Archive for October, 2008

The guinea pig campaign

October 29, 2008

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Mischa wants a guinea pig. I get why. We got two cats a couple of years ago, but because I developed an allergy to cats, they are garage/outdoor cats; they can’t come in his room or sleep in his bed. He loves cuddling soft fuzzy things, he has more stuffed animals than I can count and sleeps with most of them. And guinea pigs are soft and cuddly and could stay in his room (but not, I am quick to point out, in his bed).

I don’t want a guinea pig. I don’t want more critters to take care of, more mess, more nagging to do (don’t you dare turn on that TV until you clean the cage). I know he means well, and he swears he’ll do all the work, but he’s ten, he’ll get busy and distracted and his room will smell like a barn even before puberty strikes.

He’s good at working us parents, though. He went to the library and got books about guinea pigs; he’s started cleaning the cats’ litter as soon as he gets up in the morning (and then making sure I notice, “mom, did you see how clean the litter is?”). And he never stops the campaign. I say, “Hey, your sneakers are falling apart,” and he responds, “Yeah, I need new sneakers and a guinea pig.” We see a calico cat walk by and he tells me, “When I get a guinea pig I want a calico one.” I take him grocery shopping and he informs me, “Guinea pigs like broccoli.”

Indeed, he’s wearing me down. I even contacted the local 4-H office to find out where 4-H kids get their guinea pigs, or if some kids might have some to sell. And then I ask myself what on earth I’m doing, because I really don’t want a guinea pig.

I’m putting off the decision for now. First, I told him I need to find out if I’m allergic to guinea pigs; my plan is to stick my face in a guinea pig’s hair, and if an eyelid even twitches, the case is closed. If guinea pigs pass that test, then my husband and I need to talk; he’s been working us both separately, I’m not sure what my husband thinks of this whole thing.

But I’m also thinking that he will never give up. And there may just be a guinea pig in my future. And then I wonder if this guinea pig campaign is the first of many relentless missions ahead. Let me make it clear now, kiddo, when you’re 16 you are so not getting a car…

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How the California Supreme Court made an honest woman out of me, same-sex marriage, and the Prop 8 campaign

October 27, 2008

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There’s a time during the preschool years when kids get fascinated by weddings. Maybe they see a wedding party on the steps of a local church, and stop to watch the pageantry. Maybe they page through their parents’ wedding album while mom or dad is on the phone or folding laundry. Maybe one of their classmates actually gets to be that cute flower girl or ring bearer in a wedding, or maybe they attend a wedding themselves. But definitely, around age three or so, they are into weddings. They play pretend wedding; my daughter at that age insisted on being a bride for Halloween.

And they have lots of questions about weddings. One question my son had at that age (quite a few years ago now) was “Can boys marry boys?”

Now if you’ve got a three-year-old in the house, you know that while three-year-olds have a lot of questions, they don’t have patience for long answers. And since he hit me with this question as I came through the gate at preschool pickup, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about an answer. I quickly considered the possible response, “Well, boys can fall in love with other boys, and be families together, but they can’t get married.” If I said that, he’d obviously ask, “Why not?” and I didn’t have a short answer for that one. Or, truthfully, even a long one that made any sense.

So I lied. “Yes, boys can marry boys.”

“Then I’m going to marry my best friend,” he told me, satisfied. I found out later the discussion in preschool that day was about who was going to marry who, his classmates were determined to pair  everyone up, and he needed to come up with a name, fast. His classmates were perfectly happy to match boys with boys, just as long as every kid had someone to marry, so his problem was solved.

I hadn’t thought about this incident in years, until the Yes on Prop 8 campaign started running that ad that presents as a horror story the fact that in states that allow gay marriage kindergartners are told that boys can marry boys, and that this is somehow R-rated information that should be withheld until adulthood. Weird concept, particularly because, in my experience, marriage education happens unofficially long before kindergarten, and has nothing to do with sex, but it did remind me that, since California now indeed permits boys to marry boys, I can stop calling my statement of so many years ago a lie, it was simply prescient.

I also hadn’t thought about what kids whose parents are two men or two women in a place where they can’t legally get married feel like during that marriage-fascination phase. What do the parents of these kids, 52,000 in California, tell them when they ask to see the wedding pictures?

Then I saw this amazing video, put together by Bill Walker, a friend of a friend of mine, that looks at Prop 8 from the point of view of these children. He explains in an email (excerpted below with permission) why he made it.

Kelly and I were married on June 17, after nine happy years together.  Next to the births of our children, it was the most joyful day of our lives.  For our 7-year-old daughter Elizabeth, it was the high point of our family’s life.  She was bursting with pride all summer.  Until she heard about Proposition 8.

Our most compelling reason for choosing marriage had less to do with romance than with the benefits marriage would provide our kids.  Not just the many legal protections marriage automatically confers on children, but the more real, everyday benefit of knowing that their family is equal, not in some different, lesser legal category than all their friends’ families.

Our daughter is upset about Proposition 8.  The other day we passed a newspaper stand that had a “Yes on Proposition 8” bumper sticker on it.  She became visibly agitated, as she has recently whenever she sees one of the ubiquitous “Yes on 8” yard signs.  She asked if I would stop the car so we could take down the bumper sticker.  I explained to her that there’s a thing called freedom of speech in our country, and that everyone has the right to express their opinion, as long as they’re not hurting anyone.  She said, “But they are.  They’re hurting our family. Why would anybody want to do that?”   Try answering that one.

So I made the video.

You can watch Bill’s 1-minute video below.

The Halloween art show

October 26, 2008

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I’m not sure how it got started, the Halloween art display. Some traditions are like that. You do something once when your kids are little, not giving it a lot of thought, and the next year you find out that your kids filed it as a tradition, and you are now required to continue this little thing forever.

More than a few traditions snuck up on us like that. There’s making chocolates with cousins for Christmas; I like that one. There’s the gingerbread house; who knew a Costco impulse buy would have me scraping royal icing off every household surface every December.

And some traditions I tried to create didn’t stick. I did a Chinese moon ceremony for a couple of years after reading about it in a children’s book; my kids went along with it, but when I missed it one year never noticed, so we dropped that one.

But they won’t let me skip the Halloween art show. It started back when I had one kid in 2nd grade, one in preschool, and was on maternity leave with my third child. I’d never been that great about displaying kids art. I save some of it, I actually bought frames for a selection (still have to put it in the frames, that project is about 5 years dusty), stick a few pictures up on walls with tape, but I don’t have one of those lines with clips dedicated to a rotating art show; I don’t photograph the kids holding their latest creation, I don’t turn my favorites into greeting cards for grandparent gifts. Mostly, I admire it briefly and toss it into a pile to be sorted through whenever it threatens to take over my office; I stash some in portfolios in the attic and mostly never take it out again.

That October, it seemed that both the preschool and the elementary school were spending every minute on Halloween art projects. New things came home every day; egg carton spiders hanging on strings, pumpkin collages, geometric shapes arranged into witches faces; just a vast amount of stuff made out of construction paper and tempera paint. I couldn’t just toss it right away, and most of it was too oddly shaped to put into the portfolios. So one day–maybe the baby took an extra long nap, maybe I was just sick of the piles of paper—I taped it all up—mostly around the front of the house, to glass since I didn’t want to wreck the paint. I ended up with a piece of art in nearly every window pane.

And after Halloween ended I put it all into a big box, labeled it Halloween decorations, since that is what it had become, and shoved it in the garage.

When the infant of 1998 became the preschooler of 2001, he added to the collection, and the older kids for several years continued to contribute elementary school projects. The flood of Halloween art eventually turned into a trickle and then dried up. Now, with my youngest 10, it’s been a while since I’ve had any new construction paper cutouts in the pile.

But every October we still put it all up. Faded now, missing bits and pieces (the pumpkin without eyes, the witch without a mouth), it still fills every available window pane. It’s never tops on  my to-do list, but the kids push me into it, and it’s fun once we get started, trying to remember who made what, since not every artwork is signed.

And, when it’s all up, it turns us into a stop on the local toddler walking tour; you know, the “honey the baby is restless can you take him around the block for a walk” thing. The little kids stop in front of our house, point to the pictures, attempt to count the pumpkins. And then they look around for the preschoolers that must go with the art display, making no connection with the funny cutouts and the bearded teen taking out the trash.

Looking forward to “geezer-lit”

October 25, 2008

51kovahnrql_sl500_aa240_Some day I’m going to write a novel. No, let me rephrase that. Some day I’m going to write a novel that I’ll let people read. I’ve already written one that I that I’ve got hidden in a drawer, a genre romance attempt from my 20s, and half of another password-protected on my computer, my attempt at blending chick-lit into the playgroup scene that was sort of working until I got overwhelmed with everything else in my life.

For a while I thought I’d get back to that second, when life, parenting, and the day job eased up on their demands. But a year or two ago I realized that I probably would never finish it; the characters seem just so young to me now.

That’s OK, I reasoned, I’d start all over again; after the nest is empty, when the house is quiet.

So this morning, I wasn’t sure whether to be encouraged or dismayed when I saw the new Jim Harrison book, The English Major, tagged in a review as a “geezer” book. The geezer genre, apparently, involves a 60-plus-year-old character hitting the road for one last grand adventure; in movie terms, think Wild Hogs, or The Bucket List. Said geezer (so far, geezer lit is mostly a male genre, but that can change) meets a nymphomaniac or two, takes them on as traveling companions, and strange things happen.

Clearly I no longer need to worry about the doors of the chick-lit market closing on me; I have something to look forward to. Geezer-lit is the future.

Forget soccer, what I really want to be is a surfer mom

October 6, 2008

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It’s fall, and that means that I’m a reluctant soccer mom. I’ve got two kids playing AYSO soccer. Around here, that’s soccer lite; two practices a week, one local game every Saturday, let the coach know if you’re not going to be around, it’s OK, he won’t yell. I did two seasons as a CYSA soccer mom—overnight travel to tournaments, paid professional trainers, better have a 105 fever if you’re missing a practice—way too hard core; let’s just say I didn’t twist my daughter’s arm to stick with it, or encourage my son to go that direction when he got to be CYSA age.

My husband and I take turns going to the games. (If it’s before 8 am, I figure it’s his turn, I don’t like cold, and 8 am on a fall day even in Silicon Valley is pretty chilly.) I bring my green canvas chair with the built in cup holder,  sit with the other parents on the sidelines and cheer the kids on as they take the ball down the field, occasionally wincing when two kids collide or one takes a ball in the face. I tell my kids not to go for headers; yeah, they look cool and the crowd oohs and aahs, but this isn’t the world cup, I’d rather their little brains not get bounced into their skulls if they can possibly avoid it.

Obviously, I wouldn’t cut it as a hockey mom. Cheering for collisions and the sound of bodies crunching? I don’t think so. Sitting on hard benches instead of a reasonably comfortable chair? Not for me. And then there’s that chilly air, indoors or out.

What I really want to be is a surfer mom.

I didn’t know there was such a thing until this summer. My kids took surfing lessons during our New Jersey vacation, and my younger son’s instructor was a hotshot teen surfer, number seven in his age group for the entire Eastern U.S., or so his mother, sitting on the beach, informed me. She told me about the life of the surfer mom; traveling to competitions in North Carolina, Florida, getting ready for the November nationals in Los Angeles. She has her beach chair, her umbrella, her cooler; she knows the names of all the high-scoring moves. When her kid is out there sitting on his board, she’s watching the waves and watching him. When he’s on shore waiting for another age group to compete, she can chat, read her book, take a nap.

This, I thought, I could definitely do. I’m quite happy staring at the ocean for hours; it’s a lot more relaxing than staring at the traffic on  El Camino from the soccer field. It’s warm; while surfers might practice in cold weather, they compete in warm temperatures. And while I’ve been tempted to take a nap during all day soccer tournaments, napping is definitely not part of the soccer scene; at the beach, it’s what people do.

Later during our vacation I took my suddenly surf-crazed kids to watch a competition in the RipCurl International GromSearch series and tried out the surfer mom thing. My husband and I packed chairs, umbrellas, lotion, snacks, books, and towels. I watched the youngest surfers tumble off their boards, cheered when a girl slipped into the boys competition and made history by winning the boys 14-and-under title (the separate girls’ competition was pretty lame). And I read my book a little, and napped a little. I decided that the surfer mom thing was definitely for me; I just need to quit my job and buy a house at the beach. Until I manage to cross those minor details off my list, though, I’d better check the schedule, I think I’m on snack duty for soccer this weekend.

I’m done with goodie bags and party favors

October 4, 2008

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I’ve thrown some pretty amazing birthday parties in my day. The
Harry Potter birthday back when there was only one Harry Potter book
and no Harry Potter gear for purchase was pretty amazing. It took weeks
of preparation: figuring out how to play quidditch with black water
balloons and brooms, spray-painting eggs gold to represent the golden
switch, going to several stores to find the ingredients to make gak for
potions class. The Japanese party was pretty impressive too; and again
took weeks of preparation, ordering blank fans online for hand
painting, scouring Asian markets in Cupertino for party favors.

Because, of course, you couldn’t have a party without a goodie bag
or party favor; every year these seemed to get more elaborate. We
quickly abandoned the little bag full of plastic toys and candies; for
beach-themed parties I’d hand out buckets and shovels, for slumber
parties I’d buy a bunch of flashlights, for garden parties we’d give
plants in little pots.

It was creative, and fun, and it felt like the time spent with the
kids planning their dream parties was really quality time, though at
this point, their memories of all of it are pretty faded. It was also
hectic and exhausting.

And at some point, I just stopped. If the kids had still been pushing hard for fantasy parties, I’m sure I’d come up with something, but I started redirecting the elaborate plans–“we could have a Pirates of the Caribbean party with a treasure hunt and dig a big hole in the back yard and bury real gold”—with “Why don’t we just go bowling,” and we eventually settled on backyard campouts (still with the flashlights and an organizaed activity or two) or trips to Sky High, the trampoline park down in Sunnyvale.

And right now, with a party to throw on Saturday after week after exhausting week of the back-to-school ground rush, I am so glad it’s gone this way. Today I have to make reservations. On the day of the party I’ll need to pick up an ice cream cake and order pizza to have back at our house after the party. And that is it as far as party planning goes.

Do I miss the days of the elaborate fantasy parties? I miss the me who had the time and energy to pull those together, who wasn’t spending all her free time at parent meetings or dealing with school bureaucracy. The parties themselves, though, are just a blur.

Do my kids miss the goodie bags? Mischa did ask if we should get party favors to hand out at this weekend’s party. “No.” I answered simply. “OK,” he said; he didn’t seem to think that not giving party favors would cause him social disgrace in the 5th-grade set, so I’m off the hook. Goodie bags are over.