Friday, September 29, 2006
Yesterday, four years ago, Jed and I were married in a ceremony in The Fields at Art Omi. We had a wedding reception in our home with 130 friends and family.
I don't think about the wedding that often -- even though it hijacked a year of my entire being -- because I never presumed it would be the best day of my life. I remember it fondly, and with great sentimenality, because fun and joy were the lasting impressions, and the beginnings of a family was the outcome.
I may be the sentimental soul in our little family, but I am not the romantic one. That designation belongs squarely in Jed's corner.
Sadly, had he not mentioned our anniversary yesterday morning I would have forgotten it entirely. I still didn't go out of my way to buy anything special or even make a card. He did. In fact he took Annabel to my favorite kitchen store in Chatham and turned her loose, explaining she had to pick out presents for mommy.
They returned home with three chocolate bars, all dark; a box of marzipan fruits; one beeswax candle, purple; a package of glycerine soaps; a sparkly tin star, blue; and a wind-up pig.
So, while I wished - for my own sake of guilt - that he had not spent energy or money on presents, I can't help but admire his spirit and next year vow to do my best to reciprocate; and yes, I love the pig.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Jed picked her up from Lori's house and was already at school with Annabel and a half a watermelon when I arrived, bringing apple cider and blue corn chips.
ITTYBIT: Oh, look. My MOM is HERE! Look. That's my mom. My MOM is HERE!
TEACHER: That's really wonderful. And who is THIS fine gentleman with you?
ITTYBIT: Oh. He's my big brother.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Ring, ring, ring ...
Ittybit: Hello, Grandmother? Is Grandfather there?
Ama: Well ... there IS a grandfather here, and you can talk to him if you like, but I think you may have the wrong number.
Ittybit: OK. BYE!!!!
Ama: (recognizing the voice from "goodbye") Uh. Annabel? Is that you?
Monday, September 25, 2006
Two pairs of Hello Kitty underwear: Blue pair on top, pink print pair underneath.
Two pairs of slacks: Purple bootleg strechpants underneath purple flower-printed Old Navy pajama shorts.
Two shirts: White sleeveless shirt with a small red cherry print underneath a multi-color horizontal stripe.
Black zip boots.
Notice anything missing from the list?
Say ... a diaper?
Six hours, 27 minutes -- two hours travel time and two potty breaks for the duration of the trip.
Two more words:
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Although in her soul of souls it pained her to know her son was attending what she saw as a "factory" for churning out children who will sit still, line up in single file and ask permission before they go to the bathroom, the straw that broke the camel's back was when her already literate kindergartener came home from school and reported he pretended he didn't know the alphabet, because that's what the teacher expected.
Like many parents, she said she and her husband had wanted to stick it out with public education. They believed in its importance. And, like many parents with a certain amount of disposable income, they ultimately decided that they couldn't let their child's education suffer because they didn't want to fight a losing battle with the establishment.
I don't want to slam her decision. I don't want to look down my nose as the uninitiated mother of a preschooler - who will undoubtedly face the same choice one day soon - and click my tongue in disappointment.
And yet, I can't help but wish she'd stuck it out. We are not talking about an inner city school district struggling to keep drugs and guns from seeping in through the security hurdles; we are talking about a suburban school in a moderately well-heeled community. "Wait for me," I thought. "We'll fight them together. Maybe we'll even find others."
I think that by moving our kids to the "better" schools, often outside of the community, we are choosing isolation, some might say segregation, based on individual values, ideals and the ability to pay for them. And why shouldn't we choose the best we can afford? We live in a society in which we are not only free to make such choices, we are encouraged to do so. Why shouldn't we take advantage of every opportunity life and budget allow? Why not advocate for our kids in the most expedient way? Don't our children deserve the best WE can offer?
But I still can't help feeling as if we are losing a sense of responsibility to one another and our communities, and this weighs on me, too.
I think about a different situation. One in which we were talking about a school in which education came second to security? What if we were talking about a school in a relatively wealthy district, where only the poorest of the poor attended because the affluent had other options?
It wouldn't even be a question for most parents. Their child's safety is just more important than any ideology. But what about the children left behind? Does that mean they're less important?
I don't know the answers, but I know that we need to think long and hard about the question.
I just hope I am strong enough, when the time comes, to stick it out for Annabel's sake. To make sure that the public school she attends will be a better place for everyone because we did our best to make it that. Or at least that our participation, for her, no matter how many stupid rules she's expected to follow, will have the most lasting effect.
This is the kind of thing that makes me weep. And worry. And not walk under ladders, throw salt over my left shoulder and loathe that we've allowed umbrellas to be opened indoors. It also makes me wonder if maybe Annabel has a little bit more of me in her than I thought.
Annabel noticed a photograph of Lori's parents today and asked who they were:
LORI: They are MY mom and dad.
ANNABEL: Oh. Where is YOUR mom?
LORI: Well, honey, she's gone away to a wonderful place. But it means I can't see her anymore.
ANNABEL: Oh. Was she sick?
LORI: (a bit stunned) Yes, she was. But she's not sick any more.
Lori continued to explain how her father remarried and now she has a very nice step mother, a photograph of whom Annabel immediately wanted to see.
LORI: Here she is. ... This is my step mother. But she's a nice step mother.
ANNABEL: I don't shink so.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
HIM: Hey, hon. Guess what? I just had breakfast with Kate Winslet.
ME: You've got to be crooking me. What did you say to her?
ME: You mean to tell me you had breakfast with Kate Winslet - the actress - and you didn't say a word to her?
HIM: That's right.
ME: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Was she sitting at your table?
HIM: No, she was a few seats away.
ME: So then you had breakfast and Kate Winslet was in the restaurant.
HIM: How's that different from what I said?
Monday, September 18, 2006
Phleff, phleff, phleff. Eeeeeeeeeerrrrr. Scrabble scrabble. Click. Click.
The sound you didn't hear, dear readers, was me dusting off my soapbox, dragging it across the floor and climbing up. I don't do this that often, so please bear with me as I stand here precariously. It appears I'm wearing heels in unfamiliar territory.
Recently the husband and I, with the nod of grandparental support, stepped out for a night on the town. A friend of ours was having a comedy show at a local venue and we were prepared to go and laugh until our sides fell off, have a few beers and partake in conversations that didn't once mention inquisitive primates, purple dinosaurs or gigantic red dogs.
When we got to the Basilica Industria, a former knitting mill-turned-performance space in Hudson, we were beyond early.
"I thought his e-mail said 8 o'clock," I said as we arrived to find a hive of behind-the-scenes activity. Tattooed women and ponytailed men were busily performing sound and lighting checks. Some were even setting up chairs. A tall, lanky man wearing a full-length blue leotard, spangled rabbit ears and eight-inch platform shoes was also roaming amid the chaos.
"At least we have the right place," I say.
We go and find someone to pay and realize our second surprise of the evening.
"Fifty bucks! I thought this show was supposed to be $15 apiece." No matter, I'd gotten the time wrong I'd probably misread the ticket price, too.
We hand over the cash and staked claim to two seats on a dais facing the stage. Hubs goes to get two pricy beers from the concessions area while I peruse the flyers on the cabaret table in front of me.
"No wonder everything's wrong," I say when he gets back. "He's not performing until next week."
I can see that hubs is formulating a game of rock, paper, scissors in his head -- the winner of which will sit and finish their beer while the loser goes off to try and get back our picture of Ulysses S. Grant -- when more of a crowd trickles in.
There's no unifying demographic; the age range seems to meander from early 20s to mid 80s, and every designer from Levis to Channel is represented. No help there.
"Pssst. Excuse me, sir?" I ask of a man who plunks himself down next to us. "It seems as if my husband and I are accidental hipsters tonight. What are we about to see?"
"Oh, dear friends, you have bought yourself a ticket to the other greatest show on Earth. You, my dears, are in for an evening of revelation and rejuvenation. Amazements the likes of which you've never seen before await you. (Cue echo chamber:) This is the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus."
(Actually he said, "Oh, it's a really a cool circus or something," but since we had a babysitter for the evening and had decided the better part of valor would be to stick around, I amended the description when it turned out he had, in fact, undersold it.)
When the lights finally went down, a hobo clown trudged into the audience to bum a smoke and a light. I knew right away from the expression on his face -- a fluid, indescribable look that marks a good actor, even when he doesn't speak -- that this wasn't going to be amateur night.
He moved seamlessly from what appeared stiff and awkward attempts at slinging cigar boxes to a masterful display of diabolo juggling. Later, as another character, he swallowed swords in a display so terrifying I could barely watch. About a dozen equally skilled performers added more astonishing feats to the bawdy act: A trapeze artist hurled herself toward the stage, caught midway by a rope she'd curled around her torso before our eyes; a burlesque troupe gyrated lasciviously; dueling bolos ricocheted in unison against the hollow stage; and the aforementioned rabbit, who as it turns out plays violin, did whatever turquoise bunnies do under the glare of a spotlight.
I could describe everything we saw but I know I wouldn't do it justice. When the lights came back up and we made our way to our car, suffice it to say I actually felt good about being parted from my money. Granted, this particular raucous cup of tea isn't for everyone, but it reminded me how distanced we are from the real magic of entertainment.
We shell out comparable amounts of money for Hollywood special effects and larger-than life celebrities, and in doing so, without even knowing it, we lose an understanding of what real talent looks like on a human scale. To be reminded in such a way seemed a bargain at twice the price.
So it is from here on my soapbox that I implore you to take a chance on live performance. I promise you won't be disappointed. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
At 7 a.m. I was out on the curb, shuffling bags of baby clothes and other stockpiled detritus from the couch in my abandoned office to tables set up in the driveway. A light rain was falling. It was more of a mist, actually.
"The weather guy always lies," I think as I sort tiny shirts, pants and dresses in lumpy piles I don't even wish to sift through. I leave some articles in the bag, they were destined for the trash bin anyway.
I hate yard-sale day. I hate the feeling of obligation to purge my life of mistakes, and recoup some of the mispent cash. I hate how the idea of it pulls me in with a do-it-yourself entrepreneurial air, but how quickly its atmosphere dissipates into something less desirable.
A half hour ago I was in my kitchen, killing time over a cup of coffee, reading e-mails and catching up with Jon Carroll, hoping for a torrential downpour.
It was going to blow over. Darn.
You can tell a lot about a person by their yard sales. Like another roadside attraction, yard sales are authorized biographies in much the same way bumper stickers on our cars offer onlookers detailed tables of content to the people inside. Both can tell you a lifetime worth of information in short order: Religious affiliations, favorite bands, who they supported in the last two elections even what their kids are doing in school -- either they're an honor student or they're beating up your honor student.
In my neighborhood the lives are fairly similar. We all have clothes we've held onto for sentimental reasons that wind up hanging from ropes when we forget what they were. There are beat up toys and playthings that never got much attention. Impulse buys that became instantly obsolete. Exercise equipment, picked up no doubt at last year's events, will likely be circling the block for at least the next decade. And cassette tapes (dare we include mix tapes) that might as well be torn pages from a diary now sitting in a box, unused, since you bought that new car with the six CD changer years ago. And there is always something that defies logic. In our case that something would be a half-dozen paper napkin dispensers.
I would wager there is also the something the owners don't really want to sell but will offer it up merely because they know someone will buy it. It's a loss leader. The thing that makes certain that our sale - when snubbed by the throngs of strangers who paw through everything with left eyebrow raised and upper lip curled in symmetry - doesn't become a negative review of how we live.
On my hour off I make my way to the farmers' market and the sales that line the route past the historic homes and manicured lawns. I notice the sidewalk shops show the difference between us: Not as much impulsivity to the shopping around there. Antique baskets, with antique prices; etchings, prints, pieces of furniture that require houses with "libraries' (pronounced with an English flourish). Even the Jones families nearby are keeping up. Designer clothes, tasteful handbags. No sign of kitch anywhere, nothing that says 'what one Earth possessed you to waste the kids' college education on that?"
Everything is neat and tidy. You can almost see generations of children, sitting around a card table, sipping lemonade as they play the parlor games, now with only worn corners to show age, neatly stacked and awaiting new homes.
In a few hours I'll be bundling the remnants of our lot for Goodwill and wondering why I bother with this mid-step at all.
But by the time I get back with my bags of unpronounceable produce and a book snagged from the church tag sale, my partner in slime has a full smile and is waving six dollar bills in my direction.
"Imagine that, hon - I just sold all those napkin holders."
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Good days are made of kicking a soccer ball around the parking lot; games of hide and seek; picking pecks of black walnuts off the lawn; eating pizza; accidentally spilling cups of water on the newly refinished floor (and laughing about it); and questioning whether Cinderella really needs a Prince Charming.
That's what good days are made of.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
There are days when moving forward is just too daunting.
When I was in college I worked with developmentally disabled teenagers. I coordinated an after-school program for kids who still lived at home with their parents for a non-profit residency organization that had never attempted such an endeavor before.
In essence, we were the bastard step-children of an organization that wanted us to succeed but then forgot we were there.
By this I mean that we were minimally trained and given little clinical information about the folks we served. When we contacted "the office" for guidance, we often heard silence on the line followed by "who did you say you worked for?"
We were not given clear program operational guidelines, nor were informed of any special needs our charges may have had that weren't self evident. And we were inexperienced enough not to have understood how helpful such information could be, so we didn't seek it our for ourselves.
In a nutshell, we were winging it.
There were times when I felt I was in over my head.
When a girl in our care started inexplicably walking backwards, I was at a loss. We tried behavioral remedies; prattling on about safety and being able to watch where she was going. We cajoled with empty threats about the inappropriate nature of her direction. Nothing I tried could get her to walk forward. She complained about pain, and said that it just felt better to walk backward.
It wasn't until weeks later that we learned she'd been abruptly taken off an anti-psychotic medication, and one of the side effects was likely that she'd had pain in the muscles she used to walk forward. The muscles she used to walk backward were not affected.
Had I known this from the start, perhaps I would have handled it, and her, differently. More compassionately. Less annoyed at the time it took us to get from point A to point B and back again.
But sometimes the NOT knowing could be a saving grace.
One young man, unbeknownst to us, had been thrown out of every program he'd ever attended. Our only clue to this was his mother showing up every day and asking us "what he'd done wrong."
At first I was stunned by her frazzled question. He was a good kid. Or so I thought. When he started acting out, testing if you will, I decided lying to her was the best course of action, at least until I figured out what was going on. "He's doing really well. Not a problem at all."
But his testing increased. His behavior became more unpredictable and it seemed clear he wanted me, in particular, to hate him.
One day I snapped. I told him, in as harsh words as I could muster, that he could be a bastard all he wanted. That was a choice he could surely make. He could hurl as many insults as he liked my way, but that he wasn't going anywhere. He was stuck. With me. Until he grew up and moved along to the next person he could torment.
From that moment on he was a different kid: A helpful kid in earnest, and truly a joy. It was immediately apparent to me that had I known his history and prejudged him on it the outcome might have been different.
I've been thinking of this past life of mine recently. Perhaps its of result of the anxiety of being tossed again into unfamiliar waters. With Annabel going to school, me joining committees and the prospect of dealing with new people, my shoulders have been attached to my ears for weeks. It's one thing after another, and it seems as if I'll never have enough information to make comfortable decisions.
I suppose I just needed to remind myself - yet again - that mistakes are part of life; and that sometimes knowing something only gets you so far.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
I shouldn't be watching television today. It's not even 8 a.m. and already I've flashed the finger (you will know the one) twice in the direction of the television screen, aimed at Matt Lauer and dubya. (I usually use my index finger during these most egregious gestures of inarticulation, but not today.)
On this day five years ago, at 8:57 a.m., I was sitting in my car in the parking lot at work. Stunned. I thought a small plane had gone off course and struck the World Trade Center. I shut the car's engine off, ran upstairs and told the only other soul in the newsroom to turn on the television because a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. When the picture faded in, we watched as a second plane hit the other tower.
This was no accident.
I don't think I've ever been so stunned or quiet or uncertain in my life. What was happening?
The day went on like that, and the feeling continued into the next, and the next and the next. Whole months went by in a fog.
Things changed. People were nicer to each other (for a time). We made decisions because of (rather than despite) the tragedy. In my case, the hopelessness I felt made marriage and children important where it hadn't been before. It made YOU important.
Then time wore on and we found ourselves in a war that seems meaningless; a war on the crime of terrorism that is as "winable" as the decades-long war on drugs. We find our constitutional rights eroded, and we accept it as the price of safety. We have gone from a nation united in tragedy to one that is divided by ideology.
You will attend your first day of pre-school on this tragic anniversary -- September the 11th. I wonder what will you ultimately learn from this new milestone, school? I wonder what legacy we are handing you and your classmates?
I know you cannot be safe. None of us can. And yet I am a part of this collective anxiety in which our bodies respond to Code Orange as if it had meaning other than to instill fear and loathing. I want to put it all into perspective, but the constant coverage of what-ifs and could-bes makes it difficult to remain calm.
Home of the free? The brave? Not anymore.
Perhaps this is my cause, Ittybit. Something I want for you more than anything else. To realize our time here is brief and some of it will be tragic. There will be sadness for which we cannot prepare, and yet we have to be brave. To not give in to fear or hatred because it is likely to lead us down the wrong path.
I want to tell you to take chances, my little girl. Play in the mud and the muck and the paint. Get dirty. Look around and take it all in. Take precautions, too, but don't let them take over. Look both ways before you cross a street, but cross the street.
And please, little one, try to play nice, OK? I want you to be aware that you are not alone in this world.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
It's been a while since I've updated the AnnabelWebster's all-knowing and powerful toddler dictionary here at Ittybits & Pieces.
So here it is, the tasty tidbits from the home office in Wanna-see-my-room? PEAS?!?
You wanna have a pop-si-toe?
Translated: I wanna have a popsicle.
"Yes I man!"
(Yes I am) usually said accompanied by emphatic foot stomping and fist wagging to make her point.
"Mama? Who painted the sty?"
Well it wasn't you or your father, little one, otherwise the sky would be purple now wouldn't it? ... Unless she was talking about our house, in which case, Yes, honey. Your dad did indeed paint the sty.
"Mama? Who painted the sty?"
The LIPSTICK STORE would be the
"Sing the chichen song!"
Which would be "I've Been Working on the Railroad," but only at the point where "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah." Don't even try to sing any other part of the song.
"Daddy will be so incredulous."
I'm not sure if she intended to say that her father wouldn't believe she was able to carry the six-pound tricycle up the stairs by herself as these words tumbled out of her mouth, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief if it means H-A-R-V-A-R-D S-C-H-O-L-A-R-S-H-I-P .
Even if she doesn't get a free ride, at least we'll have help moving heavy objects. Perhaps she can take over her daddy's bidness.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Finally, I can quit my job ... almost.
Perhaps if Lori had mentioned the health insurance aspects of my job to Annabel, she'd have figured out the national healthcare crisis.
ANNABEL: Where's mommy going?
LORI: You know where she's going, Annabel. She's going to work.
LORI: So she can take care of you.
LORI: So you can have food to eat and a place to sleep with nice warm blankets.
You don't want to sleep outside, do you?
ANNABEL: Yes I do. I wanna sleep OUTSIDE!
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
At an early age, you see, she could tell chicks from cygnets, and cygnets from ducklings. Her voice boomed bass (or as low as a toddler can sound) for the daddy cattle while she screeched up high giving a "voice" to the baby ones. Since we'd traipsed through the farmyard, page by page for months, we naively thought she'd enjoy a trip to the fair to see the real things, up close and in person.
But picture books, we learned, don't really prepare tots for the realities of livestock. Toulouse Geese don't make their truck-horn sounds apparent under the bonnet of timid Mother Goose tales, and the size comparison isn't even close. The nearest I think a child's book can really come to life on the farm would be if publishers employed scratch and sniff technology, and let's face it, there are a precious few of us who'd pay good money to give the smell of silage and manure space on our bookshelves.
Understandably, as the year wore on -- after the traumatic experience of screaming and crying from one barn to the next -- her interest in the farm books waned.
So with a little apprehension (and the comfort of a plastic giraffe), we headed off to this year's fair and aimed ourselves in the direction of the livestock exhibits first thing. I figured we could get them out of the way quickly if she decided the animals were too scary and go right to the food. (After all, who wants to eat at the goat barn? Not I.)
It was as if she'd remembered the torture of a year ago, and decided to settle an old score.
"Cows!" She instructed. "Cows, mama." And off we went. Past turkeys, sheep, goats and pigs into the cattle barns. No sooner had we gotten there then she'd reached out her itty bitty hand to give Bessie's head a little pat. "Enough!"
"Chickens! Chickens, mama."
So off we went to see fowl.
"They're funny ... and loud," she laughs.
"Rabbits. Let's go see rabbits next," she instructs, pulling at my pant leg and grunting with exertion. "Ooooh, they're sooooo cute," she squints inside the wire cages, wriggling her nose in imitation.
"What are we gonna see next? How about the chicks?"
And off we go to see something that looks like a popcorn popper containing twelve eggs. Many of them are still whole, but others have large cracks and holes made in perfect circles by the tiny egg teeth on the tops of the chicks' beaks. Some of the babies, still covered in the gook of life, lay spent on the warm grate, resting from their hours-long struggle to get free.
"See that right there," points out a woman at the exhibit. And I look into the incubator to see a foot protruding from an otherwise perfect shell. "I've never seen anything like that in my life. They never come out feet first."
She tells me the eggs came from Cornell, where their genetic codes have been collected and studied. Turns out the University fully expects one of 12 to die -- no more, no less. "That could be one that doesn't make it," she says sadly.
So we leave with a little bit more knowledge of the miracle and mystery of life, but wondering if that little breech chick will survive the night. Annabel wants to stay and make sure the chicks "go to sleep," but we coax her out with the promise of a corn dog I'll have to "peel" and a ride in a tea cup I'll soon regret. By the end of the evening we have an entirely new way to see the fair: A midway adventure; the call of the animals, the lure of the games and the thrill of the rides.
"It's fun here, mama. Let's go again."
Saturday, September 02, 2006
In a week you'll be starting preschool. In preparation, your father and I have attended three meetings to iron out the details. We've signed up for tasks (your dad has already completed his first chore: powerwashing the playground toys). I've volunteered to be a board member (publicity and grant writing) and we are excited to be involved.
We've even been fighting over which one of us gets to go to school on your special day, which, as you will find out, is when mommy or daddy turns up to assist your teacher for the day. We'll be busy in the kitchen making snacks, cleaning up and helping your schoolmates traverse the tortures of bathroom etiquette and playground protocol while you look on and beam. Or so we've heard. It will be one of the few times in your development when you will be proud to have us around.
I worry how you will get along in school. Children can be mean. There will be those who won't want you to play with them. There will be petty jealousy and nasty looks. There may even be pushing, shoving and eventually trips to the principal's office, or worse, the nurse.
We've already experienced a little of the communication breakdowns that happen between tots. We winced in pain when your sweet, playful pretending was misunderstood by a child who just didn't "get it," and felt compelled to call you a name and run away. What could we say? Nothing. You didn't seem to need any explanations. "She didn't want to play," you said, not unhappy.
I worry also that you might become one of those mean girls. One of the girls who want to run the show and watch the actors squirm under their direction. In many ways, that would be worse.
So babyofmine, while the idea of school excites you now, we are petrified. You are growing up, making your own decisions and reacting to things we can't control. We hope that we make it easier for you, but not too easy. We hope you make it easier for us, too. But not too easy, right?