This is the first time he’s been washed in three years–I’m trusting the sun to kill any stray bacteria.
Contrary to appearances, I love this guy. He’s the first stuffed animal I ever bought for MJ, back at the L.A. Zoo in 2010. It was our first trip there; she couldn’t talk yet, but It was clear she needed to have him. Or maybe I did. It’s hard to tell. Anyway, he’s part of the family now, and as such, needs to be maintained. And, family or not, his filthiness has reached unacceptable levels. Mike’s been kidding that the doll was morphing breeds.
“You can’t possibly call that a snowy owl anymore. Is there such a thing as the murky gray kind?”
“There’s a great grey owl,” MJ replied primly. “Remember the one from the bird show?”
“Right,” Mike said triumphantly. “He’s one of those now.”
“No he’s not!”
“Looks like one to me!”
“All right, all right, ” I grumbled. “Enough. I’ll wash him.”
And so here we find him, a bird on a wire, a doll suspended, an odd bit of wash dripping onto the concrete.
But a snowy owl once more. And tonight he sleeps in my daughter’s arms.
Currently at a training for work; it’s sort of my worst nightmare–two full days, eight hours each. PowerPoint presentations, group exercises, too much AC, highlighters, easels with big pads of paper on them, trivia questions to relieve the boredom. Fortunately we’ve been given cardboard and markers so that those of us who “learn by doodling” can indulge our passion. Here’s doodle #1. It started out completely innocent, but when it was done my table mates managed to read lurid content into it. Now I feel dirty. But I like it, too, even if it does look like a pterodactyl fellating a T. rex.
Bag of old kelp, going cheap!
The back story: It’s March, 2011, and I’m in in a panic over the Fukishima nuclear disaster. Convinced that vast waves of radiation are about to hit Southern California and poison my young daughter, I order a bag of dried kelp online. I’ve read somewhere that eating seaweed will protect her thyroid gland from the toxic effects of radiation exposure. This stuff, in particular, is premium–I’ve gotten it from a place in Maine that promises it’s the purest, highest-grade variety available–the Humboldt County Thai stick of seaweed.
“As opposed to the commercial crap you get at Whole Foods?” Mike teased.
“Whatever,” I replied, not laughing. “It’s got to be the best. This is serious.” Not to mention that I’d already been to Whole Foods, and their entire seaweed section was sold out. I wasn’t the only paranoid mommy in L.A.
The kelp arrived in a huge plastic bag inside of an even huger box. I’d ordered a pound, not quite registering just how much that would be. It was a lot. But I was happy to have it. For an entire year I fed it to Myra-Jean in everything–smoothies, soups, salads, you name it. I even gave her great, desiccated chunks of it to chew on whole. She was young enough to not complain–sometimes I even thought she liked it.
But time passed, and my fervor to protect MJ’s thyroid gland abated. It had been a year. Most of the radiation had surely dissipated. Plus, she was getting pickier about her food. You couldn’t just toss the kelp into anything now and expect her to eat it. It had to be hidden, and even then she often found it. Slowly I cut back on adding it, and one day I stopped altogether.
There was a lot left. I gave some away, but even so, we had a huge bag remaining. A shocking amount.
Being me, I threw it in the back of the cabinet.
And there it stayed, a dark, solitary hulk squatting behind bags of white beans, dusty cans of baby corn, and a never-opened box of instant miso soup packets. Even though it took up an absurd amount of space, I liked seeing it there. It felt reassuring. Bring on the next nuclear disaster, I thought; we’re ready.
So when Mike periodically asked if it could be tossed, my answer was always the same:
“Let’s hold on to it. You never know if we’ll need it again.”
Finally, about a month ago, Mike drew the line. It had to go. At least from the kitchen. I knew he was right. It was ridiculous to keep it any longer. It probably wasn’t even edible anymore. Although does dried seaweed really go bad? Has anyone done the research? Oh, well. It wasn’t going to be me who found out.
Pulling it from the cabinet, I headed for the outdoor trash bin. But I couldn’t do it. It was just too drastic of a move. So, in a burst of my usual non-pragmatism, I stuck it in the utility room. On the dryer. That’s on the way to the trash, I reasoned, but not there yet. It’s like purgatory, for bags of seaweed.
And there it remained for weeks, waiting for someone to decide its fate.
This morning Mike picked it up and raised it before my eyes. “We need to make a decision about this.”
“I know,” I said guiltily.
“Can I throw it away?”
“No. Yes. No! Um–look, can we just stick it in the emergency supplies box?”
Mike shook his head sadly. “There’s no room for it.”
Damn. I sighed. “I’m just not ready to let it go. It’s the purest kind of kelp. From the Atlantic. No radiation, no pollution…”
There was a pause. Finally, looking slightly defeated, Mike placed it back on the dryer and threw his hands up.
“You deal with it.”
And I will. In the next year or two. In the meantime it’s making the utility room smell pleasantly of the sea.
Another day, another zoo trip.
But today’s outing was more delightful than normal. The crystalline weather with its slightly cool breeze helped, as did the paucity of crowds. The animals were compelling–they can’t help themselves. But best of all? The World of Birds show was finally open for business!
Back in MJ’s more tender years–as in, when she was one or two–this fantastic “live bird” extravaganza was the high point of our zoo trips. Then suddenly, about year and a half ago, it shut down for “restoration” and never re-opened. Over time, MJ forgot about it entirely. Cut to the present; she is obsessed with birds. We hear the show is back up and running. But then there are further delays. Wait–there’s going to be an opening day. It gets pushed back. We are dying. The anticipation is killing us.
Then today we learn it is really, truly, open at last. Finally! Having the morning free, we race to see it.
And it’s fantastic. Not in the way you might think–it is far from the well-honed performance it used to be. In the previous incarnation of “World of Birds,” every winged cast member knew its cue, had its “lines” down, and performed its part flawlessly. Ravens sorted trash with adeptness, peregrin falcons dove fiercely for prey, and giant eagles darted gracefully from point A to point B, wowed their spectators, then disappeared into the wings. (Not their own, of course.)
Today’s “World of Birds” is more like community theater. With child actors. During try-outs. It’s a fantastic melodrama of chaos, missed cues, unplanned entrances, and unexplained pauses. I loved it. MJ loved it. Talk about being behind the scenes. There are no scenes. It’s as if Bertolt Brecht got drunk and wrote the script, then crumpled it up and fed it to his parakeet.
My favorite moment? One of the two emcees waits for a small Hawaiian owl to land on her head. The gimmick is that she will not hear it coming–an owl’s flight is soundless. She sits patiently on a rock, wearing a hat, acting unexpectant. Except that the owl doesn’t come. Oh, it comes on stage, alright, but refuses to go anywhere near her. It flits from one perch to another, from roof to parapet of the Kafka-esque set, but to her head it refuses to fly. Finally the hostess grows curious. She turns and cranes her neck to see it. The owl ignores her. He eats a treat thrown his way, then flies into a nearby tree.
“You know what they say,” jokes the other host gamely. “Never work with children or animals.”
Suddenly, from a window high up in the set, a giant bird hurls in. It is an owl. An enormous, beefy, fierce-looking owl. The Schwarzenegger of owls. Dark grey, it swoops towards the seated hostess on silent wings. But she is still looking that way. She sees him coming. Her eyes grow wide. Into her little mouth mic she yells “NOOOO!”
Then she clutches at her hat and dashes behind a rock.
Schwarzenegger flaps lazily from one end of the stage to the other, clearly bemused by the sudden disappearance of his prey.
The other host speaks with false cheer into her microphone, which is suddenly on the blitz: “Well, you guys, that—static static–to happen. That’s Harvey, our–static–owl, and if he lands on–static static–it’ll–static static static–pretty painful.”
Eventually, with the help of a shuffling trainer from backstage, they manage to get Harvey off stage. But from that point forward nothing else goes right. The remaining birds take turns stymying their trainers in every way they can. It is awkward, confusing, delightful, and hilarious, and I can only say I wish the World of Birds would remain exactly as it is now. Talk about great theater.
“Be sure to come back again soon,” our resolute hostess said at the conclusion of the show. “We’re still teaching the birds how to do this thing, and we’re breaking new ones in literally every week.”
Oh, I’ll be back, alright. I’ll be back.
I’m hoping Schwarzenegger will be too.
Taking a bath isn’t what it used to be.
Pre-kid, the sight of a bathtub evoked sensations of relaxation and ease. A bath was a place for candles, fragrant bubbles, and a cup of peppermint tea. Bathing happened in limitless time. You forgot to check the clock. You added more hot water. Your biggest problem was how to turn the pages of your New Yorker without getting them wet.
Such notions are long gone. The bathtub, now, is the scene of a nightly battle. Or, at the very least, a manic, demonic screech-dance over which I have scant control. It is a place ruled by my charge–a four-year-old nut job–who views it–and me, when I am bathing her–as little more than an enemy to be foiled.
Bedtime, in general, is the time a parent dreads most. You are tired. Your child is tired. You are grouchy. She is punchy, wily, and petulant. She has lost the ability to regulate herself; you have lost your sense of humor. She is being forced to perform a series of tasks she considers unreasonable and unpleasant. She is determined you will suffer for this. You do. So she does. It is misery for all concerned. OK, not always, but often.
When I look at a bathtub now I immediately hear my own voice, terse and fatigued:
“I need to wash your face. Please give me the washcloth. Stop. Turn your face towards me. No! Take your finger out of your eye. I need to wash your face! It’s past your bedtime! GIVE ME THE WASHCLOTH! I NEED TO WASH YOUR FACE!”
I see the dirty ring on the bottom of the tub I need to clean again. I see the criminally excessive number of used washcloths–my daughter requires at least eight for every bath–draped damply over every surface. I see hairs. I see dirty cat footprints. I see my stress level billowing up like hot steam to a low, cracked ceiling.
But tonight, for some reason, none of that stopped me. MJ was in bed; Mike was working on school stuff. The day had been fine but warm, yard work had been done. I am between addictive TV shows, so nothing called me to the laptop. All phone calls had been returned. I had a moment.
I stepped gingerly into the bathroom. Kneeling, I cleaned the ring. It really only takes a second. Tossing the dirty washcloths into a forlorn heap on the floor, I turned on the water, fetched my book from the bedroom, and bathed.
Guess what? It was nice. Looking up from “House of Mirth” to a row of plastic animals, dinosaurs, and empty play bottles may not be quite as relaxing as reclining in pristine candlelight, but it’s not terrible either. Too bad I had no bubble bath other than–you guessed it–California Baby. But truthfully? It smelled pretty good.
And nobody had to fight me to wash my own face. Bliss.