Archive for April, 2010


Sunday, April 11th, 2010

My 81-year-old mother suffered a massive heart attack at age 61, but recovered well enough that she later went back to junior college and graduated with a degree in dance at 72. Nevertheless, she is, now and forever, a “heart patient,” which means that when she awoke Thursday night with chest pains, my father immediately drove her to the hospital where she was admitted and spent the next day and a half. Thankfully, it was a false alarm; Mom is now back home and doing fine. (more…)


Car Wash

Friday, April 9th, 2010

One of the key tenets of my parenting philosophy is that physical activity is good and a lot of physical activity is better. My primary goal each day is to get Olivia and Mateo to move around so much that at night, they will have no choice but to sleep.

My belief in physical activity may be the reason why we seem to be the only family in our neighborhood to wash our own car. Another reason could be that other families want their cars to be actually clean, and our minivan is not that, exactly. But I’ve given up on the idea of a spotless anything, at least for the next five years. As long as the van is safe and still runs, I’m not going to worry about it. 

The kids love to wash the car. Yesterday, Mateo and I waited until Olivia came home from school before we started so she could participate. Mateo filled a plastic bin with water and dish soap, while Olivia pulled on her waterproof rain boots. As much as Olivia loves washing the car, she hates getting wet, so her preparation involved elaborate layers of clothing. While the kids argued over who got which sponge and which squeegee, I hauled out the shop-vac to clean the food and other junk encrusted on their car seats. 

The car wash ended as it usually does, with Mateo leaping onto the hood of the car and scaling the front windshield onto the roof. As Olivia ordered him to get down, I gathered up our cleaning supplies. Not much can follow that trick.


Working Man

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Mateo’s preschool is on spring break this week—Olivia’s is off next week—so he and I have been hanging out. It’s nice for us to spend time alone together for a change.

 We’re starting some delayed maintenance on our house and are in the “gathering estimates” stage. Several contractors have come over to measure floors and ceilings and thump on things with hammers, and watching them in action has been a dream-come-true for Mateo. After the last contractor left yesterday, Mateo gathered up a fistful of screwdrivers to investigate how the front door works. The door worked fine, so my son decided he would attempt to scale the side gate instead.

After I rescued him from impaling himself, Mateo went to work on the metal grates on the driveway next to the garage. We recycle rainwater through the grates, by channeling it under the garage and out to the garden in the backyard. With his trusty hammer and screwdrivers, Mateo pried open the grates to clean out the leaves and sticks that get stuck and clog them up. My pink kitchen gloves were the first ones he found. 

Tomorrow, we wash the car.



Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

At seven years old, Olivia is beginning to understand the meaning of the civil rights movement in this country and the importance of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During a recent trip to the library, she selected a book on Rosa Parks to learn more.

“If I had been born in the olden days,” she said, “I would be a slave.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because my skin is brown.”

Our conversation presented an excellent opportunity to discuss the history of slavery in this country and around the world. We agreed how ridiculous it is to enslave someone simply because they have more pigment in their skin.

I didn’t think any more about the conversation and Olivia didn’t bring it up. I assumed she had forgotten it, too. Then this past Monday, when I met my daughter after school, I was alarmed to see her walk out of her classroom bent over and shaking. I took both her hands; they were freezing cold. (more…)



Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

About 20 years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, I needed to go apartment-hunting. I did what all apartment hunters did in those days, pre-Craigslist and Google and practically all Internet: I picked up a copy of the local newspaper and scanned the real estate listings. Pretty quickly I learned that the real estate business had its own code to describe properties: “cozy” meant “small,” “charming” was “run-down,” and “fixer-upper” meant prepare to spend the next five years of your life doing just that.

My favorite term was “Beverly Hills-adjacent.” A unit described as “adjacent” could be miles from the center of what most of us consider “Beverly Hills,” but as long as it had anything in common with that prestigious location—both were north of Orange County?—the listing would proclaim it. It was a great lesson in how attitude influences perception.

Since becoming a mother, I’m very aware of my attitude, toward every person and every thing. My children are watching me all the time and, metaphorically speaking, taking notes. For example, two Christmases ago, we were driving home to San Francisco from San Diego and the kids saw a sign for Disneyland. “Disneyland, Disneyland!” they screamed. Of course, a trip to Disneyland requires months of planning ahead. It’s not the kind of destination where you can just swerve off the freeway at the Disneyland exit and pop in. (more…)


Egg Hunt

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Easter was overcast and chilly, but that didn’t deter us from attending the annual egg hunt hosted in a local park by our friends Jenn and Ed Pfeiffer. Jenn and Ed hid 1,300 eggs filled with candy and prizes throughout the park. Sixty or so energetic children fanned across the grounds and scooped them up by the basketful while their parents drank hot coffee and tea and chowed down on bagels and cream cheese. The highlight of the event was the search for the glitter-encrusted golden egg, filled with five dollars cash, in quarters. Hiding the golden egg is always Ed’s job, and this year, as usual, he did it well. The kids searched for the prize without success for a half-hour before Ed gathered them around to reveal a clue. “It’s on this side of the park,” he announced, waving his arms toward the south end. The kids ran off again, screaming, but it took another twenty minutes before the treasure was discovered by a teenager, in high grass in a real nest, now abandoned.  (more…)


The Age of Why

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

At five years old, Mateo is right in the middle of the “age of why.” From morning to night, he asks questions. Yesterday, while we were running errands, he began his litany from the back seat of the car. 

“Why are tarantulas bigger than spiders?” “Do cows like rain?” “Why can water put out fire?” 

My first thought was “I have no idea.” I majored in English in college. Science has never been my strong suit. But I’m proud of Mateo for thinking up such good questions, and I did my best to answer. “The reason water can put out fire has something to do with oxygen. Or no,” I said. “That’s what makes fire burn.”

 “What’s ox-y-gen?” Mateo asked. “Is that like the air?” 

“Exactly. The truth is I don’t know why water puts out fire. When Daddy gets home, let’s ask him.”  (more…)


Saved by Technology

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

My children wanted a hamster, begging for it in the way they ask for anything small and cuddly and cute. “Please, mom, please mom, please!” They promised to feed the hamster and clean his or her cage. They vowed never to let it run wild around the house and possibly burrow itself into a sofa and make a nest there, the way a hamster did in the home of the friend I once knew.

I was adamant. “No hamsters. No gerbils or ferrets or pet mice.” I explained these animals were rodents, and rodents belonged outside. Not indoors, in their bedrooms, where the scent of cedar sawdust would permeate their clothes, their bed sheets, their hair, and drift down the hall to the kitchen, where I would also smell it. 

Friends I polled backed me up, citing the squeaking wheel on which hamsters play, only at night, and for hours at a clip, and their long, seemingly endless lifespan. ”Twelve years!” one friend said. “The pet store told me it would live five years max.” The consensus was unanimous: “Stand your ground!” (more…)


A Trip to Seal Press

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

If you ask my children what my “job” is, they will say “doing laundry” or “cleaning the house” or “microwaving dinner.” What they won’t say is “She works on her computer all day” or “She wrote a book,” because writing is something I do when they’re at school or asleep. When they’re around, I can’t so much as turn on the computer without their demanding to play on the keyboard or sit on my lap. This I totally understand. They’re my children. They want my attention all the time (except when they don’t) and they deserve to have it. 

Today, after school, Olivia and I will have our own “take your daughter to work day.” My editor at Seal Press has asked if I can come by their offices in Berkeley to drop off a piece of fabric that I bought in Guatemala. A detail from the fabric is being used on the cover of the book and the designer wishes to re-photograph it. Olivia gets off early from school today so I’ll take her along. (more…)