Monday, December 31, 2012


Having spent an hour at Old Navy trying on jeans, all of which made me look like a bubble-butted, short-limbed troglodyte, I think I am going to hold off buying jeans until skinny-fit legwear goes out of fashion.

In the meantime I will continue to crankily don the pants I bought before having children, and continue asking myself if the flab on my gut is fat or simply stretched out skin about which nothing can be done.

Mood: crotchety.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winton's Birthday Party

On hosting a birthday party 17 hours after arriving home from a week at the in-laws (800 miles by car each direction, featuring some snow on the way there and much snow on the way back):

Upon arrival home there is unusual motivation to vacuum, wipe cat vomit off the floor, put clothes and Xtide gifts in sensible places and get the laundry into the wash.  The house feels righted to order more quickly than usual.  It's also nice to see people and have bits of adult conversation (peppered between running around trying to get the smalls drinks, food and entertainment).  Winton's birthday, for the first time, is not subsumed by our annual Christmas migration.

The feeling of the room swimming under you, you are that tired.  The cats being pissed off, far too literally. The fact that no matter how well prepared I think I am, and even if the main food items need only fall out of the freezer and onto a baking tray, there's always far more to do than I reckon on.  And the kids: being tired, squablous, bickersnitty, and, in Clara's case, prone to nose-bleeds, they took up a lot more of the morning than I had been planning on.  The prep was, for the last 60 minutes, a swift sprint around the house with dirty glasses and frizzling hair.

It's done.

One of Winton's gifts was a playdough dentistry set.  Make fillings fun?  Whose idea was that?  Adult scorn aside, the children are downstairs mixing the white, red (tongue) and silver (amalgam) playdoughs irretrievably and with great contentment.

Oberlin is nice, by the way.  If you need to stop in Ohio sometime, stop there.  Even under snow and ice it is a college town with good dining options.  Also,  its hotel (The Oberlin Inn) has apparently let some of its rooms to the college as piano practice rooms.  It was nice to wrestle with the over-stuffed car in the hotel's icy parking lot to the accompaniment of snatches of Rachmaninoff. . . . and whiffs of weed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Claraism du Jour

In car, passing judgement on houses and their seasonal decorations:
"Boring, Boring, Boring, OK, Boring, Boring, [pause, inhale and then, rapturously] Magnificent"

Monday, December 17, 2012


There's fog in Baltimore this morning, and against it the forced chipperness of dropping Clara (DOB Jan 3 2007) at Kindergarten at a large, public elementary school seems especially discordant. The fleeting moment of eye contact with her teacher over Clara's head: did it, as I hoped, nuance my bright "Hi!" with what I really want to say ("thank-you, and please hide my child in a cupboard if someone comes to school with a weapon")?

I teach too.  There have been massacres at Universities as well.  How surreal, over-the-top, and yet real that it is possible to be a teacher, and yet to stand in a room which becomes luridly actioned with guns, blood and death.  Recently I was required to attend a workshop on campus safety procedures, which included a harrowing video dramatizing courses of action one could take if there was a shooter in the building.

Elementary school children as the targets though.  The fact that there is nothing to answer or explain why they were the targets. It stupefies.

For all of you who left a child at a school today: courage.

For the Sandy Hook parents and survivors: I know my upset doesn't help you, but I feel it.  I wish it could help you somehow.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Worst Nightmares

Playing out in the news.

The question: what is the right action now?  There are many vehement things to say, many terrible emotions to feel, and many things to rant about.  There are many ineffective actions that might relieve one's guilty good fortune (two children, at home, alive).

What is the right action now?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Schroedinger's Corn Puff

Winton: I put a corn puff in my magic box.
Clara: Did it turn into a cat?
Winton [looking]: No.
Clara: Maybe it turns into a cat when you're not looking.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Stealth Yoga, Defined

Stealth Yoga:
Yoga practiced in one's office at work, with door closed and lights off.
Necessitates: changing in one's office (ooo--risque!); modifying sun salutations so as to avoid smacking bookshelves; ignoring knocks on door; and omitting headstand for fear of falling, hurting oneself and needing to cry out for help, so revealing that stealth yoga had been practiced by one increasingly aged and infirm.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sleep Log

Monday night 
3.12 AM Clara arrives at my bedside:
"Mommmeee? I need to go to the bathroom."
Me: "Then go."
Clara [loud whine]: "Nooo.  But I want you to come."
Me [effectively manipulated by loud whine and desirous of keeping other child asleep]: "Sigh.  Ok."

3: 40 AM Winton arrives at my bedside:
"Mommmeee?" [he sounds exactly like his sister]
Me: "gnf."
Winton: "I had a bad dream.  I want to sleep with you."
Me [making space]: "gnf"

4:40 AM Mommy, still awake, Winton punches Mommy in eye (turns out this kid rolls over by throwing a punch and then following through with his whole body).

5.45 AM  Mommy, having not been able to get back to sleep, gets up to walk dog.

Tuesday night
Mommy too tired to stay up late grading
4AM Mommy gets up to try and do the grading she couldn't do the night before.

Wednesday night
3.44 AM Winton at my bedside:
" MOMMY!  I had the dream with the boy in the scary TV movie with the grass and the dark again."
Me: "Ok, but you sleep by the wall this time."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Better notes

In addition to having learnt to write "I don't love you Mummy," Clara has branched out into sidewalk prose.

I walked up the hill to the kindergarten classroom to get her yesterday afternoon and saw, in foot-high letters on the walkway, a note to me, something she must have written there during recess: "Clara and Mummy" festooned with love-hearts.

Awwww.  Dearest Clara, I love you too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Rainy morning drop-off today, involving a trek along a puddley sidewalk with each of us (Winton, Clara and Mummy) clutching an umbrella maimed in a unique way: Clara's with a broken wing, Winton's with a bent handle and mine with a spontaneously collapsing stem.

When we arrived at school after our cold, wet trek, I realized that in getting the umbrellas organized, I had left Clara's backpack (incl. lunch) in my car.

What's better than a several block long walk in the rain with two small children and three damaged umbrellas?  Doing that walk three more times (once back to the car to fetch the backpack, then back to school, then back to the car again with only the younger and currently more mucus-ridden of my slippery wet ducks).

Still, school is doing some good, as Clara is now able to leave me notes.  While I was cooking dinner she presented me with one that read "I do not love you Mummy."  Good stuff.

Monday, November 19, 2012


The above is Clara's "swear" word of choice.  It's quite good.

I'd like to apply it to mammography:

1) For there is no amount of smushing of my right boob that will make it show up fully on film.

2) And because I got called back for a second mammogram, not because they had seen anything but because the last one hadn't squished my right boob enough.

3) And then the clinic was far busier than usual and my visit lasted for an hour longer than expected, at which point I had to wage war with an extremely unsympathetic nurse in order to be given leave to put a shirt back on and go get my children from school.

4) And then the roads were far busier than usual and I drove sweating and swearing past at least 2 speed cameras that probably got me on film.

5) And then the only parking that was available required me to parallel park, which I suck at.

6) And then I had to sprint seven blocks, in the Doc Martens which have been eating my feet since I got them a month ago, to be at Kindergarten just in time to get my daughter.

7) And now I have a requisition for a follow-up ultrasound in my bag, so that I can plan to go back to finish what they couldn't get done today.

Fishpastetartarsauce, fuckers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What it takes to get me grounded

Yesterday, Husband was off for Veterans Day.  He did the double kid drop-off and pick-up.  I had the luxury of simply coming to work and then going home.  It was so easy.  I was so calm.

This morning, it was me again.  The kids were good.  The rain was not their fault.  Nor was the bad traffic.

And yet, when I was trying to dress for work, and when Winton dropped a penny behind my bed and started unmaking all my freshly smoothed covers to find it, I got crotchety.  And later, when we stopped the car in a big puddle on Roland avenue, and when Clara carped at me that I hadn't parked close enough to school and then dropped all of her car snack (cereal) on the floor, I got crotchety again.

I eventually pulled into the parking lot here at work full of self abusive thoughts (why am I so damn crotchety?  what the hell is my problem, for life is really not THAT hard? ) and more productive ones (we all need charts indicating our respective responsibilities in the mornings and evenings and then maybe I won't have to think about things as much and won't get cranky?  maybe??). 

And then, because I was busy self-abusing and planning ahead, I got out of the driver's side of the car, leaned across to my absurdly heavy backpack on the passenger seat, and using my right hand at an odd angle, lifted and twisted the backpack onto my back, setting fire to a ring of muscles all along my right lower ribs.

Cue Johnny Cash, for it burns burns burns, the ring of fire.

But at least I'm not as worried about being cranky for no reason anymore.

Friday, November 9, 2012


It's cold in our house at night, drafty.  I sleep in a single bed (avoiding Husband's snoring because I am a light sleeper).

This morning, after an uncomfortable and too-light sleep, I greeted my bed companions, all of us a bit too warm from cramming into close quarters:

Pepita (under the covers)
Winton (under the covers where he'd been taking refuge since waking from a nightmare at 3.40AM)
Pumpkin (on the covers)
Hardie (on the covers, looking ashamed because he knows he's not allowed on the bed)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What's that noise?

The dog?  In the hallway?
The dog?  In my room?  In the dark?  In the dead of the post-electoral night?
Both cats?  Sumo wrestling?


It's Winton.  Sleeping on my carpet because I told him he couldn't sleep in bed with me.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Birthday Party Faux Pas

Two birthday parties this weekend.

The first, for a grown-up friend, involved me awkwardly kissing a woman who didn't want to be kissed on the cheek and Winton, with great care and deliberation, providing the gift (a baby doll he had stripped naked).

The second, for a child, involved me commenting to one person that I thought her daughter was adorable, in clear sight and sound of another mother and daughter.  It wasn't intended as a slight, but I bet it sounded like one.


What Winton Said

Clutching the dollar bills that came in his Halloween card from grandma:
"Mummy, I love you even if I have money."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Small bodies

Last night, in the cold that Hurricane Sandy has left in its wake, Pepita was under the covers with me.

She purred, her chest leant up against mine so I could feel her purring like it was coming from me.

And I thought "Oh, but I used to have babies that lay in bed with me!"  It was a moment of terrible sadness to think that my purring cat was the nearest I would ever again come to curling my body around a very small child and watching it sleep.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Blight

It has become clear that Thursdays are my worst day.  In my journal, the entries about days in which I am irritable, tense and snippy on kid drop-off tend to occur on Thursdays.  The days in which I feel bleakly depressed enough to whine to my journal?  Thursdays.  The days when I doodle prone stick figures and bodies in fetal position?  Thursdays.

So.  It is clear that on Thursdays I am more neurotic.

OR.  It is clear that everyone is more neurotic on Thursdays and I am simply caught in the negative flux of the day's zeitgeist.

I dropped Clara off at 8.09 AM (school starts at 8) after a taxing morning of herding especially unwilling children and dealing with my own especial Thursday dim-wittedness (and it's  attendant desire to blame someone, anyone, for the goings-wrong I appear to cause).

And yet we were only the third people there out of a class of 27 students. We were comparatively early.  Her teacher asked "Where is everyone?"  Good question!  Thursday Blight, perhaps?

Then, while walking from Roland Park Elementary back to our car so I could take Winton to preschool, Winton stepped in a large, mustard-colored dog poo.

Random dog poo and other parents' lateness are not symptoms of my psychological inadequacies. 

Ergo: Thursday Blight. It is real, people.  Beware Thursdays.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kevin Spacey's Dog

is a large, mixed breed, with short, shiny red fur, a forehead prone to wrinkling, the broadness of a rottweiler and the jowls of a hound.

I know this because yesterday Clara and I, exploring Roland Park on foot, came across the film set for House of Cards, which stars Kevin Spacey. 

We hung out by the food carts (as did the bees). A sound guy gave Clara a purple spider for Hallowe'en.

Sometimes there really are adventures to be had when you amble off the beaten path on the way back to where you parked.

We didn't see Spacey, but I don't care.   We saw his dog.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Winton has a cold, and a cough reminiscent  of croup.  Yesterday Husband and I laughed when, crying peevishly about having bumped his head (grizzling really because he needed to go to bed, which is where we were trying to get him to go) Winton's exhale went "waaaah!" and his inhale went "arck!".  Repeatedly.

He sounded like a very unhappy seal.

Laughing didn't make him any happier.

But we're not really callous a**holes.  I'm at work today, but  Winton is at home with Husband listening to the Ponyo theme song repeatedly and jumping on the beds.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Canadian Thanksgiving, Observed

Last Saturday (Oct 6), we managed to have an idyllic day in Baltimore: I think it was the universe's gift to me for missing Canadian Thanksgiving and not getting a day off even for Columbus Day.

We took the kids push-bike riding (bikes with pedals removed and seats way down low--I wish I had learnt that way, it looks a lot less scary) at Robert E Lee Park.  The air was crisp and cool, the reservoir mossy green, the dogs in the dog park frolicsome: lovely.

Then we stopped at Donna's in Cross-Keys Village and had dinner.  We NEVER eat out unless we are travelling (barring lattes and bacon at Atwaters some weekend mornings).  Certainly we don't go out for dinner.  With children.  To expensive restaurants.  Who attempts that kind of foolishness??

 My expensive dinner at Donna's featured a surfeit of shellfish and fresh pasta that I still feel overstuffed from (yum yum).  Husband had a kobe beef burger.  Children had pizza followed by a cupcake.

Each event fell easily after the previous: there was no rush, no strain, no disappointment.  The children behaved: there was no fighting, no whining, no embarrassing detours into ill-mannered urchin territory.

So nice.

 For contrast, consider the day we tried to go duck-pin bowling: no lanes available.  So we detoured to the totlot . . . and arrived just as it started raining.  And then everyone except Husband had an ugly screamy fit and, bereft of good suggestions, we went home to glare at each other and mutter nasty things to the equally fractious cats.

Sometimes it seems like every idea bumps up against an unforeseen obstacle and everyone just wishes they could bludgeon something to bits.  In fact, it often feels that way.

So, thanks to the Great Canadian North, for on its thanksgiving weekend we had an unusually resplendent fall day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Winton Said

W: [Suddenly, emphatically, in the kitchen doorway as I was making toast and fetching things for the kids to eat] "Mummy!  You are NOT a silly octopus"

Me: [??]

W: [to me, but with chastising glance over shoulder to Clara who was at that moment demanding pancakes] "You do not have 8 arms!"

Claraism du Jour

Mummy, sometimes I think of you at night because you and me are such light sleepers.  Winton and Daddy are dark sleepers, but we are light ones.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Naughty Teeth

Clara lost her 3rd tooth this week. Standing in the parking lot outside Winton's preschool, she casually reached into her own mouth and pulled it out.  "It was flapping" she said, "It was really bothering me."

The following hours were rife with speculation about the tooth fairy: How big is she?  Can she enter through a closed window?  Can she fly if it's raining?  And, what does she do with all of those teeth?

Winton's theory is that the tooth fairy recycles the teeth to make toothbrushes.

Winton then proceeded to accidentally bite his own tongue and wail.
"Oh, honey" I said (for Baltimore is seeping into me and I now say "honey" without irony).  "Oh, honey.  Did you bite your tongue?"

"No," Winton said "the naughty teeth did."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Numbers, crying

Clara: "I can count to 41."
Me: "OK, go ahead."
Clara: "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 41"
Me: "Hey! You skipped a whole bunch of numbers."
Clara: "I know.  The other numbers in my head were crying, so I didn't count them."

Monday, September 24, 2012

On being department chair

It's OK that my understandings of "politics" and "democratic process" come from NBC's Parks and Recreation and the BBC's The Thick of It, right?

Family-Specific Myths

Clara, at the Asian Art room at the Walters: "Oh, the Easter bunny must come here all the time!"
Husband: "Why?"
Clara: "Well, she's friends with Buddha."

Friday, September 21, 2012


On Tuesday morning, I was a basket of cranky while doing the double-drop-off of my children.  I was further provoked by the apparent good cheer of some parents.

This morning, all was good on my drop off AND I had the surprisingly rich pleasure of seeing a mother, one I had noticed being cheerful and playful on Tuesday morning, snap at her youngest child to "Chop chop now!" in response to which the child burst into tears.

Ahh.  Relief.  Everyone is horrid when trying to get somewhere on time.  Everyone discovers too late that they have reached the end of their tether, they are past the outer limits of their emotional resources, they have spilt all their patience already.  Eventually everyone finds, when they reach for calm, effective parenting techniques that all they have left over in their bag of tricks is snippiness and irascibility.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Zone: Fast Gallop

I am in awe of people, parents especially, who remain sanguine about time. Even when late, even when running in the drizzle to get to school before the doors shut, some parents appear good humored.  I've seen women laughing while running with backpacks and lunch boxes dangling off of them.  Men have commented, amusedly, on their children's rain gear.

I saw these things this morning even, when I peered out from under my foul cloud of bad mood and frizzed damp hair.

I hate being late, and I am an awful person when the children make us late.  I am awful to them as a collective, urging them to "hurry uuuup" in a voice like an amplified mosquito.

I should really be selectively awful, for this morning Clara was very good and did not deserve mosquito-voice. Winton, however, has been experimenting with peeing his pants and lying about it to see if he can get away with it. My discovery, on putting on his shoes 2 minutes after we are supposed to have left, that his pants, shirt, underpants and snuggle blankie (Neh Neh) were all urine-sopped delayed our departure quite a bit.  He deserved mosquito-voice.

Since school (Kindergarten and my academic school year) began I am in adrenaline-heavy race-track mode.  I am always rushing, and am always herding the children along wanting things to go faster faster faster.  It's awful.  Funny to watch, I bet.

I'd very much like it if I could convince myself that being late didn't matter.  That would help.
It would also help if I could convince myself that it didn't matter if I didn't finish prepping my classes or grading my papers, or dealing with the incessant "bing" of incoming email.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Definitions, by the children

Winton: "A restaurant is where you go to eat when your power is off."
[A distinctly Baltimorean reading]

Clara: "Rosemary.  A rose is a flower, and marry is what you do when you kiss!"
[A distinctly Disney reading]

Monday, September 10, 2012

Called the Preschool

Mid-morning I called Winton's preschool to check on him.  I was worried.

This morning he was arguing with me when I was trying to take him out of the car.  He wanted to unlock the door himself before I opened it from the outside.  I had already opened the door, so he was trying to shut it to lock it so he could start over.  He, however, was holding the door hinge side of the window as he tried to shut the door, and he squeezed his fingers in there fairly hard.  They were pink.  He cried.

But they were all attached, and they were not purple, and he could bend them all, and he stopped crying quickly.  So, I took him into preschool.

And then I called, mid-morning, to check:

Teacher: "His hand? Oh.  I didn't even know he'd hurt his hand.  No, its fine.  He's playing now, using both hands.  We were going to call you anyway though because his friend hit him with a fire truck and it looks like he's going to have a black eye.  You don't need to come get him.  No no.  He's fine.  Just bruised."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Timing Problems: Wherein I slap my own wrist

Not OK: Letting a class that is supposed to last 75 minutes go 12 minutes early so you have time to scarf lunch before your next class.

Not OK: assuming 20 minutes is enough time to get Clara into her school uniform and both children shod in time to leave for school.

Not OK: hoping that the traffic between the bermuda triangle (comprised of Roland Park Elementary, Roland Park Country School and Gilman School) and Govans preschool will allow for a speedy drop-off of two children.

Not OK: Getting a sore throat on a day when I am (scheduled to be--see above) in class, teaching, for 4 hours and 45 minutes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"I don't like my hair"

Over the last days, Winton (tow-headed, with a generous mop of curls) has been trying to flatten his hair.  In the bath, he wets his head and makes the hair lay flat.  In the morning, he borrows his sister's hairbrush to try and flatten the curls.

I have been devastated by this development.

1) his curls are adorable
2) 3 and a half is far too young to be unhappy about one's hair.  I loathe my hair most of the time, but I'm old.

After much gentle inquiry it finally became clear this morning that Winton's bff Nathaniel remarked last week that Winton ought to "straighten up" his hair. 

Now I will set about a dual task:

1) glossing "straighten" so Winton knows it can mean "tidy," not "straight."
2) trying to persuade Winton that one's peers are sometimes quite wrong in what personal grooming and appearance they value.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Neighborhood Envy

Yesterday Winton's preschool was closed.  He and I took Clara to Kindergarten, parking the car far down Roland Avenue and walking, rather than driving, through the crowds.

Then he and I went to Eddie's grocery store (on the block adjacent to the school) to buy baking supplies.  Then we went to Starbucks (next to Eddie's) and had tea together. Then we put the groceries in the car's trunk and walked down the hill to Stony Run where we spent an hour throwing rocks into the river.  Then we walked back uphill to the car,  encountering a friendly black cat named Spookie on our way.

It was pedestrian (in the very best way).  We walked.  Walking let us run errands and indulge in pleasures both urbane (tea on a busy sidewalk) and pastoral (rock throwing in the river). 

To think: people LIVE in Roland park and have the opportunity to do these things every day.  Who are these people?  How do they do it?  Can we do it too?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Clara had her cubby conference yesterday.  Today is her first full day.  She started at 8am.  Her school is on Roland Park Avenue, across from Roland Park Country Day School, and just south of Gilman.

The traffic!  It was a lot like a circus, with cars pointing in unlikely directions as they tried to pull U-turns.  There were policemen with whistles, crossing guards wearing neon, and children ages 5-15 or so, everywhere.

It was strange to walk Clara into her class, say goodbye and walk away.  The whole place seemed so porous.  Surely she won't slip out again and run away down the street?  I had to keep reassuring myself it was unlikely she would. But, after years of preschool and carefully closed gates with child-unfriendly latches, there she was, in a busy room full of coming and going with no one watching her in particular and with an open door as I walked away.

Her brother was in high spirits about having "a little peeky" into his sister's new class, until, on the 8 block trek back to where we had parked our car, he wiped out extravagantly and skinned both his knees.

He wasn't impressed about getting to preschool before his favorite teachers either.

Is it really only 10.30 AM?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A new-year's miscellany

It was my birthday yesterday: I'm 42.  I wish I knew exactly when my mid-life crisis was planning on ending.  It's been years now, it seems.  I crave newness and, at the same time, I am still trying to resurrect oldness (eg, I'd like to be a hardbodied 28 year-old ashtanga yogini again: not going to happen if the VERY sore muscles after a mixed-level sivananda class yesterday are anything to go by).  Anyway: identity crisis post 40, post child-bearing, post tenure continues apace.  Bottom line question: now what??

Clara starts Kindergarten tomorrow.  She's in at Roland Park Elementary as of 6 days ago.  RPE is a Baltimore City Public School at which most students feel safe, according to the recent "climate" surveys.  Much better than the school we are zoned for,  in which only 49.9% of the student body feels safe. 

I am already desperately anxious that we somehow manage to get her brother into the school two years from now. 

There should be a choir of angels, or hummingbirds, or trumpeting elephants or something to mark how fantastic it is that we got Clara in.  People move house, at great expense, to attend Roland Park.  Thank-freakin' whomever that we got in out-of-zone.  Really.  Very much.  Thanks.

Kindergarten is, as reputed, a definitive moment.  The small girl I live with, the one currently reorganizing the tent she has built in the dining room, is clearly a child, not a baby.  And her brother (only 3 pounds lighter, and almost the same height) is no baby either.  I'd like to note here that they still cuddle with me.  I know it can't last, those small bodies cramming themselves onto me and pressing their blond heads against me.

I also know they won't always want to play "monsters" with me in the long hallway/ atrium between Bally fitness and Trader Joe's in Towson.  But they did today, as they have for many many Sundays past.  It can't last, but let it be hereby noted.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Spelling Mishap

Winton; "What does 'O' 'M' 'E' spell?"
Me: "'Ome', but if you put an 'H' at the beginning, it spells 'home.'"
Winton [excitedly]: "And if you put an 'H' in the middle, it spells 'porn'!"

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Theory, based on dates of manufacture of matchbox cars in yard of vacation rental (1983-2003) and proliferation of empty foreclosed vacation homes AND densely populated homes full of commuters in our immediate vicinity:

The Poconos used to be a vacation destination.  Wealthy folks had summer homes there.
The financial markets collapsed: wealthy folks had less wealth to pay for their summer homes.
The housing markets collapsed: the property values of the former vacation homes plummeted.
Commuters priced out of metropolitan residences now buy (or rent) former vacation homes for cheap, and move in in droves.

The result: a vacation destination a bit too reminiscent of our Baltimore city neighborhood.
Dingy, vandalized (with fire and paint) playground in the communal park?  Check!
Speeding cars thrumming with bass vibes?  Check!
Car drivers who look at you like you are crazy when you wave?  Check!
General feeling that things used to be better maintained than they are now?  Check!

Just like home, but with cooler temperatures and more blue spruce.

Oddly though, there was also a flock of turkeys (10) that we saw every day, a gopher family living in the culvert across the street, a colony of feral cats (incl. kittens) in the yard of an empty house and a plethora of very tame deer roaming the neighborhood.  That's quite a lot of nature, more than we saw when we rented in the middle of the George Washington National forest and were the only house within 4 miles on a dirt road. 

Also, we only saw one horsefly (in the surprisingly lovely and well-appointed Tobyhanna State Park: it has hot showers!).  Said fly persistently chased Husband and bit him, twice, in the calf.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Scene: small wood panelled bathroom in a "mountain resort" in the Poconos (a neighborhood that feels like a suburb, except half the houses are empty and deer, feral cats and turkeys are delightfully omnipresent).  My father-in-law (Hmm, Yes.  Odd that it was him, not, say, the landlord or a plumber, but having him do it was far faster) has his hands in the toilet tank, attempting to replace the flapper that closes off the bottom of the tank when the toilet is done flushing.  I am holding up the ball cock so that water doesn't keep flowing into the tank. 

The toilet says: "Wheeeee!  Squphh. Huff huff huff. Squph. Squit.  Squitter. Squit squit SQUIFF." 

I imagine this is what it sounds like to share lunch conversation with a porpoise.


Husband, as we prepare to leave for the drive from Baltimore to the Poconos:
"Well, we're heading to an unfamiliar house in a new place with two tired children, a small Hyundai Accent packed to the point of exploding and a dog with diarrhea.  What could go wrong?"

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Winton Said

Me: "Winton, how'd you get your face so dirty?" [we were in the lobby of the public library with no dirt sources immediately evident]

Winton: "I used the magic. The magic in my belly."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Out of Zone

We are trying to get our daughter into Roland Park Elementary's Kindergarten, out-of-zone.  We've been on the waiting list since September 14, 2011.

I've been calling every day for 10 days now, speaking to some very nice people who keep asking me to call back.

7 weeks ago I was told we were # 5 on the waiting list.

They'll call while we're away and have dubious cell phone coverage.  Or not til Sept 4 (after Clara has already started Kindergarten at BIA).  Or not til Oct 4 (after she's started to settle in at BIA).  Or not at all.

It was better when BIA French immersion was the only option on the horizon.  Choice is a damnable thing if you think that *maybe* there *perhaps* is one to be made.

AND, though this shouldn't have come as a surprise, school choices for our children are among the most fraught decisions parents can make, aren't they?

BIA is still a good choice too.  The pale blue uniform shirt looks nice on Clara, anyway.  She's excited about that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Poison Oak

It grows in our "hedge."  Our hedge isn't actually a hedge, but rather a collection of green things that have grown large and bushy, and up into our electricity and phone lines  

Husband went out on the weekend to try and push what our neighbors refer to as "The Green Wall" back a bit with a lawn mower and weed whacker.  He is now pretty much a red, inflamed hive from neck to waist, both front and back.

He's tried calamine.  He's tried baking soda and vinegar.

He's looking for a reliable internet source prescribing bourbon.  Momosyllabic is happy to provide one:

For bad cases of poison ivy and poison oak:

Put 3 ice cubes in a tumbler
Pour in a generous amount of bourbon
Sit still, using both hands to hold the glass while you drink so you don't scratch.
Repeat as needed for 12-21 days.

Monday, July 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: All the Voices Cry

I do a lot of book reviews in the academic world.  This is my first for the blog.  If you'd prefer to read about poo, please skip to the entry below (though I notice I mention poo in the review too--egads my brain is only ever scatological).

I’ve been friends with Alice Petersen since we were both graduate students at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.  Alice was, in fact, responsible for orienting  an incoming class of students which included me.  She took us to the lake, and then sat in dog poo accidentally and had to excuse herself.  I remember her handling the incident wryly, accommodating both gross factor and funniness.

That skill in handling what Keats, with more plangent tones, might call life’s “mingled contrarities” is fairly central to Alice’s writing, as All the Voices Cry proves.

The collection of short stories presents characters humbled by circumstance (middle-age, bachelorhood, loss, infidelity, and, frequently, too much responsibility for another’s welfare).  Deftly, these characters are not figures of Tragedy, for Alice writes them as vulnerable and odd.  They respond to circumstance making all manner of peculiar bargains with the mundane world (just as real humans under duress do). 

One protagonist tries to make a cancer remedy from scratch (bargain: it will help her sick mother and perhaps redeem their relationship).  Secretly though, this woman would like her mother to die: it’s a surprise even to her when she thinks it “Isabella stopped short.  She had not expected this thought to occur to her.”  Isabella is caring and uncaring, thoughtful, yet delightfully obtuse to her own motives.  So too is the mother who imagines how easy it would be to leave her son to her sister’s care but decides not to, and also the wife who leaves her husband in a remote location while on holiday, returns their rental car, and waits for her flight at the airport before finally, reluctantly, taking a taxi to retrieve him.  

These women are fantastically ambivalent even as Alice has them experience the most profound emotional moments in  human life.  I love this, for Alice’s characters are unclear about their feelings in definitive moments, and aren’t we all?  Ordinarily, our uncertainty is not terribly funny, and we cover it up with the rhetoric of certainty.  In All the Voices Cry, it is funny though.  Humans are odd, weird creatures looking up from under their bangs to try and see things more clearly, and often having no idea at all how to feel about what they see.  It’s not just women protagonists here: a favorite character of mine is Norman, who thinks he will die on a certain day, and tries to travel across the international dateline to cheat fate.

The second half of the collection is especially good: Here Alice is as accomplished and proficient as that Other Alice (Munro), and I think even better,  for Alice Petersen’s plots move with a quicker, lighter foot through the most embattled terrain of human relationships.

There are fantastic words evoking far-flung locales : “Tabernouche” in a conversation in Quebec rubbing shoulders with a New Zealand “great matai tree . . . huge and towering [with] flax and ferns and moss that sprouted along its branches.”  Alice interweaves stories in this latter part of the book too, so that a couple wearing leis and necking next to a bank machine in an airport appears, as incidental background, in two stories.

Throughout, characters are haunted by memory.  They remember themselves as younger and more lovely, they remember people who have long since died, and they remember the ways they used to love.  Alice even has characters remembering how certain events become canonized in gossip, as in, for instance, the case of “Scottish Annie . . . dandling her young man in the bedroom while the house burned down and the baby sat in the backyard with Lord Knows What in its mouth.”

All the Voices Cry is a good summer read (so much takes place outdoors in this collection), a good read for those with responsibility, ambivalence and oddity in their life (most mothers that I know), a good read for those with wanderlust (Quebec, Tahiti and New Zealand, Oh my!) and just generally a good read, even if you don’t happen to be lucky enough to know the author personally.  

Cats & Children, as Compared to Dogs

One thing cats and children have in common is their desire to sully a freshly cleaned bathroom/ litterbox.

The first thing a cat will do upon seeing you clean its litterbox?  Climb in and defecate odiferously, relishing the fresh litter between its toes.

So with bathrooms.  The first things Winton, for instance, will do when presented with a clean bathroom?  Defecate odiferously, attempt to wipe himself (so besmearing the toilet rim) and hop off the toilet, depositing a small daub of poo on the bathroom floor.

On this one issue, I prefer the attitude of dogs by far: a dog will choose a spot far from home, ideally, in which other dogs have already pooped.  A dog prefers to poo in an area that isn't clean, that hasn't been freshly sanitized.  A dog likes to leave its poo on a busy message board of other dogs's poo-odors: a clean place is no fun.  Would that the children would choose to poo far from home as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Truculence du Jour

Me: "Clara, can you clean between your toes, please."
Clara: "Absolutely not."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Keeping it real

My book came out yesterday, with a cover, and pages, and an isbn and everything:
The Writer and the Overseas Childhood: The Third Culture Literature of Kingsolver, McEwan and Others.

In order that my ego not revel too long, or that my soul not transcend the bounds of mundanity, fate determined that I arrived home after work (first day back after vacation) to discover our ac broken, again.

It's not so bad as long as we still have some power, but it is a bit uncomfortable.

The zinger: the receipt for our July 5 repair of the ac had been on the floor in the kitchen corner all month.  I knew exactly where it was.  But yesterday, mysteriously, it was gone.  I needed the receipt, for ac repairs are costly, and if the company installed a faulty part I darned well didn't want to have to pay for it again.

I searched the basement (in case the cats had taken it for a toy).  I searched my mail bin (in case I absent-mindedly had put it somewhere sensible).  I searched the recycling (which is where is ought to have been if not somewhere sensible).

And then I opened the garbage.  Fruit flies lifted from the rinds of the morning's cantaloupe.  Things oozed from detritus warmed by the afternoon sun in our currently un-airconditioned kitchen.  A doggie poop bag (tied shut but still gross) cradled a rotting tomato.

I sorted by hand until, under a dripping styrofoam container that had held chicken breasts, I found the receipt.  Wet, bacterial, but legible.  I left it out on the back porch to dry and then sealed it in a zip-lock bag.

Today the repair company has been singularly unhelpful.

I am contemplating putting the receipt back in the garbage, under the festering chicken container, for a while before I hand it to them for perusal, IF they ever show up . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Accidental Marathon

We are closing in on the end of my three-week vacation with the children (our staycation).

Having kicked the holiday off with the derecho (unexpected storm with high, persistent winds) and several days of power outage during which we camped at different hotels, and at my office at work, I proceeded with the following primary agenda: let the children have experiences they don't normally have at preschool.  This agenda requires balancing the following opposing forces: 1) their desire to stay home and do nothing (legitimately something they don't get to do on a typical school day) and 2) my, and sometimes their, desire for novel experiences.

In #1: we've drawn, made an entire first nation's community and their teepees out of playdough, played endless games of Zingo!, read a lot of library books, built things out of furniture, blocks and pillows, swept up after mowing the lawn, made structures with marshmallows and spaghetti, made a racket with musical instruments, made a water-glass orchestra, made pizza from scratch, and ridden scooters on our own front sidewalk.

In #2: we've gone to the library on a weekday, taken the dog to the vet (more informative and entertaining than you might imagine), had playdates with a variety of different friends, swum many times in 4 different pools, 3 of which were outside, tried on Clara's BIA school uniforms, bounced on castles at the Ultimate Playzone, and (thanks Husband) finally had a weekend outing to a museum which didn't entail yelling at the children to stop running.

Today's #2 adventure was to, finally, take a city bus.  There's one that runs past our house (#36).  My plan was to take the bus north, go for a playdate at a new friend's house, and then take the bus south again.  On the MTA transit map this looked entirely do-able AND it's only 91F today.

Thing is, the walking distances are given in minutes, not miles, on the MTA site.

You try walking a "16 minute" walk with a pampered 5 and 3 year old.  I dare you.

The 3 year old rapidly collapsed into a whinging sweaty lump requiring carrying and demanding only to be carried on my left hip ("The other side's not nice, Mummy").    The 5 year old consequently walked the whole way, and I walked the whole way, to and fro, holding her sweaty hand with my right hand and 35lbs of cranky Winton in my left (surely now much longer than its counterpart).

Coming home and calculating distances with the help of a map, I see we walked 10,500 feet or so, which is about 1.99 miles, or 3.22 kilometers.

The buses were a hit though (perhaps because they offered ac and seats).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Play dates

Do other people find them this exhausting?

After a playdate, I'm ready for a nap a-la Rip van Winkle.

Mind you, today's playdate at our house featured: dog vomit (twice), cat vomit (once), Winton excluded from games and understandably demanding as a result (trips to the toilet with him: 5) and an impromptu lunch for 4 children and 2 adults.  All in 3 hours.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

re: my spoiled children

Every few months there's an article in the American media about the monstrous behavior of our children.  I've read of how our children are spoilt because: they don't contribute to the household, they get everything they want, they watch too much tv,  and they eat poorly.

My children are spoiled.  (Note: I didn't choose the perfective of the word, "spoilt," because I believe things can be turned around.)  Here are my thoughts on why:

Though I am currently on a three-week summer staycation with my children (my first such vacation that I can remember since entering graduate school), I work a full time job.  Thankfully, I am an academic, which means I can manipulate my hours to the children's advantage, but still.  Husband works a full time job in Washington, DC: this adds 3+ hours of commute to his work day.

Reason 1 for the spoiled children:   I have a lot on my plate.  When I am with them, I want my time with them to be nice.  I don't want to fight.  This means I roll over to the dictatorial demands issued from their 3 and 5 year old mouths quite a lot, just because I want to be able to be with them and be happy.

Reason 2 for the spoiled children:   I am accustomed to making sacrifices in some places, several of which are certainly the wrong kinds of places to be making sacrifices (I fetch and carry for the children, a lot; I still wipe the 5 year old's arse; I still respond to night-time concerns that they can't see their fingerprints in the dark).  But, I am also terrifically spoiled in others: if I want to go for a latte at Atwater's, I go for a latte at Atwater's.  The children get treats out of the excursion.  If they are rotten little monsters, we should stay home and they should not get treats. BUT, it is darned hard for me to give up on a plan, and for me to sacrifice the thing I wanted.

Reason 3 for the spoiled children: Our children's preschool is fantastic, and I have no complaints.  It is, however, true that their bottom line in terms of behavior-management is achieving peace, stability and order in a group of children.  Children don't like negative consequences (aka punishments) and tend to yell, scream, writhe and flail when on the receiving end of them.  Thus, children in a preschool setting probably get off pretty lightly in terms of consequences for bad behavior (and who can blame a teacher for not wanting a room full of yelling, screaming, writhing and flailing id-kids?). 

Reason 4 for the spoiled children: Time.  Holy crap on a hastily-made tostada is time ever an issue.  It can't always have been like this, can it?  No, surely not?  I know, from experiences living elsewhere in the world (Ghana, for example), that other people do not live constantly scurrying to keep in front of the sweeping arm of the minute-hand on our watches.  I manipulate things to go as fast as they can. In many regards time is the factor behind all of those articles in the media observing problems with our children.

-Children don't contribute?  Of course not.  It takes so much damn longer to get them to fold the laundry and put it away.  Who has time?

-Children get everything they want?  Of course.  If I'm rushing to finish something it is faster to give the child what s/he wants than to wait out their fury when they don't get it.

-Children watch too much TV?  Yup!  Because if they are plugged in and subdued, I have more time to get stuff done.

-Children eat too much junk?  We actually do really well on this one.  I cook.  My children eat home-cooked meals 95% of the time.  However, I totally get how fast food appeals because it saves so much time.

I'd like to wrap this up into a tidy 4-item list for familial improvement now, but boy are my fingers resisting typing it.  The obvious answer is that my children are spoiled because I am spoilt.  Conversely, maybe my children are spoiled because I am punishingly over-worked and ground down by trying to do a full time job and parent.  Solutions include all kinds of impossibilities like staying home, or retreating to life in a yurt in a third world country whose approach to the clock is more lacksidaisical.

Today's resolve is merely (merely!  This is f-ing HUGE for me) to let things get messier.  Today, I let them both have messy hysterics as I bundled them back into the car: both had been arguing with me, and refusing to do what I asked.  Therefore we went home and did not have lunch at Atwaters as planned (and I did not get my latte!  Oh internet, please give me some sympathy for my heroic self-sacrifice).  I'm going to have to let the dishes get messy if I want the kids to put them away, and the laundry will need to be lumpily folded.  We will have to have conflicts, even when I just want to be happy.

My bottom line is that I don't want them to be spoilt.  I'm going to have to suck up all the ways they will yell at me and then punish them appropriately for having yelled (Note: not by any violent means, just by withholding over-indulgences).  I feel I've grazed the sharp edge of an American cultural problem with my bottom line: parents are supposed to dote and love.  It is very hard, in our culture, to see discipline as part of doting and loving, not as their opposite.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dreams, remembered

My memory of what transpired in the middle of the night:
Clara: "Mummy, I had a bad dream."
Me: "Oh.  What was it about?"
Clara: "Three pigs reading."

Clara insists, this morning, that she said "ghosts" not "pigs" but I could swear I heard right.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Returning to Normalcy

We have returned to our normal lives (including massive environmental footprint).  It's still darned hot outside though.  To avoid the heat we've gone bowling (two chubby thumbs up from Winton), to Port Discovery (sensory overload for us all, with aircon to goosepimple levels), and to an obscure neighborhood pool near Perring Parkway (the most uncomfortably warm of all of the above).

Today temperatures dipped to 93F.  To celebrate, Husband baked a blueberry peach pie which was gooey nirvana and worth every extra degree of heat in the kitchen.  As Winton said, after methodically devouring his slice, "Please, but please, can I just have more peach sloppy?"

In Clara and Wintonisms:

Clara "When I grow Up, I'm going to be a singer"
Winton "When I grow UP, I'm going to destroy Clara's songs"

Tomorrow begins week two of my three week staycation with the kids: may it be less discombobulating than last week.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Meltdown Season

The scene: breakfast room in the "Best" Western over stale fruit loops and yogurt with fructose appearing three times as an ingredient.  The weather forecast on the mammoth screen in the corner: temperatures over 100F from Denver to DC.  Baltimore's forecast (99F) not the highest of the bunch, but not the lowest either.  Seems the time for the great environmental planet over-heating due to indulgent, wasteful, dissipated and dissolute living is upon us.  I am appalled, headachy, and irresponsibly cranking the hotel ac for all it is worth.

Observations, random:
Not all 2.5 star hotels are equal.  We're at the "Best" Western after an urgent need for coolness.  We were supposed to be home last night, the power back on.  It wasn't.  The previous two nights we were at the The Hampton Inn in White Marsh.  Hampton feels like a much pricier hotel than it is (shame it's in White Marsh though.  What's up with White Marsh??  It feels like something that was utopic on paper and has turned out to be an industrial park studded with PFChangs instead).

Always run the sink garbage disposal after doing dishes, just in case the power unexpectedly goes out and it unexpectedly happens to be the middle of a heat wave.  If there's food left on those blades down there, flies come, and then maggots, and then when you run water into the sink maggots float up in a squirmy creamy raft.  Bleach doesn't kill maggots.  They are remarkably resistant to boiling water too.

Children don't sleep well in unfamiliar spaces, and get less and less manageable.
Unfamiliar spaces (like hotels) require children to be more managed than usual.  In combination with the above?  Not so good.

Pets hate it when you "visit" three times a day but don't live at home.  They hate it.  Droopy hounds stop eating.  Feral cats stalk angrily.  Affectionate cats shun you.  Long haired cats hide.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Claraism du jour

On examining the grilled-cheese sandwich and spinach salad dinner Mummy had heroically assembled on a day when Mummy had a stomach virus (thank-you Winton!) and it was approx. 100F outside:
"That's not a dinner.  It's not cooked.  That's not OK with me, Mummy."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Discoveries and definitions

Winton is afraid, particularly, of a cow that he imagines roams our hall at night.  One with "Yellow eyes and a black and white tail."  Wait.  Hardie has a black and white tail.  I think our lumbering droopy hound looks like a cow to the boy when night's shadows bend everything into the weird.  At night, Winton is afraid of the dog.

Clara [gesturing to a generic-looking, recent-ish model audi SUV]: "That's a fashion car, Mummy"
Me: "What do you mean by 'fashion' Clara?"
Clara: "Well, it's an old car they painted silver to make it look new.  It's a fashion car."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On the nose, again

Like: 3-year-old muscling his way into bed to snuggle in the early morning.

Not like very much: 3-year-old dropping his head onto my nose so that I have to make a quick, bloody exit in order to hang my gushing and florid nose over the bathroom sink.

As I stood watching myself bleed in the bathroom mirror I had some time to reflect (haha--mirror pun) on the fact that this was the second time in his short life that Winton has head-butted my nose to a bloody pulp.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Light Sleeper

I am a light enough sleeper that these things wake me:

1) Husband snoring, in the next room (we don't share a room because his snoring prevents me from falling asleep in the first place)

2) Pepita sliding a toy mouse back and forth underneath the door to Clara and Winton's room

3)  The dog snoring

4) The dog's stomach whining and pinging as, with morning's approach, he beings to get hungry

I'm tired.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What Winton Said

"I keep my magic in my belly, Daddy keeps his in his leg, Mummy keeps hers in her foot and Clara keeps hers in her head."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mulberry Trees

I take great, enormous, disproportionate pleasure in urban foraging with my children.  It combines the morally righteous current fads in food and child-rearing (eat local, teach your children where the food comes from) with the unexpected (food growing wild in Baltimore city) and, bonus, the illicit (it's not really stealing, but it feels like it in a very Huck-Finn wholesome way).

Recently I identified mulberry trees and ascertained that their fruit is edible.  We've been grabbing a couple here and there on our walks of late.  The fruits look like a blackberry, but are sweeter inside with a hint of tropical musk like a guava.  They are also surprisingly sticky inside, like okra.

This morning we were in a relatively safe alleyway.  I was leaping and leaping off the curb trying to catch at mulberry leaves so I could pull a cluster of fruit far enough down to harvest when I heard a voice from inside the house whose yard backed onto the alley where I was jumping.

"What are you doing?"  The man asked.
"Getting berries.  You want some?"  I replied.

This free fruit thing has me excited to an evangelical pitch, so much so that I picked berries for Clara, and Winton and then displayed a few attractively in my palm for the man, who emerged from his house wearing boxer shorts and a handgun tattoo.

"These won't kill me?" He asked.
"We eat them and we're OK" I said, gesturing at my sticky, bepurpled children.
"They're sweet" He said.
"Yup!" I chirped delightedly.  "So good, and right behind your house!  You could make pie"
"Uh-huh" he said, "thanks."

And then he lay down on the weight bench in his back yard and started doing bench presses while I wondered if I had just made contact with someone I ought to have been scared of.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Winton Said

On the dogwalk this morning:
W: "Look, there's a cow windchime!"
Me: "Yup."
W: "I don't like it."
Me: "Yeah, you're not keen on cows, are you?"
W: "No, Mummy.  I hate cows.  I'm scared of cows!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Claraisms du jour

To her teacher, after being told that her art smock was on backwards:
"What's it to you?"

To me, on presenting me with a thoroughly bloodied pillow this morning:
C:"There's a wet bit that's dried out."
Me: "Um, that's blood.  Did you have a nosebleed?"
C: "I was sleeping.  And it was too hot in here.  I don't know about my nose.  I think you did it, Mummy."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Imperfection: a yogic post

I read Claire Dederer's Poser while I was travelling, and what I take from its ruminations on yoga in the American context, and as an antidote to the culture of striving to be the perfect mamma, is this: accept imperfection.  It's never going to be perfect.  My yoga practice will always (should always) have lumpy, crampy, difficult bits: the difficult bits are, in fact, what make me pay attention, and paying attention (aka "being present/ mindful") add up to that great sanskrit-ty goal: yoga citta vrtti nirodah (yoga stills the mind's fluctuations).

It's a good lesson today, for there are imperfections (my son's best friend moved up to a new class for summer camp, so my son, still in the old class, cried this morning, full of disappointment).

And there is flexibility: I called the school and asked if Winton can move to the older group tomorrow to be with his friend.

And more imperfections: I'm getting a cold!

And more flexibility: I'll try to knock off work early today.

And then there's the always fluctuating mind, faced by a week's worth of email and administrivia to catch up on and new Freshmen on campus to try and orient. Flutter flutter goes my mind . . . but, helpfully, snotter snotter goes my nose, keeping it real, keeping it slow, keeping it imperfect.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Solo in Portland

I'm here for work, staying in a nice hotel.  I've a big, pristine bed with white linens and no cats or cat hair on it, and a deep clean gleaming bathtub at my disposal.  It's 12.26 in the night Baltimore time, 9.26pm in Portland.  I miss my kids.

I've spent the day being shocked by the fact that the old Me, the pre-kid, pre-marriage one, is resuscitate-able under these rarified conditions.  In an academic setting, on my own, I revert to someone I vaguely remember being.  I drink several cups of coffee, I walk everywhere and do it quickly, I don't clock-watch, impatiently, as there is no rush to get anyone from preschool.  I eat dessert, in the open, where anyone can see me do it.  But: I miss my kids.

It's a surprise that I've met a person or two at the workshop who seems quite interesting (yes, I'm an arrogant, misanthropic twit).  One person and I got to talking about work, but then about our kids.  His son is 12.  He asked the ages of my kids (5 and 3). 
"Oh!" he said, "I can't imagine!  Department Chair, and Kids So Young and getting away to a workshop!  I couldn't have done that!" 
In my heart his comment translates as  "I shouldn't be here.  I should be with my kids."

Of all the things I do, they are the most important.  Should I be here?  I'm enjoying being here.  But I feel guilty.  And:  I miss my kids.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Check List

-upcoming trip to workshop for department chairs in Portland.  Check!
-anxiety about leaving children.  Check.
-upcoming visit from in-laws who are helping with kids while I'm in Portland. Check!
-concerns about cleanliness of house.  Check.
-plans to do yoga in Portland. Check!
-vast pile of unfinished work on desk in Baltimore. Check.
-anticipation of clean, lovely hotel room with bathtub.  Check!
-anticipation of irksome departmental self-study on my return.  Check.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Best retort of the holiday weekend

Winton, to Clara, at the culmination of a long argument:
"Well, I have a bigger butt than you."

Claraism du Jour

It's good you're not so angry this time about the dog throwing up on the couch.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

News briefs

So, here are today's events, paired with the things that make me panicky.

1) a) Robin's nest in tree a mere 4 feet from our window !
    b) Tree grows up through power lines and when the wind blows stretches them scarily from side to side and should be radically pruned but now can't be because of the robins.  And I'm afraid of the power lines snapping.  And I have remnants of Poltergeist-y fears about blowing tree branches in storms at night.

2) a) The cats seem to have recovered from the fleas.
    b)  The dog, despite pesticides, is still covered in fleas, scratching like a maniac and spreading fleas through the house, and likely back to the cats, and I'm running out of pesticides.

3) a)  There's new mold on the wall in the basement bathroom.
    b) It's there because the basement shower leaks, as it always has done, and we haven't been able to afford to fix it, or the upstairs bathroom, since we've moved in and OMG the amount of money time and work needed to right the bathrooms, walls and backyard of our house is gobsmacking: the whole thing is impossible and we shall go bankrupt and the end is nigh.

4) a)  The car is pulling more and more strongly to the right.
  b) Car problems, like house problems, tend towards the apocalyptic AND when I went for our last oil change I snottily declined having the tires rotated, and now they need to be rotated and god knows what else is wrong with the car and god knows what the mechanic will say to make me feel like an idiot for not having the tires rotated last time we went.

There isn't a pair for this last one:
On drop-off at preschool, I was taken aside by Winton's teacher and told that "One of the parents" had concerns that my son was "Touching" their child.  "Touching how?"  I asked.  Seems my son likes to stroke some other child's face, lovingly.  Teacher was careful not to reveal the identity of the complainant.

What the hell am I to say about that?  My son is demonstratively affectionate and someone complains?  He didn't hit, bite or spit.  He didn't touch anywhere inappropriate (which was a relief: when the teacher said "touching" I had thought "Oh god").  Winton likes to touch someone's face, gently.  And they have complained.   What the hell?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh, the compulsively itchy days of spring

Sunday: four hours cleaning cockroach carcasses out of the high, hidden, and dark places in our kitchen (the places I have avoided for 6 years because I feared they were full of cockroaches, and carcasses).

Monday: the day the dog's flea meds failed and the dog scratched himself raw.

Tuesday: This email from the children's preschool:
"Several children have head lice.  Please check your child's head.  You may not see the lice but may find small, white eggs (nits) attached to hair shafts  on the back of the neck and behind the ears.  They may look like dandruff but are not easily removed.  You may want to check with your child's doctor for suggested treatments.  Bed linens should be washed.  Items that cannot be washed should be placed in a plastic bag for two weeks.  Good luck!  I hope that we can get rid of them quickly."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Yes, my children do watch TV

They are big fans of our Netflix subscription on Roku.  A current favorite in high rotation is a cartoon film about the children of the Avengers (Captain America's son, and The Panther's and the Wasp's, along with Thor's daughter).  The Avengers' children challenge Ultron.

Anyway, the kids get to watch this in the morning (while Husband is madly getting ready for work, and I am assembling breakfast and feeding it to them). I sit down and join them when I am done and when my own breakfast is ready. 

The result is that I see parts of this movie almost every day.  And almost every day I am shocked to see that there are parts of it I have never seen before.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Claraism du jour

Clara: "Mummy, do you know what I think of when I think of roly-polies?"
Me: "Nope.  What do you think of?"
Clara: "Love."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother's day poster

In Clara's classroom, a poster showing what each child said about her/his mother.

Children said things like:
"She tickles me"
"She's pretty"
"She makes us cake"
"She let's us watch TV after 5 o'clock"

Clara said: "She puts on my shoes just right"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Calico Cat

Yeah, so, this is a post about Pepita.  If you're not here for strange cat tales, please tune in another day.

A year ago, this happened and then this.  To recap in brief:  A year ago, while out walking the kids and dog, we found a small calico cat, and she followed us home.  We didn't take her in.  And then she followed us home again a few days later and I felt bad, so in she came, disrupting the delicate feline equilibrium of our household and resulting in what has been a year long territorial dispute (urine fest) between her and our other female cat (now incarcerated in Husband's room on a permanent basis and bitter about it).  In the early days, I tried to find Pepita's owners.  Her microchip led us to a man who had recently died and whose wife (?) informed us grumpily before abruptly hanging up on me that her son was supposed to be looking after the cat.  And posters in the neighborhood advertising the loss of a cat who was the spitting image of Pepita led us to a very nice chef, who assured us Pepita was not in fact her cat. 

The chef's lost cat was named Sorrell.

This morning, while walking the dog and kids, we cut down the alley behind Juniper street to check on the progress of the fig tree we like to poach from (its branches overhang the alley, so I figure fruit there is "public access").  Today, about half way down the alley there was a man in his yard, in his PJs, with a bassett hound wearing a blue T shirt (yes, the dog is wearing the shirt):

"Hey look, a beagle!" he announced loudly to his dog.
"Actually, beagle-bassett mix" I clarified, pausing.

Dog-related chit-chat ensued, with interruptions from Winton ("Mummy, I want that man to ask what my name is").

A cat appeared behind the man: small, calico.

"Oh!"  I said "We have matching animals! We have a calico cat at home too."
"Her name is Sorrell," said the man.


Turns out that a year ago, after a month of looking for her, and then giving up, Chef and Man got a call from someone in Owings Mills saying that they had found their cat.  This seemed so unlikely, given that the cat (and today's conversation about her) happened near the intersection of York and 39th in the city (Baltimore city, btw), and Owings Mills is about a 25 minute drive away, if you take the highways.  Owings Mills finder said "Well, we got your number from Sorrell's collar, which she is currently wearing."

Sorrell, when retrieved, was clean and well-fed, as though someone had been looking after her for a month, not as if she had been living at the Owings Mills light rail station where she turned up.

What the hell?

1) It's an odd coincidence to have this conversation almost exactly a year after I had met Sorrell's other owner, Chef.

2) Do you think there's a chance that Sorrell (an indoor-outdoor cat) wandered off, was abducted by dead man's son (Pepita's heroin-addled  and reluctant caretaker, or so I imagine), and did he take a month to realize that the cat was wearing a collar indicating someone else as owner?  Did he drop her off in Owings Mills rather than call Chef and Man, after a month of feeding the animal, to admit he had mistaken their cat for his (father's) cat?

Pepita herself has been noteworthy in the last 24 hours.  I have always assumed that mother cats teach kittens where to pee, and that if adult cats transgress, it is by choice.  But there was always the possibility that Pepita's past involved being removed from her mother early, perhaps.  Who knows?
I recently acquired another new litter box (we have 7 now), and more fresh litter, and last night I dug around in the box, hopefully, with a scoop, while Pepita watched . . . and then she climbed into the box, peed, and looked at me quizzically, waiting for approval or approbation.  Much praise ensued.
Apparently this cat needs to be potty trained, and is somewhat willing.  It's taken me a year to figure that out.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Winton, naked butt

Mommy. Mommyy! MOMMY!
Watch my naked butt run!
and, and, and,
Watch my naked butt run backwards!

Friday, May 4, 2012

End of Semester

Last day of classes yesterday.  English department party (which I organize) this afternoon.  Husband home to help with kids b/c I have to deal with party.  But right now: no classes.  And it feels weird.  It should feel good, but I am riddled with the insecurities that come when I step out of routine.

Here's the email I recently sent to Husband:

Weird day . . . transition times are always a bit disorienting and I feel esp off kilter just now.
Tea and Hunger Games for a bit, I think.

Hope your day is going well.  Not bad out right now--supposed to be foul later (hot and wet).

Clara will be mad at me b/c she was talking to Gaia and so didn't see my car drive away.  She usually waves.  Oh the guilt!


From email, I went to reading Facebook and a post someone had shared about marriage.  Now I am concerned that I am terrible in bed and am consequently destroying my marriage.

Garh.  Time to drink that tea and go back to (re)reading The Hunger Games (which is actually work, when paired with the stack of inter-library loan books on my desk about the USAF, military psychology, military ethics, and Air Force base protocols).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"I have a surprise for you"

"I have a surprise for you!"  is Winton's typical announcement when he has peed or pooped in his potty, delivered in excited tones in anticipation of my delight at his achievement.

Yesterday afternoon I met him at preschool and he greeted me with "I have a surprise for you!" 

Uh-oh, I thought.  Where'd he poop?  Surely not in his cubby?  If in the class toilet, surely someone will have flushed by now so . . .?

Winton ran to his cubby and dragged out a small, wilted buttercup: "I picked for you, Mummy!  As a surprise!"

My (butter)cup of pleasure overfloweth.  My son is the sweetest little man in the world.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Eye Exam

Opthalmologist, sternly: "Well, your daughter has excellent vision, and is very good with her letters.  But I should tell you medically that an eye exam without dilation is like going to your internist and not letting them take your blood-pressure."

Me: [Silence, anxiety, attempts to reassure self that opting against dilation for Clara's first eye-exam ever was a good choice, Silence]

Clara: "Let's dilate Ruthie's* eyes!"

*Ruthie: toy mouse and co-star in ongoing bedtime story series about adventures of mice Frederick and Ruthie.   On nights when Daddy tells stories instead of Mummy, Frederick and Ruthie are replaced by Freddie and Ruthrick, imaginary camels at the Baltimore zoo.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lunch Prep

Winton, helping me pack lunches; Me filling Husband's tupperware with rice noodles.

Winton: "Oh!  My friend Liam has a lunch box just like that!"
Me: "That's cool.  What does he have for lunch in his?"
Winton: "Yucky things.  Like you make."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I woke to

Clara and Winton in Bathroom (me, in bed)

Clara [whispering]: "No, pull your pants down all the way."
Winton [shuffle shuffle, scrape-- as he presumably moves the plastic potty across the bathroom floor]
Clara: "No.  All the way.  Or. You'll. Get. Pee. On. Them."
Winton [silence]
Clara: "Now poof your penis."

[Longer silence followed by sound of potty being emptied, mostly, into toilet]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grumpiness, Cribs and Cats

Regrets this morning:

1)  Talking at Winton, repeatedly asking if he needed to pee, while he focused his eyes on something across the room and blocked out my voice.

2)  Getting impatient with Clara on drop-off.  She convinced me to let her come inside the building (her class was out playing) to help put away her lunch and backpack.  OK.  But then she wanted to pee  . . . and that was the last straw for my patience and I said sharply irritated things like "Clara!  C'mon.  I HAVE to get to work" in unpleasant tones of voice.   (Terrible, really.  But but but: her teacher did tell me that she'd had to crack down on Clara because Clara kept saying she had to pee when it was clean up time: pee as avoidance strategy is a well-used maneuver for my girl.)

In continuing to process/ explain/ justify my failures this morning, I come up with this:  It is one of those days when my tiredness is past fixing by sleep (I had enough hours in bed): what I need (what Winton needs) is a break.  For me that would be from the juggling that seems to tucker me out disproportionately; for the boy this would be from the newfound freedom that goes along with having the side of his crib removed, and from cat love.

The side of the boy's crib has been removed so that he can get to his potty, as he has gone cold-turkey, by his own choice, and now wears no diapers at night. 

Two nights ago, I came up to bed to find Winton sitting on the floor--awake, exhausted and quiet--by the side of my bed.  "Mummy, Pepita's in my bed and I want her out," he said. "She was pulling on my pants." "Oh," I said.  "That cat's a lot of trouble.  Have you been sitting here long?"  To which the boy replied "Yes."

She used to always sleep with me, that cat.  I loved her fondness for sleeping with her head in the arch of one of my feet.  However, now (since the removal of the side of his crib) she sleeps with the boy, and puts her head in the arch of one of his feet when she can get away with it.  This is both adorable and a betrayal:  I thought she loved my feet.  Anyway.

Last night Winton and his sister cavorted every time I turned my back on them for the night.  They fell asleep about an hour later than they should have. (So, no catching up for the previous late night then, but at least the cat on his feet didn't wake him last night).

I'm tired.  The boy's tired.  Clara and Pepita are running clever rings around us both.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jesus and the babies

In car, driving past church with statue out front.
Winton: "Look!  It's Jesus."
Clara: [not looking] "No, it's not."
Winton: "Yes it is.  Look at his hands.  That's Jesus."
Clara: [still not looking] "No.  Mummy.  Tell him it's not."
Me: [trying to change lanes] "Uhmmmm"
Clara: "Jesus is in a book we have at school.  He's a baby.  And then in the next chapter there's a man who comes and eats all the babies and everyone cries."
Me: ??

Friday, April 20, 2012

Remote Storage

Know how the online catalogues of research libraries sometimes tell you the item you want is in remote storage and you'll need to file a special request to have it retrieved?  Thus with my brain. 

Momosyllabic: "Dear Brain, I'd like to remember the word for caterpillar poop.  I know that this time last year I knew it, because Clara was obsessing about trying to keep caterpillars as pets then too."

Brain: "Dear Momosyllabic, that item has been removed to remote storage.  Please fill in the attached form and wait 2-6 weeks for processing."

Mom.: "I can't wait that long.  Last time we kept the caterpillar alive for about an hour.  I need to know before the current one dies, because once it dies I won't be able to talk 'pillar anymore for fear of Clara's grief.  I also can't google just now because I am trying to cook dinner, keep the caterpillar alive, and rinse out Winton's latest batch of urine-sopped clothing."

Brain: "Lalalalala.  Penis.  Lalalalala. Disraeli had an older wife.  Lalalala.  Katniss is not a good female role model for she is only celebrated for the ways in which she is a like a boy.  Lalala.  Wine."

Mom.:" It starts with an 'R,'  I think.  C'mon!"

[3 hours later]

Brain: "Frass.  And you're welcome.  You owe me, for this is far faster than my typical processing speed for such items"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Good things

 I am grateful for the fact that my children like to hug and cuddle with me.  I am grateful for their big, unpredictable heads crowded on my lap, knocking my tea cup so that tepid milky tea spills abundantly into my armchair.  I am grateful for the fact that we have enough (just about) money that if Winton really, absolutely, completely and utterly befouls a pair of underwear while at preschool and the excrement hardens to the fabric over several hours until I discover them in a baggie in his school bag in the evening, I can with only small guilt, throw the underpants away.  I am grateful for the fact that no one takes attendance at faculty meetings so my absence yesterday may not come back to bite me.  I am grateful for the banjo my colleagues gave me as a wedding present six years ago, even though I still only know three chords and three Scruggs-style picking techniques.  I am extraordinarily grateful that soon it will be summer, and I won't have to pretend to be responsible department chair as often. 

And now essays to grade (I am not grateful).