Archive for September 2007

MotherTalk Blog Book Tour: The BOB Books

I don’t have a whole lot to write about the BOB books because I haven’t read them.

Let me revise that: my 5 ½ year old son has not permitted me to read them.

Let me back up.

When MotherTalk asked for the mothers of beginning readers to review the BOB books, I signed right up. At the time, I had a very bookish boy who was just taking his first tentative steps into independent reading. He would sit quietly with a book in his lap, mouthing the story to himself, occasionally asking for help with a tricky word like “asked” or “science.” Or he would page through a book in bed, often falling asleep with it still clutched in his hands, the cover tipped down over his face.

But in the interval between the call for reviewers and the books arriving on our doorstep, Ben became a quite confident reader, indeed. He was asking for less help, and moving from familiar books (those we’d read over and over–and over–again) to books he knew less well. When the box from Scholastic arrived, I said, “Hey, Ben, these books are really for you! Can you let me know if you like them? I’m supposed to let other parents and teachers know what kids think about these books.”

I opened up the package for him and started to slide one of the books out of its nice box (we love boxed sets of books, like the Nutshell Library and the Bunny Planet; there’s such pleasure in simply easing the book in and out of its spot). But Ben took the whole box out of my hands, protesting, “Those are my books!” True enough.

So here I am, watching my son go all independent on me. This month, he started kindergarten after two years at a co-op preschool. We spent nearly as much time at that preschool as he did; we knew everything about his day. Now, we drop him off at 8:30, pick him up at 2, and rely on his selective memory to learn anything about his day. He surfs the internet, downloading videos of BART trains on YouTube. And now he’s reading on his own.

He opened the box, pulled out a book, and started to read. Then he started to crack up. Then he started reading to his little brother. Eli started laughing, too.

So let me say this about the BOB books: I love them.

One Step Forward…

Normally, making a stack of boxes in the hallway nearly two years after we moved in would drive me wild, but this is actually progress. When we moved out to renovate, we boxed up 100% of my teaching files, 90% of our books, and random other stuff, stacked the boxes in Ben’s enormous bedroom closet, closed the door, sealed the door with plastic against construction dust, and set off for Mill Valley.

One year later, with a 7 month-old baby in tow, we moved back home. We’d lived without the stuff in the boxes for so long, we couldn’t remember what most of it was. We’d accumulated plenty of more stuff in the intervening months (not to mention that new member of the family!) and were in no hurry to unpack. Even if I’d had any burning desire to unpack, frankly, there wasn’t the time to do it.

So the boxes continued to sit there quietly. Periodically, we would make an expedition into the closet in search of a book, an old syllabus, or a piece of clothing. A couple of months ago, I found a box of 12-18 month clothing that I’d carefully stuck near the front of the closet, knowing we’d be back home again before we had a baby that size. Oh, well. I sent that straight to Goodwill.

Eventually, we knew, we’d want to empty it all out, decant the boxes into bookshelves and dressers and other closets, but that required a a level of organization and a plan that we hadn’t yet achieved. Well, now we think we have. There’s a plan involving a bunk bed, and Ben and Eli sharing a room, and this closet (which is huge, by the way), will hold all their clothes, most of their toys, and still offer room for a fort/reading nook.

So it was time to empty it out.

Friends offered to take the boys for the day. A nice guy came and gave us an estimate on building some living room bookshelves. A bunk bed’s been chosen, and closet shelving, too. We just had to reclaim the closet.

And here’s what we found (because I’m so into list-making these days):

  • 24 boxes of books, labeled things like “Fiction G-K,” “Tony Fractal-ish books,” “Cookbooks to read (living room),” or “Dad’s books” (yes, an entire box of my father‘s output). Keep it all.
  • 1 bankers box of my dissertation notes and drafts – keep. I still think there might be a book in there somewhere.
  • 1 bankers box of notes and essays related to my PhD qualifying exams – keep, just because I’m still sort of impressed at how organized I was, and how much I read.
  • 1 bankers box of old financial records, tax returns, and the like – keep. Because They say you should.
  • 1 milk crate of Tony’s videotapes, things like Fractal Luminations, Images of Chaos, and Harry Smith’s Early Abstractions.
  • 1 milk crate of my videotapes: copies of my dissertation films (Leave Her to Heaven, Shadow of A Doubt, Lost Boundaries, Pinky, and others), movies I taught (Heathers, The Searchers, Manny & Lo, and more), plus clip tapes I made so that in those pre-DVD days we didn’t spend valuable class time searching for the scene I wanted to discuss.
  • 2 bankers boxes of my teaching records: syllabi, evaluations, course readers. I’m almost ready to jettison this, except this past spring I dug out my “How to Make An American Girl” syllabus and sent it to a friend working on a new book. So this stuff comes in handy sometimes.
  • 1 box of writing handbooks and readers, like Writing Essays about Literature, the Bedford Handbook, Andrea Lunsford’s Everyday Writer, the Random House Handbook – both the student and instructor editions. I’m ready to give these away (anyone want ’em?)
  • 1 framed movie poster for Rebecca, the one that shows Joan Fontaine’s head emerging from the du Maurier novel, which hung over my desk as inspiration while I was working on my short-lived Hitchcock book (I wrote the Rebecca chapter and then put it away)- keep.
  • 1 box of audiotapes, mixes from my brother like Sixties Soul Singles, and mixes from dj friends of Tony’s, like “Mushroom Jazz”, and even a tape of Tony’s old group, Bass House Funk, recorded live at SF’s Kennel Club–transfer to digital and then jettison.

By next week, I hope, the boxes will be empty and we’ll reclaim the hall!

What’s Gone, What Remains

What’s Gone:

  • Changing table
  • Cloth diapers (re-purposed now as cleaning rags)
  • Disposable diapers
  • Swim diapers
  • Diaper covers
  • Cloth diaper clips
  • Potty
  • Toilet seat insert
  • Diaper bag
  • Breast pump (hallelujah!)
  • Breast-feeding pillow
  • Nursing bras
  • Bottles
  • Sippy cups
  • Formula
  • Bibs
  • Baby food mill
  • Nubby rubber “toothbrush” for toothless baby
  • Tiny rubber-coated spoons
  • Sectioned infant-feeding bowls
  • High chair
  • Booster seat
  • Bouncy seat
  • Bucket car seat
  • Stroller for bucket car seat
  • Jogging stroller (a nice idea, maybe if I’d had very little babies…)
  • Baby gates
  • Cabinet latches
  • Clothing sized by month
  • Onesies (deep sigh)
  • One-piece footie pjs (long gone, once we discovered Ben slept better if he could reach his belly button)
  • Crib bumper
  • Port-a-crib
  • Teething toys
  • Nasal aspirator (used maybe the first week of Ben’s life? and later—cleaned—as a teether)
  • Rattles
  • Gymini
  • The sound machine that soothed Ben to sleep so well we used it for Eli, too
  • Babies

What remains:

  • Wipes (We will always use wipes. I clean my house with wipes.)
  • Crib (though the bunk bed has been selected)
  • Car seat
  • Boys

Hurray for the boys.

Out of the Tunnel!

When we renovated our house two years ago, we moved out to Marin, 2 tunnels and 1 bridge away. But nearly every day, we drove back into the city: to check on things at the house, to take Ben to preschool, to visit with friends. Ben loved all the driving–he learned to identify every make and model of car on the road; but Eli was just a little bug at the time and didn’t (to put it mildly) much like spending time in the car. The one thing he liked, though, was those two tunnels: one (this is so very Northern California) painted with rainbow stripes on the outside; one unpainted, but longer, and with lights inside. He loved the sudden darkness and then the sudden (to him) whoosh back out into the light. We got into the habit of counting down “3-2-1 tunnnnnnnelll!” as we entered each tunnel, and then yelling out a dramatic “O-o-out of the tunnel!” as we drove out. It cracked him up, and hollering like fools is a small price to pay for family harmony on the road. We still do it. And today, as we drove home from a visit to a friend in Marin, Eli clapped as we drove out of the tunnel and I thought, whew, we are out of the tunnel. Ben’s back in school, Eli seems not to have gotten the bug, Tony and I are both back on our feet. Let’s hope it lasts!

Stomach Flu Math

In The Secret Lives of Dentists, Campbell Scott and Hope Davis play seasoned parents of three who, watching one child after the other succumb to a stomach bug, calmly calculate how long it’ll be before they get hit themselves, and how long until the entire family emerges, healthy, from the Tunnel of Sick.

I’ve been thinking about this movie a lot today.

Day One – Sunday: Tony wakes with chills and fever. I send him back to bed, take both boys to a party to which only Ben was invited, take them both for an extended visit with a friend. We come home for lunch and Eli naps. Ben and I read books — I’m in conservation of energy mode, because who knows yet how long this will last?

Day Two – Monday: Ben wakes feeling rocky, but insists on going to school. At the breakfast table, in the car, and on the walk from car to classroom I have second thoughts, but he continues to insist that he’s “up for it.” He brightens when he sees his teacher. I remind her of my cell phone number and leave, uncertainly.

Day Two, 11:30 AM: Ben made it three hours before admitting that his head hurt and he wanted to come home. Eli and I have been home long enough to eat lunch (nice timing!) and we pile back into the car. Eli falls asleep on the drive over, so I carry him inside. We find Ben curled up in a little bunk bed in the school’s administration office, enjoying the secretaries’ attention. Eli’s all excited about the bunk bed (“Li-li climb laddah! Li-li climb laddah!”) but I manage to extricate him without much fuss. He walks to the car while I carry Ben.

Day Two, noon-4pm: All the Grant boys sleep while I work on my column and try to ignore
incipient headache. Ben and Tony’s naps are a good thing; Eli’s makes me worry that he’s coming down with it, too.

Day Two, 4-6pm: Boys flop on couch reading books and watching Oswald. I get all the beds made up with fresh sheets, do the dishes, run to the grocery store to stock up on apple juice, apple sauce, and rice (bananas and plain bread for toasting: check). I’m still aware of the headache, and is that a chill in the air, or is it me? I take some tylenol.

Day Two, 6pm: Eli looks around at us all now flopped on the couch and asks, “Dinner? Li-li dinner?” Poor guy, I almost forgot! Scrambled eggs, toast, and veggie bacon it is. Tony joins him — his first meal since Saturday night. I eat a big plate of rice, lentils, cherry tomatoes, spinach and yogurt (sounds weird; tastes great, though I hope I don’t see it again). Ben makes a supreme effort to join us at the table, sipping his water.

Day Two, 7pm: Bedtime! Eli has spent the last half hour couch-diving and generally entertaining us. The class clown, he shows no signs yet… and yet, I can’t help wondering if this is just a last-burst adrenaline rush before he succumbs, too.

Tune in tomorrow…with any luck, even if it really hits Eli and me, too, we’ll be done with this by Friday.


We’ve undergone many milestones recently: Eli toilet-training; Ben starting kindergarten; me completing a book. But today, we did something that keeps making me smile, that makes our house seem bigger and much more easily navigable.

We took down all the baby gates.

Eli is now a free boy!

More big changes await, as we order a bunk bed for the boys, a pull-out couch to turn Eli’s little room in to a guest room, and move my desk in there, too, so that when it’s not a guest room, it can be (drum roll, please) an office for me. I’m can hardly breathe for excitement at the prospect of having my computer and my bed in separate rooms.

But for now, we’re all just reveling in having those three bulky gates gone. We hadn’t been using them much these last few months, anyway, but they took up space (and, we discovered, collected lots of dust underneath them). The hallways and stairs seem magically wider and brighter now.

Family Sushi Night

Why didn’t we do this sooner? Recently I noticed a few moms handing out sheets of toasted nori to their kids and was reminded what a good snack it is; plus, we go out for sushi every month or so — why not make it at home?

We used:
2 c cooked short grain white rice, tossed with rice vinegar, sugar and salt
one slivered avocado
one slivered carrot
one slivered cucumber
2 slivered sweet potatoes, roasted with sesame oil and soy sauce
1/4 lb shitake mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in a bit of sesame oil
2 eggs scrambled with a bit of rice vinegar

I meant to fry up some tofu, too, but forgot. No matter–we had plenty of fillings, and even some leftover. Making sushi with two kids is a bit of an art project, but they ate a ton and are already dreaming of creative sushi fillings for next time (roasted broccoli! spinach! edamame!)
It’s a good, cheap dinner that everybody likes.

Slow and Fast

Slow: Our morning routine for 5 1/2 years. With me working from home and Ben in afternoon preschool the last two years, why get out of pj’s in the morning? Sure, we’ve had the regular assortment of playdates and (before Eli was born) classes, but for the most part, it’s been rather lounge-y around here, the weekdays not feeling too different from the weekends.

Fast: Our new up-and-out lifestyle. We’re up at 7 and out the door at 8 to drive 4.5 miles to school (20 minutes; we’re still looking for the quickest route), park (5 minutes; we’re learning the street sweeping schedule), and get Ben comfortably settled in the kindergarten classroom (good morning to the teacher; backpack in the cubby; yellow cardboard boy in the attendance chart) by 8:30. “Rushrushrush!” says Eli as we run down the street.

Slow: The morning pace once we say goodbye to Ben. Eli and I stroll slowly back to the car, stopping to say hello to the dogs parked outside school, to examine small plants growing out of sidewalk cracks, to observe the construction on the building down the street, to count the boats out on the bay.

Fast: The morning pace from 7-8am. Get up, get dressed, get fed, get out the door. Done!

Slow: Eli’s pace from 7-8, as he stonewalls and tries to prevent Ben’s departure for school. “No Buh-buh go school. Li-li miss Buh-buh,” says Eli.

Fast: Eli’s sudden rejection of Ben’s preschool, the school he’s longed to attend this past year. It took only 4 days of kindergarten for Eli to announce “No Li-li go preschool. Just go straight Buh-buh school.”

Slow: These first few days of kindergarten, getting adjusted to our new routine. We don’t know all the kids’ names yet, nor their parents. We haven’t had our lunchroom duty yet, our first parent-teacher night, nor even our first soccer game.

Fast (I expect): This year of kindergarten. Check back in June!


Mama Zen wins this month’s Pay It Forward Book Exchange. Tune in again next month for another fabulous giveaway.

My Booky Weekend

It’s rare that I get two nights out in a row, rarer still that I get two such different, such enjoyable booky events in a row, but that’s what I got this past weekend.

First up, a reading from the new Bad Girls anthology at my friend, teacher, and fellow columnist Susan Ito’s house. She always gathers a fabulous group of people, this time many of my fellow Literary Mamas, including Ericka Lutz, Rachel Sarah, Joanne Hartman and Sybil Lockhart. Meanwhile, the Bad Girls themselves are fantastic writers: Ellen Sussman (the book’s editor), Lolly Winston, Mary Roach, and Kim Addonizio all read from their essays, and I’m eager to read the whole book. Following the reading, the writers answered a range of questions; it was interesting to hear Ellen Sussman talk about how her idea of the anthology shifted as she was editing it, as some writers joined up and others, for various reasons, dropped out of the project. And I was interested to hear, as I await cover art for my book, about how many of these writers hate their book covers! Sussman acknowledged that the luscious lips on the Bad Girls cover will probably sell some books — but worries that those same lips might put some readers off.

The next night, a very different, quieter event: a reading by George Saunders at a home in Menlo Park. The hostess, Kimberly Chisholm (another Literary Mama writer; the Bay Area is full of us!) periodically gathers writers together for an informal salon, and I wound up on this lucky guest list due to the good graces of LM columnist and Mama, PhD contributor Jennifer Margulis. Saunders read a story, talked about the different approaches he takes to writing fiction, nonfiction, and humor pieces, told us about trying to find something new to write about Bill Clinton (with whom he recently traveled in Africa), and revealed that even very successful writers sometimes need a bit of encouragement.