Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mother of the Bride

Lana got married the other day. The lucky groom was her very close friend, Hugo.

Hugo and Lana have known each other from even before they were born. I met Hugo's mom while we were both in our first trimesters. We had virtually the same due date but Lana took her time making her grand entrance (not surprising in retrospect - that girl has been keeping me waiting ever since). Hugo is thirteen days older than Lana, something they never cease to talk about. The big age difference, that is.

Hugo's parents are Ben and Elizabeth. The four of us (Ben, Elizabeth, my Ben and I) thought the mirroring names were hilarious at first. Now we're so close and spend so much time together we pretty much forget about it until we're, as a group, introducing ourselves to new people. If I could choose a family for Lana to marry into, it would certainly be theirs.

Lana and Hugo have acted like a married couple for as long as they've know each other - or at least been aware enough to interact. They seem to be soul-mates - when they're together they're in their own world of make-believe. We hit the park and they are immediately off, only to be glimpsed occasionally traipsing among the trees, collecting leaves (cookies) or small stones (magic keys).

They also argue like a married couple. They are completely comfortable with each other and so their arguments lack polite distance. They don't disagree much but when they do it's frank. "No, Hugo, the fairy house is over HERE!" "I told you, Lana, that we can't begin the dance until all the babies have had their coffee!"

They have a similar sense of style and, perhaps more importantly, a shared fondness for style itself. They sport shag haircuts, skinny jeans and artfully distressed t-shirts. They're always ready to shoot their album cover.

I have a picture of them from when they were three, seated at a table at their pre-school. They have their hands folded on the empty table and are gazing at the camera calmly, almost royally. They look, for all the world, like their board meeting has been interrupted for a photo opportunity, a picture that will later be published in the shareholder's report. The two of them, individually and together, have that dignity and self-possession you might see in a self-made billionaire. They know themselves and like any good team, they know each other.

Finally, after their six year courtship, they were married a few days ago at the park. Elizabeth and I didn't find out about the wedding until that evening when we each got separate reports. The kids have decided that our upcoming shared vacation, a week at family camp in Yosemite, will be their honeymoon. I can think of worse.

Probably my favorite part about the whole thing is the way Lana describes it. Sometimes, with some words, she can be quite adult, while at other times you can hardly understand her for the baby talk. But when she talks of her marriage, she speaks of it with the respect it deserves.

"If Hugo and I ever did marry," she mused the other day, "I actually don't think we'd ever divorce."

How many six-year-olds use marry as an active verb? Let alone divorce?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Anatomy lesson

Yesterday was blazing hot. The only reasonable spot to spend it was at the community pool.

As I was packing the swim bag, the picnic basket full of snacks, yelling to the girls to find their goggles, I, a mother, and by definition, a multitasker, simultaneously changed into my suit. Mihiretu, who'd been trailing me as I packed, kneeled to the floor and peered up under my dress as I dropped my drawers in preparation for shimmying into my bikini bottoms.

He shrieked with delight. "I see your penis!"

Reasonably, or as reasonably as one can be while donning bikini bottoms, I said, "I don't have a penis. Girls have vaginas."

He eyed me suspiciously. "Daddy has a penis."

"Yes," I admitted. "Daddy has a penis. Girls have vaginas."

He wrinkled his nose in rebellion and stomped his foot. "No fair! I wanna 'gina."

Vagina envy? Really?

I, still hurrying, always hurrying, pulled off my shirt to put on my bikini top.

Mihiretu guffawed with awe and satisfaction, a true red-blooded male.

"Mama has nipple," he said with a sly smile.

"Yes" I said, resignedly, buckling the suit. "Mama has nipples."

"I have nipple," he said proudly.

"Yes," I encouraged. "You have nipples."

He looked at my chest again thoughtfully for a moment before gesturing grandly towards my breasts, "I no have nipple like that."

Date with Lana

We've been drifting through summer. Ben's away, the kids have yet to start any kind of camp so each day has rather dreamily led into the next. I'm making absolutely no forward progress in any other area of my life but letting go of the schedule has been nice for all of us. We're staying up late at night and waking up (relatively) late in the morning. The whole family actually slept until 8:30 the other day, unheard of. And while it has had its delights, the kids are beginning to drive each other a little crazy. "Lana, stop singing!" "Mae pulled my hair!" "Mama, mama, Mae, Lala, dit-it!" (which translates into "Mama, mama, Mae and Lana did it!") And, of course, they're driving me a bit batty, too. I'm big on me-time and I haven't had much of it.

I didn't get time by myself yesterday but I did manage to engineer a little special time with Lana, something she, especially, needs on a regular basis. Being only with one child, particularly with a child over three, sounded pretty luxurious. It involved scoring a babysitter for Mihiretu and securing Mae at a friend's birthday party, but finally we were free. We decided to see "Toy Story 3". But before the movie, by mutual consent, we hit H&M.

H&M, the European Target, has long been a favorite of mine. I shopped there first in New York, then was thrilled a few years later when one opened in San Francisco. I've had many field trips into the city with only H&M and the killer fabric store, Britex, on my agenda. When I moved back to Marin and discovered that one had opened in my very own childhood mall, I was thrilled beyond words. There's even a Forever 21 going in next to it. I may never have to go to San Francisco again. Ballet, opera, symphony, museums, who needs them when you can get the cutest little fashion-forward pink dress for only ten dollars?

This new H&M has a children's department. I went on a reconnaissance mission last week and knew that Lana would love it. As I've mentioned here before, the girl has an eye. She knows what she likes and, from the age of two, has been putting together some excellent outfits. The kids stuff at H&M is very much like the adult stuff, only shrunk-down. Lana, who describes herself as "rock and roll", was going to eat it up.

As we rode the escalator to the second floor, the home of the kid's section, Lana, her already big eyes saucer-like as she gazed at the women's clothes below us, said, "I just can't stop smiling." We had planned to not buy much, the kids are pretty set for summer clothes. This was merely an introduction. Lana, meet H&M. H&M, Lana. We bought some underwear for Mihiretu, a pair of shorts for Mae and a coral newsboy hat for Lana, which she has worn ever since, including in bed.

Our next stop was the movie, which was excellent. Andy is off to college and what will happen to his toys? I'm a sucker for nostalgia, particularly the prospect of being nostalgic about my children once they've grown. Nostalgia about future nostalgia? I'm already weepy, even when I'm so busy making meals, cleaning up messes and rescuing kids from nightmares at two a.m., that I can barely see straight. It doesn't last long, this time with my kids, I know that. And sitting there, tears dripping off my chin, holding my Lana's hand, I was awfully glad for the moment to recognize it.

We stepped out of the movie theater, Lana's hat stylishly askew, chatting happily. The little dose of joy, the quiet away from the chaos of three kids, the warmth of my kid's hand had filled me right back up again. I was ready to jump back into the fray. Why do I need me-time when I can hang out with my friend, Lana? And go shopping no less?

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I got news moments ago that my friend, Carol, has cancer.

Carol's husband, Charles (then known as Chuck), met my father and mother in the mid-fifties on an Air Force base in Germany. My dad was a pilot and Charles was the doc. From the sound of it, Charles and my father, both boisterous, life-loving guys, had their share of escapades. Never mind that my mother was sitting at home at the base, Chuck and Paul were off to Switzerland with their skis poking out of the back of the Austin Healy.

They grew older together, Charles and Paul, much the way I imagine I'll continue on the road with my friends. They moved stateside, had families and, in the late sixties found themselves together in the Bay Area, now both doctors, my dad just finishing his residency. They were best friends, those two. The ski trips didn't stop, it's just now they involved a giant green station wagon, a gaggle of kids and a seventeen hour drive to Idaho.

In the late seventies, Charles, after a difficult divorce (though what divorce wouldn't fall into that category?), and a few girlfriends, finally found Carol, the woman he was meant for. Carol was equally up for adventure - in their long marriage they have travelled more places than I can spell. Ben and I always laugh when we get their yearly Christmas bulletin - the fabulous trips seem to come twice, sometimes three times a month.

I met Carol when I was probably eight or so. She was always kind to me and even more than that, interested. She treated me like a full entity, not a half-person, as some view children. She always wanted to know my latest news. She posed real questions. Not, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" but asked after my friends, my pursuits, my dreams. When I tired of skiing on a trip to Sun Valley, she also took the day off from the slopes and joined me at the ice rink. We skated to Thriller, just out that year, snow gently falling on the ice, laughing hysterically when we'd fall.

She saw me through my awkward years, still with gentle interest, not with the aversion that some adults have to teenagers, as if the gawkiness were contagious. And then, suddenly, I guess around the time my father died in my early twenties, she and Charles also became my friends. I discovered that they were great fun at parties and, later, that we had much to discuss when it came to home renovation or cooking or any number of topics. They also became people with whom I could remember my dad. They, I found, missed him as deeply as I did, and, between the two of them, had plenty of stories I hadn't heard.

When my children came along, Charles and Carol became honorary grandparents. Cards come on every major holiday (and even some of the minor ones). There is an annual Christmastime brunch at their house, which the girls eagerly anticipate, featuring not only delectable cuisine but gifts, always something that Carol has seen on her travels, often unearthed at a lodge gift shop, pocketed in the down jacket and ferried down the mountain on skis.

I'm holding them in the light, these two daring, dashing souls. As they've always done for me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I, like most American women of my generation, or at least the ones I know, have body issues. Eating issues, exercise issues, self-image issues. When I look back at movies from the seventies or early eighties, I'm consistently shocked at how soft the leading ladies were. These women, just pre-Jane Fonda, didn't have sculpted biceps or six-packs (not that you ever saw their abdomens). Jessica Lange in "Tootsie", anyone? Gorgeous, certainly. Gifted, without a doubt. All about her body? Nope. She floated from one scene to the next with her ample hips and jiggly upper arms. And, of course, was beautiful and confident and the very definition of womanly.

But here I find myself in 2010, brought up on a diet, no pun intended, of Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston. I was a professional actress for years so I had a whole staff of people (agents, managers) telling me, sometimes not very delicately, to watch my weight. One manager I worked with in my early twenties actually shrieked at me when I had arrived at her office in a less than flattering pair of jeans. "Do you have a big ass?", she cried, "Do you?" Her two assistants observed raptly, they seemed to be struggling to refrain from taking notes. I actually didn't have a fat ass. Ass has never been my problem, except for maybe a lack of one. I once had an African-American guy shout at me from his car as I was crossing the street, "You got no ass at all, girl!" I wanted to chase him down and say, in earnest, "You mean it? Could you come talk to my manager?"

I've tried to tread lightly on the body stuff with my girls. Though, in recent years, I'm always on some sort of restricted diet (no alcohol, no sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no fun), I've tried to shield the girls a bit. When they ask why I'm not having cake at a party, I try to convey that I don't feel so well afterwards. They see right through me. "Mom doesn't eat sugar because it makes her fat," one will inform the other. Or, "Mom, don't eat that! It has gluten!" Mae, a while back, was doing imitations of everyone in the family. For each one she did a different funny walk. Mihiretu waving his hands in the air and screaming. Lana stepping prissily on tip-toes with her nose in the air. Ben stomping along and swinging his arms enthusiastically. When she got to me, all she did is say, in an absurdly high voice, "Oh, I love my new diet!" I had, the previous week, stumbled on yet another book by yet another nutritionist that allowed goat cheese, dark chocolate and red wine. I was thrilled and joked to friends about my "diet", kind of reveling in the retro, seventies sound of it. Mae, apparently, didn't get the joke. Or got it too well.

And while I feel a million times better physically when I'm eating well, and I tell everyone who asks that I eat that way for the health benefits and not for weight-control, in truth it's mostly vanity. I love the way I feel when I'm thin. Clothes, and I'm a lover of fashion, look better. And, truth be told, being thin, at least in Marin, and certainly in L.A., where I spent all those years, has some cache. It gives you power. Women give each other the top-to-toe assessment on the sly. The one with the best body at least has that going for them, if nothing else. They may not be the richest, have the best career or the most well-behaved child, but they wear size 27 jeans. Men don't play this game, for the most part, probably because they don't have to. They don't have to subvert their competitive nature. They can be outright cutthroat in business or sports or whatever they choose. And usually they don't choose clothing size.

Today at Good Earth, the natural food store that serves as our hippie supermarket, Lana chastised Mae for getting licorice (organic licorice but even so). She told her that it was going to rot her teeth. Make them even more rotten than they already are. Mae has never had a cavity or even a bad report from the dentist, but it hurt her feelings. On the way home, she said that Lana's always mean to her at Good Earth. This time it was the teeth. Last time Lana told her she was fat and going to get fatter from the chocolate milk she was buying. Again, Mae is in no way fat. I think that child is pure muscle, like a python. Which I told her. Then I told Lana that she needs to can it with that kind of critique. Mihiretu, listening to this all, chimed in, cheerfully, "Mama faht, Mama faht." Don't know why. Maybe because it's one of my biggest (albeit superficial) fears? He just tuned into my wavelength long enough to give me what I didn't want? All I could do was laugh.

It's my last day of being thirty-nine. Friends have been telling me that this is the decade I stop caring so much what people think of me. Maybe I'm off to a good start.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


We moved last weekend. We’ve now had five glorious days of being home.

Those days have included heavy manual labor (carrying our junk up two flights of stairs), puzzle-solving (where the hell does all the junk go?) and just for kicks, a puking episode (Lana, in her bed, in our bed, in our bed again) and yesterday afternoon, two large picture frames exploding extravagantly all over the dining room (note to self: do not put pictures on top of the sideboard, they fall off when someone - okay, Mihiretu- slams the front door) and, good god, no internet. Ben’s been away for three of those five days, usually a recipe for anxiety.

But through all of it, I’ve been outrageously happy. I’ve felt truly relaxed for the first time in a year. I'm no longer forming the question, where is home, where is home. Every time I venture out of the house, I see at least three people that I love. Not because I plan it (though sometimes I do) but often because they happen to be at the community pool or the park or the grocery store. I’m not moving in more than a two mile radius with the exception of trips out into rural West Marin for swim lessons and picnics. I'm surrounded by constant, exorbinant, natural beauty - regal oaks, fragile fawn, wild turkeys fanning their tails and gobbling ridiculously at six in the morning, sunsets over the tawny hills, birdsong. I'm, once again, mucking out the chicken coop in rubber boots, collecting still warm eggs and putting them right in the pan for breakfast. I'm riding my bike to the farmer's market, Mihiretu perched on the back, Mae burning rubber up ahead, Lana poking along behind. For me, this place is paradise. Yes, largely white, largely wealthy, pretty homogenous, but paradise all the same.

There are things about it, the entitlement mostly, that have always bothered me but for now, at least, I’m accepting those less appealing attributes like I try (and usually succeed) to accept Ben’s idiosyncrasies. The place is what it is, he is who he is, and I’ve got to love it (and him) completely. Because they’re mine. And because they’re unlike anything (or anyone) else on earth. When I complain about Ben's quirks - his tendency to procrastinate household projects or his bursts of often contradictory creative energy (“Let’s move to New Zealand, wait, let’s put a second level on our house”) or his flair for the dramatic (“We’re broke”, “We’re fucked”, or while trying to execute one of the aforementioned projects, “Fucking piece of shit!"), he informs me sweetly, "Honey, you’ve got to love it or leave it." I’m loving it. I'm loving him. I'm loving here.

I'm finally home.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Movin' It

On Saturday, a tag-team of relatives watched the kids for an entire twenty-four hours while Ben and I unpacked at the San Anselmo house. We don't officially live there yet, not until next week, but on Friday night, he and I slept in our bedroom for the first time in almost a year.

I wrote in here a while back that moments you greatly anticipate are rarely the way you imagine. This was an exception. Laying there on an old twin mattress, Ben beside me on another, bedded down under layers of homemade quilts, gazing at the stars through the skylight, the windows open to the sound of the wind rustling in all those trees (side note: My great friend, Evany, also a Marin native, once confessed that she's afraid of San Anselmo because of all those trees. Tree phobia, look it up). That moment was just as sweet as I thought it would be. Coming home, being home, after pining for it so deeply and for so long, what's better than that?

All day Saturday we hauled box after box up the two flights of stairs. It struck me that moving is like childbirth. The pain just goes on and on, it's exhausting, it's overwhelming, it's sweaty, every moment is a trial but you look at the clock and three hours have gone by like three minutes. Both acts create huge change. And you probably lose the same amount of weight engaged in either activity. With birth, once you've dropped the baby, placenta and those seemingly gallons of fluid, you're a good fifteen pounds lighter (though with my fifty pound weight gain with each baby - yes, ladies and gentlemen, five-oh - the fifteen pound jump-start wasn't that much of a help). With moving, between the repetitive stair climbing, box lifting and forgetting to eat (probably the only time that happens to me), I think I've stumbled on a fabulous diet.

As I was climbing the stairs yet again, hoisting an impressive two boxes, I called to Ben down at the U-Haul, "I'm going to have such a nice ass by the end of this move." He countered that I should go down to the local gym and recruit some of those ripped trophy wives (Marin is ripe with the aggressively fit). I could call myself a personal trainer and charge them a mere hundred bucks a head for the work-out. Like Tom Sawyer and his whitewashed fence.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

But why?

Mihiretu has officially entered his "why" phase. Suddenly, yesterday, everything was why.

"Time to go to school, Mihiretu."


Put your shoes on, please, Mihiretu."


And I find, as I did with Mae and Lana in their why days, that these whys lead to bigger questions, with answers that the child is just not going to understand, answers that I often don't understand. Until the answers, with enough whys, complete the circle and land back where they started.

"Dad's got to go to work, Mihiretu."


"Well, he needs to support the family."


"Um, we need to eat and have a place to live."


"We'd be cold and hungry?"


"Because we'd be outside without food?"


"Because Dad didn't go to work?"

Today, it became apparent that Mihiretu's why reflex is now ingrained. When Lana mid-thought, said, "Mihiretu?" to get his attention, he said, automatically, "Why?"

Good question, son. One you, if you're like most of us, will be grappling with for the rest of your life.