Sunday, November 30, 2008

I shouldn't have asked.

As we sat down to eat dinner on the last evening of the Thanksgiving weekend, I asked the abstracted Sober Husband, "So what are you thinking about?"

"About how I'm looking forward to getting back to the office."

Lola does it so you don't have to

Yesterday Lola wanted to dip the vegetarian corndog her father had microwaved for her into chocolate sauce, rather than the customary catsup. Her father asked me if I had any objections. I found the whole idea repugnant but waved a lazy, permissive hand. "Whatever you want, Lolabelle."

Within minutes six year-old Lola came in to report. Her face screwed up with disgust, she said, "Corndogs in chocolate sauce taste... taste... taste... " She couldn't think of a word bad enough, and she instructed me never, ever to try it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I won!

Every year for the past decade, the indefatigable Chris Baty holds NaNoWriMo: National Write A Novel Month. With pep talks which manage to be actually inspirational and not cheesy and with various deadlines, Baty and his crew get a wide variety of people to actually write a novel in one month (a novel, for purposes of NaNoWriMo, being defined as 50,000+ words of new text written all in the month of November, which is about 150 pages).

I myself had a long abandoned half-written novel and a sense of guilt. I felt like I would never write fiction again. At the last minute, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, skeptical of whether I'd be able to do it, but starting from word one. Around 20,000 words, I came up dry, unable to think of anything else. But I got back into it, kept going, and ended winning NaNoWriMo with a couple of days to spare.

My novel isn't actually done. It needs another 75-150 pages. But it's moving along, it's plowing along. It has a plot, and there is an ending in mind; there will just need to be a lot more writing done before the ending is put in place. (You can read a short excerpt over at NaNoWriMo). I've never felt so creative in all my life. I've been sculpting in my twice-a-week classes as well as writing, and I love my little sculptures. I feel positively glowing with radioactive mutant writer strength. How I love NaNoWriMo. Now if I can just finish this book on my own, without those delightful peptalks and helpful deadlines.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving menus

I've been preoccupied with writing a novel this month, under the auspices of National Write A Novel Month, and I let Thanksgiving largely slide. In past years I've invited people, but this year I was happy to just have a small Thanksgiving. Usually I spend weeks working up a gala menu, test driving new dishes ahead of time, but this year I didn't have the energy for that. Instead, I suggested to the Sober Husband and children that they create a menu. No one had any enthusiasm for that idea. I turned to six year-old Lola. "Lola, what do YOU want for Thanksgiving dinner?"

Lola pondered. "A corn dog!" she shouted.

"That's not exactly the kind of thing I had in mind," I said, but Lola couldn't think of anything better. I suggested to Lola and Iris that they write up a menu, and later they presented me with this (ornamented with many little ears of corn which had husks at the end, resembling swords):

Lola's Memo

corn dogs
ice cream soup with the xtra ice cream
normal ice crem (chocoalte)
mashed chocolate
chocolate turkey
chocolate cake
mashed cherrys
mashed ice creame chocolat
chocolte xbox
milky ways
cocolits and charrys (how many ways can one six year-old spell "chocolate"?)
vanila, chcolit, straberry ice cream
corn with butter and salt
cocolt corn
chocolt caramle corn

In the end, I drew up my own menu, which was

Unturkey with stuffing and roast potatoes
slow cooked buttered carrots
cranberry sauce
green beans cooked in vodka
personal Baked Alaskas with fresh pineapple

Later in the evening Lola complained. "You didn't make one thing from my menu!" Her father convinced her that the Baked Alaskas were an acceptable substitute for the ice cream soup, but Lola still felt cheated.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

it's my birthday

Other people get depressed on Christmas or Valentine's Day. Those are always fine by me; I enjoy them each time they roll around. For me, my birthday is the depressing day, the one where I feel unloved and unwanted.

I tried to explain to Lola yesterday afternoon why I felt sad, and she exploded. "That is crazy! Everyone loves Mommy!"

"Well, actually, not everyone even likes Mommy."

Lola shook her head with impatience at me. "Everyone loves Mommy!"

There are no plans to celebrate, as it's a school night and my complex feelings about my birthday prevent me from planning anything nice for it. The Sober Husband had told me that I should plan something, but that strikes at the heart of the birthday issues: if I plan something for my own birthday, that demonstrates that I'm the only one who cares about it. A plan coming from the outside is the only thing that would be acceptable. (I can see that being married to me can be very tiresome).

On the bright side, the children presented me with gifts this morning already, gifts clearly bought ahead of time by the Sober Husband: a beautiful necklace with dark pearls, white pearls, and an Australian agate, and a copy of "The Gaming Life" by Jim Rossignol, which begins "In May 2000 I was fired from my job as a reporter on a finance newsletter because of an obsession with a video game. It was the best thing that ever happened to me." I feel better already.

Friday, November 14, 2008

the chart continues

This morning at breakfast I noticed Lola's chart on the table. Lola has helpfully added the label "IRIS BAD CHART", which she showed me. I laughed. "That chart is hilarious, Lola."

Iris Uber Alles made an evil, evil face at me, which made me laugh more. "Make that face at your father." I called the Sober Husband in. "Find Lola's chart hilarious," I instructed him.

"Lola's chart IS hilarious," he said earnestly. Iris glared at him, but by now she was having trouble not laughing herself, and the evil eye she shot at her father was nowhere near as threatening as the glare previously directed at her mother.

"Iris, that's not fair! You're not giving him as bad an expression."

In the brightest little voice imaginable, Lola peeped, "Iris, are you hating Mommy? Right now, are you hating Mommy? I'm going to go get a stamp." Nothing could be happier for Lola than an opportunity to record a sin committed by her sister on the Iris Bad Chart.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lola's keeping a chart

Yesterday Lola was in a bouncy mood after kindergarten. She told me that one of her friends has a behavior chart at home, and Lola had decided that she wanted one, too. "I will find out what kind of girl I am! Am I a GOOD girl or a bad one?" She skipped happily. I joked that we could make a chart for both her and her big sister.

Perhaps I shouldn't have made that joke, because as soon as she got home, Lola got to work making a chart to record her sister's sins. "How do you spell 'snatching'? How do you spell 'whining'?" Lola worked hard to draw good lines and found some little stamps which could be used to record the ills. Nine year-old Iris Uber Alles happened by and decided to interfere.

I knew that the chart was incendiary by design, but Lola was working so hard to draw the boxes neatly and was writing carefully, so I didn't want her work destroyed. I told Iris, who was slashing at her sister with a marker (this resulted in the addition of two new categories of sins, "Dreing [drawing] on Lola" and "Dreing On Mommy"), that she was NOT to mark up the chart Lola was making. Of course Iris grabbed a stamp and snatched away the chart, stamping it at random in a box which would be for a few days in the future, in a category which hadn't been named. Lola, who had been genuinely concentrating and working hard, burst into tears.

I was irked that Iris had deliberately disobeyed me, and I told her to go to her room. Earlier she'd disobeyed by refusing to come downstairs to do her homework at the table, where I could supervise it. Iris slammed upstairs, crying noisily and screaming, "I HATE MOMMY! MOMMY IS BAD!"

Lola carefully created a new chart, adding a new category of 'Hating Mommy" in response to the continuing shouts from above (later adding "and Daddy"). I could imagine that this chart was soon going to be wall-sized.

Lola happily recorded Iris's sins du jour as Snatching, Whining and Complaining, Dreing [drawing] On Lola, and Hating Mommy.

"WHEN WILL DADDY BE HOME? I HATE MOMMY! I ONLY LIKE DADDY!" was heard on and on. However, when her father did arrive, he was not the stalwart ally Iris could have wished. He found the chart hilarious.

Friday, November 07, 2008

eight and nine year-old girls are not what they were in my day

At our elementary school, a vague but cautionary email went out to the third grade parents, advising us that Some Girls Had Used The Internet Inappropriately, the school was working through some issues with the families of those girls, and that all third graders would be bringing home another copy of the school's internet safety policy to be reviewed with and signed by a parent. I was puzzled. Obviously something fairly disturbing had occurred if we were all supposed to sit down with our children and go over internet safety yet again, but why the mystery?

I asked Iris Uber Alles if she knew what had happened, and she was clueless. "Nobody knows. I have no idea." The Sober Husband was all agog as well, surmising that it must have been some sort of Myspace infraction. I asked the head of the lower school if she could tell me more without compromising the privacy of the families involved, stressing that I wasn't asking for names, just information.

I've found it frustrating supervising Iris's internet usage. I don't know everything she does online. She recently started a blog I didn't know about, which I found when she accidentally left my laptop logged into her own blogger account. Childless people are fond of saying that parents should keep an eye on their kids and know everything their child does online, but I'm frankly not going to spend every waking moment that Iris is out of school staring at her. Even if I were less lazy, I still have to take a shower or have a bowel movement from time to time, requiring a cessation of vigilance. Additionally, as the Sober Husband is a computer enthusiast, our home is littered with computers (we have, I think, four laptops, at least two "regular computers", two things that the Sober Husband refers to as "servers", plus the iPhone, which can be used to surf the web). I wondered if the internet conduct in question was something I would consider permissible (I do after all let Iris play World of Warcraft, which many would consider wrong). I lied about Iris's age once on line to let her use a website I thought was age-appropriate, so I had abetted Iris in violating the school's policy myself. My best guess was that the girls in question might have lied about their age to make Facebook profiles (as indeed a young person of our acquaintance -- not Iris or Lola -- is known to have done); my fear was that they might have written cruel things about their classmates online.

When the head of lower school called me, I was taken aback by what I learned. The incident had involved some girls looking at explicit porn together online. These are eight and nine year-old girls, third graders. Sigh. They went surfing around by typing in sexually explicit words into Google. I hadn't really thought it necessary to go into a lot of sex education yet, and I guess I should reevaluate that. I thought it was enough to have held the talk about inappropriate touching, but if Iris's classmates are investigating hardcore porn, it seems I should cover a bit more ground. I'm nonplussed.

I shared with the head of lower school my feeling that I can't imagine keeping track of every site Iris visits. How can we supervise our children's internet usage when there are third and fourth-graders running around with iPhones? I was nonplussed to learn of the porn; the head of school was nonplussed to learn that there are telephones now which access the web and which are owned by some lower school students. (Iris keeps me abreast of which third and fourth graders own iPhones as part of her campaign to obtain one for herself). We both hung up on a note of bemusement at this world we stumble around in, trying to stumble faster than the third-graders.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

the state of things

Years ago I went into a huge funk when in one horrible month, John Kerry lost (and we had donated far more than we could afford to his campaign, money that could have been spent on a vacation or on redoing the other half of our roof), I had a terrible flu, and I had a traumatic milestone birthday. I went into a deep depression which took a very long time to come out of.

This week I'm feeling great that Barack Obama won. There's another large milestone, a less depressing one than the milestone birthday one: the tenth wedding anniversary of the Sober Husband and myself. Life is looking up, all right.

In other developments, six year-old Lucy has changed her name back to "Lola." (She had rejected her legal name, "Lucy" for years, calling herself "Baby" until nearly three, when she chose the name "Lola" for herself. At five she returned to "Lucy" after the upsetting discovery that the meaning of the name "Lola" is "sorrows", while "Lucy" means "light"). She announced this at kindergarten. By the end of the day five other girls in her classroom had come forward to announce that they had also changed their names. This trend even spread to a girl in a different classroom, before the kindergarten teachers formed the policy that any name change had to be communicated in a note sent by the child's parents. Only Lola was allowed to remain under her new nomme (the school had some knowledge of this issue, Lola having been admitted under the name "Lola" but having shown up to kindergarten as a "Lucy").

And, in the general trend of positive thinking, nine year-old Iris Uber Alles and I are participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month program. We are seeking sponsorship to allow us to attend the Night Of Writing Dangerously, where we might write dangerously and sip vitamin waters in the company of a room of novelists. Please consider donating to sponsor us, as the proceeds go to support youth writing programs in public schools (and we all know how underfunded the schools are, sigh).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

a fake car

One of the problems with my still-youthful Volvo, which I acquired last January after the untimely death of my aged Oldsmobile, is that it is a white, midsized sedan. There are an awful lot of white midsized sedans on the streets and in the parking lots of San Francisco. Once I emerged from Lucy's preschool to see five white, midsized sedans parked in a row across from the school.

The children share my irritation. We often walk up to the wrong white Volvo at the grocery store or on the street.

Lucy in particular feels that our car should definitely be a different color. Seeing a bright yellow Beetle, she pronounced, "That is the car of your dreams, Mommy!" Actually the car of my dreams is a burnt-orange Mini Cooper convertible, but the yellow bug was distinctive. Lucy mused, as we passed endless white and gray cars, about what would be best for a car color.

"Red, I think, because there is only one red car in the world!"

"I think there are lots more red cars than that." I drew Lucy's attention to a red car on our side of 32nd Avenue and to another across the street, further down.

Lucy regarded the red car near us with disdain. "That is NOT a real car. THAT IS A FAKE!!"

Saturday, November 01, 2008


This year just-turned-six Lucy chose to be Hannah Montana and, instead of having a painstakingly home sewn costume created by her loving mother, buy a cheesy prefab costume at the store. Nine year-old Iris opted to be the Grim Reaper, a costume about which I was skeptical but which turned out adorable, with a polyester hooded robe, skeletonish gloves and a plastic scythe. I urged Iris when trick-or-treating to play up the death aspect. "Tell them that Death shall pass over them this year."

Death and I were separated from Hannah Montana and her father (not in a Billy Ray Cyrus outfit, thankfully) for much of the evening, as Hannah had strong ideas about where to trick-or-treat. Eventually we all met up again and went home, where the children poured out their candy in an ecstasy of gluttony. Lucy picked through her candy critically, pulling out all the dark chcolates to give to her father (a neighborhood gourmand had given out tiny, organic dark chocolate squares). She picked up a dollar bill and made a face of disgust. "One guy didn't have any candy, so he gave me a dollar and said for me to buy my own candy!" I thought getting a dollar instead of a "fun-sized" candy bar was a good deal, but not Lucy. "And you can have my raisins!" she said with vehemence. The other irritation for Lucy had been a troubling thirst. "I never want to feel like that again!"

This morning, rather than rejoice in her massive pile of candy, Lucy felt traumatized by the thirst of the evening before. Ironically enough the Sober Husband was the only one given a beverage. One neighbor had pressed a plastic cup of red wine onto him. I had been promised a Cosmopolitan by a group of older gay men who were delighted with Death ("Who did your make-up???") and "Death's Mother", but in the event we came away only with a handful of candy.

Iris, even with her own mighty stash of candy, lusts for Lucy's and kept trying to talk her out of various candies. "Lucy, you wouldn't like THIS one. Lucy, I think this kind is poisoned!"

"None of her candy is poisoned, and if it's so poisonous, why do you want to eat it?" Iris just glowered, her eyes still bearing traces of the Grim Reaper's deadly eye make-up.