Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Second Christmas

I'm not a materialistic person, but it was still sad yesterday to wake up knowing that there was nothing under the tree for me, and that the reason was because the person who cared about making sure I had a gift on Christmas morning is dead. Maybe next year I'll buy myself a pair of socks and wrap it up so I have something to open.

Aside from that brief dip in the self-pity pool, we had a nice holiday. G loved everything and declared it to be "the best Christmas ever," and the cats seemed to enjoy their kitty treats and toy mice. We visited the cemetery and speculated about what Christmas might be like in heaven (we figured there'd be a big party, since it's a birthday) and then we went to the movies to see "The Water Horse" and spent the afternoon and evening with various relatives. It really wasn't bad.

But it would have been much better with P.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A higher authority

G and I have spent the last few months locked in a battle of wills over what time I should get up on weekend mornings. So far, I am not winning.

On Saturday, she appeared at my bedside at 6-something a.m. and announced that she was hungry, to which I suggested, without opening my eyes, that she go downstairs and have something to eat. She said she didn't want to do that, and proceeded to sit on my bed and harass me until I got up and grumpily poured her a bowl of cereal.

That night, I thought I would be very clever and head her off at the pass the next morning, so I baked blueberry muffins, put three of them in a Ziploc bag, and left them on my bedside table. When she turned up (again before 7), I directed her to the muffins and went back to what I thought was going to be an uninterrupted sleep. And it was uninterrupted ... for the 15 minutes it took her to eat. After that, she gave me updates on the time every few minutes ("It's 7:17, Mom. It's 7:28. It's 7:36.") until I finally dragged myself out of bed, feeling cross and un-rested.

Honestly, all I want to do is sleep until at least 8 on weekends. I'm not asking to be left there until noon while everything falls into chaos around my unconscious body; I just want one more hour of sleep than I get during the week. I don't think that's unreasonable, and I know she can occupy herself in the morning, because she's done it in the past. But she's refusing to do it now, and without P to back me up, I'm starting to have fantasies about taking the case to arbitration. Can you imagine?

My lawyer: My client gets up early every weekday to get herself and the plaintiff dressed for work and school. She is requesting that on weekends, she be granted a stay until 8 a.m. I'm sure the court will see what a reasonable request this is and find in her favor.

G's lawyer: Well, my client's position is that she wakes up starving at 6:45 a.m. on weekends, and needs to eat within five minutes or she might gnaw her own arm off from hunger.

My lawyer: Is it not true that during the week, my client has to drag your client out of bed at 7:15 and instruct -- no, order -- her to eat her cereal so she won't be late for school?

(G and her lawyer whisper to each other)

G's lawyer: Yes, that is true. My client doesn't know why weekends are different, but they are, and she feels that the defendant's insistence on an extra hour in bed is preventing her basic needs from being met.

My lawyer: Mr. ____, tell the court how old your client is.

G's lawyer: She'll be nine on January 26.

My lawyer (jumping up): Aha! Nine years old! Your Honor, I move that a nine-year-old is old enough to either wait an hour for breakfast, or to go to the kitchen and get herself something to eat.

G's lawyer: My client isn't allowed to use the toaster or microwave without permission!

My lawyer: I'm sure she's allowed to peel a banana and open a cereal box. (To me) Is she?

Me: Yes, she is.

My lawyer: Just as I thought. Your Honor, let it be noted that if the plaintiff chooses not to eat the food that is freely available to her, and is hungry as a result, then it's no one's fault but her own.

G's lawyer: My client says the cereal only tastes good when Mom pours it.

My lawyer: Well, that's just silly.

Judge: That's enough, gentlemen. I've heard sufficient evidence to make a decision. This court rules that if the plaintiff wakes up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, she is to help herself to an approved breakfast food, and then read, watch TV or play quietly until 8 a.m. She is strictly prohibited from standing over the defendant's bed and reporting that she's hungry, as well as from giving updates on the time at 10-minute intervals from 7 a.m. onward. If she chooses to wait, then the defendant will get up no later than 8 and prepare a meal for her without complaint or recrimination. *bangs gavel* We're adjourned. Mr. Bailiff, I'll be waiting for my lunch in my chambers.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shillin' for AG

I've been meaning to post about this for a while, and then something on a friend's blog reminded me of it. So, for mothers who have daughters of a certain age, here is my totally uncompensated endorsement of American Girl's book The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls.

I bought this book for G late last spring, when she started needing deodorant and I realized that other changes were probably in the offing, and it's been great. She was a bit embarrassed about it at first and wanted to read it alone in her room, but after the first two or three times through, she started showing me pages she'd dog-eared and asking me questions about what was on them. Sometime around the fourth or fifth reading, we walked into Target, and she immediately sang out, "DO YOU NEED ANY TAMPONS, MOM? HERE, I'LL HELP YOU CHOOSE SOME!" and went skipping off to the sanitary-products aisle while I followed under the amused gaze of our fellow shoppers. Since then, she's nearly read the book to pieces, and still gets it out pretty frequently to have a look at her favorite sections.

The particularly nice thing about the book, as far as I'm concerned, is that it weaves the information about bras and periods into more general discussions about personal care (exercise, sleep, bathing, etc.), so it doesn't seem like such a huge OMG puberty!! deal. It also does not mention sex or reproduction, which is a plus if you just want to have the "what's happening to your body" talk without getting into everything else. Although personally I wished there'd been a chapter on the topic, or at least a companion book, because I had to have that talk with her from scratch, and it was a challenge even for someone as un-squeamish as me. (With an only child, there's never an opportunity to have the basic "how the new baby got inside Mom" discussion, so she pretty much knew nothing.)

So anyway, there you have it. I would say the book is appropriate for ages 8-12 -- it's written at about a fifth-grade reading level, so G had no trouble reading it on her own. It does have a cartoon-style picture of a girl inserting a tampon, which seemed to disturb some of the reviewers on Amazon, but the way I look at it, if you're old enough to need the information, you're old enough to see it illustrated. Although I did decline to provide a live demonstration when G asked. I'm relaxed, but I'm not that relaxed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Inquiring minds want to know

One of the things I love about having site stats (I use StatCounter), if anyone is interested) is being able to see what sorts of keywords people use to reach this blog. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that a lot of them don't find what they're looking for once they arrive, so I thought I'd try to provide answers to a few recent searches. Here they are:

broccoli potato gratin

Far and away the most common search string, this finally made me feel so guilty for being a Google tease that I put a link to an actual broccoli-potato gratin recipe in that post.

what chaps my hide means

It means that something irritates the living daylights out of you. You may remember it from the old Pace Picante Sauce commercials with the cowboys sitting around the campfire and eating salsa. ("New York City? Git a rope!")

how to know if the shoe fits

I've been told that there should be a thumb's width of space between the end of the shoe and the child's big toe. However, no matter what size G tries on, she always claims to be able to feel me pressing down on the shoe, so it's either a myth or I have freakishly fat mutant thumbs.

gumball machine mechanics

You put the quarter in the slot and turn the little dial thingy, and then the gumball rolls down a sort of chute and fetches up against the metal door. Open that door slowly and be ready to catch, or the gumball will shoot out at maximum escape velocity and end up on the floor, and no one likes that.

schoolgirl miniskirts

Ugh. Sounds like a pervert. If this is you, don't let the door hit you on your way out.

teenage boy bedspreads

I don't have a teenage boy and have never been one, but considering what P's tastes ran to when I first met him (he was 23 at the time, so not too far off), I would recommend something with either a supermodel or a sports team logo on it.

blow to the head and pain at the back of the eye

You are seriously injured. Get off the Internet and head to the nearest emergency room, stat.

santa lantern made out of milk jug

I never even dreamt this was possible, but look! It is, and here's how you can do it.

questions to know more about you

Oh Lord, don't even ask. I'm terrible at small talk.

perfect poop

Perfectionism is such a curse. Stop worrying about trying to produce the perfect poop, and just accept each poop for the unique creation that it is. As I think Shakespeare once said, "This above all, to thine own poop be true." Words to live by. :)

Monday, December 10, 2007

He sees you when you're sleeping ... or he would if he were REAL

I think G has figured out the truth about Santa. She hasn't come right out and said so, but she turned down an opportunity to visit him at a shopping center yesterday, claiming that she was too big and would feel ridiculous, and she keeps asking me pointed questions like "What do you want to give me for Christmas, Mom?"

She's been full of hip third-grade savviness for several months now -- she likes to tell me that I can't fool her because she isn't a little kid anymore -- so this development doesn't really surprise me. I'm just not sure whether I should let us both off the hook or continue to play the Santa game as long as she's willing to go along with it. I don't think I want her to end up like my sister, who professed to believe in Santa until she was at least 12 because she thought she wouldn't get any more presents if she admitted she knew they came from my mother and stepfather.

It's funny, people say that kids grow up fast, and they do, but from what I've observed with G, it happens in bursts rather than constantly. Ever since she was born, she's gone through long periods where she keeps growing, but essentially stays the same -- and then all at once she takes a leap forward and seems older and more mature practically overnight. For example, the 3- to 5-year-old phase felt like it lasted forever, and then she started kindergarten and wham, she was a whole new kid. The next phase lasted from that point until last summer, and now all of a sudden I'm looking at her and wondering "Who is this girl who's too big to believe in Santa, and what has she done with my little second-grader?" It's not a bad change, it's just unnerving because it feels so sudden.

I will say this, though: Having an older child definitely has its perks. When G refused to visit Santa, I suppose I could have shed a sentimental my-baby's-growing-up tear, but I was too busy restraining my urge to do a victory dance because I didn't have to stand in the long, hot, crowded Santa line with a lot of crying toddlers and stressed-out parents. ("Sit on Santa's lap and smile, dammit!") No, instead, my big girl and I went and had a nice, civilized chocolate gelato in the food court. I could get used to that.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It puts the "work" in "workout"

Four years ago, I bought a stationary bike, which P promptly nicknamed "The Bull" because its handlebars look like a pair of horns.

The Bull:

An actual bull:

At our old place, The Bull lived in the walk-in closet in our bedroom (P would often open the closet door and say "Hello, toro!") and I used it all the time and stayed fit. When we moved here, there was no room for The Bull, so it got shoved out on the patio with everything else that wouldn't fit inside. And I gained 20 pounds.

(You'll have to imagine some before and after photos here, because heck if I'm going to post any.)

I've been meaning to find a home for The Bull indoors and get back into the exercise habit, but I've been busy with other things. On top of that, The Bull has been outside for 16 months, slowly developing a layer of grime and occasionally sitting in the pool of murky water that forms on the patio every time it rains (the management claims there are drainage holes in the patio wall, but they lie), and I was too lazy to clean it. But today, I saw some marvelously awful Polaroids of myself sporting those extra 20 pounds -- 19 of which appear to be in my face -- and realized I couldn't put it off any longer.

So when I got home from work, I dragged The Bull into the living room, and after G went to bed, I used a LOT of towels and a LOT of hot water to remove all the dirt, dust, cobwebs, leaves, pine needles and other junk from it. I dried it off, and I heaved it up the stairs to my bedroom. And when I was finally finished with all that, I was so tired that I had to eat a bowl of cereal and lie down.

You know you're really out of shape when moving your exercise equipment is all the workout you can stand.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Stumbling across the NaBloPoMo finish line

G and I went to see Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium this evening. Nearly every review I've read of it has been bad, but I really didn't think it was that terrible. Dustin Hoffman was creepy in a Willy Wonka-ish sort of way, but the special effects were pretty, and there was a nice message about life and death, which was, in a nutshell, that the fact of death shouldn't overshadow the life that preceded it. Life, not death, is the most important part of anyone's story.

During the big speech to that effect, G kept turning to me and asking "Are you crying, Mom?" which is a minor obsession of hers. At any remotely sad movie, she'll spend all the saddest scenes checking me for signs of tears, and during the memorial service for P last July, she repeatedly lifted up my sunglasses to look. I find it a bit odd that she's so concerned, as I don't cry a lot and when I do, it's never in front of her. This is because in general, I think kids need to believe that Mom is OK and will be able to take care of them and not fall apart. Saying "I'm sad about that" or "I miss your dad" is one thing, and I've done both plenty of times, but sobbing on an eight-year-old's shoulder is quite another. It's a grownup's job to be a grownup and make the kids feel safe. (The drawback, of course, is that no one makes the grownups feel safe, but as my father likes to say, that's life in the big city.)

In other news, it was a beautiful dark, rainy day, and I say that with absolutely no irony. I love the rain, and we don't get nearly enough of it here to suit my tastes. I hope it doesn't actually rain tomorrow, since we're planning to go to my mother's house and it's a longish drive, but I'd be perfectly happy to have overcast skies for the rest of the weekend. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Big and purple

G: How can anyone stand to wear the Barney suit?
Me: What makes you think it's a suit?
G: Mom. It's totally a suit.
Me: No! Barney is a little stuffed dinosaur, and when the kids come, then he turns into a real purple dinosaur.
G (starting to giggle): He doesn't.
Me: Are you denying Barney's special powers?!
G (laughing hysterically): You are crazy.
Me: You've got to believe! Believe in the magic!

Hey, it's nicer than P's theory that Barney was fattening the kids up so he could eat them later. Every time they'd have a cast change and bring on some new child actors, he'd say, "See? The last batch got eaten. You can't trust a T. rex."

I really miss him.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Think big

The copy on my bag of baked tortilla chips asks, "Did you know that you can indulge sensibly with [name of chips]?" And then goes on to say that one ounce of chips and two tablespoons of salsa has some laughably low number of calories.

Dude, one ounce of baked chips and two tablespoons of salsa doesn't even come close to being an indulgence, sensible or otherwise. Point me to a gallon of ice cream and I'll show you some real indulging.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I think I need to repeat the third grade

Find a pattern to solve:

The Portsmouth Players give two daytime shows and three evening shows per week. Their current play will run for 30 shows. How many of the shows will be daytime shows?

I would solve it like this:

2 daytime shows + 3 evening shows = 5 shows per week
30 total shows divided by 5 shows = 6 weeks
6 weeks x 2 daytime shows = 12 daytime shows in all

And then you know that the answer is correct because 30-12 leaves 18 evening shows, divided by 6 weeks, for 3 evening shows per week.

Unfortunately, I know this isn't what G's teacher wants her to do, because 1.) they haven't learned division yet, and 2.) it's not "finding a pattern to solve." I did show her my method, but then had her leave the answer blank and wrote a note asking the teacher to explain how she's supposed to solve it. (I left out the part I really wanted to write, which was "because hell if I know!")

Boy, I can't wait till she gets to algebra!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The lion sleeps tonight

Anyone who thinks cats are antisocial has clearly never had a cat. I'm completely convinced that if I could view our household from Catherine and Malcolm's perspective, it would be a complex social structure in which all four of us play a role. It would also be full of high countertops I wasn't allowed on and tantalizing objects I wasn't supposed to play with, but that's another story.

The social thing comes out in full force during our nightly reading time, which used to mean me reading to G, but now often means the two of us reading our individual books side by side on her bed. Catherine and Malcolm know that reading time starts when we go upstairs, and if they don't beat us to G's bedroom, they appear there within minutes once we've settled in. After I turn the light out, I sit on the bed until G falls asleep, and by the time that happens, I'm usually hemmed in on both sides by sleeping cats. If I happen to fall asleep too, which I try not to do, I wake up at 4 a.m. in a big tangle of cats and kid, unable to move for all the various limbs draped across me. Not long ago, I was sleeping in G's room and kept waking up during the night, feeling something furry at my feet and thinking that one of G's stuffed animals or her pink fake-fur cushion was down at the bottom of the bed. It wasn't until the sun rose and I could see what was going on that I realized Catherine had been using my feet as a pillow all night long.

I know cats aren't pack animals, the way dogs are, but I often think that this is what it would be like to be part of a pride of lions. It's very warm and friendly. I'm glad I don't have to eat freshly killed wildebeest for dinner, though. Yuck.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Girl Sprouts

G is in Brownies again this year. It's her second time -- she was in the same troop during first grade -- but we took a year off in between because I was so incredibly burnt out on the entire experience. It had nothing to do with P, who was still alive when the Brownie year ended: in fact, he asked me if I was going to sign her up again and I think I said something about wild horses and red-hot pokers. I was over it like someone who has just got over a bout of food poisoning, and is looking back on the last 24 hours and thinking, "Dear God, I hope I never get that sick again." I was done.

What was my problem? Just about everything, really. I have a pretty high tolerance for kiddie hijinks, but there was a lot of seriously out-of-control behavior that no one was managing, to the point where it was almost impossible to do an activity. Also, most of the girls were a couple of years older than G and had been in the troop for longer, and while they weren't mean or deliberately exclusive on that basis, they also had their own friendships already formed, and she wasn't part of them.

But the main issue, for me, was that it just wasn't very ... Girl Scouty. No one ever wore uniforms -- I never bought G the official vest because it seemed pointless under the circumstances -- and none of the history and ritual I remembered from my own Brownie experience *cough* years ago was there. No "investiture" ceremony to get the Brownie pin, no Girl Scout Promise, no circle of friendship, none of that. When we'd go to big councilwide events, I could see it wasn't just that all these things had been dropped over the years -- other troops were in uniform and knew the songs and seemed to be rocking the Girl Scout experience. For us, though, it was just a lot of halfhearted crafts and whining and squabbling over who got more of the pink yarn.

After all that, I was wary when G begged to sign up again this year. However, she really wanted to, and I knew one of her good friends was in the troop this time around, so I said all right. And to my relief and delight, there's been a huge change for the better while we were away. It's a bigger troop now, with a whole new mix of girls, and the leader, who was the co-leader before, has really taken control and brought a lot more order to the way things are done. Most of the girls are wearing the vest now, so I bought one for G and spent what felt like hours ironing and sewing on all the patches that have been languishing in their Ziploc bag for the last year and a half. I also bought her a copy of the Brownie handbook, and she's been reading it with great interest and doing the various fill-ins and quizzes.

She seems to be a lot more into it all than she was before, and I don't know whether that's because the troop has changed or just because she's older now, but I'm happy about it. After all, if you're going to do something for an entire year, you might as well be fully invested so you can enjoy yourself.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Every little bit counts

Last year at this time, I had about as much holiday spirit as the bastard offspring of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch. For all my love of Christmas, I'd never been able to help having a little morbid twinge as I was packing the decorations away each year, wondering whether we would all be together when it came time to unpack them again, and this was the year the worst had finally happened.

I really didn't want to celebrate at all, and if it hadn't been for G, I probably wouldn't have. But she was only seven, and she was still excited about Christmas, so I had to suck it up and make an effort. Our tree, our ornaments and our Nativity scene were all in storage, and even if I'd been able to get at them, I probably wouldn't have been able to bear seeing them. So I went out and I bought a small tree that was one step above being a Charlie Brown tree, and I assembled it and plugged it in. Then I ran out of momentum, or heart, or something, and the tree just sat there, undecorated, for the rest of the holiday season. It's a good thing it was pre-lit, or it would have been dark as well.

This year, I've got it a bit more together. G and I braved the shops on Black Friday and bought a few boxes of new ornaments (I'm still not up to pulling out the old ones), and as of last night, the tree was up and decorated. We had to put it on a table this year because the cats wouldn't leave it alone, which turned out to be a good thing because the extra height makes it look less small and sad. Its feeble Charlie Brown-ish top branch isn't strong enough to support a regular tree topper, so after looking for one in vain, we bought a 99-cent wooden star cutout at Michaels, covered it with gold paint and a metric butt-ton of gold and pink glitter, and wired it to the branch with star garland. It's really quite sparkly and pretty when the lights are on.

As to whether I'll ever regain my old holiday enthusiasm, only time will tell. But it's not even December first yet, and I've got a fully decked-out tree ready to go. I could do nothing else for the rest of the season and still come out ahead of last year on the strength of that accomplishment. It's all about the little things, right? Right.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hallmark moments

When my younger brother was three or four, he invented a game he called "There, There and There." This meant that he would creep up behind you -- maybe in the living room, maybe in the middle of the mall -- and say:

"There ..." (poking one side of your lower back with his tiny index finger)
"There ..." (poking the other side)
"AND THERE!!" (jabbing you right between the butt cheeks and laughing maniacally)

Needless to say, the rest of the family loathed this game and would try to flee or stop him before he got to the third "there," but it usually happened so fast that we couldn't escape, or at least not without causing a scene in public. As a result, we all spent a lot of time jumping, saying "HEY!" and clapping both hands over our rear ends in violated horror. My parents alternated between scolding him and making jokes about him growing up to be a proctologist; I told them that he wasn't going to live to grow up, because I was going to kill him if he didn't knock it off. (I was 12 at the time and did not enjoy having my dignity compromised by anyone, much less a little blond squirt with a Buster Brown haircut and an evil grin.)

My brother and I don't have a relationship now -- he moved away to live with our mother, stepdad and half-sister when he was about 11 and I was 19 or 20, and we never really got to know each other as adults. He got married last year, and he and his wife live in upstate New York, where I think he's working on a history degree. We've spoken about three times in the last five years, not because we dislike each other, but because we're basically strangers. Sometimes I wish I could ask him if he remembers things like the "There, There and There" game, or other things that happened to us later on, but I can't: I don't know how to get in touch with him, and he'd be baffled if I suddenly called.

It's strange how something you hated at the time can almost become a fond memory in the absence of other memories. Don't you think?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Skipping Thanksgiving, and I feel fine

G and I are skipping Thanksgiving. Sshh, don't tell anyone.

When she woke up this morning, her cold was in full force and she was dripping like a tap. (G: "Where's the Littlest Pet Shop ladybug? Oh, never mind ... I see it over there under my snot rag.") Not wanting to inflict this on the extended family, I canceled our plans to go anywhere and figured we'd just spend the day at home.

By early afternoon, the river of snot had dried up and she was feeling much better, so we went to Denny's, that traditional holiday venue, for lunch . She wanted to order French toast and a side of fries, which ordinarily I wouldn't let her do, but today I said, "It's Thanksgiving -- go for it!" Afterward, we went and saw "Bee Movie" in an almost deserted theater, and now we're at home not doing much of anything.

It may possibly be the best Thanksgiving I've ever had. Where do I sign up to do this every year?

Lest you think I totally ignored the spirit of the holiday, I did ask G what she was thankful for while we were playing Uno and waiting for our food. Here's her list:

1. "You, Mom!"
2. Catherine and Malcolm
3. My home
4. My possessions
5. My friends
6. Webkinz

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving

Today I went to the mall after work to start shopping for G's Christmas presents. I'd been there 10 minutes before I realized that it wasn't going to be as easy as it usually is. Why? Because almost nine is a tricky age. Almost nine isn't a little kid anymore, but it isn't a big kid either. Almost nine is old enough to want the kinds of gifts that come in small boxes and cost lots of money, but it's also young enough to want lots of big boxes to unwrap. Almost nine is young enough to still want bright, shiny "kid" toys, and to enjoy playing with them, but old enough that those toys may be outgrown in only a year or so. In short, almost nine is a challenge, but one to which I am equal.

I think.

The only people I shop for at all anymore are children -- G, her two little cousins, my sister (who at 17, still barely qualifies) and a child either from one of the "Angel Trees" that spring up around this time of year, or from a family that we sponsor at work. I enjoy shopping for my sponsored kids more than almost anyone else. Last year, I had a 9-year-old boy who needed clothes, and G and I went to Target and bought him a small but complete wardrobe. This year, I've got a 10-year-old girl who asked for High School Musical merchandise, which I'm sure G will be happy to choose. (I always try to get a kid who's close to her age so she can help with the shopping.) I miss the old days when I shopped for friends and extended family, but let's face it, for most of us, even the most thoughtful Christmas gifts just end up cluttering our already overstuffed homes. Spending the money on things that people really need and will use seems like the better option. Plus, I identify with these kids: I wasn't poor for my entire childhood, or even most of it, but it only takes a few hard years -- possibly only one hard year -- to change your point of view forever.

In other news, G told me this evening that instead of going to someone else's house for Thanksgiving tomorrow, she wants to stay home with just the two of us. I asked her what we would eat for Thanksgiving dinner, and she said, "Whatever we like to eat." Frankly, this sounds fantastic to me: I'm all for the "being thankful" part of Thanksgiving, but since G and I neither eat turkey nor watch football, the holiday itself usually doesn't hold much appeal for us. On top of that, we're scheduled to spend the day with P's family, and great as they are, holidays with them only serve to remind me that P isn't there to take all the dark meat and belt out a few songs on karaoke and sit around talking to his cousins. I'd probably be a lot happier counting my blessings at home and then ordering pizza and going to the movies. It'd upset other people if we did that, though, so I may as well start putting on my game face now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Yo gabba what?

Did no one notice during preproduction that the Cyclops character on Yo Gabba Gabba is wildly, inappropriately phallic?

I mean really. How could you miss it?

Throw in the sensation-enhancing nubs, and it looks like something you couldn't buy at a shop without showing I.D. I'll bet the designers for the show snicker like teenage boys every time they see it.

I was viewing Yo Gabba Gabba in the first place because G ended up staying home from school today, and I stayed home from work to be with her. Kids today have it easy, let me tell you. When I was her age and sick at home, it wasn't worth watching TV all day, because after Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers in the morning, it was a vast wasteland of game shows, soap operas and Phil Donahue for the rest of the day. Now you can turn on Nick Jr. at 7 a.m. and just lie there in a TV-induced haze until bedtime. Not that I allow that at any other time, but the Special Rules of Sickness include both treats -- we baked gingerbread this afternoon -- and unlimited television and/or computer time while you "rest." (Believe me, I apply these rules to my own illnesses as well, at least as far as I can while still attending to my responsibilities as Mom.)

I've got to go to work tomorrow, so G will be spending the day either at Grandma's house or Grandpa's office. It's not a bad cold, as colds go, so she shouldn't be too uncomfortable. With any luck, she'll have bounced back completely by Thursday -- no doubt just in time for me to come down with it. TV for everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A cold id the dose

I think G's coming down with a cold. This is really not her week.

The good: She's about to have five days off school to recuperate.

The bad: Who wants to spend a five-day weekend being ill?

I'm crossing my fingers that a good night's sleep will help her throw it off before it really gets started, but I suspect we'll be having our Thanksgiving meal with a big side dish of sniffling and sneezing. Yuck.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oh, my aching head

Well, it's not actually my aching head, it's G's. P and I both had severe migraines as children -- mine started when I was 4, his at around 8 or 9 -- and so we always suspected it was only a matter of time before G developed them too. Sure enough, they kicked in the year she turned 6 (we did take her to the doctor at the time, but only to confirm what we already knew it was), and now she gets one every couple of months. Tonight is one of those nights, and we've already been through the vomiting stage and are now on to the sleeping-in-a-dark-room stage. Poor girl.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I just finished going through my closet and dresser and asking myself the classic "three W's" of clothing purges:

* Why have I still got this?
* What was I thinking when I bought this?
* Where in the flipping heck did this come from?

In all, I filled two large trash bags of clothes. Most of them were things I'd love to wear if they weren't a size or two too small (wah), but I also got rid of overall shorts (36 may not be almost 40, as G thinks it is, but I'm quite sure it's too old for overall shorts, or any kind of shorts for that matter), the dreaded Fat Sweater, and the black dress I bought to wear to P's vigil and never want to wear again as long as I live.

While I was at it, I tried and failed to throw away the massive collection of P's socks that has been taking up space in my dresser for the last 16 months. It sounds silly, but socks were a big deal to P -- his feet were cold all the time because his circulation wasn't very good, and he was always asking me to bring him some socks or put his socks on for him -- and I just couldn't quite bring myself to part with them.

I did manage to pack them all into a box, and I'll take it down to storage in the morning, so at least all my clothes won't be crammed into two drawers anymore. Maybe in another year or so the socks will have lost their power. Or maybe not.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In memoriam

I've been looking for some sort of jewelry I can wear in P's memory (in addition to his wedding ring, which I already have on my left middle finger), and I think I've finally found it:

Black Titanium Soulmate Ring

"Anam cara" doesn't really mean "soulmate," it means "soul friend," like a confidant you discuss things with. P was a very introspective person and we had lots of deep talks, so it seems appropriate in both sense of the word.

There's room inside the ring for an inscription, and in a nice bit of serendipity, one of the engraving styles you can get is called "Vanessa." Clearly it's meant to be mine ... now if fate could just send $600 my way too, that would be great.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Death and taxes

Since the end of the year is approaching, I was doing some research in preparation for filing my 2007 taxes, and I discovered that I can only file as a widow with a dependent child for the first two years after the year in which P died. What the heck? Two years from now, P will still be dead, and G, at age 10, will be highly unlikely to have a job, so it stands to reason that I'll still be a widow with a dependent child. To everyone but the IRS, that is. I'm sure they've got some sort of statistics in hand that show I'm supposed to be remarried within three years, and therefore not in need of a separate filing status, but that isn't going to do me much good when the time to file for 2009 rolls around.

In book news, I'm finally reading The Golden Compass. I've only just started it -- I think I might have finished the first chapter before I fell asleep on G's bed. (She was also reading, and I woke up just long enough to tell her to put down her book and turn off the light. I don't know what time that was, but it must have been late, because she was not happy about getting up this morning.) It seems interesting so far, although I'm having a hard time controlling my usual reaction to a heavily hyped book, which is to focus on the mechanics of the writing to the point where I can't enjoy the story. One thing I really like is how Pullman just jumps in and starts telling the story without feeling the need to explain too much about the universe -- why everyone has a daemon, what they are, blah blah.

G, for her part, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her replacement copy of Screaming Mummies of the Pharoah's Tomb II, which is part of the Bunnicula series. It's her favorite book right now, so there was much drama when, over the weekend, one of the cats threw up on her original copy. I heard a scream of "No, Catherine! Nooooooo!" and the next thing I knew, G was howling and Catherine was standing over the befouled book, licking her lips and looking slightly puzzled in the way that cats always do when they've just been sick. ("What? You say that came out of me? Astounding!")

The culprit:

The book:

Luckily for G, I had just gotten a very generous Amazon gift certificate for my birthday, so I was able to order her another copy as soon as I had gingerly picked up and discarded the puked-on one. She was so outraged that I even threw in the two books in the series she hasn't already got as a consolation prize. She still maintains that Catherine did it on purpose, although I keep trying to tell her that it wasn't premeditated and the book just happened to be in the line of fire, so to speak. Or maybe Catherine didn't like the picture of the dog on the cover. Who knows?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mad rush

Whoever invented evening activities for children was a sadist, plain and simple. Tonight G's school had "Family Pajama Movie Night," which required me to leave work, rush home, get G's pajamas and slippers, collect her, rush her back to the school, help her change in the bathroom, and deliver her to the multipurpose room, only to discover that I hadn't thought to bring anything for her to sit on. Tomorrow is her Girl Scout meeting, which means pretty much the same song and dance, only without the pajamas and with the added need to feed her dinner (hello, fast food) before the meeting starts at 5:30. Plus, now that it's late autumn, all this happens in the pitch dark. Yay.

Don't get me wrong, G loves these activities and I think they're good for her. Like her father, she's an extrovert and craves lots of stimulation and time with other people, and since I'm the exact opposite (I could probably spend a week at home in total solitude, watching movies from Netflix and ordering groceries and pizza online), I have to make an effort to ensure she gets it. I just wish I had more time to make it all happen. In fact, I've often thought that our overall quality of life would be immeasurably better if I only worked two fewer hours per day. On the occasions when I've gotten out of work early enough to pick G up from school, the afternoon and evening have been so stress-free I can hardly believe it -- we've had hours to finish homework, eat dinner, do errands, even play a few rounds of Uno or Connect Four. I don't know why there should be such a huge difference between coming home at 4 and coming home at 6, but there is. Why can't it always be that way?

ETA: Something smells like burning rubber in here, and I can't figure out what it is. I turned off the washer and dryer; it isn't either of those. I'm not running the dishwasher or using the oven, nothing is plugged in that shouldn't be, and I just scooped the cat box, which is the usual source of mysterious awful smells. I'm stumped, and also worried. I don't know how I'm supposed to sleep with this going on.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wish list

Dear G,

Christmas is coming, and I really don't want much this year. As far as material possessions go, I already have everything I need (and no place to store half of it). But since you're a sweet, thoughtful girl and will probably want to give me something, let me suggest these five gifts that cost absolutely nothing and don't even have to be wrapped:

* On Saturday mornings, pour yourself a bowl of cereal and turn on the TV instead of standing over my bed at 7:35 a.m., whining "When are you going to get UUUUUUP? I'm HUUUUUUNGRY!"

* Every now and then, let me watch a movie that does not interest you without asking every five minutes, "Are you done yet? How much longer is this DVD? When are you going to be finished?"

* At the end of your shower, instead of yelling "I'M DONE!" down the hall, just turn off the water and get out.

* When we're having dinner and you'd like another drink or a second helping of something, consider getting up and fetching it yourself so I can finish eating.

* Close the bathroom door when you're in there. Please.



Sunday, November 11, 2007

Older and wiser

After G had spent several hours playing with her three-year-old cousin:

"Mom, was I annoying when I was three?"

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, did I do things I wasn't supposed to do and then not listen when older people told me to stop doing them?"




It's amazing how much older and wiser you can get in just five years!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

You belong in the zoo

While touring the children's area at the San Diego Zoo with G today, I bent down to look inside a meerkat hutch and encountered two meerkats -- I assume male and female, but who knows which way meerkats might swing at any given moment -- in an extremely compromising position.

Me: Oh my goodness.
G: What are those meerkats doing?
Me: Er, it looks like they're mating.
G: Wow! (pause) How do cats do it, Mom? Do they do it like meerkats?
Me (eying the meerkats): Pretty much, yes.
G: That means there are going to be babies in there! I'm so happy for the mother meerkat!
Me: Oh, look, there's the gift shop! Let's go buy lots and lots of souvenirs.

The meerkats, for their part, weren't at all bothered by having an audience. They made direct eye contact with me through the glass front of the hutch, and their entire demeanor seemed to say You got a problem with that? Oh no. You two lovebirds go right ahead. Don't mind me.

Aside from that little demonstration of the meerkat wild thing, we had a good time at the zoo. However, I'd forgotten, as I always do between visits, how freaking hilly it is there. Seriously, if you have never been and are planning to go, my advice is to hire a Sherpa or two to accompany you. I had to all but push G up some of the inclines, and it brought back memories of the first time P and I took her -- she was about 18 months old and still in one of those big, heavy strollers with cup holders and a roof rack and an optional third-row bench seat, and I thought I was going to have to abandon it halfway up the hill from the tigers to the apes.

We'd been planning to stay overnight, but when I checked the zoo's Web site this morning and saw that winter hours only last until 4 p.m., I decided it wasn't worth it to spend the money on a hotel, even a super-cheapo budget one, when we could just go home afterward. (I suppose staying in a room with skeevy bedspreads covered in invisible-to-the-naked-eye bodily fluids would have been a logical continuation of the theme that began with the meerkats, but I don't think we needed to go there.) We left right at closing time and got back around 6 p.m., so it was a long day, but a nice one. I told G she has to bring me back in 50 years for my 86th birthday and push me around in my wheelchair. Heh heh.

Friday, November 09, 2007

One dog's day

This evening I got my birthday present from G: a Webkinz Chocolate Lab that I named Ginger. This is actually the first time G has ever given me a birthday gift, and while she didn't pay for it herself (I think her grandfather was the capitalist behind this particular venture), she came up with the idea on her own, got someone to take her to the mall after school, picked out the Webkinz and hid it from me until today. It was very sweet of her, and she was so proud and happy when she presented it to me. She was also happy to go on the Webkinz site and spend all my KinzCash setting up Ginger's room. Hee.

Off to play some games now ... I'm really getting quite good at Candy Blast 2.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I blame it on the new math

G: Wow, Mom, you're almost 40.
Me: I am not almost 40. I'm turning 36 on Saturday. 36 is not almost 40.

New house rule: No rounding Mom's age up to the nearest 10.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A blow to the head

For my eighth birthday, my parents gave me a sky-blue bike with a white basket.

It was much bigger than the old pink bike I'd learned to ride a year or two before, and I was so pleased with it that at the first opportunity, I ran outside to try it out. At the time, we lived in Kenner, La., and the place where my best friend and I played and rode bikes was the parking lot that ran between our row of townhomes and the field behind them, which we were forbidden to enter because it was full of snakes. I rode the new bike around the parking lot for a while (this was much safer than it sounds, since we lived at the closed end of the lot and there was no through traffic) and then, for some reason, I decided that I was going to ride alongside the curb and stop the bike by putting my foot down on the sidewalk.

I wasn't athletic in the sense of being good at sports, but I was a little monkey of a kid and did all sorts of things that made my parents gasp, like shinnying up trees and riding my bike with no hands and leaping off the landing on our front stairs. I couldn't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to use my sneaker as a brake, and in theory, I suppose it ought to have worked, but it didn't. I took my right foot off the pedal as I approached the curb, and I remember stretching my leg out toward the concrete -- and then, in less than the blink of an eye, I was inside my house, in the downstairs bathroom, crying and in pain, with my own bloodied face staring back at me from the mirror.

My mother was washing the dirt out of my scrapes with a wet cloth, and I asked her, "Did it really happen?" I had no idea why I had asked or what "it" was -- I could see I was hurt, but I had no memory of getting hurt. Upon further questioning, my parents told me that I'd come running inside under my own power, screaming all the way. They said I'd fallen, and I believed them, but I couldn't remember it. I couldn't remember getting up or coming inside, either. There wasn't a gap in my memory; there wasn't even a flicker. I'd been putting my foot down to stop, and now I was here, and I didn't understand any of it.

I hadn't been wearing a helmet, of course -- it was 1979, and the only people who wore helmets were Evel Knievel and those guys on CHiPs. My head had bounced off the concrete like a watermelon when I fell, and our neighbor, who was a nurse, looked me over and said I probably had a mild concussion. I spent the rest of that day lying on the couch and most of the following two or three days feeling vaguely sick, and then I was fine. But for literally years afterward, those missing minutes of my life bothered me. I tried to remember what had happened -- had my pedal hit the curb? Had the bike fallen on top of me? How long had I lain there before I got up and ran inside? -- but there was nothing.

I didn't expect to have that creeping sense of unreality about anything else in my lifetime, but on the day P died, there it was, just as it had been all those years before. Something had happened to me that was so big, so traumatic, that my brain couldn't cope with it and kept trying to skip over it. When G and I came home from the hospital that afternoon, she wanted to draw pictures, and since I didn't know what else to do, I said we could. I sat there on the living-room floor with a green marker in my hand, outwardly calm and composed, inwardly thinking Did it really happen? A few hours before it had been a normal morning, and now in what seemed like less than a blink, our family was gone, and I couldn't believe it. Even now, when I recall what happened that day -- turning around, the look of his eyes, 911, CPR, the room at the back of the ER, the tube down his throat, the dried blood on his lips -- my first thought is How could something like that happen? How could he just have been dead like that? In our home, in our bed, how? Was it real? Was it?

And of course it was real, the way my accident was real, but I don't think it's ever going to seem any more real to me than that fall I can't remember. I'm not in denial; I know P is gone and no matter how much I long to, I will never see him again. Every day that goes by without him proves that. But the actual physical fact of his death -- that it happened just like that, while I was looking the other way -- is impossible to encompass. And if forgetting it were as easy as knocking myself over the head, I'd be looking for a bike to fall off right now.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mom to the rescue

This morning's excitement: voice mail from G saying that she'd spilled (unintelligible item) on herself and could I please bring her some clothes at school? I wasn't sure I had quite understood what she needed when I listened to the message, as G has a tendency to whisper into the phone, so I called back and spoke to the school nurse, who apparently is in charge of clothing disasters as well as illnesses. It turned out that G had gotten drenched with a mixture of liquid starch and glue while doing an experiment in the new science lab, and was, indeed, in desperate need of clean pants. The nurse then added that G was a very well-mannered girl and she didn't see that too often, which made me wonder exactly what G had said to her to elicit this reaction. ("Pardon me, dear lady, but I seem to have had a nasty accident with the glue; might I avail myself of your telephone?") I hope the stuff comes out of the clothes she had on -- it was a new outfit she'd only worn once before, and she loves it and would be very unhappy if it were ruined.

In other news, I haven't been able to sleep ever since the time change. WTF? Shouldn't I be getting tired earlier, since earlier is really later? It isn't working that way, though -- last night I went to bed at 2 a.m., and that was only because I forced myself to. I could easily have stayed awake another couple of hours. Not that I mind having extra time to waste, but sooner or later the lack of sleep is going to catch up with me. I hope the insomnia eases up before that happens.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Conference time

There is nothing like a parent/teacher conference for making you feel like a kid pretending to be an adult. I've gotten better at it over the years, but even so, I always have a moment where I think How can I be going to a conference? Grown-ups go to conferences! And then I remember that I'm almost 36 years old and as grown-up as I'm ever going to be, and I sit in the little plastic chair and nod knowledgeably as G's teacher talks about grade-level standards and organizational skills. I'm such a faker.

Anyway, G got a good report, as she always does. She still reads well ahead of grade level -- they've just upped the top of her AR reading range to 6.0, which she's happy about because it means she can check the really thick books out of the library -- and Mr. X commented on how much she loves to write. She'd rather write stories than play on the computer, so he lets her take her notebook and curl up somewhere to write when the other kids are having their game time. She's doing well in math, even though she dislikes it, and in music. He also said she's very mature for her age, gets along with everyone, and is extremely patient about explaining things to the girl who sits next to her, who's still learning English and needs some extra help now and then.

The only dark spot in all this sunshiny good news was attendance, which I knew I was going to hear about at some point. G has been late [appallingly high number] times in the two months since school started, and that only includes the times that actually got recorded and not the times when Mr. X let her slide in without saying anything. (He said that he really doesn't care because she's only coming in a few minutes late and not missing anything vital, but the office gets uptight about it. Mr. X, in contrast, is so laid back that he's practically reclining, probably because he's been teaching for as long as I've been alive.)

Anyway, I mentioned the attendance issue after I was done buttering G up with all the nice things Mr. X had said about her, and she groaned and said, "I know, I know." We'll have to work on it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

If the shoe fits

Believe it or not, we had to go all the way to a women's size 7 to get shoes that fit G properly. I hope her feet are just attaining their adult size early and will stop growing soon, because otherwise she's going to need shoes the size of an NBA player's by the time she's 12.

But all that aside, these are fantastic shoes that I would totally wear myself. (And if they were a size and a half bigger, I could. Heh.) I didn't encourage her to get them or even point them out to her; she spotted them herself and fell in love with them. I'm sure she'll end up rebelling against me as a teenager by becoming a super-girly cheerleader type, but for now it's fun to see my own tastes rubbing off on her.

I did also buy her this more conventional pair of sneakers for those times when a skull and crossbones just won't do:

And that's it for this episode of Outfitting the Growing Child. Keep an eye out for our next installment, "The Amazing Shrinking Pants," coming soon to a computer near you.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pizza epilogue

For those who were wondering, the pizza guy never came back. Also, upon reflection, I think he may have been the same pizza guy who made me livid a month or two ago by rudely demanding a tip.

The pizza guy is not my friend.

In other news, I attempted to buy G a new pair of sneakers this morning, only to discover that the child's feet have gone from a girls' size 4 1/2 to a women's size 6 1/2 since school started. The problem is, most women's shoes are either inappropriate for a third-grader, or come in styles she doesn't like. Where do you buy shoes for a little girl with adult-size feet?

Incidentally ...

I signed up for NaBloPoMo this year, because I am insane. (I almost typed "inane" there. Heh. Just give me 'til about November 15 and I'll show you some inanity.)

In case you're wondering, this does not count as my post for today.


*scary music*

Friday, November 02, 2007


Dear Pizza Delivery Guy,

When you told me that you'd forgotten my Diet Coke and were going back for it, I felt bad that you would have to make an extra trip and possibly fall behind on your other deliveries. I felt so bad that I got out a couple of dollars in cash so I could give you an additional tip on top of what I'd already put on my debit card.

But you've been gone for almost an hour, Pizza Delivery Guy. I know where the pizza place is, and it isn't that far away. I'm finished eating and I want my Diet Coke, and my sympathy for you is diminishing with every minute in which you fail to return.

Get a move on.


Your thirsty customer

Thursday, November 01, 2007

And then it was November

Last night I roamed the streets after dark with Cleopatra, a woodland fairy and a giant flamingo*.

I love Halloween.

G also loves Halloween in theory, but she stops loving it as soon as she realizes that she actually has to walk from house to house. We made it to three houses before she insisted on going back to her auntie's place because "my legs hurt." After a few minutes, I took her out again, we went to the end of the street and back, and then she saw someone in a scary mask and nearly pulled my arm out of the socket dragging us both to safety. As I race-walked alongside her, trying to keep up, I said, "G, you know that these are just costumes and none of it is real," and she said, "I can't help it! I'm sensitive!" Fair enough.

For the next hour, I took turns manning the front door while G hid in her cousin C's bedroom and watched Go Diego Go on TV. Meanwhile, C, who is barely three years old, stood right next to me handing out candy to everyone from princesses to Spidermen to Grim Reapers to Leatherface**. Actually, C had it so under control that she didn't even need me. She was a candy-dispensing machine: one Payday or Snickers bar in each bag, and off you go. We all could have gone out for pizza and left her to handle the job by herself.

On the way home, G informed me that next year she's staying home on Halloween and having a party, "and only girls will be allowed, and the invitation will say NO SCARY COSTUMES." I said she could do that if she wanted to, but she might change her mind by then, and she said she would never change her mind. I guess we'll talk about it next September.

G has made so much progress over the years that I sometimes forget she's basically fearful by nature. She's been that way since she was a toddler. It wasn't anything we did or didn't do, or anything that happened to her, it was just the way she was. When she was three and four, she and P were effectively trapped at home while I was at work because she'd scream hysterically if she had to get into a car without me -- any car, even his. We spent part of a Thanksgiving evening shivering in the cold twilight outside P's aunt's house because G screamed hysterically every time we tried to cross the threshold. She screamed hysterically at the doctor's office, at Grandma's house, on those little coin-operated rides outside K-Mart, and if we even walked past a movie theater. We didn't even bother trying to send her to preschool, despite the dire warnings that she would be "behind" when she started kindergarten and the assurances that a dose of preschool was just what she needed to cure her fearfulness, because we knew it would be nothing but pure torture for us all.***

Now that she's older, she's no longer afraid of most of the things that used to scare her. She can go to carefully selected movies and ride tame rides and visit Grandma and have a checkup without breaking down in fits. But occasionally she still bursts out with a new fear (trick-or-treating didn't bother her until recently), and because she is older, I have to determine where to draw the line between sympathizing with it and helping her get past it. I try to base my decisions on how much the activity affects everyday life -- I won't make her stay in a movie that scares her or keep trick-or-treating if she doesn't want to, but when she tries to balk at getting on the escalator at the mall, I'm more likely to say "You'll be fine, I'll help you" and hustle her onto it. I don't want to traumatize her, but I don't want her to grow up to live a life stunted and circumscribed by fear, either. She may not be afraid of escalators anymore when she's 30, but there's bound to be something else by then, and I want her to know she can do things that make her uncomfortable if she needs to.

Anyway, it was still a good Halloween, even if it was cut a bit short. G was perfectly happy with the small amount of candy she collected, and it was nice to come home early and relax. She had the day off from school today -- the staff wisely schedules a training day for Nov. 1 every year, knowing the kids will be too tired and squirrelly to learn anything -- so I took a vacation day to stay home with her. So far we've visited the puppies at the pet store, bought the red T-shirt she needs to wear under her Girl Scout vest (and a whole lot of other stuff, too -- darn you, Target), done a puzzle, and watched Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Right now she's playing and I'm about to go clean up the dinner mess in the kitchen. Good times.

* I was dressed in black from head to foot and wearing black lipstick and dark grey eyeshadow ("so, not much different than you look every day," as a friend commented).

** Despite this Washington Post article about skanky costumes for preteen girls, I saw very few that I thought were inappropriate, and my standards are pretty high. The vast majority of girls up to age 12 were some variation on princess or witch, and the teenagers either didn't wear costumes or were something scary. I don't know who's buying the skanktastic outfits for their kids, but it isn't anyone around here.

***I started teaching her to read at home when she was about 4 1/2, and she was the only kid in her kindergarten class who knew how. Plus, by then she'd gotten over the worst of the "irrationally fearful" stage and never shed a tear about being away from home. Her teachers could not believe she'd never set foot in a preschool. So much for being behind.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happy Halloweeeeen

G requested a Bob the Tomato jack 'o lantern, which is a bit of an odd juxtaposition, but she doesn't know that. I think Bob came out pretty good, especially considering that I carved him freehand with a steak knife!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

All that and a broccoli-potato gratin

Along with a stack of bills, a party invitation for G and half a tree's worth of fliers and coupons, yesterday's mail contained my copy of Cooking Light magazine.

Cooking Light
has been a regular visitor to my mailbox ever since P and I moved into our first apartment together, nearly 11 years ago. When I first subscribed, it was because I wanted the recipes: I'd enjoyed cooking since I was a child, and we'd just spent more than a year living with relatives, where I'd never felt comfortable cooking more than a furtive pot of pasta to be quickly eaten and cleaned up before anyone came home. I was excited to have my own stove and refrigerator again and eager to use them, and I did. Some of the happiest memories of my life are of standing in that tiny apartment kitchen during the four seasons of that first year, making lasagna and grilled tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwiches (my favorite) and roast chicken with lemon slices (for P, the carnivore) and smoked cheese risotto (a disaster that came out like pink glue) and pumpkin gingerbread.

These days, with only myself and a finicky 8-year-old to feed, I rarely make anything more complicated than frozen dinners, the ubiquitous pasta, and maybe a burrito or quesadilla if I'm feeling ambitious. I still read Cooking Light every month, but it's become less a source of potential meals and more a sort of lifestyle p0rn. Those glossy pages are a glimpse into the fantasy life I've always secretly wanted to live, the alternate universe where, at daybreak1, I step out onto the wooden deck of my solar-powered home nestled in the lush, green forests of the Northwest, 2 dressed in a cozy wool sweater 3 and cords. There, I do a few tai chi moves 4 before settling down to sip my tea as my two Irish setters 5 lounge at my feet. When the sunrise has given way fully to morning, I go inside, where I bake some low-fat cranberry muffins 6, then meander up to my study and read the letters my agency has forwarded from fans of my writing. 7 This is about as far as you can get from my actual life as a harried suburbanite whose mornings consist of school drop-off followed by a commute to a corporate job, which is no doubt why I enjoy it so much.

Money is tight lately, and every time I see one of those "budget tips" lists exhorting me to get rid of my magazine subscriptions, I think of Cooking Light and remind myself that I ought to call and cancel. It's $22 I don't need to spend, and I often wonder if the escapism is worth the vague feeling of guilt that comes with knowing that I'll probably never do whatever it would take to have a life like that (if anyone even does). I haven't gotten around to it yet, though. Maybe next year.

1. I am not a morning person and only witness sunrises if I happen to have stayed awake that late.
2. I've never been north of San Francisco.
3. Wool makes me itch.
4. I bought a tai chi tape once and gave up after 10 minutes. That stuff is hard.
5. I do like dogs.
6. And muffins.
7. Usually a successful mystery series that is adored by readers and lauded by critics for transcending genre fiction. .

ETA: Okay, a month after posting this, I'm starting to feel guilty about all the poor people who Google "broccoli potato gratin" and end up here. Just for you guys, here's a link to an actual broccoli-potato gratin recipe from the November issue of Cooking Light. Enjoy!

Conversations with G, Halloween Edition

G: What am I going to wear to the Halloween party tonight?
Me: Um, you're going to wear your Cleopatra costume that we bought a month ago.
G: I want to save that for Halloween night. I need a different costume for today.
Me: What did you have in mind?
G: I could be a pimple.
Me: No.
G: A zit?
Me: No.
G: A cold sore?
Me: You cannot be any sort of skin eruption.
G: I know! How about a butt? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Ahhh, the joys of elementary-age kids ...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Something that really chaps my hide ...

... is the perception that the only way to "move on with your life" after losing a partner is to get into a new relationship, and that until and unless you do this, you're stuck in some sort of quagmire.

And beneath that, or possibly alongside it, the assumption that a new relationship is inevitable, and that if you haven't started one, it's because you're "not ready" yet.

Who says?

As far as moving on goes, I have moved on with my life. I've been doing it ever since the beginning. I didn't want to, but the morning after P died, the sun rose just like always, and I had to get up and face the day. Five hundred days later, I haven't stopped. I've done things. I've gotten G through an entire school year and then some, I've moved to a new place, I've dealt with a whole set of holidays, I've done projects at work and changed my hair color and gone on a cruise and updated my health insurance. And I resent the fuck out of the implication that none of it counts for anything because I haven't hooked up with some guy.

I am not going to hook up with some guy.

I'm not going to do it because I don't think it would be healthy for G. My own mother's dating and remarriage damaged our relationship for years, and I won't risk that with her. On top of that, I don't want anyone interfering in the decisions I make for her -- decisions that are in line with the way P and I agreed she should be raised, and the way in which I have a responsibility to raise her now that he's gone.

And I'm not going to do it because I have no desire to. I miss P -- I miss him more than I can say -- but I don't feel the generalized free-floating loneliness that sends people running to the online match sites in search of "someone." I'm sure there are lots of nice "someones" out there, but I don't want them. The idea of going on a date holds about the same level of interest for me as birdwatching or making my own yogurt: I know other people enjoy it, and more power to them, but it leaves me totally cold. I'd rather stay home and read a book than waste an hour of my life having an awkward cup of coffee with a semi-stranger, and frankly, I can see myself going on like that for years, if not decades. Check back when I'm 50 and I'll let you know if I've changed my mind.

Gahhhhh. I had no idea being a widow was going to make me so irritable!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fire update

Last night: zero smoke and smell.

This morning: eerie red sun; thick, choking smoke, ash flying through the air like snow.

The wind has clearly changed. On the plus side, it's a cooler ocean breeze instead of a hot blast out of the canyons. On the minus side, I feel like an extra in The Last Days of Pompeii.

There's still no danger to us beyond headaches and coughing from the bad air, but it's very unpleasant. It could be so much worse, though. I'm concerned for my mother's friends and their grandchildren, who had to leave their house in Arrowhead and are staying with her for the duration, and also for a former co-worker who lives in the mountains and was prepared to evacuate the last time I heard.

While I was watching some of the news coverage yesterday, I realized that humans are misled. We fool ourselves and each other into thinking that we rule the planet -- that we're important and meaningful -- and to each other, we are. But to nature, we aren't one whit more significant than the cougars or the raccoons or the eagles or the ants. Nature doesn't discriminate. The ancient redwood forest and the shrubs in your front yard are both fodder for the fire. The giant wave sweeps away people and animals together. The same sky arches over great disasters and tiny triumphs.

We are so small.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Send rain plz, kthx

In some places, autumn means frosty mornings, pumpkins in the fields and a riot of color in the trees. In Southern California, it means the smell of a million barbecues as your house burns to the ground.

Remind me again why people move here?

With the closest fire about 15 miles away, G and I aren't in any danger (although you could probably make a case that everyone is in danger when the weather is like this, since all it takes is one wind-toppled power line to touch off an inferno), but some of my co-workers live close enough to see the flames from their homes. Even at this distance, the sky is full of a reddish haze that looks the way I imagine the air on Mars would look, and everything reeks of smoke. It makes your eyes sting and your lungs hurt if you're outside too long. All the kids at G's school had to stay in the cafeteria at lunchtime and watch movies because the air quality was too bad for them to go out and play. I haven't seen any ash-fall yet, but I think that's only because the wind is blowing it away from us right now; the air could be full of it by morning.

Poor G got frightened and cried in class when her teacher talked about the fires -- she thought they were closer to home than they were, and that our cats were going to be burnt up. She's worried for the animals at the San Diego Zoo, too. I told her that the zookeepers are moving the animals to safe places, and that I would follow the news reports and come to get her and Catherine and Malcolm immediately if it even looked like a fire was approaching our house. I don't think it made her feel much better, though.

Her worry did make me realize that I probably ought to get a second cat carrier -- we only have one, and if we ever had to evacuate for some reason, I wouldn't want to have to stuff two scared, struggling full-grown cats into it together. It's bad enough just getting one of them in there for a trip to the vet. Hopefully we'll never come to that, but it's too easy to read the news reports and imagine yourself in the evacuees' shoes. I don't think I'd even try to save anything in that situation -- just grab G and the pets and go. I'd hate to leave irreplaceable items like our photos and P's clothes, but even those aren't worth risking our lives for. Nothing is.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Life's little questions

Why ...

... in this day and age, do the people who run the Webkinz site think it's acceptable to present kids with a game that features a bear called Poncho who wears a serape, bounces beans off his sombrero and speaks in a horrible Speedy Gonzalez "accent?"

... am I playing Webkinz games at all at my age?

... am I actually considering getting my own Webkinz so I won't have to play on G's account?

... does G, an extremely bright girl of almost 9, act as if she's incapable of pouring a bowl of cereal, getting a drink of water or drying herself off after a shower?

... do I still get frustrated that I can't call or e-mail P to tell him something I know would interest him?

... do we always end up eating dinner at 4:45 p.m. on weekends?

... have I only accomplished one of the many things I meant to do today?

... is one of the cats turning up her nose at the high-end, super-nutritious cat food I bought this afternoon? That stuff costs twice what your Purina One does -- now eat!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Meme time

I got tagged for a Conscious Consumer meme by my RL buddy Megan ...

Here’s how it works: post the directions on your blog, tell everyone who tagged you, answer the questions, and tag five or more people. That’s it!

The purpose of this meme is to inspire some reflection about how we shop and what we purchase. The idea isn’t that consumption itself is somehow bad, but that we all could probably stand to put a little bit more thought into what we buy. And, of course, it’s supposed to be fun.

So here goes! Pick a recent shopping trip — for clothes, shoes, groceries, doesn’t matter. The only guideline is that it will be easier to play if you purchased at least a few things.

Now tell us about your purchases:

I went to the drugstore, where I bought a toothbrush for G, disposable gloves to wear when scooping the cat box, Tylenol gel caps, and shampoo, shower gel and hand cream for myself.

1. What are you proud of?

Hmm, I guess G's toothbrush, because I had actually inspected hers that morning and realized that she needed a new one. I'm not always good at keeping up with that sort of thing, but this time I was on top of it. (A very P thing to say, by the way. On top of it and You really stepped up to the plate were two of his highest expressions of approval.)

2. What are you embarrassed by?

Nothing really. I needed it all, and the cosmetic stuff was cruelty-free.

3. What do think you couldn’t live without?

The gloves. I love my pets, but I don't want to get anywhere near their poop with my bare hands.

4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?

The hand cream and shower gel. I stood in the aisle uncapping bottles and sniffing different scents for a good 10 minutes before settling on Lemon Twist.

5. What were you most tempted by? (This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)

Chips at the cash register, and I didn't buy any. Hah!

I don't think I'll officially tag anyone, but if you're reading and would like to do it, consider yourself tagged. :)

I think I've watched too much MST3K

It's Friday night, and the Wiggles, whom I thought were gone from our lives forever, are on TV.

Anthony: I'm going to hide this book ...
Me: ... in my pants!
G (scandalized): MOM!!

Well, it looked like he was going to. So there.

Also, it's probably heresy to say so, but I think I like Sam, the new yellow Wiggle, more than Greg, the old yellow Wiggle. Something about Greg's eyebrows always disturbed me.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


As I was putting G to bed tonight, I said, "Guess what? I love you." And she said "I know that. Of course you love me. You're my mom!"

I wish every kid in the world could say that with such perfect confidence.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

When the to-dos are done

Got self and child ready for school and work? Check.
Fed cats? Check.
Remembered photo money? Check.
Drove child to school? Check.
Went to work? Check.
Attended meetings, etc.? Check.
Put gas in car? Check.
Picked up child? Check.
Stopped at pharmacy to get prescription refilled? Check.
Cooked dinner? Check.
Fed cats again? Check.
Supervised homework? Check.
Got child ready for bed? Check.
Laid out school clothes? Check.
Read to child? Check.
Snuggled with child until asleep? Check.
Baked muffins for child's breakfast? Check.
Packed child's lunch for tomorrow? Check.
Cleaned up kitchen? Check.
Scooped cat box? Check.
Took out trash? Check.

Time for a nice big glass of wine? You'd better believe it!

Say cheese, dammit

Universal truths about school photos:

1. Your child will unearth the most outgrown, stained or otherwise inappropriate piece of clothing he or she owns, and insist on wearing that.

2. Attempts to convince the child that another outfit would be better will lead to crying, lying on the floor, and ridiculous statements such as "I want to wear both of the blue skirts!"

3. Pieces of clothing that are normally among the child's favorites will be rejected in a fit of pique.

4. The child will announce "I don't want to smile with my teeth showing. I'm going to smile like this," and display an expression that makes him or her look like a large trout*.

5. If at all possible, the school will schedule the photo-taking to happen after lunch, allowing your child to spill food all over his or her face and clothing first.** If the afternoon isn't available, they will at least postpone the photos until after morning recess to maximize opportunities for the child to get dirty, sweaty and windblown.

6. Luckily, you have the most beautiful child in the world and he or she will still look adorable when the photos come back six weeks later. But you'll be exhausted.

* P would never smile in pictures either. I have many shots of him looking ready to do serious bodily harm to the photographer. It was a shame, as he had perfect teeth and a really lovely smile.

**In G's first-grade picture, there's peanut butter all over her face from the sandwich she ate for lunch.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

My weekend, let me show you it

This is going to be one of those dull "life" entries, so bail out now if that sort of thing bores you ...

On Saturday morning, we went to the annual children's book festival, which is really like a small fair minus the rides and plus lots of books. G got her hair sprayed bright green and yellow; we watched a demonstration with local wild animals; she listened to a storyteller for a bit; and we bought some books, including The Fabulous Story of Fashion, which is actually about clothing through history and is much more educational than it sounds. G had an excellent time and cheerfully agreed to spend her own money on everything she wanted other than the books -- she even paid a buck for me to get three minutes in a massage chair.

After a couple of hours, we left the festival and went to the mall. This is rare, as I'm not a big mall person, but G has no long-sleeved shirts and I knew there was a sale at G*p Kids, so we went. We shopped -- she scored a skirt, four shirts and a scarf -- had lunch in the food court, and then finished up by visiting the play area, where she had a good time despite looking like Gulliver among the Lilliputians.

On a side note, I sometimes see other parents giving me the Glare o' Doom when I let G play in those places, and I know I would have done the same thing when G was a toddler and I was scared of big, rough kids with stompy feet. But it isn't G's fault that she's the size she is: she may be as tall as an 11-year-old and often mistaken for one, but she's only eight, and she already spends a lot of time being disappointed when clothes and rides and other things that are appropriate to her age are too small for her. (She just got a DVD that came with a bracelet, and she couldn't wear it because it was sized for a child and her wrist is as big as mine.) If she still has fun playing in a mall playground, I'm not going to tell her she can't, as long as she's careful around the smaller kids. Which she is.

So after all the shopping and festival-ing yesterday, we were lazy this morning. We made blueberry muffins for breakfast and managed to eat the entire tin of them between us (they were small, I swear) and didn't really get dressed until noon. Once we were finally ready for the day, we picked up food for lunch and took it to the park to eat, and then G spent about an hour playing on the equipment and climbing "her" tree, which she's decided is the Faraway Tree, from the Enid Blyton book of the same name. Afterward, we came home and made some fall/Halloween decorations for the inside of our front door, and here they are:

I was thinking, both yesterday at the book festival and today while I was cutting out paper leaves, that G and I have both come a long way since this time last year. When we went to the same festival last year, P had been dead for just under three months, and we'd been living in this place for about three or four weeks. G, normally a well-behaved kid, was reacting to all the chaos by being whiny, argumentative and impossible to deal with, and as for me, I felt certifiably insane more often than not. I couldn't take pleasure in anything, whether it was a festival or a walk in the park, and the thought of the upcoming holidays didn't make me want to decorate; it made me want to find a rock and hide under it.

Now, a year later, I may still be far from happy -- I actually don't expect ever to be happy again in the way I used to be -- but I've achieved some sort of equilibrium, and no longer feel as if I'm phoning everything in from another planet. At the very least, I'm capable of enjoying a nice, peaceful weekend with G. That's progress, and I'll take it gladly.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Catherine vs. the Evil Noise

Catherine is a very quiet cat. Pretty much the only time she ever meows is when she's "captured" a toy and is bringing it to me like prey: I hear a series of meows, getting closer, and then she comes round the corner or down the stairs with a jingle ball or catnip mouse in her mouth, drops it near me, and purrs and head-butts me while I praise her.

So at 2:00 this morning, the smoke alarm in our upstairs hallway started making that intermittent beep that smoke alarms make when they need new batteries. It woke up G, who appeared in my room to complain that "there's a noise and I can't sleep." It also really bothered Catherine, who spent the next several hours prowling the hallway, monitoring the situation. And now that it's stopped, Catherine seems to think she's singlehandedly responsible for having defeated it. I keep hearing the loud "prey presentation" meow from the hallway, and when I go out there, she's sitting directly under the smoke alarm, looking up at it as if to say, "I've got you cornered!" Then when she sees me, she runs over, purring and wanting to be petted.

I wish I knew what was going on in her furry little brain!

Also, just for kicks, here's Catherine babysitting some of G's Polly Pockets:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How to know your oven is hot enough

When you open the oven door to check on what you're baking, and the blast of heat melts your mascara in a flash and glues your eyelids together, it's probably ready.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Poop Watch 2007: The Perfect Poop

Natasha (hi, Natasha!) reminded me that I hadn't posted the conclusion to last weekend's thread-eating saga. So, here it is:

When last we spoke, the vet had just advised me to give Malcolm a laxative to get things moving, as it were. Frankly, the idea of a cat laxative made me turn green, so I decided to wait instead.

So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After a few hours, the piece of thread that had been hanging out disappeared, but didn't appear in the litter box. This was a mystery. Had he pulled it out with his teeth while grooming? Had it been sucked back up by reverse peristalsis? Why was I so obsessed with the functioning of a cat's sphincter?

I waited some more, and kept checking for signs of thread. I had to do it when G wasn't around -- she was already worried enough as it was -- so every time she left the room, I lifted up his tail for a quick peek.

Finally, at 4:30 the following afternoon, I looked in the litter box, and there it was: that stupid red thread. Morbid curiosity made me put on a pair of gloves and disentangle it from what it was, uh, stuck in, and it turned out to be at least a foot and a half long. Not only that, it had been totally unchanged by its passage through the cat; I could have washed it off and used it to sew on a button. (I didn't.) When I went looking for the thread-eater to make sure he was all right, I found him lounging on G's bed, purring and cleaning his paws, totally oblivious to all the drama he'd caused.

I'm not sure if there's a moral to this story, except possibly that you don't always get a prize when you pull a string. :)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Riddle me this

How is it that I can lose three pounds in seven days of strict dieting, and then gain it all back in one day of normal, not-especially-indulgent eating?

Is this not a mathematical impossibility? If 3,500 calories = one pound, then I would have had to consume 10,500 calories, in addition to the 1,000 or so calories required to sustain my life, to gain those three pounds back. I like to think I would have noticed myself eating 10,500 extra calories in one day. For example, if I'd singlehandedly eaten one of these:

Well, I don't think that could have escaped my attention, not least because I would have wanted to smoke a cigarette and cuddle with the empty plate afterward. It would have been that good.

Anyway, the point here is that I didn't eat an entire Black Forest cake. I didn't eat anything untoward at all. You can't tell me it was the extra handful of sugar-snap peas that put those three pounds back on the scale. But there they are, and here I am, once again unable to zip up my pants without lying down on the bed.

I am not pleased. Not pleased at all.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yes, your majesty

This morning we went out and bought G's Halloween costume.

Since then, I have been playing hostess to Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.

Cleopatra isn't a bad Queen, but she's a bit imperious and sadly ignorant of the things of modern life. She has consented to partake of the foreign delicacy we call "ramen," and since I'm unfortunately short on dancing girls and musicians to entertain her during her repast, she's making do with an episode of the Backyardigans. It's raining today, and she just looked out the window and commented, "Ah, this must be the wet season."

Lucky for her we don't live too close to the banks of the Nile.

Another day, another life lesson

G and I are discussing the upcoming school photos, and I tell her that she absolutely has to let me do something to tame her hair for the occasion. She fires back that she doesn't want to have a hairstyle because someone might laugh at it.

Me: So what? If someone really wants to laugh at you, they'll find something to laugh at no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you want. I mean, I could laugh at those people over there for turning the sprinklers on in their yard if I felt like it.

G: But that's not funny.

Me: My point exactly. Most of the time when kids laugh at each other for something, like wearing glasses for example, it's because they want to be mean, not because it's funny.

G (indignant): Wearing glasses isn't funny at all! S wears glasses and she's my friend.

Me: Right. She needs them to see. There's nothing funny about that.

G: Well, if anyone ever laughed at her, I'd tower over them [note: G is very tall and has at least half a head on your average third-grader] and I'd say "Leave my friend alone!" And I'd be like a giant cat and they'd be like scared little mice.

Me: In that case, kitty, you have nothing to worry about if I do something with your crazy messy hair for picture day.

G: I guess not.

Whew. On balance, I'd say parenting was easier when all I had to do was change diapers and stop her from eating dirt ... this logic stuff is exhausting!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Vital as breathing

Since P died, I've fallen into a bad habit of letting G turn on the television when we get home and leave it on all evening. I do it because it keeps her occupied while I cook dinner and get stuff done around the house, but it really just starts a cascade of problems with homework and bathing and bedtime. She ends up going to bed too late, and then I can't get her out of bed in the morning and she's late to school. It's not quite three weeks into the year, and she's been late four times, which means that any day now I'm going to get a letter from the school scolding me about it. And I already have enough stress in my life without that, thanks very much.

So yesterday morning, as we were on the way to school (late), I told her that obviously she's not getting enough sleep, so from now on, every time I can't get her up in the morning, she will come home that night and eat, do homework, take a shower and go straight to bed -- no TV. It didn't seem to bother her at the time, but when we got home last night and she realized that I actually meant it, she had a FIT.

G: Can't I even watch one thing?
Me: No.
G: Not even one short show?
Me: No.
G (starts to cry): But I have a natural instinct to watch TV!
Me (turning away so she can't see me snorting at that): Sorry. I said no TV, so no TV.
G: I can't eat without TV! I can't LIVE without TV!
Me: You'll be fine.
G: (sobbing) If you won't let me watch TV, then I won't eat dinner.
Me: Well, that's your choice, but you sure are going to be sad and hungry while I eat this delicious spaghetti.
G: I might starve to death!
Me: Actually, it takes about two weeks of not eating to starve to death. Do you want sprinkle cheese on yours?
G (sullenly): Yes please.

She complained off and on for a while after that, but she did her homework and took a shower and was reading in bed by 8 p.m. And this morning she got up with no fuss and made it to school on time. I think I may have won a battle there.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Adventures of Stickman, or Vanessa Can't Draw

While talking to a friend a week or so ago, I suddenly remembered the series of stories I made up when I was teaching G to read word endings and vowel/consonant blends. They all starred a character called Stickman (original, I know) and grew to feature an entire stick-figure cast, including Stick Woman, Stick Boy, Stick Girl, and Stick Dog, who bore a strong resemblance to Zero from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought I'd scanned some of them, and a quick poke through my photo album revealed that I had. So I'm going to share one here, if only to amuse you all with my incredibly poor drawing skills:

You'll notice that the stick family is vegetarian, like us. Propaganda? Maybe, but hey, my fictional universe, my rules!