Monday, June 30, 2008

I had all week

I woke up this morning with the dreaded realization that once again it's Lucy's swimming class day, and I have screwed up. The price of my screw-up will be paid in a small child's tears.

Several months ago five year old Lucy had a nightmare that she was being attacked by a "killer shark" which bit her hair and tore out a large chunk. Somehow in the dream she escaped the hair-biting shark, but this was no consolation. Overnight the same child who had been happily cavorting in swimming pools since she was six months old had a water phobia.

In what was not exactly a moment from the Parenting Hall of Fame, I let Lucy skip a lesson on the promise that she would go in the future without fussing. That turned out to be an empty promise from Lucy, who turned all subsequent Monday mornings into a hell of crying. I explained to Lucy over and over again that swimming is a safety skill and that she must improve for her own sake (Lucy can swim across a pool now if she has fins and goggles, and she can dogpaddle half way across the pool without fins). In return, Lucy offered to conscientiously shun all water for the rest of her life if I let her stop swimming lessons.

I've come close to crying myself, seeing Lucy's little chest heave with sobs at the side of the pool. I have enough backbone on this issue to force Lucy on because my Lucy nearly died by drowning at age two (I was watching her play in the pool at Camp Mather, but worried about getting too much sun, I asked the Sober Husband to get me my t-shirt. Rather than get up and carry it to me, he threw it hard, and it sailed over my head into the pool. I turned my back on little Lucy to give him a piece of my mind, and at that moment, she slipped off her float and went down. The lifeguard did not notice, but the amazing Kathy, head lifeguard, was around despite being off-duty, and she dove in, pulled out Lucy, and got Lucy to throwing up all the water she'd swallowed. Now the pool at Camp Mather is divided into three sections, shallow, mid-depth, and deep, and small children are barred from the mid-depth section. Kathy told me that this change was made specifically because of Lucy's near-drowning).

We thought that our annual trip to Camp Mather would fix this problem, since Lucy wouldn't be able to resist playing in the pool. However, Lucy had no problem determining that the Camp Mather pool is an obvious shark-free zone whereas the suburban pool where she takes lessons is clearly at high risk of shark infestation.

Last week I had a brainwave, after watching poor Lucy sob. "What if I made you a special necklace," I said, "something that tells sharks you are their queen? If it said 'Lucy is the Shark Queen', then the sharks will know to leave you alone." Lucy loved this idea.

I had one week, a busyish sort of week, to get this shark totem made, but I failed to do it. I did finish the children's Fairy Tree, a silver tree with brightly colored flowers where five fairies (the sixth one's legs fell off, and the children shun her) dwell, but I never got around to picking up the supplies needed to make an anti-shark necklace. It slipped my mind until I got out of bed this morning and said, "Fuck. I didn't make that shark necklace."

Lucy's still asleep, and I haven't had the opportunity to try out my new idea: writing "Lucy is the Shark Queen" and "Sharks Keep Away" on her with a Sharpie. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

damn brain!

As I was chauffeuring the children about, out of the blue Lucy shouted, "STOP IT, DAMN BRAIN! DAMN BRAIN!" at herself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

sunshine, chrome sunshine

So today was a productive but "meh" day: Lucy was hosting her best friend for a playdate, a child who is despised by Iris Uber Alles, which always leads to plenty of tension and complaints in the home. I had to be on top alert for the outbreak of hostilities, as Iris, despite her oft-stated desire never to be in this other child's company, dogs her every step during any playdate. The guest child is also accustomed to a higher level of service than my own poor darlings and is given to voicing complaints often. Today we heard that "the cats' food smells bad" several times (the food in question was dry food! Odorless!), a few snarks about the litterboxes (I had completely changed the litter that very morning! I would defy you to find a cleaner, less odorific litterbox) and a series of remarks about how the guest does not care for cheese (after I had set out a buffet of snacks designed to appeal to a child's palate, artfully arranged for maximal appetizing power), to which I finally said in a steely voice, "Then just eat the other things."

I was in the mood to sew, and I wanted to make progress on a new quilt (a fairly traditional snowball quilt, but in an atypical palette of black and white), but my new sewing machine failed. It repeatedly sewed the fabric into the feed dogs. I'd have been rabid if I hadn't gotten twenty squares done first.

But we must find the sunshine where we may. I have a new can of Krylon chrome spray paint (oh, Krylon, such a fascinating company. They make fabulous make-up used primarily by drag queens, including ultraviolet-reactant eyeshadow which I sported in my youth, and also the finest metallic spray paints). Everything looks better when it's been spray painted chrome. Once I spray painted an empty egg carton with chrome, and it was fit for housing Faberge eggs. I had the idea some time ago of making a fairy tree for the girls' room, and today I spray painted a large branch chrome. My branch looked magical with the chrome paint.

It's a good thing I have some self-control, or I'd just start spraying the house with that stuff (actually I think my Edwardian would be fabulous chromed). Wielding my chrome spray paint makes me so happy. And then I came across this gem from "Project Runway"s poor Jack Mackenroth (for non-"Project Runway" fans: Jack is an extremely talented and egotistical designer who sadly had to leave P.R. due to complications from HIV. There is talk amongst the fans that hopefully he'll be invited back for next season). I just KNOW Jack would understand the magic of chrome spray paint. Enjoy!

Monday, June 23, 2008

respect for parental authority

Five year-old Lucy is very anxious for the Fourth of July to arrive. She wants fireworks, but, a thrifty child by nature, she didn't want me to buy any more because we had a bag full of old ones. However, further investigation on her part showed that the leftover fireworks are all "snakes", a sort of firework purchased last year by the Sober Husband in a fit of nostalgia. As a small child, he loved this modest firework, and he waxed rhapsodical about how wonderful it was.

Lucy remembered, looking at the boxes of snakes, how spectacularly underwhelmed she'd been with them, which is why we didn't bother to set them all off. "Maybe when he was a little boy, they didn't have such good fireworks, so these seemed better," I proffered.

Lucy was unconvinced. Turning to her father, she asked, "Did you like these?" He admitted he did. "YOU MUST BE AN IDIOT!!" Lucy shouted.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

the merry laughter of little children

Eight year-old Iris and five year-old Lucy were playing a fascinating game the other day. They were pretending that Iris was a corpse and that Lucy had to take her to a graveyard. Both giggled madly as Lucy pulled Iris all over the downstairs by the ankles, shouting, "CLOSE YOUR EYES!!! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!!!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

back again

For days I'd been walking around on the brink of tears, and then on Wednesday morning I suddenly perked up. It began to feel like a holiday, being without the Sober Husband. It was like being a teenager again, momentarily freed of the always critical and stern parental gaze. Iris and Lucy were being well-behaved, and we went to lunch with friends, visited the grizzlies at the zoo, picked up a new Spongebob DVD, had one of Iris's friends over, planned an art project (I'm going to make a fairy tree for Lucy's room), and inquired about getting more foster kittens (six little babies are here right now; sadly four of them are entirely black, poor things. Not enough people love black cats).

Then on Thursday came our first marriage counseling session. I felt empty and weak going in. I thought that I should have prepared a list of demands/requests which, if met, would pave the way for the Sober Husband to come home. I couldn't really articulate what I wanted in a meaningful way, other than "attend dance class regularly", which seemed kind of, well, frivolous under the circumstances, so I didn't mention it. We basically spent the session providing our sides of the current impasse. Maddeningly the Sober Husband trotted out once again his line that he has problems with me he is unable or unwilling to voice. The counselor and I expressed the view that he was going to need to put those out on the table. Unfortunately the end of the hour came too soon, and our therapist will be away for the next three weeks (we both expressed the wish to work with her despite that unlucky delay).

Afterwards the Sober Husband asked me to go out for a drink with him. It was a rare hot day in San Francisco, and we had a beer at a sidewalk cafe (he drank two; I had an abstemious one). I felt remote. The Sober Husband expressed his deep unhappiness at being kept out of the home. After our drink, I walked to the library, and he came along. Like in the days when we were dating, he was attentive and full of praise, and also he was full of regret for the mistakes of the recent past. I had no intention or desire to invite him back home, but I don't enjoy seeing him suffer. Finally, I said, "You can sleep on the couch. Don't make me regret this." (Such grace and romance!)

So, we'll see what happens. He came home while I was sauteing onions and garlic for dinner, bringing the children some candy. I'm finding the contrast between how he is right now, so attentive and affectionate, and how he was on our vacation (remote and irritable) to be incomprehensible.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

holding pattern

The last I shared, the Sober Husband acted checked out of our family vacation, distracted and silent. The children and I had a good time without his participation... until he skipped having dinner with us and I found him mesmerized by the mother of Lucy's new friend. I went into an icy rage. His excuse for this behavior was that he had vague problems with me that he "could not articulate." I informed him that being married to him was an option, not an obligation, and said I wanted a trial separation. So what happened next?

Driving back we made record time in silence in the car (apart from the occasional "Lucy's hogging the armrest" and "How much looonger" from the backseat). We unloaded the car in virtual silence, reunited with the cats (Princess Henry was especially pleased to see us), and skimmed the mail as the children darted off to catch up on their television watching. I plunged back into the World of Warcraft. The Sober Husband, in a surprising move at reconciliation, cleaned the litterboxes (the only time he has ever done that when I wasn't pregnant. Even when I was recovering from abdominal surgery he wouldn't do it). We spoke very little.

The next day was Father's Day, and I couldn't throw him out. I didn't acknowledge Father's Day myself, having already given him his traditional gift (a $250 buy-in to the annual Dads' Poker Night at Iris's school). The children made him presents and gave him cards I'd helped them buy before we left town. I really didn't interact with him much, which was assisted by the fact that my car somehow had both front tires severely damaged (a welcome back gift from the sociopathic contractor, who looked displeased to see us unload our U-haul, or residual damage from some rocks at Camp Mather?). The Sober Husband volunteered to get the tires replaced. In the afternoon, I proposed to the children that we catch the last few hours of RoboGames. I wanted to go without the Sober Husband, but he insinuated himself (acting weirdly cheerful) and I couldn't pick a fight in front of the children on Father's Day. At the Robogames, Lucy ran into a little friend from pre-k (Lucy is easily becoming the most popular of the family), and Iris and I delighted in watching robot combat. I could watch robots fight all day.

At night, when the children were watching "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill", I had a talk with the Sober Husband. I reiterated what I'd said earlier and asked him to leave for a while. I pressured him to tell me what his "problems he couldn't articulate" were. All he came up with was "sometimes I think you drink too much." My response to that was (1) duh! I'll cop to that, but (2) my drinking is the same now as when he married me, and he liked it then, and (3) I'm obviously not an alcoholic since I stop drinking with no problem when I'm pregnant or sick, and (4) he didn't even notice or appreciate that actually I'd been drinking very little the last few months (I've cut way back on my drinking because I'm following the Weight Watchers program. Every drink must be accounted for and compensated for with a commensurate reduction in food).

On Monday the Sober Husband left a message saying that he'd be coming home in the early evening to pick up a few things. I made a call and booked us for marriage counseling on Thurs. When he came in, he helped me finish putting away the laundry and change all the sheets. He also made a big point out of pouring us both a glass of sparkling wine and saying perkily that he felt it would do him good to have a glass with me more often. I expected him to leave when our pizzas arrived (I told the children that if they could clean their room without arguing, I'd order pizza), but he lingered. He told me that "the only really terrible thing about not being here is explaining to the girls", which instantly made tears well up in my eyes. "That's a tactless remark!" The Sober Husband tried to smooth over that, saying that of course he'd miss me.

The girls and I were very tired, so I put them and myself to bed abnormally early, letting Lucy sleep in the big bed with me ("sleep-over with Mommy" is a prized occurrence). In the morning the Sober Husband woke me up by bringing me a cup of coffee, which I was too sleepy to drink. Much later I trailed downstairs and said, "You aren't supposed to be here!" We both came close to laughing over that.

I did, however, have another serious talk with him. I pushed him to tell me what was so terribly wrong with me that he couldn't interact with me, and he came up dry. All he could say was that one night at dinner he felt disgusted by me pouring myself a glass of wine and couldn't look me in the eye. I pointed out that the woman he'd been so fascinated by had been sucking down Coronas. I offered to him an article in a recent New Yorker about drinking and hangovers, by dance critic Joan Acocella of all people, telling him how much some of the quotes about drinking had resonated with me (did y'all remember that the Bible contains a proverb commanding people to buy wine for the poor, so that they may have fun and forget their problems?). He admitted that he had loved having cocktails with me when we were dating and also that he hadn't noticed that I'd been drinking so seldom lately. He also said that he felt that any problems that he might have with me were "a red herring" and that the focus should be on how he had admittedly been "acting like an asshole" for some time towards me.

The Sober Husband said that he was grateful I'd let him go along on the Robogames expedition and how precious it had been to him to have that family outing. I acidulously observed that he had shown no interest whatsoever in being with his family on our vacation, and he said that it wasn't until he was threatened with losing it that it became obvious how valuable it was.

I admitted that I felt unsure about what to do and asked him to just keep away for a couple of days, as opposed to a lengthy or open-ended separation. I'll see him again at counseling.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

the vacation is over

I'm home again, away from the hot sun, biting bugs, and delightful peace of the mountains, back in the fog. I took a last bike ride with Iris this morning before we left. We rode down to the pond (this is called "Birch Lake" officially, but it is no lake. It is a modest-sized pond) and listened to the bullfrogs, and then it was time to pack up and go. Five year-old Lucy was the very last one to leave the dining hall at breakfast, and I apologized to the very polite teenaged staff for being so tardy. At home the pets are all fine, Lucy is watching "Spongebob," and I've already put in some quality time playing Warcraft.

For the last couple of years our annual week at Camp Mather was a chance for the Sober Husband and I to reconnect. We were a team, managing our headstrong offspring, navigating the hordes of middle class San Franciscans, and enduring bear-related mishaps. This year, though, things were off. Everyone expected me to be miserable without any internet in general and the World of Warcraft in particular, but I was fine. Indeed, this was the first time I really personally enjoyed Camp Mather: I found the woods beautiful, I loved going an entire week without getting into a car, and I felt like a little kid tearing around on my beautiful new bicycle. Lucy and Iris were happy, of course, in little kid heaven. Who wasn't into it? The Sober Husband.

For days, he was distracted, uncommunicative, and apathetic. Our friends noticed his lack of participation or interest. He wouldn't have a glass of wine while waiting in the dining hall line or over dinner (it's traditional for families to bring wine to dinner). Usually we play lots of badminton, but this year, it was like pulling teeth to get him to consent to one game (I'm not much for sports-like games, but I do love me some badminton. Playing badminton is one of the few times my mind switches off, and when a good volley is on, all I am aware of is the shuttlecock). He read the history of solid waste I'd given him instead of watching Lucy and Iris at the pool. When I was tired of his obvious desire not to be there, I encouraged him to go off to check his email, drive until he got a signal on his iPhone (note to San Franciscans: the closest iPhone coverage to Camp Mather is waaay off in Groveland, and there it exists only on the back porch of Al's Cafe). He complained that I asked him to upload an entry to my blog. The only time he seemed happy was during the Cowboy Breakfast Ride I made him take Thursday morning with Iris Uber Alles (Iris moaned at length about having to set an alarm and rise early, but evidently the trip was magical. They rode down a canyon, stopped for a hearty outdoor breakfast cooked by actual cowboys, and then rode back through meadows filled with wildflowers, arriving at camp three hours after leaving).

On Thursday evening Iris was very hungry, so I walked with her to the dining hall early. Lucy was still playing with a little friend from a nearby cabin, and we expected the Sober Husband to join us when Lucy was ready for dinner. Indeed he stopped by our table to tell us that he and Lucy were in line, but that Lucy had been invited to eat with her friend's family. Iris and I had eaten all of our oddly magnificent zucchini saute and asked him to get us more. Later he stopped by and scraped the zucchini off his plate for us, but then vanished. We were puzzled, as we'd expected him to join us after carrying Lucy's tray for her, and after we finished eating, we went looking for him. I found him talking animatedly to Lucy's friend's mother, gazing deeply into her eyes and bending forwards close to her. The two of them were oblivious to anyone else, particularly Iris and I, and they made it clear they didn't want Iris and me to join them. I gave the husband a glare of death and informed him that we were going back to our cabin.

Later we saw the husband of that family stride past to his cabin. After that, we saw Lucy and her little friend run by, giggling. It was another half hour after that before the Sober Husband showed up, smiling. I am not normally one to be insecure or jealous, but I was outright livid. While he was being so distant and joyless all week, I could excuse it on the grounds that he was distracted, thinking of work, etc... But to see him so happy and animated, flirting with another woman was a slap in the face for me. It made his lack of enjoyment personal. What was the husband's excuse for this? He said that he has "problems" with me that he feels "unable to articulate." This discussion deteriorated.

After a night's sleep, I told him first thing in the morning to clear out and leave us alone for the day. I wanted to spend the last day of the trip with people who considered me witty and intelligent, not someone who disagreed with everything I said when he deigned to pay any attention to me. When he came back at dinner time, I told him that I would like to discuss financial arrangements for a trial separation.

Ever since he started his job at Doggyo, he's been abstracted and distant. Unlike the children, I've been genuinely happy for him that he has such a fulfilling job, but it's taken a toll on our family life. The children miss spending lots of time with him. He and I have grown apart; once Lucy remarked, "Daddy doesn't kiss Mommy any more. He is only for Doggyo." We used to periodically call or email each other throughout the workday; now I feel that any contact from me is an imposition, and so I try to limit that contact. He's no longer interested in doing things with me; I asked him in particular to go to a play I'm dying to see, and he put it off and put it off (in the past, we often went to the theatre together and even donated to various smaller theatre groups). On the rare occasions we go somewhere together, he doesn't want to hold my hand, whereas he used to be very affectionate.

On top of that distance, the Sober Husband has taken to doing things which he knows I don't want him to do, in a sort of "screw you" manner. For example, last year he promised me that he "couldn't possibly ask" me to commit to going to Martha's Frigging Vineyard at his mother's command for a family reunion; this year, he used emotional blackmail and all sorts of pressure. I asked him not to go to Chicago for his friend's funeral, as he'd been out of town several times, including to keep vigil at the friend's deathbed, and he had already attended a wake, AND the trip meant his being away on Mother's Day, surely the one day of the year a Drunken Housewife should be allowed to sleep in and not have to drag around making breakfast for whiny, father-missing children. He ignored me and booked the trip. Maybe the most maddening was the weekend he spent Sunday playing golf with coworkers after I asked him to do something with the children and requested that he PLEASE not play golf that day (he'd had many, many work obligations that week, including after hours mandatory team-building exercises which had led to his having virtually no time with the children that week and me having no break, either). The only bright side of that was that one of the golfing party uploaded a video to the web of the Sober Husband repeatedly windmilling and whiffing (oh, how the children howled with merry laughter).

The Sober Husband was completely gobsmacked by my request for a separation. "I would have said I was happily married." That line brought forth a bitter response, indeed. It doesn't feel like a marriage of equals; it feels more as though he treats me like a rather idiotic au pair. This really is like a horrendous illustration of the feminist party line that a woman makes a horrible, horrible mistake for which she must atone drastically when she decides to stay home with her children (somehow I never hear stories of how stay-at-home fathers ruin their lives).

So what next? I haven't felt able to carry through with my demand because it's stupid fucking Father's Day. What kind of a woman throws her husband out of the house on Father's Day? Sigh. And do I need to rush out and get some form of job now, right when the children are out of school and needing to be watched all day? Dammit.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Report From The Wilderness

Once again, our semi-intrepid Drunken Housewife has taken to the woods, to reside in a rustic cabin without internet access or cats. Can the Sober Husband bear to be away from his beloved employer, Doggyo for an entire week? Will the children drive their mother insane with their ceaseless, high octane sibling rivalry without that delightful sedative, television? And will the Drunken Housewife’s sparkling wine cache hold up? Let us see.

Camp Mather Day 1

The theme of the day was figuring out our transportation needs. In olden times, camping was easy. One had only to put the camping stove, tent, Thermarest, camping dishes, and food supplies (not forgetting the booze) into any available vehicle, preferably four wheel drive. You would think that staying in little cabins (huts, really) with the meals supplied would render the packing even more inconsequential, but no. Once one has procreated, everything is harder. The children need to bring clothing, books, art supplies, pool toys, towels, bicycles, bike helmets, at least one stuffed animal apiece, etc.., etc… If you are a parent of the Drunken Housewife persuasion, you need to bring a large number of books (on the theory that you can’t know ahead of time what you’ll feel like reading) and a large quantity of booze (keeps the nerves steady), as well as a good hand-quilting project (always nice to have something to do with the hands. I used to smoke cigars, and it was truly delightful to fidget about with my cigar cutter, cigar case, and lighter. I stopped cold-turkey when pregnant with Iris Uber Alles and never picked the habit up again, but I remember it fondly).

My comfort at Camp Mather is enhanced by having that object so despised by serious campers, a dining canopy. There are a lot of biting, biting bugs at Camp M., and a well-maintained dining canopy provides one with a delightful refuge. A proper tablecloth (mine has a lemon motif) and a lantern, as well as a citronella candle, give a civilized air. This dining canopy has excited a lot of envy this year at Camp Mather. “I got it at a Walmart in the Central Valley,” I confess to its admirers, which seems to strip it of its glamour.

There used to be a tradition that everyone decorates their cabin with Christmas lights, but that seems to be dying out. This year I’m the only one with lights up (and those tasteful and subdued ones featuring little bugs and flowers). I like having the lights because the children can always find their cabin easily at night, if they go off by themselves.

This year there is a very exciting addition to the equipment: my new bicycle! With its retro-styling, wide handlebars, added-on market basket, and leopard print seat, it’s definitely the bicycle Bettie Page would have ridden. It is not possible to transport this bicycle (or indeed the chldren’s bicycles) in our modest-sized Volvo, which lacks a rack. Therefore we needed to have a trailer hitch installed and rent a cheap U-haul trailer. This, a task delegated to the Sober Husband, was left to the last minute. This caused me no end of stress in the days before our departure. Dealing with the U-haul people was no joy for the husband, either, as they lost his order (and they denied having lost it, contending instead thast it had never been made). Towards the end of the week, he paid through the nose to have special parts overnighted for Saturday delivery.

In the end, on the very day we were supposed to leave, there was no hitch and it wasn’t clear whether there would be one. The Sober Husband proposed that we give up, leave our bicycles at home and bring the smallest amount of things possible which could be crammed into the modest trunk of the Volvo. I refused. Basically the main point of Camp Mather for an urban child is bicycling about freely, with minimal supervision. We would be constantly reminded of our bikeless stature, as everyone else would be carelessly jetting about on wheels. Around this point our friend Phil arrived to drop off the Baby Violet’s trike, which we had agreed to transport before. (I heard later that Phil reported to Joyce, “It’s really grim over there”).

I demanded that a Plan B be put in place, and at my nagging, the Sober Husband called Rent-a-Wreck and determined that a pickup truck could be obtained for the week. I suggested he get this, but he was determined to see out the U-haul process. He drove out to the U-haul facilities, leaving me at home with the children in a sort of limbo. The children constantly interrupted me at my labors with endless whining, “When are we going to Camp Maaaather/When are we leeeeeaving/when are we going to Camp Maaather.”

Over at U-haul, the hitch was installed, but then the electric system for the car would not work properly. After that was fixed, the Sober Husband discovered that the hitch would not mate with the U-haul trailer. This required more work. In the end, he spent nearly five hours at U-haul.

Finally the Sober Husband drove home with a trailer, and we were able to hit the road around 6:30, just in time to get tied up in heavy traffic around the Bay Bridge. We didn’t stop for dinner on the way, making do instead with bags of popcorn and Doritos (Lucy waged a campaign to eat at a real restaurant which was overruled peremptorily by the Sober Husband). I dozed off intermittently in the car, awakened by the peremptory cries of the children: “How much looonger? How many hours?”

Around 10:30 we arrived, driving slowly and seeing many deer by the road. It was too late to drive into the camp, so we carried what we could back to our cabin. The camp staff had kindly left a map for each latecomer with our cabin highlighted. Even so, in the dark I tiptoed up to a few cabins, squinting at the numbers, before finding the right one. We set up the beds, with Lucy finding to her dismay that our cabin lacked a ladder for the bunkbeds. She still insisted upon taking the top bed (at home, Iris occupies the top bunk), but she must be lifted up and down from it a thousand times a day. As we were all settling into bed, Lucy realized that her stuffed animal, Bearie, was missing. The poor old husband had to trek back to the car and root about in the U-haul for Bearie.

Day 2

We found our friends Joyce, Phil and Violet right off the bat. Indeed they found me as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee before officially checking in. Unlike us, they’d arrived in good time the afternoon before and were already acclimated and relaxed.

Once we drove the car over, emptied the U-haul, formally registered (I complimented the office worker on her lovingly highlighted, personalized maps) and unpacked, the children were off to the pool. The Sober Husband heroically inflated the massive float toys I’d obtained. I towed Lucy back and forth on a giant inflated lobster, singing silly lobster lyrics to the tune of “La Habanera” from Carmen.

I presented the Sober Huband with a vacation gift: “Garbageland” by Elizabeth Royte, a nonfiction account of what happens to the solid waste of New York City. He was soon riveted.

At the pool, we discovered an ominous boil on poor Iris’s side. This had gone unnoticed in the city, under her school uniform, but was all too obvious in her new Goth bikini (featuring skulls with little pink bows perched jauntily on their bony foreheads). This appeared to be the same as a rash the old husband has been treating with antibiotics (our physician attempted to take a sample from one of his boils, and the Sober Husband won’t let us forget it. “She tried to stab me!”).

I had a bit of a vegetarian snit at lunchtime. This was supposed to be hamburgers and gardenburgers served by the lake, but there were no gardenburgers. Very late in the game some grilled cheese sandwiches were presented, but these were nabbed instantly. I did score two for Iria and Lucy, but the husband and I went sandwichless (we did eat some lackluster potato salad and potato chips).

After lunch, I drank a Red Bull and then fell promptly to sleep. The rest of the family followed my example, with Iris curling up next to me.

Over dinner I drank a bottle of blanc de noirs with Joyce (our husbands having a small glass) and got a bit silly. We made an attempt at games night to play pictionary, but the Sober Husband was highly critical of my attempts to depict “swamp” and “Russian” (irritatingly enough he guessed “Moscow” but couldn’t expand that to “Russia”).

For reasons which remained opaque to me, Lucy ended up sharing the double bed with me, while Iris and Anton used the bunkbeds. I woke up in the night stabbed by Lucy’s flashlight, and there was also a kicking incident.

Day 3

The Sober Husband was hellbent upon making a conference call this morning. We’d been hearing about this conference call for days, and so we were all cooperative. He asked me to take Iris to the camp doctor for an examination of her boil, but I suggested he was the right person to do it, having had his own diagnosed and treated. Off they went, stressed over fears of lancing (Iris) and of missed conference calls (the husband), but they returned all smiles. It turned out that the camp doctor had been lounging about playing the guitar and was pleased to have a patient to consult. He presented Iris with some antibiotics. “Free medicine!” Iris said over and over again with glee. “Free medicine!”

Off went the husband on his bicycle, carting his laptop along, to proceed a mile down the road to a hotel with internet access. Lucy and I played cards, drew pictures, and read (I was engrossed in Mary Roach’s “Bonk”, a nonfiction acount of how sex has been studied over the ages). We sent Iris off to the pool alone. Earlier than expected the husband turned up. In the event his conference call had been pushed back to Friday, and he’d found the slow internet connectivity to be frustrating.

We all set off to the pool for a swim before lunch. Coming back, I had the egotistical pleasure of being recognized by a reader. “I read your diaries of Camp Mather,” a man said. He explained that he had put two and two together from hearing me address Iris and Lucy.

“Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed them, “ I said. Then I reconsidered. It was quite an assumption on my part that he had enjoyed them. “I hope you weren’t one of the people who left a comment saying you hoped you’d never be here the same week as me,” I said. He assured me that no, he enjoyed my blog. I was quite full of myself for hours and wished only that the husband, Joyce, and Phil had witnessed my being recognized.

However, I wasn’t the only family member with a following. A man recognized “the Amazing Iris!!” at the pool, having remembered her from last year’s talent show (using me as her stooge, Iris amazed all at the children’s talent show with a mindreading trick).

In the afternoon, we tie-dyed. This is always a traditional joy at Camp Mather, but irritatingly the children never seem to wear their tie-dyed t-shirts the rest of the year. This time, Lucy tie-dyed a pair of socks at my suggestion, promising that she would wear them nonstop.

Later I sent the husband on a rescue mission. A father was angry with his child and stalked off (I heard this exchange from afar). The child, a boy of about 5, burst into loud tears and screamed for his mommy. I dispatched the Sober Husband, who kindly escorted the boy to his cabin (thankfully the child knew the right cabin). This was a tricky mission, as the boy initially, quite reasonably, greeted the husband with a loud, “I DON’T WANT YOU! I WANT MY MOMMY!”

At the end of the afternoon, Iris and I biked over to the pool. We found Lucy splashing happily in the shallow end and the Sober Husbandchatting with a pleasant father, whom I’d met the day before (this fellow is another co-op preschool veteran). The Sober Husband whispered to me later, “He’s the father you thought was so neglectful earlier.” I was shocked.

Dinner brought another vegetarian snit on. The vegetarian entrĂ©e, eggplant parmagiana, was long gone before we arrived. We had side dishes of carrots and potatoes (served in small portions, also). The children filled up on cake, but I passed. It is a truth known to all vegetarians that meat-eaters always say that they don’t want vegetarian food, will when asked order non-vegetarian food, but when presented with vegetarian food, they eat it OVER the meat-laden crap they had previously insisted on ordering. The same people who complain bitterly how obnoxious vegetarians are and how they should never expect anyone to cater to them are the ones who eat the last slice of cheese pizza or take the last eggplant parmagiana. “Maybe it’s just that people like eggplant pamagiana,” said Joyce, who is actually a food writer. “NO! it happens every time! Remember the grilled cheese sandwiches?” Joyce’s face closed off.

Realizing that not even the Sober Husband, who gets laid now and again in recompense for putting up with me, wanted to hear this, with a massive exercise of will I shut up. The Sober Husband filled in the conversational gap, entertaining the crowd with tales of maggots and corpses from the “Garbageland” book. I wished I had never in my act of loving kindness bought that book for him.

After dinner, we set off on the traditional hayride. One of the fathers, a man with thinning gray hair very carefully arranged into sculpted sideburns and little spikes who was sporting a “Thin Lizzy” t-shirt, said to his tiny daughter urgently, “These are REAL COWBOYS, so be careful what you say.” This man had a tiny gray soul patch, towards which his elaborate sideburns pointed, and I had to force myself not to stare at it in horrified fascination.

One of the mothers present, the sort who wears thick socks under Tevas, was very stressed over the seating arrangements. Even though her family was sitting on the opposite side of the cart and in no way was affected by how my children sat, in tones of great urgency she bade us to bunch up closer together. Out of politeness, the Sober Husband rearranged our children. Since no one else got on, the extra space created was not used.

We were fascinated to hear the cowboys refer to one of the giant animals pulling the wagon as a mule. At the end of the evening, we asked, and yes, one of the team was a draft horse and the other a mule. “I never knew mules could be so big,” I said. The kindly cowboys had a good chuckle at the city-dwellers’ expense. “He’s out of a Percheron!”

Late at night there was the weekly Staff Talent Show. I missed Forrest, who for the last few years had held the audience in the palm of his hand as he performed “Random Forrest Moments”, stunts such as running on the stage to show that he had affixed over 50 clothespins to his face. Where is crazy Forrest this year? He’s not washing dishes at Camp Mather. Meanwhile some of the slack was picked up by an adorable pair of blonde teenaged dishwashers, who wrote words on their thighs and upper arms and did the Robot.

A band fizzled out during “Funkytown” and failed to finish the song. It was eerily reminiscent of how when one performs badly when playing “Rock Band”, the game forces you to quit in a humiliating manner. Thankfully the Camp Mather audience, composed largely of small children, is easily impressed. Iris even said, face aglow, “That was SO COOOL!” while applauding the failed “Funkytown.”

Day 4

In the night there was a horrendous crashing, which woke us up. Evidently a bear had ventured onto our tiny porch (alternatively a sadistic San Francisco camper ran amok). Thankfully we hadn’t left any food or drink out, but I theorized that an aroma of coffee clung to my empty tin mug.

This reminded the Sober Husband to tell me that I’d missed a camp announcement the night before. Someone threw away an empty pizza box in the bathroom right by our cabin, and of course a bear sniffed it out and strewed the trash about. There are bear—proof garbage cans, but the bathroom garbage, intended for just paper towels, dental floss and the like, is not bear-proof. I could see myself making that same boneheaded mistake and felt glad it wasn’t my humiliation used as a constructive lesson for the entire camp.

I woke up in a lot of pain, evidently having slept on my shoulder wrong. How is it that the human body can injure itself when sleeping? Why can’t our brains signal our bodies to readjust?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

a bonus for you, a negative for me

According to my plans, I would have left at least four hours ago for our annual trek to Camp Mather, but the U-haul people have totally fucked us over. It turns out that it is (allegedly) very difficult to fit a towing hitch to a Volvo, and hence the U-haul people had to special order some parts. Delightful people that they are, the U-haul workers misplaced that special order and later denied all knowledge of it. In the end, the Sober Husband paid to have parts overnighted and has spent the past five hours camped out at U-haul overseeing the installation of this hitch. I'm somewhat taken aback by this; after all, it's a rather nondescript Volvo, not a frigging Aston-Martin or Delorean, but then again, the number of tow hitches I have personally installed is zero.

The Sober Husband seemed to feel that we should just dart up with a few bits of clothes and forget the U-haul, but there is no way I'm going to Camp Mather without our bicycles. (We don't have a roofrack, won't get a roofrack due to the sunroof, and no other bikerack can be installed without a damn hitch anyhow). I suggested as an alternative that we forsake U-haul and rent something from Rent-a-wreck, which would have had us leaving three hours ago, but the Sober Husband preferred to press onwards with the hitch, on the theory that we needed to get one sooner or later.

So, herewith a bonus post for you, as I sit, all packed, animals fed, petsitter at the ready, children bought off from their incessant cries of "when are we going to Camp Maaaaather" by a video. (Incidentally, I will post from Camp Mather. At some point, I will dart off a quarter of a mile to the relatively sybaritic hotel nearby, which offers internet and eight dollar cocktails, as well as severely overpriced blackened fish).

I've packed over a dozen books, on the theory that I never know what I'll feel like reading, and a case of wine. Last year I brought mason jars of lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup for cocktails, but this year was a more hectic one, so it's just wine (and already opened bottles of cognac and port, plus some bitters for making champagne cocktails. My plan is to steal sugar packets from the mess hall in lieu of sugar cubes).

Iris's idea of entertainment is to bring a number of dreary books about the Holocaust. Iris is keenly aware that her paternal grandfather (whom neither of us ever met, as he passed away when the Sober Husband was but a young thing) was a Holocaust survivor and that she herself is Jewish enough to have been eliminated, even though technically she's a WASP. This awareness has led her to have a precocious fascination with reading about the Holocaust. I had no idea that, the diary of Anne Frank aside, there was an entire branch of children's literature consisting of incredibly depressing stories of perky little Jewish girls' sufferings during WWII. I talked Iris out of one particularly sorrowful little volume the other day at the bookstore in favor of something cheerier, only to have her trot home from her school library with a copy. Iris showed me this book, and when I said, "Oh, you found a depressing story about a Jewish girl at your school", she rebutted with genuine pleasure, "Not one; FOUR!!" Yes, Iris has packed four novels set during the Holocaust for our vacation. "Iris, you're going to have nightmares of Nazis coming for you," I said. "I'll hear you crying in the night, 'Take Lucy, not me! Take Lucy!"

The school librarian was so concerned by Iris's choice of reading materials that she left a lengthy message on our home answering machine warning us of just how depressing this stuff is (one of Iris's choices is about a girl who finds her grandparents' droning on over the seder to be terribly boring, and so the girl is punished by being teleported to Poland in 1942 just in time to get rounded up for a transport). Iris was livid at this. "I didn't know that they NARKED!!!" she complained repeatedly. "THEY NARK!!"

Meanwhile, refreshingly the Sober Husband admitted that he is worried about his withdrawal from his beloved employer, Doggyo. "I don't know what I'm going to do", he said plaintively. We have no contingency plan in place for his angst, but cleverly the children and Sober Husband have devised one for me and my Warcraft withdrawal. "You can pretend in the woods to be finding mithril bars," said the husband. Iris offered to act out Warcraft themes. "Should I say 'zug zug' a lot?" she asked kindly.

I'll just be happy if I don't have any humiliating and traumatic bear encounters. Year One at Camp Mather: cooler mutilated by bear; husband picks out mangled, partially digested chocolate milk containers from bear excrement in attempt at cover-up. Year Two at Camp Mather: Drunken Housewife sets off on solo hike but is forced to leave trail due to presence of mother bear and cubs; pathetic D.H. is lost for entire afternoon and even cries at one point (meanwhile a worried Iris prays to the spirit of our deceased housecat, Butterball, to rescue her mother).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

the consolations of nature and literature

When last we heard from our Drunken Housewife, she was cranky and distraught, worn down by money woes, the annual forsaking of the hopes of a true vacation, the illnesses of her foster kittens (they keep getting eye infections just as they are ready to be put up for adoption, meaning a longer stay in foster care while they aren't getting any smaller and cuter and will be in competition for homes with smaller, fluffier, more colorful kittens), commitments to work at the children's various schools, etc.. But hark, she is perkier. How can this be?

It has been a crazy week, with tons of commitments and errors and obligations. But during this stressful week, your cranky correspondent found joy. First, in the midst of chaperoning a class of pre-k children on an epic field trip to the beach (during which your poor Drunken Housewife got separated and lost and forced to confess her hatred for seeking directions to the elderly and mocking substitute teacher), your poor old narrator saw a pod of dolphins. There is nothing like observing dolphins going about their business to alleviate angst. These particularly obliging animals spent two hours diving up and down perilously near the beach, ignoring the shrieking children pointing and screaming.

Next, there was the always reliable joy of literature. I would defy anyone to maintain a foul mood when reading Malcolm Bradbury's 1959 classic, "Eating People Is Wrong." Who could pout when scanning lines such as "There are parties where everyone comes to like all the others present, and parties where hate burgeons and what is left at the end of the evening is a deep estrangement from the human race. This was the latter kind of party. All about, people were reflecting how alone they were and how little their friends mattered to them."

This has been a rich week for literature indeed, with some deathless pieces being discovered right upon the very premises of your humble author. Five year-old Lucy created a little picturebook called "The Little Princess" under the pen name "Blah Blah." "Why did you have 'Made by Blah Blah' written on your book?" I inquired. ""To be funny," said Lucy in that world-weary way adapted by those who must incessantly explain their actions to the less intelligent hangers-on.

Thankfully the plot was easier to grasp than the choice of nomme de plume. The text stated straightforwardly, "Once upon a time there was a little princess. She get [sic] married." However, even so the more feeble-minded of our household got confused. For awhile I was under the impression that the final illustration showed a glowing princess beaming from behind a large snail, causing me to wonder whether she had wed the snail or rode it down the aisle in an atypical processional, but further examination led me to understand that the princess wore an unusual wedding dress which was not only dark in color but also snail-shaped.

Eight year-old Iris Uber Alles's work was more comprehensible and also uniquely satisfying to her lazy mother, who had earlier in the week engaged in an online dispute on the World of Warcraft trade channel as to whether children should play "Warcraft" (your humble narrator maintaining that Warcraft sparks the imagination and can be enjoyed by a bright child in company with a parent, whilst other players maintained that Warcraft "sends a bad message", albeit they consider it a fit entertainment for themselves). A piece of paper was surreptitiously read once the youthful author's vigilance had flagged, and its contents revealed that Iris had been imagining herself to be living in the ersatz medieval "World of Warcraft":
A note to self, Gelinna (incidentally this was the name of one of Patty Heast's captors) says that we're moving to Goldshire! what luck! I might as well say that we're moving to the Norshire Abby! though I asked father, and we are! Kimberisa (this is the name of one of Iris's WoW characters), there's a man whos selling his inn over there, and all of his men are staying with the business, good men too. you'd have your own bedroom, everything made of silk! you'll get a proper education as a warlock, cook, leatherworker, and miner! Eventually you'll get a good husband, a quite learned one too. you'll have a companion good food, and we'll be so much closer to church! Maybe I could even get a second (illegible)!! If all of this is true (hopefully) then we'll live like (illegible)."
Again the children show their preoccupation with marriage as the end of all things. I would feel a failure as a feminist and person, where it not again for the illustrative example of "Eating People Is Wrong." If Malcolm Bradbury, an Angry Young Man himself, isn't above ruminating upon marriage and having his characters long for it, why should Iris and Lucy be?

Wishing you all pods of dolphins and "good spouses, quite learned ones too", yer old Drunken Housewife.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

the pathetic trials of the middle class

Yesterday the tone of the day was set before I"d even had a cup of coffee. The husband burst in when I was still in bed, waving an envelope about and asking if I could go to the bank stat as we had to draw on our home equity line to pay the bills. The husband was rather intense and bitter about this, which in turn sparked a bit of temper on my part, as the reason we are short on the necessaries is that the husband traveled to the East Coast to be by his friend's deathbed, then took a second trip to Chicago for a memorial service despite having previously attended a wake on the East Coast, plus the entire family is (over my strong wishes otherwise) being dragged out to Martha's Frigging Vineyard at his mother's command. I feel quite resentful of any guilt-trips or emotional discussions about money when, once again, I've written off any chance of a vacation due to the husband spending all available funds on trips of his own devising (to be fair, it was my idea that he go out for the deathbed vigil, but I opposed the extra trip to the memorial service on the grounds that he'd already been to a wake and we were already out thousands). I know so many people who are darting off to Europe or Mexico now and again (including my mother-in-law, who seems to go there several times a year), and I'm stuck here being a frigging martyr.

Next the phone rang. It was Jim, our pre-k teacher, asking if I could chaperone a trip to the beach (the very worst sort of field trip, involving shepherding the children a long way on a crowded bus line and listening to their whining out in the fog and wind) AND if I could come in another afternoon to do a planned project with the children. I'm committed to volunteering one afternoon out at Iris's school, so this would mean working three afternoons this week. There seemed no decent way out of this, but my crabbiness was enhanced.

The remainder of the morning was spent chivvying Lucy about and arguing with her over her swimming lesson. Ever since Lucy had a technicolor daydream in which "a killer shark" ripped some hair out of her head, she has been terrified of swimming. Countering my argument that swimming is a safety skill, Lucy proposed that for the rest of her life she avoid all water. "You'll never be able to go to Venice," I said, but she was unmoved. It ended in tears, and I felt like crying myself as I watched her little chest heave with sobs as she sat on the edge of the swimming pool.

We are leaving for the children's annual week at Camp Mather on Sunday, and I have very limited time to get everything necessary done before then. Saturday is being completely wasted by attending a party celebrating the end of second grade for Iris's class. This party is being held up in Calistoga at a private club used normally for "leaders", according to their website. This party has my hackles up because I have been told both to bring my own picnic as the catered meal will not include any vegetarian options AND to shell out $50 to subsidize everyone else's catered meat. I contemplated staying home to prep for Camp Mather, sending the husband up with the children (and given how bitterly the children fight in the car, that would be a delight for me), but then I realized how useless that would be. We're a one car family now, and the sorts of errands I need to do (driving out to a suburban Target, going to BevMo for a case of wine, etc..) require a car.

I did manage, in all my crankiness, to run several errands yesterday, but this just added to my foul mood. A prominent item on my to-do-before-Mather list was to get a hand-sewing project together, and I carved out an hour for going out to my favorite fabric store, only to discover that the Black Cat Quilt Shop is going out of business. Say it isn't so! My life is going to be blighted without that place. It is the only fabric store the children will voluntarily stay in while I engage in the time-consuming project of matching up prints for a quilt, due to the rockstar presence of the eponymous black cat.

The day dragged on in this manner, with one stress or annoyance after another. In the evening the Sober Husband came home late from work, which isn't particularly unusual these days, but aggravating as Lucy had a lengthy meltdown after I stopped her from drawing on the floor with Sharpies. I rather meanly vented my spleen on the long-suffering husband, informing him I had no interest in hearing any more talk about money woes when we were spending "a metric fuckton" on his mother's birthday (such a grasp of mathematics and finance I have). In an attempt to suck up to me, everyone ran about tidying up the cluttered and filthy house, and then we all went off to bed, longing for a better day.