31 May 2009

Pelvic Thrust

Sacha, my youngest child, is a slip of a thing--he is 3-1/2, and just hit 30 pounds a month ago--but he is mightily strong for, as my grandfather would have said, such a skinny malinx.

He is also one of the most willful forces of nature I have yet to encounter, and I know from strong-willed children. Sacha is the child who has famously yelled at David or myself, on more than one occasion, GIVE ME BACK MY POOP! because was morally offended that we've had the temerity to clean his soiled bottom when he was not in the mood for this.

Like all children of this age, he will sometimes resist being buckled into his car seat. And like all reasonable mothers, I consider this a non-negotiable item. So I occasionally have to resort to groin stabilization in order to accomplish this task. Usually my hand will suffice, but one day this week, he was particularly spoiling for a fight, and was bucking so mightily that I had to use my knee (gently, I promise!) to stabilize him while buckling.

As I once again marveled at how this small child can muster so much strength, I couldn't help but muse that his admirable pelvic thrusting abilities will hopefully, one day, make some woman, (or man) extremely happy.

30 May 2009

De-attachment parenting

In this week's New York Times Magazine, Lisa Belkin suggests that the age of over-parenting may be coming to a close.


I've never been much of a subscriber to this philosophy. Even as a first-time mother, when I knew nothing, I thought those Baby Einstein video tapes (DVDs now, I guess), were bullshit. They may be entertaining to a baby, but so is their own foot, or a box of tissues.

When Sarah was a baby, I experienced my share of guilt if I did some cleaning, or god-forbid, sat on the couch and read while she happily amused herself, with books, or blocks, or that box of tissues. (I've always thought that a version of the tissue box, which a child could empty, and then you could neatly refold and reload, would make a great baby toy. That, and dust cloth clothing, for crawlers. Can you imagine how much time you could save dust mopping?)

But as a new mother, I was worried. Was I a bad mother? Was I not engaging with my child enough?

I discussed this at great length with my therapist during the first year of Sarah's life, and eventually, she (my therapist, not Sarah) asked me some simple questions. Or, more likely, I was finally able to hear the questions she'd been asking me for the better part of a year.

"Does Sarah seem happy, when she's doing these things?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"When she is upset, or needs something, does she let you know?"
"Yes," again.
"And do you listen to her then, and attend to her needs?"
"Well, actually, yes, I do!"

Her point was, if you are a good listener, and trust yourself, your children will make clear what they need from you. Since I got this through my sometimes thick head, I have tried to listen to my children as best I can. It is true that I've gotten better at this as I've had more kids and become a more experienced mother (poor first child, the guinea pig), to let my children guide me in terms of what they want, and need.

My wise therapist also once said to me something along the lines of, "A broken arm heals faster than a broken heart." This is not to say I would knowingly put my children in harm's way. But once they have the ability, it is better, for instance, even though it is hard, to hang back a bit at the playground, and allow your child to stumble, and perhaps even fall, rather than hold their hand every step of the way. Trust your children to make some of their own mistakes, and hopefully, to learn from them. I believe over-parenting is an unfortunate corollary of well meaning parents who do not trust their own instincts, and try to make up for this by lavishing too much fill-in-the-blank:--love, toys, activities, unnecessary advice--upon their children.

The same is true for over-scheduling, the evil twin of over-parenting. As my children have gotten older, I've shied more and more away from over-scheduling, for reasons of logistics, finances and plain selfishness. What I really think children should do after school is play. On my ideal afternoon, my kids spend a good amount of time after school running around on the playground. Then, we come home, have a snack, and they do their homework. Then, into the backyard to play, with friends, their siblings, or both.

I try to limit my children to one activity per child. I have three children, and it is not my idea of a fun to shuttle my kids around from activity to activity day after day. Even trying to stick to this formula of one activity per child, there is still a fair amount of shuttling involved; it is an unavoidable part of the job I signed up for.

Nor can I afford to pay for each of them to take an unlimited combination of dance, gymnastics, music, theater, swimming, martial arts, rocket building, soccer, Mandarin...the list could go on indefinitely, and get more and more specialized, I'm sure.

From an early age, Sarah had a keen interest, and talent for swimming, so this has been her activity. It didn't happen the same way for Gabriel, who studies karate, which I fought against for a while, because I didn't want to do any more shuttling. But based on some sensory integration issues, which were affecting his confidence and self-esteem, combined with a lack of interest in sports, and David's respect for the martial arts, we enrolled him in karate, which he truly enjoys, and which does much to reinforce the things we try to impart to our children, about citizenship, respect, patience, and community.

I will admit that sticking to one activity per child is a challenge. There is Hebrew School, and speech therapy for Gabriel, and there go 2 afternoons a week right there. Plus, as they have gotten older, my children have become interested in taking up musical instruments. So Sarah (and I) study guitar, and Gabriel, who has always seemed to have an affinity for music, is hankering for piano lessons, something we will try to make happen in the fall.

Sacha, as the youngest child, gets nothing yet. And I do not feel guilty about this.

I believe in the value of indolence. It is okay for children to be bored sometimes, to putter about, and figure out how to entertain themselves. Let them find their own passions, rather than have me force some upon them. I am their mother, not their cruise director. Over-parenting,and over-scheduling deny children this opportunity, and make me worry if the ability to amuse oneself, an invaluable skill that will pay dividends throughout one's life, is becoming a lost art.

slinging hash: citron presse

I tend to use a lot of lemon zest in my cooking, often in recipes where lemon juice is not called for. This leaves me with a lot of denuded lemons in my refrigerator.

I try not to waste them, so I squeeze the juice into a glass of water, or put a cut up lemon in the dishwasher, which I read once, somewhere, helps keep the inside of the machine clean. I haven't done any scientific analysis to check the results, but it makes a kind of sense given lemon's cleansing properties, and it makes me feel virtuous, and thrifty.

But sometimes I can't keep up with the naked lemons, and I wind up with a bit of a backlog.

So at this time of the year, I turn to the citron presse. Citron presse is a sophisticated name for what is essentially, DIY lemonade, or lemon soda. I have read this is very popular in French cafes, but having never been to France (sniff), I cannot say firsthand.

I can't really give you a recipe, but more of a method, which is really more my style anyway; I am too much of a winger in the kitchen (too organic, to use yoga-nerd speak) to follow recipes precisely.

What you do is squeeze the juice of two lemons into a glass; I use an old fashioned glass. Then add granulated sugar, or simple syrup, to taste. I don't usually measure, but I'd say it amounts to between 2 and 2-1/2 tablespoons of sweetener. Start with a smaller amount, taste, and add more if needed.

Granulated sugar is nice because it never fully dissolves, giving you the pleasing crunch of sugar crystals. But just as often, I use simple syrup, which I tend to have on hand for cocktails. You can buy this in a bottle, if cooking is not your thing, but honestly, you would be ripped off because it couldn't be simpler to make (hence, the name, I guess). Mix equal amounts of sugar and water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and allow to cook until the sugar dissolves completely, which won't take long at all. (Even if you let it cook a little longer than you anticipated, it will still be fine. It's very hard to mess up.) Let it cool, and store in a glass jar in your refrigerator. It keeps forever, which is great pay-off for so little work.

Fill the rest of the glass with water (and ice, if you like; I don't), or, my personal favorite, seltzer or fizzy water. Stir, and drink.

This works equally well with lime juice, which, I think, would make it, a citron vert presse. But my French is terrible (read: non-existent), so don't quote me on that.

Besides, I've no idea if the French make such distinctions regarding this beverage. If you've been there, let me know.

29 May 2009


Yesterday afternoon I was busy writing, and let Sacha watch entirely too much television--it's the cheapest babysitter around!

When it was time to pick up Sarah and Gabriel from school, I went into the den and gave him the five-minute warning. I also noticed that he was not wearing any pants.

This is not unusual, because my children, especially my boys, have a very casual relationship with clothing. It is always a surprise, when I check on the kids before going up to bed, to see what Sacha is wearing, compared to what clothing we put him to bed in. Some nights he take off his shirt, others his pants, and others still, he strips completely, and these are the nights I dread, because while he is undeniably irresistible in his altogether, he has also very likely peed in the crib.

So when I went to gather him for the trip to school, I was actually pleased to see he was still wearing his diaper, and had not peed on the rug, or smeared poop on the television screen. (He has done this. On more than one occasion. Disgusting.)

But he did need pants to leave the house. I took a quick scan of the room and could not locate his pants, so I said "Sacha, we have to pick up Sarah and Gabriel; can you please help me find your pants?" And he looked at me, and I saw the corners of his mouth creep with the slightest suggestion of a smile.

So I moved on to my strict voice and repeated myself. And this time, he broke into a grin.

Then I asked one last time, in my ANGRY VOICE, "Sacha, where are your pants?"

This time, he snickered, and said, "Whatever."

It was extremely funny. He was very cute standing there naked from the waist down, and to make matters worse, he is sporting a fresh new hair cut this week, and so is EVEN MORE ADORABLE THAN USUAL.

But I do not take kindly to lip from my children--now, when they are young, is the time to lay down the law; otherwise, how can I expect them to listen when they are teenagers--so I had to do my best not to break strict mommy character, although I wanted to burst out laughing. So despite the fact that I had wasted five minutes trying to get my son to produce his pants, I promptly sat his small, diapered posterior on the bottom step for a TIME OUT.

I scanned the den one more time, where I found the pants wedged in the television cabinet. I removed him from the step, replaced his pants, and off we went to get the big kids.

You may wonder why I didn't circumvent the entire situation by going upstairs and retrieving a new pair of pants. I wondered about that myself. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, we find ourselves locked in a power struggle with our children. Sacha and I were having a STAND OFF, and I wasn't going to be the one to back down. Mature, right?

So yesterday we were a few minutes late for pick-up, and I have not turned on the television yet today.

28 May 2009

I love Mrs. O

Much of the world is in thrall with our first family. I know many women who have a crush on President Obama. It is hard not to; he is charming, intelligent, lithe and graceful. He moves like a cat. And have you seen those abs?

I challenge you to name a country with a sexier President. (To say nothing of his Chief of Staff, my personal object of affection. Typical Jewess; always a soft spot for the Hebrew. But, I digress.)

Much has also been made of Michelle Obama's arms, and there is no denying her beautiful deltoids!

But what I really admire about our First Lady is her balls. Her straightforwardness is a breath of fresh air. Consider this item from today's New York Times. When asked recently by a schoolboy if she still enjoyed cooking for her family, even though she has a staff to take care of that, she answered, “I don’t miss cooking. I’m just fine with other people cooking. Their food is really good.”

I love to cook, and I really do believe I would miss it, if I had all the money in the world, and a staff at my disposal. (But I would like a sous chef, and a clean-up crew...that would be really sweet.) But I found myself admiring Michelle Obama for her candor, and thinking perhaps this is a significant moment in feminist history; that we have in the White House a First Lady who does not feel the need to assert her femininity or maternal credentials by whipping out her favorite cookie recipe.

Throughout the Presidential campaign, as exciting as I found it, I often found myself thinking that I could never be a politician. Diplomacy is not my strong suit. When faced with the choice between saying something nice but insincere, or saying nothing at all, I am more likely to quietly smile, and do the latter. Our President is a masterful politician, but our First Lady has the cojones to speak the truth, about marriage, and raising a family. That being a wife and a mother is hard, there is a lot of drudgery involved, and you spend a lot of your time wondering if you're doing right by your children.

Here is a woman who put aside her own successful career, not without reservations, in service of not only of her own family, but of something bigger, to become, in a sense, the world's most high profile housewife. But when confronted with a child who dreamed some day of becoming first lady, she encouraged the girl to consider something more lucrative, explaining, that being First Lady "doesn't pay much."

This is the feminism I believe in.

Don't Panic

As a parent, as word that the first case of H1N1, or Swine Flu, has hit my children's school district, it is hard not to panic. As soon as you become a parent, the urge to panic is fierce.

You can't help but see the world through different eyes. You are responsible for a tiny, helpless, extremely vulnerable creature, and the world seems like a far more dangerous place.

A few days after Sarah, my oldest child was born, David recounted how this new perspective changed him. As he was walking down Valley Road, in the heart of Upper Montclair, a lovely place, he suddenly noticed all the teenage boys, and our friendly town took a sinister turn. As he passed each boy (my there are a lot of them, where did they all come from?), he couldn't help reflexively think, about each and every one of them: "You can't go out with my daughter." "Don't touch my daughter!" "DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT LOOKING AT MY DAUGHTER!"

At times like these I find it helpful to remember the immortal, ever wise words of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: DON'T PANIC. It never helps anything.

Whether we realize it or not, as parents, our emotional states are intimately connected with those of our children. When they are happy, we feel good; when they are sad, or ill, we absorb that pain. The opposite is true as well; our children feed off our emotions, and if we are panicking without good cause, our kids are bound to pick up that energy. And then we have two, three, infinity number of people feeling anxious, without necessarily knowing why. And no one can think clearly in this state of mind.

It was inevitable that H1N1 would eventually come to my town, so when I heard the news it did not surprise me. I am no medical expert, but from my perspective, all the coverage in the media, at this point, it is much ado about nothing. This seems to be a mild virus, milder than the regular flu. At this point, it is no real danger to anyone who is not seriously immunocompromised. In fact, it is probably a good thing that we are being exposed to this virus now, as it may act as protection when next year's flu season rolls around.

This is not to say the CDC shouldn't be monitoring H1N1 closely, or that I would willingly expose my children. If they were to get sick, I would be concerned, perhaps even alarmed. Until I remembered, DON'T PANIC.

The bane of twenty-four/seven news coverage is that when there is nothing new to say, we keep hearing the same thing over and over. This repetition only serves to heighten people's anxieties, and societal dynamics are just family dynamics writ large.

So don't rush to keep your kids home from school. Wash your hands. Sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Teach your children to do the same. Teach your children how to wash their hands properly, and MAKE SURE they do it. WELL. Every time they've been to the bathroom, or had their fingers in their nose, or their hands in their pants. (Mothers of boys, I'm talking to YOU.) Seriously, I think this is one of the most important things we as parents can teach our children. Clean hands save lives.

But above all, DON'T PANIC.

27 May 2009

Garden State

Two weeks ago, David and I went to see the Shins, at the Wellmont Theater. It was a nice show, good, not great--certain performers, namely my beloved, lamented Sleater Kinney, Rufus Wainwright and Ted Leo-- have set the bar so high for me in terms of what I expect in live music. I am thrilled to have this beautiful theater right in my town; while I love going to New York to see a show, the Wellmont is so convenient. What a boon for parents of young children; you get to see a live show, cut down on child care expenses, and still be in bed by 11!

I'd never seen the Shins perform, and it is always exciting to see a band whose music you adore play live. They came out on the stage, a sweet, nerdy bunch, dressed in pants and button down Oxfords. As I sized the band up, my first thought was, "Do you work with my husband?" David said as he looked them over, he was was asking himself, what is each of the Shins favorite programming language? James Mercer played his guitar with slightly stooped shoulders, and the yoga teacher in me wanted to rush the stage and give him an adjustment.

But this post is not about the Shins.

As soon as they started to play, I immediately thought of the scene in the movie Garden State, where Natalie Portman's character meets Zach Braff's in the waiting room of a doctor's office. She is listening to music on headphones, and moves closer to engage him in conversation. When he asks what she is listening to, it is the Shins. She offers him her headphones, saying you've got to hear this song, it will change your life.

As much as I enjoy it, I can't say that any of the Shins music has changed my life, but Garden State may have. It is one of my favorite movies. I loved it so much that, after seeing it by myself, I dragged David back to see it with me (something I'd forgotten). I think the only other movie I have ever done that with is The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

It had been a few years since I saw Garden State, so I rented it last weekend. (Yes, rented. Can you believe I don't have a Netflix queue?) I love everything about this film: the soundtrack, (which I actually bought, something I never do. Although I did buy the Seu Jorge tracks from The Life Aquatic; who knew acoustic David Bowie sung in Portuguese could be so beautiful?), the characters, the storyline, and the performances.

Garden State caught me completely off-guard the first time I saw it. I was expecting a small, sweet coming of age story, but for me, it was much more.

It is about Andrew Largeman (Braff), a struggling actor living in LA who is summoned home to New Jersey to attend his mother's funeral. An only child, he is depressed, estranged from his family, and so emotionally numb that he has difficulty connecting with anyone. His father, a psychiatrist, has been plying him with psychoactive drugs since adolescence. During the course of his visit home, he reconnects with an old friend, Mark, played by Peter Sarsgaard, and unexpectedly meets, and falls in love with, Sam (Portman). And then three of them go on something of a quest, that takes them to a houseboat at the bottom of a quarry in Newark (that I don't think actually exists; we Googled it).

Setting aside the fact that I find Zach Braff an adorable, nebbishy Jew--a look I'm partial to, having grown up with many such people; I could have gone to summer camp with Braff--I found his performance as a sad, disconnected man to be subtle, tender, and convincing.

Then, there is Peter Saarsgard, he with the bedroom eyes, an actor I find mesmerizing. (Can you tell I have a crush on him?) I don't know how he did that thing with his eyes in this movie where he looks perpetually stoned. Either he was smoking a hell of a lot of weed, or he is one great actor. Come to think of it, were he perpetually high when this movie was filmed, that would be all the more evidence of his talent.

Natalie Portman, as Sam, skirts the line between mania and normalcy, staying just shy of crazy to make her believable. She is an epileptic with a lying tic, only, she can't go too long without confessing her lies. Her character is exuberant, with an underlying current of sadness, and it could have easily been an over the top performance, but she keeps it in check to so that Sam remains empathetic, not annoying.

But what I love most about this movie, and what took me by surprise, was how much it felt not like a movie, but a dramatization of a certain time in my life, namely, my twenties. While the particulars are different, the emotional tenor was very much the same. The sad family, complete with a depressed mother, an angry father full of recriminations but unable to accept any responsibility that despite his best intentions, things have not turned out as he would have liked.

It is about the primal need for a family; what it means to be one, and what we do to anesthetize the pain when we can't face up to the fact that the one we were born into didn't pan out the way we hoped. It is about becoming an adult, the time when we become brave enough to confront this failure, and how we go about mending the wound, and ultimately, constructing a family of our own making.

But most of all, it is about two people who feel an immediate connection, a sense of comfort and trust in each other's presence. They understand each other intuitively, and fall in love easily.

Garden State reinforced two very important life lessons, that took me most of my twenties to learn. When life is hard, and sad, you have a choice as whether to laugh or cry, and sometimes, laughter is the better option. But when you can't laugh, it is better to sit comfortably in your place of sadness, and simply be, with honesty and integrity, knowing that in time, it will pass. I keep these lessons close to heart, and try to impart them, as best I can, to my children.

Every time I see Garden State, it leaves me emotionally wrecked. It makes me laugh, and cry, sometimes at the same time. When the film was over, I turned to David, sniffling, and told him that I love it because it describes exactly what my life felt like before I met him, and how the spark of love that he gave me made me aware that the promise of something better was possible for me. Meeting him made me optimistic for the first time in a long, long time. Even though I was only beginning to have an understanding of how sad and fucked up I was, I knew that in him I had found my bashert; my destiny, my soul mate, and that no matter how dark things became (and they did indeed become much darker for me before I began to heal), I had found someone who wanted to hold me in the darkness, for as long as I needed to be there.

26 May 2009

Battery-powered love

For a year and a half now, I have been having a love affair with a highly sophisticated mechanical device. No, it is not a vibrator, but I'm pretty sure if I checked the App Store, I would likely find something to satisfy those needs.

It is my iPhone.

I have long been a PDA kind of girl. I got my first Palm Pilot in the late 1990s, when I still worked for pay, in an actual office. I succumbed to the PDA craze that swept my colleagues, cast aside my beloved Filofax, and never looked back. A Palm Pilot was so much smaller than a Filofax! I loved keeping track of my schedule this way; I could set it to beep, and remind me of things, or places I needed to be! I loved the note pad; which eliminated the need for random scraps of paper with VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION that I had to tote around, and inevitably lost. I quickly mastered the now arcane shorthand language of graffiti necessary for writing notes, with the stylus. But I still needed a cell phone, and was lazy (or just as likely, not adept) with moving my contacts into the cell phone's book, so I had to whip out the Palm Pilot every time I made a call.

Eventually I graduated from the Palm Pilot to a Treo, which had the advantage of being a phone as well as a PDA, thus solving one problem, but by then, I was also carrying an iPod around. Still two devices. Plus, I was too cheap to pay for a data plan. At that point, I was a housewife, and I couldn't justify the additional expense for data; I was not receiving email of such importance that it had to be dealt with immediately, and was home often enough that I could take care of these things on my computer.

I am all about streamlining, so when the iPhone was announced, in January 2007, my pulse quickened. At last, here was a device that could accommodate ALL my needs in one neat package. As soon as I was out of contract with Verizon, which had been my provider for eight years, I jumped ship for AT&T. So much for brand loyalty.

With an iPhone, the data plan is mandatory; it is, if you will pardon my French, the raison d'etre, for the objet. And this is when my world changed DRAMATICALLY.

By this time in my life, Sacha was two and change, and I found it a great challenge to sit down at my computer for any length of time with him around. And with me being his mother, and he my son, HE WAS ALWAYS AROUND. Sacha is famous for choosing inopportune moments for expressing his affection. When we are grocery shopping, as he sits in the cart facing me, he often feels the sudden urge to hug me and tell me, "I LOVE YOU, MAMA." It is very hard to resist this outpouring of love, so we walk about the supermarket for a bit, he with his arms clasped around my neck, nose to nose. Until I get fed up with trying to do my shopping while being literally smothered by love, and pry him off. Lather rinse, repeat; you get the point.

Likewise, with the computer, as soon as I sit at my desk--I call this the ass sensor, and believe that every child is hardwired with this feature--and Sacha hears the click of the keyboard, he will drop whatever it is he is doing, because he's now realized that he is the mood for love, and must climb up on my lap for a snuggle. Forget seeing your screen, and attempting to type this way is merely an exercise in frustration.

So the iPhone has become my de facto computer, and in that, it has opened up new worlds for me. Now, I can check my email anywhere, and so I do! If I am curious about something, I can look it up on the Web, just like that! I no longer need to carry reading material with me when I go to a doctor's appointment, because, armed with my phone, I can read just about anything I might desire to read in print. But that was just the beginning.

I can color code my schedule, so that every member of my family has their own color, making it easier, in theory, to identify who is doing what when. In theory, because I haven't figured out how to assign colors to match up with the ones I've assigned on my desktop iCal, so it gets a bit muddy for me. But this is a minor quibble.

I can make lists using the notes feature, and erase things as they're done. For an obsessive compulsive veteran list-maker like myself, this is not as satisfying as checking things off, as I did on my Treo--I am the kind of person who will, on occasion, put items on a list that I have already completed, JUST FOR THE PLEASURE OF TICKING THEM OFF. But still, it works for me.

With Google Reader, a news aggregator, I discovered the world of blogs, which I had been hearing about for some time, but had only dabbled in, as it was too frustrating to sit at the computer for any length of time with Sacha around. While I'm sure there are an infinite number of crap blogs out there (present company excluded, natch), there are also many that are truly excellent, and reading them in part inspired me to eventually write this one.

I'm not huge on Apps, but there are a few that I find very useful; I keep my grocery list with Grocery IQ (again, no more pieces of paper!); and iTalk, a voice recording program, which is handy for recording funny conversations with my kids, or for oral notes during guitar lessons. (My teacher can play something, and explain the chord switches, or strum pattern, for me to refer to during the week when I practice.) I've even downloaded a free guitar tuner (again, streamlining; not another single use device!)

I use the built-in clock, which has a timer, for meditation. (I've noticed in the App store, you choose from a range of special meditation timers, which give you time to set yourself up, but that seems a bit like lily-guilding to me.) Sometimes, to amuse myself when I have a friend over, we set the timer to see exactly how long we can have a conversation before one of the children interrupts us. (It's never been longer than 60 seconds.)

As time goes by, I have grown more and more attached to my phone. When it broke a few months ago--the touch screen suddenly stopped responding--I felt a surge of anxiety wash over me. Although I told myself, FOR GOD SAKE, WOMAN, NO ONE IS HURT, HAVE SOME PERSPECTIVE, I couldn't rest easily until I got myself to the Apple Store for a consultation. (Long story short, I got a new phone. Make sure you get Apple Care.)

The phone and I have gradually become increasingly attached at the hip. My children are all sleeping later, and I really like to have a half hour to myself in the morning before they awake, so I got the idea to bring my phone up to bed with me, and charge it in my room, so that I could use it as an alarm clock. (I've yet to set it.) But now, my phone accompanies me to bed at night.

Sometimes, instead of reading a
book, as is our habit at bedtime, I find myself in bed, with my phone, catching up on my favorite blogs, and Twitter. As soon as I wake, I unplug the phone from its charger, check the weather, and my Twitter Feed. Then phone comes back down stairs with me in the morning.

Since I have become a devoted reader of food blogs, I have bookmarked many recipes, which I now refer to more than my cookbooks. (And I have quite an extensive collection of cookbooks.) And so the phone is always in the kitchen with me when I cook.

At this point, it is seldom out of my sight. It is always in the room with me, and not because I am expecting an important call, or any call for that matter. I don't receive that many phone calls; I'm not that popular. I mean, I don't even have one hundred friends on Facebook.

So me and my phone are more or less inseparable at this point. One day this week, as I came downstairs in the morning, phone tucked in the pocket of my robe, it occurred to me, OH MY GOD, I AM FORTY YEARS OLD, AND I HAVE A LOVEY!

But I am not going to give it a name.

25 May 2009

She tricked me

Last week, Sarah got in a bit of trouble for being a bit too lax about her Spanish project, and as a result, she lost her computer privileges.

But like a jail house lawyer, she is always looking for the loopholes, and she is quite expert at exposing them.

On Tuesday, in preparation for a math test, she told me she would like to use the computer to go to some math study sites her teacher has recommended. How odd, I thought. She has these math assessments monthly, and I've never seen her express much interest in preparing for them in any way whatsoever, let alone go online to study. I pointed out that I thought this was merely a clever ruse to use the computer. Nice try, I said, but no.

As they say in chess, Check: Mom.

I, in the meantime, have been blogging up a storm, and Sarah is very curious about all this writing.

She seems to me to be a natural writer; already, at 10, I think she writes extremely well. She is funny, creative, and has a very good sense of timing. She actually got in trouble in school last week during social studies, because as her teacher was presenting a lesson on New Jersey settlers, it gave Sarah a story idea, which she was compelled to write down immediately, on her handout. Her teacher noticed she wasn't paying attention, and decided to call on her, at which point, Sarah was exposed. I was amused and proud to see her thinking like a writer.

On Friday night, she asked me if she could read my blog. She knows it is largely about our family, and since she is interested in writing, I am trying to cultivate this. It also, of course, appealed to my ego, so I said sure, she could take a look at a few items. (I mean, she already knows all the major curse words, whose acquisition, I've noticed, is something of a sport among elementary school students.)

After ten minutes or so, it occurred to me; WAIT A MINUTE, SHE'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE USING THE COMPUTER THIS WEEK!

Remembering this, I told her to stop. But she is one smart cookie. In appealing to my vanity, she got me to break my own rule.

Checkmate: Sarah.

slinging hash: iced coffee

I love coffee in any form, but as weather has warmed, my thoughts, and my palate, have turned to iced coffee.

Last summer, we took a real vacation, all five of us, and went to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Portland, Oregon. How I loved that city. Although surprisingly (to my younger self), I am quite happy living in New Jersey, were the opportunity to arise, I would jump at the chance to move there.

Within minutes of stepping foot in the city, my children needed to use the bathroom, and we were all hungry, so we wandered into one of the first places we passed. It was a strange amalgam of cafe/video arcade (whose name I can't remember) in the Pearl District, that seems to thrive in a city like Portland.

This place looked like a perpetual work in progress, but in a good way. It was a large, cavernous space, part of which was cordoned off with drop cloths, behind which carpenters were noisily working. A bank of bloggers were huddled in one area doing their thing. There was good work by local painters and photographers for sale on the walls. There was a gaming room in the back, but instead of housing arcade games, there was a bank of ancient computers, where people came to play old-school video games. Oh, and they also had a computer repair shop, which if memory serves, (and this would make sense), specialized in fixing outmoded computers. As I said, only in Portland.

They served a combination of hippie food, pizza, and this being Portland, coffee. And here, I had one of the most delicious cups of iced coffee in my life. It was so good, I had to ask how they made it. First, they used Stumptown Coffee, but, they told me, it was Toddy coffee. Which meant it was cold-brewed.

Cold-brewed coffee results in a concentrate, which you dilute to your taste. The reason it is so delicious, apparently, is that cold-brewing produces a brew with significantly less acid. The coffee is smooth, and slightly sweet, with smoky, chocolaty nuances. (It also results in coffee with less caffeine, which, as David asked as he set up a pot last night, Why would anybody want to do that?)

If you really love the taste of coffee, as I do, you will be happy drinking this black. It does not need any cream, or sugar.

I'd forgotten about cold-brewed coffee, something I'd made myself in years past after reading about it in the dining section of the New York Times. I'd abandoned it because although it truly made the most delicious coffee I'd ever had, and it was not hard to make, was messy, and slightly fussy.

All you do is mix coarsely ground coffee and water and let it sit in a large vessel overnight. The next day, you filter, and voila!

Only, the voila, is not so-simple a dramatic flourish. It is a real pain in the ass. In my case, I used a large Pyrex measuring cup. You filter twice through a coffee filter, or a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. I found there was no way to keep this neat, and although I ended up with a delicious coffee concentrate, my kitchen counter, and sometimes the floor as well, always ended up covered in a slush of wet coffee grounds. That I was willing to do this, even for a short while, shows you the lengths to which an addict will go to get their fix.

But our trip reminded me that cold-brewed coffee is so very good, and I did not want to be without it ever again. When we came home from Portland, although I tend to eschew single-use kitchen appliances, I ordered a Toddy coffee maker. To call the Toddy an appliance is slightly misleading, because it is merely a giant filter basket with a large drip hole in the bottom. You place the dampened filter, which is something like a coarse sponge, in the bottom of the basket, plug the underside with the rubber stopper, fill it with a mixture of coffee and water, and let it sit. The Toddy also comes with a carafe, and in the morning, you simply place the (heavy) filter basket on the carafe, remove the plug, and let it rip.

And while it is a bit slow to drain, the voila, while still not dramatic, is infinitely neater.

So coffee lovers, go forth and cold-brew! Buy yourself a Toddy, or grab a large glass vessel and brace yourself for a mess. (Here is the link to the recipe from the New York Times.) You will be the most-popular girl on the block, the hostess with the mostest, because, in my experience, very few people will refuse a delicious cup of iced-coffee.

24 May 2009

He is a good dad

Yesterday was opening day at the Montclair Beach Club, something my children were looking forward to with great anticipation. As Saturday approached, Sarah and a friend began planning where they would rendezvous as if it were a college reunion, and they lived on opposite ends of the country. (They see each other every day, in school.)

They made elaborate plans to meet by the diving board at 1.30. And they had back-up plans for where they could find each other if, by chance, one of them wasn't at the diving board 1.30. If I don't see you at the diving board, proceed to the playground. And if you are not there, then, go to the snack bar. All of this planning was adorable, amusing, but highly unnecessary, as the Montclair Beach Club is not a very big place; if you take a lap around the pool, you are bound to run into someone.

We were fortunate that it was a nice day, because as far as my children were concerned, there was no way we were not going. But it is still early in the season, and since we've had a cold spring, the water was sure to be FREEZING, so there was NO WAY I was getting in the pool. As I have gotten older, my intolerance for cold has increased to the point where I now understand why people move to warmer climes as they age, something I would have made fun of in my youth. So sure was I that I was not stepping foot in the pool, I didn't even bother with a swimsuit.

The problem is, that while Sarah and Gabriel are competent swimmers, capable of going in the water by themselves, Sacha, at 3, is most certainly not.

And this is what dads are for.

So my pale, tender skinned, balding husband (who is also very handsome; it occurs to me that this description does not paint an especially attractive picture), whose pate will burn on an overcast spring day, should he forget to wear a hat, suited up.

And so we arrived, and off he went, with me trailing behind, to empathize with his pain. He winced as he descended into the cold. I believe I saw his skin grow two sizes too small. But he got in that pool, and played with our kids. He splashed and threw them about. He held out his arms for them to jump into.

He even played with some other people's kids, the ones who are old enough to swim unaccompanied, but still enjoy having an adult roughhouse with them in the water, whose parents now have the luxury of sitting on a chaise reading, while their children swim. Bitches.

At one point, as Gabriel dragged him in for another round of water play, I heard David wimper, with a tremor in his voice, "Oh no, not the mushroom again!" (The mushroom is a cascading waterfall in the center of the pool shaped like...a giant penis.)

By the time we went home, David, who normally runs hot, was shell-shocked from the cold. He was visibly shivering, even once he was dry and in clean clothes.

I believe his gonads descended some time around 9pm.

So props to him, and all the other dads who braved the cold to play with their kids.

23 May 2009

Happy Pills

It is true that we all inevitably, to some extent, become our mothers, in ways both great and small. To give a trivial example, I have on occasion found myself transferring leftovers into smaller containers to make space in the fridge, which for my mother, was something of a hobby.

In my case, I find that I am also finding that I am becoming my grandmothers. Specifically, I am referring to the pills. Both of my grandmothers were great pill poppers. I'm sure my my maternal grandmother was taking her share of mother's little helpers, because she was plum loco.

While my paternal grandmother may have been taking tranquilizers as well, what I remember was the nutritional supplements. She was an early adopter health-food advocate. She had spring water delivery service before that was common practice, read
Prevention Magazine (which, regarding the dissemination of dubious medical advice to laypeople, one of my doctors calls the Internet of the twentieth century), and adored listening to Carlton Fredericks, host of the nutrition program Design for Living, on WOR.

I find myself falling somewhere between these two extremes. I take my psychoactive medications to keep me from becoming certifiable, but as I've hit 40, I also find myself taking my share of nutritional supplements as well.

One morning last week, as I laid out my arsenal, Sarah, my 10-year old, asked me what were all those pills, and why was I taking them? I started by explaining the nutritional stuff: the multi-vitamin, calcium, fish oil, niacin and Co Enzyme Q-10, hoping we could leave it at that.

But she is nothing if not a sharp observer, and knew there were more pills than that, and so she asked me, pointing right at the Wellbutrin and Lexapro "And what about those?"

My parenting philosophy is that when faced with a direct question, give an honest answer, with only as much information as is necessary. (AVOID TMI!) If your children are not satisfied with your answer, they will let you know, and I feel I owe it to them, as a matter of respect, and trust, to answer their questions as best I can in an age-appropriate way.

And so here I was with my back to the wall, so to speak, about to have a TALK about my mental health issues. I tried to explain as best I could that I have something called depression, which means that my body is wired to get stuck feeling bad, or sad, sometimes for no good reason. But luckily, I said, I can take these medicines that help me feel the way I am supposed to feel.

Sarah nodded, satisfied with this explanation.

But now, every morning, she asks me, "Mom, are you taking your happy pills now?"

some people have NO sense of humor

Yesterday afternoon I was running errands with my boys, and we stopped at Stew Leonard's for beer.

It was a bit more busy than is usual, this being Memorial Day weekend, with people gearing up for the start of the OFFICIAL SUMMER DRINKING SEASON. (As opposed to Thanksgiving, the start of the OFFICIAL WINTER DRINKING SEASON.)

As a promotion, there was an inflatable bear at the door, courtesy of Saranac. He looked a bit like a squat Smokey the Bear, and he was holding a beer in one hand. Sacha, being a toddler, couldn't resist interacting with the bear, and at one point, he even put the beer bottle in his mouth, which I thought was pretty funny. (The incongruity, NOT the underage drinking! Although perhaps the use of small, cuddly creatures to sell beer, in some small way, condones underage drinking? Just a thought.) The grandparents may not have appreciated the humor in this, but David, and my friends sure would have!

I fumbled to grab my phone and take a picture, but by that point, the moment had passed.

So on our way out, I took out my phone in advance, prepared the camera, and let boys linger in the hopes of getting a good shot. Sacha starting talking to the bear, gently punching him, and laughing at his own jokes. It was really quite amusing. At which point, an employee came running out and screamed, "Sweetheart, PLEASE BE CAREFUL! DON'T BREAK THE BEAR!"

This bear was about the height of a toddler; it very much resembled an inflatable punching clown. It was perfect for smacking around. How could a three-year old resist?

But being the astute reader of people that I am, I immediately understood this passive-aggressive jibe at my parenting, hung my head in shame, and moved on to the car.

And that is why I have no funny picture to show you.

22 May 2009

It pays to recycle

Two incidents this week reminded me just how little children need to be happy.

Gabriel's school folder wore out a few weeks ago; it tore down the center. This bothered him a lot, and I told him I would get him a new one.

But of course, it slipped my mind whenever I was out running errands.

On Tuesday when he got home from school he mentioned again that he needed a new folder, and feeling slightly sheepish that I had not taken care of this simple chore, I began rifling through my office supplies, and sure enough, I found a folder. It was blue, not pink or purple, and from a conference that I attended long ago. It had a label on the front with my name on it. I peeled this off as best I could, but it was obvious that I'd torn something off. I felt certain that Gabriel would notice this and complain, and was prepared to tell him it was a temporary folder, to hold him over until I got to the store.

To my surprise and delight, he was thrilled with this new folder. His face lit up when I gave it to him, and he thanked me profusely, and often, throughout the rest of the day. When David came home from work, the first thing he told him was, "Daddy, I got a new folder!"

But his excitement didn't end there. For the rest of the week, he lovingly tended this (old) new folder, taking me on regular guided tours to orient me to "home" side, and the "school" side. And every day, for the rest of week, when David arrived home from work, he asked him if he'd seen his new folder, and proceeded to explain its features again.


I have two rules regarding dressing for school: no sweatpants, and no ripped pants. I'm sure as my children get older, and Sarah begins to push the sartorial envelope, I may have to make up some new rules regarding appropriate school attire, but for now, it's relatively simple.

Sarah has a few pairs of jeans with blown out knees that I've replaced, but every once in a while she breaks a pair out on a school day to test the waters. I don't know if it's just to push my buttons, or she's very attached to these jeans, but she's had a hard time parting with them.

As the weather has finally warmed in New Jersey, the kids have been turning to shorts more often. (What is it about shorts that make kids so happy? Have you noticed that many boys would wear them all winter long if they could get away with it?) This morning she asked me if we could cut a few of her ripped jeans into shorts. I regrettably do not know how to sew, but this task was within my skill set, so I broke out the sewing scissors, and voila; Sarah had two pairs of long denim shorts, very au courant.

She tried them on, did a little dance of joy, and told me she was wearing them today. She then spent the morning sashaying around the house in her cute new pants, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

21 May 2009


My mother called me last night, with some news.

"I had some cosmetic surgery today," she told me.

"Oh," I replied, trying maintain a neutral tone of voice, "What did you do? "I got some Restylane injections. It's been something I've wanted to do for a long time, so I decided to treat myself."

"So, how does it look?" I asked.

"Well, it's hard to say right now, because of the bruising [WTF!!], so I haven't left the house today, but tomorrow I can cover it up with some make-up. I can't wait for you to see if you notice a difference."

My mother is a very attractive woman. She is 65, has a lovely figure, and is aging beautifully. She has beautiful skin. Strangers complement her on the loveliness of her complexion. (If I had a decent digital photo of her, this would be the place to insert it, but I don't. Sorry!) She is not a woman who needed, in the medical parlance, dermal fillers.

Although this is not an original thought, I think cosmetic surgery is a sad fraud perpetrated by the beauty, and medical industries, which preys on people with low self-esteem, to distract us from the unpleasant, unavoidable truth, that WE ALL GET OLD AND DIE.

I am a yoga teacher, and while it there is truth to the notion that happiness comes from within, it is equally true that yoga works from outside in. Appearances are important, and how we present ourselves can go along way toward making us feel better about ourselves. It was a revelation to me, during a bout of postpartum depression after the birth of my second child, when I looked at myself, unshowered and in sweatpants, and decided it perhaps if I were to make a bit more effort, I might feel somewhat better. So I started to make it a priority to clean myself up, and it helped (but not as much as the drugs). The point is, we have to work with what we've got; I am 5' 1" with a slightly large, Jewish nose; I will never be a supermodel, or an excellent basketball player.

I turned forty this year, and there was no drama in this for me. I am in pretty good shape, and have not much to complain about physically. After bearing three children, I have varicose veins that give my inner thigh an unattractive, pulpy appearance, and my breasts hang like deflated balloons. (Trust me, I wear a very good bra.) The skin on the underside of my arms is starting to get a bit...flappy. My brow is furrowed from years of squinting in the sun (I have light blue eyes, and am blinded by sunlight. I literally can not see outside on bright sunny days without sunglasses, and it wasn't cool for a kid to wear sunglasses when I was growing up. I was the one in the outfield during softball games who dropped the ball headed right toward my mitt because I couldn't see a damn thing.)

But this is life. I do not want to be any younger. In fact, the thought of my younger self pains me, because it is was more or less haze of depression. With the help of a good therapist, a loving husband, psychoactive drugs (emphasis on the drugs), and yoga, I have come to make peace with myself. The older I get, the more I understand myself, and human nature, and this brings me great comfort. I think it helps to make me a pretty good mother.

I do not look forward to dying, and I hope it will not happen for a long, long time. I have told my children that I am planning to live to be 100. And while I know that many things are beyond my control, and may not go according to my wishes, I think it's important to have goals, and this is one of mine. I would very much like to know my great-grandchildren, and hope they will find me as interesting as I am sure to find them.

If live to be my 100-year old self, I hope to still be practicing yoga. I will most likely be somewhat hunched, and wrinkled, and white haired. I will not move at the pace I do now. Ailments will plague me more frequently, and will not heal as quickly. My hearing will not be as sharp as it is now, but I hope my mind will still be lively. Between now and then, I will experience my share of pain and sadness, but I hope to continue to have the strength to sit with it when necessary, and not distract myself from these essential facts of life.

So when I heard my mother treated herself to Restylane, it made me very sad for her, and all the women who do not realize how beautiful they are, just as they are

submitted for your disapproval

Sometimes, you don't need the Onion, or the Daily Show, to find comedy in the news.

An Ohio woman and her lover were arrested for having sex in the front seat of the car, while the woman's two children were in the back seat.

And to think, all these years, I thought the
back seat was was the place for fucking.

The money quote, from mom: "We got horny, and just wanted to fuck."

On the one hand, EEEW, what were you thinking? (See above.)

But when I take off my judgmental hat (which is very hard to do, as it fits me so snugly by now), I can't help but be impressed by the strength of the libido of this mother of two small children--4 and 22 months. You go, girl?

18 May 2009


Sarah had a Spanish project due today. Although she knew about it for several weeks, I only learned about it last week, and not from her, but from another mother. Once I found out, I asked her about it, and then promptly forgot about it myself--my mind's been a bit of a sieve lately; I poured orange juice on Cocoa Puffs this morning--until Saturday, when she called said friend to play, only to find out she couldn't because she was too busy working on her Spanish project.

Ah, yes; shouldn't my daughter start working on that as well? When I told Sarah why her friend couldn't play, and asked how was the work on her Spanish project going, she coolly told me she was planning to do it on Sunday.

This is what was on our agenda for Sunday: Hebrew School, followed by a baptism (I like the ecumenism of this), then a visit from grandparents, as well as a guitar lesson.

I suggested perhaps Sunday might be a bit...crowded, and she should start now. She protested, she was busy, (playing Pop Tropica, I believe).

I asked to see the assignment, and after some rifling through folders, she pulled out a sheet dated April 27, and marked "second copy." (She'd lost the first.) Sarah is whip smart, but lacking in organizational skills. She is in fourth grade now, and I think she is old enough to be managing her school assignments. It is becoming apparent that she is not a natural at this, and I may need to intervene a bit more.

So, after some light maternal coercion, she got to work.

She may resemble me, but this mindset is exactly how my husband is wired. He was the kind of student who got high before high school with his friends (it pains me as a mother to think about this), arrived at school to discover he was taking a standardized test, and still did brilliantly. While I am glad she is confident in her intelligence, and doesn't stress about completing assignments, as her mother, I do feel strongly that you still have to DO said assignments.

I, on the other hand, was a classic over-achiever, and could have had a much more relaxing time during my school years, and possibly skipped graduate school altogether, because it wasn't until I was three-quarters of the way through with my PhD that I realized I was actually a fairly smart cookie, and perhaps I needn't have gone to all the trouble, not to mention stress, of getting this degree just to prove it to myself? But, I was so close to finishing, so I did.

Sarah pulled together the bulk of the assignment in roughly an hour (complete with much drama), and I let her go outside and play.

Later in the afternoon, my next-door neighbor, who is a passionate gardener, mentioned to me that she had almost enlisted Sarah's help with some composting. I replied that it was a good thing she hadn't, as Sarah had had to work on this Spanish project. My neighbor then told me that it was Sarah who had offered to help with the gardening, stating specifically that she had this project and she didn't really feel like doing it, and was "looking for ways to procrastinate." (WTF?)

As a consequence for this lackadaisical attitude, I took away Sarah's recreational computer privileges for the week. This is a particularly effective punishment right now, as she is just beginning to discover the pleasure of emailing and g-chatting with her friends.

But the best part of the story came later in the evening. David and I went out to see The Shins, and at one point I pulled out my phone to make sure our sitter hadn't called. Since I already had the phone out, I might as well check my email. (This is the charm of an iPhone; it does so many things, it is so damn irresistable. Here we are at a concert, and I'm CHECKING MY EMAIL?) In my inbox was a chain letter from Sarah. I was so amused by this that I turned to David, chuckling, and said "Hey, Sarah just got her first chain letter, and she forwarded it to me!"

It wasn't until we got home, and our sitter gave us a rundown of the evening, and she mentioned that Sarah had spent some time on the computer, that the bell went off. SHE'S NOT ALLOWED TO USE THE COMPUTER!

And so, my daughter, in learning about one of the Internet's many delights, hoist herself on her own petard.

Slinging hash: two pastas with asparagus, PASS/FAIL

Asparagus is in season and reasonably priced, so it is now in regular rotation in our house. Often I simply roast it in the oven with salt and pepper, and serve it as a side dish but last week, I decided to toss it in a cream sauce over pasta.

Although I cook most nights of the week, I try to make Friday night's meal slightly more special for Shabbat. This is one of my favorite family traditions. Though I rarely step foot in synagogue, I find these small ways of worshiping at home carry great meaning for me. We light candles, and say our prayer over the kindled light, make kiddush over the wine, and my children are allowed to have a "dip." (This is the part that would make the grandparents cringe, because my children, and Gabriel especially, really enjoy the wine. Even as parents, it is always a bit alarming to hear Sacha scream, "CAN I HAVE MORE WINE?" followed by David and I saying, "NO," in unison.) David always brings a challah home from Amy's Bread (it may not be kosher, but neither are we, and this is hands down the most delicious challah I've ever had). We say the hamozi, the blessing over the challah, and then eat.

One of Gabriel's favorite meals is Fettucine Alfredo, or, as he calls it, "feta-cheese alfredo." In the wonderfully long suffering ways of blessedly privileged children, he's always asking me when am I going to make it again, as he hasn't had it in so long since he'd had it. (I make it roughly every other week.)

My neighbor had mentioned that her chives were blooming, and I was welcome to them. So asparagus + fettucine alfredo + chives led to this dish. I warmed some cream in a pan with a few slivered cloves of garlic. Garlic warmed slowly in milk, or cream, is one of the most indescribably delicious, and simplest bits of kitchen alchemy I know. This alone, over pasta would be delicious. I boiled the water for pasta, blanched the cut asparagus, and then cooked some egg fettucine. (I really like deCecco egg fettucine, the kind that comes wrapped in little nests; it has a very nice bite, and the flavor of the wheat, and the egg, really shine through. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find in my local supermarkets, which is a bit disappointing to me.)

I tossed the pasta with the cream, asparagus, lemon zest, a few ladles of pasta cooking water, and topped it with chives, complete with their beautiful flowers. The marriage of the mellow cooked garlic and the more robust garlic flavor of the chives made a nice contrast, and the lemon zest brightened it up nicely. This was a win-win-win dish, meaning Sarah, Gabriel and Sacha all enjoyed it. They may not have eaten much of the asparagus, but I'm willing to overlook these things, and so, by my own two out of three criterion, this dish received a passing grade.

On Monday night, armed with another bunch of asparagus, as well as a log of goat cheese in the house, I was inspired by this post on Smitten Kitchen. I didn't know how my kids would feel about goat cheese, but sometimes I just say, What the fuck, let's live dangerously, and see how it turns out. I cut and blanched my asparagus, mixed the log of goat cheese in a pan with some olive oil and a few ladles of the pasta cooking water while the pasta (I used penne) cooked. Deb, of Smitten Kitchen used tarragon in her pasta, but that didn't seem like the right flavor to me, plus, I had my neighbor's chives, which seemed, to my palate, a better match for goat cheese and asparagus. I finished the dish with the zest of a lemon and the chives.

While David and I were perfectly happy, on the grand scale of cooking for five, this dish was a FAIL. Sacha, who will eat pasta with anything on it was perfectly happy. (He is a somewhat picky eater, but his passion for pasta is remarkable. Not only will he eat alarming amounts of it, but I fear I could present him with a bowl of penne sauced with gorgonzola and shit, and he'd eat two bowls, and demand, "MORE PLEASE!") Although he gave me every bit of asparagus from his bowl, saying, politely, with eat piece, "Here, Mama, this is for you," he ate his requisite two bowls, and then the remainder of Gabriel's as well. As I suspected, Sarah and Gabriel found the goat cheese too tangy, and they barely touched their dinner.

Such is life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And when you lose, hopefully, as in the case of dinner, the consequences are not dire.

16 May 2009


My son Gabriel makes me weak in the knees.

He is just about the sweetest boy you could imagine. True, I am his mother, and my objectivity is questionable, but he is really extraordinarily sensitive to the feelings of others. He asks me regularly about my day, and when I tell him what I did, he asks probing follow-up questions that let me know that not only is he listening to me when I tell him, but that he is genuinely interested in what I do with my time when he is not around.

When I come home from a yoga class, he likes to discuss what poses we did. Similarly, when I plan my classes, he wants to know what I'm planning to teach, and often offers (sometimes very helpful) suggestions for sequencing.

His capacity for empathy is remarkably developed for a six-year old boy. When a friend of mine was having marital troubles last year, he would ask her on occasion how she was, and if she was feeling lonely. A few months ago, when a friend of my daughter's died suddenly, in trying to make sense of something so incomprehensible, he said to me, "Her family must be having a sad party."

Today he had a play date with a classmate that he had been looking forward to for some time. His friend, who has been in his class for two years now, is disabled, and does not come to school on a daily basis. She links into the class regularly, and comes in to school about once a week. He expressed interest in getting together with her a while ago, and persistently nagged me, and his friend's mother until we finally made it happen.

Being a boy, Gabriel is also keenly interested in video games. To hear him speak, you would think he lives in Mario World. For him, the boundaries between the his virtual world and the world-world are permeable. Apropos of nothing, he will drop tidbits into our conversations such as, "Rainbow Road is the hardest of all because because there are so many traps, but once when I did it I beat it all and came in first place." His playground games are often based on video games; he recently explained that at recess he played a mini-game of Freeze, a variation of tag, cribbed from Mario Party 8, which involved being stuck on an iceberg, and when you become unstuck, you may move around for one minute.

Gaming brings out an addictive quality in him that is a bit alarming; he often has trouble thinking about what to do, he is so preoccupied with when he'll next get to play. When he plays, he enters a trance state, and would forgo food and drink for the sake of a game.
Because of these tendencies, we limit his gaming time to 15 minutes a day, and work hard to encourage him to pursue other childhood pursuits...like daydreaming, reading comic books, and playing outside.

He has video games on the brain the way I imagine teenage boys are preoccupied with sex.

When friends come over all they want to do is play Wii. And while I recognize that gaming is a serious bonding mechanism among boys, I do not want him to spend all his time with his friends gaming, so I limit them 20 minutes toward the end of a play date. This does nothing to stop them from asking, incessantly, "Is it TIME yet?"

He is genuinely interested in this friend, in part because he recognizes, and is fascinated by the ways in which she is different. Her car has a ramp in the back for wheelchair access, which he thinks is the coolest thing ever. I don't think he knew this when he asked us to arrange the play date, but because his friend has limited mobility, their time together would involve playing with Pokemon cards, and video games. This was to be an afternoon of gaming not just in breadth, but in depth. While we just have a Wii, Gabriel informed me that his friend has a Game cube (I have no idea what that is), as well as a Nintendo DS.

So while I work hard to set limits to his gaming at home, here he was going, with our blessing, to a play date more or less devoted to gaming. He was beside himself with excitement.

When he came home, I asked him how his play date was.

"Great!" he said, with a smile of supreme satisfaction that bordered on post-coital. Were he a teenager, I'd would have immediately realized OH MY GOD MY SON JUST HAD SEX, and then informed his father that it was time to have A TALK.

Because he is six, it is all sweetness and innocence. But now that I've heard that tone of voice, as he gets older, I'll be keeping my ears tuned for that frequency.

14 May 2009

Striker hotel

I have been suffering from a slight imbalance of humours lately; ie, I've been a bit depressed. One of the symptoms of my affliction is that my normally high need for order in the house begins to border on compulsive. At these times, the blessing of abundance, all the accountrements of life with kids, and the need to keep it in some semblance of order, gnaws at my soul.

I would never wish depression on anyone, but in my case, it is excellent for housekeeping. The very thought of the game closet, that has needed straightening for quite some time, becomes almost unbearable for me. The tottering mess of my daughter's nightstand--which, I know, is really her business, not mine--can give me a seizure.

And then there is the playroom. I use this word loosely because it is really a fairly raw space in our basement, with a concrete floor and some very ancient paneling and lighting. Because I am by nature, an organized person, I have a system* for the toys: there are shelves and bins, and the theory is, in each bin resides a different genre of toy. It's very simple and logical; a bin for cars, another one for figurines, (or guy-guys, as one of my friends children called them as a toddler), for blocks, etc. Though I know there is no malicious intent, my children can't help but FUCK with my system, and when I ask them to do a sweep of the playroom, they do the natural thing, and chuck things randomly in the bins.

The playroom was a mess. There were toys all over the floor, and those that weren't, I knew, were intermingling in ways that were not natural. (I also get a little twitchy when the playdough colors get mixed-up together; does this surprise you? I thought not. )

The playroom also happens to be the laundry room, so I am forced to look at the mess every time I go downstairs to do a load.
Most of the time, I can let a lot of this slide, but not right now, in my fragile state. So last weekend, I brought Sarah and Gabriel down to the playroom armed with a few large contractor bags for a few hours of recreational cleaning.

To be fair, the mess is really not their fault, but the force of nature that is Sacha, but he is too young, and far to wild, to be of any use cleaning. He is like pigpen, trailing a mess in his wake. I knew that as we were to systematically clean, he would just as methodically dump. So though it caused his siblings much resentment, he was sent upstairs to watch TV. Ah, the benefits of being the youngest child. Ah, sibling rivalry!

We dumped everything. We sorted. We categorized. We got rid of things that were no longer useful; dress-up costumes frayed to shreds and many sizes too small, odd dress up shoes with no mates, broken bits of toys, random puzzle pieces that had long ago lost their missing piece.

And then we attacked the art supplies. We separated crayons from markers from pastels; popsicle sticks from pipe cleaners; scissors from glue sticks, glitter from paint. To quote one of Sacha's current favorite stories, now, there is a place for everything, and everything is in it's place. When my internal world feels out of control, I find the ability to control something tangible gives me some measure of peace.

Then, something miraculous happened. Instead of clamoring to watch tv, or play Wii, or use the computer, my children began to play. With their toys. Unbidden. This was facilitated in part by the gift of some new Lincoln Logs from my mother (AAH! MORE TOYS!!). But because they knew where to find the people, and the blocks, they began to do what children do best; engage in imaginative play. Without being encouraged to do so. They built, and created tableaux and had a great time.

Sunday morning, on Mother's Day, Sarah built a log cabin hotel, which she named the Striker Hotel, for the little dog that came with the Lincoln Logs.

Then she asked me to play with her.

I love to spend time with my kids, but don't really enjoy
playing with them. I enjoy their company tremendously. I will color with them or cook with them, read to them, chat with them. But getting down on the floor and engaging in a game of make-believe? GAH! But it was Mother's Day, and we'd just done all this cleaning, so how could I refuse? What followed was an afternoon at the Striker Hotel, where the little people--the old school little people, which belonged to me when I was a child, and I believe that some that some of them were meant to be members of the original cast of Sesame Street--were the hotel patrons. As the proprietor (AKA Sarah) explained, third floor was of this hotel was reserved for guests with pet allergies. The proprietor assured us that the dogs were NOT allowed up there under any circumstances. For breakfast,an assortment of 19 muffins were served, some of which sounded delicious, but many of which were flavored with poop. (For the dogs. Who can't go to the third floor, poor things) I was introduced to the lesbian couple who was coming to spend a night at the inn. (The interracial lesbian couple, I might add; here's a close-up; don't they look happy?)

This is imaginative play in the 21-st century during the Obama years: A luxury rustic hotel that welcomes an alternative clientele, serves a delicious breakfast for man and beast, while being sympathetic to the special-health needs of all their patrons.

*You should see my spice drawer. I'm really very proud of it. When we moved into this house, I spent perhaps too much time developing a system of organization for it, and two years later, it still sends a frisson of joy down my spine every time I open it. Someday I'll post a picture of it.