Friday, September 28, 2007

Less than what I'm worth

I spent this morning complaining about being offered two new freelance gigs...or, rather, being given the chance to take tests/do some kind of audition for two new freelance gigs. What's my problem? My problem is that my career seems to be going in the wrong freaking direction. It seems like every offer I get these days pays less than what I used to make...or even what I'm making today. And yet there are reasons not to turn them down flat, reasons to take the tests or do the spec work or whatever and see what comes of it. Still, how is it possible that, 20+ years down the line, I'm earning LESS per word, per hour, per week, per year, than I did when my career actually started to take off? How is it possible that someone with 20 years' experience in the writing and editing field can have to work two or three serious jobs to make enough to live on? (This is not about Baroy; comments about his work life are unwelcome at this point. This is about the fact that writers and editors get paid less and less each year, even before you do things like adjust for inflation. This is about the fact that I made $1 a word as a writer in 1988, and now have to fight for jobs that pay half that.)

[Stefania, Jess, I don't think this actually qualifies as a Life Change, but dang. It's definitely a Yearning for a Change. Does that count?]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


N gets out of school 20 minutes before Em does, so we wait on the playground and he hangs around with his first-grade friends and the other first-, second-, and third-graders who have fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade siblings. (The middle of that sentence--"and he hangs around with his first-grade friends"--is a freaking miracle, by the way, and don't think I'm not well aware of it. I thank God, the universe, and whoever else might be responsible for it on a daily basis, don't think I don't.)

As I stood talking to another first-grade mom today, N suddenly came over, crying, and hid behind my back. "He called me 'weirdo'," he said, pointing to a third-grader standing across from us. I looked where he was pointing, and the little boy immediately began sputtering apologies--"I didn't mean it! We were just fooling around! He was bothering me!"--in that way busted little kids always do.

I pulled N around so I could look at him and said, "You're not a weirdo, and you know it. You can tell that boy it's not nice to call names, or you can just ignore him, but go and play with your friends."

N nodded, then walked right up to the boy...and shoved him. Not hard. Just one good, solid shove.

I gaped for a full minute, then began the official dressing-down-and-punishing routine, which included going over the little, I mean, the boy he'd pushed...and apologizing to him.

But, really? In my heart? I wished he'd kicked him, too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ball buster

A couple of years ago, N had a twofer surgery to take care of an undescended testicle and an epigastric hernia. The surgery went well in the sense that he woke up from the anesthesia, had no complications, and was in very little pain. But other than that, well, it was more or less a complete bust.

Today we went to see a new and different urologist about N's right testicle, the one that used to be just fine, at least until a couple of days after the surgery on his left one. And...hey! Who didn't see THIS coming?...they want us to schedule a surgery to pull this one down, too. I said that I wanted to see yet ANOTHER surgeon before we did so, though--again, one to look at the hernia and tell us if there's likely to be a reason to operate on it within the next couple of years, because if there is, then I want them done at the same time AGAIN. Except this time? I want a written guarantee. Not that they'll give me one, but still. Because I'm really not sure what I'll do if my kid gets cut into again only to have everything reverse twenty minutes post-op. All I can say is that it will probably involve the cutting-into of said surgeons' own scrotum. And maybe a little twisting of the balls held therein.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Make believe?

While I was out taking one of my errand-running walks (though I suppose I should call them errand-walking walks!) Em and N decided to put on a show. By the time I returned, they had created this very surreal, mime-ish, fully choreographed skit about a robber (Em) and a policeman (N). There were flips and parts where Em threw N over her shoulder and carried him across the room; they wrestled and did martial arts moves, and you could tell they'd rehearsed every move. And at the end, the policeman was lying on the bed in a heap, and the robber was raising her fist in victory.

"Hold on!" I protested. "The robber wins?"

"Yup," Em said, smiling.

"So what kind of point does that make?"

"No point," she replied. "That's just the way it goes."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Deep Yom Kippur Thoughts

Twenty-six hours without food is a long fucking time.

Matzoh balls are little spheres of heaven. And they are only more heavenly when you haven't eaten in 26 hours.

The only thing less fair than having to buy and set out the snacks for the kids at the family service is having to watch them EAT the snacks during a break. The only thing less fair than having to watch them eat the snacks during a break is having to clean up the snack table after the services are over. dumping bowls of nuts and raisins and dried apricots and carrots and celery and tiny tomatoes into baggies and sealing them, even though it seems like each raisin is a tiny mouth screaming, "Eat me! Eat me!"

It's hard not to believe in God somehow when you're in the midst of a prayer about the cleansing of your soul and the heavens open up and the entire WORLD, it seems, is cleansed in the space of about three minutes. Cleansed and, possibly, drowned. But let's focus on the redemptive, shall we?

It's also hard to keep a room full of young children in their seats singing said prayer when said heavens open up.

And it's hard to keep praying while those same children are screaming, "Hey! Check it out! Everything's flooding!" and asking if they can go dance around outside.

But it was OK. It felt...right. And it feels even righter now, in retrospect, with a full belly and the sound of the last shofar blast of this season still ringing in my ears.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Boy Crazy

Em: I think S likes me.

Em's friend, C: He better not.

Me: Why 'he better not'?

Em: Because C likes him...a lot!

C, nodding: I'm boy crazy.

Em: She likes a lot of boys in our grade.

Me: What about you?

Em: Me? Nah.

C: She just thinks of them as friends. That's what different about us. She just likes boys as friends, and I'm boy crazy.

Em: Yeah that's why I'm more of a jock than you. I just see boys as friends. Plus, I have a brother.


Forget what I said yesterday. The REAL advantage to working from home is being able to listen in on/be part of these post-school-day-snack conversations. They crack me up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


In general, my working from home hasn't been quite the boon to the kids and the homefront that I'd thought it would. Because there is no outside-the-home office that I have to go to, there is also no inside-the-home place to get away from work. As I've complained about before, I'm always at the computer, always putting the kids off. And housekeeping? Even worse. Because if I'm going to take time away from working, I'm CERTAINLY not going to spend it vacuuming or dusting.

But every now and then, I pull myself away from the computer for a moment to give my brain a break, and I do something that I wouldn't be able to do otherwise. And that helps make me feel a little better about this whole enterprise, however tenuous is may be.

All of which is to say that, today, when my kids get home from school, they will each get to have a slice of fresh-from-the-oven, made-from-scratch banana bread for a snack. As they chow down, my inner Martha will smile, pleased with what she accomplished this morning while also answering emails and templating articles for the not-yet-relaunched website and compiling a Religious School PTA Parent Handbook.

And so, for jsut a few moments, all will be long as Inner Martha keeps her eyes on the kids, and doesn't look at the stack of plates in the sink and the dirt-splattered floor and the dog hair piling up against the baseboards and...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What I Learned on Rosh Hashanah

1. There is almost nothing as important to me as feeling accepted and included. It's sort of pathetic, really. And I'm not sure where it comes from, since it's not like I was an outcast in junior high or can sobsobsobpoorme for days on end retelling tales of how the girls in high school did me wrong. But something in me just plain THIRSTS to be part of things.

Which means that I was like a (not killed and eaten since that wouldn't be kosher) pig in mud this week when Baroy, the kids, and I were invited to a luncheon after services at the home of a couple who could arguably be called the synagogue's biggest machers. It was the luncheon to which the rabbi, the cantor, and the president of the temple were going. More importantly, it was the luncheon to which several of my friends (some of whom are actually in the positions named above, but most of whom are just People Whom Everyone Likes) were invited, and it was the luncheon to which I had not been invited the year before. Not that that had bothered the time. But in the past year, I've really gotten to know the hosts, and the people that attend these gatherings, and...I'll admit it. I got a huge rush when I was asked to attend.

And then, on the second day, I was asked by another friend from the temple if I would like to attend her women's study group after the second day of services. This is a very small, handpicked group of people, most of whom are women I know very well. It is also a group to which I had not received an invitation the year before. So, when I was asked this year...well, I was like the cat who ate the canary. (I don't think that analogy breaks any of the laws of kashrut, does it?)

Lesson summed up in a different way: I am shallower than the LA River.

2. My daughter can blow the shofar like nobody's business. After the family services broke up the first day and most of the folks had left, Em was talking to the cantor (who runs those services for us) while I cleaned up the snack tables with a couple of my Religious School PTA cohorts. When we heard the shofar blowing again, we looked at each other and said, "Now, see, THAT's what it should have sounded like during the service! Bet he's pissed that he's only NOW finding his groove."

Except, of course, it wasn't Cantor. It was Em. Cantor was truly impressed with her, and she was beaming away. Of course, then he mentioned it to Rabbi, who suggested that Em might want to give it a go at the second-day services, at which point I had to admit that I was sending her back to school for the second day. "Well, that's OK," he said to Em. "You can try it at the tashlich service [where we meet in a park and symbolically cast our sins upon the waters by scattering bread crumbs in a running stream] on Sunday." At which point I had to admit that she wasn't coming to do tashlich, either, because she had soccer photos at the same time. And then became immediately and completely tongue-tied and guilt-ridden and walked quickly away, even though the man didn't even flinch, and I'm one of the last people he's going to give a hard time about not showing up places, since I'm there all the time these days. Still, I could just hear a voice telling me that I was wrong for putting soccer before services. Sure, it was MY voice, but still...

Lesson summed up in a different way: No matter what we do, we parents can't win. But also, my kid rocks.

3. N needs to stop paying so much attention at services. Cantor's sermon at the family service on the first day was about the sorts of 'new year's resolutions' the kids could make that would be in keeping with the spirit of the holiday. He was using examples of things like chores, and how the children should make an effort in the coming year to do the things their parents ask them to do, so that the parents don't have to ask them over and over again. "And for your part, parents," he said, "you need to make an effort to stay calm and patient with your children, instead of jumping on them the minute they make a mistake."

And so it was that, tonight, after I'd told Em, N and Em's friend J--who was sleeping over--to get ready for bed and to get their stuff set up in the family room, and after N had dawdled and dawdled and dawdled some more and then thrown a mini-tantrum about how I had spread out his blanket on the floor (there were WRINKLES! and even though they were only at the bottom, it STILL BOTHERED HIM!), I yelled at him to get into bed or suffer vague but dire consequences. To which he responded, "I thought you promised not to be mean any more in the future." To which Em almost literally yowled with laughter.

Lesson summed up in a different way: Busted. And by a 6-year-old. Damn. I mean: Darn.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What he said when I asked him

Several of you asked me, apropos of my last post, what N said when I asked him about his ostensibly odd response to the 'favorite number' question.

Truth is, I hadn't asked him at all at first; I didn't want him to think he'd done it 'wrong' or that I was disappointed with him. But when you all pointed out the 2+6=8 thing--despite the fact that I know my kid, and I know that's not the way he thinks--I had to check to be sure. And so I went to him and asked, and it turns out you guys were about half right. Or at least meg was about half right when she said that maybe he thought your favorite number had to be between 1 and 10--except, as N explained to me, somewhat circuitously, the favorite number had to be between 1 and 20.

"Oh," I said, "so you couldn't have 26 as your favorite number, then."


"So why did you say your favorite number was 8? How did you come up with the number 8?"

"Because I like it."

"But why? Does it have anything to do with number 26?"

"I like it because Emmy used to be 8. Before she was 9 and 10."

Yeeeeeeah. Like I said, not the way he thinks. But I will admit, it would have been really cool if you were right and I could say things like, "Well, the reason I can't understand what he's saying is because he's just TOO SMART FOR ME."

(Don't say it, you. I know you were about to.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pragmatics, Part III

There couldn't be a clearer example of what I am trying to talk about here than the one handed to me at Back to School Night last night.

After N's teacher had finished her shpiel, she invited us to look around at some of the work the kids have done just in these past seven days of school. On the back wall, papers were stapled to a bulletin board, each filled out by a different child in the class. The kids filled in the blanks in the following sentence: My favorite number is __ because __________.

Most of the kids had written similar statements:

"My favorite number is 6, because I am 6."

"My favorite number is 9, because my sister is 9."

"My favorite number is 20, because that is when I'm going to get married." (Hee! That one just slayed me. And, for the record, it was written by N's Loving Girl, whose mom took one look at the paper, covered her eyes with her hands, and waved me off when I came over to gently mock her. "I know, I know," she sighed. "I don't even know what to say.")

Clearly, a bunch of the kids had...well, let's say maybe they borrowed from each other. Or maybe the teacher suggested specific ideas for how to decide on your favorite number. Whatever the case, there were at least a half dozen statements on the order of "My favorite number is 12 because I was born on July 12" and "My favorite number is 3 because I was born on April 3."

And then there was N's: "My favorite number is 8," he wrote, "because I was born on January 26."

What the...?

The thing is, it would be hilarious if it weren't so messed up. Or maybe it would be messed up if it weren't so hilarious. But whatever it is, it's a pretty clear example of what I mean when I say that sometimes he just doesn't...just CAN'T...make sense.

[Also at Back to School Night was a one-on-one conversation about how the teacher wants to work on getting N to stop sucking his thumb at school because she fears he's going to get teased by the other kids. More on that another time, but for now, let me just say: Iceberg? Meet tip.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mitochondria and Sexual Harassment

“Guess what Mom?” Em says as we walk down the hill from school toward our street. “We started our science unit today, and it’s about cells, and guess what we talked about? Mitochondria! And I told my teacher about how we’re reading that book and how it’s about mitochondria, so I already knew all about it!”

We’ve been reading A Wind in the Door, Em and I, Madeleine L’Engle’s follow-up to A Wrinkle in Time. (We began reading it before her death last week, but it’s made the reading ever more poignant, at least for me.) It’s about dragons and snakes and the universe and such, but it’s also about mitochondria. When we got to the first mention of mitochondria, I went into full-on science-writer-mom mode, and drew pictures of cells and mitochondria and talked about how they transform certain types of matter into energy, which they then store. Yadayadayada. I couldn’t have set Em up any better for a section on cells and organelles if I’d planned it.

“How cool!” I exclaimed. “That must have been fun for you.”

“It was,” she said. And then, without a pause, “Oh, yeah, and then after that, we saw a film on sexual harassment.”

“You saw a...what?” I looked around. Did I just hear that from my fifth-grader? The one whose friends have yet to be officially school-taught what sex is (though Em actually known the details since she was five...see above re: science-writer mom).

“You know, a film about sexual harassment, and how if anyone does something sexual to you, they can be EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL,” she says, with a gleam in her eyes. Expulsion is exciting, you know.

“But do you even know what sexual harassment IS?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes at me, though only slightly, because she’s still only 10, and a well-mannered kid, and knows she’d get her head handed to her if she overdid it.

“Well,” I finally croaked. “Mitochondria and sexual harassment. All in one day. That’s...a lot.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding and grinning. “It is a lot, isn’t it.” At which point N, who’d been walking ahead and oblivious, turned around to ask if I would carry him the rest of the way home, and I scoffed at him, and he complained about how tiiiiiiiiired he was, and we continued our stroll, talking about stuff, but about nothing at all. Because, really. After mitochondria and sexual harassment, what’s left to talk about?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Freedom of Information

We were talking about my dad last night, my best buds and I. No, I'm not obsessing; in fact, I think that as someone who lost her father less than two months ago, I've spent a remarkably small amount of time talking and/or even thinking about him. Plus, there was actually a fairly direct line to the subject.

Anyway, one of the hubbies, who hadn't heard the whole birth certificate/name story, began asking me some questions. We got onto the subject of Dad's military service, and--being an officer himself--he asked some more questions, to which I was only able to give the vaguest of replies. My dad had told me some very convoluted and seemingly implausible story about his military service, and switching branches during the Korean War, and a records screw-up that led to his being dishonorably discharged from one branch, but honorably discharged from another. This led to a discussion of how it would have been possible for him to be getting VA health benefits, since he didn't seem to fit either of the criteria--retirement after 20 years of service, or a service-related injury.

"You know," I said, finally. "I can't even say for sure what his NAME was; I certainly can't answer any of these questions. And each question leads to several more."

"Well," my friend said, "why not do a Freedom of Information Act request on him?"

Uh. Duh. Apparently, over 20 years in journalism has NOT honed my investigative skills to a razor-sharp edge. Or even to a piss-poor dull edge, since FOIA is equivalent to Journalism 101. Sigh.

And so, this morning, I found myself at the National Personnel Records Center website, where I discovered I didn't even have to jump through any serious hoops. Being the daughter of a deceased serviceman, all I had to do was sign and fax an affidavit to that end and then give some info about my dad (SS#, date of birth, simple stuff like that), after which I was told that the information I requested would be mailed to me.

And that was that. I only requested info from the supposed "first" branch of the service he was in, asking to know about his discharge from that service, and asking for his medical records, especially mental health (which was an option in the menu of choices available to me). We'll see what I get, and when.

But I do have to say, it feels a little...ghoulish. Or something. Like, is it really my business? Why do I care? Why do I want to know? Actually, that's disingenuous. Whether or not it's really my business is a real and legitimate concern, but I know why I want to know...because I hate being not in the know, for one thing. But even more to the point, because at the back of my mind, prodded forward on a regular basis by a number of different people with the same idea, there's a book brewing. A book not about my dad so much as about lies and truth and mental illness. A memoir, perhaps--not of his life, but of his life's impact on my life. Or something less personal and more contemplative. Or something less personal and more scientific. I'm not quite sure. And it may never come to pass. But in the meantime, I'll probably slowly, very slowly, follow a few of these paths towards knowing at least a couple of 'truths' about my father, to see how or even whether they resolve some of the fuzziness--both factual and emotional--I feel when I think about him.

I'll let you know what I find out, if anything...

Friday, September 7, 2007


They've been back in school for four days now, my kids. The news is all good. One might even say it's awesome.

To begin with, all in the World of 5th-Grade Em is as it should be; she's thrilled with the teacher she got (her first male teacher! this is very exciting for her!), she has a number of friends in her class, she's excited about everything they'll be doing this year. Although she's a good student, what always stands out for teachers is her enthusiasm. It's fun to watch her get pumped up to learn. She's excited to do her 'state report.' She's excited for Colonial Day (it's in the spring, but she's already planning her outfit). She's excited for chorus to start, to find out what instrument she's going to play in orchestra, to do extra-credit current events writeups so that she gets more 'table points' towards whatever reward it is the teacher has set up for them. She was even excited to get started on her multiplication-table flashcards, which she has to do in addition to regular homework, because she didn't do well on the multiplication review test the teacher gave them.

None of this is a surprise. This is, and always has been, Em. She's happy, she's interested, she's capable, she's motivated. She loves being around all the other kids, but doesn't get overly involved in cliques and infighting--except when it involves her best friend, which it often does, but that's another story for another time. She's bright enough to do well without having to kill herself, but not so bright that school bores her. With Em, it's all good. This will likely change now that true adolescence is boring down on us, but for now...all good.

All is good with N, too, but that...that is a HUGE surprise. After his entry into kindergarten last year--where his teacher had to physically pull him, crying, into the room on the first day, and then had to hold his hand and walk him into the room for months afterwards--I was a leeeetle nervous about the first day of first grade. So was N. In fact, as he announced to me the day before, "Emmy's excited of fifth grade. I'm scared of first grade. That's what's different about us."

Except...he couldn't have done better. And the circumstances were far from idea. Both his kindy teacher and I had made requests/recommendations about his placement this year, and I had expected those requests to go through, so had talked to him a little bit about the teacher he'd be getting, and how it was going to be a class with first graders AND kindergarteners, and that would be cool, because he could show them what to do in school, etc. Except when we got to school, it turned out he was NOT put in the split class--and two of the kids whose parents had requested NO split WERE put in whatever on that--and he had a different teacher than I'd told him he might, and there are only three kids from his last year's class with him, in a class of 20.

And was fine. Baroy and I dropped Em off at her room, and then walked N into his. We found his desk--his first ever assigned seat, with his name taped across the top...awwwww--and unpacked his backpack together. The little girl who would be sitting across from him came walking into the room then, and I couldn't help but smile, because it was HER. N's "loving girl." (Last year, we'd gotten a picture of the whole kindergarten, and N had pointed to a girl from one of the other kindy classes and said, "See that? That's my loving girl!" And it was the first I'd heard of her, and I couldn't get him to tell me her name or what he meant by "loving girl", but damn that's a cute turn of phrase, and I've remembered her always since. And then it turned out that she's the daughter of friends of friends, and we saw her a lot this summer at our Sunday Music in the Park gatherings, where she would squeal and chase N around the park, and he would pretend to be above it all, except he would be grinning from ear to ear while he shrieked and ran away. That's true love when you're 6.) Just seeing her there made me happy. How could it be a bad year if N's Loving Girl was right across from him?

And so, I leaned down and said, "OK, sweetie, it's time for me to go." And N...well, he gave me a smile, and a big hug and kiss, and said, "Bye, Mama. Bye, Daddy." And then he turned around to face the teacher and...that was that. The teacher told us it was OK to stay for a few moments while she did roll call, but I was already in the back of the room near the door, so I watched while she called N's name, and he raised his hand and said "Here." Just like all the other kids. Spoke right out loud, right there, right then, in his classroom. Something that took, oh, well over a month in kindergarten. And then didn't even flinch when I walked out of the room, whereas last year used to involve peeling him off of me.

When I picked him up after school that day and joined the chorus of parents asking "How was your first day?" I got a huge grin, a thumbs up, and an "Awwwwwwwesome! I love first grade!" And now, after four full days of school, I'm still getting that same response: I love my new class. I love my new teacher. First grade is awesome, Mom.

Awesome indeed.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Baroy's OK

It was, he reports, 80 degrees at 4 am, when he left for the race. The instructions given to the runners at their 6 am start time was that the course was at yellow alert (or something like that), and that they were to be aware that the danger of heat illness was high, meaning that nobody should be aiming for a PR (personal record) that day. Not that Baroy could have even considered going for a PR, he said, since within half a mile of the starting line, his shorts were so wet they became like a weight around his hips, slowing him down. (You should SEE the enormous abrasion on the inside of his thigh from the rubbing of those wet shorts as he ran. Well, OK, maybe YOU shouldn't see it. But you know what I mean. It's nasty and intense and painful. My poor running man.)

So, yeah. He finished. He won't let me say how long it took, except to note that he was at least 15 minutes off his usual pace, but considers just having finished to be a triumph, considering. I have to agree. An insane triumph, but a triumph nonetheless.

And now he's set his sights on the next half marathon, some LA thingy in December. With any luck, the temperatures will have settled back down into the 90s by then.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Because when it's this hot, there really is nothing else to talk about

It's 93 degrees. Not so bad, you say? It's 10:30 pm. Just kill me now.

Worse yet, Baroy is running a half marathon in the morning. The good news is that it's the Disneyland Half Marathon, which involves running through the park. Why is that good news? Because the folks in Walt's employ insist that the marathon be completed before the park opens, so that the park's guests aren't inconvenienced by sweaty, gaspy folks collapsing all over the place, and they don't have to worry about keeping people off the race course. (Frankly, I think it's also so that the marathoners have to pony up the same 3 trillion dollars as the rest of the world if they want to hit the rides after they finish running; don't want them to get 'free' admission with their $100-something race-entry fee, right?) The race thus starts at 6 am, which means Baroy should be done well before 8; the hope is that that means the temps won't actually hit 100 while he's running. (Crazy assed runners; NOTHING could get me to move at a speed above a very slow stroll when it's this hot.)

Kinda sad that tomorrow's the last day of summer vacation, since for a week now, the kids haven't been able to play outside at all, unless they're running through a sprinkler. And even then, it's only after a three-hour sunblock application process, and they come back inside within half an hour, since it hurts to breathe the air outside during the day right now, it's so hot.

As an aside, say happy birthday to my stepdad, H, who turned 80 today. Happy bday H!