30 November 2009

The heart is a muscle

Turning 40 in 2008 did not break my stride, but as it happened to be the same year that Sarah turned ten, I've noticed that this year, the terrain has gotten noticeably steeper. I am still adjusting to the fact of my first-born reaching the decade mark – not only have I been a mother for ten years, but we have also reached the juncture where childhood wanes as adolescence waxes.
And so, what I've long known to be true is becoming a reality. While the first decade of child rearing was hard, the second promises to be harder. As the physical demands decrease, the emotional demands rise to fill the void, and they are far more taxing. Problems grow more complex, and resist simple, and sometimes any, solutions.

One of the great fallacies of the rise of psychoanalysis is the myth of closure. There can be resolution, or acceptance, but closure does not exist. It is analogous to the a scar; when fresh, it is prominent, but once it heals, a mark remains.

In Sanskrit, the word samskara refers to the behavioral and emotional grooves we can get stuck in; the holding patterns that manifest in our psyches, and the suffering they cause. Over time, the grooves become so well worn and habitual that we cease to be aware of them. These patterns may serve us well, but more often than not they have negative ramifications; samskara has the same English root as scar. With practice we can fill in the grooves, but the memory is never completely erased. 

I would rather have an appendectomy on a hot bed of nails without benefit of anesthesia than willingly relive my adolescence, but having a child reach that point in their life has the effect of occasionally transporting you back there with them, whether you like it or not. The tragedies of your children's youth awaken long dormant samskaras.

The heart has muscle memory, and as best I can, I am preparing to have mine broken wide open on a regular basis, hopeful that each time the it cracks, the healing will invoke a greater capacity to mother with grace and compassion. 

27 November 2009

The origins of style

Sarah had a friend over this afternoon who was helping her pull together an outfit for an outing to the movies. They came downstairs to show me what they'd come up with, and after I admired their handiwork, they had the following exchange:

Friend: You have to go to school to be a stylist, but I have it in my blood.

Sarah: What, is your great-grandmother Lindsay Lohan?

26 November 2009

Oh, happy day

Some time in October, I ran my dishwasher and it emitted a noxious and alarming smell, something like the unholy spawn of hot rubber and electrical fire. I stopped the dishwasher and finished everything by hand. David made note to look at it over the weekend.

And then began our the weeks of sickness and the death, and more sickness, and it was last weekend that David was finally able to poke around the dishwasher's innards. He found nothing wrong, and we theorized that this was a fluke caused by the environmentally friendly dishwashing powder we'd recently begun using. To test this hypothesis, we soiled dishes wantonly, loaded the dishwasher, and ran it using environmentally destructive detergent.

The result was clean dishes, and no horrid smell. Apparently, it really is not easy being green.

I used to be of the opinion that a dishwasher, while nice, is a nonessential appliance, but a few weeks of hand washing and drying everything exclusively have led me to change that view.

And so today, I count among my many blessings that after a lovely Thanksgiving meal for eleven, the dishwasher is presently running. And I consider it only a small irony that as I write this, David is hand washing the overage.

24 November 2009

Lost in the supermarket: How I wish I could potty train this child

One piece of advice I would give to parents-in-waiting would be, if you have a newspaper subscription, don't waste your money on a diaper pail. Instead, dispose of dirty diapers in plastic newspaper bags. Start stockpiling them now, and you'll have plenty when your baby is born.

I have an impressive collection of these, but I recently realized how habitual my hoarding is. When I unpacked my groceries yesterday, I was excited to find a few items packed in small plastic bags, and immediately thought, Martha Stewart style, these will make perfect shit bags.  

23 November 2009

Lost in the supermarket: Is this really necessary?

Today was something of a supermarket high holy day for me, as butter, flour, AND ice cream were all on sale. My children have been feeling deprived lately because we've had an ice cream drought. I only buy ice cream when it is on sale, and the brands we like have not been on sale for a while, so they have HAD TO GO WITHOUT.

And so I found myself at the register with four sacks of flour, three containers of ice cream, and eight pounds of butter.

If you go into Whole Foods without your bags you have a few options, none of them good. You can hold your head high as your cashier loads your groceries into paper sacks, consoling yourself that you really are a good person because you compost not only your food scraps, but also your dryer lint. You can pony up for a new canvas bag. Or you can do the WALK OF SHAME to your car to retrieve your bags, thereby pissing off everyone on line behind you.

If you go into any other supermarket with your own bags, it's another story entirely, because although they make all the right noises, they really don't encourage BYO. And so you are subjected to shame for messing with the baggers' finely tuned system. I empathize; it is annoying for them, but it sure does make it easier for me when I get home, and I don't have to figure out where to stow all those bags, or feel guilty that I put the paper sacks right in the recycling, instead of repurposing them for book covers, which no one seems to use anymore, or crafting with my kids, for which I have no patience.

And so I found myself in Shoprite with my canvas sacks, and a flummoxed bagger who tried very hard to remain professional.

When I arrived home to unpack my groceries, I found each bag of flour and container of ice cream individually placed in plastic bags within my canvas bags, like a set of Matrushka dolls.

Touché, bagger, I thought, grateful that she tired of this before she got to the butter.   

22 November 2009

Lost in the supermarket: I was judged

I was in the produce aisle of the supermarket with Gabriel and Sacha, when Gabriel walked a few feet away from me and bumped into another shopper's cart, hitting himself in the eye.

He started to cry, and ran over to me. I was examining the garlic at the moment of impact, so as I comforted Gabriel, I asked him what had happened.

The man whose cart he banged into, answered, loudly, and with great disapproval, “He ran into my cart.” It had clearly been an accident, but Angry Man took great offense. Angry Man continued to scowl at us as Gabriel pulled himself together, shaking his head, as if to say, “Dude, man up!”

And so I scowled back at him, with my best, “Dude, man down,” look.

I hope he got the message. 

21 November 2009

The missing link

Last night on my way up to bed, I stopped to check on the children. Sarah was still awake, and as I leaned over to kiss her, she told me that she was proud of Gabriel, because earlier in the evening he had fallen out of  bed, and had not cried.

When she said this, she was lying next to him, in his bed, which is her traditional weekend perch.

Although we moved to this house for more space, on weekends, in homage to our ancestors, my children pretend we live on the Lower East Side, circa 1929, and share a single room.

It reminded me of a story Sarah told us years ago when she was in preschool. One night over dinner she said,  "Holden cried today at school." When we asked why, she responded casually, "I pushed him."

We all have our blind spots, and hers have been admirably consistent over the years.

And so I chose not to suggest that by crowding him out of his own bed, she was the reason her brother fell. Because one thing that raising her has taught me is that obviously, in both of these scenarios, one thing has nothing to do with other.

20 November 2009

The secret

Sarah went to a birthday party tonight, and upon arriving home, she engaged in that time honored pursuit of examining the loot in her goody bag.

As she repeatedly opened and collapsed an intriguing-looking metal sphere bedecked with jewels that was supposedly some sort of puzzle, she remarked, "This isn't magic, it's crap."

I believe she just discovered the secret of advertising.

19 November 2009

Kick them where it hurts

I have a love hate relationship with screen time. Because they want it ALL THE TIME, managing my children's access to it is extremely aggravating. But since they love it so, we are all beholden to it; they need their fix, and I need my threat. 

In matters of discipline, you have to find the thing that most efficiently brings your charges to their knees. For my family, screen time is the closest thing we've got to a magic bullet. Screen time is my sword and my shield, and I do not hesitate to smite my kin at will. The Lord may giveth, but I taketh away.

Its power is so awesome that after months of all sorts of attempts at positive behavior modification, the promise of television may ultimately be the thing responsible for toilet training Sacha. If it proves successful, I will have no choice but to turn it into a shrine and make daily offerings.

And so while I sometimes contemplate banishing screen time altogether because I don't want to hear someone ask me one more time if they can watch tv/play Wii/use their iPod, in reality, what I really need is duplicate electronic devices, so that once I've taken away the privilege, I have a spare handy so I can do it all over again.

18 November 2009

slinging hash: cabbage with brown mustard seeds

I like cabbage. While you could never call it sexy or sophisticated, as vegetables go it has many virtues. It is inexpensive, keeps well, and is equally tasty cold and hot.

The trick to cooking cabbage well is to do it quickly over a high heat, much as you would a stir fry, so it chars and sweetens while still retaining a bit of crunch. When I was in graduate school in central New Jersey I lived near many fine Indian restaurants and groceries, where I became acquainted with black mustard seed. They are pungent and nutty, and crunch pleasantly in the mouth.

This is nice as a side with dinner, but my favorite way to eat it is for lunch, with a fried egg and sriracha sauce.

Cabbage with Brown Mustard Seeds

1/4 - 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1 teaspoon -1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
neutral cooking oil
salt and pepper

Heat a slick of oil in a saute pan over high heat until very hot. Add the mustard seeds, and cook until they begin to pop, no more than one minute. Add the cabbage, salt and pepper, and stir briefly to coat with oil. Let sit undisturbed for a minute, until cabbage begins to brown. Stir again and cook another few minutes until cabbage is browned and wilted. Taste for salt, and serve. 


17 November 2009

Women are awesome

Depending on your perspective, two weeks ago from Saturday I reached either the nadir or the zenith of my bout of swine flu — I've decided to refer to it as swine flu from here on in, because it sounds so medieval — when my fever climbed to 104 degrees.

I was of no use to anyone, and may actually have been delirious, and by 4pm I was fixated not on my fever, but the fact that by my admittedly irrational standards the house was a mess, we hadn't unpacked from our trip, the sheets needed changing, and I was useless to do anything about it.

David took the kids out so I could sleep, and after stewing in my juices for a bit, I made a very wise decision to call in the big guns, namely, my friends, Cassie and Sharon. Within twenty minutes they were at my house, armed with shop masks, bandannas and gloves, and they cleaned my house. They fetched me medicine, and beverages. They straightened, recycled and dusted, and if that were not enough, they scrubbed my bathroom.

If that's not love, what is?

One thing that multiple bouts of depression and childbirth have taught me is that when help is offered, SAY YES. From there, I sent out a second series of distress signals: SEND FOOD, and from that point forward, my family was well provisioned for the remainder of my illness.

Between that, and my mother providing child care and laundry services while David was at work, I had a domestic army at my service, and it was not only a great relief, but an awesome thing to behold; when women mobilize, they are a force to be reckoned with.

And although he is not a woman, I also have to thank David for holding down the fort in my absence, and for having the wisdom, upon coming home to a SWAT team cleaning his house, having the good sense to be relieved and grateful, rather than defensive.

Pranams to everyone.

16 November 2009


I hate to break it to you Sacha, but now you are four. Not seven, as was your wont for most of the summer, or eight, the age to which you recently promoted yourself. Despite the fact that you consider your best friends to be a pair of third graders, you are now four years old, as every fiber in your being can attest.

I'm sorry you had a crappy birthday, as traveling home from a funeral with a sick mother is nobody's idea of fun. I'm sorry I didn't post this on your birthday, as is my habit.

You continue to find new ways to delight and confound me on a daily basis. You are wildly creative, with a perverse imagination which I mightily admire. Recently you had one of your most amusing and entertaining weekends to date, during which you used a wooden spatula to flush your father like a toilet, and moments later, improvised games of tennis and hockey utilizing said spatula and a ball.

Past experience has led me to believe that the great existential struggle of the preschool years is baby versus kid, and you are not yet certain which side of the fence you prefer. That we still have you sleeping in jail a crib doesn't help clarify the situation, and we intend to rectify that shortly, but seeing as you have a talent for movement, and squirming out of seat belts, you can hardly blame me for wanting to confine you for as long as possible.

Despite my well documented failed struggle to coax you to the other side of the fence, I will be waiting as patiently as I can to welcome you whenever it is you ultimately decide to arrive. As you have made abundantly clear,  you do what you want to do, when you want to do it. 

You make me swoon on a daily basis. Yesterday, while we were sitting in the dark of a movie theater, after being separated from me for all of 70 minutes, you walked over your brother and sister to climb into my lap, and proceeded to practically make out with me. Had this actually been your eighth, not your fourth birthday, it would have been wildly inappropriate. But seeing as you are just four,  it was exactly the moment a mother lives for.

This is all by way of saying that despite the fact that you keep me constantly running, and try my patience daily, I enjoy your company tremendously, and adore you beyond belief.

15 November 2009

NaBloPoMo derailed by H1N1

Despite my best intentions, illness got the better of me. For a while, I was able to get by on my stash of posts, but last Friday, after a day spent traveling home from a funeral with a fever averaging 102, I had to cry uncle.

And while this may not qualify me for early adopter status, I like to think I was still in the forefront of a movement, having succumbed to the disease du jour at the onset of cold and flu season. After eight days of high fever, and eleven days total, I have rejoined civilization. To celebrate, yesterday's festivities included: cooking breakfast and dinner, and depositing and retrieving my children at school, and food shopping.

My review of H1N1: it sucks, but you will most likely not die.

And although I've blown it from a technical standpoint, because I make the rules in this universe, I am going to pretend that I never fell off the wagon, and reclassify NaBloPoMo as NaBloPoHaMo, because there are still fifteen days left in November.

Looking on the bright side, I do not have to fret about how to procure a coveted vaccine, because I've earned my immunity the old-fashioned way.

Behold my naturally derived immunity! As a public service, I will lick you.

06 November 2009


Sacha has a few disgusting personal hygiene habits, and we have been trying diligently to teach him some manners. Like most things where Sacha is concerned, it is an uphill battle.

Lately, I've seen some encouraging signs that our attempts at socializing him are having some effect. I was out for lunch with brother recently, when Sacha began rooting around in his nose. I handed him a tissue. He did not use the tissue to clean his nose, as I would have preferred. Instead, when he was good and done, he wiped his finger on the tissue. I was pleased; better this, than on his shirt, or even worse, the table, I thought. A few days later during lunch I handed him a napkin and told him to wipe his face. He complied, wiping his face...on his sleeve. He then proceeded to use the napkin to clean his sleeve.

In the universe which I now inhabit, these small improvements constitute a huge leap forward.

05 November 2009

Things I like and dislike

Do you like to play parlor games? I play them in my head all the time, which now that I admit this, gives the impression that I am easily amused, wildly creative, or extremely lonely. You choose! 

I got the idea for this from Eden Kennedy at Fussy, who did a things I do not like post this week for nablopomo. I imposed a few rules on myself, because boundaries are a good thing. Because it is so often easier to be negative, for every item I dislike, I had to come up with something I do like.

To my surprise, I had to come up with negative things to balance the positive, not the other way around, as I would have expected. Look how far I've come!

Things I like
waking to the sound of falling rain
cream in my coffee
the arctic monkeys
salty sweet
hot hot baths
being upside down
dinner parties

Things I dislike
almond extract
brad pitt
nuts in baked goods
sea urchin
sponges that have not been sufficiently rung out
white pepper

04 November 2009

Slinging hash: chocolate pudding

Sacha has become very interested in cooking lately. I'm glad to see him taking an interest, but alarmed whenever he pulls his chair in front of the lit stove and shouts, “CAN I HELP TOO?” I'm trying encourage him and keep him alive by making things he can help with without putting himself in mortal peril, that he'll actually want to eat, and don't make too much of a mess.

I'm sure you can guess which of these two of these criteria chocolate pudding satisfies. It's been said thousands of times that corn starch based puddings aren't any harder to make from scratch, and taste far better than a mix, but that doesn't make it any less true.

We've done this together a couple of times lately, and have a system worked out. I measure dry ingredients, and Sacha dumps, something he excels at. Then he helps me add the milk, and we argue about proper stirring technique. I suggest we go in a circle, and Sacha counters that we should go up and down, as if we were churning butter. And that's where it gets a bit messy, and I get a bit exasperated, and pull rank by taking the whisk away from him. 

But he makes up for it by amusing me with his taxonomy of dairy. I often use a combination of 1% milk and cream for pudding. As we pour the milk into the measuring cup, Sacha explains, “This is the milk.” Last time, I finished off the remainder of a pint of cream and opened a quart. “This is cream,” he said, and we poured from the pint. When I opened the quart, he declared, “And this is coffee milk.”

That's my boy.

Chocolate Pudding
adapted from Gourmet

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk, preferably whole, but 1 or 2% will work, as will a combination of milk and cream
4 oz chocolate chips

Whisk together cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cooks. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate chips and vanilla until smooth.

Pour pudding into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until cold, least two hours. If you are anti-pudding skin, press the wrap directly on the pudding.

Serve with whipped cream.

03 November 2009

It's going to be a long day

It turns out that my powers of resistance are weaker than I hoped. Toward the end of last week David caught whatever non specific viral illness the children had, while I remained unscathed. This was somewhat unusual because David has a freakishly strong immune system, and I am normally the one to fall ill. I felt a bit left out for missing the sick party, but I wasn't going to complain.

But it turns out, my timing is impeccable, because now we are in Maryland sitting shiva, and I have taken ill. And so while everyone is at my sister in law's house, I am at my in-laws shivering with a fever of 102. And now I have what every mother desires; a quiet house to myself, a day alone, with no obligations. And yet I'm lonely, because these were not the circumstances under which I had hoped to get it.

It's going to be a long day. I am awaiting a delivery of rice pudding and trashy magazines.

02 November 2009


My children were recovering from their first bout of sickness of the season, and after twenty-four hours without appetite, they began to exhibit signs of hunger. To capitalize on this, I made pizza for dinner. It's relatively gentle, and one of the rare things that everyone agrees on.

Toward the end of the meal, Sacha's plate was littered with crusts, not unlike the bones of a small mammal's carcass picked clean. 

“More, PLEASE!” he demanded.

“Sacha, you know, you can eat those crusts.”  David responded.

“Okay,” Sacha replied, and picked a crust and proceeded to eat it.

Just like that. No argument, no protest, no screaming.

And this is how I knew that he was not quite back to himself. Because under normal circumstances, there is NO WAY he would acquiesce so readily without putting up a fight.

Perry Arla

Pamela was not my intended name. A contraction of παν (pan) "all" and μελι (meli) "honey," it means all sweetness. As baby names go, you can't get more auspicious.

When I was born, my parents intended to name me Perry Arla, which I've always thought is a kick-ass name. It is strong and unusual, and I like its androgyny.

I spent a good deal of time in my adolescence wondering what life would have been like had I remained Perry Arla. And although it was not my name, I experimented using it as my signature, as swoony girls do with the object of their crush's last name. I no doubt spelled it with an i, dotted with an over-sized bubble, or possibly a heart that threatened to capsize the whole affair.

Yet my maternal grandmother did not like Perry Arla one bit. She thought it sounded like a gum disease, and she may have had a point.

And so, on my original birth certificate, in fraying black and white mimeograph, the name field is blank, and there is a stamp on the back, dated January 9, 1969, which reads:

This is to advise you that the name "Pamela Allison" has been inserted on the birth record of your child in accordance with the notice recieved from you. Certified copies of the record made in future will include the childs full name.  

And thus, I came into the world, with a ready made identity crisis. And while things have worked out well for me as Pamela, I thought I would take Perry Arla as my nom de plume, in homage to the girl I wasn't, and in gratitude for the one I am.