Archive for February 2008

Family Dinner in Three Parts

Scene One: Various crowded (or not-so-crowded) restaurants in and around Yosemite, where the staff struggles to find room for our party of eight, so we sit at adjoining tables or booths: four grownups and a happy, growly baby at one, three “big kids” at another. The kids are delighted to be on their own. They color with intense concentration, push their pictures aside for a few moments to eat their dinners, and then color some more. The grownups relax and drink their wine. The baby says “rar-rar-rar” and chews her spoon.

Scene Two: Our dinner table at home, where we are just starting to dig into our pasta with roasted cauliflower.

The players (as usual): Tony, me, Ben and Eli

Eli, pausing before a bite, sitting up a bit straighter: “So Ben, how was your day?”

Ben (taken aback for a moment, then smiling): “Good. [pause] How was your day?”

Eli (delighted): “Good.”

They return to their meals. Tony and I smile and don’t say a word, enjoying the moment.

Scene Three: Our table at home, again; this time we’re eating pasta with chard.

Ben, stuffing a bite into his mouth: “Eli?”

Eli pauses, looks over at his brother and gazes at him blankly as Ben, his mouth full, makes an unintelligible remark.

Eli (paraphrasing a line he’s heard us use daily): “Ben? maybe you should swallow that bite and then talk; I didn’t understand your words.”

Of course, it’s not always so polite around here; just last night, with Tony out, I left the table –taking the boys’ half-full plates with me — when they wouldn’t stop their shrieking contest. But every day it gets to be a bit more like dining with people than with animals. At the very least, we have come a long way from the days of grabbed bites while walking a screaming, colicky baby in circles around the dinner table, and for that, I am truly grateful.

The First Tooth

We don’t seem to track milestones in Ben’s development so much these days. Some time recently we noticed that he can read silently now (which means Eli doesn’t get so many bedtime stories read by his big brother any more), but the days of noting — and recording– the first step, the first jump. . . those days are long past. (He’s playing basketball now, but we’re not holding our breaths for the first slam dunk.)

But today we had a good one to note: he lost his first tooth! Exactly 5 years, 5 months, and 2 days (thank goodness for baby books) after we noticed his first baby tooth, it fell out of his mouth, the casualty of a big bite of dried mango. It’d been hanging on for a couple weeks now, the adult tooth coming up behind, rather than pushing up from below, so he doesn’t even have much of a gap. This strikes us as quite true to form: our Ben doesn’t do anything without being well and truly prepared.

Above: the first tooth, with a Joe’s O for scale

20 Questions

No, it’s not a meme, it’s how we got through 5 1/2 hours on the way to Yosemite. It’s more like 75 questions, but still, it amused me.

Is it alive? (yes)
Is it green? (no)
Is it a plant? (no)
Is it yellow? (no)
Is it an animal? (no)
Is it a person? (yes!)
Is it an insect? (no)

I had to stop writing this Q&A; down to deal with Eli and now I forget what the eventual answer was. But the pause gave us a chance to chat about general questions and specific questions, categories and the like, and then we tried again with a new answer.

Is it made of vinyl? (no)
Is it made of glass? (no)
Is it made of plastic? (no)
Is it made of metal? (no)
Is it made of elastic? (no)
Is it made of wood? (no)
Is it made of rubber? (no)

A pause here to suggest that Ben could ask a basic dead or alive question. He considers, then resumes:

Is it made of paper? (yes!)

And so having proven his method is effective, he moves on:

Is it an origami bird? (no)
Is it an origami frog? (no)
Is it an origami balloon? (no)
Is it an origami airplane? (no)
Is it a songbook? (we’re stunned by the rapid shift in questioning, and sadly answer no)
Does it have to do with music? (no)
Is it a book? (no)

I give him a clue: it has to do with a recent holiday. We review what he knows: it is made of paper. He continues:

Does it have to do with Chinese New Year? (no)
Does it have to do with President’s Day? (still in the future we remind him, and no)
Does it have to do with Valentine’s Day? (yes! we see the light at the end of the tunnel! and then…)
Is it a candy wrapper? (no; and when did Valentine’s Day start to rival Halloween in the kid candy haul department?)
Is it a Valentine?

Ding! ding! ding! hurray! and now a break while we bang our heads against the steering wheel, take a deep breath, and begin again.

Is it a … ?

Road Trips

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California is big.

Now I’ve always known this, even before I lived here and started driving around. I’ve driven from north to south and deep into the middle, too. And I’m not afraid of road trips; I’ve driven across country once (spending the better part of a day crossing Pennsylvania, before I knew people I would like to visit) and once, when a friend and I were 100 miles into a trip before realizing we’d forgotten something, we happily turned around to get it and set off again. Good company, good songs on the radio, some snacks along the way — what’s not to like about a road trip?

Road trips with the kids, of course, are another story. Our first big (over 2 hour) drive with Ben was when he was just a bit over two. We flew the red eye from San Francisco to Washington, DC (no sleep), drove from DC to Richmond, Virginia (no sleep) and then, after breakfast, drove from Richmond to the Outer Banks. For the last leg, I was in the back seat, crammed next to Ben, my sister driving and niece in the passenger seat. They might as well have been in another country, doing the snack-music-conversation thing happily while I read George and Martha Tons of Fun over and over again. Tons of fun it may be for George and Martha, but not for me, not for seven hours. (Thank goodness, it was a great vacation, and as I recall, Tony did Ben duty on the drive back).

A road trip doesn’t have to be long to be rough. When Eli was a little bit, we’d drive into the city most days from our temporary house in Marin, to take Ben to preschool and check the progress of our renovation. Often we’d have dinner with friends in the city before driving the twelve miles back to Marin, and I would spend the drive with my arm stretched back, straining out of its socket, trying to give squalling Eli a finger to suck, until I gave up, unbuckled my seat belt and climbed into the back to comfort him (or, more accurately, myself).

Luckily the kids are pretty good travelers these days — luckily because there’s a lot of California to see! Over the last weekend, we drove 9 1/2 hours to Yosemite and back, put about 500 miles on the car, ate one box of Trader Joe’s mini peanut butter crackers, half a dozen Z Bars, a bag of dried mango, a bag of roasted almonds, some carrot sticks and a lot of dry cereal. We listened to Dan Zanes, Chris Molla, The Beatles, Maroon 5, and Diablo’s Dust. We played 20 Questions (more on that later). Although we timed our drives to coincide with Eli’s naps, he napped a total of 2 out of the 9 1/2 hours. And yet, we did it all without any tears or many raised voices.

I think we’ll do this again.

Mama at the Movies; Persepolis

At school the other morning, as Eli and I were saying good bye to Ben, already settled into a drawing project, a boy walked over and pushed Ben off his chair. Ben was too surprised to talk and even I needed a moment to gather myself before speaking gently to the child, who somehow, in the clueless, bulldozing way of some kindergartners, just hadn’t seen Ben. Ben and I talked about it later, cuddled cozily on the couch, with Eli dancing around us recalling the drama: “Dat boy pushed Benno,” he recounted wide-eyed, the surprise still fresh in his voice. “No push people. Push swings.”

It’s so simple right now, as perhaps a rule-bound two year-old can convey best; and when the rules of polite society are tested by its youngest members, it’s easy enough for a parent to intercede. This week, it was just a rambunctious boy who didn’t see my kid, but I worry about the day someone does see my kid and pushes him anyway. Oh, I know, the world generally treats blonde boys very well, thank you very much, so I teach my boys to wear their privilege respectfully. And yet, Ben’s a smart boy in a culture that doesn’t really pride itself on intelligence; a vegetarian in a meat-eating society; an awkward body in a world that expects boys to run gracefully and handle balls fluidly. He’s a quirky bird, and like any parent, I want to help my child learn to be himself regardless of how the world reacts to him.

My thoughts about Ben were cast into sharp perspective when I watched the beautiful and moving new Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, 2007). Based on Satrapi’s graphic novel, Persepolis is a memoir of her childhood in Tehran during the Revolution, and her lonely adolescence, exiled without her family, in Vienna. The film is largely in black and white (and a thousand gorgeous shades of gray), animated simply, and in French (depending on where you live, your theater will play a subtitled version like I saw, or one with an English voice-over track), all of which, I know, screams “Art-y!” But instead of being distancing, those often off-putting elements combine to create a film that’s so funny and real, of such quiet beauty and emotional resonance, I didn’t want to move after it was over, lest I break its spell.

Read more of my latest column over at Literary Mama!

Into the snow…

We’ve got one duffel bag packed with four pairs of (borrowed) snow pants, four sets of long johns, four pairs of boots, four warm hats, and four pairs of mittens. The suitcase is still yawning open, with pjs and underwear, pants and shirts spilling out, the book lights, my journal, and an optimistic pile of books stacked on and around it. My “don’t forget” list of things I’ll gather after we’ve finished with them this morning, is on the floor: the boys’ bed buddies, toothbrushes.

We are heading into the snow!

And although I will bring my laptop, I am kind of hoping that we don’t have internet access and I can get some writing done.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Happy Valentine’s Day

I know, most of you will not read this till the day after the fact, but the day itself proved too busy for blogging. Still, I was just so delighted with Ben’s card, I had to share.

Most days we have to rouse him at 7, and if we’re doing well he’s out of bed by about twenty after. This morning, I heard him get up and head downstairs on his own before I even had my slippers on, and when I finally got downstairs, this is what greeted me on the kitchen island.

Love is the best. Literate children are pretty great, too.

Literary Mama Columns

I’ve been meaning to point you all away from my blog and toward the Literary Mama columns for a couple weeks now, ever since the latest installment of Libby‘s (on the question of boy books vs girl books) and Elrena‘s (on the question of the Bible’s setting boy rules and girl rules…) fabulous pieces.

Now, those columns have been joined by a whole new cycle: Susan Ito’s sweet Valentine to her husband; Ericka Lutz’s funny piece on binge writing; Ona Gritz’s and Rebecca Kaminsky’s different reflections on self-image; and Shari MacDonald Strong’s beautiful dream for a better world. So head on over to Literary Mama and dive in.

(the image is for Shari’s column; you can start there, but be warned: you’ll have “Yellow Submarine”thrumming through your head the rest of the day!)

A Life in Just Six Words

Inspired by Hemingway, who (maybe) wrote:
“For sale: baby shoes. Never Worn.”
6-word memoirs by various writers.

My “memoir” earned a comp copy.
The entry? Inspired by my book:
“Closed a door, opened a life.”
Pretentious? perhaps, but certainly heartfelt, true.

I can’t put the book down!
My copy from e-friend Felicia Sullivan.
Her entry, page 150, quoted here:
“Weird quiet girl, fading from view.”
Others worth a look; my sister’s:
“Learned reading, writing, forgot arithmetic”
(Though note, it’s only five words!)

Also love this, from Ariana Huffington:
“Fearlessness is the mother of reinvention.”
And also, from writer Daniel Handler:
“What? Lemony Snicket? Lemony Snicket? What?”
or commercial approach from Martha Clarkson:
“Detergent girl: Bold. Tide. Cheer. All.”
And a thoughtful entry; Arthur Harris:
“Good, evil use the same font.”
Brilliant understatement from Roy Blount, Jr:
“Maybe you had to be there.”
And I relate to Barb Piper:
“Rich in degrees and student loans”
Ayelet Waldman always makes me laugh:
“New Jersey to California. Thank god.”

Get the book; read some more.

Nice Timing

The fortune in my cookie tonight:

The world will soon be ready to receive your talents.

And they’re ready to be received.