Saturday, October 30, 2010


Things are getting easier with Mihiretu. There, I said it. He's a two step forward, one step back kind of guy so I'm superstitious about putting this progress in writing. Undoubtably we'll backtrack a little but for now we're on the move.

Yes, there is still a lot of shrieking, much of it designed to injure eardrums. There is the chasing of sisters with deer antlers. There is the willful dropping of water bottles in the car. There is even the occasional thrown shoe.

But, largely, Mihiretu is a hell of a lot easier to live with. His words are coming, faster and faster, which makes for less frustration all the way around. He surprises me with "That bee 'ting me, Mama" or, surveying the framed photos of Mae and Lana as infants, "Where my baby picker?" - that one got me a little - or "I miss San-zay". Who knew he'd miss San Jose?

This morning, Mae and Ben headed off for Mae's first triathlon (she's such a child of Marin) and Mihiretu, Lana and I snuggled into the rainy day in our pajamas, watching "Shrek", munching on cinnamon toast.

It's been busy lately. Too busy. Soccer games and homework, manufacturing Halloween costumes and even campaigning for a local public school measure. Okay, maybe it's me that's busy. But that busy, that probably unnecessary stress, touches the kids. A morning of not going anywhere, not hurrying, appealed to all three of us.

Eventually, around eleven, we got the gumption up for a puzzle. Lana pulled out a favorite fairy puzzle for her and me and, kindly and strategically, stacks of easier puzzles for Mihiretu. Mihiretu sat in front of his puzzles, slowly fitting cows into cow-shaped holes and tractors into tractor-shaped holes. For every successful match, he'd say, "Look, Mama!" To which I'd say, one eye on him and one devoted to the fairies, "Good job, Mihiretu!"

At one point I must have given a particularly genuine congratulation because he said, reaching for another puzzle piece, "Tank you, Mama." I don't know why, but the sweetness of the delivery, the fact that he was thanking me for a compliment, something I've never known him to do, really touched me. This little guy is softening up. He's getting juicier and juicer. The walls are coming down, on his side and on mine. This falling in love, it's happening, we're finally falling now. We've fallen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All Dressed Up...

It's been said here a few times but I've got a thing for clothes. Not just for buying them - though I like to - but for making them, for accessorizing them, for putting together a kick-ass outfit. Generally, this is strictly for my own amusement. There's been more than once that I've shown up at the schoolyard for pick-up in some dramatic ensemble - knee-length motorcycle boots, jeggings, wool wrap dress, vintage floral headscarf, giant parachute bag - that only the most faithful Project Runway aficionado could understand. Most of the other moms and dads just probably think I'm weird. And have too much time on my hands. If only it were so.

We went to a wedding this past weekend. The groom was our friend, Peter, who I met in swim class when I was four, who, together with Ben, terrorized the public with skateboards in middle school, who, in high school, accompanied me and our gothish clique to Old Mill Park for a midnight swing or Fernwood Cemetery to drink beer with the moonlit headstones. He's a good friend, our Pete, we've seen each other through a lot and last Saturday he married his sweetie, Jenn. Who, by the by, had the most fantastic wedding dress I've ever seen - a knee-length fifties-cut number with bright red pumps.

I find at weddings, virtually every wedding I can remember, that at some point during the festivities, I am pulled aside by a gay man - generally a gay man I don't know - and told, sotto voce, that I look fabulous.

For someone who focusses so keenly on her clothing, I don't get this very much. Yes, my girlfriends appreciate my efforts. But as far as male approbation, the straight men in my life generally don't have the eye. They like pretty, don't get me wrong, but often the fashion-forward details sail right over their heads. I have a number of gay friends who have no interest in fashion but there's a certain lovely slice of the gay community that, as stereotypical as it might be, love a good look.

It's nice, as a woman, to get a compliment like that from a man. In some ways, particularly from a gay man, because you know they're not trying to get in your pants. They are simply loving the peacock for it's plumage.

Weddings, of course, are when I pull out all the stops. There's always some drama - this last time supplied by an enormous, borrowed African wool wrap. I muster as much glamour as I've got to give. On Saturday, I was happily chatting with my friend, Emily, another second wife (like me, like Jenn), gracefully receiving our first glass of wine (I would surely not be as graceful for the second) when the waiter, his brown eyes warm with recognition - he knew a member of his tribe when he saw it - sidled alongside me and whispered, "Girl, you look stunning. Just. Stunning."

There were years, post-acting, post-writing-program, pre-blog, years of small childrens' constant demands, that choosing my clothes in the morning was my sole act of self-expression. And while, yes, they're just clothes, to really be seen, my artwork fully absorbed, by these momentary wedding friends, is gratifying. It's not an Academy Award, it's not the New York TImes bestseller list, but it's something. An appreciative audience, what more does an artist want? I hold my own private title as the Liza Minelli, the Joan Crawford, the Marlene Dietrich, the Madonna of the suburbs.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Handful of Pebbles

It was blistering hot this last week. Somehow our summer and fall switched order this year. Summer, cool and breezy, our pool membership mostly neglected. Fall, over a hundred, dying for a body of water, none at the ready.

After school on Tuesday, I carted the kids off to Fort Cronkite, a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge. The scene of teenage bonfires, wine coolers, deadly walks through the quarter-mile, one-way tunnel leading out there. But here I was, in a whole different era, three sweaty kids and a grocery bag of ridiculously expensive snacks from the health food store.

The girls quickly settled into digging a giant hole in the sand. Why that's always the go-to activity at the beach, I don't know, but it's tried and true. Mihiretu wanted to chase the waves. Reluctantly, I left my blanket and novel and bag of hydroponic grapes and joined him at the water.

The sand at Cronkite is not fine. The beach, in fact, is composed of tiny rocks, getting tinier as the centuries wear on and the ocean continues to batter them. As Mihiretu ran with the waves, I kneeled on the beach, running my hand over the glistening, wet stones. Soon I had a small collection, maybe six pebbles, each, on close examination, unerringly beautiful. One a rich brick red, probably a tiny bit of lava spewed from some long ago volcano on another continent. Another the most startling pale blue-green, a blue I swear I've never seen before, veined with ivory. Another, an actual shell, worn by the years into a simple smooth bone-white.

I examined these pebbles in my palm, took a deep breath of salt air and raised my eyes to my son, dressed only in dinosaur underwear, dashing away from the tide, laughing, his still skinny legs lengthening in front of him. I looked over my shoulder at my daughters, so deep now in their excavation that only their dark blonde heads poked above the ground, engrossed, working together, their mouths moving in conversation. I beheld the ocean, that giant breathing creature, forever comforting and terrifying. And I gazed back at these stones, these tiny particles that made up this big beach, these perfect gems that I wouldn't have seen had I not taken the time. And it struck me that my life right now is a vast beach, endless tiny rocks, a million little moments that are so hard to see because they're moving past me so quickly. But when I sit here at my desk, when I write, I can take one or two out, put them in my palm and really look. I can take them out of context, frame them so that they stand alone and their meaning is evident. And then, for a moment, I can see the masterpiece, the elegance that's right under my feet before my feet again are moving, running, that day at the beach to pull Mihiretu upright after that persistent ocean finally tagged him back.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Mihiretu has taken to standing stock still, arms firmly at his sides, eyes directed determinedly skyward, and pronouncing, "I goin', Mama."

To which I say, "You ARE growing, Mihiretu! I can practically see you growing right now!"

He then redoubles his growing efforts, his body so tense and focused that it shakes a little, eyes fiercely upward. "I goin' NOW, Mama." If there's a step nearby, he'll climb it. "See?"

All that goin' has made for a tall, lanky boy. A boy that looks his almost four years. When I tell him that one day he'll be taller than me, he laughs and shakes his head. "You tick me, Mama." And when I assure him that I'm not tricking, that someday he'll probably be as tall as Dad, he puffs his chest and looks once more towards the heavens, ever more fixed on his goal. That's something to shoot for.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


A neighbor told me that another neighbor told him that yet another neighbor saw a mountain lion on the road below our house a week ago Friday.

Though cougar sightings have been more frequent of late (there was one reported in downtown San Anselmo), this is the first we've heard of one near our house. Unlike snakes of which I am absolutely terrified, mountain lions just mostly fascinate me. The thought of a lion - a lion! - roaming amongst us suburbanites is a tiny bit delightful. The fact that we have yet to send them into extinction is somehow comforting. A little bit of wild mixed in with our over-processed modern world.

One morning last week I woke with Ben at 5:45. Occasionally I go running at this terrible hour - Ben leaves the house at 6:45 and often this is my only shot at a work-out. Lately, of course, it's been dark on my runs. Like, dark dark. Not isn't-it-a-gorgeous-dawn-dark but it-could-be-two-a.m.-dark. And what with the recent sighting of our friend the cougar, I was a little hesitant to head off into the night.

"You think it's safe?" I asked Ben, pulling on my running clothes. "Mountain lion-wise?"

He considered as he sipped his coffee. "The chances of you being attacked are very small," he said thoughtfully. "But dawn is when they hunt."

And so I redirected to the rebounder - the small trampoline I bought last spring whilst in the grip of a new exercise-diet regime and have barely been used since.

As I headed out into the yard to bounce myself into health, Ben called, "Will you bring that thing on to the deck?"

"Why?" I asked, pulling the trampoline out of the tanbark by the play structure, "Lions?"

"Yeah," he said, cereal bowl in hand, mouth full of cereal, "You'd be some kind of bait. 'Hi! Here I am! Mighty yummy!'"

I laughed and then sucked in my breath with a new realization. "And I'm on my PERIOD!"

"Blood in the water." He nodded knowingly, closing the sliding glass door as I yanked the rebounder safely onto the deck.

I bounced in the dark, eyes becoming attuned to the light - or lack thereof. Listening to the birds tentatively testing their morning songs. Watching the sky lighten over the hill. Starting a little when our cat leaped onto the deck. Watching a large tawny shape emerge in the gloaming by the playhouse - a doe grazing, probably a good indicator that our cougar was not on the prowl. Drinking in the silence before a busy day of noise and children, hopping ridiculously. A tasty little tidbit bouncing in the dark.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Escape to New York

On Friday morning, I left Ben and the kids at home and got on a plane to visit one of my oldest friends, Megan, in New York City.

I've done this a number of times over the years. It is always a giant, delicious gulp of fresh air (okay, maybe that metaphor's a little off seeing as how the air itself is considerably fresher in San Anselmo, but no matter). It is always a turning point. The first time I visited as a mother, Lana was just over a year. I had just reclaimed my body from the babies and I was still working my way through the maternal frumps. Three days with Megan, three days of accessorizing and leaving the apartment with only a little handbag instead of juggling a diaper bag, a snack bag and changes of clothes for adults and children, three days of artful outfits, both borrowed and purchased, that I didn't need to protect from vomit or poop, was a rebirth. I returned to the Liz of old, the girl that enjoyed being pretty. I haven't let a day pass since without putting on the glam. Not because I feel like I have to, not because I'm concerned with what other people make of me (or okay, not much) but because it makes me happy. There it is - a cute outfit brings me closer to God.

These trips, finding myself in this sophisticated city, walking and eating and shopping with a woman who is my sister in every way but genetics, a woman with whom I was a teenager, with whom I'm still a teenager, drinking and laughing and gossiping until our heads hit the pillow at night, these trips have become a palate cleanser for me, the sorbet between courses. A way to remember who I was and am so that I can more firmly and happily embrace my family when I return.

Some highlights:

People-watching on the parking shuttle and covertly observing a young married couple, particularly the woman that was me ten years ago. She was in turn watching me and I wondered if she knew that I was a mother. Maybe, I fantasized, she thought I was unattached, professional, mysterious. Then I realized that the lanolin I was pulling out of my bag to put on my lips, the leftover Lasinoh "for breast-feeding mothers", was probably a give away. Not to mention the emergency lollipop, used to keep Mihiretu from the unintended nap, jutting out of a zippered pocket.

Watching "The Real Housewives of D.C." from West coast to East and "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" from East coast to West, munching on organic junk food - raw chocolate pistachio brittle, cacao-coconut truffles, gluten-free peanut-butter cookies - and, to really up the sinning, ordering a Diet Coke from the flight attendant. And, oh, could I get more ice?

Stretching out on the air-mattress the first night and realizing that under the comforter was a quilt I had made Megan ten years ago. Walking through her new apartment and seeing all her belongings that I know so well. There's the painting that hung in our apartment in L.A. when we were twenty-four, the one Megan made of feathery wings on a hanger - the background a blue I associate only with Megan - a meld of midday sky and cornflower. There's the photo of her mom, the inimitable Toni Boynton, in the late sixties, gorgeous and glamourous in a bouffant - a photo that I gazed at in wonder on the wall of Meg's house in Sausalito when we were freshmen in high school. The texture of a long friendship.

When I'm with Megan in New York, I completely let go of the reins and simply follow her around. I pay zero attention to subway stops, dinner plans or even where the hell we are. My life is, at this point anyway, all about being responsible for at least three other people at all times. I'm also pretty into control just generally speaking. For whatever reason, the combination of Manhattan, which is just foreign enough and Megan, whom I have a long history of following around, allow for a child-like freedom. It is like when we were fifteen and I was on board for whatever adventure Megan had planned - even if it was just walking down to Golden Gate Market to buy a Diet Coke.

On our trip to Century 21, the giant discount department store opposite the hole that is Ground Zero, I discovered the magic of jeggings. Jeans plus leggings equal jeggings. How else to answer my greatest current fashion question? Leggings too stretchy, jeans too bulky, oh my goodness, jeggings!

On Sunday evening I took a walk through Central Park alone, letting the crisp fall wind whip around me. As I walked contentedly, I made a series of realizations. Number one, I was strolling in New York City in a real cute new outfit, unencumbered by small children. Number two, Mihiretu is almost four. Number three, I live in Marin. It seemed that maybe, possibly, I might be on the downhill slope of the mountain of stress that's been the past eighteen months. Maybe things are getting better all the time. And so I started whistling a little tune. "I Have Confidence" from the Sound of Music. Soon I was exiting the park, walking around the block towards Megan's apartment, peeking past doormen into fancy Upper West Side lobbies. I approached two men on the otherwise empty sidewalk, deep in conversation. The one facing me looked familiar. As I grew closer, I realized it was Peter Krause, the actor from "Six Feet Under". Yay, a celebrity siting, something I had grown accustomed to in L.A. and have been sadly deprived of in Northern California. As I was abreast of them, the other man turned and faced me. I was gazing directly into the eyes of Matt Dillon. I passed and as I did, out of the corner of my eye I could see him turning, like a flower to the sun, to check me out. I was so deliciously happy for my thirteen-year-old self, the girl who lived for "The Outsiders" and "Rumblefish". When I got back to Megan's apartment, she assured me that he checks her out all the time, but that's cool, I'll still take it.

Getting back on the plane Monday afternoon, having had my full of best-friend-chatty, Malbec and jeggings, I was ready to again embrace my family. To quote my dear Maria Von Trapp, we all need to be out in the world, to be free. And how glorious it is to return to the nest and my chicks, mouth metaphorically full of worms.