Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Magic Eight Ball

We were coming home far too late from a party the other night, everyone giddily overtired. Mae had brought her Magic Eight ball with her that evening and Mihiretu managed to get his hands on it for the ride home.

Lana asked, "Are rocks real?" She loves to ask questions she knows the answers to, just to see if the thing is working.

Mihiretu, even if he had suddenly gained the ability to read, couldn't see the words in the dark.

Ben improvised from the front seat, "Reply hazy. Try again."

Giggles all the way around.

Now Mihiretu asked, "Aw woks wul?"

I said, "Outlook not so good."

Mihiretu, now shouting gleefully, "Aw woks wul?"

"September," Ben answered solemnly.


"Spaghetti," I said helpfully.


"Chicken face," said Lana.


"Lemon curd," piped up Mae from the back.

Finally, close to home, to defuse the excitement before bedtime, we assured all concerned that rocks were indeed real. And then I carefully disengaged Mihiretu from that very magic ball before he threw it at Lana. Those things are surprisingly heavy. Must be all that enchantment packed into such a tiny sphere.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Lana is a piece of work.

Every morning, a good half hour before it's time to leave for school, I have her dressed, hair done (which involves dunking her head in the sink and then parting and combing meticulously), and socks on. Even so, when I yell from the bathroom through a mouthful of toothpaste, "Okay, kids, time to go!", at least half the time Lana decides she needs a different outfit or throws herself on the floor because a last minute glance in the mirror has confirmed her suspicion that her hair is "lumpy" in the back or, at very least, changes her socks and spends five minutes getting the heels exactly in place. When Ben and I went away a couple weeks ago, I forgot to warn the babysitters of this phenomenon and both reported that they arrived a half hour late for a commitment (school, soccer) because Lana lost her mind on the way out the door.

Today she quit soccer for the second (and final) time two minutes before practice because her toes felt squeezed by her cleats. The same cleats that she's been wearing for weeks, but no matter. She also quit last Sunday, reason unknown. I'm not falling for it again so suddenly our calendar is stunningly open.

She is so many things, my Lana. She's reading far above grade level, she's polite (in public), she seems to make friends easily, she has an eye for color that's not to be believed. And she's (privately) sassy, inflexibly fastidious and a real drama queen.

She's not necessarily a people-pleaser, my Lana. While I, generally speaking, will smile and apologize myself into a lather to win a stranger's good opinion, Lana is a more self-goverened dominion. She has friends at school but she doesn't seem to NEED friends at school. She's perfectly happy playing by herself. While Mae is an open, melting heart, Lana is cooler, more removed. I admire that quality, I have to say. I often wish that I cared a little less about what people thought of me. She's like one of those girls in high school who could sit placidly inside themselves and watch the rest of us geek ourselves silly.

And so I have this complex concoction of a girl. This cocktail of sweet, salt and rocket fuel. And I have to ask myself once again, for the tenth time today, the hundredth time this week, the millionth time since we first gazed at Mae in wonder, where the hell do these people come from? How do they develop into these complicated creatures? All I can do, most of what I can do, I guess, is hang on and enjoy the ride, because it, all of it, doesn't seem to have a whole lot to do with me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mihiretu Handbook

Yesterday Mihiretu told Lana, "You not da boss a me!" I guess he's American now.

The question of who's the boss of who is a good one.

His latest tactic when he hears "no" is a quick "Okay." Which, if you're an amateur, might trick you into thinking all's well. But a second later comes "Then I'm gonna..." As in:

"Mama, I wanna wat Kiffer" - translation "Mama, I want to watch Clifford."

"Not right now, Mihiretu, we're about to sit down for dinner."

"Okay. Den I gonna trow dis." At which point he picks up the deer antler that we found on the back hill. Why I continue to keep that thing in reach, I don't know.


"Mama, I wan gum."

"No, buddy, you just had a treat."


"No, I'm sorry, Mihiretu."

"Okay, den I gonna bite chew!" And then he runs at me, jaws open.

I do my best to avoid saying no to him, understandably. Not that we don't have rules and boundaries. Mae claims we have way too many. But if I can say, "Hey, look it's a bus!" instead of "No, you can't go to first grade with Lana" and get a flip-flop lobbed at my head as I drive, I prefer it.

I remember when Mae and Lana were this age there were certain triggers that I avoided. It's the same with Mihiretu. I've developed rules for myself. For instance, when I put Mihiretu on the back of my bike, I immediately take the flip-flops off his feet (clearly the flip-flops are problematic) and put them in the pannier. If I don't, I've learned, he'll kick them off in anger at some point during the ride. Then we circle back to get them. Then we're late to school.

Or if I have bad news, like he can't have another cookie, I wait to drop the bomb until he's strapped in his car-seat and I'm out of reach of swinging fists.

I try not to talk to Ben on the phone when Mihiretu is present. "Dada? Dat Dada?" followed by "I wanna tok, I wanna tok" until I finally relinquish the phone in self-defense. Then Ben attempts to talk to Mihiretu, Mihiretu is silent, accidentally hangs up on him, then throws himself on the floor in anguish and fury until I can get Ben back on the phone.

I can't let him have the hose. He will ultimately spray me. Somehow I made that mistake again this afternoon while we were filling up the chicken's water. Mihiretu filled the waterer carefully for a good five minutes but as soon as the bucket was full, the hose was turned immediately on me.

Whoever's putting him in his pajamas better damn well be in their pajamas or it's going to be a knock-down, drag-out.

If he's already had dinner and is getting drowsy in front of the TV (a desired effect at that time of day), I don't let anyone else eat in his line of vision because then, no matter how much food he just shoved down his gullet, he'll cry "Hun-gee!"

If I take a drive of more than twenty minutes any time after noon (an undesired time for drowsiness), I watch him closely in the rear-view mirror. If he falls asleep even for five minutes, bedtime moves from 6:30 to 10:00. Tactics to keep him awake include rolling all the windows down no matter the weather, blasting rap music (his favorite), or asking him what a doggy says. If I'm in luck, I'll get a very sleepy "Wuf".

I don't say the words "movie", "pop" (as in lolli), "ice-cream" or "nail-polish" or he'll demand that item for the rest of the day (he's a big fan of the mani-pedi). If he's refused that item, I'll get an "Okay, I'm gonna..." and before I know it every pillow in the house will be on the floor, the folded laundry will be freed from it's basket and strewn like party streamers from lamps and chairs and everyone will be crying. Including me.

No matter what, I never, ever, keep him in the house for longer than an hour or two. He's an outside boy, which makes sense given that his first two years were entirely outdoors. Outside, he's happy and fun. Inside, a super-ball bashing into vases.

From time to time, when I spot a trigger on the horizon and swerve radically to the left or right to avoid it, when I'm feeling penned in by these ridiculous constraints, I'm convinced that he's the boss of me. He's the boss of all of us; me, Ben, Mae, Lana. For now, my three-year-old, my dear whirling dervish. For now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I'm re-entering life at home after the dreamy four days away with Ben, something akin to a rocket bursting into flames as it enters earth's atmosphere. The kids, though ecstatic and relieved to have us home, are also exhausted and, well, angry. Yesterday morning, Lana and Mihiretu were serenading me with dueling choruses of "Stinky Mommy" (Mihiretu) and "I Hate Mommy" (Lana), ostensibly because I wouldn't let them watch "Scooby Doo" like the babysitter but more than likely because I had the nerve to go away and leave them. Just who do I think I am?

But as I packed the protesting children away to school, tended to the car that wouldn't start and the gushing hole in the water pipe below our house, I also entertained fond thoughts of Ben.

On Labor Day, we went to a block party. As we were sitting on our friends' lawn, sipping lemonade and watching the kids roll past on bikes and scooters, we made small talk with the neighbors. RJ, our host, introduced us to a couple who promptly announced they'd been married thirty-four years. We couldn't help but be awed, particularly because they also have an eight-year-old (I keep trying to do the math on that one and still have yet to crack the puzzle).

"Well," the wife said, smiling at her husband and squeezing his hand, "It flies by."

"Yeah," said Ben, under his breath as they turned to talk to RJ, "Except when it crawls."

We giggled covertly. "Yeah," I said, "If you're HAPPY."

More quiet guffawing. RJ glanced across the lawn at us, clearly wondering what the hell was so funny.

"It flies," Ben said, "Except when I'm married to YOU."

* * *

When we were at the Seattle airport last weekend, taking the train from the terminal to the gate, Ben and I were marveling at the preponderance of wheely-bags.

"Whoever patented that is a bizillionaire," I mused.

"Oh, I'm sure it's not patented," Ben said.

Ben, when he was all of eighteen, invented the V-brake for bicycles. He had his own little company called Marinovative. The V-brake went on to become the industry standard. Unfortunately, his invention wasn't patented. Instead of earning a percentage of every V-brake sold, he simply watches them cycle by, day after day, and continues to toil for our bread. It's a subject we've covered and covered again but the wheely-bags brought us back to it.

"We'd be millionaires," he said as another bag rolled onto the train.

"Yeah," I said. "But you probably wouldn't have married me if you were a millionaire."

"Why not?" he said.

"You'd have some crazy trophy wife."

"Honey," he said gently, "You are my crazy trophy wife."

The more I thought about it, the truer it was. My little badge of honor.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Orcas Island

Come December, Ben and I will mark ten years of marriage. Given that, and the pressure cooker that has been our mutual lives for the last year and a half, we decided to take a little honeymoon. We chose Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Seattle.

We have never been here. I've never even been to the Northwest somehow, which seems strange given my love for all things hippy. We've come to the realization that if we go somewhere new to both of us, we can rediscover each other in the new landscape. We can fall in love with a new place and each other (again) at the same time.

And so, Orcas. We have a great love for islands. It seems like an island can only get so corrupted. Only so much American stress and fast-paced multi-tasking can make it across the water. Things are always slower on an island. And this island, let it be said, is gorgeous. The famous rains of the Pacific Northwest have made this place a wooded paradise, tiny ferns growing like shag carpet everywhere you look. From every vista, the sea holds islands and more islands - there's hundreds of them, apparently. And it's a foodie's delight - local produce, fresh bread, organic everything.

We are here for a luxurious four nights. Our pace, now half-way through, has slowed. We chat for hours as we hike instead of throwing information at each other for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening as forks fly past our heads. Yesterday, after a four hour hike, we ate cereal for dinner and climbed into bed at five o'clock with a book (me) and craigslist (Ben), speaking only when Ben found a particularly good Airstream. Hours of companionable silence.

There's no one funnier than Ben when he's relaxed. Okay, no one funnier to me. For whatever reason, I laugh at every joke he makes. Often the stupider the joke, the harder I laugh. Yesterday morning, he lifted his coffee mug, the one with the Orca tail for a handle and said, "That's a whale of a cup." I laughed. Three minutes later, he, again, said, "That's a whale of a cup." I laughed. Harder. I can't really explain why I'm so susceptible to his humor. We always say it's evidence that he married the right girl. I think maybe it's that I love him so completely. I feel so close to him that those jokes, those stupid jokes, crawl right inside me and give me a tickle.

Beyond the dumb jokes, there are some really good ones. We were driving out of our neighborhood early Wednesday morning to catch our plane when we saw our friend, Stephan, walking down the street. Ben leaned out his window and bellowed, "Stephan!" Stephan, somehow unsurprised to see us at seven a.m., lifted his chin in the universal surfer greeting and said, "S'up." Stephan is six-foot-five, of Danish descent (a great Dane, I suppose), a man both mellow and sweet and also such a frenzy of activity that his nickname is "Photon", one of those microscopic particles of energy, always in motion. The rumor is that he never sleeps. Ben, musing as we drove, said that Stephan was like a speed-ball, half heroin, half cocaine. So laid back and so driven at the same time.

As we were nearing the airport, stuck in traffic in Berkeley (in the hundreds of times I've driven that stretch of 580, I think the road has been clear maybe once), we found ourselves next to a giant SUV piloted by a single driver. "That guy," Ben said, watching the exhaust belching out of the tail-pipe "should have a personalized license plate that reads 'Asshole'."

Later, once we hit the island, we noticed that male tourists of our generation wore shpants - half pants, half shorts, what would be called capris on a woman. Older men wore convertible pants, pants with zippers around the thighs that could, in a flash, become shorts. But Generation X (are we still Generation X or did we lose that once we stopped being slackers?) is devoted to the shpants. We feel a little shpants-ish. Ben and I then spent a half an hour giggling as we walked through town seeing men in shpants and trying to get our mouths around "shpants-ish". Try it, it's not easy.

The cottage we're rented is funkier than the pictures on the internet depicted. The view, yes, is incredible. Water as far as you can see. But the interior is a bit cave-like. It is crammed with white wicker furniture, blue glass figurines, eagle paraphernalia (including a candle-stick that looks suspiciously like the eagle from the Third Reich) and, best for last, books about sex. "Roman Sex" which features ancient illustrations of male orgies, "The Medieval Art of Love", "How to Do It", "Looking at Lovemaking", "Sex and Sexuality in Early America", "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality", "Sex, Drugs and Chocolate", "Castration", "Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures", "Taking Positions" and, just to mix it up, "Inside the Vatican".

I'm imagining the timid, middle-aged, inn-keeper, Elizabeth, maybe did a doctorate on sex? Then, counter-intuitively, moved her collection out to the vacation rental? Because what goes with wicker, blue glass and eagles like castration? And what's more romantic? The book collection has led to endless cracks about Roman sex. Last night Ben had one of the horrible microfiber pillows from the dirty love-seat wedged between his knees as he slept. In the confines of the double bed, it kept inadvertently bumping me in the butt. "Get that disgusting pillow out of my ass!" I yelled in the dark. "This isn't Rome!"

I miss the kids. Yes, I miss the kids. Ben played a video of Lana yesterday. I couldn't see it, could just hear her singing from across the room. I made him turn it off. Immediately. I love those little people. But it's so nice to see my man. To remember what all this, our family, our life, is built on. That first, it was just him and me.