Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tiger's Blood

A nice weekend, which would have been elevated to a higher threat level than "nice" if I hadn't had this crazy stomachache for like five days now. I've run through every worst-case scenario possible, most of them at 3:00 a.m. Which I'm sure helps a lot. Today I felt a smidge better and went for a long sunset walk, after which I feel sort of ooky again. Ugh. Anyway, if you think I'm dying, please keep it to yourself.

Yesterday was the Year of the Tiger banquet at the Chinese church, which is an annual event held by Families with Children from China. It's always fun, and I have to admit this one was extra-great--the food was really yummy (and hot for once), the place looked beautiful, and there were five lion dancers (up from three last year.) One of them even snapped my fingers as he was taking my lucky envelope. Ouch! Silly lion. In the photos, though, you can see that all I'm thinking is "Owww. I mean OWWWWW. I want to lie down right now." (That's how I think--in rhyme. I'm just a natural bard.)

Jarrah was a bit shy this year, and chose not to take part in the kid's lion dance, or the call for volunteers during the Asian Story Theater. But you better believe she was up on stage afterward, and the first to discover an open mike. I was chatting with someone and suddenly heard, "Attention, everyone!" and whipped around saying "Um, that's my daughter." She and a few other kids were tickled to bits by the amplification, and there were a series of "Attentions!" and "The show is about to starts!" over the next half-hour. My favorite was when Jarrah commanded "Grown-ups, gather around the stage!" but it was all hype, no substance. The "show" consisted of them lying face down on the stage (which is the position the lions start in) and then more audience invocation a few seconds later. I tell you, it was so meta, I couldn't take it.

Today was the Purim Carnival, and Jarrah asked to go as Dorothy again. I am getting to be a wizard at braiding. (Hee.) The morning began with Jarrah and her preschool pals singing for us, which unfortunately was hard to hear because someone had given all the kids in the audience "groggers," which are metal, spinny noisemakers, useful for creating a din or removing a finger if you jam one inside. My favorite song was "Oy, Oy, Uncle Mordecai!" since they all had their little hands on their cheeks, bobbing their heads from side to side like tiny old Jewish ladies who have received the wrong flavor pie at the diner. The next part was the Purim Shpiel--the story of Purim--performed on stage by a group of teenagers. All girls, except for three sullen boys with electric guitars slumped against the wall. The girls were really too adorable, dancing and singing with varying degrees of tunefulness. The final number was called "Jews Rock!" and I'm here to assure you that yes, they do indeed rock.

Outside, there were all kinds of games and contests and cake-walks, but the only game that interested Jarrah was the one where you choose a lollipop and if it has a dot on it, you get another lollipop. Made sense to her. We paid two tickets for a run through the jump-jump obstacle course, but she actually took 83. Jarrah is all about the most value for her entertainment dollar. Soon after, David reprised his annual good citizen role by donating blood at the mobile bank parked in the middle of the carnival. He was gone a long time, and this year, Jarrah was very concerned by his questionable decision-making, especially after I explained that they would jam a needle in his arm and suck out a bunch of his blood with it. "Don't do it!" she shrieked, and held on to his leg. But she acquiesced when she heard he would receive juice and cookies afterward. She has her priorities, after all. In fact, when I asked what her favorite part of this year's carnival was, she quickly answered:

"The jump-jump! Oh, and the cotton candy. (pause) Actually, the cotton candy. That was the best part." Because she got her own, Readers. All to herself. We didn't even ask for a bite. She couldn't even speak to anyone while she was eating it, so transported was she to a far-away nirvana. Is it fair that this kid has six-pack abs?

So, the theme for March NaBloPoMo is "STRANGE(R)." I'm intrigued by that, but don't want to spend all month kvetching about how people annoy me. So I need your help, Readers. What are some potential topics? I am nothing without you.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Kid Stays In The Picture

Lately I've been thinking about how I have a kid and not a baby.

We're thinking of going to Disneyland soon, and I've been resisting it for a long time. Not because I have anything against Disneyland, mind you: au contraire. I grew up there. Had my junior high grad night there. Got engaged there. But whenever I thought of taking Jarrah, I was all "Uch, the crying. The feet-dragging. The whining. I can't take it. We'll spend a million dollars and have to leave after four hours."

Now I sincerely doubt it. In fact, I can imagine a certain member of this household will be chipper as all get-out at closing time. I might be the one whining. Or crying.

In some ways, having a kid is so much easier. I won't have to change any diapers at Disneyland, or make any bottles. Giant, silent walking Goofies and Snow Whites probably won't terrify. After perusing the ride height requirements, I can see we'll be shut out of very few attractions. If you need her to walk a bit more, she can be successfully motivated with any kind of candy. She knows about Disneyland--from movies, from her friends, from books. She would be looking forward to the trip, if I dared tell her--long ago I learned not to tell her anything, since she could get sick or...oh hell, who am I kidding? Because I don't want to hear "Is it tomorrow yet?" 137 times before we go.

Lately, it's not so much that she's huge that I know she's a kid--it's the way she talks. Last night at dinner, she lectured us about "The Five Senses:" "Everyone has a different way of seeing, of feeling, of smelling. Oh, also of tasting...and hearing? No one is the same. We all have our own way. But the five senses help us experience the world."

Okay, Mr. Rogers. Let me get your cardigan and your tennies.

This weekend, there are a few annual events that have me reflecting on what's changed. Today is the Purim parade, and the kids show up at school in costume and march around. (What exactly they do is a mystery, since no parents are invited.) The first year, we'd been loaned a princess costume, and Jarrah was upset and confused when I tried to put it on her before school. She resisted mightily, mostly because she had no idea what was going on (she was two.) This year, she's been telling me for weeks what she planned to wear, and finally decided on Dorothy (phew! That one was hanging in the closet.) She showed me how she wanted her hair done, how to tie her bow, and which of her many stuffed doggies would be playing the role of Toto today.

On Sunday, there's the Purim carnival at school. The first year, she got stuck in a jump-jump obstacle course and screamed a lot. It was broiling hot, and she was sticky-wet and cranky with her belly sticking out of her t-shirt, scowling beneath her sunglasses. This year, she plans to go in costume, talks about who she'll hang with, what "rides" they'll go on, and how many hamentashen she plans to eat. We probably won't even see her for half the time.

Tomorrow is the annual Chinese New Year banquet. We have our stuffed pig, rat and ox in the toy box, and this year we'll add a tiger, I'm sure. With each passing year, the event becomes more about Jarrah than about us. She sits with her friends now, eating long noodles; they join the lion dance, "perform" for us on stage. Again, we won't see her much.

Which is a great deal of the point of them growing up, yes? That they become independent, stretch that umbilical cord (in our case conceptual and jokey, not an actual thing) to the breaking point as they explore the world, increasingly, on their own terms? Less and less will she look to me to know how to feel about things. More and more, she'll decide for herself. And I understand and welcome this process, but I can't get over how soon it's arrived.

A couple days ago, Jarrah cried to me "It's so HARD to be a kid!" I told her it's harder being a grown-up. "Why?" she asked, clearly mystified. "For one thing, no one makes you a snack like I'm doing right now. You have to make your own snacks." That gave her pause. "No one takes care of you when you're sick. No one drives you to see your friends. You don't get to play as much as you want, or nap when you want to. You have to do things so the house doesn't fall down."

She was quiet, but I figured she'd just lost interest. Apparently, I was wrong.

Last night, Jarrah said to David, "It's hard being a grown-up. It's easier being a kid."

"And why is that?" David asked her.

"When you're a grown-up, you have a lot to do. When you're a kid, grown-ups do everything for you. Being a kid is easy."

"See?" I smiled, turning to David with my arms full of dishes. "Look how awesome I am at brain-washing."

The weird thing is, I wasn't entirely convinced anymore that my argument would hold.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Am Not A Waitress

In one of my favorite movies, Party Girl, entrepreneurial but broke Mary gets some advice from her Aunt Judy: "Why don't you wait tables?"

"I am not a waitress," Mary deadpans, and what cracks me up is that it's more an ideological position than a statement of fact. While I have boxed donuts at dawn and frothed cappuccinos for people who complained to the management if the foam was too low, I have never actually waited tables. Don't misunderstand--I have mad respect for the profession. In fact, it's a tribute to my awe that I've always assumed I would be unable to perform the job. The carrying. The remembering. And the people. Because people are so very annoying, especially when they're hungry.

Recently, though, I played a waitress on stage--a bad one, who yells a lot and forgets to thaw the hamburger meat--but a waitress nonetheless. So maybe it was fated that I should try my hand--both hands, actually, not to mention my biceps--at wielding a tray in real life. If you can call what I did this past weekend "real life," Readers.

My theater group put on a musical called Jacques Brel is Alive and Well And Living in Paris. A brief aside to say that it was all kinds of awesome. I wish I had been in it, but c'est la vie. (I'm revving up the French here, since it will be relevant in a moment.)

I was asked to serve as "house manager," which I have heard is a real thing in theater parlance but for us seems to mean "show up early and we'll give you stuff to do." So when I arrived for the preview on Thursday, I was quite surprised to see the room set up like a nightclub, with little tables and candles and dessert menus. I'm not sure what kind of audience they were expecting that night, but what they got was a handsy couple, me, and an old guy whose cell phone played tinny tunes more or less without interruption until someone suggested he turn it off, which seemed to confound him. We didn't serve anything that night, but I was strangely excited about the boxes of tiramisu in the fridge, especially when I heard I was going to be in charge. I like the idea of being in charge...of anything.


I've been asked to "dress like a waiter" but I don't have a white shirt. I compromise with a black dress with white polka-dots. And high heels. (By Sunday, a table will tease me that "real" waitresses wear flats.) Amazingly, there is an actual staff of volunteers set up in the kitchen, ready to hand off sparkling cider (more than one person will despair at the news no alcohol is allowed in the theater) and brownies. Within minutes, we are a well-oiled machine.

The first thing I learn is that people really dig my shtick. As a bit of a lark (it's a French show, after all) I'm greeting everyone with "Bonsoir! Bienvenue, Monsieur et Madame!" Encouraged by the response, I do it some more. Then I get myself in trouble when one guy spews a stream of French at me and I have to respond, "Yeah, I don't actually speak French. What'll you have?" I soon learn a few things. Thing one: the little pad is not just for show. If I don't write it down, I have completely forgotten everything but my own name by the time I get to the kitchen. Thing two: I am a mean tray-carrier. Even with several bottles and desserts on there, I can lift it over my head, spin it around and do some fan kicks, all without clocking any patrons or spilling a drop of coffee. Whee! Thing three: Cleavage helps. Someone tips me a dollar, and I stuff it in my bra. Where it is very visible. After that, everyone tips me a dollar. Or three. One guy: FIVE. And then there is the elderly gentlemen who calls me back every few minutes and crooks his finger, indicating I should lean into his airspace, and has a lot of questions: "When was the theater built?" "What shows have you been in?" Later, a friend of mine suggests that he might as well have been asking "What color is the sky?" for how much he cares, as opposed to how much he is looking down my shirt.

Then I make My First Big Mistake: I brag to the other waitress, Jill, about my tips. Instantly, she insists that we pool at the end of the night. She indicates the kitchen staff, who are not getting tipped but are still working hard. I sulkily agree, kicking myself for my hubris. And to add insult to injury, Dave, who pays for the theater, takes the entire kitty himself, claiming it will be used for the cast party. Harumph. "I'm not even in the show!" I protest. To quote Alexander from The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day: "No one even answers."


I have to admit, I'm giddy with excitement to get back to the restaurant, um, I mean the theater. I'm wearing a candy apple red dress that was once a costume, and a frilly "French maid" apron from Jill. Calvin brings me a furry pill box hat from his vast collection of vintage clothing. He thinks it looks ridiculous on me, but I get a lot of compliments. I am in character and ready to rock.

This time, I barely have to smile and nod and they are all about plying me with cash. Which I totally deserve, since the popularity of the show has necessitated the jamming in of more tables, and I have to sashay up and down the stage ramp with the full tray in order to get through. On one pass, a man beckons to me and murmurs "Bend over." When I do, he stuffs a bill into my apron sash. "Merci beaucoup!" I trill, and momentarily wonder why I bothered going to grad school--this lifestyle is way more rewarding. Two gentlemen recognize me from the last show and I wag a finger at them and purr: "That's because I played a WAITRESS in the last show, isn't it?" Everyone I talk to is grinning ear to ear from the wonder of me. I don't spill a drop of coffee or forget so much as a sugar packet the entire evening. I am a Food Service Force To Be Reckoned With. Nothing can dampen my glee until I find out that Calvin got more tips than me, and did it without cleavage. "But he's a professional," David reassures me. "This is your first time, and you've already got 80 percent of his skill." Well, okay.


Truly, I feel like a pro by now. I sail into the theater in my black dress and red lipstick, and am quickly kitted out in my apron and hat. Jill adds a frilly arm garter, and I lament that I'm not wearing fishnets like hers. She says I look classy. Mais oui! I am rarin' to get out there and start raking in the dough. So imagine my chagrin when the Sunday crowd seems immune to my charms. No matter how much French I fling at them, or how many smiles I flash, I'm not making any tips. RIEN. I deflate like a souffle with an open oven door. I grow increasingly incredulous as my gleaming "Mercis!" and "Bon Appetits!" are met with smirks. Quoi le phoque? Maybe this is not the job for me. I become increasingly certain when I ask Jill if she's made any tips and she says "Not one." Then I ask Calvin, whose evil grin tells me that not only has he made money, but he's pleased as punch that I haven't.

An even more disturbing trend is the growing annoying-ness level of the patrons. The previous two nights, everyone has been delighted simply to receive a hot or cold beverage and a square of something sweet on a plate. No questions, no requests, just lots of gratitude, the way I like it. Suddenly, a "Princess and the Pea" attitude is sweeping the theater. One woman points at her brownie and asks: "Is this the CHEESECAKE brownie? Because I can't find any CHEESE." One table calls me back FOUR TIMES for more creamers but still doesn't tip me. And the cake is topped by the gentleman who listens to me recite the creamer flavors and then cocks his head as if considering the theory of relativity:

Man: The French it very vanilla-y, or just a little?
Me:'s vanilla-y.
Man: And the's made of freshly-picked nuts with a soupcon of heavy cream and the essence of crushed sequins from Folie Bergeres brassieres?
Me: Most certainly, Monsieur.
Man: Can I get the coffee black?
Me: Bien sur!
Man: Well, why didn't you say that in the first place?

By now, I'm ready to pour French Vanilla creamer into his coif, and I'm having similar sentiments towards most of the room. My high spirits do not return when, at the end of the night, a lady pinches my arm on her way out and inquires if I have received the dollar she left on her table. "Merci beaucoup," I nod with an icy smile, and return to my trash collection. That's my take for the night. One dollar.

I'll be sticking to my day job for now. What do you think, Readers? Do I have a future in the service industry?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mars and Venus

Jarrah: Mommy, Levi doesn't play with me anymore.

Sam: No? That's too bad. How come?

Jarrah: I don't know.

Sam: Oh.

Jarrah: Well, some days I choose to marry him, and he talks to me. Some days I choose not to marry him, and he doesn't talk to me.

Sam: Ah yes, men are ridiculous that way. There's no figuring out what they want.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Haven't Knit Anything In Like Two Years

This is how I used to wake up in the morning: I practically didn't.

I went to bed at one or two, and snoozed in a dark, quiet room (quiet to me--not everyone would agree that a blasting fan a quiet room makes) without a care in my head until some natural impulse--circadian rhythms? what were those again?--prompted me to flutter my lashes against my sleepy cheek and gently greet the day. Whether David was still in bed or not (he usually was) he knew not to talk too much--I once had to speak to a roommate about her penchant for playing NPR in the mornings--"I can't have TALKING before noon." I'd drift to the kitchen and put on the kettle, humming to myself as I poured a steaming cup of French Vanilla Love, and then float back to my computer to check e-mail while twirling my hair. In those pre-Facebook days, I actually had e-mail, and the experience was akin to reading the morning post presented by a footman from a silver salver. After a period of time known as "however long I damn well pleased," I'd tiptoe outside for the newspaper, and eat a bagel while catching up on the weekend's movies and baseball statistics.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

This is how I woke up this morning: at 6:30, and violently.

I had gone to sleep at a respectable 11:15, but bolted awake 15 minutes later because I heard a cough emanating from across the hall. I ask you, when did a single example of nocturnal throat-clearing become a signal to jolt me from my dreams with a pounding heart? Somehow I'm able to move from "I hear a cough!" to "Do we need to go to the emergency room?" faster than Jarrah can get there when she hears "Anyone want a fruit leather?" I couldn't get back to sleep for an hour, and like a beleaguered relationship, it was never as good as the first time.

At 6:30, I'm awakened by thundering feet, as if Jarrah had invited a basketball team to play princess in her room (let's not even go there.) I leap from bed in a confused rage, lurching towards the hallway. On the way, I fall over a pile of laundry I'd conveniently arranged in my doorway, and as I trip, something akin to a barbecue fork enters the ball of my foot from somewhere in said pile of laundry. Why is it in there? You tell me. Though Jarrah is now standing sweetly in my sight, pants-less and clutching a teddy bear, I shriek "@#$%&*!" and reach down to yank a knitting needle from my tender flesh. A spot of blood flowers from the entry point as I limp, naked, towards the bathroom for the Bacitracin and band-aids, closely followed by Jarrah repeating "Mommy? Let me see your owie?" As I shiver and swab my gushing foot, I look up at Jarrah and attempt to form a couple of pre-dawn sentences:

"We need to talk. Your nightlight is still on. You are to stay in your room until...WAIT! (I shriek as she dutifully turns to go) GO POTTY NOW THAT YOU'RE UP! Then go back to your room. No, wait...yes! Go back to your room until it's a decent hour."

"But what do I do if I'm hungry?" she innocently inquires.

"I will...leave some breakfast out for you when I'm done here. But you stay in your room until that light goes out." She nods seriously, as if recognizing it would be foolhardy to argue with the naked, wounded woman with the crazy bed-head. As for me, I'm no longer clear on what point I was trying to make, since I began speaking before my brain had switched on.

I stumble out to the kitchen, wishing I had a robe, and throw together a bowl of Organic Cinnamon Grahams "all dried up" (second ingredient still sugar) and a sippy cup of "spark-uh-ling cranberry" and then stumble back. Jarrah is curled on her bed, watching me warily.

"I made you some breakfast. Stay in your room until it's...light." She nods.

I climb back in bed and hear her feet pounding across the wood floor almost instantly. As I close my eyes, I wonder if I'm going to get lockjaw from my stab wound.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love You Kiss You Already Miss You

Or rather, "LYKYAMY." It's a texty thing. I love texting. What do I love about it? Well, it's writing, after all. And it's miniature. I like miniatures (ever been to the Art Institute in Chicago?) And the gratification. Which is instant. One of my Top 10 Favorite kinds of gratification.

Today is Valentine's Day, which I like to call "V-Day" ever since that one time some friends and I were recruited to sell chocolate vaginas on a stick (ouch!) at a benefit production of The Vagina Monologues. Not because I'm such a massive fan of vaginas (they're alright) but that's what the day was called then.

In honor of this holiday dedicated to love, here is my list of things I've loved about the long weekend. So far. That means I'll be overlooking anything I didn't love, so don't be alarmed if it sounds like someone else entirely is writing this.

1. Saturday morning garage de-clutter. It might sound really pathetic, but oh how I love to get rid of things. This time, it was massive piles of baby junk (plastic pants? unopened nipples? changing pad covers?) Soooo satisfying, and maybe someone else can actually use the stuff. I also got a sedating dose of happy hormones from a stroll down the memory lane of Jarrah's babyhood, which was brief but sometimes felt like it lasted a century.

2. Trusting. Our drive to Nathan's birthday party wended us through some rolling hills of green that reminded me of the wine country in Paso Robles. When the sign read "Unincorporated Roads Ahead," David started to panic that we weren't getting any lunch. But then there was a single market right next door to the party location, with a deli in it that looked like every deli you've ever seen. Only I knew something was different when I watched the sandwich boy individually selecting (and sometimes rejecting) each lettuce leaf for our sub. I might just take that drive again just for another sandwich.

3. Helen Woodward Animal Center. I'd heard about it, and Jarrah has even been there, for a day of Critter Camp last spring (Thanks, Steph!) But the place is a wonder--an animal rescue the size of a ranch. The birthday party was the most relaxed I've ever attended--no bug-eyed staff hustling us out the door when the time was up, and lots of time for petting goats and bunnies and ball pythons. Plus a leisurely 2.5 hours for me to catch up with my friends. After schmoozing and snacking on a famous VG cupcake, I started wondering exactly who had been invited to a party. (Jarrah had a blast, too.)

4. Double-dates. We were supposed to hit the San Diego Jewish Film Festival, but our choice was sold out. Rats. Still, BBQ and The Blind Side with my acting friend Richard and his new girlfriend, Susan, was fun and fresh. And the movie did not suck as I'd feared. I glaze over as soon as someone says the word "football" so for me, that's saying something.

5. Valentine's morning in bed. No, Readers, not like that! I mean Jarrah climbed in and she and David gave me a big, pink bag of bath goodies and two really sweet cards. I got a bit choked up because it's the first year that Jarrah has written her own card (with help, of course.) She wrote "To Mommy, Love, Jarrah." She also wrote "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" (Just kidding.) I gave them some dark chocolate "orange sticks," which are doubly awesome because David adores them and I find them repulsive, so it's like the candy lurking around the house is my Kryptonite. Nice. Love you, dear ones!

6. Goodwill. When I looked up locations on Yelp, someone had written a diatribe that made it sound like Goodwill was practically founded for the sole purpose of killing bunnies, but I'll try not to think about that. Instead, I'll think about how nice it is to hand over a dozen bags and boxes of stuff I don't need and hear "thank you so much!" for doing it. And now my car is clean--for the next few minutes.

7. Japanese Tea Garden. It's just never bad, and it's so pretty. The terrace drops off into a sheer, green canyon and Jarrah is perfectly content to scoop up her Yam-Yams while we bask in the sun. And we all shared the really long noodles in honor of Chinese New Year--it's good luck!

8. Steam Powered Giraffe. I've become a bit obsessed with them. We saw two mini-shows from the front row, and while I love their singing and their robotics and those wacky costumes, I think my favorite thing about them is how funny they are. Sure, there are scripted bits (now I know that) but their little improv riffs crack me up.

9. Oscar Prep. The Oscars are a national holiday around here, so with 10 Best Pic nominees this year, we've got our work cut out for us. I was lagging at four out of 10 at the beginning of the weekend, but after The Blind Side and last night's Netflix viewing of Inglourious Basterds, I'm at a more respectable six. And while I only lasted five minutes (so far) into The Hurt Locker (I know, I'm a wuss) I was proud of myself for getting through that first harrowing section of Basterds and sticking with it. And I actually liked it. Who knew?

10. And there's more! David found out he has a holiday today (you can tell he works for a small company by the fact that he didn't know that until the weekend was already underway) and Jarrah has a birthday party this afternoon...that I get to drop her off for! The era of "drop off parties" is only in the early stages of launch for us. And (ta da!) the kindergarten application has been officially logged into the system with a "Before Priority Deadline" date stamp. Who knows what delights the day will hold?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sparky Enjoys Being Petted

Heart so heavy today. Stop draggin' my heart around. No, wait, that was Tom Petty, not me. I'm draggin' my own heart around. Probably means the little visitor is nigh. One time at Thanksgiving I was at my parents reading the back of their newspaper, which had oval photos of bunnies and terriers and tabby cats with captions like "Fuzzy would really enjoy fetching a ball for you." and I was sobbing my eyes out. I mean, I was hysterical. Then the visitation happened. And I was like, Oh. That's what's going on. How could I not know that? I thought maybe I needed to be treated for clinical depression.

So, yeah. Having this desire to do absolutely nothing but watch TV and eat junk food. I mean, baaaad junk food. Like Pop Tarts. Which I absolutely refuse to buy. So instead I'm scarfing Trader Joes Organic Dark-Chocolate-Covered Sunflower Seeds and pretending I'm all virtuous. I don't have me fooled.

Jarrah is on a four-day weekend because...well, because her preschool celebrates two Presidents' Days. And I knew that was going to be at least one too many for me. So even though I had scheduled a writing class for a morning when my kid was not at school, I decided to go anyway. It meant I had to hand over half my earnings to the babysitter, but it was still worth it because I can't feel blue while teaching the writing class. Like Bridget Jones, I am v. busy and important. That is preferable.

This afternoon I will go dance around like a chicken and that will help, too. I have been trying to learn a new routine this week and damn. That is hard. How have I done it before? I find it hard just to follow the video, let alone memorize it. And when I do these crazy martial arts knee-sweeps it feels like I'm dislocating something. That is not something I want to do in front of people. I have this sense of despair about learning new material and that is not motivating. Must tell myself to keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming.

Fog, lift! By tomorrow, please. Keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Driving to school yesterday, with all three of us in the car:

Jarrah: Mommy, do you know what to call trees that lose their leaves every winter?

Sam: you?

Jarrah: Deciduous trees.

Sam: (whispering to David) Did you hear that?

David: It's true.

Sam: I mean, have you heard her SAY that before?

David: Oh! No.

Sam: Geez Louise. The other day I heard them talking about lepidopterists in her class during pick-up.

David: What's a lepidopterist?

Jarrah: (calling from the back seat) It's a scientist who discovers butterflies.

Sam: Maybe kindergarten is not the next step. Maybe we start touring colleges.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Icing and Cherries

Oy gevalt, I am so confused. Just returned from our fifth and final kindergarten tour--our neighborhood school, Foster Elementary.

And it was awesome. I mean, really. I can't find any fault with it. The 90-minute tour was led by Principal Downey, who is just a big mensch of a man. (You can tell I'm overwhelmed from my use of Yiddish.) He was so warm and personable and all the kids kept calling out to him with genuine affection "Hi, Mr. Downey!" We met a bunch of teachers from all grades, and every last one seemed great--engaged and caring. We watched the students in their rooms--some chaotic, some orderly, but all seeming like an enjoyable and stimulating educational experience.

I had a lot of questions this time, and some of the answers were pleasing and surprising. For instance, 85-90 percent of the students live in the neighborhood--good for Jarrah and making friends. The other 10 percent are kids of people who work at the hospital down the street, giving the school a truly international diversity. Technology is rolling out at the same rate as the other district schools--two of the teachers showed us how they do math with a combination of Netbooks and Smartboards. But the kindergarten rooms were wondrously low-tech, with drawings and books and toys everywhere. I liked the messiness of it--the rooms seemed well-loved.

But that was another surprise. I thought the school would seem run-down, having been built in 1955, but it was actually quite cheery and orderly. Kids were practicing for their variety show next week, and we saw other kids running laps for prizes on their recess. The school is currently being recognized by the state for the work they've done with students in the past couple of years. It was clear that the principal takes great pride in the school and its students.

I liked the quiet privacy of the kindergarten quad, which has its own playground, and how all the rooms had windows. Oh, and the library! It's pretty new, very cheery, and filled with light. Probably the nicest one we've seen.

Of course, they have problems, like any other CA school right now. They lost seven teachers last year, and their kindergarten ratio has gone from 16-to-1 to 24-to-one in one year. They have too many students for the three kindergartens, so there's one K-1 combo. The principal told us that parents opt to take background checks so they can drive students on field trips, since they can no longer afford buses for those trips.

And then there's that one nagging detail, which actually means nothing to me except that it's a mathematical statistic, right there in black and white: The other schools we've seen all have an API score of 10. Foster's is 6. It's actually down a point from last year. What does this mean? Why don't their students test as well? Who knows?

But at the end of the day, it's a relief to know that--if we can't have our top choice or even our second choice in the lottery--Jarrah could do a lot worse than her neighborhood school. In fact, it no longer seems like a last resort at all. But what should our FIRST choice be? That I still don't know, and it's only a matter of days before we have to decide.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

It Takes All Kinds

My family didn't really have traditions growing up, not that I can remember anyway. There wasn't anything we did every year, or people we always saw. Which is why I'm kind of impressed that we seem to be building an actual tradition with Mary, Paul and Joy every February 6th: Family Day.

Why February 6th, you ask? Because on that day we were all together for the first time, in Chongqing, China. Perhaps it's appropriate that the past two years have been rainy and chilly, because that's what it was that first day. The babies were a year old and bundled up like linebackers. We were wearing coats, but our emotions could probably have kept us warm. There's a lot about that day that I can't remember because it was so weird, but some of it is burned in my brain: Jarrah's weight on my hip, the look on her face as she slurped her candy, the feel of cold cement beneath me when we took the group photo on the steps. It was truly the strangest, most magical day of my life.

A lot of people get to celebrate their child's birthday as the day they met. We have to do things a little differently. I didn't become a mother the day my daughter was born (though Red Thread believers might argue that I did.) However you slice it, though, February 6th will always seem important, worthy of a holiday, a celebration. And that's how we've been spending it for the past four years.

This year may have been the last (but who knows?) for this particular trip, and you can read about the others here, here and here. The first year, we weren't even sure why we were taking the train to San Juan Capistrano. The train seemed enough--the girls were going through a "choo-choo" phase. They didn't talk much then, and we were weighted down with strollers and diaper bags. This year, I just had my purse (okay, a rolled-up change of clothes in a Ziploc stuffed in there.) Previously, I was exhausted from the vagaries of parenting--this year, I was exhausted because I'd been out until 2:00 drinking champagne in a limo. Yep, we're all growing up.

Part of the tradition is "matchy-matchy" outfits--I have a feeling by next year someone will veto this. But as you can see, the girls look awfully cute in their brown "hearty" shirts. Joy also brought Jarrah a necklace with a heart key on the end of it, which was a big hit.

It's so easy to travel with the girls now, and the 45-minute stretch of track between Solana Beach and SJC is stunning, mere feet from the surf pounding the rocks and beachs bordering two counties. Even colorized in steel-grey for the occasion, the view often takes my breath away. If you're five, though, you might be more interested in super-hero figurines.

At some point there is always a total stranger who is extra-kind, and this year it was the manager of Zoomars, who whisked us in for free "because of the mud." True, the train and pony rides were closed due to rain, but the guinea pigs and bunnies were just as fluffy and enjoyed their lettuce just as much. Jarrah was determined to feed every single denizen of the corral, and I just sat back with Paul while the creatures explored my purse (perhaps they like bagels?)

A new feature of Zoomars is a very nice playground, where the girls romped while Mary sneaked off to buy them matchy-matchy plush guinea pigs. We also visited the horses and goats and llamas, and this year there were some funny little chickens in the corral, too.

All that cuddling of small animals in chilly weather got us hungry, so we walked up to The Ramos House Cafe, a little treasure of a place we learned about on the train the first year. It's a ramshackle place with a sublime tiny menu, and we were able to indulge another Family Day tradition: alcohol in the middle of the day. Our Grapefruit Fizzes contained sorbet, fruit, juice and sweet-potato liquor, with a big splash of body-warming yum. The food was just as good--still thinking about my Fried Chicken Salad with cornbread--and the girls were amazingly patient with the glacially slow service.

A beautiful new park with a creek and multiple structures has gone up in the Los Rios District since last year, but alas, it was pretty wet. Not that the girls cared--they used their butts to dry off the slides while we huddled under a playhouse roof. We probably would have stayed until dark, but everyone was getting pretty chilled.

On the way home, Mary and I got to catch up (a real treat) while Paul and David snoozed. J and J were still going strong, playing with dollies and singing at the top of their lungs. I mentioned to Mary how grown up they seem all of the sudden (and the photos reflect this) and she said "But they're still babies." And they are. It's hard to remember some days that for all their leggy height and swingy hair and complex vocabularies, they haven't been on the planet that long. And while four years seems like a long time some days, we haven't been doing this parenting thing so very long, either.

Now that there are no naps, our 5:00 return seemed too early to call it a day, so we ended up at The Forum in Carlsbad, where the girls played in a Gepetto's toy shop and we waited for a table at a new burger place called The Counter. Their gimmick is you fill out reams of forms in triplicate in order to mastermind your perfect burger, and apparently the good people of North County have fallen for it. Not that the burgers weren't good--they were, and the deep-fried dill pickle slices sublime--but everything arrived lukewarm and the place is designed like a giant bathroom, all tile and chrome, which gets pretty loud when you start blasting Courtney Love over it. I was glad it wasn't me covering my ears and whining "It's tooo LOUD in here!" (It was Jarrah.)

When we emerged, the rain had stopped for the moment and the night was shiny and crisp. We concluded the festivities with a visit to the carp pond, where the girls enjoyed shrieking and imitating the fish who lifted their O-shaped mouths out of the water in hope of a snack or a finger. Jarrah was not happy about saying goodbye, but she was clearly exhausted.

We had talked about going on a "real" trip this year--maybe to Palm Springs for the aerial tramway. And I suppose in future years, we might just do something like that. But what I really love about Family Day is we don't have to do much of anything to make it feel like a holiday. Just being all together is a powerful reminder of where we came from and where we're going. We all enjoy each others' company, like family only...not so much.

I have a photo taken of Jarrah and Joy before we met them, when they were Mei Ruo and Mei Zhi respectively, being held side by side by their nannies. And what strikes me about the photo is that these babies live together, but they don't actually know each other. It took a journey to the other side of the world to connect them, and a February morning in 2006 to kick it off.

And then the rest of us didn't have to do a thing but stand back and watch. They grew to love each other all on their own, because they wanted to. On the return train, we had the requisite "Oh, they're so cute! Are they twins?" moment and now I'm used to it. "No, they're just friends." I said. "They're not related."

And yet that's exactly what they are. Four years has made them not just friends, but family. And for that we are all very, very lucky.

Friday, February 05, 2010

With Oaths Kept Waking, And With Brawling Fed

I've been quiet this week because I was waiting to post with some exciting news, but I don't think there's going to be any.

To end the suspense up front, I had an audition, but I didn't get a callback. Here's how it happened.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a notice for a local Shakespeare company that was looking for "actor/teachers" for a "School Education Tour." That caught my eye. "Requirements: Experience with Acting, Teaching, Shakespeare."

Well, HELLO. That would be me, right? Seemed like a sign. Before I could overthink the whole thing, I shot them an e-mail asking for an appointment. "We can see you on Sunday, January 31 at 6:50 p.m. Thank you." came back.

Gulp. They can SEE ME. Eek.

They asked for "two contrasting 1-minute monologues, both need to be Shakespeare" so I went into research mode. Turns out the internet and the local library are filled with responses to the question "What should I do if someone wants me to give a 1-minute Shakespeare monologue?" I love to research, so before long I had every book in the county stacked up on our couch ("Why must you leave your BOOKS EVERYWHERE?" Jarrah whined.)

I quickly learned that one must not do certain monologues because EVERYONE does them. I figured these would be obvious--Ophelia, Lady Macbeth--but not so much. Because I was quite wedded to a little ditty by the shepherdess Phebe in As You Like It before one of my books listed--in the column DO NOT DO THESE--"Anything by Phebe in As You Like It."

Color me surprised, and schooled.

The next step was acquiring a team of experts. I asked my friend Lisa, who has been on a number of auditions lately, if she would help me with rehearsal strategies--for instance, did you know that the punctuation in Shakespeare tells you how to play it? I didn't. I also asked (David had this superb idea) if she would go with me to the audition, for moral support. She is a complete angel and agreed to all. I asked my friend Calvin, who is nothing if not opinionated when it comes to theater (well, when it comes to anything, really) if he would vet my choices, and then he coached me on my lines. Which really helped--I am terrible at learning lines. Once I know them, I REALLY know them, but getting there is torture.

And so the days went by quite pleasantly, studying and reading and consulting with a not-terrible flutter of nervous anticipation in my belly.

I learned a lot about auditions in general. For instance, I did not know that you NEVER look at the auditors (I hadn't even known they were called "auditors") because "they don't want to be in your audition." I learned that you answer questions with a friendly yes or no and keep the details to yourself. I learned that your audition begins the moment you walk through the door and ends when you walk back out of it. I learned what not to do with my hands, my cell phone, my excuses. It was all very informative.

When the big weekend arrived, I was pretty much a wreck. I still had laryngitis, and had accepted I was simply going to be sort of passionately throaty in my big moment. I kicked David and Jarrah out repeatedly while I paced the floors, testing out my gestures in the mirror. I had a few horrifying occasions where I would blank completely, totally, utterly--sometimes on the first line--and lay awake imagining doing that in front of the directors. It seemed like I had a shot if I could just get THROUGH it. After all, I'm no stranger to Shakespeare, and certainly not to teaching. And after five shows in the past year, I have to admit I'm not a total novice as an actor, either.

Lisa arrived early and gave me some last-minute tips ("No miming! Get your hands off that invisible necklace!") and then we were off. The theater is downtown and looked small and dark from the outside. There was a sign on the door saying "Auditions in Progress. Sssshhh."

They weren't kidding. When we opened the door, we were in a tiny black-curtained vestibule filled with other women (it only took about five of us to fill it) and could hear some loud emoting going on about six inches away, behind a curtain to our left. The unseen auditioner was tearing it up in there, clearly enjoying herself, and apparently for good reason--the unseen auditors were laughing and clapping with delight, and followed her performance with "Fantastic! We love you! What's your availability?"

My gut response was deep self-loathing and a strong impulse to turn around and run. It made sense to me if they were loving this girl--who sounded nothing like me--they were going to spit in my face. Lisa calmed me down as best she could, but we literally could not even whisper, so small was the space. The greeter smiled and took my headshot and resume, and efficiently indicated when each of us were to pass beyond the curtain. There were about three other gals in front of me, and I hated having to hear their auditions, though I was relieved to hear that no one had chosen my monologues. Having had an opportunity to hear the directors kvelling, I was now in a position to recognize what a cooler reception sounded like--a couple of these gals got little more than a "thank you!" when they were through. By now I was ready to keel over with nerves, wishing I had peed before I left the house, wanting to do some stretching but not wanting to do it four inches away from a roomful of strangers.

Suddenly, I got the smile and the nod and I was swishing through the curtain. I was in a black box theater and there was nowhere for me to go but to the front, as the directors were sitting in the seats. They were friendly and smiley, especially the man who was sitting by himself. As Lisa had foretold, they didn't say anything except "Whenever you're ready," so at least I was prepared for that. The theater spot was on, and with great relief I realized I couldn't see them even if I wanted to. I smiled and said:

"My first monologue is Portia from Julius Caesar, and the second is Katharina from Taming of the Shrew." They smiled a lot at that--I noticed later that their company is actually doing Shrew this season. And then I was off.

I started with Portia, and about half-way through I could feel I was shaking a little. I didn't worry about it too much, because I was clearly not forgetting my lines (though I switched out a word or two--all the books said not to worry about this because "they're not holding a script") and why shouldn't she be shaking? She's accusing her husband of lying to her about plotting murder. Maybe they thought I planned it. Or maybe they couldn't even tell--I wasn't shaking enough to feel my extremities go numb, which has happened to me before.

When I finished, they didn't say anything, which I'd been warned about, so I looked down, took a breath, and then launched into Katharina, which felt pretty good. I wasn't nervous, and then I was delighted to hear the three of them LAUGHING--not like I was blowing it, but more like they know Shakespeare and I was putting a funny spin on the lines. That felt good and I'm an attention whore, so the second half went even better. When I was done, everyone was grinning, and since there was no immediate noise, I instinctively beat a path for the door.

They stopped me with "Thank you. Do you have availability during the day?"

"Yes, I do." Every fiber of my being pushed me to go on: "I don't do much these days. My daughter is in preschool. We are looking at kindergartens right now. It's nerve-wracking, because San Diego has Choice, you know? Do you know about that? Here's how it works..."

But I just smiled and waited. I was about to go, when one of them said "And do you have teaching experience?" This threw me a little, since it meant that they hadn't looked at my resume, but then one of them snort-laughed like he (she?) was saying "Uh, YEAH she does." And then they asked me about teaching, and seemed impressed by what I told them. Then somebody said:

"And you have an MFA?"

"Yeah," I said. "An MFA in Creative Writing, and a Ph.D. in Literature." There was a chorus of "wows."

"Mmm-hmm, that's mostly what they're good for." I ventured, not wanting to leave without a small infusion of the ol' Sam charm. "Mentioning them to people and hearing them go 'wow!'"

They all laughed. Nicely. I felt good. We thanked each other, and I pushed through the curtain to see Lisa jumping up and down with her thumbs up. Silently. I ran and hugged her, mouthed "thank you" to the greeter, and out we went into the night.

For a moment, I was giddy with being done. And Lisa said "You rocked it! Knocked it out of the park! If you don't hear from them, it's just because they need a different type or age, but you gave the best audition you could." I don't think this was a snow job, and she was actually there.

Then we went for burgers, and I dared to hope I might hear from them. If for no other reason than how many actors are free on weekdays between 8-3 and have sixteen years of teaching experience?

But the callbacks are Monday, and it's Friday now, and it's been all week with no news. Sigh. Still, I don't feel terrible. I'm sorta proud of myself for following through with this, for the work I did, and for getting up there and doing not one but TWO monologues from memory without forgetting my lines. Right there, I accomplished something.

Maybe next time, I'll get a callback.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Brain Food

This school thing is starting to freak me out. We went on another tour this morning, and now I'm even more torn. The school was Green, and it's an "Athletics and Academics" magnet. Which sounds a bit redundant, but in fact the kids get P.E. almost every day of the week while at other schools, only once a week. They also do "units" of dance, gymnastics and swimming. I am a big believer in exercise sparking brain activity, and also my daughter happens to be a total wiggle-worm.

It was kind of funny when the tour lady showed us the field and explained that the kids run laps every day at 9:30, for some sort of prize. I said "You FORCE them to run laps???" and my child was forgotten as I flashbacked to my middle school lap-running days, when I would be crying and snot-covered and the disgusted P.E. teacher would yell "Pick up the pace or I'm going to give you another lap! You're a disgrace!" Well, maybe I'm exaggerating slightly. Anyway, my point is, Jarrah would probably be all over the lap-running, find it totally groovy. Yet another example of how we don't share DNA.

Anyway, some of the things I liked about Green reminded me of Dailard, which I also liked. It's new-ish. Air-conditioned. Feels open and clean. The teachers seemed engaged, and the students lively. I liked how the tour covered all the kindergarten rooms but a few 2nd and 3rd grade rooms, too, so we could see what they were doing. The principal had a no-nonsense "I expect the best from everyone in my orbit" kind of vibe. And then there's the athletics on top of that.

David was impressed because--instead of a computer lab like all the other schools--this one has brand-new iMacs (four of them) in every classroom, K-5. A completely weird bit of trivia is that these were donated by the family of actress Anne Heche, who apparently went there. The kids use computers in the classroom every day. Oh, and Jennifer? There were Smartboards in every room, too!

It was kind of amusing that this was the only tour that didn't begin with a sort of pageant in the multi-purpose room, a time for us to kick back and let people bombard us with information. We began at the ridiculous hour of 7:40 and left the office promptly, and after a standing welcome from the principal, off we went on the hoof. This amused me later because it is, after all, an athletics magnet, so I guess they wanted us to get our morning constitutional. Multi-tasking, dontcha know.

I asked a lot more questions on this tour because by now I have a basis for comparison and am not totally clueless about what kindergarten even means. I liked how one of the kinder teachers explained why there are different reading "stations" in his room, and was actually a bit relieved--as of yet, Jarrah has expressed no interest even in letters having sounds, so no doubt there will be kids way ahead of her in that area. I liked how she could learn to read at her own pace.

And it didn't hurt that the principal said "Thank you for considering our school" and there was absolutely no talk of how hard it is to get in (which it is--just as hard as the others, if not harder.) I do like to be given a little credit for dragging my tired self out of bed in the dark, though I'm ashamed to admit that after we dropped Jarrah at school, I came home and passed out again until noon.

Maybe I need to enroll in the adult version of an athletics and academic magnet.

One more tour to go--our neighborhood school. This one is a drop-in. And then it's decision-making time. Gulp. Any bets on whether I'll feel the need to circle back to all these schools again before filling out the application?