Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the sweet love between mother and child

Yesterday I made the children go hiking in Marin, since we were all in desperate need of some exercise and I felt like seeing some nature. This was a deeply unwelcome activity to the children. As Iris noted, "If you wanted me to be so into nature, why did you have me in a city?"

At one point we crossed a creek on a little board bridge. Crabby fourth-grader Iris said vehemently, "I could fall and hit my head!" I had a hard time restraining my laughter. Iris upped the ante.

"If I fall, I am going to sue you!"

"I'm not going to send any children who sue me to summer camp." (Iris uber Alles has taken to perusing summer camp websites like a adolescent boy looks at porn).

"I could have a concussion! I could die! I am going to sue you!"

"If you sue me, I am NEVER sending you to summer camp, and I'm not having any more birthday parties for you, ever."

"Stop threatening me!"

"You threatened me first!"

"I stopped threatening you, so you stop threatening me."

Monday, December 28, 2009

I guess she won't be reading much Dan Brown

The Sober Husband mentioned the Holy Grail. He was referring to Monty Python, but he ended up having to explain the concept of the Grail and the Crusades to fourth grader Iris uber Alles. "Let me get this straight," she said. "They went on a quest to find some cup? Were they idiots? It's just a cup! They didn't even know what it looked like! It could have been any cup!"

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Iris gave me a wonderful Christmas present, something I had been longing for: a petcam. It is a small camera which you clip on a pet's collar, which then takes a picture every fifteen minutes to document what your pet has been up to. We specifically wanted this to see what our most glamorous pet, longhaired Frowst, got up to.

"I'm afraid we'll see a lot of dead animals", one child worried. Disagreeing, "I think we'll see his friends and other houses," a family optimist said.

What we have learned is that Frowst is much more boring than anyone suspected. You can see that he often spends over an hour without moving. When he does move, he generally seems to lurk about in trees.

I never noticed that he went under our beds, but he spent an hour lying next to Iris's rollerblades. This is all extremely disillusioning.

It's not all over for the petcam, though. I plan to attach it to the Sober Husband when he goes back to work. "I could just take a picture every now and then," he offered, but I said that wouldn't be the same.

"You'd be thinking about it then, and you'd plan the pictures. This will be different."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

a holiday thought from Lola

Recently Lola presented her father with a beautifully drawn, colorful, sweet Christmas card, showing him getting his Christmas stocking. "Awww," I said. "I'm jealous."

Lola then happily presented me with her handmade Christmas card for me:
It's Holiday Road-Raging Mommy! I especially love how I'm driving on the wrong side of the road. Lola explained, "You are shouting at idiots! See, you are saying, 'Hurry up, it's Christmas!'"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

one miracle of St. Audrey

Audrey, a child in the first grade, exercises a sort of fascination over Lola, who believes every word Audrey says. "Once Audrey was at the top of the climbing structure [at school], and she fell off, but a big wind came, and she floated, and she landed on top of the roof [of the kindergarten building]!"

"Lola, you know THAT'S NOT TRUE!" said big sister Iris, who finds these Audrey stories maddening.

"But Audrey told me," insisted Lola.

Monday, December 21, 2009

they like big butts

Iris, who is a sponge for pop culture, was singing that enduring classic, "I like big butts" around the house the other day. "Lucy! You sing it, too!" she commanded her little sister.

After a pause, Lola, who didn't know the words, gamely sang, "I like big butts when I have them for dinner."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

the disagreement

Last night we were driving home after seeing "The Hard Nut" (enjoyed greatly by fourth grader Iris uber Alles and me; first grader Lola wanted to leave early. I myself could watch fifty-something, paunchy Mark Morris dance forever; that man is magic). Somehow the Sober Husband brought up the subject of Arthur Kade, who exercises the kind of fascination over me that a maggot-ridden corpse would for a small boy with a stick.

The Sober Husband (who has not even read Arthur Kadyshes' stupid website or watched his maddening videos) opined that Arthur Kade is a genius and an artist, a performance artist.

"No! He's not! He is for real!" squawked Iris (also an Arthur love/hater) and me.

"You're just saying that because of Sacha Baron Cohen and the Borat movie, but Arthur's for real," I said.

"Yes, Daddude, a guy from 'Philadelphia' magazine followed him around for a couple of days, and he's for real!" Iris said very earnestly, but her father was not to be dissuaded.

"He is an artist. He makes me think of Andy Kaufman." [There followed a long, squabbly and emotional debate, where I called Andy Kaufman "a comedic genius" and the Sober Husband called him "a horrible person who shouldn't be on TV." So why, if the Sober Husband dislikes Andy Kaufman so much, was he comparing Arthur Kade, whom he proclaimed to be a genius and an artist, to him?].

The Sober Husband would not back down on this issue, and he grew loud and animated. "Look at you. You're torqued because I called Arthur Kade an artist and a genius. That proves he is. He has such a powerful effect on you. I can't believe calling him an artist torques you like that."

"Ummm, Daddude, can you focus on driving? I hate to say it, but you are waving your hands around, and the car is moving around," said Iris worriedly. It was true. The car was weaving as the Sober Husband, with shining eyes, gestured and ranted about Arthur's genius and artistry.

"I am going to be really torqued if you get into an accident because you are calling Arthur Kade a genius and comparing him to Andy Kaufman. I will be laughed off The Lego Wig," I said very firmly.

"Why is that called 'the Lego Wig'?"

"Because Arthur got this really bad free haircut from his stepmother, and someone posted on his blog, 'Arthur, you appear to be wearing a wig made from Legos', and everyone thought that was funny."

Iris laughed uproariously. A wig made from Legos! We were all able to join together, for a moment of pretend harmony, in ridiculing Arthur's hair.

Monday, December 14, 2009

love blossoms, but not politeness

Today we drove to Doggy-o to pick up the Sober Husband after work. While we were waiting in the tiny parking lot, fourth grader Iris uber Alles got out of the car and tried to moon her little sister. Iris was not tall enough to effectively moon, and so she was trying to jump up in the air while bent over with her butt stuck out. Little sister Lola shrieked and shrieked with laughter, and then shouted exuberantly, "I LOVE IRIS!" Then reality sunk in, and Lola said, "Oh my God, did you hear that? I love Iris? I LOVE IRIS? What is this?"

Eventually the Sober Husband showed up. On the way home Iris shared about how she'd been forced to write an essay about the meaning of Christmas with a classmate, and she was assigned to work with the child she considers her archnemesis, a very religious girl given to correcting Iris, and as a result, their joint essay was largely about the Baby Jesus. Iris wondered aloud why non-religious people celebrate Christmas, and her father attempted to explain, until this civilized discussion of ideas about Christmas was interrupted by first grader and noted Jesus fan Lola shouting, "YOU ARE A JEW! SHUT YOUR YAPHOLE!" In yet another display of hideously bad parenting, I was taken by a fit of uncontrollable laughter lasting several blocks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pigwidgeon as Pygmalion

The Sober Husband has been very sarcastic about my African grey parrot's failure to speak. Pigwidgeon spoke on one memorable occasion, when desperate for attention (the girls and I were ignoring her while we ate lunch), she said, "Hello" in a sweet, piping voice, and we fawned over her for hours. She never spoke again.

"My parrot can talk," the Sober Husband snarks. "Yours is stupid."

We researched the matter and learned that most African greys don't talk until 1-2 years old. Therefore Piggle is not delayed in her speech. However, I tasked bored Lola with working on Piggle's speech. Seven year-old Lola took this assignment very seriously and went off to write down some phrases to teach the parrot. Returning, she pulled up a chair next to Pigwidgeon's play tree and, in a very serious voice, intoned certain phrases over and over again, including notably, "[The Sober Husband] was wrong. [The Sober Husband] was wrong."


Iris has a sleepover tonight, and Lola is happy to send her off. "Pack your bags, Iris! Pack them fast! Pack them fast!"

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

a doctor and a plan

Today I saw the specialist, a doctor whose practice is devoted to fibroid tumors, and I liked her a lot. She discussed my ultrasound results, gave me a physical exam, and covered the various options, and we made a plan. I will have a hysterectomy on "the first available date", which will most likely not be until late January or even February.

I feel so relieved. The Sober Husband was just dismayed and depressed sounding when I called him to fill him in, but he kept to his prior commitment not to second guess me or my medical advisor of choice (and I am so glad to finally have a doctor handling this whom I like and respect).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

a pleasure wasted on the young

The other day I was playing Warcraft, and someone was seeking others to join him in a twenty-five person raid. One of my guildmates reacted: "I hate that guy!" I asked why, and my guildie elaborated. "He only does .624 damage. He dies all the time; he's always bugging the druids for battle rezzes." My guildmate went on and on, thoroughly dissecting and condemning this other player, finally winding up by saying, "He's fourteen."

"He should understand that Warcraft is a game for the middle-aged," I said.

My guildmates, who are almost without an exception middle-aged, all agreed. Perhaps in twenty-five years this other player might mature into a good Warcraft player. In the meantime "someone should send him a 'Hello Kitty Island Adventure' membership" one snarked.

a raw fish

"Did you know Audrey ate a raw fish?" asked first grader Lola. "I heard about it at school. Once Audrey was at the beach, and there was a big wave coming [measures about 2 feet with hands], and she wanted to drink it. So she opened her mouth really wide, and she drank it in.... AND THERE WAS A FISH IN IT! So she ate that raw fish."

(This is the same Lola who treats virtually every utterance coming from her mother's lips with complete disbelief and condescension).

Friday, December 04, 2009

medical update

I now have an appointment next week with the doctor who is basically the local authority on this sort of tumor I have: her entire practice is devoted to this. Previously I tried in vain to get an appointment with her and couldn't get anything before January, but my persistent husband called several times and got me shoehorned in. Emboldened, I canceled my appointment for Tuesday with Dr. Condescension. I'm feeling much more sanguine now, hoping to get this dealt with quickly. I'll be so happy to stop having to cold call doctors, much less see them in person and endure their doctorly antics.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

the outlaws and Lola

"Cats have no laws," observed Lola, who added sadly, "I have so many, so many laws that apply to me."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

well, that was a waste of a morning and $170

So today I went off to try a new doctor, at a boutique medical firm recommended to me by countless friends. To a person these friends all rave about how their doctors have so much time for them, are such good listeners, send them email all the time, etc... In order to step foot across the threshold one must pay an annual membership fee, on top of having acceptable insurance and paying all the regular copays (a steep $40 for every visit in my case). I was happy and optimistic as I went downtown. I also had a printout in hand from my October ultrasound, with detailed measurements and descriptions of my tumor (the one thing which went right in all of this medical hell was that I went to the medical record offices at UCSF yesterday in person and got that printout promptly from a very friendly black woman).

In contrast to my friends' experiences, with doctors who have all the time in the world for them, the first thing this new doctor said to me was, "I hope they told you I only have a few minutes for you." He did not prove to be a good listener. I had filled out a form noting that I take Xanax, and I told him "it's for insomnia, NOT anxiety; I have no anxiety problems." I'd barely said that when he riposted, "Are you seeing a psychiatrist for your anxiety disorder?"

And what I came away with was nothing but a list of other doctors for me to cold call. Like Dr. Baby Gay whom I saw before, this male doctor knows nothing of the female organs, doesn't want to contemplate the female anatomy, and doesn't even want to discuss the female organs. Why is it that a tumor, just because it happens to be attached to a uterus, is so untouchable and icky? Why do uterus-phobic doctors accept appointments with women? Note: I was not expecting him to operate on my tumor personally, but I did expect him, as my new primary care physician, to want to make the arrangements for my care. Back in the old days when I had a doctor and needed surgery, my doctor set it up. I'd never met the surgeon and gastroenterologist who both operated on me back in 2000 before I went under the anesthesia; my old doctor arranged it all (and I read a profile of my surgeon in the Wall St Journal during my convalescence).

I was distraught when I left. I've put a lot of time into coldcalling doctors, and I'm not eager to work my way down a new list of unknown doctors. I have no faith in today's doctor to give me a good recommendation, either. He just picked some names off a hospital's practice list after I was unenthusiastic about his first choice, whom he raved was "a real holistic practitioner." "What does that mean?" I asked. "She's really good with herbs," he said. I looked at him. "I'm really more of a science type," I said dryly. What I need at this moment in time is a surgeon, not some herbal remedies. "So someone more allopathic," he said with disdain, and he pulled up the list of faculty from a local hospital on his computer.

When I got home, I looked up "allopathic", which Wikipedia says is a term "coined by Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. It meant 'other than the disease' and it was intended, among other things, to point out how traditional doctors used methods that had nothing to do with the symptoms created by the disease and which, in Hahnemann's view, meant that these methods were harmful to the patients.. . . During the 19th century it was used widely among irregular doctors as a pejorative term for regular doctors. In the United States the term 'allopathic' has been used by persons not related to homeopathy, but it has never been accepted by the medical establishment, and is not a label that such individuals apply to themselves."

I think we can safely say I will not ever see this fancy new doctor, who sneers at science-oriented doctors as "allopathic", again. Going to this expensive boutique was supposed to solve my healthcare problems, but I'm back at square one, just out $170. Leaving the office I felt the familiar pain in my abdomen, and tears sprang to my eyes. I choked them back and trudged to the subway.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

okay, okay, I came to my senses

I got a lot of responses on and off the blog about my post yesterday where I wrote about my fibroid diagnosis and how I'm going back to the same crappy doctor I hated to deal with it. To a one, the readers felt I was making a big mistake seeing Dr Condescension again.

Also, I got out my calendar to look up when I'd had the ultrasound, and it took Dr. Condescension one full month to get back to me with my test results. Irritatingly enough the sweet nurse who finally called me was kind of panicky sounding that she couldn't get me in within a week for an appointment to set up a treatment... which was ironic since a month had already gone by.

I am willing to take a big part of the blame there. When I never heard back within a week or two, I should have called and nagged them to pull the test results and look at them. In my defense, I had meningitis and felt like crap and could barely do anything, but still, if one doesn't hear back about test results, one should call up and be persistent.

I spent a couple hours this morning trying to get a new doctor. I can't see the fibroids specialist who heads up a special fibroids clinic until January. Every single primary care doctor recommended by a friend is not accepting new patients. I ended up agreeing to an unheard-of doctor at a recommended practice, whom I will see tomorrow morning. If I don't like him, I can try another doctor in that practice (and I will, since I've paid $129 as a new patient fee to get my foot in the door at that boutique practice). I'm leaving my appointment with Dr. Condescending on the calendar for now, and I am keeping open an appointment in January with the hotshot fibroids doctor as fallbacks.

I just wish my old doctor hadn't left. I've had the same bad luck trying to get a new dentist since my Dr. Huey moved to Arizona. Thankfully my children have a good doctor and a good dentist.

Monday, November 30, 2009

the chosen path

Along with a painful bout of meningitis, I've been suffering from persistent lower abdominal pain (and a variety of other annoying little symptoms I will spare the reader by not describing) this fall. Unfortunately this came at a time when my beloved Dr. Stephanie Scott had abandoned her patients, leaving the world of private practice in San Francisco to join Kaiser Oakland.

Doctorless, I decided to try a friend's doctor. That doctor was not accepting new patients, so that was a no go. Next I decided to find a doctor through recommendations on Yelp. This led to my discovering the top rated doctor on Yelp, who was conveniently located on the very same floor of the very same building where my beloved Dr. Scott had been. However, he was booked up solid, and I ended up getting booked to see his young associate. Yelpers seemed to feel that if you couldn't see the Wonder Doctor, you would be okay seeing his junior sidekick, so I went ahead with the appointment. I showed up early to the appointment, assuming that I would need to detail my checkered medical past on forms before meeting my new doctor for the first time. Instead, the office only cared about my insurance history. They had no interest whatsoever in learning a thing about my health past.

The doctor, a young gay man just out of medical school, seemed unsure of himself in dealing with a middle-aged straight woman. He also had no interest in learning about my medical past and also had no questions for me about anything which might relate to my reproductive system, which happens to be of the yucky female sort. The baby gay doctor decided, after a brief consultation following an extremely long, boring wait on my part, that I most likely had diverticulosis. I researched diverticulosis on my own (Dr. Baby Gay didn't bother to take the time to explain it to me) and learned that it is little irritated pockets in the colon and large intestine. It is believed that these irritated pockets form due to a lack of fiber in a person's diet, and they cause pain and constipation. That diagnosis was asinine. First of all, I don't suffer from constipation, and second of all, as a vegetarian I eat a diet rich in fiber. Diverticulosis is a disease for fast-food grubbing meateaters.

After my unsatisfying encounter with Dr. Baby Gay, I got side-tracked from the abdominal pain by coming down with meningitis. The Sober Husband asked me at one point how my abdominal pain was, and I said it was like how you'd feel if you were in a lot of stomach pain but then got hit on the head by a hammer repeatedly. You'd be distracted by the hammer too much to notice the stomach pain.

While I was recovering from meningitis, I dragged myself over to try out a new gynecologist and see what he had to say about my pain. At least he, whether he were gay or straight, would not be so yucked out by a woman's feminine anatomy as to pretend it didn't exist. This new doctor proved to be immensely condescending (every single thing I said, he had a condescending comeback to), and I disliked him intensely. However, he scheduled me for an ultrasound, and I kept that ultrasound appointment.

After the ultrasound, I got a bill right off the bat, but no one called me to discuss the test results. Dr. Condescension had assured me that he or his nurse would be in touch with me as soon as the results came back. When I never heard from them, I figured that was because the news was that there was no news and nothing showed up on the ultrasound. Indeed Dr. Condescension had disagreed with me (in a condescending matter, natch) when I had brought up the possibility that it was a fibroid tumor which was my problem. He felt that I was being stupid by speculating that, so of course he must have been proven right by the ultrasound. I also thought the ultrasound must have shown nothing interesting because I had been able to leave the ultrasound without a doctor being called in (I learned years ago, when I had an ultrasound which revealed gallstones plugging up my bile duct and a severely diseased gallbladder, that there is an emergency call button in the ultrasound office, so if the tech sees something freakout-worthy, a doctor may be summoned while the patient is still recumbent upon the ultrasound recliner).

I decided that I'd keep gathering doctor recommendations and try out another doctor in December, and I felt fine not doing anything right off as I'd had an ultrasound which must have been normal. Then the phone rang, weeks after that damn ultrasound. Dr. Condescending's nurse shared that I do indeed have a massive fibroid tumor, over three inches wide and three inches tall and about two and a half inches around, and it needs to come out. Dr. Condescension suddenly needed to see me ASAP to discuss my treatment options, but yet, despite the urgency, Dr. Condescension didn't have any time to see me for over a week.

After I got that call, I felt pretty upset, and I felt scared about getting major abdominal surgery. I called my greatly beloved husband of eleven years, the Sober Husband, at his office and blurted out the bad news to him and then shared my fear of surgery. The Sober Husband's words of comfort? He said, "You chose to go down this path" in a voice making it clear that if a person whimsically chooses to go have an ultrasound, she needs to deal with the surgical consequences like an adult.

After this second upsetting call, I took a few moments to calm down. After all, I should have known better than to expect the Sober Husband to be calming and reassuring without advance notice. The man benefits from having my expectations of him spelled out clearly, and so I went off and emailed him, explaining in very few words that my expectations were that (1) he would not question my judgment whatsoever in setting up treatment and would not ever say that I "chose" this unnecessarily and (2) he would take a couple of days off work when, as expected, I have surgery. (I know that there are controversial non-surgical treatments involving massive hormone doses, and I am not willing to choose the hormone path. There is also the option of just living with the fibroid tumor, as it is 99.99% sure not to be malignant, but I'm not willing to do that, either, given my pain and other symptoms. That would be essentially saying that I am willing to go on living as though I were in the second or third trimester of pregnancy with a fetus pressing on my organs and pelvis indefinitely, and that is not a pleasing option).

My plan is to stick with Dr. Condescending long enough to get a referral to a surgeon and a surgery date. Then I will post a scathing review of him on Yelp and never go to his office again. My hope is that I will be able to have surgery over the Christmas holidays, as that will be a convenient time for the Sober Husband to take off from work and be with Iris and Lola and help me out while I convalesce. My fears are that Dr. Condescending will himself want to do the surgery and that I won't be able to schedule it until January, which will be a busy month for the Sober Husband where it will be awkward for him to take time off. But of course, one might say that I chose this path, and therefore it's my own damn fault if I don't get to the end of it before January.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

the mafia for beginners

"Did you know Lucy is in the first grade mafia? It's a group of individuals in organized crime who are all in the first grade," narked Iris today. "They go around attacking some people and protecting others. They attack kids that are bigger than them, not littler, and they protect ones that are little."

"Oh, no," demurred organized crime figure Lola. "Sometimes we attack kids that are littler than us."

Friday, November 27, 2009

eh, meh, feh

We had a lovely, quiet Thanksgiving. Yesterday I was happy and relaxed and busy. Today I'm feeling overwhelmed by stress.

This fall I had meningitis, and Lola is having a rough year at school. The Sober Husband created a custom nagging program, which sends me an email every day detailing my credit card and checking spending (upside: reduced spending and heightened ability to live within our means; downside: daily nagging, and also the Sober Husband often reclaims the best laptop to keep rewriting this little piece of software). After months of abdominal pain and a variety of other unappetizing symptoms, I have a diagnosis of a tumor bigger than my fist. On the bright side, it's 99.99% believed to be benign, but on the other hand, I need to have it surgically removed. I really dislike the doctor I've seen for this, but on the other hand, do I want to wait until I can find a doctor I like before dealing with this? The Sober Husband has also been highly stressed this past fall at work.

Iris has been the best off of all of us, but she's been suffering from chronic headaches. An initial attempt at treating her headaches through medication was an odd failure. Her doctor suggested a prescription antihistamine, and Iris and I were eager to try it, but the Sober Husband balked. He insisted upon setting up an experiment where Iris would be randomly medicated or given a placebo. He purchased empty capsules and decanted the contents of Iris's medicine into some of these capsules and filled the others with sugar. Iris was enthused at first at this experiment but soon tired of it. "I wish I could just take my medicine," she confided when her father was safely away at work. However, even with the intermittent taking of her medication, Iris was able to figure out that she was having the downsides (dry mouth, dry throat, sleepiness) without enough improvement in her headaches, and she gave up the meds. Iris has also been troubled by her teeth: several times when an adult tooth has grown in, her baby tooth refused to fall out, and the two teeth became somehow stuck together for several months. We refer to this as "a snaggle", and these snaggleteeth plague poor Iris (but again, Iris has otherwise been on the ascendant. "I have my teachers wrapped around my finger," she confided one day).

Today-- the day after Thanksgiving -- is the one day of the year when a person most needs a microwave for warming up leftovers. This is the day my elderly microwave chose to die, shorting out part of the kitchen in its death throes. "It had to take the toaster with it," I said darkly, but the Sober Husband assured me the toaster could be resuscitated. He opened up the microwave, which had some interesting radioactivity warnings inside, but several hours of surgery determined that the microwave was warming up leftovers in heaven or hell and not to be lured back to our earthly kitchen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

don't accept a drink from Lola

Yesterday first grader Lola and I were relaxing on the big bed, Lola watching old Pee Wee's Playhouse episodes and me playing Warcraft. Lola made me look at her, and she gazed at me sternly while speaking in a tiny voice without moving her lips (she may have a future in ventriloquism). In that tiny voice, she issued a series of minor commands, and she looked at me searchingly. After a while, she stopped and confessed. "I was trying to hallucinate you."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

talking points

Around our house, the beaten-down-by-life parents do not stay awake long after the lively, sleep-avoiding children have finally succumbed to slumber. Typically there's a brief period of time where I play a bit of Warcraft on a laptop in bed while the Sober Husband reads a piece of serious non-fiction.

Lately, however, he's been feeling talkative at night. I am not talkative after 10 p.m., having talked plenty to Iris and Lola since picking them up at school. A few nights ago he sank into a state of angst where he was unveiling an epic amount of existential despair related to a work matter, at the very time I was trying to slip into peaceful sleep after having taken a sleeping pill. However, that was the same day I had told him, after an unpleasant morning conversation about money, that I felt the only conversations we ever had were about my spending and our budget. Therefore the Sober Husband went on the offensive over my reluctance to talk at length over his angst, saying that he was bringing up a fresh topic of conversation aside from money and that I should be grateful. (Lest I be cast forever as a Callous, Uncaring Spouse, I should note that this very same work topic had been discussed to death on a nigh-daily basis for about six weeks).

In the morning, fresh from some sleep, I brought up his work issues and talked and talked at them. However, that night, after the children were in bed, once again he was talking, and this time it was about evolutionary biology. Always a serious man, the Sober Husband listens to podcasts of Yale lectures on his way to work, and lately it's a series of evolutionary biology classes. He made me avert my eyes from Warcraft and look at some diagram of the Tree of Life. He began to realize just how ignorant I was (in my defense, I said, "You can't imagine the extent of what is not taught at crappy public schools in rural areas"). He droned on and on about the bacteria found in human excrement ("Stop being scatological," I said) and about how sexual selection is largely mythologized, until, feeling pummeled by heavy scientific words the meaning of which I couldn't understand, until I broke and said, "STOP! It is too late! This is too heavy!"

A resentful silence, and then he said, "I was just talking. This is what's on my mind" and then "You have too many rules for talking."

"You're not talking, you're LECTURING."

We both went to sleep in the ensuing resentful silence, his side of the bed the one devoted to lofty scientific thought, mine the side of the bed with a Janet Evanovich and a C.J. Box novel underneath it.

In the morning I accosted him. "Look at me! I'm rested! I'm caffeinated! Now is when you can talk to me about heavy things!" I had thought about his accusation of "too many rules for talking", and I felt that there was in fact only one rule, which I imparted: "After I go to bed, I'm tired. I want things light. Only light conversation! Like a cute thing Iris did or a cute thing [Employee] did. In the morning, that is when you can get heavy." I drove him to work, and we brainstormed a managerial problem he has all the way to his office.

Monday, November 16, 2009

more rules about walking

Today as Lola and I walked to school to pick up Iris, Lola was trying to enforce her walking sensibility upon me. She was bothered that I stepped on the yellow lines in the crosswalk, which is very bad luck. With great solicitude, Lola inquired if I had stepped on any dragonflies.

"No. What happens if I step on a dragonfly?"

"If you step on a dragonfly.... If you step on a dragonfly... I don't know!" Lola pondered and then said triumphantly, "If you step on a dragonfly, you will apologize... in hell!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

sharing happy news

The other morning as the Sober Husband was about to leave for work, I shared with him, "I just became an Exalted Champion of Orgrimmar!" [I like to start the day by running some quests on Warcraft, using his vastly superior laptop, while he's driving the girls to school, before he takes that computer away for the day].

He said, voice dripping with sarcasm, "We should go out to celebrate."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today first grader Lola and I were walking hand in hand, and Lola said sternly to me, "Stepping on an acorn is bad luck." (I had been walking carelessly, with disregard for both cracks in the sidewalk and acorns). Lola thought and added, "It is also bad luck to drop a peacock feather. A peacock will appear and peck a hair out of your head! And it will hurt FOREVER!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

an alarming symptom

Last night seven year-old Lola had trouble going to bed because, as her father reported, "her left nostril hurts." Lola corrected that. "It FEELS WEIRD, not hurts. Feels weird." In either event, it was viewed as an excuse to avoid sleep at all costs.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

11 motherfuckin' years

This weekend marks the 11th anniversary of the Sober Husband and I trying marriage out together. We had two marriage ceremonies: we sensed that our minister was flaking on us right at the time of our wedding, so we ran down to City Hall alone on Friday and got a homeless guy to be our witness. On Sunday we went ahead, with my father reading the vows, with the ceremony (not telling anyone we'd satisfied the legalities on Friday, as it would have been strange for the relatives who'd flown in from the East Coast and midwest to see us going through a faux ceremony).

Most of my friends and law clients back then(funny to think that eleven years ago, I mostly hung around with my devoted law clients) were incredulous that I was going to marry again, after an increasingly acrimonious divorce following a ten year relationship. Indeed that incredulity seemed appropriate for a year or two recently, when it looked like we were going to call it quits (and many blog readers were saying, "Just get it over with, for god's sake"). But! My idea of divorce from this Sober Husband (as opposed to the first husband, the Scotch-Drinking Husband) at the darkest days, meant something like selling our house and buying a duplex in Pacifica or Daly City, so we could each have our own separate living quarters and allow the children to swarm back and forth at will. Thankfully after a year of intense marriage counseling and a serious and obvious commitment on both parts, we worked out our differences and didn't have to sell our adorable Edwardian.

I will say honestly that fixing our problems was the biggest, hardest, and most adult thing I've ever done. It would have been much easier and more ego-gratifying on both parts to call this over and move on to separate adventures (with Iris and Lola absorbing the shrapnel). But the miracle has been that, after all that hard work and highly expensive marriage counseling bills, love rekindled in what was, after all, intended by both parties initially to be a meaningless fling betweenst two people who met at Burning Man.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

in the right light, if you squint

In the morning the Sober Husband likes to take the green parrot out of its cage, and the two enjoy some toast together. (Since we acquired the African Grey parrot earlier this year, the two parrots are known by various names. The Sober Husband calls them "the green parrot" and "the gray parrot", I call them "your parrot" and "my parrot", and the children call them "Zoe" and "Pigwidgeon"). His parrot has come to regard this as her divinely ordained birthright and can get quite squawky in the mornings until she is in her proper place, on the Sober Husband's shoulder, picking out the most toothsome toast morsels and throwing inferior bits to the floor with disdain (where my weird little cat, Ray Charles, licks up the crumbs).

My parrot is a more flexible, easy-going bird and spends a lot of time out of her cage. The other morning I had her out at breakfast time as well, and we both sat, feeding our parrots, while having a cup of coffee and looking through the paper. "I like this," I said. "It's so nice, we have our parrots out at the same time."

The Sober Husband looked at me like I was an idiot. He thinks one parrot is enough to deal with at any time, given their strong personalities and his parrot's predilection for violence, and having two out at the same time is begging for trouble and bloodshed. "Why? Why do you feel that way?"

"Because it looks like we're sharing a common interest. Imagine, if someone came in here that didn't know us. They'd look over and say, 'Aww, they both love their parrots. Look at them, with their parrots. They're so lucky they found each other.'"

The Sober Husband let this conversational fancy die a natural death.

Monday, November 02, 2009

for the reader known as Keith (and any other WoW players)

I started a character on your server, but I haven't run across anyone from that fabled, funny guild yet. Leave a message with your character names, please!

Indeed, all Warcraft playing readers are enthusiastically encouraged to leave a comment with their server and toon names here for networking. (I'm usually playing "Hassenpfeffr", 80 paladin, and "Hassy", 70 rogue, on Doomhammer these days, both blood elves, but I also share Chlonnaa, a level 80 Draenei mage, on Drenden with Lola). Just be braced for running into Iris and Lola on Azeroth....

precious moments

Today when I picked up Lola from first grade, she was carrying a work labeled "The Master of Evil Year 1999 Age 8." "You are just about the most interesting person I know," I said to her. She smiled and said, "To me, you are completely average." Ouch!

Later I returned to meet Iris uber Alles at fourth grade dismissal. Iris ran eagerly toward me, arms extended, and ran right past me to embrace her third grade assistant teacher, hugging her passionately. "Oh, Chamblino!" she said. I stood there like a lump. This teacher tried to urge Iris to show attention to her own mother. "You saw me all day, what about your mother?" Iris hugged her harder.

It's these special moments where the children show their love and affection which make all the sacrifices and hard work of a stay-at-home mother so worthwhile.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

raging at me, in my kitchen

On Friday the Sober Husband and I hosted our first children's slumber party (we've had the odd child stay over here and there, but it was our first time being outnumbered in our own home in the wee hours of the night by visiting children). As the guests arrived, I was in the kitchen, assembling a salad which resembled a haunted forest: broccoli trees, little ghosts made of hard-boiled eggs with eyes made of tiny pieces of black olives, trailing bits of spaghetti dyed green with food coloring, etc... I invited a mother dropping off her child to join me in the kitchen for a glass of sparkling wine while I concentrated on putting my little steamed broccoli trees into bases made of potato to get them to stand up in the forest.

We chatted and sipped sparkling wine as I crafted my haunted salad, and it was pleasant, until the visiting mother's mind turned to money. She began by complaining that her family had a great deal of difficulty paying the tuition for our children's private school. Her voice got louder and shakier as she announced that within a few years, they would probably have to change schools as a result. Then she began to rant about families with a stay-at-home mother who get financial aid from our school. Spit flew from her lips as she loudly raved on and on. "How can they think they don't have to work? It drives me crazy, how they can accept that money and not go to a job. The rest of us are working so hard, and it's JUST WRONG."

After what seemed like an eternity of angry, loud ranting, a silence fell over the kitchen. The angry mother picked up her flute of sparkling wine and took a long swig. We both knew this was a personal attack. I am a stay-at-home mother, and our family receives a modest discount on our tuition.

There were a lot of things I could have said -- things like "your family takes several expensive vacations a year, and we rarely leave the city limits" and "believe me, the school imputes an income to both parents regardless of whether they are employed for pay or not" and (my personal favorite) "fuck you", but I stayed silent and concentrated on cutting up tiny slivers of black olives for the eyes in my hard-boiled egg ghosts. The angry mother drained her glass and left.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

how we celebrate

I love Halloween dearly. At the beginning of October, feeling sassy, I committed to sewing pirate costumes for the Sober Husband and for myself and a mermaid costume for Lola (Iris opted to get a shark costume online, to which she glued cards to make herself a card shark). Once you've dropped a couple of hundred dollars on fabric, you feel committed (and also the children are then held to their choices. Lola made noises, as always, about changing her costume, but I held firm, with yards of three kinds of sparkly green fabric already cut). Feeling admirably ahead of schedule Halloween-wise, I also committed to Iris's tenth birthday party, a Halloween-themed slumber party (which is raging on in the next room as I write; I think I got about four hours sleep. A terrified Henry, normally a cat who spurns my affections, is sticking by my side resolutely, determined to use me for protection). And, if that weren't enough, I signed up to do a craft with the first graders at their Halloween party.

Then I came down with meningitis, meaning I spent much of the month in agonizing pain, motionless. By the time I felt well enough to sew, I had only one week left before Halloween, and that week included Iris's party and Lola's school party (for which I had to buy the craft supplies and prep the craft activity for 57 first graders). I spent the last week as the sole employee in a Halloween sweatshop, sewing from morning until late in the evening.

Lola's highly tailored mermaid costume took me three days to make. It should have been two days, but it turned out too small. Lola couldn't zip the zipper up, and the waistband gaped, unfastenable. I had a meltdown, which reminded all onlookers of the more infantile designers on "Project Runway." It felt so unjust to me, because I had measured Lola and I had adapted the pattern to suit her measurements, taping extra pattern paper to the pieces and using my giant quilting ruler to draft my own pieces. I had finished the sewing while Lola was at first grade, however, so I wasn't able to fit the piece on my model before completing it. "I MEASURED her," I said childishly, railing at the injustice of the world. "I can't help it if I have to sew while she's at school; I'll never get it done!" Lola went back to playing on Club Penguin with equanimity, but Iris uber Alles and the Sober Husband tiptoed about. In a measured rage, I hacked off the beautiful long waistband, intended to be figure-fitting and hugging much of the torso, and improvised a simpler waistband. "Make it work!" said the Sober Husband. I glared at him.

By late Thursday night I had finished the costumes, after an intense six days of sewing. I didn't have time to help decorate the house, instead asking the Sober Husband and children to get out the box of decorations and put them up while I sewed. The casualty this year was the jack-o'lanterns and also a luminaria project I'd intended (I saved up a large number of milk jugs to decorate, which are languishing in my closet). I did buy a smaller number of pumpkins, which were themselves smaller (budgetary issues as well as time issues), which are going to get carved today, on Halloween itself, hopefully. Poor Lola has been asking plaintively for days, "When will we carve the pumpkins?" "When Mommy is done sewing."

If only I hadn't had meningitis. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

holes in our heads

Last week when I was at the ER, I took out the piece of tribal-looking pearl jewelry I wear in my nose for the CAT-scan. I couldn't remove the little ring I wear in my tragus (the little flap of cartilage in the center front of your ear) and the nurse couldn't get that off, either, so I just went through the CAT-scan with that in, and evidently it didn't prevent the CAT-scan from working. A couple of times over the next few days I tried to put the pearl back in my nose with no luck; I was so miserable and stupid with pain and painkillers that I couldn't manage it. Nearly a week later I tried again and realized that my nose piercing had partially healed over already and it was just going to heal up more if I didn't get something back in it, and in a moronic moment, I forcibly re-pierced it myself, at home, under less than antiseptic conditions, because that seemed easier than driving over to Haight Street to have it done by a trained professional. Luckily for me there were no bad consequences other than more pain for a day; I was kicking myself mentally, as the last thing I need is a fresh new infection somewhere on my head.

Tomorrow I'm taking just-turned-seven Lola to have her ears pierced, Lola having promised that she will disinfect her ears dutifully and not fuss if she loses an earring. She has been nagging me for some time to get her ears pierced, and she's planning to rehearse tonight how she will sit still and hold her mother's hand. The Sober Husband is opposed to all sorts of voluntary needle usage, from piercing to vaccinations, and he will be safely ensconced far away at the office during this procedure to spare his delicate sensibilities. Indeed when I had my nose and tragus repierced after turning 40, he was distinctly pissed. Back in the day I was one of the Modern Primitive pioneers, getting various piercings from the Grand Master himself, Jim Ward, in assorted sordid basements before piercing became legal and regulated, but over the years of lawyering, I allowed virtually all of those piercings to heal up. After turning 40 and realizing that I have a lot of freedom now that I'm no longer an attorney, I got a few of those repierced, which made me happy. I felt younger looking in the mirror, and I was willing to put up with some marital wrath. The Sober Husband fought in vain to get me to take these piercings out, going so far as to cut me off sexually for a while. When he admitted he was doing that, I wasn't angry. I laughed uproariously. "YOU are cutting ME off?" He wasn't able to maintain that position for long.

Despite their father's shudderings, the children are more interested in following their ornamented mother's path than their father's more utilitarian one. My own father was deeply opposed to all forms of piercing, forbidding me to have my own ears pierced when I was young. It wasn't until I was 18 and a legal adult that I could even get my ears pierced at all. My father's argument was "you might as well put a bone in your nose; it's just as barbaric", and to some extent, I suppose he was right. A pearl is not a bone, but tribal-looking is not far from barbaric.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

another entry in the "this is going to come up in therapy" bad parenting files

So I've had a problem for a couple of years, which is that my Iris uber Alles, currently in the fourth grade, is scarily advanced academically and bored and underchallenged most of the time by her schoolwork. When Lola began school, she was also ahead of grade level, to the point where it seemed ludicrous. Last year when I went by the kindergarten, I would see some perfectly written, perfectly spelled, punctuated paper hanging up amongst all the regular kindergarten work. Amidst all the "i lov mi dg" sort of things, there would be something by Lola, saying "I wish everyone was a vegetarian" or "I would not like 100 Irises."

It is so tedious when parents of smart kids go on and on about how smart their children are, and I'll spare you. I hate hearing that kind of self-serving bragging, too. But the children's lack of challenges and boredom at their elite private school (I learned today that one of the gubernatorial candidates sends her child to this school) is currently my top problem as a parent. Iris has lost her natural curiosity and love for mathematics; Lola is upset with the sight words she is supposed to be learning (this is a child whose sight words include "crescent" and "vegan", and she's being sent home flashcards with "the" and "to" on them).

Iris's teachers do try to give her extra challenges, but there is so much they can individuate the work for a particular child. Each child in the classroom has parents who are paying top dollar for that child to get special attention, and there is so much a teacher can do for Iris (even when, as last year, she really was the teachers' special darling) as she needs to also be meeting the needs of all the other people's little angels.

As part of my dealing with this situation, I went down to tour a school for the gifted down the peninsula. Many people thought I was insane for even looking at this school, and I had a lot of qualms. I had met some parents from this school before who were pretty hellish, and I hated the idea of labeling my children as "gifted." I'd done some research on gifted children, and it seems pretty clear putting that label on them can have some terrible consequences later in life. I was disarmed when I said this to the admissions director, who told me that she'd had some issues with the label as well. And then I toured the middle school, and I fell madly in love. In one room, they were studying the Holocaust. In the next, Japanese. In another room, they were studying chocolate, and this struck me as the most fascinating. The children were looking at the packaging and asking, "What is the company trying to tell us with this wrapper?" They were looking at the history, geography, and agriculture behind the chocolate. They were considering the social justice aspect: they remarked to the touring parents that the cacao bean pickers were horribly underpaid but that some chocolate growers are now paying a fair wage. It wasn't just the workers' point of view that concerned them, though; they had also watched a videotape of an entrepreneur explaining how difficult it is to start a chocolate company. And finally, they were eating a lot of chocolate. I was enthralled. Also, the parent volunteers accompanying the tour were all delightfully normal and friendly. I felt besotted with the school.

Of course this school is significantly more expensive than the children's current school, and of course I am determined to apply for them. And here we enter the annals of crappy parenting: this school screens its applicants with an IQ test. Children must have an IQ of at least 130 to be considered for admission. I have signed my children up for IQ testing next month. My nightmare is that one tests over 130 and one falls short (I shared that fear with my friend Joyce, who told me how funny it was that she and her brother had exactly the same IQ, so coincidental!, and then she realized that obviously her mother must have been lying about that to spare one's feelings and to diminish sibling rivalry. Joyce resolved on the spot, laughing, to call her mother about the IQs).

What if one of them has a bad day? I don't think I myself would score 130 or better. It seems ridiculous to have a big decision riding upon the outcome of a two hour test (I note that scoring 130+ only gets them the right to complete the application process; it is no guarantee of a space in the school). I feel very queasy about this whole IQ test thing, but yet I have signed them up for it, and they are eager to go. I would have just called it "meeting with a teacher" or something, but the Sober Husband, believing in full disclosure, spelled it all out in vivid detail. "And if you fail, that means for the rest of your life.." he launched merrily, and I cut him off sharply before he could finish his thought. "Don't talk to them that way!"

Many a person has suggested to me that I solve my problem by home schooling, but that is no solution, in my opinion. If I were to home school those children, they would major in computer games and minor in sibling rivalry. Also, they have friends and really enjoy spending time with other children out of the home. I just need them to get more challenging work and try not to create too long a list of Things They Will Need To Discuss In Therapy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

but still pretty stupid

Since I finally went to the hospital, I've been on narcotics. This is highly satisfactory to me; it takes my quasi-unbearable headache and brings it down from being the only thing going on in my life to background noise. I can read (although I feel too stupid to read a new book; I'm rereading old books I love, which is a much better pastime when you are sick). I can play a little Warcraft with the sound down or off. But the medications don't exactly bolster my IQ. Yesterday I couldn't manage how to put my pearl nose screw back in (I took it out for the cat scan). After some ineffectual jabbing with it, I decided to leave the problem for another day.

Meanwhile, the husband is talking to me as though I had a functioning brain. I pointed out to him a message I got with a doctor recommendation, and he starts haranguing me about what is my meaning. "Why are you presenting me with this information?" Umm, maybe because you spent a whole day allegedly trying to find a new doctor for me? At one point, when I was half-asleep, he snapped the voter information brochure at me quite firmly. "There's an election coming up, and I don't know anything about it." He affixed me with a bit of a glare. (In the division of marital duties, it is my job to research all elections and provide a suggested How To Vote guide).

I feel a little more at home conversing with Ray Charles, my weird little cat. He gives forth with a long and whiny mmmmmmmmmrrrrrrrrooow, and I say, "Baby!" We go back and forth like that for some time: mmmmrrow "Baby!" meeeeeeowwwww "Baby!: mmmmmmyowwww "Baby!"

Meanwhile everyone in the family was very well impressed by all the lectures we received about how I should have been taken to the hospital sooner. As a result, everyone is continually asking me all the time if I need to go to the hospital. Especially if I make the mistake of complaining abut the pain, we're bound for a big round of "Are You Sure You Don't Want to Go To The Hospital?" It's much easier just to stay with Ray Charles. Mmmmrrrrrrrroooow. "Baby!"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

not quite as much of an idiot as I was all week

Yesterday, after spending hours vomiting in pain, I threw my antique cowbell across the room to attract the Sober Husband's attention. When he came within reach, I grasped his arm and said, "Take me to the hospital. NOW."

We stayed at the UCSF emergency room from the early evening until about 2 A.M. It was the best night within memory. I got a CAT scan, which showed no anomalies, and prescriptions for compazine, vicodin, and industrial strength ibuprofen. I felt a little bit better as each hour went by, as I was plugged into an IV and not just sugar water was pouring into my veins; my IV was heavily spiked with narcotics. I went in with a pain level of 10 out of 10 (like giving birth naturally to 9 pound Lola) and came out with a pain level of 4 out of 10 (like the time I had a bicycle accident and broke a couple of bones).

The nurses were all very kind and warm and kept lecturing me over and over again to go to the hospital, to go to the hospital, to go to the hospital IMMEDIATELY the next time. I lectured the Sober Husband as well later. "Next time make me go to the hospital! Right away!"

At the hospital the nurses gave Iris and Lola unending cups of juice and a couple of popsicles apiece. Iris's only disappointment was that she wasn't able to go to my cat scan and experiment with bits of metal. Since they didn't get to bed until about 2 AM, they were allowed to stay home from school today and rest. Their main source of amusement has been that when their sickly mother dozes on the couch, her cat, Ray Charles, keeps pressing his butt firmly on the side of her face.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

a week of hell

Last week, on Tuesday morning, a powerful headache took control of me, and it hasn't gone away. Yesterday I spent much of the day vomiting from pain. I haven't left my house since last Friday, and then I felt too unwell from the pain to drive.

It's another bout of aseptic meningitis. I haven't had one since 1996, and I thought it was over for good. I have a rare syndrome where I have repeated episodes of aseptic meningitis. A neurologist once confided in me he was going to write a medical journal article about me, saying he thought I was setting a record for this syndrome of Most Meningitises Ever, yay me; I wonder if he ever did. For the worst episode, I was hospitalized for a week. During other episodes, I was hospitalized for a night. This time, however, I have no doctor, and so I'm getting through the whole thing with only over-the-counter generic Motrin. In the wee hours of Monday, I actually felt like killing myself to put myself out of my own misery, but my head hurt too badly for me to actually do anything involving leaving my bed (and every time I changed positions, the pain was agonizing).

Today I still feel like hell; it particularly hurts behind my eyeballs, but compared to yesterday, I seem to be on the mend. The Sober Husband pulled my "meningitis FAQ" out of the files (a list of all the times I had meningitis, all the places I was hospitalized, etc..) and was working the phones today to try to get me in with a doctor, with no luck. (I tried out one doctor already since my dear Dr. Scott moved to Kaiser Oakland, but I don't want to see him again, and a friend's recommendation isn't accepting new patients, etc.., etc..).

In the middle of this, I had to pull it together for Lola's birthday party. As soon as the last guest left, I immediately went back to bed, skipping dinner. Lola's party went perfectly, and I don't think anyone noticed me continually chugging Motrins. That was difficult, but not the hardest thing I've done during these episodes.

I actually passed the California State Bar at the end of a meningitis episode. I got special permission from the Bar to bring my prescription painkillers to the bar exam (I had a doctor back then to write me prescriptions). I was doped to the gills on painkillers, but I squeaked through. I wanted to postpone it, assuming I wouldn't pass with all the painkillers and the, you know, actual pain, which doesn't help one's thinking, but the law firm I was joining took a dim view of that. I was told that it would look better for me to fail the bar than to fail to take the bar, which would make me look like a flake, whatever medical excuse I had.

If you live in San Francisco and have a competent physician, please leave me a recommendation in the comments. I promise I will be more entertaining to you as soon as this awful fucking headache goes away.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

crazy cat lady behavior: genetic?

My mother spoke to Iris on the phone today and asked her, "How many cats do you have now?"


My mother was not impressed. "I have that many just sitting by me!"

Thursday, October 01, 2009

gone but not forgotten

I like to screen phone calls in general, thus avoiding many an annoyance, but the other day, for no reason, the phone was ringing off the hook. Out of laziness, I took to carrying a cordless phone around with me and actually answering the phone, so I wouldn't have to trot upstairs and turn off the answering machine each time I screened a call. Thus I was taken off guard when John, the new owner of my faithless ex-cat, Bob Marley, called.

"I wanted to talk to you about Bob's knee," said John. "His knee is bothering him, and I wanted to know if you know a feline joint specialist."

John went on and on and on, describing Bob's knee issues. Evidently Bob dislikes having his knee palpated but when it is manipulated in various ways, it appears not to hurt him. It all sounded confusing, and I was recoiling silently in horror at the anticipated cost of it all.

I observed to John that Bob must be at least 18 years old and has been morbidly obese for at least ten of those years and so some wear and tear on the old joints must be expected. John went into denial, asserting that Bob couldn't possibly be that old and wasn't that fat. I could relate to John's defensiveness: I used to be humiliated when Bob lived with me, as people used to walk by and say, "Oh my, that cat is going to have kittens at any minute." "Actually, he's been neutered," I'd say defensively. You just can't control the weight of a feline bon vivant, as there are no end of neighbors keeping canned food about for his delectation when he visits.

During this long, long phone call, I was determined not to commit to paying for a joint specialist for a cat who hasn't lived with me in years. Coldblooded as that may be, I've moved on; I have my own newer cats to pay for.

We danced around the topic gingerly, one determined not to pay and the other one hinting but not asking out right, and then John took an unexpected tack which seemed rather passive aggressive to me. He urged me to give him a bill for my expenses for the years I'd had Bob, because he was now having all the enjoyment of Bob. "Oh, no, no," I demurred. "But you had his adoption fee," pressed John. "Send me a bill!" I think I was supposed to say, "Oh, no, YOU send ME a bill", but I just got off the phone, urging John to give Bob a hug for me. "Oh, I will," said John a bit smugly. "We enjoy him so much over here."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

on our way home

Leaving school today after getting Lola, I drove slowly by a big group of tiny-looking girls. "Do you think they're in second grade?" I asked.

Six year-old Lola was exasperated. "I'm not a fortuneteller, Momdude!" She sighed.

Iris, whom we claimed later, was more cooperative. After we picked up the Sober Husband, I saw Bruce Brugmann, editor of "The Bay Guardian", pacing on the sidewalk. I got Iris to shout out the window, "DOWN WITH PG&E!" at him, in homage to his decades-long, quixotic attempt to overthrow our local utility.

"Why did you do that, Iris?" asked the Sober Husband.

"Momdude told me to."

"If your mother told you to jump off..." he started, but his voice trailed off.

anonymous notes

The other day a friend of mine confided in me that she'd sent an anonymous note. There's a yoga studio near her, which has a big sign posted saying, "Unattended Children Will Be Given Espresso And Puppies." That sign irks her, and I understand. The same sign was prominently posted at the veterinary opthalmologist down the Peninsula where I took my blind kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, and it always pissed me off. I sometimes had to take Iris and Lola along with me on these appointments, and they were always perfectly behaved, but the sign made me feel like we were deeply unwelcome and perhaps even hated. I never saw a problem with a child at that vet's office, but inadequately restrained dogs were a big problem for me and Helen Keller on several of our visits there.

My friend actually likes yoga and this studio is conveniently located for her, but she won't patronize it due to the sign. After some time of being irked by that sign when she passed by, she left an anonymous note telling the yoga studio that the sign offended her, a parent, and that she wasn't patronizing them as a result. (It occurs to me that I may go by there and send Iris and Lola in to say, "I am unattended. May I have an espresso, please?" Then they can either bring the espressos to me, their perpetually caffeine-seeking mother, or they can take satisfaction in having made a point about the vapidity of the sign).

Anyhow, my friend made the mistake of posting on a parenting board about this note, and she was ripped up one side and down the other by fellow parents who found that sign hilarious and thought my friend was out of line. I was incredulous. "That's a mass produced sign. It's not even original! They think that's witty?"

Sometimes great anonymous notes pay off. In college my roommate had a crush on a tall, skinny guy who was in our Tolstoy seminar. He grew a rather unappealing mustache, and she fired off an anonymous letter. The letter was sort of a mixed bag of cattiness and sweetness; I think it asked him who he was trying to impress with that mustache and made some rather insulting analogies to the mustache, but it did also convey some fascination with him in his shaven state. The next time our class met, the mustache was gone, and the skinny guy looked kind of nervous. My roommate was proud. The yoga studio may be more set in its ways and less open to anonymous criticism than a college undergraduate, however.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

six great books, after a Warcraft rant

I'm still reading a lot. I'm tired of playing my level 80 paladin on Warcraft; I'm not geared well enough to do heroic raids, and it turns out I frigging hate running level 80 dungeons too much to get well-geared as an elite, top-of-the-server player. Too much squabbling and bossiness. "Hassen [a Warcraft nickname], I need you to do this." "Hassen, when I say something, I need you to do it IMMEDIATELY." "One of the pallies doesn't have 'pally power' set on interactive! Hass, you really need to change that." (No matter what snotty random Warcraft players want, if I set anything to allow random other Warcraft users to have any access to my computer whatsoever, my geeky husband will be all over me in a New York minute for Egregious Stupidity On The Internet).

Here's the truth: if I wanted to get micromanaged, I would go get a paying job. If I am going to put up with that much attitude, there had better be something in it for me. And that's the crux of the matter: I never get anything worth my while from these runs. Instead, I end up losing money having to repair my armor (and although my gear isn't good enough for WoW snobs, it is good enough to be very, very expensive to repair). I've been working on a rogue character, but it turns out that the rogue class is harder to play than it looks. Everyone complains, myself included, that rogues are overpowered and it's sickening how they can just murder you so easily, sneaking up on you while they're invisible and stabbing you in the back, but it turns out that it's not as easy to be a master assassin as the other players make it look. To speak in the lingo of the game, I never seem to have enough energy or combo points for finishing moves. It may indeed be that I suck at Warcraft, my chosen game, sad to say. Anyhow, I've been reading, and I've had some great books on my plate lately, and here are some reviews for the few brave readers who struggled through that Warcraft rant:

"Roux Morgue"(2008) by Claire M. Johnson (an occasional commenter here on this blog!): This is the second in a series about a spirited but unlucky hard-drinking pastry chef, following Ms. Johnson's award-winning debut, "Beat Until Stiff." I had put off reading "Roux Morgue" because usually an author writing a series has a sophomore slump. I don't know what causes it, but it's ubiquitous, affecting talented authors as diverse as Patrick O'Brien and Lisa Lutz. However, it certainly didn't happen with Claire M. Johnson. Instead, she got better. "Beat Until Stiff" was very good, but "Roux Morgue" is great. I hated to put it down and actually attempted to read it while baking a chocolate cake. I got a little buttercream on the pages, which I had to wipe off like a slob. Somehow that seemed fitting, though.

"Perfect Life" (2009) by Jessica Shattuck: a driven pharmaceuticals executive with an infertile husband gets her old Harvard boyfriend to donate sperm to her and sign away all his rights. He shows up back in Boston at the baby's christening, though, causing emotional havoc. This is a very clever book capturing the way people think and feel about parenting and careers at this point in time.

"Blame" (2009) by Michelle Huneven: a funny, brilliant, alcoholic history professor wakes up in jail with a terrible hangover, to find out that she's facing murder charges for running over two people. She blacked out and can't remember what happened. Moving and thought-provoking, this is a book that makes you ponder atonement, forgiveness, repentance, and fate.

"Panic Attack" (2009) by Jason Starr: a successful, happy psychologist wakes up in the night to discover two intruders. He shoots one to death, and after the shock subsides, he expects to be hailed as a hero. Instead he becomes infamous as a crazed vigilante... and someone starts leaving him anonymous, scary notes. I hated all of the characters in this book, but I was riveted. A true page-turner; I had trouble sleeping while I was reading it.

"When You Reach Me" (2009) by Rebecca Stead: Iris and I read this for a mother-daughter book club, and we were blown away. Miranda, a sixth grader and latchkey child in 1979 New York, gets a very weird anonymous note: "I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter." Her mother is preoccupied with getting on a game show, and her best friend isn't speaking to her, and how is she supposed to handle these bizarre and unsettling notes which she keeps finding? Brilliantly written, this young adult book is worth reading by grown-ups as well. It's on a number of shortlists for the Newbery Prize, and I expect it to become a classic.

"Breathers" (2008) by S.G. Browne: Andy comes to a few days after a horrible traffic accident as a mutilated zombie, and his mortified parents make him live in their basement, cringing during any interaction with him. Miserable, Andy seeks revenge by drinking his way steadily through his parents' magnificent wine collection, he starts some zombie activism, and he gets a crush on a glamorous goth zombie. A brilliant take on the zombie genre, replete with zombie sex scenes!

Read, people, read! When your beloved hobbies pall upon you, when you're afflicted by micromanagement: there's a world of literature out there ready to sooth and distract you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

extremely lame misadventures

Lately I've been fearing an early onset of Alzheimer's. Every day I have a set of setbacks for which there is no one to blame but myself. Backdrop: I'm recovering from a very thorough head cold and accompanying sinus infection, so I've been eschewing alcohol and instead resorting to the joys of napping, generic Theraflu, and the higher end Kleenex which is kinder to one's nostrils.

I was feeling proud of myself for arousing from my generic Theraflu haze and taking care of business. In the midst of running many errands, I realized, as I returned to my generic Volvo carrying a bag of books and three heavy bags of groceries, that my keys were missing. As I rooted vainly through my purse seeking my keys, endless streams of parking-place seekers pulled up, and one persistent man whose car was labeled "The Dent King" pushed vigorously for me to pay for him to fix my dent on the spot. Stressed over my inability to find my keys and my realization that my celphone battery was dead, I told the Dent King that I didn't want to fix my dent. He would not take no for an answer. Finally I hissed at him, "I like it. I like my dent" and finally he went away.

Keyless, phoneless, and weighed down with bags, I had scant time before I needed to pick Lola up at first grade. I hid my groceries in front of the car, tucked the books (presents for Lola's birthday) in my purse, and trotted over to the restaurant where I'd had lunch. I had three theories about my missing keys: (1) they fell out of my bag when I was rooting around for my lipstick and Kleenex, (2) I dropped them in the trunk when I was getting a receipt out to make a return, or (3) I had no fucking idea whatsoever how I'd managed to lose them. Pursuing theory number two, I darted into the Asqew Grill, but the manager couldn't go check on my keys without taking the order of the woman ahead of me, who had no clue what she wanted... and three other customers came in. I gave up and left crankily, realizing I had no time to spare before meeting Lola. I ran to the nearest bus stop and caught the #1 California out to Lola's school.

There I confided my state of fucked-uppedness to the office manager, who led me to the phone in the supply room. There I called my husband repeatedly, who did not answer his phone. (Folks, he screens calls from his wife. Can you believe it?).

I took Lola to a nearby cafe, filling her in on the sorry state of affairs. She was the picture of equanimity as she ate her Asiago bagel. "At least you have money," she pointed out.

We went back to pick up Iris, to find that one of the school's administrators was looking for me semi-frantically. "Your husband is going crazy trying to find you," she said. I was irked, because I'd left clear messages stating that I would be unreachable (due to the dead celphone) but that he should please just answer his phone and I'd call him when I could. I called him. Busy signal. I waited. I called again, to get a repentant husband who felt terrible about having screened out my calls but who wanted me to wait and let him call me back in nine minutes (yes, he said "nine minutes" of all things). I cut through that, saying we had no need to talk but that he should take a cab to Rigolo's (a restaurant the children adore, located near my poor old dented Volvo) whenever he could; I would wait there with the children for hours if necessary.

We took the bus to Rigolo's, an overcrowded bus driven by a speed maniac. A kind young teenager observed Lola's desperate attempts to stay on her feet and gave Lola her seat. (Such good manners the young can have!). At Rigolo's, I left the children at the table and ran out to the parking lot, just in time to observe a shifty-eyed woman about to appropriate my groceries. I darted up and grasped a bag firmly, which led to a debate between the two of us over who had the greater claim to the groceries. I prevailed and carried my three heavy bags of groceries, which I had honestly not expected to see again, over to Rigolo's, feeling like a winner for once in that awful day. There we sat, children eating grilled cheese sandwiches and fries, until the Sober Husband arrived. My keys were in the trunk. I didn't get a ticket. We drove home, and the Sober Husband made up for leaving work early by working in the garage.

I went downtown to run errands, and I realized that my beloved funky red watch was gone. Somehow it came off my wrist and was gone for good. I felt too depressed to do my last errand (going to MAC to get a replacement lipstick of the color "Sweetie", due to mine being mutilated by an anonymous child). My sinuses were aching and I felt depressed at losing my watch (and possibly my mind: what kind of a moron loses so many things?).

At school I found that Lola had lost her lunchbox (last week, she lost Iris's jacket which she had borrowed). I could have given her a hard time, but as I'd just lost my beloved watch, it was difficult to judge a six year-old for a lack of care and attention to her possessions. I lived the first four decades of my life losing my keys only once, but over the last few years, I've lost them several times. Clearly cognitively speaking, things are not improving.

I had decided to take my abstinence from alcohol while I was sick (I never feel like drinking either coffee or alcohol when ill) and extend it into a healing liver vacation (every year or two, I teetotal for a solid month to let my liver rest. I got this idea from an alcoholic doctor I used to booze with). However, checking my records I realized that I had a liver vacation just this past February. Why give the liver two full vacations in just one year, particularly when abstinence didn't seem to be helping? I picked up a bottle of cava and a bottle of Tommy's margarita mix (made from fresh limes and fresh agave nectar).

the wee hours between Wednesday and Thursday: I dreamed I was losing the little emerald nose screw which I've been sporting for some time, and I woke up but told myself, "Get back to sleep and deal with it in the daytime." When I woke up, my nose had no gem, and stripping my bed carefully led me to no finds. I felt again like a world class idiot. I am now losing things which are actually fastened to my head.

Later, to cheer myself up, I ran over to Haight Street and picked up a pearl nose screw, after admiring a number of diamond nose ornaments. The need for a trained professional to adjust the fit of this nose jewelry led to me being slightly late to pick up Lola, who was a bit judgmental but calmed down by the proffer of an Eloise book and an Asiago bagel.

And what will it be tomorrow? I fear. I was not always an idiot. Once I got a perfect score on the LSATs. Now, however, I'm reduced to being a bumbling foil for the children, losing things and locking myself out and with no one to blame but my poor old self.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the secret from the past

Iris enjoys visiting her old teachers and keeping up with them, and one in particular fascinates her. This teacher lived through the tumultuous sixties right here in San Francisco, "but she was a square," reports Iris incredulously, who herself feels cheated out of the sixties and loves to sport peace sign accessories and tie-dyed clothing.

"You would have never known it was the sixties to look at me," agrees the teacher.

However this teacher has hidden depths and told Iris and me, in a discussion about what the sixties were about, that she lived "briefly on a commune. How brief I won't tell you."

I suspect she regrets greatly having let this slip, because Iris is like a dog with a bone. "Can you believe she was in a commune? Why won't she tell me how long?"

"Maybe she was just there for a few hours before she freaked out and left."

"Maaaaaaybe.... Why won't she tell me?"

This isn't the first person I've met in the Bay Area who did something of a communal nature in the seventies or sixties which she doesn't care to discuss. I used to have a friend and colleague who let slip that she used to live in one of the More House sex communes but declined to discuss the matter any further. I realized my friend was embarrassed and let the matter slide, but Iris is unlikely to do that. She wrote a speech down to try to persuade her teacher to be forthcoming:
"If I wasn't nosy, I wouldn't know half of the things I know now. It's not immoral to want to know something, it's human nature.

It is your duty, especially as a teacher, as a human being, to fulfill my knowledge to the extent possible.

Since I was not there at that commune in the sixties or seventies, it is not possible for me to know this.

Every single person on the planet deserves a right to a fair education. No matter how you approach it, from opening a school in Africa like Oprah to telling a ten year-old a secret from your hidden past, you are still making a change.

Maybe you say it is wrong to take this any further, but I strive to disagree.

I ask you only one last time, how long were you in that commune?"
This speech got Iris nowhere with her teacher, although her mother roared with laughter at the line comparing opening a school in Africa to telling a ten year-old a secret. We'll see how what happens next, as "I lied when I said I would ask 'only one last time,'" Iris said sassily.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"the Iris MOMA"

Ten year-old Iris Uber Alles turned the master bedroom, with the assistance of little sister Lola, into "the Iris MOMA" yesterday after school. What this means is that any time the Sober Husband or I want to get into our own room, we have to pay fifty cents to the outside guard on the landing (Iris herself), get a ticket, and show that ticket to the inside guard (Piggles the parrot). Only then are we able to have access to our possessions or sit on our own bed, and at that point, this access includes watching performance art starring Lola, whose art seems to focus upon the naming of body parts and giggling. (I think many professional artists go through that same stage as well).

Yesterday the artists (the security guard having joined the performance artist in her piece) were breaking the Fourth Wall. The audience grew rather nervous as the principal artist took to brandishing a stick threateningly at audience members, and a marker was placed to serve as a proscenium of sorts and give the audience an illusion of a safe zone.

too cool for me

While leaving a snippy comment over at Arthur Kade's ever-inscrutable blog today to the effect that this supposedly world-class actor doesn't even have an iMDB page yet, I had an interesting thought:

the Sober Husband has both an iMDB page and an Erdos number. How many people have both those arcane and enviable achievements? (He also has a PhD, but most people with an Erdos number have those).

He's pretty effortless at achieving all around. He also achieved more in the art world than I, would-be artist, ever did: despite his never having taken an art class, looking down on art, and his feelings of a lack of creativity, he showed a piece in a curated art exhibit about the Art of Burning Man in San Francisco City Hall and a photograph of a robot he made once hung in a big museum in Chicago. Thank God he hates writing or he'd probably get a book deal without trying. I've got to cling to my cooking and writing abilities as the only areas in which I am clearly superior.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

a new love

"I think I'm falling in love with noses!" six year-old Lola announced cheerily. "Who doesn't love noses??"

Sunday, September 06, 2009

what I read on my vacation

So just before school started, we spent our traditional week at Camp Mather, San Francisco Rec & Parks' rustic cabins in the Sierras, a week with no internet for anyone, plenty of bike riding and swimming in the days, and, for me, lots of reading by the poolside. Here is how I spent much of my vacation, in the order read:

"The Last Detective" by Robert Crais (2003): why if this came out in 2003 was it in the "New Acquisitions" at the Noe Valley public library? I wish it had been shelved with the regular, old collection, because then it wouldn't caught my eye and I wouldn't have wasted my time with it. Dreary detective fiction... I think the characters of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are played out. Even Crais seems tired of Joe Pike; he crippled Pike physically and psychologically in this outing and didn't bother to tell us, the reader, that Pike is a vegan (maybe Pike took up eating meat and that was the beginning of his troubles?);

"All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" by Janelle Brown (2008): a thoroughly satisfying book about a woman whose high tech mogul husband files for divorce on the day of his IPO, running off with her best friend. She's consoled by her fucked-up daughters. This is what chick lit SHOULD be: intelligent and capturing an era. This introduced both of the themes I noticed in my reading: young, bright people running troubled magazines and a pair of siblings, one extremely academically gifted and the other not;

"Bad Things Happen" by Harry Dolan (2009): an intelligent murder story which I loved, loved, loved for the first half, but the book deteriorated towards the end, and I really just wanted it to be done. I notice this often with murder stories in particular: the author has a great concept and really works hard, polishing the prose, but then you get the feeling that the author became tired to death of writing the book and in a hurry to just get it finished. Another book featuring characters who put out a relatively unpopular magazine. I'll read Harry Dolan again and hope he can sustain the quality he reached in the first half of this book for an entire outing.

"The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell (2008): a breezy, bestselling history of the Puritans which irritated me no end. Ms. Vowell professes to be fascinated by the Puritans, and indeed she seems to have learned a lot of interesting things about them (e.g., I never knew Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was exiled from Massachusetts in the middle of winter and had to do the colonial equivalent of couch-surfing with friendly Indians to survive). However, the book was very short and full of annoying writing, which seemed to be Ms. Vowell's attempt to insert her personality into every page rather than focus on the personalities of her subjects, who seemed much more interesting than Ms. Vowell herself. I particularly hate it when a book has more talking-about-what-it-will-talk-about than actual substance. A huge example of this was the fascinating subject of Anne Hutchinson, an early feminist figure excommunicated from Puritan Boston for holding wildly popular Bible studies at her home. Ms. Vowell kept saying she'd write about Mrs. Hutchinson, she would write about Mrs. Hutchinson, oh the spellbinding foofaraw of Mrs. Hutchinson's alleged apostasy which would come later in the book... but then in the event, there were scant few pages given to that riveting woman. Ms. Vowell gave almost as much space in the book to her nephew, a relatively boring young child whose insights on the Puritans were NOT worth recording for history. A few pages devoted to taking her nephew around a museum were agonizingly boring;

"I'm So Happy For You" by Lucinda Rosenfeld (2009): I had to read this new release after it got a rave review in the New Yorker, and it was a great summer read, breezy and witty. It's an intelligent story of a friendship between an editor at a struggling magazine (again with the magazines...somehow at this point in time, authors seem to feel that editing a magazine is what all intellectual characters must do in a novel) and her "Sex In The City"ish best frenemy. Clever and biting, this book was a fun read. I was a bit taken aback by the author's statement in an afterword that we were meant to love both characters equally, though. One of the characters was completely loathsome to me, absolutely heinously selfish;

"The Shotgun Rule" by Charlie Huston (2007): I'm in love with Charlie Huston's noir vampire series, the "Joe Pitt Casebooks", so I decided to check out his non-vampire works. This is a gritty story about troubled adolescents in a crappy small town in central California, and I didn't like it. I think I would have liked it if I were a guy and wanted to read about the kinds of trouble rural and suburban adolescent boys get into. It featured the second recurring theme in my reading: two siblings, where one is a great and strange genius and the other is ordinary.

"Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" by Charlie Huston (2009): unlike "The Shotgun Rule", I LOVED this book. I never wanted it to end, and I wish I'd bought it, rather than borrowing it from the library. My faith in the non-Joe Pitt work of Mr. Huston was restored by this riveting book about a young Southern Californian fuck-up who ends up working for a crime clean-up team. I loved the way Huston doled out the backstory on the characters; he doesn't pander to the reader or spoonfeed you, and his hand with dialogue is amazing. Dark, witty, and engrossing.

"Waiting for the Apocalypse" by Veronica Chater (2009): a memoir of being raised by a rabidly Catholic father who thought that Vatican II meant the End Times. I do love a gripping tale of a fucked-up childhood, and I'm fascinated by nonfiction about religious extremism (this all plays into my upbringing in a born-again Christian family where faith healing and speaking in tongues were done around the house on a daily basis). I found this book fascinating at first, but towards the end I was skimming and sick of it. Worst part: pages of dialogue between Ms. Chater and her mentally retarded brother... Hint: if you can't sustain the interest of your mentally challenged, loving sibling, you won't sustain my interest, either. I did learn a lot about Vatican II, though, and the story of the family's move to rural Portugal and back was spell-binding.

"The Enthusiast" by Charlie Haas (2009): like "I'm So Happy For You", this was a brilliant new novel which didn't get a hardback deal but instead had to put out a first edition in paperback. Feh, publishers! This deserves a hardback! I loved this charming account of a bright, directionless young man who ends up dropping out of college to work on magazines (again with the magazines), obscure magazines directed at niche markets, like crochet enthusiasts and spelunkers. This book brought together both of the themes I saw running through my reading, working on troubled magazines AND an unbelievably brilliant sibling (not the protagonist) paired with a regular sibling. Very much worth reading, this was a book I didn't want to come to an end. Bonus: Mr. Haas's suggested reading group questions at the end, which included "Who brought this salad?" and "Is someone sitting here?" I wish I were as smart and witty as Charlie Haas.

"The Devil In Dover" by Lauri Lebo (2008): a nonfiction account of the Dover, Pennsylvania's born-again Christian school board's grapples with evolution and intelligent design. Ms. Lebo has a huge brain and a huge heart, and you see both on every page. She is a small-town journalist from small-town Pennsylvania who covered this as it unfolded, arguing incoherently with her editors and railing at the problems with modern journalism as she went. I'm calling this one a must-read for every American (and for every non-American who wonders what the hell is going on with those crazy Americans and their crazy "culture wars"). I want Ms. Lebo to keep writing important books and hope she finds another big subject in Pennsylvania to occupy her formidable mind (it doesn't seem like she's going to be leaving PA). I learned a lot about evolution and the "debate" over it (incidentally evolution was never taught in the public schools I attended. Never. Not for a second).

Read, read, read!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Iris has taken up recreational eavesdropping in a big way. The other day the Sober Husband and I had a long conversation in the shower, which had always been the best place to talk openly, as the children are rather bath-averse, but when I opened the door, Iris said accusatorily, "I heard everything you said."

"What? I didn't even say anything bad! Did you hear the part where I said we should raise your allowance?"

"I heard it all," she said with a baleful glare.

Last night the husband and I were again talking when I suddenly raised my voice and said, "Iris, I hear you eavesdropping."

"How can you hear her eavesdropping?" the husband asked.

"She said, 'hush' to Lola."

Iris said stoutly, "I'd be stupid not to eavesdrop. I learn a lot of things." I asked her what the best thing was that she'd ever heard while eavesdropping, and she pondered. "Most interesting or best? Because most things I hear are not good."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

sibling issues at midlife

Two weeks ago my mother called me and informed me that she had bladder cancer and had already had the surgery for it. That's how she is: whenever she's had a health crisis, she doesn't tell me until it's over. I told her tartly about twenty years ago to tell me when she goes INTO the hospital, not OUT of it, but evidently that is not going to change. I told her this time that if she tells me before the fact, I'm likely to send her something, but she was dismissive. She got roses from my father, and that's enough.

My mother did say that she was waiting to get the biopsy results analyzing her growth. The results were due to come while I'd be off with the Sober Husband and children on our annual trip to rustic Camp Mather in the Sierras, cut off from cellphone and internet coverage. I thought about her test results while we were at Camp Mather, and I worried.

When we got home, I checked my email and answering machine, but there were no messages from my mother about her test results. So I called her while I was cooking dinner. The news was great, which made me happy: her cancer was caught at an early stage, and she and her doctor have decided that chemo is not necessary. Instead, they'll take a wait-and-see approach. I promised that if there does come a need, I'll make myself available to go help out. Then my mother shared with me that she and my sister have big plans to go get matching tattoos next year to commemorate her coming through this.


I'm the tattooed one. I have many tattoos. My mother and sister have none, and indeed my tattoos (expensive, carefully designed custom work with the exception of one beloved piece, which was taken from the wall art on the spur of the moment with my best friend from high school in a Middle-aged Girls Gone Wild moment) have been the source of a lot of family ridicule over the years. And my mother making special plans to do something with my sister, excluding me but telling me about it, is pretty much the theme of my whole childhood. My sister has always been the beloved child, the one to get the attention, money, resources, gifts, etc.... When I finally called my mother on that for the first time, in my twenties, she just said, "Well, I wasn't the favorite child, either."

I can't believe that I'm middle-aged and still having sibling rivalry. I told my mother how much that matching tattoo idea hurt my feelings, and she was defensive.

Decades ago I was reading some sociological work and came across the phrase "pathological favoritism." I felt comforted, that there was a phrase for the horrible thing which had been the poison seeping through my childhood. I clung to that phrase. Pathological favoritism seems to run through both sides of my family, and my mother has been pretty vocal in denouncing and discussing one instance of it, but yet still carrying it out in our own nuclear family. The favoritism is a topic I discuss with my newly acquired psychiatrist. "How did you come out of it so strong?" he muses. I shared Dr. Michael Thompson's observation with him that sometimes a child who is disliked by the parents grows up to be extremely independent and strong, with Eleanor Roosevelt a key example.

My strongest resolution as a parent has been to raise my children without a discernible favorite. This particular inherited piece of dysfunction ends with me. My husband was the favorite child in his own family, but he agrees that while it worked out well for him, he could see it damaged his brother. So far we seem to be succeeding, as both Iris and Lola accuse us on a regular basis of paying more attention to the other (my personal favorite parenting moment, sigh, is when both of them accuse us simultaneously of favoring the other).

Weeks ago, long before my mother's matching tattoo came up, I was lying on the couch playing Warcraft, and I said out loud, "I have a favorite now." Iris and Lola both froze up. They turned to me, as did the Sober Husband, in silence. "Ray Charles is my favorite cat," I said. "I have a favorite now." Iris and Lola let their breath out and relaxed.