Category Archives: Outings

(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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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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Faire Weather Friend

I know. Lame. Three days since the festival, and nothing. It’s not that I’m being a jerk. I’m certainly not trying to keep anyone in suspense. I simply haven’t had a second. I went to work the day after. Worked at MJ’s school the day after that. Working now, in fact. But it’s my lunch break, and I have a few minutes to fill you in. Actually, it won’t take long, because I can sum up the entire outcome in one word:

Miracle.

But we didn’t think so at first. It poured all morning–poured!–in the hours before the Faire started. We had to set up in the rain. We threw up every pop-up tent any of us had, then rented another big one a half an hour before opening, spending extra money we were sure we wouldn’t make back. To say we were hopeless and discouraged is a massive understatement–I spent the whole early morning stomping around in a grouch so profound even the local mice knew  to stay away from me. But we soldiered on. At eleven AM we were ready.

And then, right at “doors open,” a cessation. Of the precipitation, that is. It went away, never to return that day.

In its place? People! Lots of them! Arriving in boots, slickers, and hats, prepared to participate even in a deluge. Which it turns out they didn’t have to. But God love them for being willing.

And suddenly, after days of panicking, cursing, crying, raging, preparing for the worst, knowing we wouldn’t be ready…we were. And it happened. Suddenly there was a band playing, and food being served, and kids crafting, and money–lots of it–being spent.

I won’t go into too much more detail. I couldn’t even if I wanted to, because I spent most of the event at the front table selling tickets and squealing “it’s not a disaster! It’s not a disaster!” to anyone who would listen. I didn’t even take any pictures. (Go to my friend’s blog for some). But I know fun when I see it, and happiness, and relief. And consumerism! And cookie eating! And booze drinking! And I saw all of those things writ large, in adorable pre-schooler scrawl, at our little event.

At the end of the day, as the Faire wrapped up, an explosion of deep golden sun shot through the late-afternoon clouds. Parents, drunk on homemade beer and relief, lounged at tables with legs stretched long. Kids, facepainted and nail-polished, swarmed the small stage, banging the abandoned drum set and yelling into the mics.

And I, surprised, exhausted, stunned, and happy, just laughed. 

Never again do I question that there is a God. Or that he has a twisted sense of humor. Still, I am beyond grateful. All the more so because my father won the iPad raffle. And guess who he gave it to?

Onwards to Christmas, with one more device to smooth the way!

myra jean

 

Candy Barred

You know you’re getting old when you start off a sentence with “Back when I was a kid–”

But that’s exactly what I did this morning when my daughter woke up, found out Halloween was over, and burst into copious tears.

“B-b-but Daddy told me Halloween goes on for days!” she wailed.

“I think he meant days in advance,” I said drily. Off her blank look I added “you’ve been celebrating it for roughly two weeks.”

Time means little to a four year old. Elapsed time, even less. Elapsed time during which the child was eating more candy than any adult should in a decade and feeling absolutely fantastic about it? Unintelligible.

“Look,” I went on, “back when I was a kid, Halloween was only one night. About three hours. That was all we got.”

“Really?” Myra-Jean responded in a quavering voice.

“Yup.” I cuddled her a little closer–we were in her bed together, she under the blankets, me on top of them. “We didn’t have the Halloween festivals leading up to it, the block parties, the “Boo on the Boolevards.” We didn’t trick or treat at Starbucks a week before. We didn’t even have Starbucks. ”

She looked at me, obviously pained. “Whoa.”

I built up steam. “It was one night. A little sliver of time. We didn’t even get face painted at school. Heck,” I went on, musingly, “I don’t think I got face painted at all until I was, like, twenty.”

MJ started crying again. I should’ve quit when I was ahead.

“The point is,” I went on, stroking her forehead, “you get a lot more Halloween than me or Daddy ever did. So I’m sorry it’s over, but–”

Myra-Jean sobbed harder. “It’s really over?”

I looked at her in disbelief. “Didn’t we just discuss this?”

Her cries rose loudly in the small, morning-shadowed room. Jesus. You’d think her dog had just died. She would definitely wake Mike.

“Let’s go get some breakfast.” The kitchen was a bit farther from our bedroom.

Feeding the animals distracted her for a few minutes, but soon Myra-Jean was whimpering again. Standing by the dining room table, she poked at the ruined finish of the wood with a stray fork. “Mama. I’m not happy.”

“You don’t say.” Grabbing the utensil gently out of her hand I tossed it into the sink. Just because she was grieving didn’t mean she got to be destructive.

“I want to go trick or treating one more time!”

I sighed, staring at her uselessly. I was out of ideas. At my feet, Walter mewled. Mina nipped at him. Walter hissed. Myra-Jean screamed.

“Mina!” I shouted. “Walter. Myra-Jean! All of you calm down!”

Enter Mike. No big surprise. Hard to imagine how anyone could sleep through an uproar of such Biblical proportions.

“What’s going on?” he asked blearily.

Handing him a cup of coffee, I explained. “Mina’s trying to kill Walter, as usual. Also,” trying to keep any trace of sarcasm out of my voice,”Myra-Jean is feeling really sad because Halloween is over.”

Mike nodded gravely and turned to MJ. “You know, you can still wear your costume any time you–”

I had tried this tack already, and knew where it was going. I covered my ears.

“I don’t care about my costume! I want to trick or treat!”

“OK,” Mike said calmly. Really calmly, considering the hearing damage he’d just incurred. “You know,” he continued, “back when we were kids–”

“I tried this,” I interjected quietly.

Deaf to my warning, he went on. “Back when we were kids Halloween only lasted for one night.”

Shaking my head, I began washing dishes. Mike talked for a few minutes, repeating essentially what I’d said earlier. But he closed with something new, something said in a fun and conspiratorial voice:

“Even though trick or treating is done, we still have the candy! Lots of it! Candy eating goes on for awhile.”

MJ’s head swivelled towards me. “But Mama said no more candy after Halloween.”

Wuh-whoa. I’d forgotten about that conversation.

MIke cocked his head at me, then looked back at her. “I think she meant no more trick or treating.”

“No,” MJ declared. “Mama said I could only eat candy on Halloween, and after that it was only for ‘special occasions’.” She emphasized the latter phrase carefully, although she had no idea what it meant.

MIke shot a look at me.

Wincing, I muttered ruefully “I think I might have said that.”

Silence.

“I wasn’t really thinking,” I squeaked. “Sugar’s just so bad for you.”

Mike nodded slowly. “So that’s why she was shoving candy in her mouth last night like a just-freed prisoner of war.”

How poetic. I nodded. “It might’ve been.”

“Is this what your parents did?” Mike demanded.

“No.” I winced. I could feel the word HYPOCRITE flashing over my head like a Broadway marquee. “We ate candy all month.”

Mike shook his head, then smiled. He wasn’t mad. He was just laughing at me. Which is worse. I couldn’t blame him.

I turned to MJ. “I’m sorry, honey. Of course you can still eat your candy. For many days to come. Forever.” Or at least a week, I added in my mind.

Myra-Jean smiled for the first time that morning.

When I left the kitchen she and Mike were happily sorting her booty into piles. There was a lot of it. An indecent amount. Absolutely no more trick or treating was necessary.

Just a little bit more give and take by the old timers.

Or one in particular.

If only you could trick or treat for that.

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Four for Four

Birthdays come but once a year. And it’s a damn good thing. Any more, and parents would be dropping like flies.

Or I would, anyway. MJ’s party was four days ago now, and I’m only just feeling human again. As for my pocketbook, well, it may need a bit more time to recover. Because you know what? It turns out that even a super casual, bagels-in-the-park,  cupcakes from Vons, no favor bags birthday party can be extraordinarily expensive. It might’ve been cheaper to rent a yacht. Who knew?

But it was worth it. I think. Myra-Jean seemed to enjoy it. Mostly.  I mean, let’s be honest–by the end of such a party pretty much any preschooler is in a stage five meltdown. What with the sugar, the attention, the pinata, the grownups goosing their cheeks–it’s enough to make even the most phlegmatic of four-year-olds blow a gasket. MJ, being no exception to this rule, spent the last half-hour of the party refusing to acknowledge departing guests and screaming “I just want to open my presents!!” I thought we were going to have to sedate her. Good times.

But then it was over–the invitees headed home, the cups and plates cleaned up, the smashed Jupiter pinata stuffed in the trash, the remaining cupcakes tossed. We headed up the hill to our house and ate takeout lunch with our family. Everyone was starved. One thing you forget to do at these things is eat.

As for MJ, she was all over the place. One minute she played with a new toy, the next she was sobbing over getting served the “wrong kind of chicken.” She said she’d enjoyed the party, but it was hard to tell. She was tired. She was mean. She was edgy. And this edginess lasted for the next three days.

It only seemed to lift yesterday–the actual day of her birthday. I’d had to work–a fact deemed unforgivable by my daughter–and it looked like the day could be a total debacle. Myra-Jean was furious when I left.

“You may never go!” she screamed. “Ever!”

The four birthday-themed postcards I’d left her notwithstanding, I felt like the worst parent alive.

But as the day went on, I heard that she cheered up. School was fun. The weather a bit cooler. In the afternoon she did some gardening with her father.

And then I was able to get off early to meet them for dinner! At our favorite restaurant!  We ate pho and crayoned pictures of Walter and Mina on small white pieces of scrap paper. MJ chewed french fries with fish sauce and seemed ecstatic to be up past her bedtime. After dinner, we went to ice cream; when we were done eating it I watched, grinning stupidly, as my husband and daughter danced to “American Pie” in the middle of the empty parlor’s floor.

There, in that moment, I found the joy of her fourth birthday. And, judging by their faces, I’d have to say Mike and MJ did as well. No pinatas, no space decorations, no craft table, no hats. Just a quiet dinner, a sweet dessert, and the hard slate floor of an empty shop.

Perhaps next year we’ll just skip straight to that.

To Done, 10-15-13

Ah, Tuesday. My half day “off.”

  • Dropped MJ at school.
  • Went to car wash.
  • Returned a phone call while waiting for car to be cleaned. Counseled a girlfriend on boy troubles.
  • Drove to Target, still on phone. Continued talking to friend while  looking for stuff for MJ’s space-themed birthday party on Sunday. Uttered phrases like “some mens’ brains really are in their dicks” while perusing the kids’ paper products. Found nothing. Left with cotton balls, candy for the pinata I hadn’t yet purchased, and streamers.
  • Went to Michael’s to return a huge bag of wrong stuff Mike bought for the party. Planned on buying more wrong stuff, but the clerk wouldnt let me return because I didn’t have Mike’s Amex. Spoke angrily to her. Told her I would never shop there again. Knew I was lying. Still, to save face had to leave without making any purchases. Decided to send Mike tomorrow.
  • Dropped suit at dry cleaners.
  • Did a shop at Fresh and Easy, worried the whole time about pinata candy melting in car.  Noticed giant lumpy pumpkins for sale. Got one for MJ. Also bought four bags of groceries, several cases of juice boxes for party, toilet paper, and various kiddie snacks.
  • Raced everything home, unloaded car. Put groceries in fridge. Put candy in fridge. Put toilet paper in bathroom. Lugged lumpy pumpkin to front steps. Worried it would die in the sun. Wondered if it was actually alive. Left it.
  • Changed sheets on our bed
  • Changed sheets on MJ’s bed.
  • Put in a load of laundry.
  • Raced back down hill to nail appointment.
  • Read entire September 3rd edition of New Yorker while getting mani pedi.
  • Went with still-wet nails to bakery to order MJ’s birthday cake. Tried to find solar-system-themed decoration. No luck. Ended up ordering a Transformers cake without the action figures. All that will remain is a partial, fuzzy picture of an unnamed planet. I will supply additional decorations myself. From where, I don’t know. Probably Michael’s.
  • Drove to party supply store to reserve tables. Far more expensive than last year. For a “low key” gathering, this thing is starting to break the bank. Looked for a rocket ship pinata. Nothing close. Sales clerk suggested I buy an R2D2  and cut the legs off. WTF? Left.
  • Went to another party store. It had tons of pinatas, all of them star-shaped with media characters on sides. Contemplated the saturation of corporate branding in kids’ products. Contemplated painting over a Barbie face to make a plain star. Contemplated suicide. Left empty-handed.
  • Picked up MJ, who was grouchy and tired.
  • Brought her home, showed her new pumpkin. Was informed it was the “wrong kind.”
  • Wondered if pumpkins are returnable.
  • Walked dog.
  • Brought in trash bins.
  • Switched laundry.
  • Fed animals.
  • Made dinner.
  • Got MJ ready for bed. Consoled her when she found out I have to work tomorrow and cried for half an hour.
  • Put her down.
  • Straightened house.
  • Wrote post.
  • Considered going back to work full-time.

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Patch Work

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And pumpkins. And bales of hay.

Or so I decided when I took MJ on a “date” to Mr. Bones’ Pumpkin Patch this week.

Or sort of a date. Truthfully, I was covering the event for a local parenting blog and had to drag her along. It’s not like we were going to a lecture on particle physics, though. I knew it would be fun. I told her as much, in shrill, overly certain tones, as we drove all the way across town to get there.

“There’ll be pony rides! And a petting zoo! And pumpkins. And, um, bats!” I had never been to a Pumpkin Patch before, so my idea of it was somewhat sketchy.

“We already have a pumpkin,” MJ groused.

“We’ll get another,” I declared. “You can never have too many.”

That turned out to be untrue. Mr. Bones, you see, is an extortionist. Thirty dollars for a medium-sized pumpkin. Ridiculous. We immediately gave up on buying anything in the Halloween-bedecked shop. Or I did. MJ remained obsessed with the specialty gourds they had for sale.

“I want a lumpy pumpkin.”

“Maybe later.”

“Or a white one!”

“We’ll get it at Trader Joe’s.”

This discussion repeated itself for the next, oh, two hours.

Then there were the activities. Some, like the pony ride and face painting–of a pink pumpkin on her cheek–were fine. Nice, even. The petting zoo was a little less successful. The ducks kept running away from us. Like we were serial killers. Which, I guess, humans sort of are, to ducks.

It was all downhill from there. But not on Mr. Bones Giant Slide. MJ was too afraid to go on it.

“Come on, it looks like fun!” I wheedled.

“No way,” my daughter cried.

I should’ve known. Saying Myra-Jean is physically cautious is like saying that Miley Cyrus has a tongue. It’s true, but hardly tells the whole story. She’ll be rounding the bend on college before she even considers going on a pogo stick. Giant slides are pretty much never gonna happen.

Forgetting the idea, we walked over to the hay maze.

“You’ve never done one of these before,” I said as we approached. “It’s going to be great!” I could almost see the memories forming: she and I with straw in our hair, laughing, pretending we were lost…

Then we got inside. Jesus. Talk about a claustrophobe’s nightmare. This was no Minotaur’s maze. It was subterranean. You had to crawl into covered tunnels made from hay bales. They were long, dark, and unbelievably narrow. Like something out of a nightmare. You couldn’t have paid me enough.

As for Myra-Jean, she took one look and said “There’s probably black widows in there.”

I winced. “I’d like to say you’re wrong, but–”

There was a moment of silence.

Then Myra-Jean spoke. “I’ll go after you.”

We left.

Next was the Pillsbury-sponsored cookie decorating area. Otherwise known as the Tent of Processed Confections. MJ made a creature, of sorts, out of artificial pastry, fake frosting, and lurid toppings. Then she ate it, smearing food coloring all over her pumpkin-cheeked visage.

Michael Pollan would’ve wept.

And I should’ve. For, minutes after the cookie eating, she started to show signs of sugar-related dementia. Major signs. Her mood, which had been fairly sanguine, went dark. Her face pale.

It was when she brought up the bouncy house, though, that I knew we were in trouble.

“Mama,” she said, rubbing ersatz cookie off of her chin, “there’s a pumpkin bouncy over there. Look!” She pointed unsteadily, her hand sticky with marshmallow.

“I see it,” I said carefully. “Do you want to go in?”

I knew the answer. Or thought I did. MJ hates bouncy houses. Too chaotic. Too out of control. Too similar to balloons, for which she has recently developed a phobia. She’s literally afraid they’ll pop.

But MJ rose and, like a zombie, started walking in the direction of the great orange bubble. “I want to,” she muttered. “Yes.”

“Shit,” I muttered. This couldn’t end well. Grabbing my Pillsbury goodie bag–the first hundred people inside got one!–I trotted after her.

When we got to the bouncy there was a line. In the sun. We walked to the back and planted ourselves behind two moms with five kids.

“When can we go on?” MJ asked.

I glanced at a sign taped to the side. “It looks like only a few children can go at a time. For five minutes. So we have at least five minutes to wait, because there’s a group in there now, and then these guys”–I jutted my chin at the kids in front of us–“get to go.”

MJ considered this.

“Should we skip it?” I said hopefully.

She looked up at me. She had no sunscreen on. It was really hot. She was going to get burned. Except where the pumpkin was painted. She didn’t care.

“No. I want to go in.”

My shoulders slumped. “OK.”

The moms in front of me stole a glance back. Their faces seemed sympathetic. Or did they? Maybe they were being judgmental. Whatever. They were wearing black lycra. Their kids were loud. I had nothing to say to them.

Myra-Jean tugged at my shirt. “Mama, you can come in there with me, right?”

I made a face. I wanted to go into a hot pumpkin bouncy like I wanted a gunshot wound in the eye. “I don’t know, honey–”

Her eyes became frantic. Her voice rose. “Please!”

Jesus. I gestured for calm with my hands. “OK. Let me go ask the guy.”

The man in question was sprawling on a crate by the pumpkin’s zipper door. He looked like he needed a hat. And a drink.

I side-stepped past the lycra ladies. “Excuse me,” I said to him, trying to look bemused. “My daughter wants to know if I can go in there with her. To the bouncy.”

“No,” he grunted, without looking up.

“Really? I could just sit–”

“Sorry.”

From behind me I heard a wail. At first I thought it was a fire engine. Then I knew it was my daughter. I turned to see her crying hysterically.

“You have to come in with me!”

I looked from her to the man. He was unmoved. I spun back to MJ. “Honey, I’m sorry–”

“YOU HAAAVE TOOOO COME IIIIINNNNNN!”

It was a very loud scream. Now the lycra ladies were fully engaged. They glanced back and forth at us like it was a tennis match.

Tears poured down MJ’s face. I watched as the picture on her cheek melted, mixing pumpkin with sweat and purple frosting. Spinning back to the ticket guy, I hissed “can you see what’s happening here? Can I just go in the damn bouncy with her?”

He thought about it. MJ suppressed her sobs long enough to hear his answer. The two moms stretched to listen.

“You can put your head and shoulders in. No feet.”

I raised my eyebrows and turned to MJ. She thought about it. Finally she took a shuddering breath. “OK.”

Everyone exhaled.

Just then the group inside the bouncy house came tumbling out, and the kids ahead of us climbed in. Taking advantage of the extra space, I moved MJ and myself into the shade. We sat down on a bale of hay, nearly touching the bouncy. And waited.

A moment later one of the kids–a girl in a striped dress–crawled quickly back out of the hatch.  “Something’s happening in there,” she said, not calmly. “It’s blowing out.”

One of the moms said “It’s what?”

“It’s blowing out!”

Everyone looked at each other, confused.

Then the entire pumpkin began to deflate. Fast. Folds of hot, orange rubber fell against us as kids came pouring out of the hole head first. MJ screamed like a banshee.

Great, I thought. This is great. PTSD from a fucking Pumpkin Patch.

I grabbed her and prepared to run. But I needn’t have bothered. The man in charge got things quickly in hand, and in seconds the pumpkin was back to its former stature.

The kids who had been inside, however, were done. I couldn’t really blame them.

It was our turn next. To my surprise, MJ still wanted to try. Sort of. She made one quick attempt to climb in, but, when she felt the breeze inside, shrieked “it’s cold! It’s so cold!” and refused to try again.

We were done. Done with the bouncy, done with pumpkins, and done with Mr. Bones.

MJ made me carry her all the way to the car. All the way. I thought I would die. As I trudged slowly in the heat, my Pillsbury crescent rolls not melting–because they’re not food–but definitely weighing me down, MJ asked one plaintive question after another:

“Why did the bouncy fall?”

“Why was it so cold in there?”

“Why could only your head come in?”

“Why couldn’t we buy a lumpy pumpkin?”

When she was finally strapped back in her car seat and we were on the road she declared “I don’t like Pumpkin Patches. I don’t ever want to go again.”

I nodded solemnly. “I hear you, kid. Sorry that was such a bust.”

MJ sighed and stared out the window. There was a long silence. Then she spoke, sounding weirdly like her normal self again.

“You know what, Mama?””

I glanced back, surprised at her cheerful tone. “What?”

“I think I mostly just had a stomach ache. That cookie was pretty bad.”

After that we spoke no more of any of it.

Pressing the pedal down hard, I sped back to the East side. Where I would promptly throw away my Pillsbury swag. And try to forget that such a thing as a Pumpkin Patch ever existed in this world.

Until next year. For hope, like pumpkin bouncies, springs eternal.

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Party of Two

Every cloud has a silver lining. Right now Myra-Jean’s is distinctly Daddy-shaped.

The up side to my working three days a week? She gets more time with him. By about three thousand per cent. Her entire life there’s been me at home, and Mike working. Usually 50-hour weeks. Sometimes she’d go days barely seeing him. That’s all changed. Now, as they spend more time together–and not just weekend “Let’s go to the carousel!” time–her father’s form is filling in for her. He becomes more familiar every day–in the true sense of the word. And she to him. Their love, already deep, is growing wider. More solidly drawn. And more quotidian. Which everybody knows is the best kind.

It is a huge boon for all of us.

So today, while I sold silver on the east side, Mike took MJ west. To the silver-shored sea.

It was a drive–an hour and a half each way–but he wanted to show her some tidal pools. He did, and more. There were pelicans. A pod of dolphins. A seahorse (of dubious authenticity). And a sea cucumber (authentic, although who’d know?) Even a helicopter in a parking lot. The latter, of course, was her favorite. But it was all damn good. Or so I was told.

And weirdly–although I wasn’t there–I enjoyed the trip with them. My body may have been in Pasadena, sheathed in a snug black dress, but my heart was ocean-bound, enjoying their enjoyment, watching my own absence with a bittersweet pleasure. I was there when they first saw the sea. When they spread their wool plaid blanket. When Mike lifted MJ high to the sky. When they wet their pale feet in the surf.

There. And not there.

Mostly the latter, of course–there was no sand in my shoes when I got home. But I did receive a jar of it. One they’d gathered together on their trip. Just for me.

I loved it–said I’d keep it forever. And I will.

As for the memories? They belong to the two of them.

Fortunately they’ll share.

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Dog Gone It

They say you should let sleeping dogs lie. But when it comes to dead ones? I’m afraid the truth will out.

I’ve been avoiding letting MJ skype with my mom and step-father. Their dog Otis died two weeks ago, and I hadn’t found a way to tell her yet.

What’s the connection? It’s simple. Whenever MJ skypes with someone, the first thing she wants is to do is “talk to” their pet. The humans are sort of an afterthought, honestly. It’s the animals she wants to see. A Skype call with my mom and step-father, then, always featured a visit with Otis. Usually passed out on his rug. Still, it was MJ’s favorite part of the call.

But now Otis is gone. MInd you, he lived to a ripe–and then some–old age. By the end he’d grown stiff, deaf, and completely incontinent. Coming with our family to Nova Scotia this summer was his canine swan song–even if he shat in the car the whole way up. His last weeks on earth were happy and sun-soaked, frail and skeletal though he was.

We grownups knew he was at the end. Sometimes, when he was lying in the grass napping, we’d have to shake him lightly to see if he were still alive. It could be quite hard to tell. MJ, who doted upon him, was oblivious. It never occurred to her for a moment that, when she said good bye to him on the morning we flew home, it would be for the last time.

He was put down two days later.

Since then we’ve been agonizing:  to tell her or not? The latter seemed the better choice. With all the changes afoot, it seemed cruel to toss in an additional blow. “We know you’re upset about your mom going back to work, but–remember Otis?”

Finally, though, we broke down. A couple of mornings ago MJ asked, for the third time, to skype with my mom. We’d been putting it off, changing the subject, making excuses, but we knew it couldn’t go on. We lived in the modern world. We couldn’t hide behind a telephone. MJ wanted to see her grandparents. And, even more, their dog. We had to tell her.

Mike and I exchanged meaningful looks. This was going to suck. First of all, it was way too early for such weighty conversations. I’d barely made my first cup of tea. Secondly, Myra-Jean had never known anyone who died before. This was going to hit her hard.

MJ was sitting on the bench next to me. She’d decided to start a puzzle while she waited for the computer to boot up. “So, honey,” I said gently, putting my arm around her, “before we Skype with Nana Bonnie Mike and I need to tell you something.”

Deeply engrossed in her new undertaking, MJ barely looked up. “What?”

Mike, who was standing in the kitchen, took a step closer. In his softest, kindest voice, he said “It’s about Otis.”

“Oh.” She didn’t look up. She was piecing together a picture of a dinosaur. It was standing in flowers and wearing a derby. Hatosaurus.

I nodded at my husband. Let him be the one to break the news.

Mike cleared his throat.”So when animals get very old their bodies slow down.”

“Oh.” Another piece.

“Yeah. And then, well, they get sick, and have problems, and, um, eventually they just, um, pass on.”

I shot him a look. Pass on? She’s going to think it’s a game of hot potato. “He means they die.”

MJ looked up, her face implacable. “Oh.”

I remembered–vaguely–something I’d heard her teacher say. “Die means they stop moving and they never start again.”

“Otis is gone, honey,” Mike added, tenderly. “He won’t be able to Skype with you anymore.”

MJ nodded slowly and looked down at her work. There was only one piece missing. Finding it beneath her leg, she placed it carefully in its spot. We waited, solicitously watching her lowered head. After a moment she looked up.

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie?” Here it came. The death question. Oh God. OhGodohGodohGod.

MJ smiled. “I am a puzzle genius.”

There was a beat. “But honey. About Otis. How are you with all of that?”

Myra-Jean shrugged. “I’m great.” Hopping down from the table, she began putting her puzzle away. “Can I please have a glass of milk?”

And that was that.

Mike and I are praying it’s developmental and not sociopathic.

In the meantime? Our little genius wants a cat.

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