines would suffer from their transplant from the screen, even though we have excellent seats on the floor and perfect sight lines in the first row of our section. Mostly, they don’t. True, routines with complicated floor detail are harder to see, since the stage is above us; one example is Pasha and Lauren’s hip-hop “Transformers” routine, because we miss some of their entwined robot moves at the beginning and end.

That Shane Sparks routine is a personal favorite, and in general I find myself marveling at the versatility of Pasha, the Russian ballroom dancer (there seems to be a hot one every season.) Unlike some of the other ballroom experts, he is able to jettison his smooth transitions for the sharp edges hip hop requires. He’s just as impressive in “Transformers” as when he sizzles through a hot cha-cha with Anya (another ballroom gal, who auditioned with him.)

One number that actually benefits from going live is Mia Michaels “Two Princes” routine with Danny and Neil to “Are You the One?” Young girls of every age swoon and scream as the two lithe and leggy men take the stage in royal garb, seated on velvet thrones. Choreography that I had found oddly jerky and incoherent in close-up gains gravity and power on the stage, and the height of their kicks and leaps has me agog. It’s one of just a few routines that actually gives me chills.

Another one is “Time” with Lacey and Neil, also by Mia Michaels, which no one can forget because the show (both televised and live) keeps harping on it. It’s the story of Mia meeting her father in heaven, amidst a field of colorful daisies. That sounds worse than it actually is, but David finds it cloying and negligible. I weep, but I wonder if the song itself has something to do with the tear-jerking. In any case, I have a problem with Mia Michaels because her choreography contains a preponderance of violent throws and apparently a directive to the men to let their shoulders and arms hang slack like meerkats, which I find disturbing and not pretty. This confession will be unpopular and probably makes me sound like a dance Philistine, but there you have it. I sort of have a love-hate thing with Mia.

Speaking of exciting, two highlights of the evening come courtesy of choreography by former contestants, Dmitri Chaplin and last season’s winner, Benji Schwimmer. Benji’s West Coast Swing to “Rockefeller Skank” for Pasha and Sara blows up in big bursts of spinning and twisting, as if the moves can barely ground the dancers from exploding right off the stage. Dmitri’s samba for Lacey and Danny combines three amazing elements with his sexy choreography: the best Latin dancer of the women, the man with the most gorgeous extensions, and probably my favorite song of the season, Club des Beluga’s “Hip Hip Chin Chin.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but I want more of it, baby. The place where the music crashes down in time to a righteous tushy bump from Lacey is like pure joy personified. The two of them slink and snap around each other so cleanly, it’s like watching them get turned into taffy.

Hok Konishi, as an alternate, doesn’t appear nearly enough in this show for my taste, but I’ve been partial to him since last season when he got ejected during the Vegas auditions for a problem with his work visa. I was hoping he’d be back, and while—as a breaker—he’s not very skilled at ballroom and contemporary in general, he blows me away in Wade Robson’s “The Hummingbird and the Flower.” He’s partnered by Jaimie Goodwin, a contemporary dancer, who left the show before her time as far as I’m concerned; she brings elegance and real passion to every move she makes. The two of them are gorgeously matched in this routine, performed to the heartbreaking “The Chairman’s Waltz” from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s amazing I like this routine for several reasons: it’s slow, the dancers are representing animals, the “story” is incomprehensible, and it’s danced to a song with no lyrics (I’m a word girl.) But the dance is a testament to all that is right with the show—a famous pop choreographer who surprises himself (and us) with a lyrical piece, two dancers on the margins who steal the show, and a dancer who triumphs over his training limitations in a performance that is truly mesmerizing.

In general, I enjoy the pairs more than the group numbers, not because the group numbers (which include great choreography from Wade Robson and Broadway expert Tyce Diorio) aren’t impressive, but because they appear cluttered on the stage, without the multiple camera angles to help me focus on individual contributions. One exception (and in fact the only number of its kind in the entire show) is “Mein Herr” from Cabaret, choreographed by Tyce Diorio, and featuring Danny, Neil, Lauren and Sabra. Watching just four dancers, I can admire the seamless interplay between them, combined with the combustible energy with which they tear around the stage.

The show leaves me exhausted but exhilarated, convinced that the tour is in no way a cringing shadow of the TV show, simply a way to cash in on its success. Make no mistake, though, the tour is cashing in—if you have any doubts, you can cover your ears to the screams of “I love you, Neil!” from the packed arena, or plunk down your $35 for a tour t-shirt. But in the immortal words of “Hip Hip Chin Chin,” “Tonight…let’s celebrate…the rhythm section!” I’ll bump to that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bouncin' and Behavin'

Jarrah had her first haircut today. Well, unless you count the (possibly more than one) head shavings before her first birthday. But this is the first time anyone's molested a hair on her head since February 6, 2006--that much I know.

Like going to the dentist, getting a haircut involved full-body drapery and sharp objects in one's immediate head space. Unlike the dentist, our lovely stylist, Corina, didn't diagnose anything more worrisome than split ends. She did prescribe hacking them off, however, so we compromised on layers.

The big event went down at a place called Little Locks in the neighborhood of Bird Rock. Yes, Readers, every bit as adorable as it sounds. I figured a splurge was in order for a "first time." As it happened, the total came to $15, and while I've got nothing to compare it to, that seemed pretty reasonable for the experience.

That experience included a choice of vehicles on which to perch (Jarrah chose the motorcycle--that's my girl), flat-screen Thomas and Wiggles for distraction, and a post-tonsorial lollipop (wahoo!) It did not include a shampoo or blow-dry, which is probably just as well (no one else was getting that, either.) The look on Jarrah's face was priceless each time Corina spritzed her down with the spray bottle.

Jarrah was calm, even nonchalant, throughout the cut. She had a tendency to follow the scissors with her eyes (and hence, her head) and had to be reminded gently to look up, but otherwise, she didn't even seem that interested in the proceedings. She did like playing with the train table, doll house, table-top sand box, and giant 3-D dinosaur book (the salon is also a toy store--somebody is smart!) while waiting, so perhaps she was already jaded by the time she reached the chair--whoops, I mean, the hog.

We forgot the camera, so that gives you an idea how sentimental we were feeling about the whole affair, but I did get a little misty when Corina gathered up the first snip, placed it in a tiny pouch, and tied it to a card reading "My First Haircut."

I must have been standing too close to the spray bottle. Yeah, that was it.

P.S. The photos are from David's cell phone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Everyone fantasizes that their child is perfect (don't they?) so it's a resounding blow when they turn out to have flaws. In Jarrah's case, the flaws are hidden deep in her sparkling, white teeth.

You know, the teeth she's had for LESS THAN A YEAR. Hello! How can they get ruined so fast? Was it too many fruit leathers? Don't answer that.

We had Jarrah's first dentist appointment on Tuesday, and superficially, it went pretty well. She cried during the x-rays, but I don't blame her; I often want to cry when they wedge those hard little origami shapes into my soft palate, too. She was a docile lamb during the cleaning, and even seemed to dig sucking on the air tube. She even submitted without struggle to the dentist exam with the pokey thing.

It was during that exam that I sensed things going south. First of all, he was doing way too much talking, all about "buccal" and "pulp" and other words you don't want to hear. "Shiny" and "dazzling," yes. But please, spare us the pulp.

Turns out Jarrah has a whole mess of cavities. "Is it genetic?" I asked, wanting immediately to extricate myself from the hook. "That, and diet and dental care," the dentist said. He was young, and very handsome. He congratulated me for adopting. Enough said about that. Okay, one more thing. I wish I had asked him if he has children, and then exclaimed, "Congratulations for having sex! What a wonderful thing you did."

This doc doesn't mess around with toddler cavities. He offered two options, but only after Jarrah was discreetly led away to claim her balloon. ("Oh, so sorry. Thanks for playing! We have some nice parting gifts for you.") Both the options involved drugs, either oral or intraveneous. One of them involved strapping Jarrah down to something called a "papoose board." Yes, Readers, let your imaginations run wild with that. They won't end up anywhere good.

And then, as I'm sitting there gripped in a full-blown panic attack at the thought of my baby going to sleep and never waking up, or the alluring alternative of her being awake and trussed like a goose so she fears dentists the rest of her life, a nice lady presents me with the break-down of costs, none covered by insurance. As my eyebrows were disappearing into my hairline, I mused:

Oh my stars, kids are expensive. I knew that, but I hadn't realized how UNPREDICTABLY expensive.

We're still on the fence about what to do. I never imagined making this kind of decision so early in the game, but that's just silly, because...does anyone? You take it as it comes.

And because my morning had been a little too relaxing, I had to go to my own dentist in the afternoon, an emergency appointment for a broken filling. And because I've developed some kind of Dental Panic Disorder in the past five years, it took about a dozen freakin' shots to get me numb, and I was still yelping and waving my left arm like a drowning victim every time she so much as shadowed me with the drill. Three hours later, I had my new filling, and the left side of my head was frozen from neck to eyeball until bedtime.

Teeth, why must you torment us so?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

All in a Row

I went to the doctor today, and although I got an appointment on the spot when I called, and waited only five minutes at the office, it was a miserable experience.

See, I've had this cold thing for going on two weeks now, and I started thinking I could have a sinus infection, or bronchitis, or something, and that I should just get someone to listen to my chest already. But I got a more enthusiastic response than I bargained for.

He had me breathe into some Breathylizer-type unit, after which he shook his head and said, "Well, that doesn't look good." It doesn't? Apparently, he wanted 370, and got only 170. He left the room and came back with literally a buffet of sample meds, pills and potions and inhalers, and wanted me to take all of them and an aspirin and call him in two weeks. "Then we'll go from there," he said portentously. We will? So, I should medicate myself to the gills for two weeks in the hope of ruling something out? Or in?

I tried not to come unglued when he asked me my age twice with a 20-second gap in between, and asked Jarrah's name and occupation three times during our visit. But I really started to panic (interesting that I felt more panic than annoyance) when he started talking about her like she wasn't there. Now, Jarrah is almost three, and looks older by at least a year. So doesn't it stand to reason that she's a sentient being who's going to understand that someone is talking about her when they're standing 18 inches away?

"She Chinese?"

"Yes," I smiled.

"You go over to get her?"

"Yes, we did."

"My sister-in-law has two kids from China. What an amazing thing to see them bloom like little flowers once they got over here."


"So you went to the orphanage and everything?"

"Yes." (quieter now)

"And they had all these little girls just laid out in rows?"

"Mmm." (barely audible)

Jarrah had been vigorously scaling the furniture, but she turned around and observed us during this conversation. Mostly she watched me. I think she really wondered what her mommy was going to say about this business with blooming and rows. And her mommy kinda let her down, because I didn't say much. I sat there and had a conversation as clinical as the one I'd just had about my lungs. As if she wasn't my daughter, but someone I'd met on vacation and brought back here to see the sights. Or worse, not even a stranger, but someone not quite human. An acquisition. I had this same feeling during a very early doctor's visit with a key difference: Jarrah didn't speak English then. Not just because she was 14-months-old, but because she'd only heard it for a few weeks. So while I did burn with fury then for the insult to ME, this time I ached for my unacknowledged child.

"She's right behind you," I should have said. "Why don't you ask her where she's from?"

I will learn, I suppose. I'm a slow learner, but I get things eventually.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It's all November-y out there, and it freaks me right out.

We've "fallen back," it's getting dark at 4:30, and there's a chill in the air that brings my shoulders up around my ears. ("Don't wear your ears as a necklace!" my beloved Iyengar teacher, Ken, used to say to the class. Miss you, Ken. Maybe Novembers are nicer in Kauai.)

And this is nothing. When I lived in Massachusetts, the darkness came even earlier, and it got way colder. A girl could get seriously depressed, and she did.

Sometimes, I'd come out of classes in November and hard bits of snow would find their way under my coat lapel, first stinging, then melting. Suddenly, in my mind I was bereft, friendless, unloved, knowing it wouldn't be warm again until May. It was a long way to my car in the dark.

When I first graduated from college, I worked as a temp at MIT. My boss was not a cheerful woman, but she had a good excuse; her 4-year-old son was dying of leukemia. She left early most days for his doctor appointments, and I intermittently watched the clock and read my grim English novels, in a windowless office that smelled, inexplicably, of menstrual blood. At 5:00, I'd walk to the subway with my scarf wrapped around the lower half of my head, eyes on the sidewalk, surrounded by other people who, apparently, worked for a living. I was 21, and I thought: If I have to do this for even one whole winter, I will kill myself.

Hey, I was 21. But even in balmy San Diego, November hits me hard. It doesn't help that the change nips at the heels of turning another year older, and rings in a season of forced consumption and gaiety that historically brings out my inner curmudgeon.

And isn't it crazy? Although I believe what I've written here to be true, the start of November, more than anything, triggers nostalgia, makes me yearn for a time when I reveled in my ennui, cozy in the poetry and romance of youth.

More Proof I Got the Daughter I Deserve

am enters living room, where Jarrah is ostensibly watching Finding Nemo. Sam notes with surprise that Jarrah is sitting cross-legged on the floor, with her back to the television.

Sam: Hello. What's up?

Jarrah: You're in big trouble!

Sam: I am?

Jarrah: Go to your room right now! You're in time out!

Sam: Um...okay.

Sam walks into office. A few seconds go by. Jarrah follows, standing in doorway.

Jarrah: You have something you want to say to me?

Sam: Hmmmm.

Jarrah: Okay, come with me. Sit on your bum and watch the movie.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Last night was Halloween, and Jarrah went trick-or-treating for the second time. She was a bumble bee. I got the idea when we saw "Winnie the Pooh" at the Junior Theatre this summer, and Jarrah was mesmerized by the big production numbers with dancing bees around the perimeter. "I want to be bee!" she exclaimed, several times. I made a note of that. After a lengthy search for a costume that was neither too fluffy nor too sexy (what is UP with the sexy toddler costumes?) and did not cost as much as a Dior original, I hit the jackpot. See for yourself!

The daytime pics were from "Haunted Aquarium," an annual event that is supposed to take place at night, but got rescheduled due to the fires. I think it ended up being just as fun as the dark version last year. That's Joy, Olivia and Linda with Jarrah.

The nighttime pics are from Scot and Synthia's annual Halloween shindig, for which they provide a pizza dinner to friends and their assorted young ones, plus a cozy starting line for trick-or-treating in the form of their house, nestled in the historic neighborhood of Burlingame. It didn't occur to me until today how all the kids seem to be girls!

Jarrah enjoyed trick-or-treating last year, but somehow in a year she's become a total professional. She went up and down steps on her own, holding steady in the crowds of big kids, and remembered to say "Trick-or-Treat!" and "Thank you!" She didn't like any dilly-dallying between houses, and would command "Next house!" if we tried to wait for anyone. Considering how candy is like the nectar of the Gods to her, I was impressed how she respected my oft-repeated instructions not to eat anything enroute.

The one way that she is still my Halloween baby showed up in her fear of "scary" houses. At nearly every house, even if it simply had a porch light and a friendly old lady waving and calling "How cute!" she asked, "It's not a scary house?" "No, not scary," I'd say. "It's friend-y?" she'd persist. "Only friend-y monsters?"

And the houses that were actually trying to be scary, with the dry ice and spiders and witches and ghosts and mummies? Well, we stayed on the sidewalk for those. She wasn't taking any chances. At one house where she wasn't quite sure, she gripped my hand and we walked all the way up the steps towards the strobe lights, and then she suddenly thought better of it, spun on her heel and sprinted back down.

That's okay. There's always next year to work on that bravery.