Archive for December, 2007

Christmas Tiger Attack at the San Francisco Zoo

December 26, 2007

  Cimg0042_3                                                 Yesterday, Christmas Day, after my kids finished opening presents, we went to the San Francisco Zoo. A clear, cool, gorgeous day; kind of quiet, many of the animals dozed in the bright sunshine. My daughter tested out her new digital camera, taking photos of the animals. We stopped at the Terrace Cafe for a bathroom break, then lingered in front of the Siberian Tigers, one lazing, one pacing. We talked about the rarity of Siberians, wondered why the one in the back seemed so restless (bored, perhaps? waiting for its 2 pm feeding?). We admired these magnificent animals; my daughter took the pictures you see here. And we left on the early side, to get back to Christmas presents and Christmas dinner.

Cimg0041_2The ham was still cooking when we heard the news bulletin; one of those SIberians, Tatiana, had somehow escaped, likely jumping the moat that separates observers from the animals, and killed a guy standing right about where we had been. The tiger then moved on to the Terrace Cafe, injuring two other zoo goers, before being killed by police.

We watched the news for the rest of the evening. Chilled by the tragic deaths–the person’s and the tiger’s, and stunned by the ignorance of the local newscasters. They’re local, you think they might have been to the zoo at some point. They rambled on about the Terrace Cafe, with spacious indoor seating and hamburgers and ice cream (Uh, the terrace cafe has outdoor seating and only a few indoor seats and, while it does have burgers, is known for its Mexican food.) They complained that

no one could figure out how to turn on the lights, leaving police to walk the zoo in the dark. (Uh, there is basically no outdoor lighting at the zoo; on zoo night we bring flashlights.) They talked about the possibility of other tigers roaming the dark zoo. (We figured the zookeepers know how many tigers they have, and if they say there is one dead and the rest accounted for in their cages, there’s unlikely to be another one around.) They talked about the water-filled moat. (The moat hasn’t had water in it in decades, at least.)

This morning my kids grabbed for the papers; like a lot of people, they’re trying to understand what happened. And they’re sad. So am I; I’m sad for the people attacked, for Tatiana (the tiger), and for the Zoo I’ve loved since I was eight years old, that’s traditionally open 365 days a year, even on Christmas. It’s closed today. I wonder what else will change.

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It feels so good when it’s over

December 18, 2007

J0407126_2 I’m feeling pretty good right now because my boobs are not being screwed into a nasty plastic vise. Sure, my neck still hurts a bit, an aftermath of an injury a year and a half ago. And I’m sniffing a little from allergies. But right now, I’m hardly noticing those chronic annoyances because my boobs are free!

Yeah, I did the annual mammogram thing today, early this a.m., figuring I’d get in before things got backed up in radiology and be at my desk by 9 a.m. I took an ibuprofen before, thinking maybe that would block the pain a little. It didn’t. The mammogram technician thought that a shot of tequila might have worked better; next time I’ll schedule my test for the end of the day. But I don’t think there’s any drug in the world that could make having your breasts squeezed in a high-tech waffle iron fun. And no, it’s not a consolation to me that I

experience more than the average amount of pain because I’m what one politely calls small-breasted (that is, flat), and so a mammogram means a fair amount of pulling before the squeezing can begin, but I did appreciate the sympathy. Love the fact that the technician tells you to hold your breath—like I could actually breathe in that position!

But, oh, after it’s over, you feel sooo good. You truly appreciate being pain free. Go ahead and cut me off, you idiot that didn’t see the right-lane-closed sign. And sure, knock that construction cone right in front of my car; I don’t care, because my boobs are not being squished anymore, so the world is a wonderful place.

I’m also dancing around in joy because I don’t have to do it again for another year, and I already got the results and they were good. (Express results, one perquisite of having once had a biopsy, it makes me a premier member of the mammogram club.)

On Monday I knocked off another annual exam, ye olde eye test. That’s another way to make you appreciate the little things in life, like having your vision return after several hours of walking around in a blur with dilated eyes. But that’s another post, although one I didn’t write because I couldn’t read the screen….

A mystery solved

December 15, 2007

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My husband has been on my case lately to throw away my favorite spatula because the plastic is all nicked up. He’s figuring I bought a cheap spatula and it’s been disintegrating and the plastic is in all our food and is likely poisoning us. I haven’t seen any plastic in the food, but I’ve told him I’ll replace it as soon as I find a good one of the same size and shape. However, I’m not sure what a good one would be, because the only ones of that size and shape are the exact same one I already have, which indeed are cheap (Ikea), and I’ve been assuming would have the same disintegration problem as the one I already have. This discussion has been repeating itself for months.

This week, as those of you in Silicon Valley know, we’ve had our first frost. (Stay with me, I’ll get to the spatula and all will become clear.) Of course, living in Silicon Valley, we’re in denial about all things winter (witness the kids on the playground shivering in their shorts and light sweatshirts), so we don’t actually have handy frost-scrapers stashed in the glove compartments of our cars. Yesterday I offered to give my son a ride partway to school, since I was going out anyway, and the frost on the windowshield had yet to melt. I’d have to scrape. I used to use a credit card, but wrecked a few credit cards that way, so I ran in the house to grab something that would do the job without scratching the window, and came out holding my favorite spatula. It worked brilliantly.

And about halfway through I looked at it and realized, this was not a crappy spatula after all, it was a perfectly good one. It was, however, not designed to be used as an ice scraper, as, I now remembered, I did all last winter.

I’m heading back to Ikea at the first available opportunity.

A club that’s getting a little too big

December 14, 2007

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My family recently spent two days at Disneyland. Everywhere, we saw kids wearing large laminated passes around their necks, special park passes identifying them as being part of “Snowball Express.”

My kids wondered who these kids were, why there were so many of them, and how you got to be part of their group.

The second morning, I approached two “Snowball Express” families waiting at a shuttle stop and asked what the story was behind their organization. It turns out that these are the children of soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan, “the sons and daughters of the fallen heroes,” one mom I talked with told me. She was young, in her twenties, I’d guess, pretty, and fragile looking, keeping her little boy close; her eyes teared up as she explained. Snowball Express brings these children together once a year, so they can see

that they’re not alone, that there are other kids like them. Awesome idea. And it’s
sponsored by a host of corporations and individuals (you can sponsor a
kid for $500), so the families don’t have to pay a thing for the trip.

And indeed, they weren’t alone. There were 1500 Snowball Express
families at Disneyland that weekend. That’s a lot of dead soldiers, a
lot of kids who lost a dad (mostly), a few who lost a mom.

My daughter was stunned. “I can’t believe I was thinking they were
lucky to have those special passes,” she told me. And she pointed them
out to me throughout the day. Did I see the mom with the newborn in a
sling, and the toddler in the stroller? Did I see the one with three
kids, the mom that looked so young?

Yeah. I did see them. The moms all had a certain look in their eyes,
a little dazed, a little, wait, this isn’t the life I was living a
little while ago. The older kids, say, six and up, had that look too,
while the younger ones skipped and smiled and enjoyed their California
vacation.

Ancient History

December 13, 2007

J0403243 I read the whole bugaboo debate on Silicon Valley Moms Blog, and realized that I am so out of it that I don’t know what a bugaboo looks like; I wouldn’t recognize one if it crashed into me at Whole Foods. And that all my parenting knowledge is so, like, old-fashioned.

I used to have the parenting thing down! With three kids spanning seven years, I knew all the brand names, I could spend hours discussing different brands of diaper covers and strollers and carseats; I had all the latest parenting gear in the most fashionable colors (remember purple and teal, anyone?). I knew enough to fill a book. Heck, I did fill a book.

And now, merely eight years since the birth of my youngest, fifteen from my first stroller purchase (a Perego Pliko, BTW) my knowledge is completely obsolete. By the time I am a grandparent I clearly will know absolutely nothing.

Here’s how ancient I am (in parenting years, anyway):

I bought my maternity clothes at Pea in a Pod and Motherwear. Most of them involved dorky sailor collars, ducks, or little bunnies. Even my best dress-up dress had little anchors on the buttons; not quite

sure about the relationship between pregnant women and boats, but there it was. Bloomingdales did not sell a maternity wardrobe in a box; the Gap did not have a maternity department.

When I went shopping for baby gear, there was no such thing as a Baby Bjorn. We had Snugglies, and we thought we were amazingly innovative; yeah, the straps weren’t really padded and had a tendency to cut into our shoulders, and they were nearly impossible to get the baby in and out of, but they did come in a heck of a lot of cool colors and fabrics.

There were no Exersaucers. Robeez infant shoes had yet to be designed. The Pump-In-Style was not in style.

Coach did not make diaper bags. In fact, Land’s End had just shipped its very first diaper bag, and every mom immediately threw out the dorky baby-print bag she’d been shlepping around (mine had ducks on it; ducks again! I’m not big on ducks) and replaced it with a solid teal rip-stop nylon wonder.

The idea that a stroller could cost $200 was outrageous; only Perego and McClaran went there.

We didn’t obsessively examine milk labels, looking for rBST-free milk. Growth hormone was not being injected into cows.

We did not have DVDs, we had videotape. We did not TiVo, but we knew that Barney came on at 3:30 pm every day.

Cell phones were not used by ordinary mortals—they were unbelievably priced, the size and weight of a brick, and ran off car batteries. Moms hanging out in parks talked to each other.

It’s not that we didn’t have cool gear. The Gerry backpacks were the hottest item on the street; we couldn’t wait until our babies could sit up solidly enough to use them. This was the original model, in blue cotton; you never could get the spit stains out (later models were nylon), but that didn’t matter. We special ordered organic Australian sheepskins, on which we put our babies to sleep, face down in the fur, warned by our pediatricians that if we dared to sleep them on their backs they could choke on their spit-up and die. We were thrilled with Earth’s Best, the brand-new organic babyfood on store shelves.

And now we have moved on—to discussing MySpace and Facebook and how old your kid should be when you get him or her their own cell phone and should you subscribe to GPS tracking for said cell phone, and whether iPod earbuds or dangerous, and when will H&M open a store in Palo Alto. And in eight or ten years this hard-won knowledge will, again, be ancient history.

Fitting in at Disneyland

December 12, 2007

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My 16-year-old shaved his hair into a Mohawk two weeks ago. Mostly, it was to give himself a break from the 1940s hairstyle he’d had to have for the latest high school play. But when he found out we were going to Disneyland, well, he couldn’t help liking the idea of being just a bit rebellious. He thought that he might get a few disapproving looks in such a wholesome place. My husband, who remembers that back in his high school days his long hair, goatee, and hippie dress were not particularly welcome inside the resort, was also wondering what the Disney reaction would be.

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Much to their surprise, park employees couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, the "cast members’" well-trained smiles got wider and more genuine when they saw the Mohawk—and some even recognized the T-shirt promoting the alt-rock band, the Aquabats, that he wore.

I think, normally, the characters aren’t sure how to approach a teen. Kids are easy, kids they hug and pat on the head and fool with. Adult men they shake hands with, moms they put an arm around. But what to do with a teen? Too old for the hug, perhaps too young to be content with a handshake…

But my teen’s Mohawk and Aquabats T-shirt; well, those were bonding opportunities. Note the hairdos on Terk (the Gorilla from Tarzan) and Max (Goofy’s son) in the photos; Disney characters are all about crazy hair. And complete acceptance came when the White Rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland), flashed my teen the Aquabats fan club secret hand signal.

You go, Barbara Walters

December 11, 2007

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This a.m. Joy Behar on the View said that she is giving all the other women a donation to something or other for Christmas. Barbara replied (I quote roughly), “That’s not a gift. You want to make a donation, that’s great, I do think you should give to charity. But don’t make it in my name. It’s probably not a charity that I want. And I have to write a thank you note anyway. So don’t say you’re doing it in my name.”

Thank you, Barbara, for saying that. I, too, do not want to receive “donations in my name”. I do not think those are gifts. If you decide to spend your entire shopping budget on charitable contributions, I’m fine with that. But don’t give me a note that says “I made a donation in your name” and call it a gift. A gift is something you made for me or picked out for me, shopping carefully, I would hope, spending a little time thinking about what I might like. And then, when I eat it or use it or wear it, I’ll flash on a memory of your thoughtfulness and smile.

You don’t have to give me a gift, I’ll like you anyway, but if you do, it should be a genuine one. A donation in my name may make you feel good (you discharged that gift obligation to me and did something good for someone else at the same time), but it is not a real gift. At its worst (and I’ve had some of the worst), it is to an organization I actually oppose rather than support, and puts me on their solicitation list forever.

Celebrating the Christmas Season (NOT the Winter Holidays)

December 9, 2007

Img_1658_3I’m culturally Christian, which means I decorate my house for Christmas and bake cookies and wrap presents and listen to Christmas music on the car radio; I don’t go to church or set up a manger scene in my front yard. I do love the Christmas season, the lights, the colors, the music.

I wasn’t offended in recent years to see the Christmas season turn into the Winter Holidays. After all, I liked Hanukkah celebrations as well, and always angle for invites to Menorah lighting and potato pancakes. Heck, holidays are good things, the more the better. Diwali, Kwanzaa, bring them on. I’m not sure when I started picking out Happy Holidays cards instead of Christmas cards; when I just had one child the photo cards we sent featured wreaths and reindeer, these days they’re more about snowflakes (admittedly a little strange coming from California).

Sometimes, though, when you blend a lot of disparate things together, something gets lost. The colors get washed out, or turn dull. And, though my favorite song in the school Winter Concert is about next door neighbors, one family celebrating Christmas, one Hanukkah, I’ve been missing the full on, undiluted, red and green, Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, Merry Merry Christmas I had as a kid.

I discovered this on a trip to Disneyland last weekend
. Turns out Mickey and his friends do not celebrate the Winter Holidays. They celebrate Christmas, in all its secular, gaudy, glory. Understated white trees with monochrome ornaments are not for them, bring on the red and green and gold. This is the kind of Christmas I learned to love as a child. The only time my house had tasteful white lights instead of

brightly colored ones was when we didn’t take them down all year and
they faded. If there are ornaments left in the box, I can find room for
them on the tree. (My husband often suggests stopping,but I think that
the tree can never be too crowded). Now I have an answer; Mickey’s tree
is crowded, too (see opening photo) and stImg_1655ill
looks great. In Disneyland’s lanes, snow was glistening (OK, it’s
southern California, the snow was actually soap bubbles, but it looked
very authentic), and sleigh bells were ringing. Christmas wreaths were
everywhere.
The air at Disneyland was filled with Christmas music, traditional
Christmas music, that is, mommy was not kissing Santa Claus and kids
were not making dreidls out of clay. Instead, chestnuts were roasting
by the open fire (perhaps one too many times for my teenager) and the
weather outside was frightful.

Img_1651My
family went to Disneyland as guests of the resort, as part of their
family media weekend. We had tea (well, I had coffee, the kids had hot
chocolate) with Mary Poppins, Bert, Alice, Goofy, and the Mad Hatter.
And then we roamed. My kids scurried from ride to ride, trying to get
in everything on their respective lists. And I soaked up Christmas,
every bit of it. While they were schussing down the Matterhorn, I
wandered off to visit the live reindeer hanging out with Santa in
Frontierland. I admired all the Christmas decorations. OK, some of the
wreaths had mouse ears, but they still looked great, like the wreaths
that used to hang over main street in NJ where I grew up (before they
were replaced by Happy Holiday flags on poles).

Img_1609_2I
wondered if the Christmas decorations would be odd inside my favorite
attractions. And yeah, at first it was strange to hear the small world
dolls sing Jingle Bells, but by the time I got to the end of the ride,
and the Peace on Earth message that’s always part of it, it all seemed
to make sense. The Haunted Mansion, decorated to tell the story of the
Nightmare Before Christmas, did seem a little less scary than the
original ride, but since I went through it with preteen kids, that was
probably a good thing.

Disney’s Christmas got a little more adult Saturday evening; one
weekend a year, for decades, the park has put on a candlelight
ceremony, involving a thousand carolers and a Hollywood star reading
the Christmas Story (this time it was Jane Seymour). It worked for me,
I got totally choked up when the audience joined in on Silent Night.
(My youngest took that hour as a napping opportunity so he could stay
up for fireworks. A good choice, since he loved the Christmas fireworks
show, particularly the Russian Dance from the Nutcracker and the
skyrockets that looked like they were kicking in time to it.)

Lots of park goers clearly had experienced a Disney Christmas
before, and dressed for the occasion. We saw many families in matching
Christmas sweaters; somehow I doubt they wear those to the shopping
mall, but in this world of unabashed Christmas they looked adorable, as
did all the little girls in velvet Christmas dresses.

While basking in the glow of all the Christmas lights and swaying to
the Christmas music, I did wonder how it all felt to people not
culturally Christian. Did they feel left out, or was it like visiting a
foreign country, when you know these customs are not yours, but can
admire them anyway. If Christmas isn’t in your blood, can you accept
that it is the only winter holiday in this contained little world of
Disney, in the same way you accept giant mice and dogs and bears
strolling around?

Back in San Jose Sunday night, we took the shuttle bus to our car in
long-term parking. The lampposts in the parking lot sported blue and
white banners wishing us Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays or some
generic expression. I couldn’t help thinking at least a few ought to
say Merry Christmas.

The breastfeeding cheerleaders

December 6, 2007

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My youngest child stopped breastfeeding about seven years ago (he’s nine now), so, for me, breastfeeding is a distant, though fond, memory. Back when I was breastfeeding, however, I was also writing a weekly newspaper column about motherhood, and the subject came up. A lot. Here’s one of those columns, revisited for breastfeeding topic day.

Congress recently approved legislation allowing women to nurse in public on all federal property, including parks and museums. This was inspired by outraged tales of harassment of breast-feeding mothers. One mother, for example, was reportedly told that she couldn’t nurse a baby in a federal park because the breast milk would attract bees.

I’ve tracked breastfeeding rights legislation since the landmark New Jersey food court case several years ago—a woman in a mall was asked by a security guard to leave the food court, where she was nursing her baby, and go nurse in the bathroom. She responded that she wouldn’t expect the guard to eat his lunch in the bathroom, so he shouldn’t expect her baby too eat in the bathroom, either. For several years I was hoping to be confronted in California so I could use that line myself and, maybe, get my name in the law books.

California passed its breastfeeding legislation a few years ago, and I still haven’t had an opportunity to stand up for breastfeeding in righteous indignation. No security guard has asked me to close up my shirt, take my baby, and move on. Instead, I attract the breastfeeding cheerleaders—they buzz around me like the bees that park ranger was so concerned about.

The cheerleaders are typically older women who nursed their babies at a time when it was distinctly unfashionable. I admire them for that and would love to hear about their time in the trenches when breastfeeding was a guerrilla war. But they don’t want to go there. Instead they go on and on about how

wonderful I am, loudly, so that passersby pause to see just who is
this paragon they are talking about. They don’t stop until I’m either
done nursing or bright red with embarrassment from listening to this
portrayal of myself as some modern-day Madonna.

Last Saturday the cheerleading session went on longer than usual. I
was sitting in the lobby of the Ross Road YMCA, nursing Mischa while I
waited for my husband to get our big kids out of the pool. A white
haired woman walked over to me with the indulgent smile I’ve learned to
recognize.

“Oh, aren’t you wonderful.”

“Mmmm”

“You know it’s so important for your baby, it’s so good that you’re not giving him a bottle.”

“Mmmm, I know.”

She moved closer. I wasn’t going to get off easily. I mentioned I was waiting for my older children. “How old?”

“Eight and four.”

“What good spacing. And that’s because you breast fed, you know.”

Well, no, not really, modern birth control technology had a little
to do with it, I thought to myself. Aloud, I agreed that the spacing
worked out fine for me. But she wasn’t done.

“It’s women who didn’t breast feed who are responsible for the
decline in morals of today’s society, you know,” she told me.
(Actually, I didn’t know.) “Boys who aren’t breast fed long enough
sleep around when they’re eighteen. Your boy won’t be doing that.
Today’s children wouldn’t be such a mess if they had been breast fed. ”

She stepped away to pour herself a cup of coffee and then turned
back in my direction. I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going
to go next.

And I didn’t find out, because another mother settled a few chairs
away from me, took her infant out of her car seat, and began to nurse.
The breastfeeding cheerleader quickly veered her way. “Aren’t you
wonderful…”