Monday, August 13, 2012


Technology is a great escape; one my children are learning, and one I wish I could unlearn.

Life is more hectic than it has ever been, and more and more I have to urge to disappear into my phone, so much so, that when I'm with both kids, the food/toys/books are being hurled across the room, and the screaming of "Mine!  Mine!" can be heard across the street, I'm increasingly tempted to retreat into a corner and check my email.  Check Facebook.  Certainly someone has said something trite and clever, certainly someone has posted some cute innocuous editorial about motherhood or child-rearing or politics or fashion that I'll find clever and "like" and share with others.  Certainly someone's posted some cute pic of their baby or cat or breakfast.  Maybe I should post that picture of my baby, cat, or breakfast, so others can enjoy it and think of me.  Did the cat throw up on the carpet again?  Is little brother pulling big sister's hair out by the root again after attempting to eat all of her crayons?  Hmmm.  What's on Pinterest?  Instagram?  Anyone?  Help?

Of course, the answer is, put the phone away.  Out of sight of the preschooler who wants to play Disney Princess Stickerbook and the toddler who wants to wrench everything from her grasp and throw it in the toilet.  And most of the time, I manage to do this, after a minute of compulsive checking has not succeeded in making me feel any better about the current situation.  I don't, in fact, want to read anymore emails from my daughter's preschool list serve.  This is all that's waiting in my inbox, this and perhaps a low balance alert from the bank.  I don't really want to see pictures of other people's sweet well-behaved children or pets when mine are playing "10 Little Monkeys" on my bed and the cat's coughing up another hairball in the corner.  Even a message or sweet photo of a dear friend serves to remind me how far they are away from me.

I've always had mixed feelings about the web; all this virtual connection is so ephemeral.  It's the illusion of connection.  There are very few people I can get on the phone anymore, which is ironic, given that the long distance calls that once came close to bankrupting me are for all intents and purposes free now.  Now we text.  I can't see you anymore, I can't hear you anymore.  Facebook pages are storefronts.  The best goods are in the window. The rest, out of reach.

I've noticed more and more on Facebook that instead of sharing original thoughts, people are simply "liking" inspirational or humorous internet posters.  It reminds me of the actual posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, felt-bottomed paperweights of golfers or kittens that were everywhere in the 80s, at the mall at Spencer's Gifts or the Hallmark store or the boardwalk shops in Ocean City where we spent a week every summer.  I'm sure they still make those things.  Why do they make those things?  Why do people buy them?

Facebook has its value, of course.  I can still get into fun exchanges with old friends that live 3000 miles away.  I can see pictures of my friend's kids and they can see mine.  We wait for airfares to come down; we say we'll see each other again someday.  I really hope that's true.

My daughter has started asking for apps instead of toys.  My 15 month old listens to Spotify and dances  in his gorgeous baby way.  I guess I feel the way my parents did the first time I tuned them out with a walkman or played Mario Bros. on the first Nintendo.  The way all parents do with a combined what-a-wonderful-world/what-a-terrible-world-they're-growing-up-in feeling.

Escape is nothing new, and I'm certainly not the first parent who's wanted to retreat at times.  I'm not the first stay-at-home-mom who's felt lonely.  The landscape is different, but the story doesn't change.  And it's still true, too, that when I stop fretting, stop looking for distractions, unplug and jump right in to the chaos of my children's lives, I rarely regret it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are you?

This morning, my daughter, while eating her multigrain squares, told me proudly that she was a Goop.  Lately, on her own, she's been reading these turn-of-the-century poems published in a children's volume a friend gave her for her second birthday.  The one about the Goops is probably my favorite:

The Goops they lick their fingers
And the Goops they lick their knives:
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop, are you?

It's written by Gelett Burgess, who is author of a whole series of Goop-related etiquette-themed comics for children, all published from 1900-1950.  Incidentally, I told her I didn't think she was a Goop, because even though she managed to spill a crazy amount of cereal and milk on the table and herself, that didn't mean she "led a disgusting life."  She seemed disappointed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

sitting in the car

Okay, not my catchiest title.  But I am, in fact, sitting in my car as I write this.  I'm parked outside of the library, the second I've visited this morning looking for a place to work.  This one, like the last one, opens at noon.  When my daughter needs to be picked up from preschool.  So my Tuesday "study days" will most likely take place at Mills, where the library will actually be open.  Plus there's the Tea Shop, which makes a damn good caramel latte.  It still pisses me off that I can't find a decent quiet place in my own flipping neighborhood to work for two hours.

My last update, in a succinct outline, gave all the highlights of my life six months or so ago.  I've since completed my first semester of grad school.  I'd love to write about this, but I can't.  It was an amazing, stressful, exhilarating, frustrating experience, but what made it so were my professors, my classmates.  And it's always dangerous to write what you really think about people you know, good or bad, in a public forum, however entertaining or cathartic it might be to do that.

So then it was the holidays.  Same deal, really.  What I can say is I really enjoyed the time off with my family.  Our family trip to Tahoe, not so much.  The time off led to some revelations I can share, however, about how I want to live my life going forward.  Choices I want to make.  Which leads to some resolutions for 2012.  Or rather, one big one.  Which is, I guess, what this post will ultimately be about.

So I bought a beautiful scarf about a month ago.  Got tons of compliments on it.  It was the kind of thing I don't normally wear, something I bought on a trip to Target with the kids, and as it lay in the cart among the toilet paper and laundry detergent and other unglamorous items, I enjoyed looking at it, felt kind of good buying something frivolous, something just for me.  To date, I've lost every nice scarf I've ever owned (I'm just absent-minded that way), so I thought I needed it, and the price was right.  I don't have a lot of money to buy myself non-essentials these days.  It was, in fact, the only thing I've bought that has been stranger-compliment-worthy in probably three years.

So anyway, after about a month, I lost it too.  No idea where.  But before this happened, I found myself feeling kind of bad about buying it in the first place.  Everyone who commented wanted to know where I'd gotten it from, and I found myself not really wanting to say.  A lot of people shop at Target, including me, a lot.   Since having kids, I've really enjoyed shopping there, I have to admit.  But since I found out they've been using their millions to fund anti-gay political candidates and since the Occupy thing broke, I've been feeling worse and worse about spending so much of my money there.  A week after the purchase, I was on Fourth Street after a haircut, and I bought a cupcake (or three) from Cupkates, a food truck parked on the side of the road.  A woman I assumed was Kate, the cupcake lady, asked where I got the scarf, and I sort of stage whispered it behind my hand.  The assistant cupcake lady (never did catch her name), well, her face just fell with disgust.  Her look could have meant anything.  It could have been an "I hate you for getting a good deal on something cool" look.  Of course, I took it as a "what's wrong with you, supporting that big box supporter of hate-mongering conservatives" look.  I laughed it off, but walking away, I started to feel badly again.  Not that I define myself by what cupcake ladies make of me or my outfit choices or buying habits, but I started to really wonder, more than I have with any other piece of big corporation clothing I've ever owned (and it's most of what I own), where it came from and who made it.  The answer's the same as with a lot of other things I buy.  China and I have no idea.

I will absolutely go crazy if I let myself think about every purchase I've made that ultimately funded some big corporation that uses sweatshop labor to keep costs down or supported political candidates out of line with my personal beliefs.  And make itself unbelievably rich in the process. It's such a long list and at the same time, not nearly as long as it could be.  And I'm not sure that camping out in the park is going to change anything in the long term.  But I find myself wanting to do my little part.

Since the birth of my son, an event that broke something open in me, I've been trying to reassemble my sense of who I am, feel grounded again, feel strong.  If you've been following my blog, you've seen some of my starts and false starts to this process.  But once my first semester of school ended, and I found myself once again with the opportunity to be reflective, I began to asking myself, Where is home?  Where do I belong?  Not counting the seventeen-ish years I spent in my hometown, I haven't lived more than seven or eight years in any one place.  This is my seventh year in the Bay Area and I find myself wondering, will we stay here for the long haul?  I miss my family of origin, but I have my immediate family to consider, too, and we're not ready to move back to the East Coast.  So what is it about here that makes me want to stay?

The friends we've come to love, sure, but one thing you learn as an adult today is that people leave.  Especially away from here, and back to family, somewhere they might be able to afford a house, childcare, some place with better schools, somewhere slower-paced.   So I've searched myself, and I think the answer has to do with the energy of this place.  I'm not sure there's a more beautiful place in the continental United States than San Francisco and its surrounds, and I want my children to grow up in a beautiful place, where there are endless adventures to be had.  Then there are the values.  People joke about Berkeley and it's crazy hippies with their "No Nukes" and their compost and gray water recycling and organic gardening.  But that's what I love about it, however little I've participated in the movement up to now.  While I know people in Virginia and Maryland and the midwest who live this way, too, here, it is the way.  When I think about how some of the world's problems will be solved, those that have to do with energy or pollution or water or food or corporate greed, I think I live in a place where people are putting innovative solutions into practice.  I want to invest in those solutions.  While I've been raised on cheap and convenient over responsible and sustainable, I want to try harder resist the former, embrace the latter.  I'm ready to face up to the consequences of my choices, whatever they are on a given day.

Starting small, I think I need to ground myself in my community, more than I ever have before.  The farmers and the artists and the working people that live here.  Instead of patronizing places that look the same and offer the same things wherever you go in all fifty states, I can, after almost three years of living here, figure out what it's like to live in California, in the Bay Area, in Berkeley, by shopping in places unique to the area, run by people who actually make their homes here.  Where I have skills or can learn them, I can make and grow things myself.  And maybe I can get closer to finding my way and myself in relation to that.

When I lost my scarf, I moped about it for a few days, called around to the places I'd been to no avail, and then I thought about what I was going to do to replace it.  Part of me just wanted to go back to Target and get another one.  Part of me still wants to do that.  Instead, though, I found an easy scarf pattern online and a beautiful yarn shop that dyes their own yarn in North Oakland.  The yarn seller, who Julia learned the name of in about three seconds after we entered and I did not, helped me make sure I was buying the right stuff.  I bought the yarn and then took my daughter to a new cupcake place that opened up a few doors down.  This cupcake lady's name is Eurydice.

The yarn, the crochet hook, and the tapestry needles I needed to make this thing cost about three times as much as my Target scarf, and probably won't be nearly as pretty.  It'll take me another few days to finish, time I don't really have.  But if anyone does comment, I'll know where it came from and be proud to say, and my hope is, when I wear it, I will remember just how important that is.