Monthly Archives: June 2010


So, yeah, I have a ticket and a room reservation for BlogHer, and I was only late for signing up for parties rather than absurdly late, so I am signed up for two parties on Saturday night.

What I don’t have: a sitter for Friday, any clue what to do when I get there, any idea how to get in touch with people who are there, business cards, or fancy shoes.  It’s the shoe thing that gets me — I mostly wear Keens in the summer.  How am I going to show up for Sparklecorn in Keens?

Anyway, please tell me if you are going.  And how I am supposed to get in touch with you.  And anything else I ought to know.

Sorry so quiet around here lately.  I’m working on the writing for publications with slightly larger readership — like more than 27 people.  But I’ll be back.

Little Auction on the Internet

It’s late at night, and I ought to be going to sleep.  But I am up, haunting Ebay.

I am not one of those Ebay junkies, you must understand.  In fact, only tonight have I even registered on the site.  It is my very first visit to the place.  I have heard of it for years, of course, but I never really wanted anything badly enough to bother.

So, what has brought me here tonight?  Why am I eschewing sleep to spend forty-five minutes competing for items on this website?

I am looking for a Little House on the Prairie dollhouse for my son, who wants one for his sixth birthday.  Now, mind you, he also wants a wii, but we’ve made it clear we do not think that is an appropriate item for a small child.  So, instead, I am trying to find a Little House dollhouse.

I cannot find one, unfortunately, although there are some fantastic other items.  I bid on a Little House calendar for his wall, but I have no idea how the site works and am unlikely to check back in a few days from now to see if I need to up my bid.  Then I see them.  Trading cards.  Little House trading cards.  For sale, not auction.  Of course, they are in Spanish, but no matter.  He won’t care, and he will likely spend hours in his tiny little room, arranging and rearranging those cards on his bedspread.  I doubt I’ll be able to wait till his birthday to give them to him, and they’ll probably be his next sticker chart reward.

I think we’ve dodged the wii bullet for at least a few more months.

Kiss me and smile for me

Long-time readers – which means anyone who has been here longer than three weeks – will recall that we moved here from Los Angeles in order to slow our lives down and find some peace.  My husband was travelling constantly, the kids didn’t see him, he was exhausted, and I was stressed.  J found a new job in a new place.

Surprisingly, it has worked.  My husband is home for dinner.  In the mornings, we take turns working out.  He is a present father and a happier man.  I am getting a little time to work, and the children are clearly feeling more secure, despite the stress of moving.

Unfortunately, J did have three week-long business trips over the course of May and June.  That’s it for the summer, which is a drastic improvement over the days when he was gone five days a week.

Zach has never been particularly fazed by his father’s travel.  He misses his father, but he has always invested most of his emotional capital into me.  Both boys grew up with Daddy travelling constantly, and Zach’s response has been to simply rely on Mommy.

Benjamin’s response has always been to fall apart.  Which he did continually back when J travelled all the time.

These three trips have been so hard on Ben, who feels things deeply. He refuses to talk to his father on the phone.  He hits me.  He gets out of bed at night, looking for reassurance.  I can’t get him back to sleep.  After two nights of this, I equipped him with a picture of his father to sleep with.

I try to keep my temper, but his emotional outbursts are very difficult to deal with, and it doesn’t help that I’m constantly changing sheets because Daddy’s absence seems to equal bedwetting.

Last night, putting him to bed, I stroked his hair.  “Do you think you can be a good boy for me and try to settle down nicely tonight?”  Translation: please don’t flail about, kick the wall, throw things at your sister, and play with the blinds.  To be honest, he does those things when his father is not travelling, as well.

“I know you miss Daddy,” I told him.  “I miss Daddy, too.”  He lay there silently, but after a minute, I saw a very quiet tear coming down his almost-four-year-old nose.

“Oh, sweetie, are you crying?”  He nodded and then the tears started coming faster.  “Baby, he misses you so much too.  He looks at pictures of you all the time and wants to be here with you.  He’ll be back in a few more days, and then he won’t have any more trips for a long time.”  At this point, the child was openly weeping, head in pillow, sobbing for his Daddy.

I sat there for a time, stroking Ben’s head, until he slowed down.  “Where’s my little flashlight?” he asked.

I found the flashlight on the dresser and handed it to him.  “Just please don’t flash it in Lilah’s eyes, OK?”

He nodded, slid his giraffie blankie in his mouth, and then rolled over to fall asleep, holding the flashlight in one hand and the picture of his father in the other.

All aboard!

I love trains.  I love everything about trains.  I love that they arrive on time (usually), sliding into the station in a manner that is both unassuming and grand, as if to say, “Being this impressive is simply a daily activity for me.”  I love how strangers get on a train, spend the ride quietly checking each other out from behind their newspapers, and then get off without saying a word to each other but somehow having come together as a community.

And then there are the people you do talk to on the train.  Once, on a long train ride from D.C. to New York, I held my exhausted and crying ten-month-old, trying desperately to get him to sleep.  By the time we pulled into Penn Station, every adult on our car had given a sympathetic nod or a completely useless piece of advice.

I used to take the train from the edges of Philadelphia into Thirtieth Street Station.  I was working at Penn at the time, and I often worked on the train, leading to a remarkably high proportion of train metaphors in my writing.  Zachary was just a year old.  He quickly flunked out of day care and we got an au pair who would walk me to the train every morning.  As the train pulled into the Wyndmoor stop, Zachary’s little arm and legs would start flailing with excitement, much to the amusement of the other passengers.  He never cared that he was saying goodbye to me because there was a train to watch.

About a month into this arrangement, I found myself walking from Thirtieth Street Station to Penn with a young man.  We started chatting and I introduced myself.  “You’re the one whose son loves the train,” he commented.  That, in case you were wondering, is how I would most like to be identified – “The One Whose Son Loves the Train.”

Alas, it is not to be.  Because, while Zach became a train fanatic and spent one entire year playing with nothing but his Thomas set, my second son has only a normal enjoyment of trains.  Fount of testosterone that he is, Benjamin’s third word was “truck,” and he quickly developed a passion for motor vehicles with giant carbon footprints.

Imagine the dismay of his mother, who would like nothing better than to never again set foot in an automobile and instead spend her life riding the rails.

Around this time we made a friend who worked for London’s Transport Authority.  I was pretty much an instant groupie and worked hard to tone down my hero worship lest I scare her away.  I kept pretending my excitement was only on behalf of my children, when really I figured only the coolest of the cool got to work in public transportation.

We were taking a lot of busses then, which might explain why Ben became more interested in automobiles than trains.  Busses were simply easier with the stroller.  We did, however, have special occasions when we used the Tube, and I loved that uriney rush of air that accompanied a train’s arrival into a tube stop.

I do think that the lack of daily train exposure in his life is part of why Ben has developed what I can only characterize as an unhealthy fondness for cars and trucks.

I was determined to avoid a repeat of that situation with Lilah.  Unfortunately, the trains here in New Jersey run only at rush hour, which is also rush hour for us.  They run outside my house, and we can see them from our window, but I’m having a hard time nailing down exactly when they go by.  Usually, I grab her and lift her to the window to catch just the tail end of the train.

We also live right next to the heating oil company, and their trucks go by all the time.  Hence, Lilah has mastered “Guck!!” but cannot yet say “train.”

One day, I took her to the Lionel store and was gratified to discover her enthusiasm for model trains.  I would have loved to have given her a house with a train running through the kitchen, but as I am sure you could have predicted, that house has fallen through already.  (You like how at this point a house falling through doesn’t even warrant its own post?)

A couple of weeks ago, I took Lilah to the station, but it turned out that I had gotten the schedule wrong.  When we turned to leave without actually seeing a train, she burst into tears, making me terribly proud.

In the last few days, I’ve noticed a change in my daughter.  When trucks drive by, she has stopped shouting “Guck!” with quite the enthusiasm she used to muster.  Instead, whenever she hears a long, distinctive rumble slowly getting louder and the accompanying whistle, her head tilts up, she breaks out into a smile, and her little arms start gesticulating towards the train track while she says something completely unintelligible.  It sounds like “ackghabacabaga.”

But I know exactly what she is saying.

On wrapping

On my post about the Emergency Paper Towels, my friend Lauren commented that she is glad to get details about how we function without disposable towels.  She has been embarrassed to ask, but she wants to know how we get along without some other modern conveniences.

First of all, no need to be embarrassed.  (Why is it that whenever I say “Don’t be embarrassed” I always want to add “I like men without hair”? Seriously, it’s not like I’m some sort of Gypsy groupie.  It’s just such a great line.)  We are certainly not perfect environmentalists around here.  We use disposable diapers – 7th Generation brand, which is better but still adding to the landfills.  We used cloth for the first child, but London and LA had such water problems that we decided cloth and disposable would more or less be equivalent environmentally.  And while I wanted to switch back to cloth with Lilah when we moved here, it seemed like at that point, we might as well just wait the last few months for her to be potty trained.

So, basically, we were lazy.

Second, I think it’s a great idea to share some of the things we do to reduce our negative ecological impact.  The fact is that many of the things we do have become such a way of life that I don’t even think about them until I am in someone else’s house.  There I am, chatting in a friend’s kitchen, and I see a pile of paper napkins and realize I haven’t seen such items for two months.  When we order takeout (and don’t get me started on how guilty I feel about doing that when all those disposable packages arrive, but every now and then, even I don’t feel like cooking), we tell the folks at the Chinese restaurant not to bring disposable forks and napkins.  Sometimes, they actually don’t bring them, so I really can go quite some time between paper-napkin sightings.

Anyway, the point is that the way we do things is so much a part of our lives that we don’t even think about it.

Lauren wanted to know how we do without plastic wrap.  Truth is, we do use plastic wrap.  We go through one roll about every eight to twelve months.  We mostly use it when there is nothing else that would suit – although those times are fewer and fewer as we get used to other ways of preserving things.  The one time I have used it in the last eight months was to wrap our menorah after Chanukah because it keeps the silver from tarnishing.

If we want to wrap something to put it in the fridge or freezer, we simply put it in one of our storage containers that has a lid.  Most of ours are Pyrex, as we try to limit our use of plastic.  We save glass peanut butter, honey, and jam jars to reuse, so we store food in those, too.  If we are storing something in a bowl without a lid, we just cover it with a plate, and we often store soup right in the pot, covering it with a lid.

If someone is at our house and is taking home something, we wrap it in a cloth napkin or put it in a container.  The containers almost always return.  Our neighbors are forever returning our plates to us, usually at moments when I am screaming at the kids, but that’s a story for another time.

When wrapping food for lunches and picnics, we use reusable things.  I love the stuff at  I like Wrap-n-mats – awesome.  There are several brands of reusable baggies, also quite good.  Don’t put these things in the washing machine or dishwasher, though, as it tends to degrade the liner.  (I must of course remind you to use as little water as possible when washing by turning off the tap after wetting the sponge, scrubbing, and then turning it back on just to rinse.)

I also got myself some reusable bread bags to freeze or refrigerate bread.  My husband bought me a stunning bread box, which is the centerpiece of my impossibly messy kitchen.  I store muffins and zucchini bread in my covered cake stand.

So, Lauren, long answer to short question.  That’s how we avoid plastic wrap and baggies.  What else do you want to know?  Be careful what you ask, however, because I just might answer it.

Play date FAIL

The play date was going fine until Zach’s friend wanted to go outside.

Zach’s friend, you must understand, is a very talented athlete.  Zach, on the other hand, is not.  While he has agility and stamina, he is almost six years old and weighs in at a whopping thirty-five pounds soaking wet.  He simply cannot keep up with the other kids in strength and speed.

So, we went outside.  Talented Athlete wanted to play ball.  Zach did not.  Zach used to like to play ball, but lately he has figured out that he is not able to do the things the other kids can do.  Anything that involves strength, speed, and eye-hand coordination immediately puts him on the defensive.  Which is to say he goes on the offensive.  He gets nasty and dramatic, crying and accusing the other kid of cheating.

Frankly, I was relieved when Talented Athlete asked me to pitch him the ball while Zach decided to color on his chalk board.  I am not much of a pitcher, you must understand, but I don’t care about my ineptitude, so I was more than happy to fill in instead of dealing with Zach’s dramatic performance.

I played ball with Zach’s friend for a few minutes, then went to get something from the porch.  I glanced over and saw that Zach was writing and solving math problems on the chalk board.

I just don’t even know how to respond to the fact that my kid opts out by doing math problems instead of playing ball on a play date.

Make no mistake, he was opting out.  He wanted to fit in with the other child, but he gave up before it even began.  His friend wanted to play with him, but Zach was so afraid of being a weak athlete that he accused his friend of playing unfair, flopped about on the ground, and even hit him.

I don’t give a shit that he isn’t good at sports.  I wish he didn’t give such a shit.  I wish he would play – like he clearly wants to – without turning it into a dramatic performance.  Or that he wouldn’t play and would invite his friend to do something else nicely, instead of bossing the kid around.

We put him in t-ball to give him a chance to learn a sport.  He didn’t like it but he stuck it out, and I was proud of him for that.  We try to balance giving him a chance to shine and also trying new things that will be hard for him.  But every time he encounters an obstacle, he turns into a drama queen and refuses to even try, then gets angry about not being capable.

He was supposed to do lacrosse camp for the next four mornings, just to have something to do, but frankly, I don’t want to send him someplace that will just make him feel like shit about himself.  I gave him the option, and he doesn’t want to go.  Fine — it was cheap and I don’t mind letting it go.

I just wish I knew what we did to give him such low self-esteem that instead of realizing he has strengths, all he can see is the ways he fails.  There is a lot of pain in store for him if he spends the next fifteen years learning that he doesn’t have to give up on himself every time he feels awkward socially.

I ought to know.  I was the teenager who opted out of uncomfortable social situations by writing stories.

Father’s Day

No, there will not be a Father’s Day post.

My husband is a wonderful father.  Since the move to New Jersey, he has become as much a co-parent as possible, given that he is away from the home on weekdays.  He loves his children and is excellent at things like teaching them to ride bikes and listening to Benjamin talk incessantly.

But I will not be writing an Ode to Daddy for him, because that is for my children to do someday.  Plus, I let him sleep in this morning, so he asks for nothing more.

And there will not be a post to my father.  There will be nothing about the raving disappointment he was and still is.  There will be nothing about his choice to remain married to the stepmother so sadistic that Social Services felt the need to remove his daughters from his house.  There will be nothing about his silence while we were starved, beaten, and locked out in the cold.

Because he is simply not eligible for a Father’s Day post.

There are wonderful dads out there – adoptive, step, biological, grand, foster, and so on.   To them, I raise a glass, tip a hat, and say a cheer.

But there will not be a Father’s Day post.

The impossible dream

I think it’s time for a housing recap, because unless you’ve been keeping a running scoreboard, you have probably lost track by now.

So, first there was the big, charming yellow house with seven bedrooms, no dining room, termite eaten support beams, and knob and tube wiring that the owners had no money to fix.

Next there was the big, charming, six bedroom house backing onto the wooded parkland that we did not have enough money to buy.

That house was followed closely by the architect’s house, perfectly restored on the first floor but in dire need of work on floors two and three.  We loved that house and made an offer, whereupon the architect decided she loved her house too much to sell it.

So, we made an offer on another house, which the owners rejected, probably wisely, because shortly thereafter they got a much higher offer.

Moving right along.  We went back to House Number Two – the six bedroom backing onto wooded parkland.  We loved the house.  It was not my dream house, as my dream house would have a model train running along the ceiling through several of the rooms, but it was a charming old house.  We dug under our sofa cushions, found some loose change, and upped our offer a tiny bit.  The owner accepted, and we went under contract.  Only to be undone by knob and tube wiring again.  When the owner of that house discovered that she had knob and tube wiring, she decided not to sell her house at all.

We seem to have that effect on people.

Then there was the big faux pas.  Up until that point – Houses One through Four – we had been Virtuous Buyers, never at fault when the deals fell through.  House Five, however, was the Big Fuck Up.  We came to an agreement on a house that had been on the market for a year.  No one wanted to buy it because it lacked a master suite and a lot of the charm had been snuffed out.  We would need to put on a master suite addition in order to ever sell the house again.  We were through inspections and seventeen seconds away from going under contract when J decided he just didn’t love the house enough to go through that kind of a major project.

OK, sixth verse, same as the first.

House Six was a smaller house, still in need of work, but at the low end of our price range.  Awesome.  I like spending less instead of spending more.  Except the owners have delusions of grandeur and think the house is worth 10% more than it actually is, which might be why it has been on the market for over a year.  So, no deal.

Then came House Seven.  I wandered off to an open house down the street from where we are living now.  The house was 15% over our price range, but I just wanted to see it.

This one was a giant ranch house.  We are not, as a rule, big ranch house people.  This ranch, however, is stunning.  Perfect floors, master suite, office for me, rooms for the kids away from the main living area, giant finished cellar, brand new kitchen with an eat-in sunroom.  The works.  This house had me at “hello.”  As I turned to tell the listing agent that I’d send my husband back to take a look, I happened to glance up and see it.

A model train running along the ceiling, going through the kitchen, sunroom, and laundry room.

So, we put in an offer.  There was already another offer on the table, a very, very low offer.  We figured maybe we had a chance if we came in with only a very low offer.  I wrote an impassioned letter, and our agent put the model train as an inclusion.

Well, today we found out that they accepted our offer.  There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the house, so hopefully we will pass inspections.  The house is too new for knob and tube wiring.  Barring termite eaten beams, seller cold-feet, or a typhoon that engulfs the entire town, we might actually have a chance of fixing a closing date.

A girl can always hope.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen

Three years ago, I was a newbie blogger.  I didn’t know much about this medium, and I was still trying to figure out how to find readers.  I stumbled upon Julie’s Hump Day Hmmm.  I wrote a very personal, very difficult post, and posted a link on Julie’s blog.  Many of Julie’s readers left me lovely comments, and I went to read their blogs, thereby forming relationships with other bloggers. Instantly, I had found a community of readers.

One blogger left a comment both for me and for Julie.  Her comment on Julie’s list of posts was “Emily’s post knocked me flat and I haven’t gotten up since.”  I remember this three years later for two reasons.  One, I remember shit like that, which is either annoying or impressive, depending upon whether you like to be quoted back to yourself twelve years later.  Two, that comment was the encouragement I needed to keep writing, to envision myself a blogger and then a writer.

That commenter was Sarah, once Slouching Towards Forty, but now a few years Slouching Past Forty.  What can I say?  We all get older.

Sarah has been a friend and a colleague these three years.  She and I read each other (although as you know, lately I suck at reading blogs).  We email, we’ve even exchanged voicemails, but with five kids between us, we never seem to catch one another in. She is a remarkable writer, adept especially at imagery.  Perhaps too lofty a writer for this medium of click-and-click-away.

This week Sarah posted her very last post.

She has her personal reasons for leaving blogging, I am sure.  But to me, it is the end of an era.  The bloggers who started with me are drifting away, and while new bloggers are finding me, I feel like the curmudgeon in the corner grumbling, “Folks sure ain’t what they used to be.”  There are a few of us left – just a few – who have been at this for years, but with Chani’s death and Sarah’s exodus, my online world feels a little emptier.

My grandfather once wrote a poem about growing older that chronicled how one feels at each decade.  All the wrote for being an octogenarian was, “Did you ever feel you’ve stayed too long at the party?”

Yes, Grandpa, sometimes I do.

But, I’m still here, still clutching a paper cup with beer, standing in the corner, watching my friends head for the exit.

Because the universe recognized I couldn’t handle another difficult child

Lilah – as part of her effort to be the easiest child in New Jersey – has started potty training at twenty-one months.  As you may guess, that means we spend a great deal of time sitting in the bathroom.  Actually, she spends a great deal of time sitting in the bathroom; the adults take a shower, go fold laundry, or reply to a few emails.  She wouldn’t want to be a bother.

She was having some trouble distinguishing between farting and pooping, being quite convinced she had pooped when in fact she had just passed a little gas.  Every time she did it on the toilet, she’d look alarmed.  “Just a little fart!” I’d tell her, until she began to realize what she was doing.

Now, every time she toots on the toilet, she smiles delightedly and announces “Fa!”

We were cooking together on Sunday morning, when I smelled something from her diaper.  “Did you poop?” I asked her.

“Es!” she replied.

“OK, let’s go change your diaper.  Go lie down.”  She scampered over and lay down on the floor.  It turned out, however, that she once again had confused gas with a bowel movement.  “Oh, sweetie.  You didn’t poop.  Just a fart!”

She shook her head and grinned.  “No fa; mama fa!”

Her very first sentence was a fart joke.  Daddy is so proud.

But it was a fart joke that required a semi-colon, so she’s still Mama’s little girl.