Archive for March 2007

In Memoriam

Olive Woo Murphy
2003 – 2006

Boxed In

It’s been over a year since we moved back home after a year-long renovation, over a year since we brought back all the furniture (ours and lots of my late mother-in-law’s), all the boxes of clothing and books.

But I wouldn’t say we are quite unpacked, yet. The clothes come out of boxes on an as-needed basis (and so I missed a whole slew of 18-24 month clothes for Eli, which I unearthed only after he was too big), and the books are mostly still packed up, awaiting new homes in to-be-built bookshelves.

Meanwhile, new things come into the house and gradually the garage has filled with boxes.

Last night, having spent the day working at my desk, but with a lot of energy still, I ventured into the garage to knock back the piles. We’d planned to use some of them for Ben’s birthday party, by letting the kids build cardboard rockets and trains, but the building project became an art project at the last minute, and we wound up only using one or two boxes.

In an hour last night, I broke down over 50, and I’m still not done. Anyone need some boxes?

The Power of ONEsie

I am not a crafty person.

My mother can sew (and hammer a nail, and wire a dollhouse for lights, and perform various other handy tasks), my sister can knit and crochet, all of us can cook, but I don’t think any of us would identify as arts and crafts types.

Still, when I got a recent email from MomsRising announcing their new “Power of ONEsie” campaign, I couldn’t resist. Read on:

Imagine a beautifully presented long chain of decorated baby onesies stretching all around the state capital as a visual representation of the real people who need the policies being debated inside the imposing buildings. Each onesie signifies one person–mother, father, child, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, or other–who cares deeply about building a family-friendly America, but can’t take the time off work, or away from kids, to actually be at the capital. You.

What an image! Usually, I get an email like this, think “Great idea!” and never get around to doing anything about it. But on Friday, I read the email, dug through the closet for an outgrown onesie that said “Sprout” on it, penned “Moms’ Rights” on the two green leaves, and got it into the mail. Not really so very crafty, but not bad for me. MomsRising allows offers the non-crafty option, for those of you who’d like to participate but don’t have the time (or onesies); you can buy a onesie for MomsRising to add to the chain for you.

The Power of ONEsie. Coming soon to state capital near you.

Speed Dating

A disclaimer: I’ve never been to a speed dating event. By the time I was leaving school and the prospect of having to look outside the classroom for a date presented itself, I was saved by a friend who fixed me up with Tony. End of story.

But I’ve heard about speed dating, where a large room’s set with many tables, a potential partner seated at each. An MC holds a timer, and you hop from table to table, talking to the occupant for a short time, until the timer goes off. You move on, and at the end of the event submit a request for phone numbers from the tables where you spent a nice 5 minutes.

Or so I hear.

I got a taste of this the other night, at a mixer for faculty and students at my new summer job, advising MFA students. I am looking forward to the work (my first paid work since Ben was born!); it seems the ideal kind of teaching, working closely with one student while s/he writes a thesis.

But how to match students with their summer advisors? In the past, the department chair did it, knowing her students and faculty well, balancing her talents for teaching and match-making in an elaborate calculus. This year, with a bigger group of summer advisors, she decided to let us play a more active role. The advisors were all required to submit profiles and pictures ahead of time, for the students to review. Some of the students were clutching these sheets as they roamed the room at the mixer. They were wearing name tags that identified their chosen genres: Non; Short; Long; Poetry. It took me some time to figure it out (Non, for Nonfiction: hey, that’s me! Short and Long for the fiction writers; apparently the poets just write poetry, no need to identify by form or length), and I spent the first half hour moving from group to group, trying to find my people. Eventually I found a small cadre of Nons and sat down to talk: a 3rd grade teacher writing essays about her work; a woman writing about her nephew’s traumatic brain injury; a stay-at-home mom writing a memoir. Maybe one of them will choose me? I’ll have to wait and see if anyone asked for my number.

The Wading Pool

School assignment letters went out from the SFUSD last week, as did letters to private school applicants. We’d listed our seven public schools, applied to five privates (fewer than the seven recommended by some preschool directors), and were curious (ok, ok, anxious) to see what the mail would bring.

The SFUSD assigned us our third choice school (not, I should correct, the plastic-fish-beating school, which on review was actually our 5th choice). We should feel lucky; the SFUSD proudly claims that 90% of families are assigned to a school on their list, but in my informal survey of preschool families, it’s more like 45% get their first choice, 45% are assigned a school that’s not on their list (let alone in their neighborhood) and the rest of us wind up in the murky middle, assigned to a school we’re not thrilled about, that’s far from home, but which we put on the list to fill out our required seven.

As for the private schools, we received one acceptance, at our last choice, Tony’s alma mater, an all-boys school about which we have mixed feelings, and four offers to be placed in the “waiting pool,” the deliberately phrased non-waiting list from which random children are happily plucked to take the spots of families who have rejected acceptance offers. So if the straight white parents of a boy from an average middle class family turn down admission to our first choice school, maybe Ben will get that spot. Or maybe some other white boy will. We have no idea.

In the meantime, here we are in the waiting pool. I am absolutely not complaining, because we have options that some families would be thrilled about, but we are not at thrilled quite yet. We’re still at uncertain and pensive. The water isn’t too clear here in the wading pool, it’s crowded, and there’s an unpleasant vinegar scent in the air. We need to climb out and dive in to another pool — but where?

Tune in next week!

Mama at the Movies: The Sound of Music

This month, in honor of Literary Mama’s special focus on stepmothers, I tried to get Ben to watch The Sound of Music with me.
He wasn’t so interested, but still, I wound up seeing the film in a whole new way.

Here’s an excerpt:

Hollywood movies from Cinderella to Stepmom typically represent stepmothers as problems, or much worse, but The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) is the only film I’ve seen that solves the “problem” of a woman by turning her into a stepmother.

We first meet Maria dancing in green mountain fields high above the city of Salzburg; she’s dwarfed by her landscape (as she will be dwarfed by buildings, institutions, and situations throughout the film), but carefree as she sings. She doesn’t look like a problem, just a joyful young woman reveling in the beautiful countryside.

Tolling bells call her to attention and she races down the mountain only to arrive at her convent home late for Mass, again. The nuns have already been singing, “How do you solve a problem like Maria,” and before long the wise Reverend Mother, one of the film’s several childless mothers, arrives at her answer: send Maria away from the abbey to serve as governess to seven unruly, motherless children.

“Really?” asked my son Ben, when I told him the story of Maria and the von Trapp children. Despite my best efforts to entice him into watching the film with me, he kept wandering out of the room, more interested in his new Lego set than the singing and dancing on screen. But the idea of the pretty young Maria in charge of seven kids stopped him in his tracks.

He stared at the screen as Maria, a victim of the children’s prank, bounced up from the pinecone left on her seat. He turned to me slowly and asked, “Is she a grown-up?”

Read the rest of the column here, and let me know what you think!

Let’s Call It My 4th Choice, Now

So, the San Francisco Unified School District mails out its school assignments today, and everyone I know is on pins and needles about this.

I am interested to hear, of course, but I’ve also been quite usefully distracted by my other projects. Still, that’s not to say it’s not on my mind, and so when I went out for a run today, I made a point of circling past school choice #3, just to see what might be happening out on the playground at 10 am on a sunny day.

I saw the usual assortment of ball playing and structure climbing and running around, and then, off in the corner, I saw a group of four or five girls, gathered in a circle. One of them was holding a plastic baseball bat, and she was smacking something in the center of the circle, over and over. The other girls, they looked to be in 1st or 2nd grade, were cheering her on.

I ran around the corner to get a closer look, and there, in the center of the circle, being beaten silly by the girl with the plastic bat, was a large plastic fish.


It could have been so much worse.


Ben went on his first field trip today, with a small group of kids from his preschool: a walk to a mailbox (not even the post office!) less than ten minutes away, to mail letters to their parents. He’s been plenty of places without us, of course, but this was his first organized school outing. I’m just a little verklempt.

And Eli, at almost twenty-two months, uttered his first sentences! Leaving the duckpond today, he waved and said, “Buh-bye duhk. Buh-bye coot. Buh-bye guhl.” And he continued on, saying goodbye to the rest of the birds, the flowers, the grass, the dirt… It’s a whole new world of communication.

Summer in the City

It’s March in San Francisco. The skies are clear, the sun is shining, and Eli has rediscovered his Halloween costume (with the extra, and quite fetching, addition of his UConn Huskies hat).

He alternated between the tiger suit and, when he got too warm, just a diaper, all day long.

I’m not used to having a boy who expresses an opinion about his clothes, let alone likes changing them occasionally . Ben would keep the same clothes on for a week if I’d let him..

Fire, Aphasia, and the Spirit World

Deborah Bacharach is your average doting mother. Of her baby girl, she writes, “Rose is gorgeous, courageous, and clever, and she can say “uh oh” with great aplomb…”

As a writer, Bacharach not only finds material in her darling daughter, but she finds a way to harness her sleep deprivation, the bane of every new parent: “Sleep deprivation makes me miserable, but it’s had two unforeseen advantages for my writing life: aphasia and visions.”

Read more about the inspirational power of sleep deprivation in this month’s Literary Reflections essay, “Fire, Aphasia and the Spirit World.”