Thursday, July 30, 2009

Viva La Difference

This morning, I had a massage with my "regular" gal. I put that in quotes because she's often booked by the time I think to make an appointment, so I actually haven't seen her in several months. I'm lying on the table getting comfortable and she says:

"Did you just come from yoga?"

I wasn't sure why she asked that. I got a little self-conscious that I might be sort of damp, because I had just gotten out of the shower.

"No." I'm experimenting with what it's like to answer questions "yes" or "no" without automatic disclaimers. It feels really weird.

"Oh. Have you been working out?"

Now I was really self-conscious. She must be grossed out by my wet hair or something.

"Um, I just came from the gym? And I had a shower? And maybe...?"

She interrupted. "I can tell you've been working out. Your body is...different."

She couldn't see me smiling, but I was. Different? I like that. It sounded appropriate, coming from a massage therapist.

"Yeah, well, I've lost a bunch of weight. I notice it when I'm having a massage because my bones...are closer to the surface."

We both giggled crazily. And then we both went back to our business--she with the massaging, and me with the deep breathing and relaxing.

Here's what I was thinking, though. "I just got a really amazing compliment from someone I hardly ever see, who noticed my body is 'different' just by FEELING it, and now she's also going to rub oil on me for an hour? Did I just win the psychic lottery or what?"

That's what I was thinking.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You're Soaking In It

Sam: Jarrah, when you eat a popsicle, you have to clean up the mess afterward. There's red everywhere, even on the carpet.

Jarrah: You need Clorox bleach.

Sam: I don't think so. Clorox bleach would turn the carpet white.

Jarrah: No. (she walks determinedly over to the laundry shelf and points) It works. It's also great for laundry.

Sam: And how did you learn so much about the wonders of Clorox bleach?

Jarrah: From TV. It teaches me things.

Sam: It teaches you things? What kind of things?

Jarrah: Things. Like, how to remove stains.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Resign Yourself: You're Through

I've been musing about emotions lately, or rather, how when we are four years old, we're too young to appreciate how simple they are. You get mad--you yell a lot and stomp your feet. You get happy--you laugh and smile and clap your hands. You get sad--you cry, and then sometimes you get the fruit leather after all. Piece of cake. (Mmmm, cake. Simple, see?)

I got to thinking about the more complicated feelings because Mary was nice enough to watch Jarrah today while I taught my dance class at the preschool. Turns out Jarrah has an ear infection, but she's been on antibiotics for 24 hours, so Mary was brave. Big hugs, Mary! (See? We've got some emotions going on right there.) When I met them at the mall for the hand-off, Mary whispered that Joy got jealous today, and told her mommy she wanted her all to herself. They worked it out, but I wondered aloud if Jarrah even knows what jealousy is yet. I've never seen her express anything of that kind, unless it was over fruit leather, and that doesn't really apply, in my book.

As I was driving home, I glanced back at her in the rear view mirror a few times, wondering if she would fall asleep. She's been pretty wiped out the past week; now we know why. Mostly, I saw her apply and reapply the Cotton Candy Lip Smacker that generous Mary bought her at Target. I wondered if there was a care in her head.

I started thinking about my class today, and how the theme was Feelings. Dancing our feelings, to be more specific. I started out by demonstrating some movements that I asked them to interpret for me with the question "How am I feeling?" They all screamed "sad!" when I was looking for "shy," and "mad!" when I was looking for "frustrated." The most basic of whatever. When I tried to do "embarrassed," I looked back at five shining faces with no comprehension whatsoever. I understand that, at their age, they may have experienced some mild embarrassment already, but I don't think they know what it might look like, since they weren't looking at themselves at the time. Either that or I do terrible impressions.

Later, looking at Jarrah, I wondered how much she gets embarrassed. How often she feels sad in the adult way, a low-belly ache with a shivery sensation up the spine that comes and goes in waves for days or weeks or months. The heavy feet and heavier heart. I'll bet she hasn't had to do that yet. I fervently hope not. Or felt so jealous she could spit. Flew into a rage that made her want to say something really, really stupid (when she's mad at us, the furthest she ventures is "You're not my best friend!") And forget lust, gluttony, sloth, your basic evils. I'm not sure I could even explain those. I guess that's the point. No one ever explains them. You get older and you start having more feelings, and they're messy and horrible or horribly wonderful because they're a tasteful (or nauseating) melange of several feelings at once, and then you are standing there--reeling--thinking "What the hell is happening to me?" All that hideous reflection and analysis. Jarrah doesn't analyze stuff. She quickly, incisively, assesses whether the situation is an opportunity to either receive or be deprived of fruit leather, and reacts accordingly. Sad, mad and happy pretty much cover it.

And damn, if that doesn't bring up all kinds of messy feelings in me. Awe. Delight. Protectiveness. Tenderness. Fear (for when the time comes--and it will come--that things aren't so simple.) And jealousy. Yes, jealousy, because there was no doubt a time when emotions were just as simple for me, and I don't have the pleasure of remembering it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What We Do

Poor Jarrah has some kind of summer sickness. This morning she woke up with a fever and says her ear hurts. Luckily, our amazing pediatrician has triage hours on the weekends, so I think we'll get her checked out later. She didn't like that idea when I mentioned it. She's been waking up early but falling asleep during the day and then staying up until 10:00. Now she's lying on the couch watching Dora and eating raspberries with brown sugar, but only because we're out of cantaloupe.

We were supposed to go to ComiCon today, which in case you didn't know, is a big deal. It's a comic convention in downtown San Diego that's been going on since last century. A few years ago, it exploded, and now every major movie does a preview at the Con with big stars to promote it. Now that it's a pop culture phenom, the tickets sell out six months in advance, so you really have to plan ahead. Last year, Jarrah really loved seeing all the people in costume (many of them dressed like Star Wars or Star Trek characters) and asked to go as a witch this year. She was also looking forward to sharing the Buffy Musical Sing-a-long with her friend Joy. She's pretty disappointed, but we had a long day planned with a trolley ride (you can't park in downtown during the Con) and eight jam-packed hours of events, and that is just not happening today. This is the one part of parenting I will probably never get used to; you can't just push through like you do when you're an adult. Everything changes. Or everything stops.

It's already been a busy weekend. Friday night I house managed at the theater. I wasn't sure what was involved, but it turned out to be an easy gig. (Though I was a little nervous when Dave the director greeted me at the door with "Do you know how to make coffee?" The actual answer is "No," but I said "Is that part of my job description?") I ended up sitting outside on the porch in the summer twilight with Duke (he's one of the other actors; I've known him a while--sweet guy) with a magic box filled with envelopes, and whenever someone came up the stairs, we gave them one. There was very little actual money changing hands, and many of the patrons were eager to be entertained by our witty banter. A few even recognized us from previous shows. When it was time, Dave shooed me inside (he said I could be more useful "supporting the actors") and I watched the show for the second time, which was almost as fun except I knew what was going to be under Shelley's shirt when she unzipped it. At intermission, I stood behind the snack table and gestured to the coffee pot, "allowing" people to pour their own and choose their own cookies. When the lights went down, I scurried back to my seat. David--who was making a video--was working much harder.

Afterward, we followed the cast and crew to a restaurant where they've been holding court after their triumphant performances, a venue where the general public can worship in the temple of their excellence (I know that's what I was doing.) It was a gorgeous night, so we headed outside, and I slammed down a Cosmopolitan with slightly less panache than Carrie Bradshaw--in fact, I was a bit of an idiot, having taught Nia just before, a bit dehydrated and hungry, which makes alcohol go straight to my head. (David says I'm an efficient drunk--drunk fast, then sober fast.) I did some uninhibited yelling about politics and literature and who knows what else and laughed myself silly. Last year at this time, I didn't know any of the people at the table--it's hard to imagine that now.

I was pretty tired Saturday morning, but excited--I was heading to the OC to spend the day with my friend Bryan. I have known Bryan longer than most anyone. We met in Drama class in high school--in a gesture of touching intimacy, he lied and told me he was a senior (like me) when he was actually a freshman. Later, he said he couldn't help that I am hopelessly gullible. We were both new to the theater thing, and ended up doing our "thespian initiation" together, which sounds more painful than it was. We rehearsed and performed a scene from Taming of the Shrew in which he actually sat on me while I kicked and screamed. To this day, he will sometimes greet me with "A combless cock! Then Kate shall be my hen!"

I guess we really hit it off, because we're still close all these years later, even if we don't talk for a while. I will say that many of my relationships involved nightly calls to Bry to bitch and moan. (Guess that's why those relationships didn't last?) Sometimes he'd say "hello?" and the first thing he heard was my sob. He always recognized it, too. We aren't just sunshine and roses--we're both hot heads, and have had our spats. He hates my driving, for some reason, and refuses to get in a car with me. Even though he has a bunch of tickets and I have a perfect driving record--I'm just saying.

We met at this cafe near our parents' houses that I really love, and that is where we stayed for the rest of the day. His father's birthday party was in the evening (I went--in fact, every member of his family came to my wedding) so at one point we wandered next door to the supermarket (ssshhh, don't tell) to buy a DVD of one of the old movies Bryan loves (he actually has the most valuable collection of Betty Grable memorabilia in America, no joke) and a card and then we wandered right back to our outdoor table. Otherwise, we didn't get up except to procure baked goods until the sun started going down. That's how much we can talk. Seeing Bryan is like a shot of Vitamin B to my heart or something--it reminds me that, for all these years, there's been someone who is always willing to listen to me, no matter what kind of ridiculous thing I have to say. And that's pretty amazing, because I can say some ridiculous things.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You Know You're A Mom When...'re getting dressed in a hurry, you reach into your drawer for some undies, and just as you're about to step into them, you notice they have a Laughing Elmo pattern.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barely Legal and Not Loving It

Summer is definitely the most nostalgic time of year for me. Some people have Christmas or Thanksgiving; I have sticky, steamy summer memories.

I was 18, and had just finished my first year at Smith College. I was a little shaken that it had ended. I felt changed. Most of my friends were on the east coast for the summer, cocktail waitressing on the Cape or cleaning houses on Martha's Vineyard. I didn't know anything about Martha or her vineyard, but it certainly sounded romantic.

But I was back home in Orange County, blinking in the ridiculously bright sun, wondering where all the trees went. None of my siblings had left home yet, but I had been gone for nearly a year, and definitely felt like an interloper now. I didn't know the rhythm of the household anymore, and I resented not being able to sleep until noon and order pizza at 2 a.m.

My parents were firm on one point: if I lived with them, I had to get a full-time job, right away. I wasn't sure what I was qualified to do, but then my dad suggested temping. I can type, so I made some appointments at agencies, where I would spend an entire day proving I could spell and taking endless tutorials on now-extinct word processing programs.

It wasn't long before I got a call, though I didn't know then that this job would define my summer. I don't quit things much; I'm sort of dogged and determined to a fault. Plenty of things I should have quit, but a combination of loyalty and inertia kept me rooted. My first temp job was probably one of those instances.

It was the lowest of the low in the temping world. No, not data entry. Not answering phones all day. Not even copy girl. File clerk. And if that wasn't bad enough, for an auto insurance company, and not a major one. A teeny-tiny insurance company, in Laguna Niguel, in a warehouse park out past where the lions used to roam (that part is not poetic license--there was a place called Lion Country Safari out there, but they shut it down.)

My boss, Kim, was a platinum-blonde spitfire about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Because she was pregnant, possibly with quads, from the size of her belly. She was very tan, had a smoker's voice, and pulled no punches. You didn't mess with Kim, or her unborn child would kick you, just like in that movie trailer.

There were four "adjusters," as they were called for some reason, lined up in cubicles along the left wall. They were the heart and soul of my department; I mostly filed for them. And they needed a lot of filing. They were on the phone all day, in various states of false cheer and fury, depending on how "the insured" was behaving on the other end of the line. And there were lots of these insureds...and none of them was very happy when they called. Which made me realize something at a very young age: Hardly anyone is happy when they call their insurance company. Which is why working in insurance is not fun. Luckily, I didn't have a phone. Just a bunch of cabinets. There were the cabinets in each adjuster's cube--they were each responsible for part of the alphabet. And then there was a whole wall of files near the front door.

I really am a very good alphabetizer, but as I learned, an even better sleuth. The biggest risk of the job was getting an insured on the phone whose file had vanished. That's when I became the Monk of the insurance world, scanning the crime scene for clues that would lead me to a precious manila tab folder. Had it fallen behind a desk? Inexplicably landed on Brenda's chair over in accounting? Disappeared into the dark maw of the archives in sector 11? Been filed under the insured's first name? Middle name? Name of their car? Didn't matter--whatever the mystery, I could solve it. Eventually. And I became known for my skillz. People in other departments started summoning me to work my magic, because in those days, all the records were paper and nothing could get done until that @#$%& file was found.

I developed intricate relationships with all four adjusters. There was cheery Darcy of E-L. She had warm brown eyes and a high, flutey voice that was the least likely to be yelling. She and I laughed together, talked about school, her crazy dating life. She had more patience than the others. Then there was Brian, of A-D. Brian was the settled family man of the group, though he was young, too. He had an unflattering mustache and wore ill-fitting suits, but had hair that reminded me of one of the Cassidy boys. He had little kids, which made him seem ancient, and he spoke to me gently, almost tenderly. He was so organized he rarely lost a file. Marla of S-Z was a brassy blonde in tight, short skirts and a deep, Demi voice. She was usually the one actually screaming into the phone, sometimes slamming it down in a rage. Her cube was a hurricane of thrown files. She was quiet and sort of intense, but she often asked me to lunch, peeling onto the sidewalk when she didn't want to wait for traffic.

Then there was Jeff. Ah, Jeff. His cubicle name plate said Jeff Scott, but I later learned that was actually his middle name. He didn't use his last name, because it was the same as the owner of the company. I'll give you one guess why. His license plate had his real initials on it. Jeff wasn't a big guy, but he was beautiful. He was tan with feathery hair and sea-green eyes, the kind you can fall into. He had the cutest little nose I'd ever seen, and beautiful teeth. He always dressed well, and while he was friends with the other adjusters, the whole place treated him with a noticeable reverence. It took me longer to get to know Jeff than the other three, but let's just say that eventually I was finding a LOT of filing to do in M-R. Yup, somehow those Martinezes were ALWAYS out of order, and I couldn't rest before they were set to rights. But it wasn't one-sided. Jeff would come find me for "special" assignments, often ones that had to be worked on in his cubicle. We teased each other and called each other names. I remember one time he summoned me, whipped around in his chair and thrust a letter in my face. "What do you make of this, S?" I stared at the badly spelled letter. "What do I make of it?" I said slowly, staring into the afternoon tides in his eyes. "I think I've seen more punctuation on your license plate." I smirked, turned on my heel, and sashayed down the hall, not missing the appreciative look on his face as I went.

But I never really thought about getting with him. He was older than me, I knew, but I was never sure how much. And did I mention he was beautiful? I'd never dated a man prettier than me. Also, one day when I was sweating over the front file case, Jeff came in with a girl. "That's his girlfriend," the other file clerk hissed. I studied her. She was dark and smooth, with pounds of glossy, black hair that she seemed to be carefully balancing on her shoulders. Her eyes were wide and black, like she'd recently been startled by something. She had a teeny-weeny waist and big other stuff, all encased in a skin-tight pink dress, teetering on high pink shoes. I looked down at my flowered skirt and smudgy t-shirt and my ballet slippers, and caught a glimpse of my "I'm growing out an unfortunate hatchet job another student who fancies herself a hair stylist gave me in the dorm kitchen, trying to minimize the damage with this banana clip" hairstyle and sighed. Jeff Scott was definitely not going to be my boyfriend.

The weeks went by, and Jeff tormented me about how I would be "going back to Massachusetts soon, just picking up and leaving us, like you never even cared" and I grimaced, lost for a comeback, because it was true. The whole reason I could show up cheerfully each day, submit to Kim's militaristic 8:00 line-up, carry my dusty stacks of files from cubicle to cubicle, was knowing that in six weeks, I'd be back in Neilson Library, reading amazing books surrounded by gorgeous architecture that had been standing since 1871. I could afford to love my insurance life because it was not going to last. Brian, Darcy, Marla and Jeff would still be shouting at the insureds when I was 3,000 miles away, no more alphabetizing for me.

Then one Tuesday, there were rumors. Rumors that all the temps over in accounting had been let go that morning, to save money. As the day went on, the rumors spread. And finally, the rumor that every temp in the company would be fired before the day was through. I was worried, but my people were beside themselves. What will we do without you, I heard from Darcy, Brian, Marla, and all the rest. Jeff kept quiet. After all, he might have known about this before any of us.

Sure enough, Kim approached as it neared 5:00. "I'm sorry, Sam, but this will be your last day. Bring me your time card. It's been a pleasure having you here this summer." I don't think I cried, though I do things like that. But there was a buzzing, hollow feeling in my head. I wondered what I would do now. But mostly, I wondered if I would ever see Jeff Scott again.

He caught up with me as everyone was leaving. We chatted, awkwardly at first. Eventually, we were alone, and we sat on the curb in the August heat, staring at our shoes and talking about life. I don't remember what we talked about now. We were very close, almost touching. But not quite. The whole summer, we never once mentioned his girlfriend. Finally, it was starting to get dark. I wondered who might be waiting for him, and what he would say about where he'd been. I wondered if my mom was worried, but probably not--ever since I started college, she'd been very lax about my comings and goings. We drove onto the freeway together, and he pulled up alongside of me. I was listening to Aretha Franklin; I remember that much. We started racing each other. On the freeway, at rush hour! Crazy kids. I was laughing my head off, and we were weaving in and out of traffic. And then it was my exit, and we waved, and he was out of sight. I never saw him again.

I spent the rest of the summer doing data entry for a medical company that sold heart pumps. Except for the woman who signed my time card on Fridays, I never spoke to a single person.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And The Living Is Easy

A real "in the summertime, when the weather is high" kind of day:

Friday night--quite late--we got a surprise call from David's cousin Kath, who was passing through SoCal on the way back from her honeymoon in Columbia (I sort of loved her instantly for honeymooning in Columbia) and hoped we could get together before they headed back to like 24 hours. We made a plan for them to come to the house for breakfast about 9:00 and were up with the birds preparing. But that, um, didn't happen. Not sure why. They called about 10:15 and said they were on their way to Kobey's Swap Meet, and we decided to meet them there. Now we have a lot of bagels, but really, can you ever have too many?

Kobey's was surprisingly not like the seventh circle of hell, and when we finally found Kath and her husband, Lior, I found them instantly delightful. (They were staying with some guys in Mission Beach through the Couchsurfing website--a wonderful resource for...young people.) Together, we rooted through some trash for other people's treasures, (Jarrah could hardly believe her luck that grown-ups were setting the precedent for this) tried on heart sunglasses, and introduced our new friends to their first Hawaiian Shave Ice, which they loved and took lots of photos of. Kath also achieved her goal of purchasing a bagful of Mexican wrestling masks, which she said were "an amazing deal" at $7.00 each. David and I looked at each other and shrugged, not sure how one would know that was a deal.

As we chatted, we found out that Kath and Lior were already so smitten with SD that they hoped to come live here...and this was after seeing only Mission Beach and Kobey's Swap Meet. My resident pride compelled me to amend the narrowness of this impression, and I suggested we go to La Jolla for lunch. We all crammed into David's car and off we went.

La Jolla was gorgeous as ever, but crowded and hot. Kath was thrilled to learn about the Dr. Seuss trees, and literally began stripping down with the intent to join the snorkelers in the cove (she had to be restrained.) Then we had lunch at Brockton Villa, which is always a hit--who doesn't want to eat eggs steamed in an espresso machine while gazing over cliffs and ocean and wheeling pelicans and black cormorants? It's the best restaurant view in San Diego, and one of the cheapest, too.

I was determined to show them the famous Children's Pool/Seal Beach, so of course it was the first day in history without a SINGLE seal on the sand. We did get an exciting show when two older gentleman stormed the orange barriers, donned snorkeling equipment, and dove in with three perplexed and playful seals treading water at the edge of the barrier--the five of them seemed perfectly happy swimming together, though I hated thinking about the water quality.

Alas, we had to rush back to the car so we could return Kath and Lior and still have time to meet my parents for dinner in Vista. Why must Vista be so far away? Jarrah slept a bit in the car, which was good since it was such a late night for her. We rushed into the nearly-deserted Italian restaurant fifteen minutes late, but no parents. There was a "who's on first?" routine during which the waitress tried to seat us with the Bush party, then invited us to someone else's wedding, but finally my parents showed up and all was well. After a lovely meal (shouted over off-key karaoke from the bar) we headed down the road to the Moonlight Ampitheater for 42nd St., which somehow--mind-bogglingly--I have never seen before.

We were all transfixed from the first glimpse of those tapping feet under the curtain at half-mast, and I couldn't believe how many of the songs I recognized. Also, the theme of youth and aging in the theater world is one that's been very much on my mind, so while the numbers were light and lively, I was a little verklempt as well.

Not sure what I was thinking, but I'd worn a skirt and heels, meaning that I was freezing and also had to hike up a rocky, dirty road between our car and the theater, trying not to break an ankle like Dorothy Brock. I'd also dressed Jarrah in a dress and heels, so I was a bad mom in addition to being uncomfortable myself. Luckily, she seems to function like her own little space heater, so she didn't mind at all. She was asleep before we hit the highway, and we didn't get home until close to midnight. Vista, could you come a little closer next time? And there will be a next time--the space is gorgeous and a new renovation gave us glorious acoustics, too. Nothing like a little theater under the stars on a summer night--looking forward to seeing it from the flip-side next month.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Recently, we were driving down a busy street when Jarrah spotted a homeless man, holding a sign on the median. There are often homeless men on busy street corners in San Diego, but for some reason Jarrah hasn't noticed them before. This day she did.

Jarrah: Mama? What that man doing?

Sam: He's holding a sign to ask people for money.

Jarrah: Why he want to do that?

Sam: He probably doesn't want to do that. But sometimes people have hard times, and they need to ask for help so they can eat, drink and find shelter. He must be having a hard time, so he's asking for help.

Jarrah: Well, he needs to help his self!

David and I gaped at each other.

Jarrah: And he needs to do that by WORKING!

Oh dear. Where did that come from? I would have bet large sums on her response being "Well, we should help him!"

They say one's politics are genetic. Gulp.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Pursuit of Pizza and Happiness

We have finally made contact with some of our neighbors. After four years in this house. I know, I know, I should have brought pies door to door when we first moved in. I was a little distracted. Anyway, it all started because the elderly lady next door invited some of her kids and grandkids to live with her (her husband passed away last year) and the grandkids are 11 and 13, a girl and a boy. They are very friendly, and the owners of five even friendlier cats who spend a lot of time in our yard and a little time in our house.

Those two started playing with the boys across the street, who are 8 and 5. The 5-year-old is smaller than Jarrah, but can already ride a bike without training wheels. The four kids have been playing hide-and-seek and Jarrah--never one to stand on ceremony--has inserted herself in their games several times now. She never seems the least bit concerned if they want her or not, and isn't at all fazed when the littlest boy shouts "Don't follow me!" when she runs after him on his bike. I am delighted by this precious historical moment when she seems to be completely lacking in self-consciousness, totally motivated only by her own ego, as I remember all-too-well the riptides of mortification that dragged me under throughout elementary and middle school. It's like I'm seeing a comet or a full eclipse or some other natural phenomenon that is beautiful but elusive and short-lived.

One evening, the mother of the little boys called across the street to see if Jarrah could join them for pizza. I got to chatting with the mom, Lucy, and she is a sweetheart. Then our other neighbor, Doreen, came home with her two grandkids, who are teenagers. It was a regular block party out there, and Jarrah was not pleased when I told her she had to come in and get ready for bed.

Since then, it's been a bit of a struggle keeping her inside. One morning I rounded the corner from the bedroom to see her opening the front door, and with a cursory glance over her shoulder she announced that she was "going outside to see her friends."

"Um, noooo." I said, alarmed. "You can't just go outside whenever you feel like it. You're four. You need to ask, and if I can't go outside right then, you're just going to have to stay inside, I'm sorry." She didn't like that.

She liked it even less a few nights later when the four kids were playing a game that involved a lot of sprinting back and forth across the street. To her credit, she asked if she could do that, too, and I said NO WAY. "If you want to cross the street, tell me, and I'll hold your hand. But there's no running back and forth. I'm sorry." I was using my "don't mess with me" voice so she knew I was serious. But a little while later, I saw her sitting on our garden wall, sulking with tears in her eyes. I took off my gardening gloves (I was weeding the roses) and walked over.

"What's wrong?"

"I want to play the game like they do."

Suddenly, I realized I was having a signature parenting moment. It impressed me how clear and unmuddled I felt, and how confidently I made the following speech:

"Sweetie, I know you want to do what the other kids do. But I need to tell you something serious. You are little, and I am your mom, and I signed up to do an important job. You wanna know what I signed up for? To take care of you, and keep you safe, even when you don't like it. Sometimes I'm going to say things that seem unfair and unfun and you'll be mad, but it won't matter because I need to keep doing my job. And right now my job is to make sure you aren't squished flat as a pancake by a car speeding down our street that can't see you because you are very small. You should know that no matter what you say, I'm not going to change my mind. I'm sorry about that, but it's true."

And you know what, Readers? She so KNEW I wasn't going to change my mind. It was obvious to her, and to me, and to every planet and star in the cosmos. It was my "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." moment. And while my words made her very sad, she didn't even consider questioning their logic.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ah, Summer!

Couple of summery updates:

I am starting rehearsals for a new show tonight. Yes, already. This one is Moliere's La Mariage Force, so at least the writing is going to be awesome. I will be doing my very best to make the part of "Second Gypsy" worth the price of a ticket. Which is free. So bring your lawn chairs and picnics and wine down to Liberty Station in August (not sure when yet) and check us out. Our director has promised a family-friendly show (though I can't guarantee that wee ones won't be bored out of their skulls.) Guess this means the line "Be gone, ignorant sluts!" (directed at me) will be cut?

Jarrah seems to be enjoying summer camp at the YMCA. I say "seems" because I really have no idea what she does there all day, but she is extremely sweaty and smelling of chlorine when I pick her up. She has not incriminated any teachers or children by using their names, and when I ask about pee-wee sports, arts and crafts, spirit day or any of the other advertised attractions, she always responds "We don't do that. We never do that." Apparently, they are just eating lunch and playing at the park for seven hours. Which I suppose could be true, and evidently is not killing her. The one thing she wants to talk about is the snow cone they get on Fridays, so I hear a lot of "Is it Friday yet?"

Yesterday I taught my third kidlet dance class, and thanks to all your suggestions, it was a'ight. Which is not to say that my resistant little friend was any more into it, but my attitude was better because I was mentally prepared, and that made all the difference.

I tried two new things thanks to you-all: the first was making him my little helper. You'd think some of you were experienced PARENTS of children, for pete's sake, the way you suggested this idea, and the way (like buttah) it worked. He was all about being my helper, and even made it clear to the other children that distributing and collecting was HIS JOB, which was really cute.

I also brought in a big box of instruments, and we had fun shaking maracas to "Fruit Salad Salsa" and ringing jingle bells with "Banana Phone" (seeing the theme?) But the really inspired moment occurred to me as I was saying it. I saw bean bags in the box, and heard myself say "Hey guys, we're going to play a game with bean bags." As these words hit the air, my brain was echoing "And what sort of game will that be, Sam? Hmmm?" Here's what I said, and I swear I was making it up as I spoke:

"Throw the bean bag as far as you can, and then run to it as fast as you can. When you get there, face us and do a move or pose that we have to copy." The throwing was a hit, the running was a hit, and even the posing was a hit. True, my little friend chose to turn around and shake his butt at us EVERY time, but hey, I'm all for a little booty-shaking among friends.

So, thanks. You guys had my back.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grass, Grass, Baby

So, I finally got tested for allergies. At that scary steerage vampire lab I mentioned in an earlier post. This was part three in the trifecta of tests to investigate my sinuses.

This time, I was the only one there. The place was eerily quiet, and when I told the tech that I have been blind and swoony lately, she grimaced and asked me to lie down on a hard, Freud-like chaise for the procedure. "Um, is that really regulation?" I asked. "Shouldn't I just concentrate on being cooperative?" "I'd much rather you pass out lying down," she said, "than somewhere I'm going to have to drag your dead weight to the couch anyway."

Well, when you put it that way. I lay down and she began that tentative, first-date-like questioning they must be trained to do, where they ask something totally unrelated to any previous conversation in a quiet, gentle voice, like you're a skittish colt they're trying to corral. "So, what are you doing this weekend?" she asked.

"Um," I said, gazing up through the window at the surprisingly blue sky. "I have a show tonight. That should be fun." The needle went in. I could barely feel it. I took a deep breath. "The clouds are really beautiful right now," I whispered. "Like little shreds of cotton."

But she was done with me. Both conversationally and literally. She snapped off the rubber, gestured to the cotton ball I was to compress, and strode across the room with the test tubes filled with my human essence. "Can I have a band-aid?" I whimpered, but I felt okay. She strapped me in a bunch of gauze and I limped out the door.

I waited more than a week to hear back. Finally, a nurse called me--not the foul-mouthed Jill I have grown so fond of (I think she's disgusted with me) but another, named Trish. She said that I am not allergic to:

pet hair
dust mites

It was a surprise and relief to learn I could be locked in a room full of cats, dogs, 19th century furniture, books from Grandma's attic, water leaks and giant bugs, and still feel fabulous.

However: "You're allergic to grass. And not a little allergic. Moderately allergic. Three types: Bermuda, Johnson, and Mumble [not actually Mumble, but I couldn't hear her.]"

Grass, dear Readers? GRASS? The softly waving green in which girls in linen dresses gambol? The bendy, romantic spears through which lovers run to meet each other? The stuff in which Bella and Edward lie and sparkle while gazing at each other with googly eyes and the camera dollies in a crazy circle? The ground cover ostensibly planted in front of our house which has been deader than Edward lo, these many three years?

Yes, Readers. THAT grass. And apparently, I don't need to gambol in it, because it travels through the air. Though I did suddenly make the Holmes-like connection that my legs break out in hives when I recline in the stuff without a blanket.

I asked, "Do you ever have people whose sinuses are also a mess come up allergic to absolutely NOTHING?" And she said yes, all the time. But that is not me, because I am allergic to grass.

What to do? Apparently, the first step is introducing some of this allergen (like, pureed?) into my body through shots or somesuch. We're going to discuss it. I wanted to know if that was going to make me totally unable to breathe at all, but they reassured me that more of those magic steroid shots should even me out.

Okay then. Let's do this thing. Bring on the blades. Long may they wave.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Living Entirely For Pleasure These Days

Just had a few days with my friend Lix (not her actual name) visiting from Basel, Switzerland. She gets really annoyed when I tell people that, because then they expect her to be Swiss, and she's not. Still, I have to say it because, how cool is it that she came to visit me from Switzerland?

Lix and I go way back to teaching Muir Writing at UCSD. We met at the orientation, and though she's quite a bit younger, she's very bossy, so we were well-matched (Love you, Lix!) She ended up going to law school and glory and fame, and I stayed behind at UCSD for far too long. But through many cities, schools, jobs and inappropriate relationships, our friendship has endured.

I picked her up at the airport Wednesday afternoon, and we were off on an adventure to Pala Resort and Casino, in...well, I don't know where it is, but it's about 45 minutes from here and there are mountains and giant boulders all around it. David generously offered (actually, I think he was coerced) to pick Jarrah up from camp, so we were like Thelma and Louise without the inconvenience of being on the lam. (She has a daughter, too, who was hanging out with her husband and in-laws.) The hotel was very grand and not too smoky, and in no time at all we were chillin' by the pool with some mai-tais, chatting up Bartender Jason from Tacoma, WA. There was hot-tubbing, and Lix said I was telling my off-color stories in a way-too-loud voice to the great interest of a gentleman pretending to be asleep, but that's no different than other days. We flirted with the idea of spa treatments (too pricey) and gambling (not feeling the siren call) and some really, really expensive steak. But we're good girls at heart, so we ended up at an Italian place (the resort has 10 restaurants!) where I was presented with a meatball on my spaghetti that you could have seen from space (seriously, I could barely LIFT the leftovers.) It was a lovely evening, capped by Movies on Demand (we know how to party) and a Kenny Rogers look-alike in the elevator who leaned into my airspace and--literally--sniffed me. (Or maybe it was the meatball?)

We slept in the next day, and breakfasted by the pool, amazed at the truly perfect weather, and then headed out for a day of shopping. Sales at Banana, lemon bars at the Nordstrom Cafe, disorientation at H&M...I haven't shopped like that in years. There was a brief respite from fabulousness when we picked up Jarrah and she had a full-blown tantrum while waiting for Lix to check into her next hotel (she claimed I sabotaged her chocolate chip cookie; I pleaded innocent) followed by a barbecue back at our place. I took a long, sweaty sunset walk while the three of them fetched frozen yogurt with 96 toppings for dessert.

The next morning, David took Jarrah to camp while Lix and I headed to Coronado for my first official summer beach day, and it was just like heaven to lie in the sand laughing hysterically, read vampire fiction to the crash of the waves, and fall asleep in a liquid sun body glove (that's me being poetic-right?) We dashed back to the mainland so that Lix could attend my Nia class (her first!) and it was so thrilling to have her there--I love teaching, but I love it ten times more when a friend is visiting. After that, we made ourselves pretty and David picked us up for dinner and the theater--do you remember how I wailed and kvetched a while back about a show I didn't get cast in? Well, I'm ready to let it go, because wow. It was amazing. Funny, sad, complicated...incredible. Oh, and if you were in it and you're reading this--you were especially good.

This morning, we went to The Mission for breakfast--giant blueberry pancakes and chicken apple sausage and--of course--a pound of bacon for Jarrah. David and I used to roll sleepily into The Mission about noon-ish in our pre-child days, so it felt pretty cool to be returning with the child, who can mostly behave herself in such situations now.

And then, alas, we had to rush to the airport, because somehow--impossibly--the visit was already over. I know I'm going to feel blue tomorrow without my friend's company--it was like a little vacation without going too far (for me, anyway.)

I did have one little surprise from David to cushion the return to quotidian life...a brand new phone that I've had my eye on, with a full QWERTY keyboard. Readers, do you know anyone who likes to write as much as I do who has NEVER texted before? I'm already feeling right at home. It's a whole new world, and I'm going to experience it one thumb at a time.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Hand in Hand Is The Only Way To Land (And Always The Right Way 'Round)

I just started a new job teaching dance at Jarrah's preschool, and I'm not sure how well it's going. Jarrah isn't there--she's at camp. But I have five students with varying levels of enthusiasm in my charge every Monday.

Today was my second class, and I think I was better-prepared for the dynamics of the class itself, but much worse off before it. Last time, I researched my chosen theme of "Chickens" all weekend, and had two fabulous books about a chicken named Minerva Louise to read, as well as a chicken craft that David had helped me prepare with an X-acto knife. I even made a whole CD called--you guessed it--Chickens, which included a catchy tune from The Bacon Brothers called "Philadelphia Chickens" that kind of rocked.

Last week, when I arrived--nearly 45 minutes early--I applauded myself for setting up a little table and chairs with all the crafty bits in advance. Things were going fine (maybe better than fine, said she) when the two boys suddenly lay down on the carpet and might be there still if their parents hadn't come to fetch them at the end of the hour. I was flummoxed by their sudden resistance, but decided to divert them to the craft table, where I also made the colossal mistake of handing out BOTTLES of glue instead of sticks. Apparently, small children are mesmerized by streams of glue, and must stare helplessly as it puddles lake-like on their paper, making it impossible to take the masterpiece home. One of the boys (he was extremely sweet, but quiet) shook his head vehemently when I suggested he glue some feathers and other goodies on his chicken, and a tsunami of embarrassment washed over me when I remembered that his dad owns a chicken shop in our neighborhood. Perhaps he learned early that there's no use anthropomorphizing chickens.

This week, I was strangely resistant myself, vaguely considering dinosaurs before moving on to cats, and never finding any books at all. I didn't really find any music, either, instead becoming fixated on "Love Cats" by The Cure and figuring I'd wing it from there. I did consult with Mary, who, as a kindergarten teacher for over a decade, knows a thing or two about animal crafts. She suggested I make Love Cats with sticky hearts for the cats' ears and noses, which is sheer brilliance, if you ask me. To further the theme, I cut out two heads for each page, and then cut some of the hearts into little slivers for whiskers. I was lazy about the mouths and eyes--small triangles would have to do (and actually they looked quite good.)

Somehow I was still at the gym at noon (the class starts at 1:00) and 12:50 found me running around the house in a fright, stuffing tiny pieces of paper and stickers into a bag and freaking out when I realized I didn't know where the extension cord for my boom box was, and didn't have any batteries, either. I was feeling crazy-irresponsible, yet somehow 1:00 found me exactly where I was last week at that time--sitting on the edge of the desk in the multi-purpose room, swinging my legs, waiting for the kids.

This time, the boys resisted immediately, refusing to take off their shoes and hats. I smiled my best steely "I'm the teacher" smile and said "Today is all about cooperating. Okay?" They complied. But then one of the boys wouldn't try my animal yoga poses at all, and when we started dancing (it looks more like running around screaming at this age) he just did his own thing, and worried me by sort of pounding on the other boy, and they both fell down a few times. I had to explain that there was no touching in this dance class.

When I asked if they'd like to rest and hear a story (I'd settled on Diary of a Wombat, since I thought it unlikely they'd have read it before--it's Australian) my little friend announced, "Stories are kind of LAME," which stung for half a second, until I pasted on a brittle smile and said "I think they're great. Raise your hand if you like stories!" Everyone else raised their hand. Gotta love peer pressure--start 'em early. ;)

After the story (which I realized might be a tad sophisticated for this crowd) I lured them over to the craft table, and that went rather well--I had done enough prep that they could make it look really good just by wielding their glue sticks (Ah, glue sticks. We love you. No more bottles for us!) though--in a running theme--the littlest boy refused to partake at all. No project for him, nuh-uh, no way. He did enjoy poking the other kids while they glued, but I just smiled and said "Would you like to make your own? No? Okay, then, let's not touch other people while they work."

And then it was over and the parents showed up. I'm beginning to see that really little kids who have just had a long day at camp are not the best candidates for expressive dance, but I'm fine with bringing those stories and crafts every time. The kid who doesn't want to do anything at ALL, though, is bringing me down. Not sure what to do about him, if anything. All of this is a reminder that I've never taught little kids before--only very big kids who can drink, and who just stay home if they're feeling contrary or hungover. This is a whole new target group for me.

Thoughts, Readers?

A Spoonful of Sugar

Jarrah enjoys sprinkles as an afternoon snack. Not baked goods with sprinkles. Just sprinkles, a la carte. I shake them on to a plate and she eats them with a wet finger. Feel free to find that disgusting. I'll just be over here, smug in the knowledge there is much worse I'm NOT telling you. (And I do have a rationalization, wanna hear it? Sprinkles have only 25 calories per serving. And are packed with vitamins and minerals.)

We have a lot of sprinkles, from my various cupcake experiments. I like the multi-colored discs shaped like dinosaurs and leaves and hearts. Those are extra-yummy to me. Mmm, crunchy. (Yes, I occasionally join my daughter in a plate of sprinkles.) But not Jarrah. No, ma'am. Let her tell you why:

Jarrah: Mommy, I've had a two hour nap.

Sam: That was exactly two seconds.

Jarrah: I've had my two hour nap and I'm ready for my snack.

Sam: What's your snack?

Jarrah: Sprinkles. But not the big, colorful ones. Only the little ones. The big ones taste too plain for me. You know why?

Sam: Tell me.

Jarrah: Well, it's 'cause I growed up. When you grow up, your tastes change. Now I only like the little ones. That's what the little bumps are telling me.

Sam: The little bumps?

Jarrah: The little bumps on my tongue. They're called taste buds. They tell me I can't have the big ones anymore.

Sam: Good thing you're getting such clear messages. All right, let's go get some of the little ones.

Jarrah: And hit the back. More comes out when you hit the back.

Friday, July 03, 2009

It's Not Fair! (Except It Is)

Thursday, we went to the San Diego Fair with Mary, Paul and Joy, which has become an annual tradition. This year, I had grand aspirations to go twice--once with my theater friends--but with my show and all the tsuris I got derailed as social chair.

The afternoon was gray and overcast, which was some kind of miracle. No sweating for us--in fact, we were rather chilly. We started at the monster truck stadium, because Jarrah loves monster trucks. She was all "Let's sit down!" even though they were just bulldozing the track and playing "Sweet Child O' Mine." I love that she loves monster trucks even more than rubber princesses.

In the livestock area, we admired some very clean pigs that still "had stinks," according to Jarrah, and some very cute goats with slightly less stinks, and then some really, really cute cows marked "Veal" which was sobering for us all. One cow enjoyed being scratched on the nose, and would express its appreciation with a "Mooooooo!" that sounded recorded. This inspired Jarrah and Joy to "moo" at said cow, or not so much "moo" as scream "Moo! Moo! Moo! Moo!" until the people around us had to flee. Of the extremely cute bunnies, David remarked "Well, these won't have a sad demise planned" (do you just love that man and his diction the way I do?) until I pointed at their cages: "Rabbit Meat Farm." Given my druthers, this is not a place I would take my child for hayrides.

After some copious hand-washing, we were on to Kiddieland, which is where the J girls do some real damage. This year, they were tall enough for the Incredibles Coaster, and they definitely got their money's worth--it was long and they were in the front car. We ran out of tickets all too soon, and went on a dinner expedition. The girls ate pizza and the adults had kebabs, corn on the cob with lemon pepper (lemon pepper is my new drug of choice), falafel, and a plate of fried zucchini fritters with ranch. (The first bite of the fried stuff is crazy-good, with rapidly diminishing returns thereafter.) Oh, and David discovered a kind of flayed potato on a stick that is like a "chip kebab." That was another opportunity for lemon pepper, and a unanimous hit.

I was extremely curious about Chicken Charlies, the stand that has become famous for frying everything (don't get too close--fried wallet or socks might be next.) Some of the stuff is terrifying to me, like the Kooky Cookie: "Cookies. Cream Cheese. Strawberries. Chicken." but I wouldn't kick a Fried S'Mores out of bed. Or even a fried Twinkie, if we're playing "I Never" here. Still, I managed to resist for one more year.

After our repast, we headed upstairs to the exhibition halls, where some undersea photos might have captivated the adults for a good while if certain 4-year-olds hadn't been hell-bent on bringing the whole display down on our heads. Time for collections! This year, I asked the girls to figure out the "theme" of each one: could it possibly be "Porcelain Dogs with Ginormous Eyes?" Or maybe "Crapcake of the Midwest?" Perhaps "Tchotchkes of the Great Barrier Reef?" Seriously, we did like "Staplers Made in USA." I really dig those obsessive collections, where someone had to grimly look past cuteness and really focus on the unifying element.

Now we could hear "The Music of ABBA" tribute band from Sweden floating through the double doors, and since this was a free concert, we decided to check it out. I headed out first, and hence encountered the phalanx of uniformed personnel with their arms folded across their chests. One said "Where are you going? This is reserved only" and--I swear--all I did was say "We're just looking for somewhere to sit." Suddenly, the dude was saying "Come with me" and the rest of my party followed. He led us to a private box with an amazing view, at which point I could see that he had some power, so I said thank you. Mary informed me that the rest of them had been stopped, until they saw I was with the BOSS. Paul asked if I had played a Jedi mind-trick on the guy, and I really can't discuss that, Readers. But I do plan to try my skillz--while I've still got them--at Butter and Avenue and other places mentioned in US Weekly.

It was pretty fun to listen to "SOS" and "Does Your Mother Know" and dance around while the evening lights began to twinkle. At one point, I imagined I saw someone ride by on an elephant, and I shook my head but the image did not go away. Turns out someone was riding by on an elephant. That's the fair for you. At this point, a certain person whose name starts with "J" became fixated on cotton candy, and needed to tell me about its charms pretty much constantly. I told Paul: "She's got Power Point. I'm about to hear the mission statement." It went kind of like this:

"Mommy, I want cotton candy. I thought maybe you could listen to four or five songs. Now I know that was wrong. You can listen to two songs. But this song is very long. So only one song. Then we get cotton candy. Did I mention I want cotton candy?"

Trying to fulfill this wish presented problems. Alone, I roamed the seething crowd on the midway, neon lights zinging my peripheral vision, in a wild-eyed quest for the puffy stuff. Then a guy pushing a garbage schooner clocked my hip in a moment of inattention at the wheel. I saw my garbage-strewn life pass before my eyes, but I stayed on my feet and staggered away. Just before I lost all hope, I glimpsed a wooden pink puff sign like a mirage on the horizon. Here was the pitch:

"Would you like a small cotton candy for a million dollars, or a cotton candy as big as your car for a million and one dollars?"

I chose the latter. And Jarrah was determined to inhale ever last pink and blue thread. The rest of us dug our forks into a frosting-covered cinnamon roll while enjoying the amplified screams of people being flung into the air in the bungee ball. And Jarrah did not have a sense of humor about my suggestion that she "go climb in that car over there and I'll take your picture" (it was a display for Scream Fest.) I'll be hearing about that one.

Now it was late and the little ones had lost it. Both of them wailed "Moooommmmmy!" over and over as we inched out of the parking lot, which was kind of annoying and kind of hilarious. Jarrah doesn't usually get "mommy-mommy" like that, so you can tell she'd had a long day. But she stayed awake long enough for me to scrub the goat off her feet, and then the fair was only in her dreams.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Progress (That's What She Said)

Driving home from the fair, trying to keep Jarrah awake with aimless conversation:

S: Look, Jarrah! What's that?

J: Fry's.

S: And what do we buy at Fry's?

J: I don't know.

S: Electronics!

J: What electronics?

S: You radios, and TVs, and phones, and computers...weird to think we didn't have any of that stuff when I was kid.

J: What stuff?

S: Well, I didn't have a computer, or a cell phone. There was no internet, or e-mail, or Facebook.

J: So everything was just boring?

S: (cracking up) Well, I wouldn't say BORING.

J: Did you have red lights?

S: What? Yes, we had red lights.

J: Green lights?

S: Yes. I said electronics, not electricity.

J: Stairs?

S: Yes.

J: Places?

S: Places? Yeah, we had lots of places.

J: Signs?

S: Yes.

J: Roads?

S: Yes.

J: Festivals?

S: Yes, I went to lots of festivals. We had things, Jarrah. Lots of things. We just didn't have...electronics.

J: No computer.

S: No computer. We didn't even have an answering machine when I was growing up.

J: What's an answering machine?