Saturday, September 30, 2006

we fail to stick to our guns

As many of our friends and acquaintances (not to mention the more devoted readers of this blog) full well know, Anton and I are opposed to pinatas for small children. We think they promote violence and greediness. There's something so disturbing and perverse about giving little kids a baseball bat and asking them to pulverize a dainty mermaid or an adorable puppy (it's less unsettling if it's a Darth Vader pinata or a star-shaped one, but usually it's a princess or a mermaid or a cute animal, in our experience).

Less aggressive children are punished by receiving little or no swag, and the largest, pushiest children are rewarded for trampling the others. Iris, a shy, underaggressive toddler, cried unconsolably after leaving one birthday party where she got nothing from the pinata (the bully boy toddlers were rolling in the swag that day). Anton desperately offered to take her to a drugstore and buy her all the candy she wanted, but she refused. She wanted the pinata candy, and nothing else would suffice.

So anyhow, Lola is turning four tomorrow, and she was hellbent on having a pinata. We ignored her requests, thinking she'd forget it, but she brought it up again and cried when we said there would be no pinata. Immediately we backed down, and ridiculously today we spent $65 for a huge pinata, larger than the birthday child herself, shaped like SpongeBob's friend, Patrick, not to mention $15 worth of candy to stuff the damn thing with. Lola has already fallen for Patrick ("He's like a friend!") and senses how disturbing it will be to bash him with a stick. I offered to her that we just hang him up as a decoration and keep him, just giving the candy to her friends, but she wants to go through with it.

Dammit, Anton and I have folded on this issue, and to the tune of $80 as well.

My to do list, to be accomplished by 1:00 pm tomorrow afternoon:

- Clean house.
- Make grocery list for food to be served to parents (I'm thinking homemade salsas, at least two, chips, and beer),
- Buy fruit for children (we're also ordering cheese pizzas),
- Bury dead mouse (a moribund mouse wandered into our dining room to die the other day. The six idiotic cats didn't notice it; my cleaning people thought it must have been another one of my pets and left it alone except to show it to me); I made it a cozy nest to pass its last hours in but haven't dealt with its corpse resting in the backyard;
- Finish laundry;
- Create SpongeBob posters to decorate house with;
- Get out SpongeBob crap left over from Iris's 4th birthday (also a SpongeBob party, except that one was also Tiki-ish, and I had more grown-ups present who drank a ton of exotic punch and wore Hawaiian shirts, plus it was 90+ degrees out that day, whereas this party's forecast is cold, foggy, and windy weather).

What I really want to do: go to bed with a novel and my medications. I am Still Sick, but Lola's birthday is no respecter of parental poor health or parental scruples. The Patrick pinata must go up and be beaten with sticks, no matter how sick I am.

Friday, September 29, 2006

more Things My Children Have Fought About

Yesterday they fought, to the point of provoking tears, over who got to sit in the booster seat on the side where the spare tire was.

"My butt is over the flat tire!" gloated Iris.

"I want MY BUTT over the flat tire! No fair!" screamed Lucy.

They also fought over whether Lola/Lucy will be permitted to introduce her little guests at her 4th birthday party to the family's pet rats.

They've also fought over who gets to use my rat-holding-cheese cake topper on their birthday cakes, which is particularly asinine since, as I pointed out, their birthdays are not on the same day and therefore they can each use the damn cake topper.

drunks with big dreams

My husband was sharing this morning some of the insanely ambitious daydreams, err, "business goals" one of his professional acquaintances has been developing.

"When he's been drinking, he gets really crazy with these things, and that's when he won't stop talking," he complained.

"Does it make you think, 'If I want to talk to a crazy drunk, I could just go home and hang out with my wife?'"

the tide of competence ebbs and flows

I was feeling pissy yesterday as a number of things had built up to make me feel that My Husband Is Not Clued In and Not Helpful Enough, which segued into the age-old complaint of What Is Wrong With His Brain?, which sometimes reaches the hysterical height of What Kind Of Insanity Gripped The Minds Of The Board of Regents of the University of California When They Gave That Man a Ph.D When It Is Obvious That He's An Idiot?

The major cause of this had been that he completely screwed up making himself some cheese tortellini. I had eaten with the children already, because (a) he called to tell me that he was working late, and (b) Lola threw a massive hissy fit over the prospect of driving home on an empty stomach from our errands, so I gave in and took them to a nearby child-friendly restaurant with a giant bin of grungy toys. At home, I showed the husband that I'd bought some fresh tortellini and sauce that day as a treat at the Italian deli and invited him to boil himself up some. He did this thing he always does of using a super tiny saucepan, far too small for cooking pasta in. I pointed out, for the one millionth time, that I always use a particular, large pan for pasta, and he superiorly reminded me that he has degrees in physics and therefore knows exactly how much longer it takes a larger volume of water to boil and his busy life is wasted by standing around waiting for the water to boil. So of course, his pan was so full of tortellini that the top layer was just dry, and he didn't cook it long enough in the inadequate amount of water, and the expensive tortellini tasted horrible because they were undercooked. I may not be as smart as the man, but I can cook pasta, and I manage to fill in my time waiting for the water to boil quite adequately. Now, perhaps I shouldn't care that the man ruined his own meal, but he wasted some fine, fresh tortellini in the process.

Some other little issues concerning his grasp of the finer points of our child management labor had been irking me, and my snit was growing. Then, as I was driving to pick up Iris at school, one of my tires blew out. I felt pathetically on the verge of tears, and I calmed myself down. (In my defense, I have changed a tire before, in the distant past, and I was sick enough yesterday to have gone to my doctor in the morning. All I wanted in life was to go to bed with my prescription throat gargling stuff and my cough drops and a novel). The husband was very calm and reassuring over the phone and promised me he'd deal with everything, I could just get a cab home. I abandoned the car, walked to Iris's school, got Iris, got a cab (there was no good bus route between Point A and Point B), and felt very grateful to the old husband. Today I kissed him on the neck repeatedly and said, with a little post-modern, retro intonation, "It's so nice to have a man around the house!"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

you don't have to take my word for anything

The Sober Husband has agreed to answer any questions anyone may have for him, frivolous or serious. So if there's any question you would care to ask, ask away in a comment on this blog.

And speaking of questions for the old ball and chain, nearly four year-old Lola asked him intensely this morning at breakfast, "Daddy, are you with me or against me?"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

it's hard to be hip when you're a middle-aged parent

Today, we went out to do a multitude of things, and Lola decided to wear her purple ballgown (which I made myself: it has six layers of layers of tulle and silk underskirts, plus little sewn-on flowers and butterflies), one yellow SpongeBob flipflop, one pink sandal, and her butterfly wings, plus a scruffy white sweater from the preschool lost and found. Ohhhkay, Lola, whatever. Poor old Iris looked pretty deprived in her school uniform next to her sister.

Among the places we visited was our beloved comicbook store, Isotope, where we picked up a few comics and dropped off our preschool auction letter (yes, I may be pissed, as I ranted in yesterday's post, but I'm still punctiliously fulfilling my duties as a member of the co-op, fundraising away). James, the ultra charming proprietor, has promised us another nice donation, and the girls and I love to indulge in a visit to Isotope (perennially voted best comic book store for chicks in the Bay Area).

When we checked out, James was chatting with some visiting comic book professionals, and one was telling a long, fairly dull anecdote about calling the cops on family members. "Who doesn't want to call the police on their family?" asked one of the hipsters. I chimed in at this point, pointing to ballgown-clad, bewinged Lola, "Hell, she wanted me to call the police on her cat once. 'Call the police, call the police!'" The hipsters, who had been laughing at the dullest remark made by one of their own, were completely nonplussed and not wanting to encourage this. James, ever gifted with social graces, did laugh, but otherwise, it fell flat. Now, if I do say so myself, I have been complimented on my comic delivery and turn of phrase ad nauseam for decades, and it is an interesting concept, calling the police on a cat. But I suspect that humor stemming from children (as well as a sense of acceptance and fatalism about dealing with human excrement) falls on just one side of the parent-non-parent divide. No self-respecting hipster is going to want to trade bon mots with the sidekick of a tiny, cantankerous fairy princess.

Monday, September 25, 2006

the vegetarian wrath of the vengeful sot

(Note: "vengeful sot" is borrowed from one of my favorite writers, Jim Knipfel, who used it delightfully to describe his ex-wife and himself).

I'm sulking and seething with anger lately, anger at our youngest daughter's preschool. It's a co-op preschool, which means that the parents work regular shifts and perform school administrative jobs and fundraising. The beauty of this is being more involved in your child's life and bonding with the other families. The downside is the sheer overload of work and annoyances. My older daughter's co-op preschool was seething with grown-up intrigues, both political and sexual. This newer preschool is pretty tame. As far as I can see, the only thing seething is me.

Why am I seething? The last straw was that last year's end of the school year party was a "Ribsfest" at which not only was the only thing on the menu dead animal ribs, but also we were requested to throw in some cash for said corpses. I pointed out that I am a vegetarian, raising my children as vegetarians, and that I found it offensive that the party was meat-themed and that my family would not even have anything to eat. I was advised to take my kids to a playground instead and just drop by later, as the party was dying down, after everyone had eaten to satiety. (Way to make me feel like my children and I are second-class citizens). We skipped that event, and I was reassured that in the future, there would be vegetarian alternatives.

Although that was the most extreme, my feelings had actually been building up over the course of the year. At our first school event, a welcome picnic, there really wasn't anything vegetarian to eat other than what I brought, which was going fast (because dammit, I am an excellent cook). There were huge hams rotting in the hot sun (much of which was thrown out later uneaten). Meat sandwiches. Meat salads. Then there was the communal camping trip with potluck, which, as one other parent remarked later, "You must not have had anything to eat." (Yes, I slaved to contribute a gourmet entree, grilled hobo packs of asparagus, goat cheese, and fresh herbs, which were gobbled up). The "ribsfest" was the last straw, and my vengeful sot nature was sorely tried by a deluge of come-on emails about how "we all love ribs" and "our families can't get enough ribs", "we're so lucky to be able to gather together for ribs", "who doesn't love ribs??" etc.., etc...

So then this year the sign-up went up for the latest welcoming picnic, and contrary to the assurances I received after the ridiculous "ribfest", there was no provision made to ensure there would be vegetarian entrees. None. Now mind you, I am not the only vegetarian at this school. There are other vegetarian families; one of three teachers is a committed vegetarian. I am merely the most angry and vocal vegetarian (and probably also the only sot of the group). So I complained. What I asked for was a school policy that there will always be vegetarian alternatives at all official events (incidentally, in the Ninth Circuit, where we live, it has been ruled that vegetarianism is a protected religious belief and that public institutions must honor that religious belief). The distinct impression I have been given in return is that people want to avoid me now and think that serving vegetarian food is "excluding others."

I recently got the same complaint from a group of girlfriends, and I read it on an etiquette board, also. Excuse the fuck out of me. How the hell am I "excluding" anyone if I am serving them a motherfucking multiple course gourmet meal?? Now if someone holds a "ribsfest", I and my children are excluded, because if we attend, we'll just stand there like idiots, with our stomachs growling in vain and my children whining that they are hungry, while everyone else has blood (oh, excuse me, "jus") dripping down their chins. If I slave over a hot stove and spend huge amounts of money on gourmet ingredients, no carnivore is "excluded" who is in attendance. Everyone leaves full and sated.

Besides, I didn't even ask that our preschool become a vegetarian school (although I noted that many co-ops in our city are vegetarian. Yes, maybe I should have enrolled my daughter at one of the vegetarian schools, but I would have thought that our core religious beliefs would be respected at any San Francisco preschool). I'm just asking that there be some stupid fucking vegetarian food served alongside all that meat, and there needs to be more than one thing, because one of the great unwritten laws of the world is that every meateater in the world claims they do not want vegetarian food, but if you set out a buffet, the vegetarian food always goes first so long as it is not labelled "vegetarian." No joke. I first observed this phenomenon when I worked in public radio and set out buffets for our phone volunteers during pledge drives, and it's been proven over and over again, a rule most vegetarians know all too well. If we go out to dinner with you communally and only one vegetarian entree is ordered, everyone is going to grab some of that one vegetarian entree and it will be the first one done, although no meateater thought of ordering from the vegetarian section of the menu.

I just don't get the lack of understanding on the other side. Now, I love wine with my meals, but I would not go to a recovering alcoholic's home or someone, say a Mormon or Muslim, whose religious beliefs forbade alcohol, and order them to serve me some hooch, because they are "excluding" me by serving a dry meal. I would just wait until I got home and then pour myself a stiff drink.

I am not interfering in how anyone else raises their kid or what they eat. I'm just saying that there needs to be in, in this day when ~27% of the population in our city is vegetarian, some accommodation for this core religous belief. The school would not schedule a mandatory meeting on Yom Kippur or Easter, and this is an analogous religious practice.

Anyhow, given a lack of assurances, we boycotted the welcoming picnic this year, and the victims in all of this are the vegetarian children. Mine are not the only ones.

And as for anyone who feels "excluded" by being fed gourmet vegetarian food: sweetheart, you don't know the meaning of the word "exclusion." I had two dinner parties this weekend, all featuring non-vegetarian guests, and they all managed to go away stuffed and not appearing visibly "excluded."

Menu A (for a guest who has food issues, which is okay by me, better to be honest about these things). Theme: Non-threatening comfort food.

Corn on the cob
Scalloped potatoes
Homemade polenta (yes, I know that makes two corn items, but I was operating under a theory that the guest would like polenta if she tried it, but I couldn't guarantee it)
Iceberg lettuce salad with homemade lemon dressing
Raspberry cream cheese cookies for dessert (which I forgot to serve, so the children and Anton ate them the next day)

Menu B (for guests who seem to like everything, but who have picky little kids) Theme: summertime produce, with a little Mediterranean flair, reasonably child-friendly.

Watercress dip and crackers

followed by
Rice and cucumber salad (a big hit)
Zucchini frittata with homemade mayonnaise (much better than it sounds)
Patatas a la brava

and storebought carrot cake for dessert.

Now, who is excluded: (a) vegetarians at a "ribsfest" or other meal where no dish is served that doesn't have meat in it and who are hungry, crabby, and feeling socially left out, , or (b) a guest at my home who has eaten anywhere between 2-10 different vegetarian dishes? (Yes, I have been known to bust out with a ten course meal).

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child"

I just finished an excellent book, "Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child" by Alissa Quart (sidenote: I feel so sorry for Ms. Quart, that her amazing and thoroughly researched book came out at the same time as "The Overachievers: The Secret Life of Driven Kids" by the irrepressible and bestselling Alexandra Robbins. I plan to read Ms. Robbins' book one of these days, as well). I can't recommend this book highly enough to involved parents or to any energetic people who are thinking of procreating. Adults who were labeled as "gifted" or adults who are peevish about not being labeled as "gifted" should grab a copy as well.

Ms. Quart shows us the lives of all sorts of driven children, examines various philosophies, looks at competitions and schools for the young overachiever, and shows the good and the bad out there. I am more and more determined not to label my very bright daughter as "gifted" and not to push her in any way. I have felt conflicted about this: Iris is clearly a bright and funny child with a natural love for mathematics and music. Sometimes I have felt loserish that I haven't done more to encourage her (for example, I considered starting her very early with the violin or another instrument on the Suzuki method, but there was a combination of me changing my mind after talking to various people about it and me being naturally lazy, and we ended up not doing anything more challenging than some "Kindermusik" classes, which were quite enjoyable in a playful, non-demanding way). I think that a different parent could have turned Iris into a prodigy, either mathematical or musical.

And, after reading "Hothouse Kids", I'm more and more sure that I don't want to be that parent. Ages ago, I knew a friend-of-a-friend who was hellbound on getting her kid adjudged "gifted", starting from when he was just a run-of-the-mill baby in diapers. We laughed about this behind her back, cattily enough, but it was funny. The mother ended up getting her child admitted to a preschool/elementary school for gifted children only, but there was never anything noticeably different about her child other than the mother's drive to have the child be gifted. When we were staying at Camp Mather, I ended up standing in line behind a mother who told me her children were enrolled at that very same school for gifted children. The mother harangued her daughter, who was about 7 or 8, to memorize the name of the dining hall, because the mother intended to give the girl a test the next day. The girl asked helplessly why the mother was going to test her, and the mother said, "There's no reason why when we're on vacation that you can stop learning and trying. You need to keep excelling and learning all the time!" The girl looked frankly like she wanted to trade parents with any other child in the line, and she slumped and looked depressed. The mother looked smug. I decided not to socialize with that woman any further. (My own child focused during our camp stay on learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels and on following glamorous older girls around, and that was educational enough for our family).

Many grown-ups who were pushed and prodded and diagnosed as "gifted" end up depressed and unhappy as adults. They have had it ingrained from childhood in them that they must excel and be better than everyone at everything they do, and when they don't grow up to be phenomenally wealthy and successful, they feel like failures. Even being above average is failing for them.

Ms. Quart points out the many ways in which American childraising has done away with the idea of leisure and play as a fundamental part of childhood. We are forcing Baby Einstein products down our little infants' throats (and Ms. Quart points out how ridiculous it is indeed to name products supposed to turn babies into baby prodigies after a man who was, if anything, developmentally delayed as a baby and toddler, coming into his genius much later, as a grown-up). We are pushing our children into academic preschools and demanding excellence of them at an early age. The "we" of which I am speaking here consists of the middle and upper-class parents who are extremely involved in their children's development, perhaps over-involved. Many schools have even done away with recess... giving the children no time to relax, to chill, and to work on their social skills.

While Ms. Quart finds fault, in her very objective and highly-researched way, with overly pushy parents and educators who are obsessed with their idealized charges, she also has issues with schools which don't challenge the students enough. Fascinatingly, Ms. Quart has marshaled evidence to show that a huge percentage of disadvantaged children can, if taught and inspired well enough, go on to unthought of heights of achievement in literature and math. If our schools were better at identifying and nurturing the talent in our children, we'd have a happier, more productive society. As it is, Ms. Quart notes that programs for gifted children have been slashed in the public schools. Cynically, this could be viewed as part of the campaign to allow vouchers -- to make the public schools so awful that the electorate will reject them. Ms Quart notes that about 20% of gifted children end up dropping out of school ("gifted" in that context being defined as children who, in any given academic year, already know 50% of the material or more being taught). That mind-numbing boredom is something I experienced in school, and I considered dropping out. Why didn't I? Because I lived in the sticks, and I didn't have anywhere to run away to, and I didn't have any realistic alternative other than staying in school. If I'd lived in a city of any size, I may well have dropped out.

There is a resentment of the "gifted", that money shouldn't be spent on them when it could be used for the benefit of the less smart kids, and that they are just lucky genetically. However, our schools are happy to lavish money on athletically gifted kids, who are similarly just winners of the genetic roll of the dice. (This point is mine, not Ms. Quart's. As a high school student, I complained that so much money was spent on athletics and that our school idolized jocks, while the academic achievers were ignored). The tactic used by most parents of the intellectual kids in school is to have them skip a year, because that is the one thing which can be done for children without costing any money or effort or in any way affecting the other children.

Anyhow, there was much food for thought in this book, and I have issued a demand to the Sober Husband that he read it forthwith. I have similarly issued a mandate to my friend Joyce (mother of a toddler whom I personally view as unusually smart and stubborn) that she read it. From this book, I have gained one idea which I love: the idea of "curriculum compression." If a child can demonstrate mastery of a skill, she should not be required to do a lot of problems aimed at developing that skill. For her, it would just be boring busy-work. I am afraid that Iris, a child with a huge love of math, will lose interest in it and come to view it as boring if she has to do endless, endless worksheets of simple addition and subtraction. "Curriculum compression" could spare her this. But please, let's avoid the word "gifted."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Iris is bored: her teachers weigh in

So last night was "Lower School Curriculum Night", and both Anton and I were there, on a mission, to determine whether we thought Iris would get enough challenges this year. Normally we are not high maintenance parents; we rarely have a complaint or an issue (in fact, I don't think we had any issues or complaints last year).

We milled around with the other parents beforehand, where we pathetically lived up to gender stereotypes. Anton got into a technical discussion with another father about faux landscaping (with the Sober Husband, everything is technical. You won't catch him discussing the aesthetics or the environmental impact of faux landscaping, but instead, the chemical make-up, the physical properties, etc.. come to his mind). Meanwhile, I talked about "Project Runway" and the study of economics with some other mothers.

The head of school's presentation was brief (test scores: up; new building: will be constructed this winter). We were dispatched to the individual classrooms. At Iris's first grade classroom, the teacher spoke for a solid hour about the curriculum for the year, and she had prepared a sheaf of handouts for each parent. We were also given cards from our daughters, welcoming us to their classroom, and we were asked to write a note to our daughters to leave for them and given a piece of yellow paper with a rainbow and some flowers at the top.

I noticed that in the center of our table was a giant tub of markers, and I opened it, took out a marker, and drew a little cartoon cat on the letter for Iris. This was infectious, and at my table, every parent but Anton went for the markers (some were getting a little greedy about hoarding lots of colors, despite a surfeit of markers). Everyone (but Anton) industriously colored away, most choosing to color in the flowers and rainbow on our paper, rather than create an original drawing. One mother did a stick figure of herself holding her daughter's stick figure hand. The other father at our table, in a stunning business suit, got down to coloring as well, concentrating on his rainbow fiercely. It was pathetic how much I enjoyed this project, painstakingly drawing Frowsty, Al, the rat known as Goosebye, and a sun, plus writing a long, loving note. My friend sitting next to me got a little competitive with me over this, and she worked extra hard on hers (nice job, Judy, if you ever read this!). Anton finally took up a pen and wrote, "Love. Pride. Anton" at the bottom. Later, he grabbed the pen again after he learned the weeklong schedule (Iris is very secretive about her school schedule and was actually semi-pissed off last year when we cracked it and figured out which days are art, which day is the library, etc..). "Your teacher gave me your schedule! Now I know it all! Ha! Ha!" he wrote.

There was very little time at the end for parents to mingle and talk directly to the teachers, but I did aggressively corner the poor head teacher and tell her that Iris was complaining of boredom. The teacher pointed out that the first few weeks of school were mostly about learning the routines of the first grade, working on social skills, and getting settled in. The work will be ramping up from here, and we should expect that Iris will be getting challenged in the coming weeks. Fair enough, teacher, fair enough.

The highlight of my evening, apart from my little coloring project, was seeing the girls' huge self-portraits. One little girl had drawn amazingly detailed bloodshot eyes for herself, with immense numbers of capillaries: Portrait of a Severely Hung-over Six Year-old. I wish I could have that painting. Iris's was rather banal, except that she had painted her hair fire engine red (I gave in to her pleadings this summer and, steamrollering over staid Anton's oppposition, had her hair dyed garish, fake red with temporary dye, which faded, leaving her hair right now a subdued auburn).

We gave another mother a ride home, and as soon as she got out of the car, Anton burst out, "I told Ms. P. that Iris is bored!"

"So did I!" The poor teacher, getting it from both barrels. The Drunken Housewife and the Sober Husband can both be rather intense, and we should have coordinated this so she would be subjected to only one of us.

So, we will see.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Iris is bored

Iris started the first grade, and she complains of boredom. Everything is too easy for her, she says. Socially, she's happy; she has made at least one new friend. But she's bored, and she complains.

This week, we received her first homework: "sight words" we are supposed to practice with her 10-15 minutes a night, such as "likes" and "give." Ummm... Iris just read out loud, with no hesitation, the words "crustacean nation" last night. Her ability to read words fluently and pronounce them correctly, with no sounding out or hesitation, is at the "crustacean" level, not the "likes" level.

Today I asked her what she did in math.

"I wrote in my math journal."

"You have a math journal? What do you put in it?"

"You write your thoughts and feelings about math. We were supposed to write what we are looking forward to and what we're nervous about." (Iris's tone conveys her disappointment in her mother's lack of acumen and imagination and also Iris's fatigue at having to spell things out).

"What did you write?"

"I wrote that what I am looking forward to is playing beachball subtraction. And what I am nervous about is that it will be too easy."

This is bringing back all kinds of bad memories for me. I was so painfully, painfully bored out of my mind throughout all of elementary school. It was just all so fucking braindead and monotonous, and when I was Iris's age, I wasn't even allowed to use the school library yet. So I brought a book from home and just sat at my desk, quietly reading. All those years of mindmelting boredom...

Unlike me (who attended a public elementary school in an extraordinarily small town in Maine), Iris attends a fairly large private school in a big city, which is chock-a-block with enrichment programs. It's known for having a demanding academic program. I felt when I enrolled her that I had ensured that she'd be consistently challenged or amused, and I think that later on, she most likely will be. But right now, she's bored. She's not going to be challenged with the current assignments, given that she can multiply already and is working her way through Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events series of novels. She does like her teachers, and she loves her music, gym, and art classes, not to mention trips to the library, the computer lab, and recess.

Anton and I are not sure how to handle this. We do not like to be high maintenance parents, demanding special treatment for our child. But on the other hand, we want her to be challenged.

There is a school of thought that boredom is highly valuable for children. The child's mind cogitates and works as the child festers about, and presumably the child then bursts forth from a cocoon of boredom into a world of purposeful, exciting activity. It didn't happen for me, though. I think my childhood of scholastic boredom trained me to sit still for long periods of time silently reading to amuse myself, while around me others worked. That hasn't exactly paid off for me in my adult lifestyle. Anton gets very pissy if he's doing housework and I'm lounging on the couch, engrossed in a novel.

Monday, September 18, 2006

the terrible food of Israel

Since my two greatest passions in life are food and travel, eating while traveling is pretty much the pinnacle of my existence. I have such fond memories of sitting outdoors in the morning coolness in Essaouira, Morocco, drinking mint tea and smelling the ubiquitous smell of fresh bread. I regularly cook Spanish tortilla and Malay noodles, pining for Spain and Malaysia each time. I have visited, among other places, Mexico, the U.K., Australia, Peru, India, Panama, Czechoslovakia before it split into two, and most of Western Europe. I lived in the Philippines for two years and studied in Madrid. Of all the places I have visited, my personal vote for Worst Food In The World is Israel.

I am an insanely picky eater, so one might dismiss my complaints. However, my husband is without a picky bone (or tastebud) in his body, and he complained endlessly about the food in Israel. He was uncharacteristically catty on the subject of the faculty cafeteria at Hebrew University, where he was condemned to eat each weekday (we were in Israel while my husband visited Hebrew University on a short-term post-doc).

Ironically, I had been looking forward to eating out in Israel. As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I knew that the kosher laws were (accidentally) in my favor. In order to keep kosher, a restaurant in all practicality must come down on either the dairy or the meat side of the divide, and all I had to do was shun the meat restaurants. At the dairy ones, I could feel free to order anything I liked; I wouldn't have to poke at obscure lumps with my fork and ask my dining companions to taste it and "please tell me that isn't meat."

All Israeli menus feature "fresh vegetables." At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can expect a side of "fresh vegetables." What this means is that you will get a salad of desiccated, chopped vegetables with no dressing. Dried-out cucumber, some juiceless tomato, dried lettuce leaves... mmmm, just what you want for breakfast with your omelet. Perhaps the vegetables were once fresh off the kibbutz and fabulous, but leaving chopped vegetables lying around in a restaurant kitchen in that harsh heat and dry air is not a good idea.

Entrees tend to be extraordinarily fatty and unhealthy... to the point of being unappealing even to a drunken housewife such as myself, who is not averse to a bit of unhealthiness in her food. At one of the trendiest sidewalk cafes in the chicest neighborhood in Jerusalem, I noticed a "salad" composed of squares of Roquefort, fried in butter, served with pine nuts and sundried tomatoes (presumably the kind in oil). In the food section of a popular Israeli daily newspaper, I read an article extolling a wonderful dish, guaranteed to please all your guests, which worked equally well as an appetizer and an entree. Intrigued, I read on. The receipe began with putting four kinds of cheese into a food processor and turning it into an amorphous mass. Next, some of the cheesy mass was put in a bowl and topped liberally with olive oil. Next, make another layer of cheesiness and sprinkle fresh basil on top. Make another layer and pour olive oil liberally on top. Repeat until out of cheese, ending with a layer of olive oil. The result: a big bowl of greasy fat! I did not clip this recipe from the paper or try it at home.

Israeli food tends to be without any flavor or spice whatsoever. The exception is the food made by Palestinian Israelis, and ducking into any Palestinian restaurant yielded excellent, spicy Middle Eastern food served with the greatest civility (in contrast, Israeli waitrons tend to be hostile).

Many Israelis seem to have no understanding of what a decent restaurant could be like. We visited two different Israeli couples, who both intended to provide us with a nice, Israeli dinner. Each couple proposed that we walk to the nearest gas station to buy a falafel sandwich. I can't imagine that Americans, entertaining guests from abroad, would propose walking to a gas station convenience store for a hot dog as a special treat.

But given the state of the restaurants we visited, perhaps you might as well save your money and go to the gas station. There were some exceptions (such as Panini in Jerusalem), but for the most part, the food was terrible and the service was sullen.

And the coffee? Nescafe, called "Nes" affectionately, is the standard. If you want a decent cup of coffee, again you must seek out an Arab establishment, where you can get a wonderful Turkish coffee complete with cardamom seeds. I was so excited when I found a place in the upscale shopping district of Jerusalem, called "Coffee", which had a huge menu of hundreds of kinds of coffee drinks. The phenomenally rude waitron informed me that they were out of everything I tried asking for, and I ended up with a horrible cup of "coffee" which may or may not have been instant.

Want to try a local beer? The Israeli beers, Gold Star, Maccabbee, etc..., were dreadful. Taybeh, made in the West Bank from the first Palestinian microbrewery, was very good indeed, and it is a shame it is not exported. I would buy Taybeh on a regular basis if I could.

I wrote about my experiences with the food online after my return from Israel, and I forwarded a link to it to a disgruntled expatriate Israeli. I thought this person would have a sense of humor and some detachment from his native land as he had formed the resolve to never live there ever again, but it turns out I hit a ton of nerves. He went off: "The person who wrote that obviously had never traveled anywhere and is very insular and ignorant!"

"Ummm, I wrote it. I thought I made that clear. Actually, I've lived abroad twice and traveled a lot."

"The part about the vegetables is entirely wrong! The vegetables in Israel are much fresher and more flavorful than what you get at Safeway!"

"Well, actually, I shop at Andronico's, and the vegetables are great. The point was, though, that they are served without any kind of dressing, and they are all dried out from being chopped up and then left out in the heat."

"You don't need dressing when you have great vegetables! You just say that because you're used to bad American vegetables from Safeway that need dressing!"

We argued on and on about the whole taking-your-foreign-guests-to-the-gas-station-for-a-sandwich thing, and eventually he partially conceded that to a foreigner, that would not seem so fabulous.

I should have known better than to even start the whole conversation. After all, it wasn't my first argument about food with an Israeli. Once I mentioned to my husband's main Israeli friend, who for reasons which remain obscure hates me, that we'd accidentally stumbled upon the most amazingly secular restaurant in Jerusalem: one which not only stayed open during the Sabbath, but also served cheeseburgers, flouting the laws of kosher. The restaurant played very loud rock music, and it was filled with sulky looking young people, striking a pose in skimpy clothes. Anton's friend assailed me.

"All restaurants in Jerusalem keep kosher!"

"I'm telling you, this one has cheeseburgers."

"In Jerusalem, you cannot be open on the Sabbath! They will throw stones! There is no such thing as a restaurant which is not kosher and which is open on the Sabbath!"

"I can tell you the address."

"All restaurants in Jerusalem keep kosher" (contemptously said while turning away and thereafter ignoring me).

I realize that fine food is a luxury and that a people who are often at war have more important things to think about than spices. Perhaps the true revelation of this was just how shallow we spoiled Americans are (or at least my husband and myself). But yet, the Palestinians are making yummy food and sumptuous coffee and delightful beer, right in the very same war zone.

Iris achieves another ambition, etc...

For a couple of years, Iris has been obsessed with being a flower girl. As time went by, a number of her little friends and acquaintances were tapped, but the glamour and glory were denied to Iris. When we were invited to a wedding, Iris would insist, "Tell them I'm the flower girl!", and we'd have to explain that it was up to the bride, who usually had a little relative to fill the position. (Sidenote: the Drunken Housewife herself was a flower girl at her aunt's wedding at a tender age, but has never been a bridesmaid. Always a bride, never a bridesmaid. I've had more proposals of marriage than I can keep straight, but I've never been asked to be a wedding attendant. I suspect somewhere in that there is a searing indictment of my personality).

Then last summer, we were talking about wedding plans with the delightful Tammi, whose daughter is the same age as Iris. Tammi's own daughter was, naturally enough, slated to be the flower girl. "Oh, how nice for her! Iris is dying to be a flower girl", I said casually. Tammi, who is one of the sweetest people in the world, had the sort of happy thought which makes her new husband one of the luckiest people around, and said, "I'll have a gaggle of flower girls!" She invited all her friends' little girls to join the ceremony, and Iris and Lola were thrilled.

Iris was excited in advance for ages at finally achieving this dream, and the wedding was delightful. I got quite teary-eyed during the vows and came to the realization that yes, I have grown up to be one of those annoying women who cries at weddings. But Iris found it boring waiting for the ceremony to begin, and the Drunken Housewife was not much of a companion for her during the reception, as the old D.H. was rather preoccupied with catching up with old friends and drinking cocktails. There was a magician present to entertain the smaller guests, and an old friend of mine grabbed me to say, "Iris is heckling the magician!" I almost snorted my cocktail out my nose.

For most of those present, it was a delightful day. But Iris was left feeling kind of empty and aimless. I told her that she'd have to think of some new goals, now that she'd knocked "Be a flower girl" off the list, and she was, unusually enough, without comment. I saw this same phenomenon in associates who became partners at my old law firm. If you hold an ambition for years, and you might slave and scheme and obsess and overanalyze in pursuit of your goal, after reaching it, you can feel underwhelmed and purposeless. "What do I do now?" seems to be the reaction, rather than "I did it!"

Meanwhile Lola, whose dearest ambitions are (1) to be a princess and (2) to get married, is still wearing her sparkly flower girl tiara around the house.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

small things

In my experience, whenever anyone says "wrap your brain around that", they are inevitably discussing some obvious and trivial thing, but yet they expect you to be set back on your heels and completely amazed.

And, whenever anyone says, "I hate to tell you", they are in their glory. That's a clear sign of snide pleasure being taken at someone else's expense.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lola feels festive

We were sitting in the backyard, and Lola said, "This is like a party, so let's brush the cats!"

What do you expect from a child who, when she puts on her sailboat pajamas, says, "I look like a rockstar!" and strikes a pose? I love this age, when a child is so easily thrilled.

the race-based "Survivor"

When I first heard that on this season of "Survivor", the tribes would be divided by race, I cringed. My kneejerk reaction was, "How can they do that! That's offensive." The media seemed to have the same kneejerk reaction, for the most part.

As a good, liberal white California resident, I feel awkward discussing race. I do that silly thing of never mentioning someone's ethnicity. If I were to try to describe someone to you, I'd go on and on about how "he's the really tall guy, with buzzed hair, usually wears funky t-shirts" but I'd never mention that he was black. That's the beauty of this "Survivor": it makes you mention race; it makes you think about race.

Having lived in and travelled throughout Asia, I knew that the idea of an Asian tribe was ridiculous. The differences between Japanese and Thai culture, for example, are huge. I felt for the Vietnamese man, who lamented that he doesn't normally fit in well with other people of Asian descent because he's sort of a hippy. (And mind you, it's okay for him to say he doesn't fit in well with Asian people; I, as a white girl, would never, never, never say that).

I loved it when Jeff asked the African-American team at tribal council what they thought of dividing the teams by race. They all dissolved into laughter. "It's just funny", one said, as they all gave into genuine laughter.

I only wish there was a Jewish tribe.

a (possibly grand) experiment

So in an effort to Do Something about how mean Iris is to her little sister, Anton devised a plan (which is still being tweaked), inspired by the points system at Hogwarts. Every day, we give Iris points if we are inspired by her kindness or even simple civility towards her sister, and we subtract points if she's mean. If she accumulates enough points, she'll get a skirt she wants from Gymboree and a tour of the Jellybelly factory.

Iris has of course already figured out how to game the system. On Day One, she was being rather nasty to her sister until I remarked that she was getting a lot of negative points. "I love Lola! I love Lola! I love Lola!" she started saying rather cynically.

Lola, pathetically enough, was delighted. "Hassie* is good!" Lola exclaimed, basking in the synthetic love.

"How many points is that?" Iris asked.

"Not enough."

"I love Lola! I love Lola! I love Lola!"

*Hassie = Hassenpfeffer, a nickname for Iris

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Marilyn French is getting mellow

When I was a freshman in high school, I bought a paperback copy of "The Women's Room" by Marilyn French. I can summon up an image of the beaten-up cover in my mind's eye: the iconic female hand boldly crossing out "Ladies Room" and confidently writing "Women's Room." I read the book over and over again, and I loaned it to my friends, who were similarly rapt. We were too young to have experienced much of the "shit and string beans" of life which Marilyn French wrote about so caustically, but her rage and her feminism and her foul language resonated so strongly for us. We were in a tiny town in rural New England, where sexism was a largely unremarked part of life, and although we certainly hadn't been housewives (this was before any of us even started dating), the book was so vivid to us.

I just finished French's new novel, which many are greeting as "The Women's Room II", although properly its title is "In The Name of Friendship." Like "The Women's Room", it's a portrait of a group of women who have come together. The group friendship sustains the individuals and is more important to them than their marriages. I was saddened to read in the afterword that French could not find an American publisher for this book for years, until after it became a bestseller in the Netherlands in translation. My heroine Marilyn French should be able to get anything published!

Although this is certainly no "Women's Room", it was enjoyable and highly thought-provoking. Sadly, though, a lot of the thoughts it provoked were about how Marilyn French seems to have changed.

Ms. French's dialogue has become somewhat heavy-handed. I got distracted from the flow of the book by some of the clunky sentences. I don't remember "The Women's Room" having any unbelievable dialogue apart from the throwaway line, "Expliquez du texte", which struck me as unbelievable when I was a callow high school freshman. The characters from "The Women's Room" swore; they spoke breezily or evasively but realistically. But in "The Name of Friendship", I would stop and wonder at the dialogue: for example, does any man ever, in an emotional discussion with his wife, use the phrase "the very bulwark of patriarchy", particularly when explaining his estrangement from his son?

I was struck by what, for lack of a better word, I will call "classism" in "The Name of Friendship." The characters are all wealthy. They seem dismissive of the non-wealthy women in their community, looking down on women they hire to clean their homes or assist at their dinner parties. There is a minor character who lives in a trailer park, and she is narrow-minded and rejecting, plus she makes her little girl work while her lazy son watches TV. The Marilyn French of "The Women's Room" would have featured as a sympathetic character the woman who cooks food to sell at the local market.

Maybe the huge success of "The Women's Room", which sold over 21 million copies, changed Marilyn French. She seems to be creating an incredibly onerous standard for women to follow: in order to have a successful life, we need to reach the top of a creative field, but at the same time, we need to build a large, supportive network of female friends and have children. French seems almost Ayn Rand-ish: there are geniuses amongst us, who can have more life! more life!; they can write symphonies and paint important pictures and raise children, but the less gifted amongst us are going to fester away. This is, though, a much happier world for the superwomen amongst us, unlike poor Mira in "The Women's Room", alone in the cold in Maine (a fate I, as a 15 year-old living in an underheated old house in Maine, found particularly frightening).

In "The Women's Room", feminism is alienating. A woman who becomes a committed feminist loses the ability to be married or even to have male lovers successfully (discovering the joys of lesbianism is a recommended alternative). But in "In the Name of Friendship", feminism has redemptive powers. When their wives become firmer and more convinced of their power, they can effect change in their husbands: Tim becomes a loving father, Steven accepts his gay son.

Even the birth process is easier now for French's characters. Poor Mira had a hellish first labor in "The Women's Room", but Jenny, another first-time mother, wakes up with a contraction, is whisked off to the hospital, and one hour later presented with her baby. I snorted at the unrealisticness of this. I think too much time has gone by since Marilyn French herself gave birth, and time has blurred the details. However, to be fair, Jenny's baby is colicky, and French hasn't forgotten how hard it is to care for a newborn.

French's oldest character, a grandmother, talks to the youngest of the women about whether to have a baby:
I'd go to college, I wouldn't marry young ... I'd go to law school, get a job in a city, have love affairs, travel in Europe, maybe Asia, it's always fascinated me. But I would have married eventually. ... I like being married, except if I did it again, we'd share the housework, I wouldn't be a servant again, I'd demand cooperation. ... I wouldn't worry quite so much about cleanliness and disease, things like that."
In French's new, mellower world, a woman can have a fulfilling, super high-achieving life with children if she just doesn't do all the housework.

I did all of the things Maddy counseled to do before procreating, except to restrain from marrying young (although I divorced husband 1.0 and married husband 2.0 at 33). No one could ever accuse me of worrying too much about cleanliness or being a servant. However, I still feel like I lost my identity when I had children. I have dumbed down. I have become a shlubby mommy, handmaiden to the children. Maybe I should re-read "The Women's Room", but I'm a bit afraid to. I think it's going to strike too close to home, and then I'm going to want to run away to Harvard and become a graduate student who holds theme parties in her tiny Cambridge apartment and never, never has to see her children.

cartoon characters I have been compared to lately, degenerating into pathos

There's a waitress at a place I sometimes go to for lunch who calls me "Wonder Woman" (after once explaining that she always thinks, "Oh, here's Wonder Woman" when I come in and inquiring if she might call me that). A friend recently remarked, after I had my hair cut professionally for the first time in a year, "Oh, you look like Veronica!" I drew a blank. "You know, from the Archie comics," she explained.

No one has compared me in memory to anyone living, just cartoon characters. Before you get excited, the resemblance is in the coloration, not in the figure. Sigh. It's been a long time since I won a prize in a Bettie Page look alike contest (I entered one on the spur of the moment, with no preparation, when I was in my 20's, and came in third. The others in the crowd of contestants had carefully created outfits which matched ones from Bettie's more famous poses and had choreographed routines; I was just walking on in what I happened to wear that night).

And how pathetic is this, reminiscing about coming in third in a weird beauty pageant of sorts. Sigh. It's a pathetic sort of day. Lola has a urinary tract infection, which got her up four times between midnight at 6 AM, screaming for "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" to take her to the bathroom (I made Anton go twice). I couldn't get back to sleep, so I'm severely sleep-deprived. Poor Lola has been in tears much of the day due to several accidents and due to having to miss her beloved preschool. Anton's majorly stressing about work issues. I'm hoarding my last Red Bull, the drinking of which will probably be the highlight of my day.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

things my children have fought about within the last 24 hours

- whether Lola is "the Queen of the Universe", which ended in both Lola and her little friend, Louise, crying and crying because "Iris said Lola can't be the Queen of the Universe." I tried to explain that no one is the Queen of the Universe, but it did no good;

-who could sit next to Mommy on the couch;

- whether they should have the car windows open or not;

- whose turn it was to perform an act for our friend Joyce, and where the location of the imaginary stage curtains should be (this was such a bitter argument that I called their father, temporarily in a different time zone, and demanded that he tell them over the phone not to be so hateful); and

- that both children had lice checks at their respective schools. "No fair!" sulked Iris.

"I thought you didn't like lice check."

"I don't, but it's not fair she gets it on the same day."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Retail and the sober husband

Now, the Drunken Housewife loves clothes, loves shopping for them, and loves coming home with loads and loads of fabulous new clothes. (Sadly, this is a love mostly foresaken these days, and I run around in pathetic outfits. I'm currently sporting some navy cargo pants which I hate, plus my beloved Elvis Herselvis t-shirt).

But the Sober Husband is another thing altogether. The man freaks out at the thought of going to buy clothes. We both came from families which were miserly about children's clothing, economizing via hand-me-downs. In his case, the husband was deeply traumatized by this and to this day does not want anyone remarking upon his clothing. He wants to look "normal", and he's somehow paralyzed by indecision and an inability to decide what "normal" would be for him.

After he left home, his grandmother used to buy his clothes for him, but she always bought them many sizes too large, so he was drowning in an odd assortment of baggy clothes. Then I eventually came along. At first, when we were dating, I showered him in the sorts of things I'd love him to enjoy, like an antique smoking jacket, a bathrobe made of cow-patterned, black and white splotchy fabric, black turtlenecks, and gorgeous Hawaiian shirts. I quickly learned better. We fell into a workable system under which I'd buy him jeans from Jeff's Jeans (in the hugely oversized, baggy proportions he wanted), along with the occasional bunch of shirts and sweaters from L.L. Bean's. That system worked fairly well for a number of years.

Then our child started private school, and the husband started feeling shabby compared to the other fathers. He kept complaining that he wanted to look like the other fathers, wanted to look like the other fathers, wanted to look like the other fathers. "Fine, so ask them where they shop!" I said. He was frozen with indecision; he couldn't bring himself to inquire. He couldn't describe what it was he saw he wanted. (I mostly see some fathers wearing khakis and unremarkable shirts and some wearing conservative suits; I have not yet seen a single father whose clothing seemed fabulous). I told him that his nagging broke the system. I felt I could no longer buy him clothes, since he was no longer satisfied with them and could provide no more guidance.

We festered like that for some time, with plenty of complaining from the husband but no action and no ideas. I proposed taking him to Banana Republic, which he met with jeers and revulsion. Finally on the eve of a business conference, for which he felt completely unprepared sartorially, he pathetically placed himself in my hands, and I took him to Nordstrom's. At Nordstrom's, I asked him if I could do the talking for him, which he agreed to but which freaked out the men's department workers. We were in a hurry, as we needed to go back home and then get the husband to the airport for his flight, and we had two small children with us, who needed constant supervision.

I explained to a man who turned out to the assistant head of the department that "my husband hates retail, he hates shopping, and he doesn't know anything about clothes. He needs some nice, conservative shirts, some dress pants, and a lightweight sports jacket." The man looked at my husband for some reaction, clearly thinking "that woman with the tattooed tits is insane." The husband just looked helpless. "What kind of shirt did you have in mind?" the man asked my husband, attempting to circumvent me. The husband just looked at me for guidance, looking somewhat panicked.

Dragging the husband and children in our wake, I hounded the manager throughout the store, until we had three fine button-down shirts (not the Collezione Armani ones, alas, those were a bit out of our price range). We found some dress slacks (here the husband was particularly without input and extra helpless). The husband was ushered back to try on his pants, while I hung out with the children, trying to amuse them by letting them flip through short sleeved shirts on the racks. The manager came back to get me, as it had become apparent to him by now that he was going to get nowhere without me and that the husband would be able to physically put on the new, proposed pants, but completely unable to evaluate them or make any decision. So Iris, Lola, and I plunged deep into the bowels of the men's changing room, getting plenty of shocked glances along the way, and we instructed the husband to buy the pants. "Oh, you have so much more gravitas!" I said, and I could see the somewhat relieved manager stifling a laugh. (Indeed "gravitas" is an apropos word for the husband, who is truly a genius of sorts and a man of great industry, although weirdly helpless in many ways).

Lola started crawling underneath the changing room wall to a neighboring cubicle, where I could see only some navy sock clad feet, and I quickly pulled her back and said, "You cannot go into a changing room unless it's with someone you know!" "I was only saying hi!" she indignantly shouted.

Then I went off the register to ring up the husband's new clothes. The manager asked me, "Umm, if I could ask, what does he do?"

"He's in software development," I said.

"Ohhh!" That explained everything.

When I shared that I'd made the poor old Sober Husband buy a house in essentially the same way, the manager seemed riveted but disturbed. He looked ready to toddle off for a drink after his rather intense hour with the Drunken Housewife and family.

In all actuality, the Sober Husband can be quite masterful and commanding, but when it comes to retail, be it clothes or houses, the world could fall apart from entropy before the man could reach any sort of decision.

a whirlwind of industry

The husband is out of town for a few days, and it's up to me to tote the bale, pull the rope, etc...

Today, by noon, I had gotten the children up, fed, dressed, and strapped into their booster seats, and I dropped Iris off across town at school on time. I got home in time for Lola's speech therapy. I met with the speech therapist to plan the next phase of speech therapy. I spoke with a family member about a difficult situation (a hard call to make, indeed, to the parent of a newborn taken away by the state). I left a message for a social worker. I did a load of laundry. I emailed the husband with a status report. I fed the foster kittens, the adult cats, and the parrot. I got the oil changed in my car. I went to the ATM for cash, and I mailed our Netflix DVD back. I went to the grocery store and bought six bags of groceries.... racing home in order to meet Lola's friend, whom I'll be taking care of this afternoon. Lola tore around in the grocery store, dangerously hopping around the cart and shouting about "teamwork! We will win!"

To treat myself, I picked up a yummy bottle of champagne, blanc de noirs, to be opened much later after the day's driving is done. As if that industry were not enough virtue, I stopped myself from browsing in the yuppie ice cream area and left sans ice cream (but with some wretched Dora the Explorer popsicles for Lola).

My forecast: by tomorrow, I'll be exhausted, crabby, and ready to bitch at the poor old husband.

problems in the extended family

In this situation, I can find no humor. In my extended family, located in another time zone, a newborn baby was placed in foster care due to abuse. I am waiting and hoping today for a call back from the caseworker, as I want to offer our home up as a possible placement for the baby. In this family, I think objectively that most people would choose me as the best person to take this baby, but in reality, it is not likely to happen because I'm located in another state. I know that social workers are obligated to have a reunification plan and protect the parents' rights, which cannot realistically be done if the baby is sent out of state. Sigh.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Google searches

I just installed a utility which, among other things, shows me Google searches used to find this blog, and the very same day I installed it, I saw two fascinating Google searches which were used: "bocas + joy + blow fish" and "peeing everywhere."

Somehow, I think the "peeing everywhere" searcher was looking for something a little racier than my anecdote of Iris manipulating her little sister into "having a penis" and "peeing everywhere." Sadly for the searcher, the Drunken Housewife herself is reasonably continent and not particularly given to water sports.

More cowbell?

I have a cowbell. It's an antique, and presumably it formerly adorned a bovine neck or two. I love my cowbell.

Incidentally, I love rock music incorporating the cowbell, for example, the classic song, "Lowrider." Who could argue that "more cowbell" is not a valid artistic choice? (The answer to that question is Lola).

The main use I get with my cowbell is ringing it to inform everyone that dinner is ready, and the robust tones of the cowbell may be heard from in front of the television upstairs to down in the garage workroom, where the husband toils on his computers. (The cowbell's secondary use is on New Year's Eve, when we make a hellish racket at midnight. One of my neighbors did evoke the SNL skit and yelled out last year, "More cowbell!" I obliged).

The other day, after ringing the bell for dinner, I childishly entertained myself by chasing the cat known as Frowstomatic the Immortal God around, ringing the bell. Lola was angry and covered her ears. Later at dinner, she harangued me: "You are insane in the brain with that thing!" Ouch.

Lola's complaint was itself rock-and-roll based, but from a non-cowbell using song. Any time you run across Lola, you can chant, "Insane in the membrane" to her, and she'll chime back, "Insane in the brain." The child seems to stand for heavy metal and against cowbells. She has in the past praised the musical stylings of Trent Reznor as "pretty." I will leave my cowbell to Iris in my will.

RIP fish

Glenda the goldfish of steel finally succumbed. After a miraculous recovery from her out-of-tank experience, the family poured their love and appreciation out for the fish in the form of food (there are not many ways to express one's love for a fish, apart from buying a larger tank or feeding). Glenda became quite sick as a result of overfeeding. I put some overdue work into research proper fish care. We nursed her back to health from that, and she was looking great again after two miraculous recoveries.

THEN Anton overfed her, in his overpouring of affection and caring after her second miraculous recovery. This time was fatal. Poor Glenda passed away this morning.

We haven't broken the news yet to Lola. Iris wants to be the one to tell her, the little sadist.

Incidentally, here are some things I have learned about goldfish:

The Care of Goldfish

- Ordinary goldfish should attain a lifespan of 20-30 years.

- A goldfish requires a tank of at least three feet. Keeping goldfish in little bowls is inhumane and will kill the fish, because...

- goldfish naturally attain the length of at least six inches. If a goldfish is kept in an inhumanely small tank, it will be stunted, and this means its internal organs will be stunted as well, resulting in an early death.

- The most common cause of death in domestic goldfish is overfeeding. One should scoop out whatever uneaten food remains three minutes or so after feeding a fish.

- It stresses a fish to remove it from an aquarium and change all the water. Twenty percent of the tank's water should be swapped out weekly.

- A goldfish needs a filtration system which puts extra oxygen in the water (the one we have has a sort of paddle which oxygenates the water).

- If a goldfish appears ill, immediately remove the gravel from the bottom of the tank and disinfect it.

UPDATE: Anton broke the news to Lola, who was surprisingly stoic. We buried Glenda in the back yard, and Lola chose an appopriate stone to place on her resting spot. Anton sang, "Swing low, Sweet Chariot" until cranky Iris informed him he was giving her a headache and would he please stop.

Friday, September 08, 2006

a series of short, sharp shocks

So, the children went back to school on Thursday (first grade for Iris, second year of part-time preschool for Lola). What a weird first day of school, the first Thursday after Labor Day.

No more lounging about in our underwear until afternoon, which is exactly what Miss Iris had been doing since she got out of circus camp. No more spending the entire day in pajamas and refusing to do anything involving putting on clothes, which has been the gambit of Miss Lola. And no more limited driving and instead reading of novels and spending time with kittens (the Drunken Housewife). Instead, it's back to a life of discipline.

The schedule of the children is now a thing of steel, a thing of many parts. I must remain focused and attentive. Up at the frigging crack of dawn; Iris forced into uniform and hair brushed. Breakfast fed to the Iris. Lunch packed for the Iris. The Iris packed off to school, driven (1 hr round-trip) by either me or the husband (our carpool from last year is sadly missed, and on my Things To Do List "Create A Carpool" is key).

Meanwhile, Lola's up and needing chocolate milk, breakfast, and attention. Pack Lola's stuff for school. Take Lola to school (one morning a week: speech therapy first; another morning, gymnastics first). This involves walking in a third of a mile into the forest, where her school is. I can do the walk very briskly myself, but with Lola, it means a thousand and one stops. So long as it isn't raining, this is one of the high points of the day, relaxing with Lola outdoors.

Drive from Lola's school to Iris's school. Kill time (I usually read in the car). Get Iris. Drive back to Lola's school. Frogmarch sulking Iris into the canyon to meet Lola (Iris always argues that we shouldn't get Lola; someone is bound to feel sorry for her and take her home with them). Chat with other parents. Walk children (often squabbling already) back out. Home again. Once a week, Iris has swimming, and once a week, soccer (yes, I am a Drunken Soccer Mom).

By then, I'm exhausted, and I haven't had any real time to myself or time to accomplish anything much. The children are likewise tired, hungry, and crabby, ready to insist on their glasses of chocolate milk and their early dinner, before they get a new, huge wave of energy when their beloved father drags in.

Today was the worst. I had scheduled the stupid cat for a morning vet appointment, betting that if I were organized and hard-driving, I'd be able to pack Lola's lunch for preschool, take the cat to the vet with Lola, drive home and drop the cat off (as Lola observed, "We have a rule at my school: no real animals allowed!"), then get to preschool roughly on time. I nagged Lola to get her dressed, and I managed to (in a rare feat of parenting prowess) cheer her up from her crying over being hustled into clothes and down the stairs while putting on her shoes quickly. I rammed the cat into his carrier, and we stepped out... to discover that my car was missing. I looked around for it, assuming the husband had moved it, but then I noticed his car (which, for a series of reasons best left for another day, I can't drive). "Motherfucker!" I exclaimed. The cat yowled. Lola danced about. The husband had taken my car. I called the vet, feeling loserish, and rescheduled the vet appointment for 6:00 pm, meaning I'd have to drive in heavy traffic and take both children along.

The husband came home with my car and was instantly cranky, complaining of being late for a work phone call. Then he had an emergency and had to tear out crabbily. He'd already gotten a traffic ticket (while out with my car!). A series of cranky events continued to unfold. I got a phone call from someone nagging me about my job for the parent co-operative preschool. Frowstomatic the God bit Lola.

In the evening, Vet #2 also advocated for shelling out over a thousand dollars to have all the cat's teeth pulled. Meanwhile, Anton has taken the position that since the cat is likely to get run over anyway, there's no way we're spending that kind of money on any cat-related purpose, and we'll have the teeth pulled over his dead body. (Sidenote: this particular cat does not go anywhere near the road or traffic of any sort; he rarely joins us in the backyard and never attempts to sneak out the front door).

I'm telling you, this is not the life I signed up for. I've been to Borneo, for chrissakes. I'm supposed to be having adventures, as well as leading a life of the mind. At least during the summer vacation, Iris, Lola and I seemed poised at the brink of all sorts of miraculous fun.

A beam of sunshine

To balance out the negativity I've been expressing here, Herewith a List of Things Iris And I Love:

"First thing is rats," instructs Iris. "Rats."

"What else do we like?"

"Life!" said Iris.


"Life!", in ringing tones.

"Oh, life." This is getting a little too positive for the Drunken Housewife.

"We like animals," added Iris rather obviously.

"What else do we like? Caramelized onions?"

"Yeah! And Cutebone and Goosebye![pet rats]."

"How about Panama?"

"Yeah! And Italy! Italy, I think, should be on the list."

"And chocolate. And... books."


"And... Anton."


"Anything else? 'The Simpsons'?"

"Yeah! 'The Simpsons!'"

"And sleeping late?"


"Is that about it?"

"Yeah, I guess that's about it."

p.s. The next day, I realized we left monkeys and Halloween off our list.

"Iris, I can't believe we didn't put monkeys on our list of things we love."

"That's bad. There should definitely be monkeys."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

my heart soared

Iris described participating in a Circus Camp show: "I wanted to be a beautiful rat, but they made me be a dumb old butterfly."

God, I love that child.

the joys of being understood

The older and less appealing I get, the happier I am when someone truly gets me. Recently my friend, Kim I, shared with me that she and her delightful teenaged niece have a game in which they add to lists of each other's pet peeves, and that she drew up a list for me. Her list for me was virtually spot on; there was only one item I disagreed with (a high school love rival; I didn't bear a grudge). I was so oddly moved.

Things The Drunken Housewife Dislikes (as written by Kim I, highschool friend)

Yes (the band)
People who cut in front of others in line/don't yield in traffic/etc. , in other words, people who are assholes
Ferris Buehler
Keira Knightly
Having "Carole" spelled incorrectly
high school senior year in Maine
Authors Carolyn Chute and John James (I think that's his name...he wrote a bunch of "historical" novels back in the 70's & 80's).
Don Quixote
Your love/hate relationship with Naomi Wolf

I would add to that India (other than the Taj Mahal and Indian food), people who look down on me because I am a stay-at-home mother, the whole working-mother-vs-SAHM debate (why doesn't anyone talk about "working fathers"??), Kevin Federline, television psychics, anyone who parks in my preferred parking space (Iris offered to paint the curb red there to discourage others; the child is truly a dear), homeopathy, and tomatoes.

And, for some contrast, Kim I's List of Things Which Work Kim I's Nerves

People who think I'm lying when I tell them I'm 1/2 Japanese
Wallpaper borders
Ashlee Simpson
Corvettes, their balding, middle-aged drivers and the bleach blondes in the passenger seats
Twinkees, Snoballs and Candy Corn
Planet Hollywood T-shirts
Loud kissers (overzealous PDA's)
Women who assume their husband's name exclusively as their identity (ie Mrs. Howard Smith)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

things Lola cried about today

Today I started to wonder: what percentage of my lifetime has been spent comforting a crying child? I hate the sound of crying. I actively wish to avoid it, yet as a halfway decent mother, I end up going towards it, seeking out the origin, and comforting the source of the horrible noise.

Anyhow, here are some things which today sparked off huge, epic, noisy crying from Lola:

- the prospect of living life without a particular nondescript rock. In the midst of screaming her guts out for over 45 minutes, Lola choked out, "I will never forget you, Rocky", then resumed her crying;

- that Iris refused to acknowledge Lola's self-anointed identity of "Power Lady";

- that our friend Joyce set the girls to a footrace, which Iris won;

- that it was chilly this afternoon;

- that Anton resolved to find "Rocky" after Lola had determined that her new plan was to find a new rock.

Hours. Literally hours of crying.

Monday, September 04, 2006

evil, in the middle of nowhere

I recently read an unusual and fascinating book, which gripped me for days, but which I didn't discuss with anyone. I've spent a lot of time mulling over this book; indeed, it was the rare sort of book which makes me put it down while I'm reading it in order to take some time just to think. Usually I'm quite loquacious about anything I read (just give me a drink and get me started on "Don Quixote", and you're bound to be entertained. My old friend, aka "Kim I", has not yet tired of winding me up on "Don Quixote"). But with "Strange Piece of Paradise", I've been tongue-tied.

Terri Jentz, now a middle-aged screenwriter, set out as a college sophomore with a friend to bike from coast to coast. As the college students slept in their tiny tent in an Oregon park, a man drove his truck over the women's tent and then attacked them with an axe. The two women, amazingly, lived (Jentz's friend nearly died from her injuries and has no memory of the attack, due to severe head injuries). Decades later, Jentz returned to Oregon to face her past. No one was ever charged in this crime, and as Jentz learned to her amazement, the police investigation was bizarrely stunted. Jentz set out to solve her crime herself, to find and face the man who could take a hatchet to teenagers, and to understand the place where this happened.

"Strange Piece of Paradise" can be overly verbose, and sometimes it can be stilted, but yet it grips. Are some people, for lack of a better word, evil? How can parents excuse and enable a criminal child? Why would people in a small town blame college students for their own attack? Are women safe anywhere?

Something I have never forgotten: once, I was camping in Nevada's Red Rock state park with a female friend, when we were awakened by what was clearly a man outside our tent. The park had very few people camping at it, and we were the only women unaccompanied by a man, sleeping in a small tent. However, we did have a nine millimeter handgun along with us, and as my friend screamed at me, "Get the gun!", I screamed back, "I've got it!" This friend, a doctor and experienced hiker and camper, was never hysterical in my presence other than that moment, when she screamed, ""Load it! Load it!" And so we sat, shaking, in our tent, as I racked back the slide on my SIG-Sauer and held it gripped in both hands. Then there was a silence, and we eventually heard our visitor retreat.

Would we, like Terri Jentz, have been marked forever by some arbitrary crime if we hadn't had a handgun? A handgun would not have helped Jentz (sidenote: I have been the victim of violent crime, which did change me and led me to take up an interest in guns, but that is a subject for another day). Is there something offensively provocative about a pair of women, sans men, out in the middle of nowhere in a little tent?

American poet laureate Robert Pinsky knew Jentz's friend and wrote a poem about the girls' attack. At the time, Jentz lived in the Chicago suburbs, and the Chicago media had a field day with the attack. But at that same time, the newspapers of Oregon -- where the attack occurred-- had virtually nothing to say about it, and what little they did have to say was buried on inside pages. The one editorial written at that time noted that obviously there were people out there who knew who had done this thing, but they had not come forward. That silence is chilling.

off the runway

The other night, Lola managed to insert herself into a fluffy, dramatically colored scarf (this is a fluffy tubular scarf, which can be worn as a sort of dress by a small child or a very tiny woman, and indeed it was a hand-me-down from a tiny woman who did wear it as a dress, to another friend, and then to Iris), and then she slinked over to the couch, where I was nursing my respiratory illness with a novel and a bag of cough drops.

"Fashion," she said inscrutably. "You are out." (True, I was wearing a stained Boston University t-shirt and a pair of sock-monkey pajama pants, but I had put on make-up and brushed my hair, and what more do you expect from the ailing?).

"You can leave the runway," Lola instructed me, and then she leaned forward and kissed me. At this point I caught on. Three year-old Lola has recently been exposed to "Project Runway", and evidently it had sunk in farther than I'd realized. Her childish voice is a ringer for Heidi Klum's (does that Klum woman have access to her lower register? Or does she have tiny little vocal cords?).

"Do you say 'auf wiedersehen?'" I asked.

"Auf wiedersehn. Good-bye!" smiled Lola Klum. Ah, fashion, the bitch goddess. One day you are in, the next day you are out.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

sick again

I've been suffering for a couple of weeks with a respiratory illness: sore throat, coughing, occasional fevers, achiness..

I need more than another Month of Health; I need to throw a Decade of Health or something. I'm so tired of being sick. I'm starting to weigh ideas which I'd normally scoff at, like taking up Chinese herbs (there are some which supposedly boost the immune system), switching to eating raw foods (think of the enzymes!), cutting back on drinking (which I'm doing automatically anyhow as a result of being sick). Any suggestions will be entertained, so long as they do not involved meat or kombucha (gotta draw the line somewhere).

"Bossy Little Lola Land"

The other day, Lola was being quite dictatorial and making up some sort of impossible-to-follow-set-of-rules for me in some game where we would travel to "Friendsland", but we were never managing to get there because poor stupid old Mommy couldn't understand all Lola's commands. I said, "Friendsland? More like Bossy Little Lola Land!" This seized Lola's attention. She said, "Yes! Bossy Little Lola Land is on Bossy Little Lola Street! That is where we will go!"

Ever since, she has been sojourning, in her imagination, in Bossy Little Lola Land. But last night, when she was kissing me good night, she rebelled when I suggested that she might visit Bossy Little Lola Land in her dreams. This provoked a tantrum. Evidently Bossy Little Lola Land is only for waking hours.