Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Swedish is for meatballs

No offense to the Swedes, but if you want a good massage, you need to go Thai.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I entered the nondescript building a few blocks from our house, holding my Christmas gift from Toby - a $40 gift certificate for an hour massage at the Bangkok Thai Massage Studio. When I walked in, I nearly tripped over a pile of shoes in the small, brightly lit waiting room. I added my shoes to the pile and then handed my gift certificate to the woman at the front desk who smiled and asked me to take a seat. A guy in his mid-twenties was sitting across from me and asked me if I'd ever been there before. When I told him I hadn't, he responded, "I guarantee you will love it." He explained that he first came when his girlfriend had given him a gift certificate last year. "I was thrown off because it's in this non-descript building and you know, it's a little funky at first. Once you get used to that, you'll just have an amazing massage."

I've always loved massages. I haven't had as many as I'd like - probably six or seven professional massages in my lifetime. Usually they're expensive and not something I feel I can justify in my normal life and are therefor reserved for vacations or special treats. Despite my love for massages, I'd say that of those half dozen massages, half of them have been just plain awful. When you go in expecting a release from muscle tension and an hour of relaxation, there's nothing worse than finding that you will be spending the hour listening to the masseuse talk while she lightly rubs your skin with oil, leaving you feeling like a greasy chicken with your head spinning and your muscles non the better for it. But the good ones - one near Alison's beach house at the Jersey shore and one in Weaverville at the spa - make it worth paying for the bad ones in hopes of having such an experience. Up to now, a good massage for me has meant that I lie on a table while a masseuse kneads my muscles. A Thai massage is something quite different.

After a few minutes in the waiting room, the woman at the front desk called me up and we walked through a door in the back. I was then lead through a hallway with curtains on either side. In this one small hallway, there were probably twenty curtains leading to small "rooms" (divided by curtains) where people were getting massaged, which explained the pile of shoes at the front door. I was told to undress and then dress again in the light cotton shirt and gigantic pair of shorts lying on the mat on the floor. Then I was left alone in the room not much bigger than the mat on the floor. After changing, I lay down on the mat and listened to the sound of both Thai music and flesh being pounded all around me.

When my masseuse came in, she began rubbing my muscles with her hands, which felt much like the massages I have had before. The only difference was that she was sitting on my back rather than standing at a table next to me. But soon I found that I had more in store for me. She stood up and began walking across my back, legs and arms. Along with using her feet, she also began massaging my muscles with her arms, knees, and elbows. Next, she began twisting my body in various positions - grabbing my arms and pulling my body back and up, pulling my leg across the body while sitting on my hip, pushing both legs up and leaning on them to stretch them forward. It felt painful and wonderful at the same time. She cracked my back in about ten different ways and she continued to push and pull me this way and that. I wasn't surprised when I later learned that Thai massage has origins in yoga and Ayurvedic healing.

I left my massage feeling incredible. Waking up today, I still feel like my spine is somehow more aligned than usual, my muscles looser. It was a massage, yoga practice and trip to the chiropractor all in an hour and all for the price of a really cheap massage. At $40, I don't need to save massages for special occasions anymore. I'm already looking forward to my next Thai massage.

Monday, December 29, 2008


In church last week, our pastor talked about how the funny thing about making resolutions on New Year's is that we don't actually know what is in store for us that next year and therefor don't know what strengths we will need to use. That was certainly true for me this past year. I resolved to bring my bags to the grocery store, to prevent anyone in my family from getting sunburned, and to refrain from adding more volunteer activities to my list. The last resolution was actually contrary to my usual resolution to volunteer more, but I was feeling overwhelmed with two kids and a baby and decided it would be best for all of us to cut back a little just for a year. It turned out to be a good resolution since "overwhelmed with two kids and a baby" turned into "overwhelmed with two kids and a baby and a husband working across the country half the time and an entire house to pack and friends to say goodbye to and then an entire house to unpack and doctors to find and schools to find and dentists to find..." and well, the list goes on. As my pastor mentioned, sometimes you just don't know what's in store for you in a coming year.

I don't know what's in store for us this year either of course. We're starting it out in Los Angeles. Probably we'll enter 2010 (Really? 2010!?) in Los Angeles as well, though our landlord's housing situation is up in the air and therefor renting this house for another year is possibly up in the air too. I could be writing about my resolutions next year from this same white painted desk covered with bread crumbs from Noni (hopefully not the same bread crumbs a year from now) in the piano room of this same house. Or I could be writing from another desk down the street. Or across the country. Or from Alaska. Or China. Or maybe I won't be around to make resolutions at all, though I'm hoping that's not the case.

Regardless, I'm going to make resolutions.

I'm keeping the first two:

1. Bring bags to the grocery store
2. Keep my family from getting sunburned

I got better at both this year, but not so good that they're second nature yet. And I'm thinking they're pretty much relevant no matter what happens this year. (Maybe with the exception of sunburn in Alaska.)

I'm adding some others to the list.

3. Keep our groceries under budget
You know you're a mom when 1/3 of your resolutions have to do with the grocery store...

4. Volunteer more
After a year off, I'm hoping to go back to being able to volunteer more again. I've signed up for Sunday school again and I'd like to get involved in some more community activities. It's not easy with an eighteen-month-old and no help, but I suppose resolutions aren't meant to be easy or else we wouldn't need a list to remind ourselves of what we plan on doing.

5. Go through the boxes in the garage and get rid off all the stuff we don't use
Like I said, resolutions aren't necessarily easy...

6. Take advantage of our time in California and appreciate what Los Angeles has to offer
We have no idea just how long we'll stay in Los Angeles, but I want to make sure that we experience as much as we can while we're here. These first few months have been full of adjustments - adjustments to a new home, new schools, new routines. Now we seem to have steadied our sea legs and I'm hoping to use this time to start exploring more areas. We have plans for Ventura and Santa Barbara this week, Joshua Tree and San Luis Obispo in April, and we've started looking into more camping areas this spring. Los Angeles itself sometimes feels like one big sprawling layer of cement (a statement I will refrain from focusing on in the new year...), but the areas around it (and the parks within the city) are beautiful and I'm determined to spend more time there in the upcoming months.

Evie and Lucy have a resolution of their own as well - to stop sucking their thumbs.

Alright 2009, we'll all be asleep when you arrive, but we're still ready!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Milk, then and now

Last night, Toby and I had a for real date and went to the movies. We intended to see Slumdog Millionaire, but due to a ticket mix-up, ended up at Milk. I'm sure SDM is great, but I'm glad for the mistake. Milk is a powerful, well-directed movie, but it also falls in that rare category of being an important film. I have to admit that before the movie came out, I had never even heard of Harvey Milk and yet watching the movie I couldn't help but think of comparisons between him and some of the most prominent civil rights leaders in our country. It's a story that every American should know.

When they decided to make Milk, the vote on prop 8 was in the distant future and the spot of president was still up for grabs. Yet it's impossible to watch the film without considering the current political climate. When I was listening to Milk spread his message of "hope" and campaign against considerable odds, I couldn't help but feel yet again thankful that Obama will be moving into the White House in January. I also felt a wave of gratitude that Palin will remain safely far away, as the film showed the eerily familiar self righteous former orange juice queen, Anita Bryant, step into the spotlight as a warrior for "family values".

At the same time, of course, I couldn't help watch the celebration of the defeat of Prop 6 without thinking of Prop 8 passing this year. Watching the passion, determination and energy that Milk put into leading the campaign against Prop 6, I could see where we went wrong. Rob Epstein describes the lack of leadership in the movement of 2008 here:

When we left the theater and the world of 1970s San Francisco behind, Toby and I talked about the actors (Sean Penn deserves an Oscar for sure) and the deft way Van Sant mixed real footage into the movie, but mostly we talked about Harvey Milk. It was inspiring to watch his passion and energy on screen and to consider what it takes to be a true leader. Much like Obama did, the story of Milk calls on all of us to become involved in working towards change. Hopefully it will inspire a natural leader out there to step forward in the current climate and lead us toward overturning Proposition 8.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is...pleasant?

This afternoon, the girls and I went to a holiday cookie exchange. When we walked into Sarah's house, we were greeted by a familiar scene - a tree with lights and a table covered with holiday cookies. The kids ran around, high on sugar, as we sat on the couch and chatted about, amongst other things, an upcoming Christmas party and a holiday lights show.

Walking to the party, I didn't think twice about our surroundings, but walking home after enjoying such classic holiday scene, I was suddenly struck by the weather. Lucy and Evie ran and scootered ahead of me in shorts and t-shirts while I pushed a barefoot Noni in the stroller wearing flip-flops, jeans and a tank top. When the girls stopped to marvel at a house decorated in over-the-top Christmas lights, I took in the sight of the dark palm trees towering over the festive house. We are about to experience our first California Christmas and, frankly, I love it.

My mom sent me photos today of her two dogs sleeping amidst a pile of cotton, torn out from pillows that had been lying on the floor. She titled it "photos from a rainy day rampage" and it suddenly brought to mind afternoons inside our house with the girls going stir crazy, the weather too cold for them to play outside. There have been times in my life when I've really appreciated cold weather. I love snowboarding and cross country skiing. I also love the feeling of a warm fire and cup of tea after a brisk walk in the cold. With kids though, the romance of the cold quickly disappears when you've spent three days cooped up indoors. I remember one winter in DC when Lucy was a baby and we were literally snowed in the house for days. I turned on the television, put Lucy in the Bjorn and walked up and down the stairs over and over, hoping that it would stir up some endorphins to help me get through the day.

I think it's clear from my post about Frederick that I miss it back east and will always be an east coaster heart. But there are some things I do love about Los Angeles. The weather in December is definitely one of the things at the top of that list.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Drag Queen Bingo

The other night, we headed out for my friend Jane's birthday and an evening of Drag-Queen bingo. It was pure entertainment. Since Sarah already summed it up quite nicely, I will let her tell the tale:


Tuesday, December 2, 2008


"The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones..."
- Billy Collins

When Lucy was three, Evie was learning about silent vowels in school. She had overheard us talking about them and one day she lay down on the floor and twisted around in a way that looked nothing like an "E" and announced to me, "Look, I'm an E!" I looked skeptical and told her I didn't quite see it. "Well mommy," she said patiently, "That's because I'm a silent E."

I love that story because it is quintessential Lucy, but the only reason I remember it is that today I looked through my old Yahoo blog, a blog where I occasionally jotted down a story or two about the girls just for the purpose of remembering them. It's funny how many stories we have like that about our kids - stories that we can't imagine forgetting, but that are soon replaced in our brains by something entirely mundane like a grocery list. There are so many things I swear I'll remember even as time goes by - the way they say certain words, the expressions that they make - but often they blend together with other memories so that can't remember which girl did what. My friend Natasha sent me the Billy Collins poem I quoted above today and it inspired me to write down a couple things that the girls have done recently that I want to remember before they head off to that fishing village in my brain.

I want to remember how Noni says "no" for yes. I'm wondering if this will ever change, since it completely works for her. Toby, Lucy, Evie and I all know that if she responds to "Do you want a banana?" with a "no" in a slightly Canadian accent, she means yes. If she shakes her head or yells, "NO!", she actually means it.

At 17 months, she's also at that stage where she can say a lot of words, but most of them are indecipherable to people outside her family. "S" is generally pronounced as a "D" such as "dower" and "doap". Her favorite song is "happy birthday" (Yes, now I can actually say I know her favorite song! See October's blog entry: "Noni, part time model") and she regularly sings it to anyone. She doesn't quite have the words down, it's more about the tune. It's also nothing a million babies haven't done before - Mozart was probably playing "happy birthday" on the piano by the time he was her age - but we still find it so brilliant and cute that we make her sing it over and over again.

Another thing we make her repeat over and over again is her animal noises. The girls love going through the list with her and get frustrated when Noni tires of it before they do. They'll sit next to her in the back of the car asking over and over, "C'mon Noni, what's an owl say? An owl? I know you know it. An owl?" Speaking of animal noises, the other day I found her sitting on top of our poor tortured cat yelling, "Neigh, cat, neigh!"

Probably what Noni says most of all though is, "Wa Dada?" ("Where's dada?"). She started this one night at dinner when Toby wasn't home yet.
Noni: "Wa Dada?"
Evie, Lucy or I: "At work."
Noni: "Oooooh."
She did this so many times that it started to be funny. Eventually we just laughed when she asked. Now she will ask it again and again just to get a laugh.

With Lucy, I want to remember her skipping down the road when we went camping in Malibu the other weekend. She skipped and ran on ahead of us until she came to a fork in the road. At that point, she turned around and yelled back to us, "Which way do I go?!"
"Right!" Toby yelled back.
She paused a minute. And then, "Which way is right?!"

I also want to remember the way Lucy can be overly candid without even realizing it. The other day, I convinced her to talk to her grandmother on the phone for her birthday. Usually she is reluctant to get on the phone, but once she started talking, she chatted on and on for about half an hour. Then suddenly, in the middle of the conversation, she asked, "Gram, how much longer do I have to keep talking?" Fortunately her grandmother found this hilarious. Again, I just love how it was so typically Lucy.

As for Evie, she's entered a new stage where she's not as likely to say something that is funny because it is such a different, purely child-like interpretation of the world, but she is young enough (and hopefully always will be) to have kept that same level of enthusiasm for life. When I think of her at this age, I'll remember her dancing the pata-pata for Nid and Tiggy at Tiggy's house, spending hours creating something (anything - a cardboard house for a Littlest Petshop, thank you letters for the Troll at Peek's house, or, as I write this, a complicated snack made from graham crackers, peanut butter, raisins, Cheerios, sugar and cinnamon), playing an imaginary game with friends in the tree house or pulling up her knee socks as high as they can go and urging me to hurry up because we might be late for school.

There are a few things that I will gladly release to that fishing village part of my brain - the hours of constant cleaning (see snack mentioned above), the nights of not sleeping, the frustration that comes with tantrums and talking back. But for all the good stuff, I'm glad that I have this blog to help me remember the things that are too important to forget.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Small Town Girl

The first time I saw Frederick, it was love at first sight. It was summertime and we had spent the weekend camping with Josh and Abby. (It was Evie's first camping trip and I was pregnant with Lucy, which meant that I could carry nothing on our hike to the camping site, Toby could carry Evie on his back and Josh ended up with a backpack that towered over his head and must have weighed more than he did.) On the way back to DC, Josh and Abby suggested that we stop in Frederick for lunch and maybe even catch a baseball game. I had no expectations, but as soon as we pulled in to the Norman Rockwell-looking street (appropriately named Rockwell Terrace), with beautiful old houses with large front porches, flowering trees and sidewalks, I turned to Toby and said, "This is it. We're moving here." Less than a year later, we did. It wasn't rational. Toby would have a horrible commute and we knew no one and pretty much nothing about our new town, but our decision wasn't necessarily based on reason. After my first date with Toby, I wrote in my diary that "I would marry Toby if he asked me today". I believe in love at first sight.

Last weekend, we visited Frederick after nearly five months away. This time, we arrived in the dark and the trees that line the streets were bare, but I was still taken back by the beauty of the small town we had called home for four years. We are used to the lights of Los Angeles, so driving through the historic downtown against the backdrop of a black sky felt like we were going back in time (back by years and years, not merely five months.) When we first saw Frederick, we wondered if we would relate to any of the people in such a small town. This time, driving into town, I knew the people in the houses - knew that they are home to a group of our friends - a group of intelligent, progressive people who have chosen this mellow lifestyle and are passionate about living in and continuing to improve their town.

We spent the weekend at pot luck dinners and brunches and meeting up in the park. The girls played with their friends, who feel more like family to us now. Some of them had lost teeth, some had grown new ones. The babies especially had changed. Noa, who had seemed just a tiny baby when we left, was walking. Apparently we've changed some too - the girls are taller, Noni has grown more hair.

Leaving this time was hard. When we left in June, it was in a whirlwind of packing and excitement. We didn't know what to expect but we did know we'd be coming back in five months. This time, it will be nine months before we return for another visit. We know what to expect and in many ways, it's better than I had imagined when we drove to the airport last summer. We have made friends that we care about. We have spent weekends at the beach and on incredible hikes. And I can honestly say now that all three of the girls are happy in California. Before I left, I went to Evie's school to collect her homework for the week and her teacher said, "I will miss her smiling face even for just a couple days. Evie is my happy girl. She is always happy." I kept thinking of that when I was watching her with her old friends and thinking about how she would be leaving them again.

There are things I love about Los Angeles - in Frederick, I missed my run up the canyon, the warm, sunny weather and of course the friends that we've made. But having grown up on a peninsula in a small town in Vermont, I am not sure I can live in a city forever. Being back in Frederick made me realize that somehow or other, we will get back to this little town in the mountains that still feels like home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fire, fire on the mountain

The valley is burning. Or rather, a lot of it is. 800 homes have been destroyed and more than 50,000 people are displaced from their homes. We are fortunate that we live on the other side of the valley. We can see the fires from our street, but we aren't in any immediate danger, unless we do something crazy like, say, breathe.

The air quality is terrible. Yesterday I went for a run in Freyman's canyon and could see the smoke billowing from the mountains from my run. My lungs were stinging and I came home with a headache.

Today it has gotten worse. I have woken up to a blue sky nearly every day since we moved here. Today the weather forecast called for another hot and sunny day in the valley. Instead it stayed cool and the sun was hidden from the smoke. We decided to venture to Malibu for a breath of fresh ocean air. The photo I posted here is from the beach, where it stayed in the mid-seventies on a day that was forecast to be 89 degrees. The red sun looked eerily like it should have been setting, yet it was high in the sky at 1 o'clock. When we returned home, the air looked more smoky than it had when we left.

Last night, we had a dinner party and had a small fire in the outdoor fire pit to stay warmer on a cool November evening. We joked because the wind seemed to follow one friend and he kept having to breathe in smoke. Today it's as if we are all on the bad end of a bonfire, breathing in the smoky air.

My thoughts are with the people who lost their homes and with the firefighters, who hopefully will get the fires under control so we can all breathe again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

I have always thought that my first kiss happened in France, the summer after eighth grade, with my host family’s cute neighbor, Yannick. A recent look through my elementary school diary let me know otherwise: apparently I “kisst” my own neighbor, Justin, at the ripe old age of eight. I don’t know if my parents knew about the kiss. If they did, they probably weren’t too concerned. I doubt the kiss elicited much passion since I don’t even remember it and as for Justin, he started dressing in his mother's clothing and never showed any interest in kissing a girl again.

So why am I talking about first kisses all of a sudden? The other night, Evie announced to me that at lunch that day she had leaned across the table and kissed her friend Ehden. She paused a minute and then announced, almost defiantly, “On the lips!” She waited for my reaction. I thought to myself, play this one cool, but in my head I was thinking, WHAT? Seriously? I mean you leaned across the table? In front of everyone? It’s such a bold and impulsive move for Evie, I couldn’t believe it. Later, the story ran its obvious course. In tears, Evie told me how the boys in her class had teased them and told them they were going to get married and have babies and sang all the typical songs. I felt genuine sympathy for her, but to be honest, I also had to cover my smile. It’s just so perfectly, wonderfully typical - the rights of passage of childhood - that I sort of love that she is experiencing it.

This seems to be boy week all over because yesterday I was looking for Lucy on the playground at school and her teacher said, “Just look for the boys. She loves the boys…and they love her!” Of course Lucy loves the boys. They are wild and there’s nothing that she loves better than finding someone to be wild with her. Today, I watched as she chased her friend Max all across the playground after school. Another mom told me that the word on the street (the pre-K street, which probably looks something like Sesame Street) is that Lucy and Max are getting married. So there you have it - according to their classmates, both girls are accounted for already.

Two months ago Evie turned seven and tomorrow Lucy turns five. Clearly, they aren’t getting married for years to come and they are both a long way from their first real kiss - the one that they’ll rush home to tell their friends about, the one they’ll remember. But all of a sudden they are also a long way away from being infants or toddlers - or rather, it has happened slowly, but it feels all of a sudden to me. They are fully immersed in childhood and, while I miss their baby days, I love watching them embrace this new and wonderful stage of life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proposition 8: no place in 2008

Today wasn’t an all good news day. I’m still celebrating - nothing can take away from the excitement of electing Obama - but California’s vote on Prop 8 to constitutionally ban gay marriage shows that while a majority of voters in our country just elected a black president, discrimination is far from over.

In Los Angeles, the ads and the signs supporting Prop 8 seemed almost comical. Driving on Laurel Canyon yesterday, a group of young adults held “Say NO to Prop 8”. I pressed down on the horn to join in the noise - it seemed as if every car driving by honked. Further up the road, a lone man held a “Vote YES on Prop 8”. The cars passed by silently and I almost felt sorry for him standing out there by himself. Little did I know.

Meanwhile, as we passed by these signs, Evie and Lucy asked for an explanation. I told them that some people were trying to pass a law that would make it so that men can’t marry men and women can’t marry women. Evie responded, “I just don’t get it. Why would you pass that law?” I told her I didn’t get it either. She was silent for a minute and then said, “It just doesn’t make sense. I mean, it’s not like they’d make someone go to a hospital or something.” I was trying to figure out what she meant when she said, “I mean, why would a man marrying a man hurt anyone else? Why would they care? It doesn’t hurt them, so why do they care?”

In an ad that aired before the vote, a little girl asks her mom, “Guess what I learned in school today? I learned how a prince married a prince." The girl’s mother looks as if horns have just sprouted out of her child’s head and a voice says: "Think it can't happen? It's already happened. . . . Teaching about gay marriage will happen unless we pass Proposition 8." Think what can’t happen? That a teacher might teach a child to be tolerant and accepting of others? Or what? That suddenly the little girl will go running to her mom and say, “I heard about the princes and now I’m gay too!” And what would the mom say then? That she should have kept it to herself? Or would she break out her own book about a prince who fell in love with another prince but, knowing that his mother the queen was intolerant, he decided to live an unhappy life instead of ever acting on his feelings?

I will confess that, upon my explanation about the diversity of relationships, Lucy announced that she will be marrying her friend Gabriella. Evie turned to her and, in an authoritative big sister voice, said “Well, Lucy, then you’re going to have to go to a sperm bank to get a baby.” Apparently in some parts of California, this is where a voice over would come into the car saying, “It’s already happened!”

In Obama’s speech last night, he mentioned Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year-old woman. He talked about her life, saying: “She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.” Now, in that same lifetime, she is witnessing a black man elected president. I hope it doesn’t take a lifetime for my girls to see our nation embrace marriage between two loving partners of the same sex.

Thank you Obama, thank you America

Last night, our family headed over to a friend's house to watch the election results come in. Sarah was prepared with champagne, but I don't think any of us dared believe we'd pop the cork until the words flashed across the television screen: Obama wins 2008 Presidential Election. Then there was jumping, screaming and tears. I'm so glad that the girls got to participate in the excitement and hope they remember witnessing this historic event.

Today I am just feeling thankful. Jamie Lee Curtis expressed her thanks better than I could, so I'm just adding the link here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-lee-curtis/thank-you-barack-obama_b_140696.html

Monday, November 3, 2008

Orange, black, red, white & blue

I have always loved Halloween. I’m not into goth or scary costumes and, as a mom, I don’t enjoy the overload of candy, but I love the creative spirit of a holiday where everyone hits the streets in costume. Over the years I’ve celebrated Halloween in many different ways, but the spirit is always the same.

Growing up, my mom would spend weeks making us elaborate costumes for Halloween. One year I was an oyster. She fashioned a giant shell out of chicken wire, covered it with grey fabric and then put a white swim cap on my head so that I’d be the pearl inside the oyster shell. My sister was a lobster that year, with huge claws towering over her, made in a similar fashion. Usually, however, the costumes went unseen as we marched around the neighborhood on the bitter cold Vermont October evening with our costumes hidden under parkas and hats. My parents like to tell the story of how my sister returned home one year with an empty bag of candy, having eaten each piece after it was handed to her.

In college, I remember one year where I decided that I had too much work to celebrate Halloween. At the last minute, however, I couldn’t resist and painted my face red, put on a red swim cap, red spandex and a shirt with a large spider on it and ended up heading out as Spider Man, more decked out than ever. I dressed up for Halloween in places where they don‘t even celebrate it, albeit unwittingly. Becky and I spent our Halloween in Ecuador at a bar, dressed in black and covered with black spiders (drawn with magic markers) only to find that no one else dressed up. If we didn’t stick out enough as a blonde and freckly red-head, we certainly did that evening.

In Frederick, our friends started a new tradition. Instead of candy, they hand out chili to friends and neighbors. People gather at their house, enjoying warm cider and a hot meal, and then walk together to collect candy on their street.

My first Halloween in California was spent in the Castro in San Francisco, where we partied with men in elaborate costumes who had all sorts of body parts showing. This year’s California Halloween was a bit more kid-friendly - an all American Halloween meets Hollywood. When we headed over to a neighbor’s at 5:30, kids were already pouring into the street. We filled the kids’ stomachs with healthy food (pizza) before heading out in a big group to tour the neighborhood. We stopped by a house with a “live” cemetery scene, where the corpses jumped out at the kids (most likely giving the local child psychiatrists a boost in business), one with beautifully carved pumpkins, and numerous homes with impressive home-made Halloween decorations. We decided to pass by the line outside of Jimmy Kimmel’s house, but did stop to watch as he handed out cabbages and filmed the kids’ reactions. Evie got her Hollywood moment when Bill Nye the Science Guy handed her candy. After about an hour of running up and down the sidewalks with their friends, all three of our little witches began to feel tired, so we headed home to hand out candy and put the girls to bed.

It’s easy to feel cynical about the holidays these days - the over commercialization and over consumption can leave even the most enthusiastic feeling disenchanted. But this year I realized what it is that I love most about Halloween: where Christmas and Thanksgiving are celebrated around the table with families eating or exchanging gifts, Halloween is celebrated in the streets with neighbors and friends. Families that normally spend their evenings glued to televisions or computers in their own homes, suddenly head out into the streets to greet each other and interact. It struck me this year that this is what America is and should all about, the “real” America if you will - people celebrating together and appreciating each other. Or maybe that’s just me, feeling patriotic on an evening when the hope of a new president and a new future for our country is just around the corner.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Noni, part time model

Derek Zoolander: Well I guess it all started the first time I went through the second grade. I caught my reflection in a spoon while I was eating my cereal, and I remember thinking "wow, you're ridiculously good looking, maybe you could do that for a career."
Matilda: Do what for a career?
Derek Zoolander: Be professionally good looking.

Whenever visitors come, I like to take them to Art’s Delicatessen on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. To me, Art’s is quintessential Los Angeles - from the old Hollywood “ROMEOs” in the corner (retired old men eating out) to the top heavy porn stars with their agents to the directors and producers discussing the set to the actors reading scripts over lunch. You probably couldn’t find similar crowd all in one deli in any other city in the world. When Toby‘s dad was in town last week, I brought him there and joked that in forty-five minutes he had seen what LA is all about. We walked across the street to the bank where he watched a macaroni-and-cheese covered Noni and Lucy while I deposited a check. As he was waiting, his LA experience was completed - a casting agent introduced herself and handed him her information, explaining that she’d like to see Noni come in for a casting call for an Old Navy advertisement next week.

That is how I found myself turning into Beverly Blvd. this morning, singing the Flight of the Concords song (“You’re so beautiful, you could be a part time model… but you’d probably still have to keep your normal job…”) while Noni slept in the back. I wasn‘t sure how I felt about my sudden role as a stage mom, but then I’d talked to some actors about the benefits of residual checks and decided that if Old Navy wanted to pay Noni to play with some other babies in cute clothing with the cameras rolling, that’d work out just fine.

I found the studio, parked the car, woke Noni from her nap, decided to honor her wishes to remain barefoot, and walked up to the studio. We soon found ourselves in a room full of parents chasing their babies with brushes. A young woman handed me a sheet of paper and instructed me to fill it out and then wait for our appointment. I plopped Noni down next to a pile of graham crackers and looked at the paper. It asked for my name, Noni’s name, our phone numbers. So far so good. I left the agent part blank. Then it got a little more tricky. Height? No idea. Weight? OK people, she’s the third, I do not keep track of these things. Favorite color? This completely stumped me. Should Noni have a favorite color? I wrote blue just because pink seemed too obvious. I checked it with Noni first and she nodded gamely while banging on the chair. Favorite song? This hit to the heart of my third-child-neglect-guilt (as chronicled in a prior entry). Would it look bad if I wrote that the only songs she ever hears are sung by pre-teen pop stars? I wrote “lullaby” because I do sing that to her every night and she seems to like it. Afterward it occurred to me that’s actually not the name of a specific song, but by then I’d handed in the paper.

Then we sat and waited in a room crawling with babies. It looked like a Benetton ad in action - babies with black bangs, yellow pig tails, dred locks, fuzzy red hair. All of them crawling and falling all over while their parents tried desperately to keep them clean and presentable.

After a few minutes, Noni’s name was called and I picked her up and brought her through a door, as indicated. Inside the room, five men and women, dressed in all black, stared at us from behind a bright spotlight and cameras. Next to the door, an X was marked on the floor in tape.
“Hello,” said one of the women dressed in black.
“Hi,” I said. Noni wiggled.
“How old is she?”
“Sixteen months.”
“Please put her on the X.”
“On the X?”
“Yes on the X. And then step back a bit.”
This is when I realized that this whole modeling thing might not work after all. I looked at the X and thought, are you kidding me? You want me to put her on the X and step back? Do you realize that this is a child who cries herself into a coma when I leave her surrounded by toys and in the arms of the sweet lady at the Y? There is no way in hell she is going to stand there and smile. Of course, I didn’t mention any of this, but instead I pretended that I expected it to go just fine and put her on the X. I took a step back. She took a deep breath…and screamed.
“Thank you,” said the lady in black.
“Thanks,” I said and Noni and I headed out the door.

When I was ten years old, we bought a welsh corgi from a kennel. Apparently, he had the perfect look for a welsh corgi - the right shaped face, the right colored nose, the right sized eyes. We didn’t much care since all we were looking for was a friendly, waggy dog. In fact, we’d gone in to buy the runt of the litter, one without perfect corgi looks, but he was too sick to bring home and my parents, looking at their two daughters waiting eagerly to bring home a puppy, decided that they’d pay extra for the good looking pup just so we could bring one home. The woman at the kennel agreed to sell him to us on the condition that she could show him from time to time. At his first show, Perry, trotted along the circle with the other dogs. The judges oohed and aaahed over his fine coat and perfect walk. Then they brought him up to the stand to observe him more closely. One of the judges pet his head and watched in horror as he rolled over, flailing his legs in the air and waiting for his tummy to be scratched. Apparently, this is not pedigreed dog behavior. It was the start and end of his show dog days.

I’m not sure if Noni’s cry for me will be the end of her casting days or not. Apparently they‘ll call if they want her to come back in, but I’m guessing they may be looking for a baby who is a bit more independent. Then again, I can’t help but wonder how many babies would smile cheerfully into a bright light and a room full of strangers, but there must be some who do. Either way, I’m glad that we went, chiefly for the Hollywood experience, which was capped off perfectly when we saw the four girls from The Hills step out of their limo and into a restaurant as we exited the studio.

Noni seems to be unaffected by her Hollywood morning. She spent the ride home kicking her legs and humming along to a new song I am teaching her. Whether we ever fill out any more forms again or not, I decided this baby has got to learn some baby songs. I sang her “Old McDonald” ten times on the drive home.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Losing My Religion

I was 32 years old when I first found a church that felt like home. I hadn’t really been searching my whole life. We were Easter and Christmas Presbyterians growing up, and I was perfectly content to spend my Sundays skiing down a hill rather than sitting in a sanctuary. I said my prayers every night (still do), as my grandmother taught me when I was young, and otherwise didn’t give religion too much thought.

When Toby and I started dating, he expressed interest in attending church regularly. His preference at the time was for a Catholic church, but he was willing to try Presbyterian churches as well. I felt somewhat indifferent to the idea of going to church at all and decided to go along with it since it was important to him. We did a bit of church shopping, and ended up at the Presbyterian church after attending a sermon where John Glenn, a member of the congregation, spoke about finding religion in space and the pastor, Dr. Barnes spoke passionately and intelligently from the pulpit. It was a more conservative church than we probably would’ve chosen on paper, but we were moved by the sermon and anyway, we had to find a pastor before our wedding.

When we moved to Maryland, we headed to the Presbyterian church right away, since it had worked for us before. We loved the historic church building, with a simple but beautiful sanctuary, only a quick walk from our house. But the sermons weren’t particularly inspiring and as I sat there every week, I started to doubt what I was really doing there. I listened to the pastor talk about Jesus as the only way to heaven and I told myself that he was saying that metaphorically, since love and understanding are the only way to peace, but it bothered me that we weren’t admitting that we were saying this metaphorically. And maybe “we” weren’t, was everyone else on board with everything we were saying to be true? What did that mean for all the people of the world of other religious faiths? I was sitting in a place where I was supposed to be searching for truth and instead I found myself feeling false. It just wasn’t working for me.

It didn’t help that summer that I read both “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer and “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell. Both of the books forced me to question my beliefs, the history behind the Bible, and the way in which a religion is started and then accepted as truth. At the same time, the Presbyterian church was searching for a new pastor in a way that didn’t seem to gel with our beliefs and priorities. (When Toby suggested in the re-visioning process, that we make the church a church known for being open to all types of people, a member of the congregation asked sarcastically, “Should we just put a sign out front that says ‘Welcome Gays’?“) We stopped going to church.

For a while, I didn’t miss it. It’s easy to fill Sunday mornings with trips to the park, bagel breakfasts, jogs around the park. But there is something beautiful about sitting in a room full of people who are all taking a break from their daily routines and thinking about their purpose in the world and searching together for something good. While the churches I had attended weren’t right for me, there was still something good happening there every Sunday morning. I could feel it when I walked out of church and wanted to be a better person for the rest of the week. Plus, I was no longer just going to church for my own benefit. I loved the idea of the girls attending a “school” every Sunday where the goal is not to teach reading, math and geography, but rather love, peace and compassion.

After some discussions and trying out a number of other churches, we finally did find another church. It wasn’t perfect, but Unity describes itself as a “positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity” and that sounded like it might work for me. When I walked into the membership class and we went around the circle discussing what the word “God” means to you. Some people said peace, some people said togetherness, others spoke of a spiritual body and pure being. No one was telling us what to feel, but here was a discussion, a search. In one class, we brought objects that represented our spiritual journey. I brought in “Power of Myth” and we spent half the class discussing Joseph Campbell. I knew we’d found our church home.

When we arrived in California, we decided to try out another church, as the only Unity church near our house looked pretty small and scrappy and, drained of energy from moving, we thought it‘d be easier to attend a church that was already well established and not as much in need of our help. We went a number of times and enjoyed the members of the congregation and found Evie a wonderful piano teacher, but overall it just wasn’t the same. I read in the paper the other day, that 70% of people “cherry pick” from their own religion, taking parts of it to be true and just accepting that they will disagree with certain aspects of their own religion. This is what I had done all my life and, as a result, church was always a pleasant but not particularly meaningful place. After my experience at our last church, I realized I am no longer able to accept that for myself.

So today, I made the fifteen minute drive to the nearest Unity church. Yes, it is small. Yes, it’s scrappy. But a new minister started there two months ago and her sermon was amazing. I hadn’t realized how much I missed going to a place that feels like a church home until I stepped in the doors. I’m looking forward to bringing the girls back next week. I don’t know if they’ll grow up feeling the same way that I do, or if, as they get older, they’ll eventually embark on their own search for a place that gives them spiritual meaning, but either way I feel like we’ve found the right place to provide the framework for that discussion in our family.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Country Roads

Yesterday, we headed out of the city to Animal Acres farm. My friend Margaret and her daughter Gabriella had gone a few days before and suggested we check it out as a possible location for Lucy and Gabriella’s birthday party. It was a good day to take a break from LA - it had been uncomfortably hot all week, resulting in a blue sky directly over head but a cement gray horizon of smog obscuring the views of the mountains surrounding Studio City. As I was driving, I kept squinting my eyes and looking around to try to even get a glimpse of the outline of the mountains, but it was as if they had been erased altogether.

After twenty minutes of driving, we finally arrived at the mountains (still in existence) and the smog began to clear. We continued driving through the dramatic scenery that these tall brown mountains offered, set against the now perfectly blue sky. As we drove further, it became more and more rural. When we turned off the highway, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving by ranch after ranch on a dusty dirt road. We finally stopped to ask an old man wearing overalls and a baseball cap for directions. He smiled, crinkling his sun-worn skin, and pointed us the other way down the road. I thanked him and thought to myself that even if we turned around right at that moment, the whole trip would’ve been worth it, just for the taste of country that he offered.

When we pulled in to Animal Acres, we were greeted by the largest pig I have ever seen. She towered over Noni, whose eyes widened with awe and fright. Evie pulled the brown twine cord to ring the bell and a young woman in pig tails came out of the building and, pushing pigs out of her way, let us through the gate.

Animal Acres is a rescue farm and all of the animals there have been saved from either a slaughter house or another type of abusive situation. The girls pet the scratchy fur of the pigs, rubbed the goats’ noses, and took pictures with the sheep. Noni walked around instructing the animals on what they should say - “maa”, “baa” or “moo“. (She’s still working on “oink”.) By the time we left, there wasn’t much question that Lucy would have her birthday at Animal Acres.

When our tour was over, we still weren’t ready to head back into the city, so we drove down the road and found a park where the girls picked flowers, played in the dust (Noni did at least) and chased huge balls of tumbleweeds. {Evie’s piano teacher later informed us that in LA you make snowmen by collecting tumbleweeds, stacking them, and decorating them. Tumbleweedmen.} As for myself, I mostly just breathed in the fresh air and enjoyed watching them romp with a beautiful landscape for a backdrop.

Since arriving to Los Angeles, we’ve escaped the city either by trips to the beach or to the mountains, but there’s something about a rural farm town though that’s relaxing in an entirely different way. I have a feeling that Lucy’s birthday party isn’t the only time we’ll be back.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lucy's Birthday Wishes

I recently asked Lucy what she would like for her birthday. Our conversation was as follows:

"Lu, what do you want for your birthday?"
"A guinea pig."
"Two rats."
"A car."
"What? Why would you want a car? No!"
"OK, a drum set."
"That sounds good."

It did not occur to me until a while afterwards that a drum set might not be an ideal gift. I mean, I don't want to discourage any musical exploration, but I suddenly had thoughts of, well, drums. Being played. In my house. A lot. And I realized that she actually had a brilliant strategy: Who is going to say no to drums after being asked for rodents and a car?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Home Sweet Los Angeles

Yesterday afternoon, five second grade girls came over to our house. I had invited all six of the girls in Evie's class to come over a few weeks ago, days after her comment about feeling unnoticed at recess, but hadn’t actually expected such an enthusiastic response. I was initially excited that she would have an opportunity to get to know her classmates better, but as the day approached, I began to feel a little nervous about having them all here. I wasn’t concerned with the chaos - in Frederick, we had parties with seventy-five people where the children outnumbered the adults. As the scribbles on our walls and stains on the couches clearly show, chaos has long been the norm in our family. But after hearing about Evie‘s shyness around her classmates at recess, I began to imagine them all as something out of a bad Hannah Montana episode. I envisioned them sitting around the table, sighing with boredom, and excluding Evie from their pre-teen conversation.

Fortunately, my vision was shattered even by the time we walked the two blocks home. The girls held hands with each other, easily dividing into partners with no hurt feelings, and spent the way home talking about how excited they were for a play date. I could tell this was a group of sweet, fun and basically typical girls. Of course I shouldn’t say “typical” , as they are obviously all unique - there is funny and somewhat bossy Jessica, quiet and thoughtful Julia, energetic Charlotte (who demonstrated a full split and numerous back walk-overs in our living room), chatty and cheerful Joy and studious and shy Nicolette - but they fell into the role of typical seven-year-old play with ease. They sat at the table, eating snacks and singing to Camp Rock. They dove right into imaginative play, with Jessica turning into the queen of the tree house and the other girls dividing into messengers and servants and pets for the queen. They built crowns out of pipe cleaners and showed each other songs they knew on the piano. And all the while, Evie was completely part of the group, hugging and giggling and playing.

When the girls’ parents came to pick them up, each one mentioned getting together again in the future. This afternoon, when I picked Evie up from school, she told me that the best part of the day was recess. The girls in her class started a "hopscotch club" and were planning on meeting to play hopscotch every day from now on.

We are still adjusting to life in a new city. We will always miss our friends and family and we have a ways to go still in creating a complete community for ourselves here, but with the recess issue resolved, I feel like all three of the girls are happy and that is a huge start to making Los Angeles feel like home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Last weekend, a swarm of security guards and people with cameras walked by us at the park. Naturally, we were curious and followed the crowd. I guess I shouldn’t say we, since Toby rolled his eyes at us, but my dad and I decided to see what, or rather who, was causing the commotion. One man rushed by us, having just had his picture taken with the dark haired celebrity. “Who is it?”, we asked. “I have no idea!” he gushed, still excited that he had a photo of a nameless, but famous, man. When we walked up to the crowd, we could see the tell-tale platinum blonde hair of Gwen Stefani. Her husband, Gavin Rossdale, held their son, Kingston, and gamely posed for pictures with beaming people from the crowd. Gwen waved to the crowd and then took off at breakneck speed in her silver sports car. Our curiosity satisfied, we headed up the hill to join the girls at the merry-go-round.

It‘s unlikely to go through a week in Los Angeles without seeing someone who looks vaguely familiar. Most of them are less well known than Gwen Stefani, people I recognize but don’t know their names - “the brother from My Name is Earl”, “the guy with a wide mouth who used to be on Spin City”. Mostly it’s mildly frustrating because I see someone and just can’t place him or her and then spend the day trying to remember where I’ve seen that person, like having a song at the tip of my tongue.

I don’t consider myself anything more than mildly interested in celebrities. (Full disclosure: my dad will likely disagree with me on this since I did know that David Duchovny was a sex addict and that Kanye West’s mother died of plastic surgery before he read an article to me about it in the paper.) Admittedly, I do like my People magazine from time to time, but given the choice between dinner with my sister or any actor or actress and I’d choose my sister any day, and seeing a smile from Evie on the soccer field is worth seeing 1,000 David Beckhams, However, I’ll admit that there is something fun about living in a place where someone famous might pop up any minute. Running into Gwen Stefani is a story - like the coyote walking down our street a couple months ago, it’s something different from every day life, which is why I think people are interested in celebrities to begin with.

Toby, on the other hand, could not possibly care less about celebrities. I guess I can’t say that completely these days given that his job, and therefore our dinner at night, relies on people’s interest in celebrity life. Still, I challenge you to find someone less interested in celebrity gossip than my husband. In fact, last week he met with Brittney Spears’ managers to discuss a website. The conversation went like this:

Manager: Well, we’ll have to look into that part of it since she doesn’t manage her estate.

Toby: What do you mean?

Manager: Well, you know, since her father has control of her assets.

Toby: Come again?

Manager: Good God, have you been living under a rock? How can you not know about this? Don’t you read those People magazines your wife leaves on the back of the toilet at home?

(OK, I am using an artistic license here, but you get the gist of the conversation.)

Toby’s theory is that our nation’s obsession with celebrities reflects the breakdown of communities: gossiping is a natural human urge and, since we don’t sit with each other on front porches anymore talking about all our neighbors, we look to the television and tabloids to get our fill. I think there’s truth to that and I could probably write plenty about the roll of celebrities in the erosion of American culture or the fact that after reading People magazine, I usually feel more like shopping than like making the world a better place. But for now I’m kind of enjoying the random celebrity sightings as an interesting back drop to life in LA. I’m not about to break out the camera or ask for autographs anytime soon, but I’m not ashamed to report that I pay attention to who is walking around the farmer‘s market on Sunday. So consider this a fair warning: if Zac Efron buys grapefruit or oranges, you’ll hear it here first.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Number 3

“Three, it’s a magic number.“ - Jack Johnson

My friend Joanna is the youngest of three girls. She once told me that she found three scrapbooks at her mom’s house, each with a name of one of the girls on the front. She opened her oldest sister’s album. It was full of pictures and notes about first words and first steps. Her middle sister’s album wasn’t quite as complete, but there were still a good amount of pictures in it. She came to her album and it opened with a resounding crack. It was the first time that it had ever been opened. She was horrified that her mom could forget her, though she said that once she had children of her own this horror turned into understanding. I listened to her and put my hand protectively on my pregnant belly and vowed that our third daughter would have a scrapbook of her own.

On June 22, 2007, Noelle Bethea came into the world. After three years of waiting, I couldn’t believe she had finally arrived. Two miscarriages had lead me to believe we would never have another healthy baby, but “Noni” was the picture of health - she skipped the scrawny newborn stage altogether and came into the world with chubby cheeks and a perfectly round belly. I spent the first two days of her life in the hospital with her, talking to her, nursing her and trying to soak her all in.

On the third day of her life, the hurricane of her two sisters arrived. Chatting a mile a minute, they burst into the room and announced they were there to take us home. Toby picked up Noni in his arms and I thought, “Goodbye little baby, it was nice to know you!”
That’s a little dramatic of course. She basically didn’t leave my sight or my arms for months, but I really felt her more than I saw her. She was the pleasant warm weight that I carried around as I rushed to soccer, school, brownies, gymnastics and ballet. She fell asleep in the car, in the stroller, in my arms, but was often awakened to be dragged elsewhere and rarely saw the inside of her crib. She listened to me help her sister with homework or read to her older sisters, but rarely did I talk directly to her. Her first year went by in a blur that, frankly, I barely remember.

This year, for the first time since that hospital room, she and I have some time alone together. For four hours a day, five days a week, her sisters head off to school and it’s just the two of us. Granted, most of that time is spent at the grocery store or Target or vacuuming the house. But, without being interrupted, I am able to teach her new words by pointing out the different fruits and vegetables to her and she has her own little vacuum that goes alongside mine.

Being a third child has definitely affected her personality. At least once an hour, during our mornings together, she rushes to the door saying “Yoosh, Yoosh”, imploring me to get Lucy from school. When she falls, she’s just as likely to ask for “Edie, Edie” as for “Mama”. Her sisters are influencing her life at least as much as Toby and I are. While her life is often chaotic, this is the benefit of being the third child - she has a lot of people to learn from and to love.

Fifteen months later, I still don’t have that scrapbook. But, times have changed a little. I do have hundreds of photos of her on Flickr and a blog to help record her childhood. So Noni, if you are reading this thirty years from now, I’m sorry I never made you an album. And, yes, you did get lost in the fray from time to time. But never doubt that we have always loved you very, very much.

The New Kids at School

When I dropped Lucy off for her first day of school, I was nervous. The memories from last year were all too clear in my mind - passing a kicking and screaming Lucy off to her teacher and avoiding eye contact with all parents in the hallway. It wasn’t like that every day, she could go happily off to school for weeks at a time, but she definitely had her moments, her spit and vinegar days. She’s a love, but she’s a Scorpio through and through. I still sing praises to her teachers for their patience with us. Given her reaction to a school she knew well, I was concerned that a new school in her new town would be an even tougher sell.

As I walked into the school, I thought that at least Toby and I can feel like we did our absolute best in finding a school that would be a good match for her creative and independent spirit. Lucy’s new school, I’ll call it O., is ridiculously wonderful in my mind. The children spend the first hour of school just running around outside, playing, painting, climbing on the tree house in a school yard that is bursting with art projects, laughing children, and friendly, huggable teachers. You could quite possibly see unicorns flying around the yard and not find them out of place.

After signing Lucy in, I walked with her over to the art table and sat down across from her, wondering how to approach the topic of leaving her there. Two minutes later, an adorable little girl with brown braids sat down next to her, introduced herself as Charlie, and told Lucy that she could sing the song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” “Really?” I asked, trying to maintain the flow of conversation, “We should play that song for Lucy because you know she actually hasn’t…” but I was talking to myself. Lucy and Charlie were off, swinging from the monkey bars, huge smiles on their faces.

Since then, every day Lucy wakes up and yells, full volume, (she gets this from her dad, trust me,) “AM I GOING TO SCHOOL TODAY???” She loves it. She loves her friends and her teachers. She loves having some independence. I don’t know if it’s the school or the amount of growing up she has done over the summer or both. Either way is fine by me. She and I both walk in the school gate every morning with huge smiles on our faces.

As much as I was nervous for Lucy on the first day of school, I was confident that things would go smoothly for Evie. She has always loved school. At age three, after the first day of nursery school, she wanted to play school with me at home. “You pretend to be Mrs. Davis and I’ll pretend to be me and I’ll cry because it’s time for my mommy to pick me up.” I was glad for her independence, but I remember thinking maybe a teeny tiny bit of homesickness would be nice. She made friends immediately and was always eager to head off and see them.

Her school in California is big. There are six classes in the second grade alone, and each one of these classes heads out to recess at the same time. The other day she said to me, “Nobody notices me at recess.” All I could say was, “It will get better”, but this broke my heart.

I didn’t think there was much I could do to help her with it beyond talking about it, but today I decided to write to her teacher. She responded immediately to my email and said she was so glad I had shared it with her. Since she isn’t there at recess, she wasn’t aware of the issue. She’s going to switch Evie’s seat in the classroom so she is next to one of the “more chatty girls” and assign her some more in-class work with partners. My relief told me that it had been a larger concern to me than I’d even thought. When Evie went to bed tonight, she told me that she was excited because they have science lab tomorrow. It’s funny because she loves her classes (she is the Virgo after all), but I’m mostly looking forward to the night when she tells me that she’s excited about recess the next day.

Moving has brought our family a mixture of both challenges and exciting changes in ways that I never expected. After just a couple of months, Lucy is suddenly more self-assured and even-keeled. And, while Evie is feeling intimated with meeting people at school, I’m hoping that the challenge of making new friends is ultimately good for her. As parents, we try to smooth the bumps in the road as much as we can. But, since bumps and twists and turns are all inevitable parts of life, perhaps the more important job is just to help our children to see them as part of growing up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Miley and Me

“Is it the Jonas Brothers?“ - Ten-year-old Malia Obama, when told there would be a surprise for her at the Democratic National Convention. (Unfortunately for her, it was just her dad on satellite.)

Teen pop stars are taking over my life. Miley Cyrus has dibs on the car stereo, The Jonas brothers monopolize the living room stereo and Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens claim the TV. Today I found myself singing a Hannah Montana song (“rockin’ it wherever we are…”) as I was jogging, so apparently they have taken over my brain as well. I’ve long ago given up the hope of listening to any good music - I have already endured years of the Wiggles and Raffi - but suddenly the music has a, well, teenage sound to it, and I’m starting to wonder, should I be worried about more than just my sanity?

We all go through the process as parents of learning where to set boundaries on our children. When they are really little, it’s pretty easy: Peanuts, bad. Applesauce, good. Sticking little fingers in the outlets, bad. Learning to go down the slide with adult supervision, good. Suddenly it gets a little more complicated. After listening to The Jonas Brothers for half an hour on the way to the beach, Toby mentioned that maybe the lyrics aren’t so child-appropriate, as almost every song refers to a girl that one of them “wants” or “needs” or basically just thinks is smoking hot. Should our four- and six-year-olds (assuming our one-year-old is clueless) really be listening to these lyrics? We thought about this for a while.

The truth is, I don’t really want to take away their cheesy teen pop CDs. There is nothing the girls love more than channeling their inner pop stars and dancing in the living room, choreographing moves and taking turns as the lead singer. Watching them brings back memories of my sister and I dancing to records on our pink plastic record player in the basement. What is it we were listening to? Oh yes, Michael Jackson. Singing about how he got down and dirty with Billy Jean but he’s not about to claim her son as his own. Hmmm. Suddenly songs about summer crushes don’t seem so bad.

What’s hardest is navigating the territory between what feels comfortable and what is out of bounds. Just when I’m feeling like I’m ok with the music, here comes the request for the tv shows. It’s natural to want to watch Hannah Montana if you’ve been listening to her all day long. So I’m the cool mom, right? I’ll give it a try. But no, it’s just too torturous. Miley is sneaking out of the house to see a boy, then she’s gossiping about her friend behind her back… it’s one thing to listen to her singing about it, but to have the girls watching it just doesn’t feel right. I turn off the television, which results in Evie running to her room and flopping dramatically on the bed (proving that the show had already had an effect).

Later that day, I found a note on my bed from Evie. It read: Since I am Bigger I never get what I want. So I want a weekly Break without little sisters. But how? This note cracked me up but it also made me realize that she really is growing up. She’s growing out of her old tastes and wanting to explore new territory. Part of me loves that and finds it exciting, the other part of me longs for someone else to set the guidelines. But we are thrown into it, like it or not: the role of navigating for her the difference between growing up and growing up too fast. One day Evie will go to slumber parties, watch cheesy teeny bop movies and giggle over crushes. There’s something wonderful about that, but we’re not there yet.

Still, after reading her note, Toby an I decided to give her some more grown-up freedoms. She and Toby now bike together every Saturday, with no little sisters along. She is allowed to stay up half an hour later reading in bed (and hopefully offsets some of the music lyrics by gravitating towards books with strong female narrators - Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls, Kit Kitteridge). We’re keeping the television shows off limits for now, though I’m sure we’ll be working our way towards them in the future. And, of course, there’s always the music. Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers are here to stay.

As for my sanity, tomorrow is the first day of school, giving me six full hours a day to adjust the car stereo as I choose… that is until Noni discovers the Wiggles and the cycle begins again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

School Days

For four years now, I have walked by crying mothers in hallways on the first day of school. Outside of the kindergarten class last year, a woman was sobbing so loudly into her husband’s arms that I could hear her even as I turned the corner and walked into the first grade classroom. At Lucy’s school, a group of mothers gathered outside the school to consol each other. I wondered if I could eek out one little tear. I cry at the Olympics, movies, even commercials! Surely I could manage some waterworks for my little daughters heading off to school.

The truth is (dare I say it?) the first day of school usually finds me… happy. I love my daughters. I love spending time with them and love that the summer finds us with lazy afternoons where we can all head to the pool or the park and not worry about having to be anywhere at a certain time. But the summer, while wonderful, can also be exhausting. As a summer mom, I’m not just the carpooler, homework helper, and dinner maker. Suddenly I’m the fill-every-minute-of-the-day person who, after the girls have spent a morning painting a mural, playing in the pool and tree house with their neighbors, and creating a wooden block town for their Littlest Pet Shops across the living room, will inevitably hear, “So, what are we doing today?”

I also know that part of the sorrow outside the classrooms comes from the idea that school represents the passage of time. This of course is a human condition from which none of us are exempt. There are times when the brevity of our lives strikes me so intensely that it takes my breath away - listening to a father giving a toast to his “little girl” at his daughter’s wedding, looking at Evie’s legs stretch across the couch, realizing that my niece and nephew are halfway old enough to go to college. And I am always aware at a birthday, whether mine, Toby’s or the girls, that life is far too short and passing by too quickly. Maybe it’s because my youngest is still home, but for some reason school doesn’t invoke this emotion from me. I am usually too excited about the new grade - this year Lucy will learn to read! And Evie will take acting! - to feel sad about it them getting older. I also think school represents for me the positive aspects of them growing up. I love that Evie can lie in her bed and read to herself now and am enjoying Lucy’s confidence and enthusiasm about heading to a new school this year.

So maybe I’ll surprise myself, but next week when I drop the girls off at school, I don’t expect to need to bring any Kleenex. I’ll probably just bring some money - Noni and I have a date with a cup of coffee and a few hours of quiet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When in Rome

For over a month now, I have watched surfers at the beaches in Malibu. They have always been part of the back drop - an interesting diversion when I look up from building a sand castle with the girls or pulling Noni back from the water. Last week it was suddenly different. Perhaps it was exhaustion from our family going through several nights of the stomach flu, but watching the surfers on the beach suddenly reminded me of all the activities I had given up since having children - the snowboard sold at a yard sale, the paints dried up in their tubes. I looked out at the surfers and thought, I want to be there. I want to be riding on a wave, feeling free and independent, even if just for an afternoon. I mentioned the idea of taking surf lessons to Toby and we realized that, with his brother and sister-in-law in town, it was the perfect opportunity to spend a few hours at the beach away from the kids.

A few days later, I found myself pulling on a wetsuit and grabbing onto a surfboard. As we walked over to the beach, some apprehension began to sink in. Our instructor told us how he had grown up in northern California, surfing while surrounded by sharks, but that in recent years there have been more sightings in southern waters. I have two friends, both reasonable and fairly brave people, who are so scared of sharks that they won’t set a foot in the ocean. I don’t have that type of phobia, but I have never liked the thought of floating in murky water with tasty pink toes dangling beneath me. Growing up on Lake Champlain, I spent a lot of time waterskiing. As soon as I was up on the skis, I always started to worry about being back in the water. I wasn’t afraid of crashing. It was the thought of sitting in the cold, dark, lake water while the boat slowly circled around, with lamprey eels swimming below my feet. A friend had been bitten by one and had to go to the hospital with the eel attached to her body in order to remove its clenching jaws. Walking along the beach with our instructor discussing surfing with sharks, I wondered if maybe I just needed to know I had the freedom to take the surfing lesson, but didn’t actually need to go through with the plan? This thought passed quickly because as soon as we hit the water, I found that I didn’t have time to worry about sharks. I was too consumed with water pounding me and trying to avoid being slammed in the head by my surfboard or another surfer.

I wasn’t sure how surfing would feel. I imagined it like snowboarding, the feeling you get when you are riding down a mountain in deep powder. There are a lot of similarities, but surfing is a lot more raw. Unlike snowboarding, where the mountain is a constant and you can stop or start at your own will, in surfing you are at the mercy of the wave, which dictates when you start and how fast you will go. Because of this, it’s also a lot more fun. Every time I started paddling to “catch” a wave, my heart would start racing. Half the time I would end up tossed off the board with salt water rushing into my ears and nose. Once, the board slammed into my back and neck, giving me pause for a moment before getting back on the board. But on the times when I did get up, it was a great feeling. Our instructor warned us that once you start, surfing becomes addictive. Even after an afternoon spent doing face plants, I can see how that happens.

The best thing about the afternoon was that for two hours I thought of nothing else but the waves and my surf board. It was a great escape from the daily routine of life with kids. I even liked it how our instructor told Toby and I that if we just surfed a couple of days a week for the next two months, we’d totally have it down. If he had seen us walking to the beach three hours before, buckets, shovels, umbrella, five towels, sunscreen, lunches, snacks, sippy cups, stroller, and three kids in tow, he would never have mistaken us for a couple who had the time to spend a couple days a week surfing. But for an afternoon we were.

When we walked back to our spot on the beach, with the girls running around like sandpipers in the waves, I was perfectly content to look out at the surfers from my spot on the sand and know that at least I got a chance to give it a try. I am happy to say that even if I left Southern California today I could say, yes, we survived an earthquake and yes, we learned how to surf.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Saving the World and other Small Tasks of Parenting

The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants the fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. That's what I hope to give you forever. - Noah in The Notebook

An old woman stopped me in the bread section at the grocery store to let me know that I have a “beautiful family.” I smiled back, thinking she was sweet. Then she shook her head sadly and said, “Oh, I just hope they grow up in a peaceful world.” For some reason this came like a punch in the stomach - unexpected and painful. I froze, cinnamon bread in hand, as she hobbled on by. She likely intended to be kind, possibly just offering a blessing of peace. But the shake of her head gave the statement such an air of hopelessness that I immediately started to question myself. Was I irresponsible and selfish to even have children in a world like this? I had a sudden flashback to standing in front of the television, hand on swollen belly, and watching a plane crash and change the world.

At our old church, a Unity church, our pastor always talked about envisioning a whole and better situation rather than dwelling in the negative. We sang, “Yes there is peace on earth”, rather than asking to “let” it be, because we were affirming our vision of world peace. During the primary, whenever Toby or I would start discussing the issues we currently face in the world - environmental destruction, war, etc., we would often end up sitting down at the computer and donating $25 to the Obama campaign. This process of attempting to turn fear into a positive reaction helped us to reach our maximum allowed donation for the primaries. Apparently the future state of the world for my children weighs on my mind quite a bit.

Of course I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that Obama can save the world from its problems. And, as much as I am an advocate for getting involved in community activism, even if we all get together to work towards world peace, I think it’s still a long uphill battle to solve all the problems of the world. It’s easy to turn on the news or open the newspaper and feel nothing but discouraged.

Plus, the truth is that throughout the history of humankind, no mother has ever really been able to look at her child and promise her a peaceful world. While we can look at the world and feel panic over global warming and terrorism, Laura Ingalls’ mom sat in the cabin with the girls while it was surrounded by wolves, nursed her children back to health from malaria, watched grasshoppers eat her family’s food for the winter and fought off fires that threatened to burn down their home. It was far from peaceful and in fact the threats were far more imminent. She didn’t have the luxury of worrying about the future because the present danger was always lurking over her shoulder.

Toby and I recently rented “The Notebook.” Prior to watching it, a friend warned us that it was a pretty bad movie. Admittedly, the second half didn’t even hold up to made-for-tv standards. But in the first half, Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling shone as teenagers who fall head-first, unabashedly in love. When I was watching this movie, while lying on the couch with my husband at my side, I felt totally at peace. It occurred to me that even with all of the problems in the world right now, the stress and chaos that most people feel in their lives most often comes not from the world around, but from a lacking in their own relationships. Lying there I thought, the best way for the girls to grow up in a peaceful world is to grow up knowing how to love. We can offer it to them as children by giving them a base for what unconditional love feels like. Then I want them to be able to be with someone they trust and love completely, to fall head-over-heels in love with someone who will share their life in a safe and meaningful way.

Of course I also want the girls to live in a world where they don’t have to worry about pollution, terrorism, poverty, global warming, etc. and, while I try to think positively, the world that we are handing to their generation is something that will always concern me. I will do my best to turn that worry into positive energy and activism and to teach them to do the same. But on the numerous days when I’m too busy to go canvassing, or when I feel defeated after reading the newspaper, I will give them a hug and know that in that small action I’m making a step towards giving them a more peaceful world.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Surviving Six

I recently watched my nephews and niece for three days, bringing the kid count up to six. When I explained that I was “embracing the chaos of six kids” on my Facebook status, a friend wrote “you and Angelina Jolie both!” I loved that I read that comment in food stained pajamas, hair un-brushed, with a chorus of kids asking for breakfast in the background. Just like Angelina, right?

In fact, I had just recently picked up the People magazine with Brad and Angelina on the cover. (Now that I live in LA, I feel like I can buy it without quite as much guilt - I‘m just researching my neighbors after all.) “Brangelina” are a nice distraction from daily life - they walk the red carpet one day and then sell their twin baby photos for $14 million dollars the next. Yes, they have six kids. They probably also have six nannies, six chefs, six cleaning people, six landscapers… Which is why it also cracked me up that in the magazine, on the opposite page of their spread, they showed another couple with six kids who could maybe “give some advice” to Brad and Angelina.

This couple, looking like they hadn’t slept in months as they sat in their cluttered playroom, described the importance of making the time for a date night once a month but joked that they usually ended up in Target by the end of the evening to pick up some diapers. (And I’m reading it thinking, wow, cheers to you guys, we only have three and haven’t had a date night since I can remember!) I’m pretty sure Angelina has never set foot in a Target, so I’m not sure exactly what advice People magazine had in mind.

I can tell you anyway, after just three days, that there is no advice for “raising” six kids because there‘s no way you can. You just try to keep them alive and fed and maybe even occasionally bathed as they run wild through the house. Every once and a while you yell out to make sure the baby hasn’t escaped from the house. Mostly you do lots of laundry and prepare lots of glasses of milk and snacks. You try your best to keep your sanity (which was maybe a little shaky anyway after a summer with three kids home all day) despite being bombarded with requests every time you walk into a room:
“Where are my shoes?”
“Can I have a snack?”
“Lucy hit me!”
“Mom, take Noni away, she’s getting into our game!”
“I need a glass of milk.”
“What are we doing next?”
This is all at the same time and with the new Miley Cyrus CD blaring at top volume in the “background” so it sounds more like:

Don’t get me wrong, my nephews and niece are very well behaved kids. And in general, barring the occasional attempts to scratch each other to death, the girls are pretty easy as well. But after just a few days, I felt completely drained. At one point, I went to the backyard to bring our cat in for the evening and ended up collapsing on a chair. I sat there for about five minutes, wondering how long I could pull off sitting in the chair before Toby started to become suspicious about my cat searching skills. It was just so calm in our yard. So…quiet.

So Angelina, I’m going to give you some advice from a tired mom who survived three days with six kids. Read the article about yourself. Look at the article on the following page. Then call the poor woman, apologize for the author who thought your lives were even remotely similar, and then offer to send over your chefs and nannies and landscapers. Even for just a day. Take it from someone who did it for three days - that woman needs a break.

And as for me, the benefit of watching six kids? Suddenly three seems almost even peaceful.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

You know you live in Los Angeles if…

1. Your mother-in-law tells you , “I’m on 405 driving south” and it sounds weird to you that she didn’t say the 405.

2. You eat avocados two meals a day.

3. Three of your neighbors have had cats eaten by coyotes.

4. Your six-year-old leaves a note on your bed saying “PLEEEAAASE buy me a Chihuahua”.

5. Your four-year-old keeps asking for surfing lessons.

6. Your start convincing yourself that smog is a good thing (protects from UV rays, better sunsets…)

7. You see three celebrities and thirty different types of fruit at the farmer’s market.

8. The checkout guys at the grocery store (and by grocery store, you mean Trader Joe’s) are talking about yesterday’s film shoot as they bag your food.

9. You stop reading the weather report and put your raincoat in storage.

10. You are eating lunch and notice that the chandelier is shaking and the water is sloshing around in your glasses.
(Yes, we survived our first L.A. earthquake! And yes, CNN, in its usual style, over-hyped it completely.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Keira Knightly and the Ladies in the Locker Room

In Los Angeles, when someone asks you, “Are you in the industry?“, they are referring to the movies. Yet there’s another industry that I’m pretty sure is thriving, let’s call it the “industry that supports the industry”, otherwise known as plastic surgery. Open any copy of People, Star or US magazine and you’re guaranteed to see at least one spread about the latest Hollywood Starlet’s nip, tuck or augmentation.

It’s not just the actors and actresses in magazines - the not-so-famous LA folk have quite clearly had a few trips to the doctor as well. There’s the woman at CVS with the skinny face and giant puffy lips. The teenage girls at the farmer’s market who still have bandages covering their new noses. But mostly, it’s breasts. I’m surprised they even sell bras in LA, given the number of size D breasts that are completely gravity defying on their own. Walking around the farmer’s market, you would think there must be a nearby stand where you can just order a pair of lips with a side of double Ds.

This is not a rant about plastic surgery. I have nothing against a forty year old mom who just wants her body back the way it was before babies took it over. And you know what? Someone who feels a new chin or different nose will give him or her more confidence, I am not about to judge that either. But the truth is, while it might be glamorized in magazines and on reality tv, you put yourself at risk anytime you undergo surgery. 25% of women who undergo breast augmentation will find themselves back in the hospital within four years due to leaking or hardening. Pretty sexy, huh?

This is why, as a mom of three daughters who will be lucky to fill a B-cup, I loved that Keira Knightly refused to have her A-sized breasts enhanced to Cs on promo photos for her new film, “Duchess”. I like to think this is a turning point for young actresses determined not to be pressured into fitting the cookie cutter (Barbie-shaped cookie cutter) mold expected of them. I’m skeptical though because when I look around I can clearly see there are plenty of Barbie-shaped women ready to step in and fill the roles.

Raising girls in a world that bombards them with negative body images isn’t a problem unique to LA. It seems a little over the top here at times (note the “Pam: Girl on the Loose” billboards all over Ventura Blvd.) but you can turn on the tv or pick up a magazine anywhere in the United States and young girls do it all the time. It makes teenage years seem particularly daunting.

When I start to worry that my girls are exposed to too many of the wrong type of images, I keep myself grounded by thinking of the ladies in the locker room at the Y. These women have never seen a plastic surgeon. They are wrinkly enough to look as though they’ve been in the pool for hours, even before they get in. They have dark purple veins running up and down their legs. Their breasts hang down to their belly buttons. They are lumpy, flabby, and liver spotted. I find them refreshingly beautiful. Sure, they aren’t going to grace the cover of any magazine, but these women have confidence. They stand there, showing their wrinkly bodies to the world, while they ask the girls about swim classes or chat with friends about where to meet for cards that afternoon. I love them for being so happy with who they are. Whatever the plastic surgeons are trying to sell, they’ve got it already, in its pure form.

I’m not holding my breath that Keira Knightly will set a new trend in Hollywood, but I like that it’s a start. Until then, I’m taking my girls to the Women in Science exhibit at the Getty and I'm hoping they learn a thing or two about beauty from the women at the Y.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

California Sun

A friend of mine recently declined a visit to the beach with us because she doesn’t go to the beach with her baby. She doesn‘t want to expose her to that much sun. Her response threw me off for a moment. I haven’t even considered NOT going to the beach. I mean, we live in southern California now. Aren’t my girls supposed to be little surfers-in-training?

While I'm unwilling to give up our weekly beach trips, I’ll admit that the exposure to the sun has become a concern for me here. My mom is smiling triumphantly if she is reading this. Except she is probably also shaking her head because it is too late for me. She spent our teenage years chasing after us with hats and sunscreen (back then SPF 8 seemed extreme to me), but despite my mom’s best efforts, I spent years as a lifeguard and swim instructor in the summers and I have plenty of photo albums full of peeling nose photos to prove it.

My mom was ahead of her time in her obsession with sunscreen. Since then, the ozone has depleted some more, further research has been done about the sun’s effects on our skin, and nearly every minute someone in the United States dies of skin cancer. Pair that with the fact that I’m turning 34 this summer and am starting to see some of the effects of those years of sunburn, and I’m ready to lather on the sunscreen… Except that this is 2008 and the days when moms could actually throw their kids in "way back" of the car without car seats while drinking soda out of a chipped BPA-laden plastic cup is over, so of course new research shows that we not only have to worry about the sun, but also really bad for you? Sunscreen. Apparently we are all peeing out hormone-altering chemicals, which just doesn't seem like a good idea. I guess it is sort of obvious if you think about it - all of those weird sounding names on the back of the sunscreen bottle you buy at CVS just can’t be good for your skin.

So what’s a concerned mom to do? Any dermatologist will tell you “stay out of the sun from 10 to 4 every day”, and I’m willing to concede that it probably would be the best option for your skin. But what about your life? From hiking to biking to swimming - most of the activities I enjoy involve some sun exposure. And, as I wrote in my last blog entry, being outside is the most natural place for children to be. Also, you have to factor in sanity, and staying indoors for six hours a day with kids in the summer is just not an option.

So we’re investing in long sleeve rash guard shirts, hats, and natural zinc-based sunscreens. Apparently we are willing to look dorky and pasty white to avoid being inside! Fortunately, I think the trend is catching on so maybe we won't stand out too much as the overly sunscreened family. In fact, when I asked about sunscreens on a listserve, my friend Sandy gave a homemade option, which I included below:

Sandy’s Recipe for Homemade Sunscreen:

1 teaspoon titanium dioxide 1 tablespoon zinc oxide 10 ml of vegetable glycerine (this is only for mixing the 2 powders, so any amount will work--I think it is more than a tsp and less than a tbsp) 1/4 to 1/3 cup Shea Nut Butter (olive oil will work, too, but SNB has natural sun protective qualities 1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut oil Mix the powders with the glycerin, using a fork will help get the lumps out, stir well, almost whipping. The SNB can be warmed so it is more liquid, but also works at room temp. Mix all ingredients together. The more you stir the more "whipped" it will be and that seems to be the preferred texture.

Now, speaking of beaches, my family is there now and I am supposed to be unpacking (another example of how a day in the sun is much more appealing!) so I am signing off to try to find the floor in my room...

Monday, July 21, 2008

parkle, nuggu and growing up on a lake

I recently heard a public radio segment about childhood myths that we carry into adulthood. The premise was that, as we reach adulthood, we lose most of our childhood myths because we figure out certain beliefs to be false (Santa, the Easter bunny) but sometimes a belief is obscure enough that it never has the opportunity to be disproved, in which case it might just sneak through to adulthood. One of the callers described how he had always believed a road crossing was a “cross zing” because you were supposed to “zing” across quickly. Another woman called in to describe how, during a discussion about endangered species, her friends around the keg became embarrassingly silent when she asked, “Are unicorns extinct or just endangered?” I’m sure we all have had moments like this. When I was two, I called throwing up “’parkling” because I thought it looked sparkly and I couldn’t pronounce the letter “s”. I was an adult before I learned that wasn’t a word that people outside of my family would recognize

Today, my cousin updated her Facebook status to “is excited to swim in a Vermont river” and, flooded with a wave of nostalgia, it occurred to me that the belief that everyone shared a country childhood similar to mine - one filled with afternoons on the lake in a boat, swims in the gorge, hikes along trails only minutes from my house, the freedom to spend hours in the woods building forts with my sister - is another “myth” that I seem to have carried into adulthood. To me, childhood, freedom and nature might as well be synonyms, as most of my childhood memories involve playing outdoors with no parents in sight. When I talked to friends in high school and college, I was continually surprised by the variation in everyone’s childhood memories. It still surprises me when Toby talks about memories from his own childhood that are so different from mine. {As I also was surprised that you don’t actually have to endure frozen toes and frostbitten cheeks in January. There are some childhood memories I gladly release!}

And yet, here I am raising city girls. As they get older, it occurs to me more and more that they are not having the childhood that I had. I think about diving off the raft for rocks with other kids in the neighborhood or ice skating on the pond at the end of the point, and I feel a pang of sorrow that they will never have these memories. It’s not just because we moved to L.A. - they were city girls in Frederick too. While we had access to hiking and camping, they could never head out the backdoor and find themselves in the woods and the only lake we frequented was man-made and a twenty minute drive from our house.

But I suppose I could title this entry “apples and oranges” too because, of course, there are benefits to living in a more urban area and they have memories that I never had. They have all the advantages of living in a city - they can walk to both school and friends’ houses, which is wonderful now but will be even more beneficial when they are teenagers. They are exposed to more diversity than I was growing up. If we are looking to see other children, we can just head to the park and immediately they will find playmates. They also have access to nature, just in a different way. In Frederick, it was weekend trips to the woods. Here, we can either walk over to the canyon for a nature hike or head to Malibu, where we spent two days in a row this week. The only way I can describe the girls at the beach is pure joy. Toby calls them sandpipers, as they run in and out of the waves, filled with excitement. This past weekend, they built sand sculptures with my mom, dared each other to grab rocks as the waves receded and looked for crabs and different species of birds.

Given that we use it still in our family, they might continue the tradition of growing up thinking “parkle” is a real word. Lucy’s word for snuggle, “nuggu”, might make it out of childhood as well. Mostly what I hope for them is that they carry out of childhood memories that they cherish, that they wish everyone could have experienced because it was just so wonderful. I don’t know if it will be hiking or playing at the beach or something else entirely, but watching them play in the waves I realize that it might not be Lake Champlain, but it’s still something really good.