Monthly Archives: July 2008

You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do

            Thank you all for your comments on yesterday’s post.  Your support, as always, means a great deal to me.

            I had a troll once.  Only once.  She left one nasty comment and then disappeared, perhaps because I followed that old advice of ignoring a bully.  Although, I must admit I did not ignore it to make her go away but because I was a little perplexed by her point.  I paste the comment below for your edification:

Have you ever had anyone tell you, honestly, that all your fear based decisions are symptoms of being a neurotic?

You MIGHT try being both accountable and responsible for the peptide production of YOUR OWN hypothalamus and, developing some emotional coping skills as cures for your neurosis.  For if I had to live with you in my head, I’d be a sniveling neurotic, too.

 My confusion lay in the peptide/hypothalamus advice, not to mention the missing hyphen and the comma that comes after the word “and.”

            I was not, however, confused about the overall point she was making.  She was calling me neurotic.  I thought for a short time about emailing her back and asking her whether she came up with that diagnosis all by herself after reading a few posts, or whether it was evident from the last name I include on my blog.  Um, you noticed that I’m Jewish, right?  It is my birthright to be neurotic.  It goes with the asthma and the glasses.

            Cultural stereotypes aside, however, I don’t see how anyone could be a mother and not end up neurotic.  There are these two little people out there who exist separately from me, yet who hold within their persons far more of me than I have in my own body.  Their bodies are vulnerable, and it is my job to protect them, even as I am also supposed to give them their independence.

            And, as Tuesday’s earthquake reminded me, I cannot protect them.  I cannot make sure no one ever teases them.  I cannot make sure no one ever abducts them.  I cannot stop earthquakes, hurricanes, or spontaneous combustion.  I cannot shield against cancer and schizophrenia and depression.  Most days, I cannot even protect them from one another.

            I can however try my best to protect their planet.  I can hang out my wash instead of using a dryer.  I can recycle and reuse and buy less and so on.  It only does so much good, I know, but it helps me to fool myself into thinking I am protecting my kids.

            My world has shrunk in the last four years.  I read a lot less news, and I am much less informed.  Everything I do is about my children; everything I care about is them.  When I worry about the homeless, it is because they are someone’s sons and daughters.  When I worry about my husband, it is as a co-parent.  When I think about the war, it is not about people dying but about someone’s children dying.  There is nothing I do or feel that is not connected to my children.

            Has that made me neurotic?  You bet your ass.  I could breastfeed them till they go off to college, but eventually even that protection is going to wear off.  I can buy alarms and lock gates, but we all know a thief who wants to get in is going to get in.  I can buy emergency kits and keep emergency numbers, but I cannot stop the emergencies. 

            Is it any wonder my peptides are out of kilter?

I feel the earth move

            Zachary is getting some educational testing done for various reasons I don’t want to go into.  Since he is so young, the psychologist has suggested I remain in her waiting area for the three hours so that I am there on his breaks.  This is fine with me; I can work as well there as anywhere.  I sit and edit while he gets to play games in her office, which, like many doctor’s offices, is separated from the waiting area by a receptionist’s area behind a locked door.

            That’s where I was yesterday a little before noon when the room began to rumble.  I looked up at the receptionist through her little window, wondering whether she gets a lot of that kind of annoyance from the upstairs neighbors.  She looked up, too, perhaps also wondering who was moving furniture so aggressively.  But, then it didn’t stop.  And I think it dawned on us at the same time, because she got out of her seat and I got out of my seat.

            I ran to the door to get my son, but it was locked.  I banged on it for what felt like 20 seconds, although I am sure it was much shorter than that.  It opened.  “Here he is,” the psychologist told me, handing over my little man.  “I don’t think he noticed.”  He didn’t notice?  We were four stories up.

            We figured we should evacuate, so I grabbed my computer and purse.  It only took 3 or 4 seconds, so don’t think I am a lunatic.  The manuscript is on that computer.  And then we were out the door.

            At the stairs, though, I was stuck.  “Can someone please carry him?” I asked.  We’d never get down if he had to walk on his own, and if I tried to carry him four flights, I’d go into labor.

            Outside, I tried to call my nanny who was home with Benjamin, but the call kept getting dropped.

            “We can call it a day,” the psychologist said.  “We only have about 15 minutes left for today.”

            “Let’s finish,” I decided.  “I don’t even think he knows what happened.”  I turned to my son.  “Do you know why we left, honey?”


            Looking back at the psychologist, I said, “let’s just finish up.”

            “Why did we leave the building, Mommy?”

            “Well, honey, in an emergency you are supposed to leave the building and use the stairs instead of the elevator.  We were practicing for an emergency.  Does that make sense?”

            As he nodded, I heard our psychologist say to her office staff, “Good answer.”  I guess you know you’re doing something right when a child psychologist likes your answers.

            Back inside, I still could not reach my nanny.  I tried the office landline.  I tried calling my home.  Lines were busy or calls were dropped.  I got an incoming email from my husband on my iphone, but my outgoing emails just sat in my outbox, unable to find a free line.

            It was the feeling of September 11 all over again.  I didn’t really know what had happened; I knew I was OK but had no idea if others were; and I could not get a phone call through to find out.

            The difference is, seven years ago I was a newlywed with no children.  I was worried about friends, but that was it.  Yesterday, I had no idea if my house had fallen down on my two-year-old’s head.

            Fifteen minutes later, I reached my nanny.  “He didn’t even notice,” she told me.  What the hell is wrong with my kids?  They notice a dog four blocks away, they can sniff out a cupcake from across a football field, and they comment every time I get new flip flops, but they don’t notice a 5.4 earthquake?  The fucking ground was moving, boys.  Were you really completely unaware?

            Finished with his testing, Zachary came out, pleased with his treasure from her treasure box, but hungry and wanting lunch.  “Those games took too long,” he told me.  “And she didn’t let me take the pictures I drew.”  Maybe THAT’S what he was so focused on.

            When we got home, I realized it was time to get my ass in gear and order an emergency kit for the house and another for the car.  I also sat back and wondered: how much does it typically affect a four-year-old’s IQ score to get evacuated for an earthquake somewhere near the end of the test?


Thank you to all who emailed, called, or left comments.  We are all fine, and the kids did not even notice, which leads me to wonder what exactly they WOULD notice.

What do good windows make?

            Our neighbor likes to sleep with her windows open.  And she is a light sleeper who sleeps late.

            Our children are out of bed by 7:00.  They like to go and play outside.  I like to let them go out before it gets hot and sunny.

            Herein lies the problem.

            The first time she yelled out the window, “Can you please be quiet?  We’re still sleeping,” the boys were fighting.  Chagrined, I immediately brought them inside.  Sadly, I think that may have encouraged her.

            Now, every time they so much as open their mouths, she shouts out the window for them to keep it down, then slams her window shut.

            Keep in mind that we never let them play outside before 7:30 on a weekday and later on the weekends.  They know if there is any fighting or screaming, they will come inside immediately, and we always follow through on this.  All they are doing is playing, but this is an urban neighborhood and the houses are very close together.

            Keep in mind also that our household naps in the afternoon.  Since the aforementioned neighbor has a yappy dog, a son who likes to bellow opera, and a piano studio in the backyard, we shut the windows during nap time.  I am, after all, a light sleeper.  It is not reasonable for me to ask her to keep it down for an hour each afternoon.

            It may, however, be reasonable for her to sleep till past 8:30 AM.  And, it is surely better for the planet that she sleeps with her windows open instead of air conditioning.  She has a point.

            And so do I.  I will not tell my kids they cannot play outside in the morning.  She probably will not start shutting her windows at night.  We are at a standstill, like Van Itch and Grandpa in The Butter Battle Book. 

            Perhaps the time will come when we talk about this face to face.  Perhaps we will both be grown up enough about it to come to an understanding.  But I doubt it.  One thing I have learned about adults is that we are rarely grown ups.  We prefer the cowardly approach; we prefer to sit on our haunches assured of our rectitude.  We prefer to send little boys into battle rather than compromise or accept that there is more than one way to be right.  For all our talk of tolerance, we prefer to fight than to humble ourselves before someone else’s belief system.

            And so, she will probably continue to yell out her bedroom window and I will probably continue to ignore her and we will give each other polite smiles when we are both in our driveways at the same time. 

            And my little boys will grow up in a world of self-righteousness and anger, rather than one in which compromise is possible.

Second birthday

            It was just the birthday party I have always wanted to give my kids. 

            For the past few years, we have been in cramped quarters and had to hold the parties someplace other than our home.  But this year, we are in a house.  It is a small house, but there is a deck and a yard and Southern California sunshine.  And, so, instead of renting halls and hiring entertainers, I went to the store that begins with T and bought a blow-up pool.  We spread toys outside.  We picked lemons off our tree in the back and J made lemonade.  We ordered a few platters from the grocery store and I made macaroni and cheese.  Since the birthday boy does not much like cake, we ordered a car cake from Baskin Robbins (he likes ice cream).

            And, we wrote “no gifts” on the evite, because frankly, the kids have enough crap.  One or two people brought gifts anyway, but we tried to do our bit for the planet (and our closet space).

            The birthday boy spent the entire party in the blow-up pool, coming out only to eat yet more watermelon.  He poured water over his head and the head of anyone else who came along, as long as they were willing.  Whenever we went near the pool, he shied away.  “No get out!” he insisted, fearful that adults might want to spoil his amphibian ambitions.

            We are pretty sure he had no idea it was all for him, but it still had all the things he loves best: the pool, other children, and fruit.

            The kids, most of whom did not know each other, played effortlessly.  His older brother was not jealous but instead enjoyed the festivities.  And still, Benjamin was in the pool, now and then paging his little friend, A, to the water.  The adults were all pleasant and interesting.

            When everyone had gone and we caught our little fish, we toweled him off and put him down for his afternoon nap.  He fell into a deep sleep from which we finally roused him at 4:30.  As he peed on the potty, he turned his sleep-clogged face to me.  “Put on swim diaper. Go in pool.  Friends there.”



            I had felt it there for weeks.  It seemed to be growing longer, but since it was under my chin, it was hard for me to see.  I figured it was one of those blond hairs that I can feel but no one else can see.  Otherwise, wouldn’t someone have mentioned it to me?

            Like, perhaps the woman who waxed my lip last week.  Or, the woman who gave me a facial over the spa weekend I took with a friend.  Or, maybe my friend, herself.  Friends don’t let friends grow unsightly facial hair.  My husband, at least should have said something, although he has the excuse of being a man and so accustomed to considering facial hair par for the course.

            And, then, searching in the mirror for another hair that had sprung up overnight on the more visible front of my chin, I had a sighting.  And that phantom hair was over an inch long, black, and curly.  Even my husband should have had an idea that this was not acceptable.

            On the bright side, it was finally long enough for me to pinpoint its location visually, making it subject to the mercy of my tweezers.

            Either I am getting old or my pregnancy hormones have a miserable sense of humor.

Doing my part for the therapists

            I have grown accustomed to feeling I am letting Zachary down.  He needs so much, and I have only so much to give.  I lose my patience with him, hurry him, and just generally am imperfect.

            But, I have never before felt like I am letting Benjamin down.  He seems to need me so much less than his brother does.  He is easier (OK, not physically), marginally less intense, and pretty happy as long as he is given a constant stream of calories.

            And then there was Tuesday.  I had been away for the weekend, and both boys missed me, which was a bit of a surprise since neither seems to care when I drop them off at school, sometimes not even turning around when they say goodbye.  And our nanny started full-time last week.  I had hoped to ease into her caring for the boys, but I came back to appointments, parties to plan, and more suggested revisions from my agent.  My due date is not getting any further away, and I need to keep things moving along.  I needed sustained work time.  Uninterrupted work time.

            Instead, I had a nanny who didn’t know what she was doing yet, children who had missed me, and workmen continually tromping through my house.  Zachary took it in relatively good graces, as he has always taken my need to work.  He seems to get a commitment to anything involving focused thinking, and when he is jealous, it is of another child – namely, the child who sleeps on the bottom bunk.

            Benjamin, however, was less than pleased that Mommy returned on Sunday only to hand him over to a nanny all day Monday.  While I was on the phone with my agent, he got so upset I had to tell her I’d call her back.  And on Tuesday, he needed me.  All day long.  In the afternoon, whenever I tried to work, he busted into the room crying for me.  But, I need to get the f-cking book done, and it ain’t going to happen while I am sitting at the playground.

            When I checked in on the boys later that night, I kissed his sleeping face.  “I’m sorry I let you down today, baby.”  It was the first time, but it will not be the last.  I am sad and I am sorry, but I also accept it as part of raising children.  We cannot be all they want and all we have to be all of the time.  It just is not possible.

            Besides, if mothers never let down their children, think how boring psychoanalysis would be. 


            I had not seen a person with numbers for years.  I had almost forgotten they existed.

            Even though our new Los Angeles neighborhood is residential, it is bordered by commercial streets.  For reasons unclear to J and me, we seem to have five fabric stores within a two-block radius, and there are three nail salons visible from the corner at the end of our street.  Nonetheless, many of the businesses are incredibly useful, and we can walk to the pharmacy, the bank, a Coldstone Creamery, a burger joint that has been around so long it is a Los Angeles fixture, and a fantastic children’s bookstore.  We can also walk to the mall in under two minutes.

            This is one of those mid-level malls that has a Gymboree play center, a Motherhood Maternity, and a Payless.  No fancy men’s clothing stores, but a Macy’s on one end and a Nordstrom on the other, so I guess we could get fancy things if we knew what to do with them.  There is a soft-play area in the food court, so on a hot day kids can let off some steam before purchasing a hot dog on a stick.

            I was there with only Zachary (almost four) one afternoon, a rare luxury because J had the day off and he was watching Trouble (2).  We were checking out a new store where children (and I suppose adults) can make their own books and then have them turned into hard-covers or board books.  Since Zach spends the better part of every afternoon in his room making books, I thought this would be a lovely place for us to spend some time alone together.

            It turned out to be more lovely time than I had bargained for.  No one can rush my son when he has a job to do, and the task at hand apparently required a good deal of attention to detail.  I was concerned we would be there around the time they started polishing the floors at the end of the night.

            But, Zach finally finished, and we left the store in a very good mood.  He has been almost impossible with me lately, perhaps due to the complete lack of control he feels.  I am guessing that feeling comes from either the transatlantic move, the second move to a new house, the entirely new school and then the new class within that school a few months later, his father working absurd hours, his mother pregnant, or the guys endlessly finishing the work on our back garage.  Since Mommy is the Complaints Department, he is perfect in school and then maniacal when he gets home.  Hence, the afternoon of special time.

            We had a stroller with us, so we headed for the elevators, first having to go up and then down to get a spot inside.  Up on the top floor, by the food court and the soft play area, an elderly woman stepped partway in.  She held the doors open and called for someone to come.  We waited.  And waited.  And I started to get annoyed because she was holding us up for someone who was taking his sweet time.

            It turned out to be her husband, a man in his eighties or early nineties, who clearly had needed to sit on a bench until the elevator came.  He slowly made his way over with a cane and finally we were on our way down.

            He smiled at Zachary, who smiled back.  Noting our double stroller, he asked, “Do you have a brother?”

            “Yes,” Zach replied.

            “Where is he?”

            “He’s at home with my Daddy.”

            “And show him where your sister is,” I told Zach, who obligingly pointed to my belly. 

            And, just as the man said something else to my almost-four-year-old about the wealth of siblings he seems to have, I noticed it.  His arm.  Six numbers, starting with 111.  I froze momentarily, catching my breath.  It was a little like when I see celebrities and start talking to them before I realize who they are.  Somehow, I felt like I should have known, like I was wrong to be talking to him without acknowledging who he was.

            There are fewer and fewer survivors.  They are getting older and dying.  This man would have been in his mid-twenties when the last of the camps were liberated, younger than I am now.  He had lived an entire lifetime since then, with a wife and probably children and perhaps great-grandchildren.  He had worked in jobs and read newspapers and bought socks and retired and learned a new language.  Those numbers on his arm, they are just one part of his history, despite all they represent.

            He walks around with those numbers on his arm, but he is not defined by them.  He has conversations with small children in elevators. 

            I walked out and wanted to sob, partly because I was struck by how lucky we are, no matter how stressed I am, and partly because I have rivers of hormones racing through my veins.  But also, partly, because I could not speak to him about it, could not bring myself to define him by the same number they had once used to define him.  I wanted to show him I knew, but that was not my place.

            I stepped out into the sunlight and called J to let him know we were on our way.

            “Did you make it to the grocery store?” I asked.

            “Yep.  And we saw Tori Spelling in the bread aisle,” he replied.  


Edited to add: You might want to read this post that joins in this conversation.

Happy birthday, trouble

            But, Emily, why don’t you write about Benjamin? 

            I do, of course.  But not as much as I write about Zachary.  And it’s not just because Zach is older.  Zach is so much like me he makes my identity ache.  Sometimes, only writing allows me to process the feelings.

            Benjamin, however, certainly came fully equipped with a personality.  And, as he inches up on two years old, he is asserting it.

            Unlike his older brother, he seems to have little interest in pleasing adults.  He far prefers to disobey.  He runs away.  If I take him by the hand, he goes limp.  He stands on tables and jumps from ledges and laughs the whole time.

            “We need to find an effective punishment,” J says.  Thank you, oh wise husband.  But, what, exactly would that be?  In my current very pregnant state, it is hard to lift his giant body for very long, so I can’t just pick him up and make him go.  And, if I do, he thinks it is hysterical.  He also finds yelling, sternness, and the word “no” to be very, very funny.  We set up a pack ‘n’ play as a time-out space, which at least contains him during moments of destruction, but you know damned well he thinks it is just amusing as hell to be put in there.

            “Unless we start hitting him, I am not sure what we could do to convince him,” I respond.  “The only things that upset him are when his brother hurts him or we take away his giraffe.  Neither of those seems like a particularly good deterrent.” 

            It doesn’t help that he is a fantastic eater, which means he just keeps getting bigger.  He has the body of a three-year-old.  And the verbal ability of a three-year-old.  What he doesn’t have is the cognitive or emotional ability of a child a year older.  The nice thing about this is that when he does what kids his age do – pushing, rough play – he actually hurts the other kids.  And the mothers look at me, wondering why in the world my three-year-old is acting like a two-year-old.  Um, because he is two…

            He starts preschool in the fall, and we have been going through a “separation program.”  At school, he behaves just fine, as does his brother.  While the elder child needs the structure of a school day to feel in control, the younger one needs that structure to be controlled. 

            And when he has spent all morning in school, he’s too damned tired to run away from me.

            He runs me in circles; he gets out of bed at night to unplug all the electronics in his room, as well as to disassemble the night light; he climbs to the top bunk and somehow removes the guard rail before he realizes he does not know how to come down; he pushes and climbs on other children.  He is also gentle with babies and animals.  He is in love with a friend’s baby sister, standing by her side when she is in the stroller, amusing her in the bouncy chair, and trying to put her little sock on when it comes off.  No, kiddo, you don’t have that level of fine-motor skills just yet.  He pets every animal we see.  He runs up to children at the playground and hugs them, and if they are strong enough, they don’t even fall down with the force of his affection.  He sits in the back seat of the car, greeting all those we pass: “Hi, big truck…  Hello, man…  Hi, fire engine.”

            He is a tornado, but he is a tornado filled with nothing but love.  And a little bit of mischief.  


On another note, can anyone recommend a brand of soft baby doll that has realistic, long hair?  My friend’s son has become obsessed with her hair, and she’d like to substitute a doll before she goes bald.

William Faulkner and I have the same birthday

            My books are arranged by subject matter.  There is a section for Literary Theory, which flows nicely into Feminism, which then abuts American Studies.  All three topics overlap, and I can sandwich in the middle the books that fall into both categories.  Since I have a lot of plays about the Holocaust, I always position Holocaust Literature next to Dramatic Literature, although where to put American Theater History and Performance Theory is a bit of a muddle.  Does it go next to Dramatic Literature, or is it more a part of American Studies and Literary Theory?  And the book titled Holocaust Poetry causes me no end of angst.  Poetry or Holocaust Literature?  Each time I unpack my books that one throws me for a loop.

            The rest of the fiction is easier.  I divide it by nationality.  There is a respectable Brit Lit section, an embarrassing World Lit section, and a rather impressive American Lit section.  I do, after all, have a Ph.D. in American literature.  Within those departments, I organize chronologically.  The problem, of course, is what to do with the likes of Toni Morrison or Tom Robbins.  I need to keep all their books together (what asshole breaks up a family?), but Morrison and Robbins span decades.  Usually, I pick whatever strikes me as the writer’s best-known or most important work, put that in the right place chronologically, and stick the rest of his or her work in beside it.

            I am ashamed to say I do not organize within the author sections by date.  I used to, really I did, but who has the time to check the publication date of every single Edith Wharton?  And do you know how much Henry James I own?  It could take months to finish unpacking (it may anyhow).

            Most of these books were in storage while we lived in London, and as I unpack there is a feeling of returning the world to its rightful axis.  I own what must be well over 1,000 books – and those are just the adult books.  We’re not talking about the kids’.  Bringing them out of boxes, where Harriet Jacobs was absurdly stacked against Geoffrey Chaucer, and putting them next to their contemporaries restores order to an unruly world.

            Some are authors I have loved for as long as I can remember – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Octavia Butler.  Others are authors I have researched and written about, and so I know their work and their lives down to the skeleton – Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, Gertrude Stein.  But others are writers I did not like at first, like the man at a cocktail party who blows his nose on the napkins and tells you about his new Beemer.  Getting to know them has been a courtship, and only through continued time together have I learned to love who they are underneath.

            And that is how I came to my relationship with William Faulkner, a writer whose work at first struck me as unnecessarily difficult and pretentious beyond its merits.  I have spent time with him, unpacked his words – reluctantly at first, for a class assignment or because I had to teach him.  But, eventually, I began to relax into his rhythms and submit to his poetry.  He is, after all, a genius.  As I unpack his books, I find they take up a whole shelf on their own.

            As I put Faulkner next to Faulkner – As I Lay Dying, A Light in August – and put Hemingway uncomfortably close, I wonder.  Did he know?  Did he know each day about his gift?  Did he sit down to write secure that he was creating something right? 

            And what about the others?  I know that Gertrude Stein never wrote about her doubts, but did she have them?  Does Edward Albee just assume his absurdity will strike the right balance with reality?  They might struggle with words, but do they struggle with writing itself?  Does the concept of being a writer feel uncomfortable, even to the geniuses?  Do they wonder each day whether what they are pulling together is any good or just more crap to fill the library shelves?

            Because for me, writing is a constant juggling of unreasonable confidence with continual self-doubt.  And, even though I know I am no William Faulkner, I’d love to know that every now and then he wondered who the hell he was to call himself a writer.