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Of Foam and Feathers

Another day, another crafting anxiety spiral.

In an hour I have to go teach Afternoon Enrichment class at MJ’s school. Remember AE? My anxiety attack over the spiders? My misery as I tried to come up with novel ways to make perfume? It rolls around, once a month, as inevitable as the tides. And as relentless. Work got me out of it for a while, but now I’m here again. The theme today? Birds, of course. How could it be anything but? When your child is waking up in the morning and screeching “Don’t call me MJ! I’m a blue tit!” you don’t have a lot of alternatives.

For days I’ve been googling “bird crafts for preschoolers.” There are plenty of ideas, believe me. But none seems quite right. Or easy enough. Or doable in a sixty-minute time period with eight antsy five-year-olds.

I’ve been losing a lot of sleep over it.

So yesterday I did what I always do. I went to Michael’s and wandered the aisles aimlessly, hoping for inspiration. Last night, when Mike came home from work, I told him the outcome.

“I got some styrofoam balls.”

“Ah.”

“And some feathers!”

“OK…”

“And, um, some lollipop sticks.”

“Some–what?”

“And now I’ve got to go to book club! Can you figure something out for me?”

Look–he should be helping out. He’s far more creative than me. Plus, he knows the stress of this gig. He’s had to do the last three. I think it’s the main reason he worked so hard to find another job. That, and his unemployment running out.

I came home from book club to find a variety of foam ball birds on the counter. Pinterest-worthy they may not be, but they’ll have to do. I hope the kids can emulate them. I hope they get us through an hour of crafting time. I hope no one turns on me and screams “This is lame!”

I hope Mike is unemployed again next time AE rolls around.

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Dish Network

It’s not only toddlers who need a security blanket sometimes.

I was at a 5-year-old’s birthday party last weekend, and found myself feeling a bit socially awkward. Looking for something to do, I spotted a cabinet filled with retro games; I decided to play one with MJ until my shyness abated. This is the kind of thing we non-drinkers have to resort to. I know, it’s very unwieldy. But cheaper than a fifth of scotch.

Anyway. The game we played was pick up sticks–something I haven’t done, probably, since I was five. I eventually relaxed and went on to mingle with kids my own age. But I’d had so much fun playing that I decided to re-create the experience at home. For Mike. Using silverware and dishes.

I think I succeeded beautifully.

He is such a sore loser.

Cheese grater, anyone?

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(L.A.) River Bed

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Can we play something?”

A long pause. “It’s 6:30 in the morning.”

Impatiently: “I know.”

I have been awake all of fifteen seconds. “What do you want to play?”

“L.A. River, of course.”

I sigh, and pull my robe tighter around me. “I need a cup of tea first.”

This is all the assent she needs. Myra-Jean leaps from her bed and flies into activity. “I’ll get it set up.”

Ever since our trip there last week MJ has wanted nothing more than to play this new game of her own invention. It’s a simple one, really. She spreads a bunch of blankets on her bedroom floor, gets out her bird dolls, drags me (or Mike) down next to her, and spends the next hour squawking. And making us squawk. That’s it. Basically.

Oh, except for the random and assorted objects–a handful of hair clips, a rubber prickly toy, a wooden spoon, a green shopping bag, a plastic vial of bubbles–that have come, inexplicably, to be essential to the game. The ball is hidden and found. The clips go on birds beaks. The rest? I’m not sure. MJ has reasons for each of them. I cannot begin to comprehend them. It matters not at all. I am there merely as an accessory–another player to talk to, a placeholder, an outline to be filled in. I am a tricolored heron, an eared grebe, a pintail. I am a character of MJ’s making; I contribute nothing to the “plot.” True, generally I suggest taking a nap–this is a tactic of mine in every game–but otherwise I have no more agency than the clips, the blankets, or the birds themselves.

Except that this prop requires caffeine. Once I get this I am happy to play. Until breakfast, at least.

One additional plot point I insist upon: the blankets get cleaned up in the end. I don’t want the dog lying on them.The L.A. River may be dirty, but have you seen Mina? We’re talking a major pollutant.

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Double Birdie

Morning rang with birdsong. OK, from an iPad app, but still. What a way to start the day: sunlight filtered through louvred windows, yogurt and granola in cracked Heath bowls, Western tanagers warbling from our little white tablet. This, believe it or not, was MJs first foray into portable computers. I’ve been trying to keep that horse in the barn. At least until it was old enough to wear a bridle.

“Now I know what an app is,” MJ said dreamily. She scrolled through the “C” section of the bird index. “What’s this one, Mama?”

I leaned over. “Cinnamon Teal. Eat your breakfast.”

“Wow,” she replied, taking a bite absently. “I’m going to play with the ipad all the time now. Can I?”

“Well, you can certainly look at birds.” The living kind, not the Angry ones, I added silently.

It seemed prudent to get her out of the house and put some of her newfound cyber-knowledge to practical use. You know, the virtues of reality, and all of that? Good thing we had a field trip to the Audubon Center planned. Ten minutes later we were whizzing there in the Leaf. Half an hour after that we were on a nature hike with twenty other pre-schoolers. Not a Thoreauian silent ramble by any stretch of the imagination, but still very enjoyable. MJ wore the new binoculars her grandfather had given her.

“I think I see a rufous hummingbird!’ she cried.

Her peers looked impressed. I handed her the water bottle. “Stay hydrated, bird girl.”

The hours passed pleasantly. Soon it was time to go. On our way out we passed through the Center’s tiny gift shop. There MJ spotted a rack of stuffed birds–the kind that make a “genuine” sound when you squeeze them. Fondling a blue one she looked up at me longingly. Every parent knows this look.

“Can we buy it?” she asked.

“‘We?’ Or me?” I asked her, teasing.

“Mom. It’s a great blue heron,” she responded, without cracking a smile.

“We” bought it.

After driving home, preparing new snacks, and re-caffeinating, (me), we grabbed Mike and headed back out. Ever since he finished his insane work week Mike’s been promising MJ a trip to the L.A. River. I’d never been. We’d heard–although it seemed hard to believe–that there were lots of birds there.

Before she got back in the car MJ made sure her new doll “Bluey” and another stuffed bird–a Killdeer–were in her satchel.

“Do you have your binoculars, too?” I asked.

She checked. “Yup.”

And a good thing, too. The river, funky and urban as it is, turns out to be a spectacular place for birders of our ilk. The novice ones, that is. At this time of year, at least, it’s a veritable Boston pops of waterbirds. We saw blue herons, Canada geese, sharp-suited stilts on delicate legs, mallards, tiny coots, a magnificent and professorial-looking egret, cormorants, and several others we were unable to name. By the end of our walk all of us were grinning and punchy. MJ waved her two dolls overhead:

“Did you see them, Bluey? How about you, Killy?”

I’ve been meaning to talk to her about that name.

“Caw–aaw!’ the stuffed birds responded. I don’t think herons or killdeers make such a sound, but neither Mike nor I was in the correcting mood. We’d seldom seen MJ–or her toys–so excited.

Frankly, I was pretty jazzed, too. How insane, how profound, how inspiring, to find this wellspring of life wedged between grim freeways, sprawling power plants, and mean-looking tow-yards. Sure, there were some old plastic bags on branches, and a few teens drinking beer, and I could do with a lot less cement. But the birds were like poetry amidst a bunch of junk mail. They classed the joint up. Spectacularly, in fact.

As for my daughter, she found it pure magic. And that, of course, was magic for us.

It’s six-thirty now; Mike’s in with MJ putting her to bed. They’re reading “A Field Guide to the Los Angeles Region,” as Bluey and Killy watch from the floor. It’s a sweet tableau, and a peaceful one. Soon, MJ will gather up her birds, along with the blanket they’re perched upon. Tumbling backwards and pell mell into bed, she’ll allow herself to be covered, and sung to, and settled. In moments she’ll be sleeping, her soft friends tight in her arms.

And maybe, just maybe, she’ll dream of Happy Birds.

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Car-Oh Mio Ben

Have I mentioned? I’m blotto in love. You can tell my husband; he already knows. The symptoms are classic: I think about my new love all the time. I touch it gently whenever I walk by. I sing songs extolling its virtues. I tell everyone I know about it. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis kind of thing–it does, after all, involve a car. Mine.

My new electric car. I’m in love.

Friends, family, and co-workers have had it up to here. They’ve been listening to me for weeks. I’m like Shakespeare, but without language skills. I wax absolutely un-poetic. I can’t stop going on about it: my good fortune, its good mileage. My fellow salespeople roll their eyes dramatically when they hear me telling yet another customer about my Nissan Leaf.

“It’s all electric!” I gush. “No tailpipe. No gas!”

“None?” my customers ask politely.

“None!” I croon.

“There she goes again,” my co-workers mutter.

I can’t help myself. This is a huge deal for me. I’ve wanted an electric car for, oh, ten years, and this is the first time I’ve been able to afford one. Used to be, in order to buy an EV you had to have the extra $2500 to install a charging station at your house. Now that’s no longer required. My car–my beautiful roadster–charges from a regular extension cord run (OK, rather unglamorously) out of our garage. Plug it in just like it’s a lamp. The next day–presto!–a full charge. Which, admittedly, only gets you 85 miles, but that’s far enough for my needs. And much farther than any lamp I’ve met.

Here’s what I love: the sound it makes (none), the emissions it puts out (repeat the former), the $2500 I’ll be receiving back next month from the state of CA, the little digital song it plays when I turn it on (“ding ding ding ding DONG”), and the heated seats. Which are, of course, an unnecessary drain on the battery, but provide such profound comfort that–hell, if it comes down to it? I’ll walk.

Anyway. It’s just a car. But with news about climate change growing so dire you don’t want to read it after 8PM (for fear of wrecking your night’s sleep) it’s a little bit more than that. It’s a statement. It’s a gesture of hope. It’s a source of encouragement.

And it’s many, many, many trips right past the gas pumps.

Can you hear the angels singing?

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Open and Smut

Just got finished sending out this link to my MOMS Club friends–it’s an article on talking about porn with your teenager. Ever since I had a thirteen-year-old babysitter use my laptop to watch some scary stuff last summer I’ve been interested in the topic. In a disgusted sort of way. I’d shared about it at the time with my club friends to see if they had any advice. Which they did, if you consider a resounding and collective “Eeeeew!” to be helpful.

I kind of did.

Anyway, there I am sending out my little link, and I decide to toggle over and check my youtube video uploads. I’ve been trying to clear out my iphoto files, you see, which are choked with such an abundance of three-minute videos of Myra-Jean that my hard drive is engorged and threatening to rupture. In an ongoing process of incredible tediousness, I scroll through iphoto, grab ten or so videos, dump them on youtube, and go do something else. Later, when they are finally done uploading, I delete them from my computer, and continue with my day. That night, repeat.

So there I go to youtube, where my vidoes are nearly done processing. Eight of the ten, in fact, have been published already. Great. I have no idea what’s on them–I never do. If I took the time to watch each video before I posted it I’d never leave the house.

But suddenly, as I glance through the thumbnails, I see something disturbing. Breasts. Mine. Two of them, in fact, along with the rest of my unclothed body. And what–is that a towel on my head? Jesus Christ! Clicking rapidly on the link, I see that I have somehow published a video of me and MJ sitting naked on the couch–post shower, in my case–listening to “Space Oddity.”

“Oh God, oh, God, oh God.” At least one friend of my parents subscribes to my channel. She watches every single video I put up. She could be watching now!

“Where’s the delete? Where’s the DELETE?”

I cannot find it. I search everywhere. It seems nonexistent. Really, youtube? No deleting once published? That seems totally draconian! And illogical. But I am too frenzied for logic.

I try editing the video–perhaps I can blur my boobs. Also MJ’s naked butt, which really oughtn’t to be anywhere online. Shit. I’m going to get arrested. I am panicking, and cannot use my fingers right.

“No, no, no…”

Ten minutes–and several grey hairs–later, I finally figure out how to delete the video. It’s not that hard after all. Although they could, in my opinion, make it far easier for instances like this.

Anyway. The video is gone, but the scars from the experience will last a long, long, time.

And I can never again pretend to be innocent of smutting the internet.

Perhaps I should send that article to myself.

Two in the Bush

Feast or famine. Either way, a bellyache.

Mike has gone from being terrifyingly unemployed to working so much that, well, it’s terrifying. I’m not sure humans are designed to pull off eighty-hour weeks. Certainly not when they’re over forty. Don’t get me wrong, the money is great. But we miss him. And his haggard face, when we do get a glimpse of it, makes me wish there was a bit more balance in his employment life. Like if he had a “regular” office job, maybe. You know, a nine to five. Word on the street is those are easy. But he doesn’t. And he won’t. And that’s probably, for him, at least, a good thing.

For us? Well, life must go on, and four-year-olds–too young to understand such subtleties–must be bodily entertained. Even on Sundays.

Since MJ’s so immersed in the bird thing right now, I decided to bring her back to the Arboretum. It’s been over a year since we went there; I knew she’d remember nothing. And I was right. Even when I tried to prompt her memory, she knew zilch.

“There are peacocks?” I reminded her. “We got attacked by a goose?”

A stare as blank as the great outdoors. This was fantastic. It would be like a whole new experience for her. The beauty of a pre-schooler’s mind: It’s re-writable, like a floppy disk.

Speaking of distant memories.

Anyway. Back we went. And it was, indeed, like a brand new outing. We may as well have been arriving on Pluto. With plumed denizens. And an atmosphere, of course.

Greeted, as always, by a flock of raucous and gorgeous peacocks, my daughter looked mind-blown.

“Mama look!” she shrieked. “Do you see them?”

“Wow, Yes!” I cried. (Silently adding: “My little sieve.”)

“And look, ducks!”

“I don’t believe it!”

“And turtles!”

“You must be kidding!”

Seriously, her delight was totally infectious. Who cares that I’d seen–and seen, and seen!–all of this previously. The day was bright and temperate, the crowds thin, and the place absolutely bursting with wildlife. The pond especially was a veritable cornucopia of fauna. In addition to the mallards (“Whoa! Iridescence!”) we saw coots, hawks, scrub jays, turtles in scads, Canada geese, a double-crested cormorant, and several lizards. Large fish (trout? Coi? I have no idea. We haven’t hit the piscatory obsession yet) virtually threw themselves at us for pretzel crumbs. Sunlight leaped and glanced prettily off of leaves, water, even my daughter’s plastic sunglasses.

Later, wandering the rose garden, we found a wide stretch of soft grass and lay down. It was a sweet spot–not too sunburny, not too cool. Dizzying peacefulness. “It’s so quiet,” MJ said finally. “All I can hear are birds’ songs.”

We listened. It was true.

“I wish Daddy was here.” Her tone was half mournful, half matter-of-fact.

“Me, too,” I replied.

Another long silence.

“I’m going to tell him I saw eight plus eight plus one peacocks today.”

“You definitely should.”

She rolled over and sat up. A wide smile sprang onto her face. “And that one was a juvenile!”

“Yes, indeed.”

“My favorite kind!”

Mine, too. Mine, too, my fledgling girl.

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