Monthly Archives: April 2008

My sister-in-law is backing Zachary on this one

            We decided it was time to tell Zachary about the baby.  We had waited, figuring that a transcontinental move was enough for him to worry about, without the additional stress of an impending third child.  However, when one of his new classmates arrived for a playdate, his mother informed me that her son had told her, “Zach’s mommy has a baby in her belly.”  We sort of figured it was best for him to hear it from us, rather than around the preschool water cooler.

            Zach was thrilled at the prospect of another sibling.  We told Benjamin, too, but it was hard to tell whether he was excited over the baby I am hauling around or the baby stegosaurus bath toy.

            The next day, I was on the phone with a friend in Boston, and Zach was feeling chatty, so he took a turn on the phone.  “There’s a sister in my mommy’s belly,” he announced.  Now, I have long suspected this one is a girl, but I do not yet have any medical evidence to support my conclusion, and it is five more weeks before the ultrasound where the baby gets a chance to flash us all.

            “It could be a boy,” I told him.

            “No,” he told my friend.  “We already have two brothers and one daddy and one grandpa.  We don’t have a lot of ladies around here.”

            And so it has been.  Everyone he cares to discuss my delicate condition with is informed that he is getting a sister because we already have enough brothers.  Stay tuned for May 20 to see whether we will need to have yet another difficult conversation with him.

Feeling the water sloshing

            The playground sits right on the beach.  But for a small wall the perimeter would be indistinguishable, as the sand from the beach spills right over under the swings and the slide.  It is a small playground, but it never feels crowded.  Infinity stretches out all around it.

            The boys take off their shoes; they run and slide and dig.  After awhile, we pack up the sand toys and put them back in the car, pulling out their scooters.  There is a long, paved path that runs along the beach.  One path is for bikers and other things with wheels, but my boys use the pedestrian path, since they are so small and their scooters move only so fast.  People stop to admire Zachary on his scooter, tiny and proficient, and to laugh as Benjamin stands, both feet on the vehicle, willing it to move.

            Zachary himself stops to admire.  The skateboarders jump and twist, practicing moves on a plaza just beside the playground.  He watches, calculating when he will be old enough to join their ranks.

            Then, we pack it all away, scooters and helmets back in the car, as we take it down to basics.  We walk to the edge of the water, where the sand is packed and wet.  We roll up our cuffs, remove our shoes, and stand at the ready.  The first small wave to splash over our feet is shocking, early-April cold.  Zach jumps with delight as each wave hits his feet.  Ben, however, stands stock-still, stiffening just a little with each cold wash.  His eyes are focused; he watches each tiny wave to ascertain whether this one has a chance of making it all the way up to his toes.  His lips are slightly parted; not a smile as much as a breath of welcome.

            “More,” he says quietly after one wave.  He is not speaking to me.  He is asking the ocean to keep giving this feeling, the water on top and the sand slipping away underneath. 

             My grandfather once wrote a poem about going to the beach with my grandmother.  “Susie likes to feel the water sloshing,” the final line reads.  I think of this poem while I watch Benjamin.  Someday he will know the word “sloshing,” and it will be just the word he needs.

            The tide is coming in, and we begin lifting the boys out of the water as the deeper waves come up.  They giggle and squeal now as we toss them up just in time to avoid wetting the rolled cuffs of their pants.  But it is getting late, and it is time to go home for supper.

            Zachary complains, not wanting to end his afternoon.  Benjamin cries.  He is not yet convinced that the ocean is now a part of his life.  One day, he seems to fear, it will roll out and never come back in.

P.S.A. on behalf of my son

            Zachary, who is three and a half, has recently started a new preschool here in L.A.  He is the kind of child who actually comes home and tells his mother what he did at school.  And what his friends did.  And what the teachers did.  And what the children in the other classes did.  And whether someone in the main office farted during snack time. 

            One day, about a week into his new school, he was well warmed up for his afternoon of non-stop talking, when he shared with me the following important information about his day.  “At school, I showed my new friends my Thomas underwear because they didn’t know what kind of underwear I had.  And they showed me their underwear because I didn’t know what kind they had.  And they had Spiderman and Superman. “  Ever so pleased with himself for having conveyed this crucial bit of information, he went on to reminisce about his best friend and neighbor from London, a boy we will call James because of his fondness for a certain 007.  “At James’s house, I dressed up as Spiderman.”

            Zachary appears to be balancing his memories of his old friends with the new relationships he is forming. 

And, a few days later, when we bought him some new underpants to replace the ones that were getting so tight I was concerned about his ability to walk, he was thrilled.  He would have something new for the show-and-tell that apparently takes place in his preschool bathroom.  “I am going to show Eric my new underwear,” he mused.

            But then, that evening, he realized that his joy was incomplete, that there was something missing from the fulsomeness of his bliss.  “My friends in London don’t know that I have new underwear,” he told me, clearly worried about leaving them out.

            Since I know that Zachary’s former teacher and James’s mother both read my blog, I would like to make the following announcement on behalf of my son.  I hope they will be kind enough to pass it along to all of his friends from London, who are no doubt anxiously awaiting an undergarment update.  Please inform them that Zach is now the proud owner of truck underwear, tractor underwear, and lizard underwear.  If they are ever in town, I am sure he will be happy to show it to them.


            Getting out of London was complicated, what with revisions on the book and organizing the packing and helping the boys towards closure, but arriving in Los Angeles has proven even more overwhelming.  For three of us, at least, it may as well be a foreign planet.  Until two weeks ago, I had only ever spent 36 hours here.  The neighborhoods, the highways, the rhythm of the weather, the architectural style – it is all different than anything I have ever seen before, and I spent the first week simply trying to orient myself, as did the children. 

             Neither of our sons had ever seen a palm tree before, and Benjamin, even two weeks later, is absolutely smitten.  From their point of view, those trees are about as exotic as vegetation can be.  Nor can either child quite figure out what to make of all that sunshine.  Zachary deals with it by insisting upon having his window open every time we get into the car, while Benjamin starts screams “OUTSHIDE” the moment he gets out of bed.  He stands at the front door in his pajamas and yanks on the door handle, stopping only to grab my shoes and then beseech me to put them on.

            As we get our bearings, we are also trying to piece a life together.  J has one more week of UK vacation time stored up, but we have been doing anything but vacationing.  Our lives in Philadelphia were liquidated, and we are starting from scratch around here.  J bought a car shortly before we came, on his last business trip out here, but we needed another one.  We also have to find doctors, babysitters, grocery stores, and playgrounds, not to mention a few other salient items, like a place to live.

            You see, we are in temporary housing, which, by its nature, is temporary.  So, if you are wondering why the quality of my posts as nosedived and why I have not been reading or commenting very much lately, it is because we are busy going to open houses and scheduling viewings.  In my quest for good air quality, we have landed ourselves in one of the most pricey parts of a very pricey city.  Now, we have had to prioritize in very short order.  We need enough space for all five of us, but how much space is enough?  Can five people live comfortably in 1400 square feet if three of them are under three feet tall?  We don’t know if we will send the children to public or private school, but which elementary school has what we are looking for?  We have another six years at this preschool, so how far away are we willing to be?  Will we trade five more minutes in the car to and from preschool for an extra 200 square feet of living space?

            All we know is that we had better have a little back yard, because one of us plans on spending all day outshide.  

Hunger strike

            Benjamin’s hunger strike caught us unprepared.  He is our eater, the one who wolfs down chicken tikka masala, broccoli, or kidney beans, then rejects the cookie we offer for dessert because all he wants are clementines.  While we did not know how the stress of the move would manifest itself with him, we sure as shootin’ knew he would eat whatever we put in front of him.

            The lesson here is that as soon as we know something for certain about our children, they are duty bound to take a 97° turn.  Unable to starve himself completely, Benjamin opted for the closest alternative.  He stopped eating everything except strawberries.  OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but his diet for the first week we were here was about 80% fruit, and that mostly composed of the large, red berries currently in season.   And, while he was getting his vitamin C, it made for some disturbing diaper changes.

            And so, while his brother tried new foods (almonds! hibatchi chicken!) and gloried in the giant sandbox of a beach, Benjamin struggled, overwhelmed by the new sounds and the new tastes and the new feel of the sand between his toes.

            And then, slowly, the child we once knew reemerged.   At the beach, he took off his shoes, gingerly placing his little feet on the sand.  Twenty minutes later, he was doing full-body sweeps, pushing the sand from side to side with the force of his entire body.  Clearly, we were over the fear of sand.

As I watched him munch on his pre-dinner asparagus while watching television, I wondered if perhaps he was ready to start eating again.  Then, we sat down to one of his favorite meals, a bean curd dish he fondly refers to as “toady!!”  I had made enough for two adults and one child, but it soon became clear neither J nor I would get our full portions.  It kept disappearing down the twenty-month-old’s throat. 

            Asparagus and tofu, it turns out, also makes for some interesting diapers.

A different world

            We are starting to get our footing.  We have found the playgrounds.  We are figuring out neighborhoods as we work on house-hunting.  We are learning the side roads and how best to cross the 405 during rush hour.  Life in L.A. is a different ball of wax than life on the East Coast or in London, and we are poking that ball to determine its texture.  It remains to be seen if it will suit us.

            There is, however, one aspect of life here that is rocking my world.  Here, I am not the weirdo with the canvas bag in the grocery store.  Here, in fact, I never need to say “I don’t need a bag.”  And people look at you a little funny if you need one.  We seem to have entered a world where people recognize that they are visitors here on the planet, and they had better behave themselves.

            At the Santa Monica Aquarium, which, by the way, is stretching the definition of “aquarium,” they have dual-flush toilets.  You push one button for urine, another for more solid contributions.  This is brilliant, as one form of waste requires a good deal less water. 

            At the farmer’s market, there are no trash cans.  It is one of those markets with food stalls and tantalizing breakfast options served up on paper plates, but there are no rubbish bins.  Everything used there is either recyclable or compostable, so there are only those two types of bins.  Volunteers stand by to help people sort out which item is which.

            It got a little complicated when I had to change a poopy diaper.           

If a crowded farmer’s market can go zero-waste, why can’t more food courts?  Why can’t we all have dual-flush toilets?  Why can’t other cities create the type of peer pressure I am finding around here to carry one’s own bags? 

I feel like I have entered some sort of environmental nirvana, despite all the driving.  The jury is out on the people and the cost of housing (holy shit) and the sprawling city, but I think it is safe to say that LA has won a very important portion of my heart.

Highest common denominator

            As I have mentioned before, my children are slightly different when it comes to food.  Also when it comes to body type, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, temperament, skin tone, aggression, and favorite activities.  In fact, the only two things they seem to have in common is that they both like to sleep and they both love to talk.  “It is almost as though they aren’t related,” a friend once mused, looking at their two faces.

            Food, however, is the most frustrating difference.  Zachary’s goal, even as a baby, seemed to be inducing total insanity in his mother.  When he was a toddler, I tried putting a little grated cheese on his pasta.  He sat in his high chair and picked out each piece that had been tainted with the foreign substance, tossing them one by one over the edge.  He was cleaning house.

            For him, it is all about carbohydrates.  He will not eat sauce.  He eats only a few vegetables, and those only when prepared in very specific ways by me.  He has finally consented to fruit, but only hand-sized fruit, so no berries or grapes and certainly no melon.  And, by the time he accepts an in-season fruit, it is out of season again.  Protein?  Fuhgettaboutit.  If it weren’t for a certain sticky, brown substance best served with jam, we’d be completely screwed. 

            And, while it has gotten better lately as he has learned to accept hamburgers and almonds, feeding him remains a challenge, especially now that I need to pack him a cold lunch each day.  I understand the no-nut rule at school.  Really, I do, and I support it fully.  But, for the love of God, those of you who have children who are allergic to peanut butter, please, please, take just a moment and honor the level of commitment to your child’s health it takes for me to figure out a lunch for my son each day.   I know it is not nearly as difficult as the challenge you face keeping your kid safe, which is why I do it willingly, but please, just for one moment, understand what those of us on the other side are also going through.

            I should have known we were in for a different ride from the very start with Ben.  When he was just a day old, he would scream at me with frustration as he tried to breastfeed, pissed that he was working so damned hard and getting a few drops of colostrum for his efforts.  When my milk came in, we were both relieved.  Whereas Zach had breastfed like a Russian on the bread lines, this one nursed like an American at an all-you-can-eat rib-and-chicken buffet.

            He eats anything, and a lot of it.  “That’s a lot of food,” a friend worried as we ordered Chinese food, perhaps under the misapprehension that we were feeding only three adults.  The twenty-month-old ate more than his father, seeming especially fond of the chicken-lettuce wraps.

            We went to an all-you-can eat salad and soup buffet.  As we stood outside, five minutes before opening, and watched Ben yanking on the locked door screaming “LUNCH! LUNCH!”, we figured they had not counted on our son when they created their children-under-two-eat-free policy.  Or, perhaps they figure that kids like his older brother average things out. 

            Ben is as adventurous as he is voracious, and feeding him is sheer delight.  I have earned it, frankly.  And I have two choices.  I can cook to the lowest common denominator, dumbing down our tastebuds to keep Zach happy.  We can go out only to Italian restaurants.  Or, we can eat Indian food and Japanese food and tofu and vegetables and Zach can sit by eating plain rice and fake chicken burgers.  We have opted for option B.  Maybe someday Zach will catch up, maybe he will remain picky.  I suspect he will grow up to be a gourmet chef and a daring culinary explorer.

            In the meantime, I am cooking for Benjamin.

The other child…

            Los Angeles has been a culture shock for all of us, but for no one so much as Benjamin.  Zachary has taken to the beach and the sunshine, and he is slipping into his new school with the relief of a person who finally gets a hot bath after a very long day.  Twenty-month-old Benjamin, on the other hand, had some  adjustment issues.

            There are certainly things he likes.  The gigantic strawberries that are in season right now are a huge hit, which is a damned good thing because otherwise he was not eating very much last week.  This makes for some remarkable diaper changes.  He is also fascinated by the ocean and the beach.  If we drive by it but do not actually go to it, he starts sobbing.  “Beach, beach,” he cries, often first thing upon getting out of bed each day.  He loves the ocean and the vast expanse of sand.

            As long as none of it touches his feet.

            Yes, our resilient second child, the one who is willing to try anything and the dangerous things twice, is totally freaked out by sand in his toes.  He got it there the first day, and has not stopped talking about it since.  “Beach,” he says, “toes no sand.”  So earnest, so insistent each time, as though perhaps his parents had forgotten in the interim.

            The second time we went to the beach, Zachary sat happily digging with sand creeping up his bare legs.  Benjamin sat on my lap, while I held his feet clear of the terrifying grains, and dug as best as he could from a remarkably awkward angle.  Any time his feet slipped downward for even a moment, he gasped.  “Toes no sand,” he cried, “Toes no sand.”

            Next time, we’ll just let him wear his wellies.