Thursday, April 29, 2010

the homecoming

The fourth grade went up to the Gold Country for three days, culminating their study of the Gold Rush. Here at home Lola celebrated "National No Iris Day" each day, but eventually the time came to go meet Iris.

As I stood in the parking lot by the side of the massive rented tour bus, Iris's favorite teacher popped off the bus first. He looked like he'd aged ten years. "You look so tired," I said, and he gave me a mournful look. "I have a graduate school presentation tonight, too," he said sadly.

Fourth graders streamed off the bus, all screaming, "Mom!" or "Daddy!" and rushing to their waiting parent, throwing their arms around them vigorously. It was all so touching. One girl's little sister pushed her way right up to the bus steps (Lola had chosen to sulk in the car), and her big sister folded her up in her arms and kissed her softly on the top of her head. They stood there, hugging tightly with their eyes closed, for a long time, while the other girls pushed and mobbed around them. It was like something from a story book.

Eventually Iris emerged, one of the last girls off the bus. She walked past me without acknowledging me in any way, swinging her hair about and shouting, "Bye, guys! Bye!" to her classmates. Turning back to me she said brusquely, "I need to get my stuff."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

like a grownup

My drawing instructor urged us all at our last class to drop in to the life drawing class, where there are real, live, nude models posing. We had come to enough classes that she felt comfortable inviting us, as we should be able to comport ourselves with dignity as non-perverts who truly enjoy the art of sketching. I'd known for years about the life drawing classes; the hallway always displays pictures from the latest class. The girls and I normally take a moment to check that art out when we're at the art studio (Lola always enjoys a good butt picture in particular).

Yesterday I did drop in. I decided to slip in and perch at the far back for the end of the class, which overlapped with Lola's art class (which is devoted to drawing cute things, such as mermaids and kittens. Lola tends to work on the same idea each week, a princess riding a unicorn near a castle, a frustratingly difficult subject which drives her to tears but yet a compelling one which cannot be abandoned).

As I tried to settle myself quietly at the back, the instructor pointed out a bench closer by I could use. This bench had bags of every type around it, on either side, and it was difficult to settle myself in, but I did. I was directly behind the model, so I worked with the view I had. "Lola will be so pleased that I've drawn a naked stranger's butt," I reflected.

The model ended her pose and took a brief break. The owner of all the bags came back; she'd moved to get a more pleasing view. I took the spot she'd been squatting in, which turned out to be directly behind the model for the next pose, and then the class was over.

My two pictures were better than I had expected. I can't draw from my mind; I can't imagine something and draw it at all well, but if I can see something, I can put a recognizable (and often pleasing) rendition of it down on paper. The instructor was very encouraging and urged me to come back next week. She suggested that I could come by for an hour, leave my drawing things there, go pick up the children, and then return for the last two poses. A man from my class had also tried the life drawing course.

I felt oddly grown-up as I left. As a homeowner, parent, and former attorney, I should feel adult all the time, but it felt exceptionally grown-up to have moved into the realm of sketching a naked stranger without snickering. Maturity points should be deducted, however, for my getting a laugh out of Lola by informing her that while she made an orange kitten out of foam, I was drawing a stranger's naked old butt.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

another unmarketable skill discovered

I'm taking a drawing class, and it's not easy. The catalogue makes the class sound simple: "Everyone can draw! Get in touch with your natural ability!", but at the first class, the instructor solemnly instructed us to look around, because a lot of us were going to drop out and few would struggle through the whole course. (I've heard that is often said to first year law students, but not at my alma mater. There was an epidemic of suicides during my time there, but no one just dropped out. If you didn't kill yourself, you graduated).

Last Friday at drawing class, first we had to draw a mangy old trumpet for an hour (I drew it twice, and then took out a New Yorker and silently read. The woman next to me gamely sketched that trumpet for a solid hour, and even then she wasn't done). Then we had a difficult exercise that we were told would drive us all crazy: we had to turn our bodies away from our paper, angling our arm behind us to touch the paper, and we had to stare at our left hands and draw it, with a Sharpie, without looking once at our paper. We were supposed to do this slowly, but most people ripped through it in a minute or less. I took a bit over two minutes. Then we looked at our pictures. Most were unrecognizable, a cacophony of lines which resembled nothing. Mine was a hand. A big, jerky hand, but a hand nevertheless, with fingernails, rings and scars.

We did something we often do: we had to display our drawing and walk around the room, looking at everyone's picture. Mine was freakishly better, hugely better, than all the rest. "Carole must have done this exercise before," our instructor said. "Many times before."

"She looked!" accused another student. "She was looking!"

"I did not, and I've never done this before," I said firmly.

We went back to our seats and did the exercise again. This time the instructor took up a new position, straight across the room from me, and I think she was trying to see if I were cheating. Once again my hand was a hand, with proportionate fingers and fingernails and thumb and knuckles, even better than the first hand, and once again everyone else's was jumbled and crazy.

However, we went on to draw kitchen utensils this way, and I lost my mojo altogether. My spatula was a mangled mess, unrecognizable. But for a shining five minutes there, I was an art prodigy, envied by some and attacked by others who could not imagine my gift was real. The hand drawings have gone into the recycling, and the glory has passed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

on Haight Street

Today I got the call to pick up Lola, who was complaining of a sore throat, early. I sped off to get her, and as she didn't look too bad, I asked if she'd be willing to run an errand on Haight Street on our way home. I needed to get a pad of drawing paper, and I wanted to browse the magazines at the bookstore for possible collage pictures (my homework for my art classes this week is to draw every day, which I cheated on by doing five drawings this morning rather than one a day for the past five days, and to make a collage about a current event).

When I got out of the car, a raspy-voiced, rough-haired guy sitting on the street called out to me. "Lady friend!" As I fed the meter and got little Lola out, he asked me if I live in San Francisco, no doubt pegging me for a tourist. "Yes, I do," I informed him. (I talk to any street people who are polite, although I'm not as friendly as my old landlord, who made it a point of pride to have warm conversations with anyone who ever asked him for change).

"Have you lived here long?" he rasped.

"Since the eighties. Is that long?"

For some reason, he loved that. "She asks if it's long since the eighties!" he said delightedly to his companions, all sprawling about. (I thought about Police Chief Gascon's Haight Street-inspired crusade to get sitting and lying on the sidewalks outlawed).

We exchanged a few more pleasantries about the city and my raising a child here as I led slow-moving Lola away. When we got back to the car, poor Lola dragging, I found that the little crowd of street people were gone. There were two pages on my windshield; nothing on any of the cars in front or behind ours. Under the driver's side wiper, there was a full page picture of a beautiful woman with a caption, "Divine Domesticity." Under the passenger side wiper, there was a full page shot of a beautiful baby wild cat, a jaguar or ocelot kitten, wearing a collar.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Today Lola had a drawing class in Golden Gate Park, and I could not find a parking spot. Driving around crankily, I eventually remembered that it is April 20th... i.e., 4/20. "Ah," I thought to myself. "It's the day all the potheads celebrate by taking up all the parking spaces in Golden Gate Park!" I eventually pulled up and instructed Iris to walk Lola to her art lesson and then wait for me in the kitchen, while I parked. After driving around and around, I got decisive and parked illegally, figuring that the many police on hand should be preoccupied with the potheads, rather than my car.

I met up with Iris and instructed her firmly: "Next year, do NOT let Mommy drive to Golden Gate Park on Four Twenty! I don't care what classes you guys have; we're skipping them." We left the citadel of the arts studio to take in the sights of that special day, which consisted of a very dense crowd of people under thirty and one reggae band which everyone was ignoring. "Iris, be careful!" I nagged. "Don't knock over anyone's glass pipe!" Indeed it appeared that everyone had brought their finest hookahs, bongs, and pipes for the occasion; there were a lot of showy art glass smoking apparatuses on display. "These people are breaking the law," marveled Iris as the fumes of marijuana filled the air.

"Did you learn anything, Iris?" I asked her as we walked back to the arts studio. "Not really," she said.

Back at the studio, Iris did her homework, and the sounds of the potsmokers could be heard within the walls. The art parents and instructors were slightly crabby. "All those people are driving high as a kite," one artist and instructor complained. "And the bongo playing, they're playing the bongos in the daylight." She gestured tiredly. "I just want to tell them to give it up, just stop."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

failing as a fourth grade mother

I'm not doing so great in my role as mother of a fourth grader. At the girls' school, the fourth grade is considered an unusual grade, a special time in a child's life, as it's the last year in the lower school. The fourth graders are supposed to take a leadership role in the life of the lower school, before they transition (in a ceremony enigmatically called "Pansy Day") to the upper school.

The other mothers are all taking this very seriously. Meanwhile I've been lost in my own world all year. First I had meningitis in October, losing the whole month in a haze of headaches and Vicodin. November and December I spent freaking out about my next health crisis and doctor-shopping, trying to get a diagnosis and a surgeon. January was spent clearing the decks (a morbid person by nature, I was secretly convinced I wasn't coming home from surgery). February was all about my surgery and days in the hospital, and March was spent convalescing. Now it's April, and I'm fine (although sadly out of shape; six months of health crises have left me with the strength and aerobic capacity of a snail).

Now that I've crawled out of my little personal health bubble, I'm not fitting in so well. First one of the fourth grade mothers got the idea, a perfectly fine idea, that the fourth grade should bid on an auction item, a slumber party at the school with the head of school. It would, she thought, be a perfect celebration to mark the end of fourth grade, the end of lower school. That's well and fine, but rather than just ask everyone to contribute as they saw fit, she figured out that we should bid $150 a family.

This made me feel like a jerk. There's no way I was going to pay $150 for a slumber party. It's true that the bills from all my medical expenses are still trickling in, and it's true that we have been over budget and trying to get things under control. It's also true, though, that I could pay $150 if I put my mind to it. I could find that money somewhere. I could have not taken the children to the Beach Chalet for a decadent lunch during their spring break. I could stop buying arborio rice and cave aged gruyere (I've just started cooking again). We could eat more peanut butter sandwiches, and I could stop taking Lola for hot chocolate and a rugelach sometimes while we wait for her sister (I myself sip a relatively abstemious low fat latte). We hired a babysitter for three and a half hours this month and went to a play, our only date night of the past three months, and we could have stayed home and put that money towards the sleepover. But the truth is I wasn't willing to pay $150 for a fourth grade party, and I had to write to the very nice mother organizing this and whine that I can't join in, and everyone knows now I'm a cheapskate because the fourth grade mothers sent around emails listing every family who paid.

The sleepover-organizing mother wasn't the only one combining commemorating the importance of the fourth grade with fundraising. Another mother spearheaded a project of interviewing all the fourth graders, putting it all on DVDs, and slipping the DVD's into custom totebags designed by local artist Thora Rose. These were $75 a piece, and she got upset that not everyone was buying them. She sent out email telling us that she'd put a lot of work into this and wouldn't have done it if she hadn't thought we were all going to buy this. At pickup time, she showed me the bag and told me there was a lot of footage of Iris, and I felt guilt-tripped, but again, I don't have $75 for a bag and a DVD right now. I actually like this particular mother a lot, and I even like Thora Rose; I bought the graphic novel Rose wrote about her divorce a few years ago. But on the other hand, there are a lot of bags lying around this house and not so many piles of seventy-five dollars.

Pickup time has become humiliating for me at school, as the DVD totebag mother uses that time to hand out the bags, while I shamefacedly avoid her gaze.

And then there's the mother who asked me a few weeks back, "Are you going to the event this weekend?" I looked blank, like an idiot, and she clarified. "The school auction." The auction itself cost, if I remember right, $75 a person to attend, on top of a $10 an hour babysitter, and needless to say I wasn't going. This mother was handing out the guilt freely, pointing out how important it was to support the school, and I felt pushed into playing the health card. Shamelessly I said, "I just had major surgery last month, and we're going to be paying bills from that all year. No, I'm not buying things at the auction." The auction itself sold out; it was a capacity house, so I think that the school did just fine without me.

What do the parents say who can't afford to drop hundreds of dollars at the end of the year on this stuff who don't have the surgery card to play? Thankfully Lola's grade isn't going insane like this. I have not been guilt tripped or emailed or accosted by a single first grade mother who has an idea requiring me to hand over $75 or $150, thankfully.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


- The geek torch has been passed from one generation to the next. Young Iris uber Alles subjected her classmates to an extra credit report on "Dr. Who" and has managed to become the official expert in the household on the 22nd century doctors. She called her father urgently the other day to alert him that "today you can download the new "Dr. Who!"

- I've started some art classes after a long hiatus. I'm painting or drawing every day, and Lola is incredulous. "Why would you take a CLASS? A CLASS with HOMEWORK?" Even when Lola joins me in doing my art homework, she shakes her head in sorrowful pity from time to time at my idiocy.

- Speaking of my art homework, I need ten words which describe me. There will be prizes if someone leaves words in the comments which I use!

- Lola's been sidelined with a urinary tract infection this week, missing a few days of school. I was treating this with baths (no bubble paths or scented soaps, of course) and cranberry juice, but it got worse, and the Sober Husband was highly critical that I hadn't taken her to the pediatrician. Today we saw a pediatrician, who advised that we treat Lola with baths and cranberry juice.

- I haven't logged into the World of Warcraft for nearly a week. This is mostly due to the fact that I've been busy with my art classes, but also due to a mania for Clue. I picked up a "Vintage Clue" edition last week when the children were on spring break, and we all play Clue together for hours every night. Lola insists upon being "Rachel Francesca Scarlett", the name "Miss Scarlett" being insufficiently grand for her.

- I was determined to watch some grown-up movies for once, and I rather randomly picked "Donnie Darko" and "Secretary" to see. I didn't realize until over halfway through "Donnie Darko" that I had accidentally programmed us a Gyllenhaal Sibling Film Festival. The Sober Husband liked "Donnie Darko" so much that he yammered on for days about its theories of physics and time travel, but remarked of "Secretary," "I don't know what that movie was about. I watched it, but don't ask me what it was about."

Thursday, April 08, 2010

ten is the new thirteen

As someone who dyed her hair nearly every color you can think of, shaved her head, and wore a latex miniskirt in public, I felt pretty confident about dealing with whatever extreme fashion statements the children might get up to in their teen years. After all, I was one of the earlier Modern Primitives back in the eighties, getting pierced covertly in the basement of a fetish store before piercing shops were invented and moving to California because tattoos were illegal where I lived. How could I be shocked?

I was stupidly wrong, of course. Iris uber Alles is only ten years old, and I'm already shocked and unsettled by what one of her friends wears.

Even being forewarned didn't help. The Sober Husband came home one night from a Girl Scouts meeting and told me how the mother of one of Iris's friends had complained bitterly to him that her daughter had gotten in trouble at school on a free dress day by wearing a skirt that was deemed inappropriate by the school. The mother was angry and defensive. "I didn't think the skirt was that bad." She didn't think it was too short and wanted support from the Sober Husband, support that wasn't coming. He just changed the subject, but brought it up with me later because we'd never heard of a fourth grader getting into trouble over something worn on a rare free dress day. We mused over it together. How on earth could an innocent ten year-old get into trouble over a skirt?

Then this ten year-old girl stopped by our house in a miniskirt which barely, barely skimmed her crotch, and I instantly shared the school's point of view. I brought up the skirt to Iris and was relieved to find that she didn't covet one like it.

This week I learned that there was more than one gynoskirt (a phrase invented by the "Project Rungay" wits to describe the alarmingly short, tight, and shiny skirts favored by Heidi Klum) in this girl's wardrobe. On a spring break outing, this young girl showed up in an excessively elaborate ruffled, pleated, and ornamented miniskirt barely covering her underwear.

I cannot exaggerate how short these skirts are. Back when I went to Burning Man, I had a lot of friends who favored "look at me! look at me!" clothes, but none of them ever left the house in something as extreme as these skirts unless they were at Burning Man itself (where it's perfectly accepted to walk around naked, which I never did, although one of my legal clients couldn't quite believe that. "I always wanted to go to Burning Man," he said, "but now I can't. It's just not appropriate for me to see my lawyer naked." I reassured him that he was quite safe on that count, but the risk still loomed large in his mind).

Iris is only ten years old, and I'm already freaked out by the clothes one of her friends wears. I'm also disturbed by the parents, who are presumably funding these extreme clothing buys. I don't want to ask them what they're thinking, because I don't want to discuss it. I just want to cover my eyes, make a wish, and reopen my eyes to find all the children dressed in adorable, modest Hanna Andersson clothes.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


chinchillas are cool. does anybody out there own a chinchilla???


Thursday, April 01, 2010

our tin foil hat saga, continued

Fourth grader Iris uber Alles has been ranting continuously about the moon landing being faked ever since "I had an ephiphany, Momdude: the moon landing was faked!"

Iris idolizes those noted skeptics, the Mythbusters, two wisecracking San Franciso stuntmen who attempt to systematically disprove urban myths, and last night we all watched the episode where the Mythbusters take on conspiracy theorists who claim that the moon landing was a hoax. Iris watched very attentively, screaming at little sister Lola when Lola talked loudly, but in the end was unconvinced. "All they proved was that they can use film equipment to duplicate the effects of the moon landing! So all they proved was that the moon landing could have been faked on film equipment!"

And as for the kind offer of an Australian blog reader to send us a cup from the remote communications station which handled the signals sent from the moon, an ungrateful child snarked, "I want a cup that says, 'The Moon Landing Was Faked!'" (I, however, would enjoy a commemorative Australian moon landing cup).

I even raised a part of my own history rarely spoken of these days, my first marriage, and informed Iris that my first father-in-law spent his life working at NASA. His life's achievement was creating the lunar rover used on the moon missions. Iris shrugged this off easily. The lunar rover he made could have been used in the film studios used for the hoax, she seemed to feel.

"Why do you believe in the moon landing?" Iris asked me. I told her that I remembered it. I was only a very small child at the time, and I have no memory of seeing the actual moon landing, but I do remember everyone hovering by the television all day long and how somber and important that day was.

Iris jeered. "You believe it because you saw it on TV! You're always telling me to doubt what I see on TV! You think the TV is an authority figure!"