Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving leftovers.

Oh dear lord, there are less than two weeks until I fly cross country with a highly active two year old next to me and a squirmy, mercurial 9-month old on my lap. This is my biggest nightmare mortification scenario EVER. Not to mention just plain old exhausting, what with the strollers and the diaper bags and the running off and laughing and the general there-will-be-no-magazine-reading nature of the whole ordeal. I just have to remember that no matter how bad it is, it is at least for a finite period of time and when it’s over there will hopefully be a large glass of chardonnay waiting for me. Not to mention several sets of eager hands waiting to bounce the exalted ones on their knees for 2 weeks.

You know, twice in the last week I have used adjectives when writing this blog that, had I not looked them up in the dictionary before posting, would have resulted in literary embarrassment. The first example is the worst: I referred to my kids as succubi, thinking it meant they were sucking the life out of me. Er, no. I would have been referring to my tiny children as “demons assuming a female form to have sex with men in their sleep,” and I think that would have been perhaps less than accurate. Then above I wrote “bounce the prodigal ones,” harkening back to the expression “prodigal son” which I vaguely thought meant favored or something similar. Again, no – it means “recklessly spendthrift,” which isn’t at least directly true. I guess you can tell I don’t read the bible, huh.

Speaking of which, this weekend I took Eeyore with me to the library to pick up some books I had reserved. I rarely do this, because he is like a loud, motorized butterfly among the stacks; flitting and buzzing and shouting about books and how nice the library looks, but this time I did. He acted as anticipated, but he also alit briefly on a shelf of books from which he wanted to choose a book. He spied one with big, colorful photographs of animals and held it up: “How about this one, Mommy!?” “Sure…. Oh, no,” I said. He had chosen a big picture book of “Farm Animals of the Bible.” Is it wrong of me that I automatically removed it from his hand and said brightly, “Not that one!” My knee-jerk reaction was to avoid exposure to anything using the word “bible,” but really, it was only a bunch of pictures of donkeys and stuff. I guess I just don’t want to get into the discussion yet about what is the bible and what is God and why don’t we go to church and on and on. I’m not sure how we’re going to deal with that.

The good news is if my kids ever choose on their own to be Christians, they have both already been emergency baptized as Catholics by their grandparents. Apparently “emergency” baptism by laypeople is permissible in extreme circumstances such as those in our heathen little home – since our children’s fates were in jeopardy due to our callous renunciation of organized religion, my dad was able to save their souls while giving them baths in the kitchen sink. God takes ‘em where he can get ‘em!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving thanks for exhaustion.

Thanksgiving: why am I dreading what is supposed to be such a mild-mannered, inoffensive little holiday? Perhaps because the thought of trying to prepare dinner in my tiny house with two little attention-suckers at my knee is thoroughly depressing. It’s not like they’re going to ooh and ah over my dressing and gravy, either, so why am I bothering? I had been relieved of all this angst when a friend invited us to join her for the big day, but a couple of weeks ago she rescinded her invitation because one of her other friends who would be there “wasn’t up for a lot of people.” I can’t really blame my friend for capitulating to her other friend’s antisocial request, as this is the other friend’s first Thanksgiving alone since her husband died last year, but it does leave me back in the unwanted position in which I started. And, let's just be honest here, maybe a little irritated with the antisocial friend.

My plan has been to cook just a few things from my family’s traditional repertoire: a turkey breast, dressing, and asparagus casserole. Then R. said he wanted the sweet potato concoction with marshmallows on top (although he graciously allowed we could make one half with the brown sugar and pecan topping I prefer), so we’re having that too, plus (if R. makes it) a pie. So that should take the better part of Thursday, and then we will sit down around the table and have a family dinner that will be less than relaxing. And if you think I should just be thankful to have my little family around the table, let me just ask you – have you ever tried eating dinner with one kid who insists on:

(a) sitting on his knees just far enough from the table that all foods end up on the floor,
(b) feeding himself with his hands, no matter what the food
(c) feeding his brother bites of his own food, perfectly sized for lodging in a baby’s throat,
(d) shrieking,
(e) getting out of his chair repeatedly to play with a toy or look in the fridge for an item of food or drink not on the menu,
(f) interrupting any attempt to conduct a conversation on a topic not of his choosing,
(g) sitting on my lap to more easily kick his brother or reach the light switch,

and another who:

(a) has to be fed or watched like a hawk while he feeds himself,
(b) rubs his eyes when his hands are covered with anything wet or grainy, which is to say constantly,
(c) shrieks gleefully to copy his brother,
(d) dances in his high chair by rocking side to side, forcing you to spend the entire dinner singing to him, and
(e) has been known to fall asleep while you are sticking a spoon of something in his mouth?

Okay, fine, of course I am thankful for all that. It’s pretty great. But I could get the whole experience with McDonald’s hamburgers and fries, and not have spent the entire day cooking.

I just had a revolutionary idea – even though I have bought the ingredients, I’m bagging it. I’ll roast the turkey breast, because it’s easy, and I will make the dressing the night before, but other than that butterbeans and canned cranberry sauce are going to have to round out the festivities. Does that make me sound like Scrooge? If so, you are welcome to join us for dinner as long as you agree to cook everything else. See you there!

Friday, November 20, 2009

I want.

Goddamn Rue La La. Why is it that the only time I find something there I really want, my credit is all sucked up in my fifth return process? My last purchase was a Vera Wang gray cashmere cardigan marked down to $250 from $1150 (are you f*&*% kidding me?), thus exhausting my Rue La La credit. The problem with this item is it fit as if I were wearing the cardigan of somebody’s 6’2”, 250 pound grandpa; is that considered fashionable these days? I didn’t think so, so it’s currently making its way back to Kentucky or wherever it came from. Today they have a Taryn Rose boutique, with a fabulous pair of boots marked down to $250 from $675. I considered pushing the ol’ “buy now” button for about five minutes, but then came to my senses and remembered I have two small children, drive a Hyundai and live in a city where I could wear stonewashed jeans and white tennis shoes out to dinner should I ever lose my mind and feel so inclined. Just the thought of that made me die inside a little bit. Am I closer to looking like that than I think? I should have just bought the shoes and chalked it up as necessary to save me from suburban, maternal entropy.

Instead, the item I most recently spent money on was a night guard. Apparently I spend most nights acting out dreams of tearing antelope flesh from the bone with my massive jaws. Last night was my first night sleeping in it, after walking around the house with it in my mouth for awhile pretending I was fourteen. It’s a strange contraption, snapping onto my bottom teeth with a satisfying, plasticky click. Sleeping in it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, although it does seem to cause one’s mouth to generate an unseemly amount of drool.

I’ve made my first dinner reservation for New York next month; at DBGB Kitchen & Bar. Has anyone eaten there? I’m not convinced yet that it’s where we actually will be having dinner, having as it does both an overemphasis on sausages and an appearance akin to a bomb shelter, but it did get a good write up in the Times so it has that going for it. Other than that I’m compiling a list of shops I want to visit, so between thoughts of shopping, food, martinis and sharing a bedroom with my husband with neither of our children lying between us watching the Wiggles and smelling like diapers I am getting positively feverish with excitement!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A smile for the good life.

Oh, sweet candy corn, I love you so; your first, delicate taste of honey that with every jam-packed mouthful builds into a sugary, chemical wad of paste. Why do we eat you only at Halloween?

Damn it. I just wedged two pieces of candy corn under into my mouth to resemble fangs, intending to snap my picture for your viewing pleasure, only to realize that I lost my blackberry in a bar last night. Luckily, the girl who found it is meeting me later, since I feel horribly unplugged from the matrix without it, but that hardly helps me now.

Yes, last night I found myself at the intersection of Hipsterville and Working Woman Lane, in the bar at Root Down. That place is crawling with armies of young urbanites with tattoos and expensively messy haircuts on the one hand, and herds of drab female office workers letting their husbands put the kids to bed tonight on the other. It’s not really a successful mix so much as an uninterested coexistence. Last night, however, my place at the intersection was more literal than figurative. I was there with a woman I work with, W., and another woman, C., that I met through W. but have become friends with on my own. W. is 8 years older than I am; C. is 8 or 9 years younger. W. and I get up every day and serve the needs of our kids and head off to work. C. is a free spirit and is heading back to France this weekend to continue life with her American artist boyfriend. She described their house in the countryside to me last night, and it sounded like perfection.

It’s old and made of the local stone and there is nothing to do but read in front of the fire and have sex. And make art.

I could do that.

I wonder what it would be like to be the person who can avoid the traditional trappings of American existence: the house, the car, the mall, the narrow world view. Even if you do have that bone in your body, it’s still a different ball game once you have kids. Then you have to be creative to make that kind of life work and still get your children the education and stability they need. I guess it’s made up of attempts at sabbaticals from “real life.” When I lived in Paris as a kid, one friend of mine was there with her dad who is an architecture professor at Penn. I don’t know if he was teaching or writing or doing nothing at all, but they had a nice apartment where I was exposed exhaustively to Peter Gabriel and explanations of what life was like in Philadelphia. Sometimes my mom and I would go out for Chinese food with my friend and her dad, and Siobhan and I would sit at a separate table. I’m sure our parents thought it was worth the tab not to have to share their table with two 14-year old, self-obsessed little girls.

As an aside, France doesn’t really understand the concept of doggie bags, so when we would ask for our leftovers at this restaurant they would very sweetly create aluminum foil packages in the shape of swans for us. The graceful silver birds would leak their sticky contents all the way home.

Anyway, clearly there are ways to finagle a life abroad for a year or two, but whether or not it can be orchestrated to include lots of time for art and sex is another matter entirely. Maybe when the kids are older, but then you risk your children enjoying the same things.


I got my phone back. The girl who brought it to me was from an army, not a herd.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pain and faithlessness.

Do you ever keep reading something you know you shouldn’t, that no good can come of it? For me, the topic is usually something awful that has happened to somebody; something I don’t want to ever happen to me. Today, I happened upon a blog by a dad whose daughter would have just celebrated her second birthday if she hadn’t died a few months ago. He started it when she was born and he became a stay-at-home dad. Now it’s somewhere for him to let out his grief. His wife has one, too. They are excruciatingly painful to read, but I couldn’t stop. They are trying so hard to keep moving forward in their lives.

No matter how painful it is to read about, it can’t be anything compared to experiencing it. I have one old friend who lost a daughter when she was only six months old, although I didn’t know him when that happened. When he told me about it, I could appreciate that it had been an awful experience for him and his wife, but I was unable to truly empathize; to feel it viscerally. Not ever having spent that much time with children, I didn’t have it in me yet to truly appreciate the value of a tiny little life, only just starting to be lived. Now that I do, I’m embarrassed by my old self.

Of course, when I go down the road of my newfound empathy with other parents, it can be tough to watch or hear about all sorts of things. I haven’t yet learned to steel myself completely against images of children starving to death; their mothers swatting flies away from their dull, listless faces, or from photographs of small children smiling from their hospital beds; machines and tubes and teddy bears everywhere. It could all be so overwhelming if we didn’t have some built in mechanism to shut it out and continue on with our own existences. And we do, although I don’t expect that mechanism to do much good when it’s our own child who has suffered.

I have such a hard time understanding how people can believe in a benevolent God. It's all well and good when you're thanking him for your game-winning touchdown, but when he's taking your child away? What's so benevolent about that? The only faith I have is in the inherent goodness of the people I've been lucky enough to surround myself with in this life. Beyond that, I can't comment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The road always traveled.

California was much as I expected: I put on my eager-to-please persona and got through the day. It was long hours of work punctuated by the consumption of bagels. When else but during a meeting would you ever eat more than one bagel in the space of a couple of hours? But they were Noah’s Bagels and they were good and I’m perpetually bored and hungry so I ate them.

My plane left sunny San Francisco and landed in snowy Denver. Yay. Sometimes I wonder why I live here, since the older I get the more I dislike winter. It snowed all weekend, and on Sunday I bundled Eeyore up and we went in the back yard to build a snowman. I only had time to lob a couple of snowballs at him and build the bottom of the snowman before he announced he was cold:

Eeyore: “Mommy, I want to go inside.”

Kate: “Honey, we’ve only been out here for as long as it took me to get you dressed. Are you sure?”

Eeyore: “Yes.”

Kate: “Would you like to take a walk?”

Eeyore: “No. I want to go in and have some cocoa.”

A boy after my own heart. So we went in and I made him cocoa in his special mug and we had whipped cream on top and it was pretty great. Thank God there are some sweet moments to temper the incredible crash into willfulness we’ve had recently. I can’t believe we are in the midst of the big, fat cliché of the Terrible Twos in our house.

On another note, the other day I realized I have been driving the same path to work for the last SEVEN YEARS.

















Sure, sometimes I take the road that takes me by Einstein’s, or down by the Safeway to get their discounted gas, but mostly it’s just seven straight years of the same thing, every day. That’s just depressing, and unless something changes I’m likely to be following that same path for the next 25 years. Then I’ll retire and they’ll give me a watch and I’ll be 65 and shopping at J. Jill and CHRIST.

But today I signed up for a January “humor writing” class at Gotham Writer’s Workshop, so tomorrow, the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Step outside the four corners.

Here I am in sunny California, on a somewhat surprise business trip. I’m out here to negotiate a really high-flying deal with a SUPER exciting company. You know, the kind that normally involves two days of sitting in an airless conference room, sizing each other up in a somewhat hostile manner. However, I have an almost pathological need to get some kind of favorable response from the “other side”; some indication that not only do they see me as a person, but that they would pay money to see me perform at a comedy club should I chance to revisit their fair city, or at the very least invite me to a dinner party. As far as I know, this particular technique is not taught in any negotiations class, nor should it be. When I’m lucky, it results in a friendlier atmosphere for negotiations, but more often the other side is a humorless bunch of stiffs who sit around oversized tables all day for good reason.

If my attempts at lightening the mood are met with resistance, I will usually just shut up other than to make my points and wait out the day until cocktail hour. Ah, cocktail hour. That is the one nice thing about the kind of work I do now; most people who work for companies want to hang it up at 5 to get home to watch reality TV or go bowling, or, sometimes, to drink cocktails. When I was with a law firm, being locked in a room for two days meant just that, and maybe someone would bring in some beer from the law firm kitchen around 7:30, and maybe not. Then there was going to the printer, which was a different story altogether: endless hours of excruciatingly boring work, but more snacks than any young associate could ever eat. How nice that I measure the success of my career by the amount of food and drink made available to me.

Somehow on this trip I have ended up driving a Prius. I care about the earth, I really do, but I think Priuses are a little silly-looking and it’s not a car I would normally choose to drive. However, after the clerk at the Avis counter somehow tricked me into (1) renting it (I’ll spare you the details), and (2) pre-purchasing a full tank of gas, I found myself out on the highway in my overpriced, surprisingly peppy little tin can. The first thing I realized after driving the car for a half hour or so is that it’s unlikely I will use two gallons of gas zig-zagging back and forth around the Bay Area, let alone the eleven I paid for. It must kind of suck to work for a rental car agency and have to try to upsell to people as if they worked at the Starbucks drive-thru: “Good morning; would you like to try our venti peppermint mocha caramel macchiato with eggs and turkey bacon?”

Being here without my whippersnappers, I’m sure I’ll have time to post again soon…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

So then I says...

I had a conference call this morning, and I am coming to the horrified realization that I might be one of those lawyers who sounds like they are talking just to hear themselves talk. Sometimes, like today, it’s as if I am standing back from myself in my head, listening to myself go on and on about whatever useless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-the-universe point I’m so desperate to make. “Kate,” I tell myself, “please be quiet.” On occasion this translates into my abruptly clamping my lips together, mangling the sentence I had been showing off. I don’t think I oversell a point; just that I take longer to make it than strictly necessary.

I need to know the answer to this. I’m going to conduct a scientific poll of three people and I will get right back to you.

They are taking long enough to answer that I think I have an answer.

Oh, dear.

Ten minutes later: Two answered “no,” but I could read the “yes” between the lines. One came out with it: Yes. She tried to play it off like it was a nice thing brought on by birthing children, like before I’d been some tight-lipped battleaxe so that this was just a friendly improvement.

I’m more concerned than ever about my performance these days because it’s that joyful time of year when companies contemplate how to cut $$$$ from their books. And by $$$$, I mean real live human beings with mouths to feed and mortgages to pay and Christmas a-comin’. As usual, I don’t have any reason to think I’ll be one of the unlucky ones, but you just never know. It makes me feel all nasty and powerless inside. Who is hiring garrulous commercial lawyers these days? Nobody, that’s who.

So for the sake of getting through the day let’s just assume for now I miss this round of head-chopping. In the meantime I’ll work on my brevity in work conversations. Let’s take an example of before and after.

NOW:

Customer’s counsel: “So Kate, how’s the weather out there?”

Kate: “Oh, it’s beautiful! We’re supposed to hit 75 degrees today. That’s why it’s so nice to live in Denver – it can snow one day but it’s completely melted the next. Keep the snow up in the mountains, that’s what I say. I’m really not one for cold weather. I don’t ski, either, but it’s nice to be up in the mountains and look around and drink cocoa and all that. I don’t know what I’m going to do when my kids are old enough to ski and I’m going to have to be up there all the time. Have I told you my husband’s an architect? He’s going to design us a house up there one day, and then I will probably just stay back at the house and make chili for everyone while they’re out getting cold. Although I get kind of jealous just thinking about it, like why do they get to be out having fun but I’m just the galley slave back at the house? But it’s scary thinking of trying to learn to ski when the rest of your family is already really good at it, you know? God, sometimes I am just so self-defeating.”

CC: “Right…”

LATER:

Customer’s counsel: “So Kate, how’s the weather out there?”

Kate: “Fine.”

CC: “I read about all that snow. Has it melted?”

Kate: “Yep.”

Brief and to the point. So they’ll think I have some kind of socialization disorder, but as lawyers they run across that with half their colleagues every day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bonjour, Kettle. C'est moi, Pot.

Having children is so frigging expensive. Putting aside the obvious, like child care and enough diapers to outfit a small nation of naked-butted children, you really start to feel the pinch when it comes to travel. We’re going to North Carolina for Christmas, which means we will be flying. Right there, add one $500 ticket for Thing One (I will be balancing Thing Two in one hand and a $6 soothing alcoholic beverage in the other). Then there’s the need to rent a grandparently ride instead of the cheap compact car that would have been adequate When We Were Two. Add to that 2 rented car seats, and that’s an extra $300 for the car rental. What happens when the kids are old enough that we have to start renting those interconnected hotel rooms you don’t read about on nice hotel websites? Sigh. It’s enough to make me run out and buy a pair of Jimmy Choos in backlash.

Speaking of which, did you see that Jimmy Choo is doing a line with H&M? I won’t actually be taking advantage of my 10-minute time slot to check out the wares, however, because we don’t even have an H&M in Denver. That’s right – some strip mall near Dulles airport has one, but not the capital of the entire state of Colorado; no sir. No Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter, either – sometimes this place seems like such a wasteland. Maybe THAT is my calling: to open Denver outposts of all my favorite shops from around the world. I’d need to buy up a whole block of property somewhere like Wash Park, and do it up UK high street style. Anchor tenants would be Marks & Spencer and Trader Joe’s, with cheerily lit branches of Waterstone’s booksellers, Prêt à Manger (the UK version, not the watered down NY version), all the high street favorites like Next and Oasis, a nice big Monoprix… ah. It sounds like a little bit of heaven to me, although who knows if I would still be as enamored of those places if they were filled with the same people as this:

CLICK HERE

Views like that tend to temper the experience a bit. The worst part is that many of the People of Walmart really do look like that. I don’t go to my local Walmart too often, because there’s nothing I want there that I couldn’t get in a more attractive version at Target and not risk being carjacked in the parking lot, but really it’s because I get overwhelmed by the clientele. The checkout lines are always so long, so I’m stuck for a good long time observing an aspect of America I’d rather not think about. And before you get a head of steam going to tell me about how poverty isn’t pretty and all that, I know. So I have a lot of guilt and conflicted feelings sandwiched in there with the revolted awe. But seriously, look at some of the pictures on that website. Does a low income have to translate into THAT? The answer is no. Not having much money might lead to little education about nutrition, which can translate into shopping carts full of Doritos and Mountain Dew, but it doesn’t have to lead to the results of those nutritional transgressions being mapped over with a crazy web of tattoos, jean shorts and a buzz cut. I mean, really; how many times have you been in line behind someone at Walmart where it takes you a good minute of staring before you decide that yes, she IS a woman? Don’t lie – a lot.

No, we're much classier around these parts:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

This American life.

Well, despite my best efforts I didn’t quite get around to writing last night. Perhaps that’s because I actually made no effort whatsoever. Instead, I met some friends after work for a couple of glasses of wine at this place, then closed my eyes and pointed the car towards home. After saying goodnight to the boys, making dinner for and fighting dispiritedly with the husband, who had enough time to write? Not me; I barely had time to brush my teeth before succumbing to blissfully solitary sleep.

And now it’s today.

Oh, my; someone just laughed in the hall and it took me straight back to my grandmother’s house in Marietta, Georgia. One of her daughters has a very distinctive laugh; she shares it with nobody I know except for her one sister from whom she lives right down the street. It’s like a seal’s bark, and it’s really not Southern and it’s really not pretty. Neither of those girls seems Southern to me at all, and yet they were the only 2 of my grandmother’s six children who were actually born in Georgia. It’s interesting that they share the same flat inflection of their California parents and siblings, even though they were raised in the same crickety cradle of leafy green summers that I was.

Speaking of the South, they are finally selling sweet tea at McDonald’s and Wendy’s here in Colorado. And I’ll tell you what – they are nothing like sweet tea back home. You know, stop me if I’m repeating myself, because I’m obviously a hamster on a wheel that says the same shit over and over, but really, the tea thing is a disgrace. I’d say they are not only using a different brand of tea out here, but God only knows what chemical slop of high fructose corn syrup they’re dumping in it. At least in Georgia they have the good sense to use something that at least tastes like Karo syrup, whether or not it’s the real thing. There is no comparison. Which is probably just as well, or I’d be ordering it every day. As it is, I’m usually happy to stick to the chemical nightmare that is Diet Coke to wash down my “All American Cheeseburger Meal.” Which it is – All American circa 1956 or for small children, consisting as it does of a simple cheeseburger and a small order of fries. A truly “All-American Cheeseburger Meal” is one of those 1500-calorie monstrosities with 2 all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun, which I can no more imagine ordering these days than one of those giant turkey legs so prevalent at all the Denver food and culture festivals (no comment).

Food. Time to go home and try to think of yet another easy, healthful meal for two tiny tots. Chik’n patties, you say? Yes, that kind of cop out sounds just about right for tonight.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A diet book for my life.

I was reminded this weekend of how stagnant I have become by both my mother and my husband. Each made an offhand comment that caused me to rumple my mouth in a chagrined, Kermit-The-Frog expression. It wasn’t their intent to embarrass me; they were just stating the facts.

I bought a book on Friday called “Your First Novel.” It looked like an interesting, practical guide to getting started on the true calling I continue to believe is buried in me somewhere under the layers of cotton wool and self-defeat. When I pulled it out of the bag to show R., he said, “Oh – a diet book for writing.” What I understood him to mean was that I have about thirty different diet books and a fat ass. Or, more politely, that I have a tendency to buy books about a subject but not actually follow through on their contents. I talk about wanting to be a writer; I do nothing about it. Buying this book is just another fruitless exercise in self-deception.

Yesterday, I was chatting with my mother and mentioned I was trying the “No-S Diet.” “Oh yes,” she said, “I remember you telling me about that a year or so ago.”

Is it any wonder my teeth ache constantly from my ever-clenched jaw? I am treading water, generating just enough buoyancy to keep my children afloat while I forget about my own interests in favor of freaking out about how there is no way I can cook Thanksgiving dinner with two small children so maybe we just won’t celebrate it this year. Bo-ring.

I see what is wrong with this picture, but how does anyone find time to put their own needs first while not sacrificing the growth and happiness of their kids? Do you just say “today I will skip this 4th round of dishes?”

My assignment for tonight is to write a blog entry completely unrelated to self-flagellation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009