Archive for May, 2006

A Musical Memory

May 15, 2006

It was one of those wandering dinner conversations—10-year-old Nadya talked about a girl she knew who only wore skirts to school because of her religion, and that reminded me of 14-year-old Alex’s former nanny, who came to work every day in straight dark skirts and heels but still managed to chase him up the steep hills in our San Francisco neighborhood. I grew wistful, she was such a great nanny. Did he remember her at all?
    How about his nanny’s sister? He loved her sister. Or the park they went to every day?
    But, Alex asked, as he reached for another piece of bread, “Did she take me to some kind of music class where the teacher had strange instruments?” He reached for another piece of bread.
    “Actually, either dad or I took you,” I replied. “We used to sit in a circle around the teacher, and she had things like rain sticks. I don’t think you were even two.”
    “That’s exactly what I’m picturing,” he said excitedly. “A circle, and rainsticks. I think that’s my earliest memory.”
    It seemed that Alex and his friends had been talking about earliest memories, prompted by a play in which a character is distraught because her earliest memory is weird and disturbing. Alex was thrilled to have identified his. I figured mine out when I was in my 20s; I was working on an interview project with a psychologist and we asked all our subjects to identify their earliest memory. Earliest memories, he told me, are self-selected to reflect our world view. My earliest memory is set on the New Jersey boardwalk. I am two and a half. It is evening, my mother sat down on a bench across from my favorite penny arcade and taken me out of my stroller. I clutch a few pennies in my hand, and walk across the boardwalk to put a penny or two in the games outside the arcade where she can see me. Halfway across, my path is blocked by a huge but mellow dog; I stop to pet him. A crowd forms, concerned that I am a lost child. I tell them I’m fine. My mother watches in amusement as I chatter then eventually comes forward to claim me. What have I decided this says about me? I like being alone in crowds, preferably close to the ocean, and talking to strangers—and do it every chance I get.
    But back to Alex. I, too, am thrilled that he has identified his earliest memory, both for the memories it brings back to me and for what it says about him.
    First, the music class. This was not your basic Kindermusic or Music Together program. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, he took them later (and doesn’t remember a thing about them). This was San Francisco in the pre-dot-com 90s, where childbirth preparation classes were filled with discussions of placenta rituals and moms made their own organic rice cereal with seaweed and spring water.
    The teacher, Megan, wrote most of the music for the class; haunting new age melodies that she played on a strange instruments, like Peruvian pipes and odd gourds and, if my  memory isn’t tricking me, a glass flute. The class wasn’t about dancing the hokey-pokey and getting your energy out, it was about softly waving silk scarves and being hypnotized by the melodies. I still remember some of the lyrics: “Creatures of the sea, watery surprise, creatures of the sea, right before my eyes, sea anemones, touch them and they close….” I bought her tapes and listened to them in the car, even when the kids weren’t with me. And Alex sang her songs everywhere; on of my favorite memories is of him at Cost Plus; he pulls a fat bamboo stick out of a barrel and bangs it on the ground, keeping time as he loudly sings one of the catchiest two-word-songs ever written to his check-out-line audience: “Bamboo-oo-oo bamboo-oo-oo Echo-o-o Echo-o-o.”
    Alex’s earliest memory indeed defines my son—an amazingly musical boy who is drawn to magical adults. My son who last week introduced me to the guy who plays blues harmonica for spare change outside of Nola on Saturday nights; Alex has talked to him for hours, knows his life story, admires his music, and isn’t put off by the fact that he’s old, black, and broke. My son who plays the new Red Hot Chili Peppers CD for me because he hasn’t given up on expanding my musical tastes; and who gave me a CD he recorded himself for Christmas because he knows I like his singing best. And my son who thankfully was not scarred for life when, on one of those music-class Saturdays, dad accidentally locked him (hungry and screaming) and the keys in the car and it took me an hour to show up with the spare set.
    So thank you, Megan—for a truly special memory of rain sticks and evocative melodies and floating scarves—and for introducing the two-year-old son of a tone-deaf mother to a world beyond itsy bitsy spider.

(I googled Megan to see what she’s doing now—she’s got a free jazz/world music album out; not sure if she’s still teaching kids, I sure hope so.)

Mothers’ Day Greetings

May 10, 2006

Img_0178Several years ago I wrote the following rant about Mothers’ Day cards. Today I checked the card shop
; things haven’t gotten any better.

Mothers Day Cards 2001:

I was in the drugstore last week and I wandered over to the display of Mothers’ Day cards. My husband Eric tends to go for blank cards with romantic photographs on the front; I send my own mother flowers. I was curious to see what a standard Mothers’ Day card says.
     “To my fabulous wife on Mothers’ Day,” read the first card I pulled out of the rack. “You pickup, you drop off, you hit the best sales, you fix things, you mix things, you manage details, you hustle, and juggle and smile right on through it.” Wrong, I wasn’t smiling. This card was making me feel tired, as did the next one, also about someone’s ideal supermom: “Happy Mothers’ Day to a mom who wears a lot of hats: maker of mouth-watering meals, licensed driver and navigator, skilled game player and referee, lawmaker and enforcer, master of parental wisdom, fixer of booboos…” (I’m not making these up; they are all direct quotes.) Any more of these and I’d need a nap.
    I picked up a few smaller cards, reasoning that they couldn’t be quite so exhausting. “From your daughter,” one began. “Happy Mothers’ Day to the one who taught me everything I know about cars—get some guy to do the work.” “How come boys never do dishes, Mom?” read the next. “Because they’re too busy being swine, honey.” What was this, the sexist section?
    I moved on to a cartoon card, showing a sketch of mom in bed, along with dad, the kids, and the barbecue grill, hotdogs flying. “Carl and the kids decided to make breakfast in bed for Mom the only way they know how.” Turns out this was one of a series of dump-on-dad cards, along with “It’s Mothers’ Day, Mom, so forget about everybody and everything; pretend you’re dad when he’s on the computer,” and “For my wife on Mothers’ Day; how can I find the words to tell you what you mean to me—without your help I can’t even find my socks.”
    I hesitated a long time before making my next selection, featuring a misty photograph of a couple in bed, under a spotlessly white quilt. “Sometimes in the early morning I lie next to you and think I’m the world’s most fortunate man. And when I hear the kids wake up, I know it.” I’m sorry, it sounds romantic, but that is not what my husband is thinking when the kids wake us up on what could otherwise be a romantic Sunday morning.
    “Let’s see,” started the next card I dared to read. “Hours of screaming labor, about a million poopy diapers, thousands of loads of laundry, years and years of sleepless nights…and you get a Mothers’ Day card. Sounds fair.” Sounds like the card company wants to get some dad decked. Then there was the card with the picture of a mom relaxing in a sand chair while the waves lapped at her feet. I love the ocean, so I opened it. “After getting the kids in their swimsuits, cleaning barf off the back car seat, applying sunscreen to everyone, unpacking the snacks, cleaning sand off a dropped lollipop, and explaining why sandcrabs don’t make good pets, Susan relaxed in a beach chair. She was still there when the tide came in.” Sorry Susan, true as your story is, it is not one I want to be greeted with on Sunday morning.
    I closed my eyes and drew two more cards. “You’ve always been there when I needed someone to make me laugh, to make me think, to help me figure things out, or just to keep me company—you’ve been just like a TV to me.” Aarrgh!
    The single delicate, calligraphic, pastel card I held in my hand was the last chance I was giving the card industry. It turned out to be read like an abridged screenplay for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”:

“You are mother to me. You have brought me into being—the one who
sleeps to the rhythm of your heartbeat, knows the sound of your voice,
occupies your every waking thought, and appears in your dreams as
    So honey, thank you for not subjecting me to official
Mothers’ Day greetings. And I apologize for thinking that you’ve always
given me verse-free cards because it’s more efficient to buy in bulk.

And now for 2006.

  The card with the screaming labor, poopy diaper, and sleepless nights
is still a best seller! Come on, in five years we can’t do better?

  Plenty of cards are still designed to make you feel tired. I read:
“When you’re low on dough, she’ll give you some cash; can’t find a
friend, she’s there in a flash; just need to phone, she has time to
yak; back from a trip, she’ll help you unpack; run out of tissues, you
might try her purse; fighting a virus, there’s no better nurse; hungry
for lunch, she’s ready to cook; can’t get to sleep, she’ll read you a
book…” Too exhausted to finish that one, I moved on to a bustling beach
scene: “Can you spot the mom in this picture? Of course not, she’s back
at the car, unloading the beach towels, sunscreen, inflatable toys, ice
chest, folding chairs, blankets, pails and shovels, folded umbrella,
swim fins, and who knows what else.”
    New to the genre are the
cards that would spark an argument with my husband, like “You’re not my
mother, you’re my wife, so why am I giving you this Mothers’ Day card.”
(We actually had this argument back on my first Mothers’ Day, but
that’s another story.)  Also in that category (because I really really
need to deal with the outgrown clothing and toy pileup but I want to
sort through it for keepsakes before my husband rushes it off to
Goodwill): “Every test paper or book report that got a B or above,
original artwork, sculptures and paperweights, trophies and medals,
favorite stuffed animals and toys, high school yearbooks, thanks mom
for keeping watch over all the old junk I’ll never move to my place.”

  Or how about: “Happy Mothers’ Day to the one who loves me, cares for
me, and is a wonderful mom to our kids, from the one who pictures you
naked while you vacuum.” I don’t vacuum; I pay a housecleaner or nag
the kids to do that. But if I did vacuum, I wouldn’t want to be
pictured naked doing it. And if all dear hubby was doing was sitting on
the couch watching me, we’d surely have an argument.
    The winner
in the category of simply depressing is a large, expensive card with a
paper drink umbrella glued inside: “For Mothers’ Day, I wanted to send
you to a tropical paradise with a cool drink in your hand, a hunky
waiter at your beck and call, warm sand between your toes, and ocean
breezes blowing in your hair. But this is all I could afford.” Do I
really need to be reminded that a tropical vacation is not in this
year’s budget?
    Some cards are just plain weird, like:  “Good
moms let you lick the beaters, great moms turn off the mixer first.”
Who writes these things?
    One, just one, made me smile: “A
Mothers’ Day riddle: Why did the mom cross the road? No one could tell
really, she was mumbling to herself about peace and quiet, she circled
the block a couple of times and came back a lot happier.”

lovely sentiments are just a small sample of what’s out there. So if
you pass by a card store this week, check out the Mothers’ Day cards,
and use the comments button below to add to the SVMoms Mothers’ Day
Card Hall of Horrors.

Conference conversations, take 2

May 1, 2006

Img_0137I’m not the spouse. Well, I am the spouse, in real life, but when I go to conferences, I’m not the spouse. My spouse is the spouse—the person who sits by the pool and hits the spa while the “conference attendee” (that would be me, the journalist) is freezing in an air-conditioned windowless ballroom. Except he’s not the spouse when he’s going to conferences for his job, at which point I could be the spouse, if I had time off and childcare, but I usually don’t. Nor does he.
     Confused? You’re not the only one.
    Last winter I signed on to attend a three-day conference at a nice resort in Arizona. The conference started on Valentine’s Day, on a weekend, and I had a frequent flyer ticket to use or lose by the end of the month. Clearly, I wasn’t meant to go to this one alone. So my husband and I dropped the kids at a friend’s house (at like six in the morning; she’s a really good friend) and took the first flight out, figuring we’d have a day together by the pool before I had to put on work clothes and a badge.
    We started our lazy afternoon with lunch overlooking the golf course. A familiar face at the next table—Chris, husband of a mom I knew from my daughter’s playgroup and an entrepreneur. We joined Chris and he proceeded to tell my husband all about his new company, while I slathered myself with suntan lotion, downed three glasses of ice tea and two delicious fish tacos, stared out at the clumps of cactus beyond the golf course, and daydreamed. Finally, Chris’s monologue wound down, and he asked my husband, “Who are you here with, anyway?”
    “I’m with her,” my husband replied, yanking me back to reality and an explanation of my job to someone who had me classified as “mom-friend-of-wife” and was having a tough time fitting this alternate image of me into his world view.
    I turned down a fourth refill of ice tea, Chris left to play golf, and my husband and I went to the pool. I read a trashy novel in a lounge chair, took a short nap, and then spaced out in the hot tub as various tech industry regulars said a quick hi to me and then pulled up a chair next to my husband to chat. I tuned in occasionally to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important, but figured I’d be hearing about all of their business ventures soon enough.
    The next morning I left my husband to spend his morning by the pool and went to the conference breakfast. I was deep into sharing balancing-act stories with another working mom when a be-suited and be-badged gentleman interrupted us mid-sentence. “Chris told me I should introduce myself and tell you about my company,” he said. The other woman politely scooted her chair back so he could squeeze in. I listened to the two-minute version of his pitch and promised to come by his booth for the longer show. He apologized again for interrupting, then, as he left, he congratulated me. I was puzzled.
    “Congratulations for what?”
    “For getting back.”
    “For getting back where?”
    “Into the workforce.”
    “Uh, I never left.”
    Now he was the one confused and made a quick exit while I tried to figure out just what that had been all about. I concluded that Chris couldn’t imagine that, all those years when he’d barely noticed me drinking coffee in his kitchen, he’d wasted opportunities to get his business efforts some publicity. So he had decided that I must have been stay-at-home-mom until, oh, a few minutes ago, at which point I suddenly re-entered the job market and magically landed a great gig. Huh.
    I filled in my breakfast-mate. And we were amused (sort of), appalled (sort of), and surprised (well, not really).