Jan 29 2009

Strike This

France was on strike today.

If only I could go on strike.

I wouldn’t have to get up early in the morning, in the dark, in the cold, to get you ready for school. If I could go on strike, I wouldn’t even set the alarm. I wouldn’t offer you pancakes or egg-in-the-hole, or the coveted, imported Cheerios. I wouldn’t lay out your clothes, or pretend to nod approvingly when you adorn your own (mismatched) outfit. I wouldn’t search the house for your hairbrush, hidden in the drawer by the Play-doh. I wouldn’t squeeze toothpaste on your toothbrush and leave it poised on the sink. I wouldn’t hunt for misplaced schoolbooks or slip the package of biscuits in the side pocket of your backpack for your morning collation. I wouldn’t dig out a pair of matching mittens and squeeze them over your tiny, disobliging wrists. I wouldn’t see you to the door or steady you on the way down the stairs. I wouldn’t hold your tiny paws in my hand when it’s my turn to walk you to school.


If I went on strike, the laundry pile would grow radioactively, a virus of miniature, mismatched socks, inside-out cotton tights with stripes and hearts, turtlenecks with chewed sleeves and chocolate stains. I would not check your vaccination schedule. I would not wait in line at the conservatory to sign you up for the solfège. I would not send in the form to get put on the list to have the right to telephone the office secretary next Tuesday between 9 and 11 o’clock in order to get on another list to be called back for an appointment for an interview to enroll you in the bilingual school.

If I were on strike, I wouldn’t sew buttons, I wouldn’t tie shoe-laces, I wouldn’t cut the crust off, get the ketchup out, put the juice in a sippy-cup, put the juice in a big-girl cup, get a straw, cut your meat, or don’t cut your meat. I wouldn’t read stories about pigs that eat hot buttered toast or little girls that live alone in hotel suites. I wouldn’t watch the Never Ending Story a never-ending number of times. I wouldn’t change the sheets when you throw-up in your bed in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t kiss boo-boos or find lost doudous, I wouldn’t scratch your back up-a-little-lower, I wouldn’t put band-aids on wounded, naked dolls. I wouldn’t study your artwork and ask thoughtful, enthusiastic questions before posting it on the refrigerator.

If I could only be on strike, I wouldn’t rush through the days to get everything done before the school pick-ups and the pre-dinner witching hour and evenings of bedlam and chatter.

If I could go on strike, oh, I’d linger in bed. I’d lay there dreaming an Egyptian thread count, and then a mid-to-late-morning rally to the cushioned couch where I’d sit and listen to the sun quietly spilling through the skylight, staring at the coffee cup that both my hands would wrap around, slowly smelling the strong aroma before each savored sip. If I could go on strike, I’d have time to do all the things I want to do and then I’d have more time, still, to do nothing.

Time that I would probably squander, spending those luxurious hours thinking about you, in your little bodies, wandering around your little worlds, wondering what or how you were doing.

When I thought I might lose you, there wasn’t enough time. This notion of time is my riddle. Now I know that time is not mine to have, it’s mine to give away; to parcel out without counting the minutes or moments. Going on strike might give me some respite, a slight slowing of time, just enough to catch my breath. But as time goes, there is never enough.

Jan 25 2009

Theory and Practice

This is a book I can’t wait to delve into: Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life. The two neuroscientists who authored it claim it’s a “user’s guide for brain owners.”

I haven’t read the book yet, it’s on De-facto’s side of the bed. He’s a relentless reader; even if he’s not enjoying the book he’ll slog through it until it’s done. I’m waiting for him to finish.

Last night he read a passage to me, about researching happiness. The authors explain that with most psychological research, the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

“When women were asked to list the activities that they particularly enjoyed overall, ‘spending time with my kids’ topped the list. In contrast, when other researchers asked women to describe how they felt during each of their activities the previous day, the average positive rating given to interacting with children indicated that this activity is roughly as rewarding as doing housework or answering e-mail. This finding suggests that women find their children more rewarding in theory than in practice, at least on a moment-to-moment basis.”

This is it. No matter how much you try to be the ideal, engaged parent, taking the kids to the science museum, devising creative projects with the construction paper and empty egg cartons, spontaneously suggesting fun (“hey, who wants to jump on the bed?”), the truth is that an inordinate amount of our time – most of it – is spent nudging and cajoling these small uncooperative creatures along. We’re constantly asking them to do something that they aren’t inclined to do. Please get dressed, finish your zucchini, do your homework, pick-up, wash, flush, and brush. It’s one long string of requests and commands after another. It wears you down and makes it hard to be happy about hanging out with them.

When it comes to enjoying time with your kids, you have to be proactive or else get sucked into the vortex of being a nag or a grump.

De-facto’s really smart about this. He actively seeks out activities that both he and the kids like to do. The city constructed a free ice-rink in front of the Hotel de Ville; he’s all over that. (Actually, I’m not sure if it’s because he loves to skate or because it’s free.) He gets the kids out of the house, he makes it fun for them, and he has fun himself.

I, too, try to do the things I like to do and invite my girls to appreciate the them with me. This is why one of my daughters had added “barfly” to her lengthy list of middle names. It’s also why the whole family had such a great afternoon participating my favorite winter activity: eating oysters. Check it out:

Casks at the Baron Rouge

Wine casks at the Baron Rouge

The oyster feast

The oyster feast

Buddy_roo considers trying one.

Buddy-Roo considers trying one

After oysters

After oysters

Jan 21 2009


Yesterday afternoon, we duded-up and joined a group of Americans invited to watch the inauguration at the Hotel de Ville. The Mayor of Paris hosted the event, the outgoing U-S ambassador was there; it was pretty posh. The grand ballrooms of the Hotel de Ville are rarely open to the public – I walk by the building almost every day, but I’d never seen the interior – and the gilded ceilings and ornamented chandeliers added to the privilege of the moment.
Three large video screens broadcast CNN’s coverage of the event. People crowded around them, shaking their heads, clasping their hands over their mouths, applauding. Some, ultimately, crying. For me (and others), the money quote: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” When Obama said this I heard people gasp. It’s pretty extraordinary, how he can be fierce and firm, but open hearted at the same time.

Afterward, we drank champagne and mingled. I did the obligatory look-around. It’s the curse of a cocktail party; we feel compelled to survey the room, take in the crowd, see if there’s anyone interesting, or someone we know or need to know. Looking for Jim Bitterman, maybe. That’s when I saw her – my old friend.

She and I were really close at a time when I was wilder and more independent, before I had children, before we had a falling out. There was no particular drama about our parting, no harsh, angry words (at least not out loud). There just came a point when one of us stopped calling the other, and the other didn’t object. Three sides to this story: hers, mine, and the truth. And the truth is we probably just wore each other out. The details aren’t important, except to say that I haven’t seen or spoken to her in over four years.

I didn’t think before approaching her, and since my presence in front of her was an obvious surprise (even a shock) she had no time to think, either. This was a good thing. What followed was, admittedly, a slightly awkward conversation. We both made polite inquires about the key life categories: work, health, family, romance. By the end of our 10-minute exchange, it felt a bit more genuine – I wouldn’t say it was “just like old times,” but there was a slight warming between us. Well, I don’t really know how she felt, but I know I wasn’t pretending.

You know, it takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge. I guess in the spirit of that moment, inspired by the words of our new president, I let the residue of my anger and disappointment fall away. I was glad to see her.

Neither one of us made any overture to be in touch again. I wouldn’t mind rekindling our friendship, but I also know sometimes these things just run their course. It’s best to move on. Who knows? Time will tell. What matters, I realize, is that I’ve found yet another reason to admire President Barack Obama. He makes me want to be a better person.

Jan 20 2009


Today, there’s hope, I told her. She was pressing her fingers one-by-one into a bright pink glove, deliberately missing one of the fingers, the middle one, so she could hold up her hand and play out one of her favorite ruses: “Look Mama, which finger is missing?” Unimpressed with the weight of my proclamation, she ignored it.
Today there is hope, I told her again. It’s an historic day, a day I want her to remember. Anyone alive today will talk retrospectively about this day for the rest of their lives, remembering the ground they stood on when they witnessed history. Every generation has its “Where were you when…?” questions, many of them commemorating a tragedy. Where were you when you learned JFK was shot? When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated? When the World Trade Center collapsed? It makes for existential late-night conversation, sitting on the floor of the dorm-hallway, or a surefire opening for personal disclosure at a dinner party of strangers.

But instead of venerating a disastrous moment, the question provoked by today’s inaugural events will link us to an positive and optimistic memory, marking a pivotal moment in our lifetime where a nation peacefully and deliberately turned away from being powered by fear to being driven by hope. This is what I want her to remember about today. I want her to remember to hope. So I told her again, today there is hope.

“Hope for what?” she asked, “Candy?”

Jan 14 2009


My mother could never remember which toothpaste to buy.

She was not a stupid woman. She was extremely bright and capable. She enjoyed the professional respect of her colleagues, she was a working mother who could edit an entire magazine, direct a staff of a dozen people, meet deadlines, develop public relations strategies, fight off the politics of a male-dominated world, volunteer her service to several community organizations at once and still somehow manage to pick me up after school, drive me to piano lessons and float meetings, attending to all the administration of our household and get dinner on the table before my father came home from work.

But she couldn’t come home from the grocery store with the right toothpaste. She’d return with Gleem or Colgate, or Close-Up, anything but what I wanted. And I would admonish her as only a rotten teenager can.


It was beyond me how a woman so smart and accomplished could be so absent minded about such a simple thing as the brand of toothpaste that was clearly (at least to me) our family’s preference.

It wasn’t just the toothpaste. She’d confuse my friends’ names. She’d even confuse my name, sometimes calling me by my sister’s or brother’s names. She’d holler up the stairs, cycling through each one of our names until she got it right. My mom was one big eye-roll after another.

Not just my mom. My friends agreed, all moms were dull-witted. Maybe they were smart at their jobs, or smart when they read the newspaper or helped with a homework assignment. But otherwise, they couldn’t remember anything important. Moms were a joke. We loved them, but they were feeble-minded.

And now I’m one of them. I’m astounded at what my mind cannot hold. And I respect my mother more than ever before. Will I have to wait as many years for my daughters to have the same epiphany?

Jan 13 2009


My tree is falling in the forest, and I wouldn’t mind if someone were there to hear it.

photo by Don DeBold

I’ve been reluctant to start blogging. For one thing, I do cherish my privacy. Blogging portends to a more public life, even if it is just a small circle of people who might happen to find me. Plus there is so much dribble out there, people piecing their opinions together in little posts, blathering on about the minutia of their lives. I didn’t see the point in blogging; I was writing a real book.

But let’s face it. My agent – though very sweet – hasn’t been much help to me in the publishing department. It’s time to take matters into my own hands. I need to express myself; I want to see my words on a page. So why not an electronic one?

Eventually, I could imagine publishing my manuscript serially on my website. I’m warming up to that. But first, I’ve decided to take the plunge and just see what happens when I start blogging. Post by post.

So consider this a gentle solicitation: if you have any interest whatsoever in what I have to write about, then please follow my blog, or even just bookmark it and take a moment once in a while to check out what I’m managing to press out into the ether.

(p.s. this was my very first post!)