Category Archives: childcare

Butt Why?

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No. I wanna betta bus bench.

Nothing like having a daughter who is just starting to read to fire up your feminist leanings. Do we really have to look at this crap? Does she? This particular ad is ubiquitous in the East LA neighborhood I live in. I passed it three times on my way to Trader Joe’s this morning.

“No,” I muttered each time, growing more caustic-sounding with each sighting. “No, I don’t. No, my butt is fine. No, her butt is fine. All of our butts are fine, you idiots!”

This last bit I yelled. A lady waiting for the bus shot me an alarmed look.

“Sorry,” I muttered apologetically. Then I rolled up my window.

Another turn, another bench. I pondered the model’s ass, which she is dutifully raising for us to inspect. Annoyed, I moved on to her face. So vapid, so anodyne. What is she really thinking? Impossible to say beneath the exuberant airbrushing. Maybe she’s calculating how much she’ll make on this shoot. Maybe she’s thinking about sushi for lunch. Maybe she’s trying not to pass gas. Butts do that too, you know.

What’s for sure is that she’s not thinking about my kid, and neither  is the company whose jeans she touts. But I am. I’ll have to explain this ad, and every one like it, to her. No billboard, placard, or sign escapes her notice now that she can read. We’ve discussed “Little Caesar’s” at great length (perhaps she was too young for the Ides of March?) We’ve learned about STDs (as I said, this is East LA). We’ve dissected watch ads, liquor ads, car ads, ads for things even I find disturbing.

And now we’ll have to start dissecting this. The pouty-lipped, unnaturally posed, slightly hostile-looking girl on billboard concept. And allllll that it entails. Oh, MJ. How can I explain?

I want a better bus bench. I want a better world. Or I want my kid to forget how to read.

Pardon the Delay

OK, so two years is a pretty long coffee break. Especially when you’re a tea drinker.

What can I say? Working part time, raising a daughter, being a wife, having a home, trying to exercise, learn Mandarin, volunteer at my kid’s school, keep two pets alive and have a moment now and then to read a non-first-grade-level book–it’s a lot. This seemed like the lowest priority, and it just fell by the wayside. Fell and broke both legs. Did I mention the concussion?

But I had an awakening recently. It’s not working for me. Not writing–or having any creative output at all–is making me brittle. I’ve got to get back to it. For me. No one else much cares, but a life with all work and no words feels hopelessly incomplete. So I am hobbling back to Thumbstumbler, casts on both legs–figuratively speaking, people!–and a little pink in the cheeks. I suppose I’ve exposed myself as a dilettante.

Or a human. You choose.

Either way, not writing is not an option anymore. Something in me cracked when, the other day, I had to give someone a link to this blog. I hadn’t looked at it in over a year, but just logging in and seeing “No Towel for Owl” all hung out to dry like that, the last post in a series that wasn’t meant to stop, well, it made me melancholy. And irritated. It really doesn’t take much time to do this writing thing. Just a little commitment, some nimble scheduling, maybe one fewer “Grace and Frankie” episode. Still, I’ve been known to be a quitter in matters of personal endeavor, and that lone suspended owl reminded me how much I enjoyed doing this and how much I’d lost by letting it go.

Even then I worried. “There’s just no time. Where will I fit it back in?”

Then today I was at the Natural History museum with MJ–she’s six now–and I had a moment of clarity. I’d just snapped a picture of her, standing before her beloved Bird Gallery, crooning over her favorite taxidermied fowl (the Golden Eagle, in case you’re wondering), and I thought of that dangling, well-loved owl. And all the things that had come before.

And the things that are yet to come.

And I knew I had to find time.

So here I am. Because I do work part-time, and clean my house, and raise my kid, and love my husband, and read books, and jog, and volunteer, and try to be a friend, and watch too much TV, and grocery shop, and meditate. And it’s all a lot, and, as a result, I do none of it as well as I’d like.

But if I’m not writing about it I’m giving up the one thing that can make all of that OK.

And that would be for the birds, indeed.

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She Sells Sea Kelp

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.

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All the Bird’s a Stage

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.

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Potty Deux

I had to deal with some pretty intense “share shame” after writing my two last posts. My husband’s acerbic comment, made after reading the first one, didn’t help:

“Jesus. You’re either going to gain a lot of readers from this one…or they’re gonna desert you in droves.” Such a cheerleader, that Mike.

And it was eerily quiet after I published what I have begun to refer to, in my mind, as the “poop posts.” Very little in the way of commentary. Even from the regulars.

“I can’t wait to hear what your mom says about this,” Mike asserted.

She didn’t say anything. Crickets. Struck dumb with horror, I suppose. Very unlike her.

And speaking of likes? None. Not that I care, really. But, OK, dammit, I do. Just a bit. As to how many dozens of followers deserted me? Hard to know.

One thing I do know? You’ll find no poop on Goop. I checked. The closest I found was “The Dirty on Getting Clean.” Which sounds pretty interesting, actually. And not at all fecal. No wonder Gwyneth is so popular.

Tonight, to distract myself from my recent perceived humiliation, I hacked into my mom’s HBO Go and watched an hour of Louis CK. I’ve been obsessed with stand up comedy lately, due to the free trial of Sirius radio I’ve had in my new car. At first I didn’t like Sirius–how the fuck do you navigate through all of those channels?–then I found the Comedy Central channel and my life changed. Commute? What commute? I’m listening to people being stupidly hilarious–I don’t even know I’m driving! It’s a superb, elating way to pass the time; now that I’ve experienced it, I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to NPR.

But I will; my free trial is about to be over. And I’m too cheap to pay for it.

Back to stand up. Louis CK is my all-time favorite. I’d be in love with him, if he weren’t so gross. And masturbatory. And, yes, scatological. But these are exactly the things I also adore about him. He did a whole segment tonight on his leaky asshole. He said that sometimes he’s just sitting around, and suddenly he sniffs, and realizes he has to go wipe it. I quote: “My asshole is like a bag of leaves that no one remembered to tie up.” He utters such words. He paints such pictures in our minds. Nobody abandons him in droves. Jeez.

Feeling buoyed by my good laugh, I decided to get back on the literary horse. I know, this is hardly literature. But here I am. I’ve decided not, ever again, to discuss poop, assholes, or anything south of the waist on this blog. I leave that to the comics, who do it elsewhere–in my car, for starters!–with impunity and absolutely no shame. Me, I’m heading back to safer territory–laundry, my dog, our fucked up dishwasher, the fact that my daughter has now declared her middle name to be “Falcon,” (which sounds amazingly like “fucking'” when she says it quickly.)

And cute pictures of birds. I have tons of them. I am developing a collection. I’ll share them with you. You’ll “like” them, I’m sure.

But if you want to laugh your ass off? About shit, assholes, and other forbidden topics? Oh My God, you need to get HBO.

Or steal it from your parents.

*Cooper's Hawk Spotted Woodpecker

Bird Flew

Stages of grief. There are the ones famously described by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. But there are other, lesser known types as well. Those, for example, experienced by a four-year-old girl who has to return a favorite bird book to the library. A book she has had out for two-and-a-half months. A book that can no longer be renewed and is many days overdue.

These stages look something like this:

Denial.

Realization.

Meltdown.

Strong-arming parent into buying book on Amazon.

Whereas Kubler Ross’s stages can take months, we went through all of ours in a couple of hours.

First, MJ lost it with the babysitter. I wasn’t there for that part. But I heard about it.

“MJ was a little tender tonight,” the sitter told me when I got home from work. “She realized her bird books had gone back to the library,” here she gave me a meaningful look.

I winced. “Oh, right.”

“So she had nothing to read at dinner…”

“But we have other books.”

She nodded sadly. “She wanted the library ones.”

I felt myself growing defensive. “I told her. She knew they had to go back.”

“I know. She was just really upset.”

Shit. “Like, freakout level?

She nodded, “Pretty much.”

After she’d left–I paid her extra for her trouble–I went into the bedroom. MJ was putting her stuffed owls to sleep under a cloth napkin. She barely looked up when I came in.

“Hey,” I said gently, putting on my best horse-whisperer-near-skittish-colt voice.

“Hi, Mama.” she still didn’t turn around.

“Hear you had a tough night tonight.”

She looked up at me. Her face was streaked with dried tears, long salt stains on each cheek. “My bird books are gone.”

I knelt beside her. “I know. Remember we talked about this? We’d had them out for nine weeks. We had no more renewals.”

The tears immediately recommenced, tracing new paths over their predecessors. “I want ‘Look Up.’ I miss it. And the other one. ‘Birds!'”

“Which ‘Birds?” We had two–”

“The one with Blood Lust!” she sobbed. “I want my Blood Lust book!”

The situation devolved from there. She wanted the books back. NOW. Nothing could console her. I tried telling her calmly that it couldn’t happen at night–the library was closed. Big mistake. Reality was not of interest to her. We were at an emotional Defcon five. I could almost hear the sirens.

Opting for a different tack, I told her we could go tomorrow and try to take them out again. This worked for a second. But then I saw her face change.

“W-what if they’re gone?” she sobbed, voice quavering wildly.

“Well, they…might be. But–”

“They’re going to be gone!” she wailed. “My books! Another kid will get them!”

“Oh, honey,” I crooned. “I know. This is hard.”

Aimless sympathy was not what she was looking for. “I need to own them,” she screamed. “I want them always here!”

Ah. So this is was her endgame. Possession. I got it, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. After all, I couldn’t go buying her every library book she got attached to. We’d end up looking like Strand Bookstore. And being just as broke.

I told her as much.

“Then I’ll buy them!” she cried.

Really. I decided to call her bluff. “Well, you have loads of money in your piggy bank. Do you want to use some of it for this?

An upturned wet face, desperate with hope: “Yes!”

“It may not be cheap…”

“I don’t care. I have, like, ten hundreds of money.”

So, for the next half an hour, MJ and I traipsed around the house gathering cash from her various stashes. Most of it was coins, but she had some dollars, too. Adding it up as we went, we piled it all into a paper bag she occasionally uses as a purse. Once we’d gotten to $14–an amount I thought fair for two kid’s hardcover books–we went to my laptop and ordered.

“Fortunately for you,” I said, as I clicked the final button, “we have Amazon Prime.”

“What’s that?” asked Myra-Jean.

“Today’s Friday. You’ll have your first book on Sunday.”

She smiled beatifically and cuddled into my chest. “I’m ready for bed now.”

As promised,”Look Up!” came today. Myra-Jean was predictably thrilled. We read it this afternoon, at dinner, in the bathroom, and before bed. Tomorrow, God willing, we’ll receive “Blood Lust.” It’s coming from a third-party seller because–big surprise!–it’s out of print. Probably banned in some states. Used as kindling. Sold for mulch.

As for the money? It’s the first MJ has ever paid for anything. She had a hard time parting with it, in the end. But I think it’s important for her to understand that sometimes you have to buy the things you want. Not every day is Christmas. So I’m not giving it back.

I can’t, however, bring myself to put it in my wallet, either. I don’t want it. It’s her precious loot, after all. Meaning far more to her than it ever could to me.

So there the bag sits on our kitchen counter. A reminder of a sad night, a cycle of grief, a problem solved. Some good memories, some bad…

And some just out of print.

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