Friday, February 29, 2008

Proof that I am very much on the wrong side of the generation gap

What I wrote (about exercise during pregnancy, for ParentsConnect): If you’ve been hitting the treadmill already, however, feel free to keep on truckin’.

What my editor changed it to: If you’ve been hitting the treadmill already, however, feel free to continue working out (with your bad self!).

What I thought when I saw that change: Oooooohhhhhh, so you mean for this to be read by parents who are UNDER the age of 75! I get it now!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What Normal Sounds Like

"Hey, Dad, do you want to see what I put in my white-and-orange sack?"

"Mommy, I want to read that book called 'The Fire Cat' again."

"We're having Mrs. Nelson for a substitute tomorrow."

Not more than two months ago, maybe less, those sentences would have read as follows:

"Hey, Dad, do you want to see what I put in that thing? That thing! That thing! There! That thing THERE!" [A tantrum follows.]

"Mommy, I want to read that book again. That book with the thing? The animal thing? NO, not THAT BOOK! The OTHER BOOK! NO NOT THAT ONE!" [A tantrum follows.]

"We're having a substitute yesterday. That teacher I like? That girl? The one we had next month? That OTHER GIRL! THE ONE WE HAD ANOTHER DAY!" [A tantrum follows.]

I have no idea what has changed. He started speech therapy at around the time that Baroy and I started REALLY noticing a huge difference in his language skills, but I mean literally started. Like had his first or second sessions. No way the speech therapist deserves all the credit for this one. Though, hey, if it means this period of enhanced speech development keeps up, then I'll give it to her.

It's amazing, though, how much harder it is to notice 'normal' than it is to notice 'disordered.' It really just sort of dawned on us, slowly, that we were starting to understand him more often, without interpretation, without context. These examples above stood out because of how exceptional they are in their specificity. I mean, before, he wouldn't have even been able to express that he was talking about what he put in a 'sack,' much less think to describe the COLOR of the sack, to make it easier for the person listening to him to know what he's talking about. And the fact that he's not only getting temporal references right, but he remembered the name of a substitute teacher he had...that's remarkable, considering that he has regularly had trouble recalling the names of two of the three women we see EVERY WEEK, who he has known since he was born, who he adores, and at whose homes he has slept over many times.

I am, I must say, absolutely flabbergasted. And thrilled. And excited to see what comes next.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fugitive Me

I was heading down the hill on one of my daily-when-it-doesn't-rain-for-72-days-in-a-row walks, the walks for which I am modestly famous in my neighborhood (if by famous you mean 'referred to regularly as The Crazy Walking Lady...but they mean it lovingly, I'm sure). I had my iPod on, and wasn't really paying attention to anything...until the police car coming up the hill suddenly crossed over onto my sidewalkless side of the street and came skidding to a halt on the gravel just a few yards in front of me. Before I even had a chance to even stop walking forward, both doors of the police car flew open and two officers emerged, striding towards me, hands resting on their holsters.

"Hi there. Where are you going?" the female officer asked me.

"Me? I, um, I'm walking, um, to the, um store?" (Yes, I'm cool under pressure. Why do you ask?)

"Do you live around here?"

I told them my address, and pointed helpfully to my block, just two streets up from where we were standing.

"OK, then. We've had some calls about a woman walking into people's backyards today. She apparently even walked into someone's house through their back door. Sorry to bother you. Can you show us some ID before you go?"

After they drove away, I pulled out my phone to call Baroy. I had only had time to dial and say, "Hey..." when another car, this one heading down the hill in the same direction as me, suddenly pulled over right next to me. "I'll call you right back," I said, and then looked into the unmarked car at the four detectives therein.

"Have you seen a woman, um, walking around here...?" the detective in the front passenger seat asked me, realizing only belatedly that he was describing, you know, me.

"Nope," I said. "I did just hear about it from the officers who checked me out a minute ago, but I haven't seen anything."

"Oh, OK then," said Front Passenger Detective. "Sorry to bother you again."

"No problem," I replied. "Guess there aren't a lot of people who walk around here, huh?"

"Guess not," he said, and the car pulled away.

The rest of my walk was uneventful, though I will admit that I walked down the center of the road when I was on the side streets, just in case the police came driving by. But, sheesh. If this is what happens when I head to the hardware store right down the hill, I can only imagine what's in store for me the next time I try legging it the five miles down to the library in the neighboring town. Helicopter surveillance? SWAT teams? Your guess is as good as mine.

EDITED TO ADD: From the initial comments, I realize I wasn't especially clear. It wasn't *actually* me that people were calling about. There really *was* a woman who had been seen in a couple of back yards, and had actually entered one house. Oh, and I should probably add that I'm somewhat being sarcastic when I say I'm the only person who walks in this neighborhood; there are plenty of dog-walking folks in the mornings and early evenings, and people who walk their kids to and from school, and I hear that the trails at the nearby wildnerness park get a good workout. But I'm definitely one of the few who actually chooses to walk down to the main shopping drag and then back up what is a pretty serious half-mile hill carrying quarts of milk and bottles of beer and pounds of chicken. And I may very well be the only one who regularly not only walks down to the main drag but then heads three or four miles in one direction or another to go to the Goodwill (don't you roll your eyes at me, Jane) or the county library. As my friend Kim once said to me when she ran into me at a store while on her lunch hour and I tried to tell her that the walk wasn't especially onerous, "But this is another town. It's another ZIP CODE! You're insane!" It was on that day that I officially became the Crazy Walking Lady. It's a name I wear with inordinate pride.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One of the Roads Not Taken

There was a point, in college, when I thought about studying literature in earnest, with an eye toward teaching--or writing--literary criticism. I can't use any stronger terms than 'thought,' because it was never more than that. It wasn't a real consideration, because it wasn't something I could logically and realistically see for myself. Literature isn't a career goal, I thought; it's a noun. How can you do something for a living that isn't even a verb?

But, oh, did I love my lit courses. They weren't just about books--they were about reading books carefully, taking books seriously. And I've always been all about that.

There was a problem, however. I was great at taking books seriously, and at reading them carefully. I was even great about taking the threads of various discussions begun in class, or in the pages of a journal of literary criticism, and weaving them into an argument that was a little tighter, a little more interesting.

What I couldn't do, however--not for the life of me--was to start a discussion, to take raw text and breathe insight into it. (Nor, apparently, am I especially good at drawing analogies, because...breathing insight into it? WTF?) Critically, I cannot start from scratch. And if you're going to be good at the whole lit crit thing, that's kind of an important skill to have.

All of this--this desire, but more relevantly, this knowledge that I'm woefully inadequate for the job--came rushing back to me as I recently (finally) read Yann Martel's Life of Pi. It was a great read (though I can't iMAGine how they're translating it to film...or maybe they're not), and I loved every second of it. But that's not the point. The point is that I first put the book on my bedside table after two of my university coworkers not only raved about the book, but began a discussion--in the middle of a meeting, no less--about its allegorical aspects and its larger and weightier take-home messages. (Yes, I left that university job more than 18 months ago, and yes, this meeting happened way before that, even. You have no IDEA how high my bedside-table book stack is. There are so many more books than there is time.) It sounded so impressive, so important. I just had to check it out for myself.

So, when I finally read it, I had that in the back of my head: Allegory. Larger, weightier message. And I could SEE it. I mean, it was obvious. But what was 'it'? I haven't the faintest idea. Was it a Christ allegory? Buddha? Dr. Doolittle? And also, how exactly was that story supposed to convince me that God indeed exists? What did I miss? Without some clues, without someone to lead me step by step through the discussion, I'm lost. Here I am, a supposedly bright, literate woman, someone who actually thought of pursuing a career in the deconstruction of great literature...and all I can do with a book on the level of Life of Pi is say, "Wow. That was intense. How 'bout that tiger, eh?"

I definitely should not quit that day job. (Anyone read it, by the way? Wanna help me out here?)

Monday, February 18, 2008


Em is so charmingly poised between childhood and adolescence that I wish it was possible to freeze-frame her in time so that I can later show her how funny and sweet and silly she is, and yet how you can see the shadows of sulky and confused and sad shifting right beneath the surface. So that maybe she'll be able to understand and not be scared by what is to come.

Or maybe I'd like to do that so that *I* will be able to understand and not be scared by what is to come.

It used to be so easy to tell funny Em stories. She's no less funny now, and no less smart and profound, but it's not easy to tell stories to show that. Now we have conversations, not one-two-punch quips. And most of the humor is of the 'you had to be there' variety.

For instance, you wouldn't find the conversation I had with her on the way home from a friend's house the other day as hilarious as I did; you wouldn't think it was hysterical when she was telling me all about how "adorable" the friend's younger sister, S, was, how S was playing this "cute" game with her dolls, and it was so "sweet" and "funny." You wouldn't have had to bite the inside of your lip to keep from laughing at her when she cooed about S...unless, of course, you knew, as I do, that one of Em's best friends, J, is the same age and in the same grade as the younger sister, and is in fact one of S's best friends as well. And you might still not have found it as funny as I did if you didn't realize that Em and J spend all their time together playing these unbelievably elaborate games with their manymanymany American Girl dolls, games complete with shoe-box-built furniture, birthday parties and goodie bags, emails that go back and forth between Em and J about how one or the other of their babies are feeling/sleeping/eating these days. Then, maybe you would have found it funny to hear Em talk condescendingly about how S was pretending to go grocery shopping with her dolls, as if S were a silly little play-acting toddler. Or maybe not.

All I know is that Em herself didn't laugh when I finally broke down, unable to keep from pointing out the dichotomy, and asked her why it was that she talked about S as if she was a baby, while she plays with J all the time as if they were the same age.

"It's different," she said, looking at me grumpily. "S is so cute and little, and J is taller than me."

See what I mean? That isn't funny at all, on paper. And yet I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. I guess you just had to be there.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My life in just six words

So I just wrote a memoir in six words. So much easier than the book I've been struggling with for close to four years now.

My memoir (under my real name, not TC): I began when I became Mom.

What's yours?

(The Smith site is totally worth checking out the site even if you don't to write one; some of the entries are hysterical, others poignant, others distrubing. And there was apparently a New York Times blog piece on the book that came out of these entries that has a bunch of 'celebrity' six-word memoirs. My personal favorite is Stephen Colbert's. But that's true in general.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I know that there are logical, scientific explanations for these 'weird coincidence' events that seem so significant when they happen but really have little significance. I know that, sure, I may be about to tell you about two events that have kind of freaked me out in that "ooooeeeeeooooo" way, but I don't often think about how many things happen to me on any given day that DON'T wind up in a strange coincidence, and I've probably been due for some kind of connection between events, because that's the way the world works.

I know all this, but I don't really want to think about it, because that would take all the fun out of weird random things happening. Not that either of these things is especially fun. They're just...random. [Hey, I'm trying here! Give me a break!]

The first one: About two weeks ago, my editor at Time emailed to ask me (and a bunch of other writers) for the names of important and influential scientists who might not be the obvious folks already on everyone's radar. Because I've been doing a lot of parenting stuff these days (have you seen the relaunched-but-still-being-redesigned ParentsConnect?) and very little science stuff, I ignored the email, figuring I didn't know of anyone that would fit the bill. But then, a couple of days later, when I couldn't sleep, I thought of a scientist I had written about a lot in my days in university PR. And so, for the first time in about two years, I googled his name, just to see where he was in his experiments on a pretty cool device that might one day make a big difference in a lot of peoples' lives. I didn't see much beyond what I'd written about two years ago, which was pretty preliminary, so I went back to bed.

The VERY NEXT DAY, I got a call from the PR office where I used to work--the first such call since I left there, mind you--asking me if I'd be interested in doing a piece for a new patient/alumni magazine they're launching on behalf of the medical school. A piece on the doctor whose name I'd been googling not twelve hours earlier. An update piece on the exciting work he's doing, because nobody has written about him since I left.

C'mon. That's a little spooky/weird/coincidental, right?

Then, yesterday, as a result of my continuing effort to habitually dispense medical advice without a license, I got an email from one of my colleagues at ParentsConnect, asking me my opinion on whether or not she should get tubes for her son, who has had recurrent ear infections. I sent her a long email, talking about how much the tubes had helped both my kids, and how it had virtually 'cured' them of getting ear infections, especially N, who had his put in at 18 months and hasn't had an infection in the five-and-a-half years since.

Which of course meant that, this morning, I woke up to hear N crying in his bed, and when I went to him to ask what was the matter--he's my relatively cheerful waker-uper, so crying in the morning is pretty unusual--he just pointed to his right ear. At which point, I immediately began wishing for a time machine, so I could go back one day and beat the crap out of myself before I could write those jinxing words about the five-and-a-half years.

Yeah, yeah, I know I didn't actually cause N to suddenly develop pus behind his tympanic membrane. Well, I mean, I know it, but I don't actually believe it. Science and logic be damned. I don't mind so much when something I google in the middle of the night earns me a nice chunk o' change in freelance fees, but when boasting about my kid's health makes them sick...then I get pissed.

[A funny little coda to all this: As I was proofreading the above, my sister called, and asked what I was up to. I told her that I had taken N to the doctor because I gave him an ear infection. "What?" she said. I explained the above, ending by saying, "I mean, I know I didn't give him an ear infection, but..." and she interrupted me. "No. You TOTALLY gave him an ear infection. Oh my god, I'm totally convinced that you did."

This, my friends, is why I love my sister so much. She understands.]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tongue Tied

It's not that I don't have anything to say. It's that I don't have anything interesting to say.

Actually, it's not that, either. I rarely have anything truly interesting to say, and yet I manage to convince myself it's worth the time and energy to post one or another story here. Right now, I'm unconvinced. I'm just not in the mood to natter on and on about stuff that's complicated and difficult to parse and which, in the end, may still not be interesting to anyone but me. Which probably makes me sound like I'm depressed and all woe-is-me-ish, but I'm not. I'm fine. I'm a little annoyed at some people at my synagogue, a little unhappy about some work stuff, a little worried about N's schooling, a little unsure about whether the way I've been handling Em lately is overly tough...or, possibly though not likely, overly lax. Oh, and my feet hurt. But on any given day I'm always a little annoyed and unhappy and worried and unsure, so that's nothing new. (My feet don't always hurt, however. But really. If I'm so hard up for conversation that I have to resort to wondering online whether I have bone spurs or bunions, I might as well hang it up.) I'm also currently enjoying a spate of warm weather and feeling that extra spring in my step (yes, even in my aching step), and having fun playing basketball with N and reading with Em and watching Snug chase various toys around the backyard. And I'm also having fun with people at my synagogue other than the ones I'm annoyed at, and there are some fun work-related things going on, and I'm sure I'll have something nice to say about Baroy as soon as college basketball season is over and I'm not spending most of my time wanting him dead because he has both the TV and the XM radio on full blast listening to games while streaming yet another one on his computer so that the noise makes me want to climb out onto the roof and jump, just so I won't have to listen to it any more. Except, by the time that's over, we'll be in the heat of the presidential campaign, and it'll be 24/7 news around here, which is even worse, because at least the basketball games eventually end. Not so much the talking heads deconstructing every word uttered by anyone in the race. That never ends. God, I want to cry just thinking about it.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Aside from the foot thing, and the basketball/politics thing, I'm totally fine. Really. I just don't have anything to say that's worth your time to read...or mine to write. As soon as I do, I'll be back.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Not One of the Beautiful People

I had dinner the other night with a friend who I'd never met before. Between mailing lists and blogging buddies, there are dozens of people I consider to be friends who I've never actually laid eyes on. I don't need to explain it to YOU, though, because you've been there too. I know you have, so stop looking at me like that.

It was an fabulous evening; this woman and I, who have known each other online for more than eight years, have an awful lot in common in terms of our jobs and our home lives, and we talked and talked and talked and talked. I came home totally energized to really jumpstart my career and get my priorities in order...right up until the next afternoon when N came home and yelled, "Hi, Mom, I'm here and I have a headache!" and I felt his head and nearly burned my hand off.

My friend was staying at the Beverly Hilton, and that's where I met her to have dinner (for which I was totally underdressed, though they were nice enough to let me in the restaurant in jeans and sneakers anyway). My friend was telling me how, the day she arrived, the place had been crawling with paparazzi and limos, and she'd been confused until someone had told her that "the luncheon" had just let out. The luncheon at which the OSCAR NOMINATIONS had been announced, they meant. And she'd been all embarrassed and trying not to stare, which meant that she had missed seeing EVERYONE, especially if by everyone you mean George Clooney.

My friend was deeply regretting her moment of discretion, and so when our waiter arrived at our table, she cheerfully asked him, "So, did YOU at least get to see George Clooney?"

"Oh, no," he sniffed. "But that was nothing. Last week, BARACK was here."

"Obama?" we both obediently squealed. He nodded.

"And now you have us," my friend said. "Sorry."

"Oh, no," he said, in what I'm sure he didn't MEAN to be the most condescending tone ever uttered by one human being to another. "I actually prefer waiting on regular people. You're so much"

That's me, I'll tell you. So much more interesting, simply because I am NOT George Clooney or Barack Obama. Because who would want to meet THEM, when you could have dinner with ME? Right? Right?


Monday, February 4, 2008

In Which My Brothers-in-Law Write My Blog Entry For Me

The only piece of info you need to have is that my brother-in-law J and I were good friends for a number of years before he introduced me to Baroy. (No, not that kind of friends. Really, no.)

This morning, J wrote the following email to his brothers (Baroy, B, and S):
In 1992 or thereabouts, I was watching a playoff game between the Oilers and Bills. The score was 35 to 3 at the half and TC convinced me to turn it off and meet her at a movie theater to see Eddie Murphy in "The Distinguished Gentleman." When we left the movie, I called Sports Phone and the first thing I heard was, "...and in the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL playoffs, Buffalo defeats Houston 38-35." This e-mail exchange followed this morning:

TC to ME: So you didn't happen to turn off the Superbowl, oh, about 45 seconds before it ended in order to watch The Distinguished Gentleman, did you?

ME to TC: No dear. That would have happened only if we'd been in the same city. (TC in 1937: "Let's go get some coffee. You've seen a blimp dock before." TC in 1951: "Aah, go get a hot dog. Bobby Thompson can't hit his way out of the infield." TC in 1863: "It's cold, it's rainy and Lincoln's a terrible speaker. Besides, who wants to go to a cemetery?")
Not to be outdone in smartassness, the rest of the boys (though not Baroy, He Who Knows What Is Good For Him) began to reply in rapid succession:

From B:
TC in February 1964: Who wants to wait in line to see the Ed Sullivan Show? That show's just for old fogey's anyway....

From S:
TC in 1948: "Oh, turn off the radio and meet me at the Persian Room. You can listen to President Dewey's speech tomorrow."

TC in 1956: "Nobody can make a musical out of 'Pygmalion.' It's a waste of an opening night. Give somebody else the tickets and let's go see 'The Green Blob.'"

TC in 1963: "Abe, enough already. There's nothing to film at the end of a motorcade."

From B again:
TC in July 1969: Oh, Neil, turn this thing around and let's go home. There's nothing down there but craters.

From S again:
TC in 1865: Absolutely not. First of all, Laura Keene isn't funny. Second of all, the seats are on the far right side of the Dress Circle. All you can see from there is half the stage and the door to the private boxes. Haven't they invented movies yet???

From J, not to be outdone at his own game:
TC in 25,000 BC: “Oh please, Gorb is always tinkering with something. I’m not investing any of MY shiny pebbles in some round thing for the drag-board.”

And finally, one more from B, who generally has the last word:
TC a ka-pillion years ago: "What?! 'Let there be light?' wasn't enough? 'Heaven and earth?' wasn't enough?! Now they want me to make PEOPLE, too?? No, absolutely not. This is where I draw the line!"

Yep, my brother-in-law just put me in the role of God. Nobody will ever accuse these boys of not taking a joke to its very limits.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Baby

First kids grow up more quickly. Or maybe it just seems like they do. It's not necessarily good or bad; it's just what it is. At least that's what I, as a parent and as a first child, like to tell myself.

It's not only that, when their sibling is born, they become immediately older in your eyes. It's not just that they automatically become the model of Big Kidness that you use to show your littler one what they need to aspire to. It's also more concrete and physical: For instance, although N sometimes still asks me to pick him up--and I do it, more often than not--I stopped carrying Em around when she was 3 years old, and I was as pregnant as anyone ever has been and could no longer carry ANYthing, obviously.

(No, seriously. Don't believe me? Fine. Totally irrelevant-to-this-post photographic evidence, coming right up:

Case made, don't you think? That was only one baby in there, by the way. One relatively small baby, actually; he weighed just over 7 pounds at birth.)

Moving on.

Since her brother's birth, my relationship with Em has always been more...mature. I enjoyed spending time with her when N was newborn, because I could ask her a question, and she could answer me. When N demanded three repetitions of his ABC board book for bedtime reading, I could then go and read a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods with Em. She and I can have actual real, sometimes even deep, discussions on topics that don't involve firefighters or guns. I adore both my children, but there are ways in which, throughout her life, I've enjoyed Em more.

All of which is rambling prelude to saying that, over the past three days, I've had two occasions on which I got a glimpse of pre-N Em, of the baby that she was if only somewhat briefly, and it shocked me, truly took me aback in an almost physical sense, at how much I've missed that part of her all these years--especially recently, as her 10-year-old's body has begun betraying me by trying to enter adolescence.

The first of these occasions was the other night, when I was putting her to bed. She keeps her bedroom door closed, because Snug has an unfortunate habit of occasionally stealing stuffed animals out of bedrooms and eviscerating them, and Em's stuffed animals are still her babies. (And if anything should happen to one of her American Girl dolls? Oy.) Most of the time, that's not an issue, but it's been chilly here in LA, and our house is heated by a single floor furnace. The furnace is near Em's and N's rooms, but obviously doesn't work through a closed door.

In other words, the other night, Em's room was a frigging ice box. And when she wanted me to come lay down with her in there, I began to whine about it. Which struck her as funny. Which made me play it up some more. Which made her start to giggle. It's not that she never laughs, of course, but the giggling got to me. I'm the one with whom she's usually much more serious; we talk all the time, and we laugh together, but the silliness and teasing is her relationship with her Dad. So for me to get that giggle was gratifying, and I wanted more. And, after some more antics, I got it. In fact, she began to giggle so hard that, all of a sudden, the sound seemed to turn into that infant chortle, that sweet brand-new baby laugh. She went from 10 years to 10 weeks old in an instant, and it brought actual tears to my eyes...even if I was shivering too hard to do anything more than dive under the covers and hold her tight as she laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then, last night, she arrived by my bedside at 2:30 in the morning, complaining of a stomach ache and crying a little. I almost cannot remember the last time she did this; she is not a middle-of-the-night waker any more. But when she was a baby, it was constant; she never had trouble going to sleep, but she woke in the night for the first two years plus, and then again after N was born. And when we moved into this house, when she was 4 and a half, she began having night terrors and sleepwalking episodes, and we got into a habit of letting her come up to our room and sleep in a sleeping bag by our bed, and things were slightly out of control until she was 6 or 7, when we finally hit on an idiosyncratic and successful solution that involved a little bit of tough love and a lot of toys and costume jewelry from the dollar store.

Last night, all of that came back to me--even as I took her down to the living room and set her up with a throw blanket and a heating pad and made her a cup of Pop-Pop's recommended hardly-any-tea with lots of lemon for stomach aches, and even as I sat down next to her and stroked her forehead and gently probed to make sure it wasn't appendicitis (no tenderness to the touch, thank goodness) and then talked to her about how this was likely just gas but that one day, soon, though maybe not for another year or so, these sorts of cramps might be her period starting, and so if she were to see blood when she wipes, she shouldn't be shocked--even as I did all of that, I was remembering her in my arms, a restless infant searching for my nipple, a headstrong 2-year-old who had too much to say to keep sleeping all those hours, a disoriented 5-year-old who didn't remember how she'd wound up in my bed when she'd started the night in hers. And although I've paid for it, all day, I really didn't mind losing those three hours of sleep in the middle of the night, because I was able to help, because I was able to watch her drift back off to sleep once the heat and the tea did their jobs, because I was able to spend that time with my baby, my 10-year-old, my oldest, my heart.

[No, I don't know why she and her friend G-girl (Em's the blond, to the right) felt the need to stick their heads in the snow in Big Bear, and no, it has nothing to do with this post. I just had to add it, because it makes me smile.]