Feeding Problems

A couple of people have told me that the feed over at the new site isn't working (particularly in Bloglines, I think). So if you're somehow still seeing this but haven't gotten any small animals posts through your feed reader for a few weeks, go on over there and check out what beauty has emerged by our kitchen sink.

And try resubscribing using the link on the right-hand side...I think that does the trick.


You're still here?

Go to the new place, really. Things are happening there. Drama. Bravery. Inscrutable metaphors.


Goodbye, new pants...

...Hello, small animals.

I'm moving. Wordpress is prettier and easier to use, and what does anything have to do with pants, anyway?

I hope to see you over there. And please (pretty please!) update your links if you've been linking to me.


Help: My Life is Strangling Me

Over the past month neither I nor my extended family have experienced any heart attacks, police brutality, terrible prenatal diagnoses, governmental oppression, untimely death, mysterious bacterial infection, bankrupcy, or really anything else awful. (Except for my poor brother and his ruptured appendix, but he's better now.)

What we have experienced is the following, in reverse chronological order:

three-day visit from my brother
whirlwind two-day camping trip
one-day visit from my brother
start of new writing class
day of visiting with friends here from out of town for weddings
12-hour wedding
procurement of clothes and gifts for twelve-hour wedding
A being out of town for several days
my parents visiting for five days
crazed cleaning and organizing in preparation for my parents' visit

These are all good things. All! But. There are two cubic yards of clean, unfolded laundry on the living room floor. I am behind on work. And on consulting work. And I haven't been running regularly, or taking my vitamins. I am aware of my heart beating all the time and nervous talking on the phone and don't know what to do with my hands.

Time for a break! I mean, past time for a break. This weekend A is taking the girls to grandma's, where there will be a massive post-solstice barbecue that all the extroverts in the family think is going to be a hoot. I will spend Saturday doing my required work shift talking to people I don't know about things I don't know very much about, and then come home and lie on the couch until I summon the energy to get up and start to dig myself out of the work hole.


Only Half Here

Thanks for the points about the fraught playground discussion. I don't think anyone meant harm, it was just disconcerting, especially the part where I said something innocently and didn't realize until an hour later that it might have sounded snarky. Open exchange of ideas, I keep thinking. Open exchange of ideas.

Lots of newsiness here:

1. Have launched into full-on M&M bribery with the potty learning for Iris. She calls them Lemon Ms and is learning fast, except for the part where during her naked bottom time she poops on the floor, apparently oblivious to what's going on. Learning, I keep saying to myself and her. This is how we learn.

2. Before this, I 'd never used those bleach wipes. Now I am.

3. I'm sort of ashamed to be thinking of anything other than this. (No. 17: My god.) I'm not sure that kind of bravery is anywhere in me.

4. Tomorrow we're going to visit the CSA farm where our veggies grow. We're going to camp overnight and miss naptime and pick strawberries. When Iris wakes everyone up by hollering at 2 a.m. and when Ingrid has the inevitable utter meltdown about the inevitable mosquito bite or ill-timed bug sighting, I'll try to remember how easy our lives are as I do my deep breathing.

5. I finally got that new Malcolm Gladwell book from the library. Every time I look at the title I want to pronounce it as some kind of French word. Oot-lee-aiiirre.

6. And I found a book of poems by Robert Hass called Time and Materials. How terrific a title is that, and why didn't I think of it?

7. At this farm strawberry fest, there will be a potluck lunch, and for it I made tabouli with some of our abundant parsley, and foule, which tastes better if you spell it with an e at the end if you know what I mean. I cooked the fava beans (which Ingrid calls thaba beans, although her hearing was tested as completely perfect not three months ago) in the pressure cooker, and you should have seen them bobbing around in the water. They have a little line across one side as though they are little smiling fish. I talked to them in my best fava bean voice until A got overly weirded out and forced the lid onto the cooker.

8. I really ought to be in bed.



Ok, tell me if you think this conversation was as innocent as it seemed at first, or as fraught as I started to think it was an hour or so later:

(K and S are sisters-in-law (of each other, not me) and are both science professors with kids five and under. We went to college together, and we see them about twice a year, including this weekend at the megaplayground.)

K: So is Ingrid in preschool now?

Me: Well, our day care is a lot like a preschool. We found that the schedule and cost of a regular preschool just don't work for us.

K: Oh, I know, they're really set up for families with an at-home parent. Our son had to get dropped off at day care, take the preschool bus to preschool, and carpool back to day care for the rest of the day.

Me: I hope someday our kids will look back on this as the dark ages of work-life balance. The system really isn't set up for the way our lives work these days.

S: I know—it's ridiculous! Schools expect you to volunteer three days a week! I just want to tell them, "I don't have time for that."

K: I volunteered at my son's kindergarten this year. I actually think it's kind of important. I didn't just sit there and stuff envelopes, though. I came in and did science projects.

Me: You're really lucky to have such a flexible schedule. So many working parents don't have that option.

S: [artfully changes the subject]

It was only afterward that I realized how haughty and critical my comment probably sounded (even though I used my innocent, wide-eyed tone), and even later that I realized K's comment kind of irritated me. And then all the unspoken stuff started to seep out. Do ya like how I took the ostensible moral high ground, while actually doing sort of a mommy drive by at the same time? Also, the class assumptions? The implications about what kind of work is worth one's time and what isn't? The assumption that someone else—perhaps a stay at home mom without any scientific skills—will stuff the envelopes? My weird double-consciousness as a part-time working mom with friends in both worlds?

Am I extra enlightened for noticing all this and feeling gross about them, or is all that negated by my grousing publicly about my friends' take on things?

Sheesh. No wonder I'm so exhausted after a weekend of doing nothing but chat.


Reading, Migration, Exhaustion

I've really been itching to write, but I spent Saturday at a twelve-hour wedding that was lovely but wore me the fuck out. Then this morning we drove to the suburbs to meet out-of-town friends at a blazing hot mega-playground where one hundred white children scrambled up and down four stories of ladders and chutes and their mamas sat on park benches under umbrellas reading books like Transforming the Difficult Child and YOU: Staying Young.

This afternoon I had a blessed one-hour break from all action and walked to the neighborhood coffee shop, where I sat reading a fascinating book about creativity by someone with a long name that begins with Csik and ends with alhyi (I think). It's one of a stack of nearly overdue fascinating books on my coffee table that I haven't gotten more than 20 pages into. Including The Master Butcher's Singing Club, which I'm supposed to be reading for my neighborhood book club but am balking about, probably just because it has the air of being an assignment. And four poetry books, including John Ashbery, whom I think I hate (sorry, Emmie) and Naomi Shihab Nye, and then also Siblings Without Rivalry, which I should probably just rip out page by page and tape to the fridge. And Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, whose drawings of bugs are dismayingly black-and-white and don't make it easy enough to identify the orangey red bugs that are everywhere and may or may not be devouring the broccoli leaves, not that the broccoli plants appear to be ready to brocc anytime soon anyway. Oh, and Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream, which is the basis for a writing class I'm going to take this week where the teacher says we will go into a trance to think of writing ideas. I can hardly wait. Reviving Ophelia is in there too. (Subtitle: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls), which I haven't even opened and is, I believe, overdue already, despite my best intentions to turn over a new leaf. Thankfully, I believe I have at least six to eight years before adolescence comes on, so maybe I'll return that one without even bothering to renew it.

Oh, and in my spare time I've been moving my blog to Wordpress. It is so, so much more beautiful over there. And I have a new name idea. Because pants? Buying pants? What has that got to do with anything? So, this will all be unveiled soon, as soon as I've put the finishing touches on it and slept a few times on the question of whether I want this to be some sort of cosmic-level makeover where subject matter and anonymity level change a lot, or just a cosmetic and ease-of-use thing.

In the meantime, speaking of beauty or lack thereof, please check out Your Logo Makes Me Barf, which, as a part-time unofficial design nerd, I find to be about the funniest thing since Cakewrecks.


Alma Mater

I spent last Saturday evening on the small-town campus where I went to college, at a retirement party for a professor of mine, Anne. Anne is amazing by pretty much any measure: a brave progressive in a conservative religious tradition, a Roman Catholic nun on a liberal, secular campus, smart as can be, and unrelentingly conscientious. She's had cancer for seven years. She refuses to rush. She listens to everyone as though they matter.

In college, I floundered, looking for a mentor, and Anne's teaching was the closest I got to what I needed. My senior year, when, week after week, in the lower-level seminar class she taught, I listened and wrote but didn't say a word, she took me aside and asked that I "consider being more generous" with my remarks in class. She wasn't the first teacher to notice my shyness, but she was the first to challenge me about it so firmly and kindly. Generous. It was the first time I considered that by not speaking, I was withholding something important from others.

But still, I almost didn't go to this party. Being in that place—where for four years I felt such ungraspable joy and such paralyzing anxiety—is always loaded. And there'd be lots of standing around with wine glasses, trying to think of things to say. I'd send Anne a note, I thought, and be done with it.

Then my photographer friend Chris did Anne's portrait for the alumni magazine, and during the shoot he mentioned me, and she remembered me (fondly, even), and said something prim and wrenching like, "Tell her I very much hope she can come to my retirement celebration next week." And then she tracked down my email address and invited me personally, and I didn't have any choice but to go.

And I'm so glad I did. It was like going home. The professors knew me without even squinting very hard at my name tag. Other grads—both ten years older than me and ten years younger—approached: "You look familiar. Were we here at the same time?" We weren't, but they looked familiar too, and it wasn't even too uncomfortable to chat with them. I met people who are on paths I thought about taking but didn't. They're professors, researchers, ministers. I told them each, "I do writing and editing for non-profits. I have two little girls," and I wondered, How did this happen?

And the professors! I looked for a long time for the Buddhist whose "Intro to Religion" class hooked me the first term of my first year. When I finally found him, I realized I'd been scanning the room for his dark brown hair and beard; he was all grey. The Asianist who retired the spring I graduated was so thin, and his eyes had grown tiny behind his glasses. The Kierkegaardian's spine curled forward like a question mark, and he leaned in inches from my face to hear me talk. The Judaic studies guy I'd known for only a couple of months, I didn't even recognize. Anne herself seemed translucent, though radiant, and brittle. Stop, I wanted to say. Stop, all of you. Stop getting older. And don't die.

After dinner the Buddhist, the department chair, started off the docket of speeches in Anne's honor. "I'd tell you that I think Anne is a bodhisattva," he said, "but that would embarrass her." A dozen people spoke—other professors, other nuns from her community, former students—all in that vein: gentle, laudatory, funny, spot-on. The Judaicist read a handful of letters from students whose lives she'd changed, and everybody cried.

Anne spoke. She talked about a Harrison Begay painting of two Navajo weavers and a half-finished blanket—a painting she found so inspiring it had hung in her office for years. She talked about the beauty of imperfection and incompleteness.

Afterward, no one did much chatting. I walked slowly across campus, back to my car. Students swept by talking earnestly on their cell phones. There was a perfect half moon. The Asianist eased his way along the street towards home, arm in arm with his wife, and it wasn't clear who was supporting whom. When I turned the car on, Sam Baker's Pretty World was on the radio.

Driving home, I had a feeling I hadn't had in a long time: I'd been outside my life for those hours—outside this life I've gathered around myself one little decision at a time (and some big ones) over the years it takes a vibrant man to fade. And it was all here waiting for me at this end of the road, newly precious and newly strange: my husband, our girls, my work, our home.


An Open Letter

Dear Library,

Before I get into the hard stuff, Library, I want to tell you that I've always loved you. You were one of my first favorite places. For you I learned to write my full name, small and neatly, at age four, to fit on the signature line of my very own library card. You outfitted me, at age nine, for my first-ever term paper, "Climate Zones of the World," with great patience. You were a home for my teenaged spiritual questions, providing me with a quiet place to peruse The Varieties of Religious Experience and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as well as most things in between (not to mention space for some valuable sneak-peeks at Our Bodies, Ourselves). Without a single word of judgment, you let me check out volume after volume of mindless chick lit novels the summer I was recovering from graduate school. And you supplied me with infertility, pregnancy, and parenting books by the heavy armload.

You've been as generous with my daughters as you were with me. They love you, too, Library, and seeing it is one of the most gratifying parts of being a parent.

I've done my best to treat you as well as you've treated me. I've never lost a library card. Until this week, I'd never lost a library book. Overdue books...ok, I've had a few of those, but aren't my late fines part of what keeps you in the black, Library? In addition to donations from me and other library fans, I mean? Anyway, it happens, right? You expect that, right? I'm a little late, I pay my fines, we move on.

And you can't say I never come and see you. I'm there a couple of times a week, at least, and always checking something out or bringing something back. Story time, the whole bit. I'm there for you, Library.

And I take good care of books, too. When Ingrid, my super-shy then-three-year-old, colored with a crayon in a book, I made her carry it to the counter and show the librarian what she did. I am that dedicated to taking good care of your books, Library. I even tape up kids' books that other people have ripped, because I know you don't always have time.

But lately, Library, I'm getting grouchy with you. Most of this isn't your fault, but let me get it off my chest: You're hardly ever open. When you're open, you're so busy that there's no place to park. You've hired that one guy who doesn't even seem to be able to read, and I'm all about understanding the tragedy of illiteracy and not discriminating, but come on, Library! You are the LIBRARY! You deserve better than that! And you are all computerized. Remember those cards that librarians used to stamp? They opened the back cover of every book and stamped it, and it was like the librarian knew something about me by doing that, and we could talk about the books I was checking out. But now we check our own books out. Beep, beep, beep. My daughters, age four and two, know how to use a laser scanner, but they don't know a librarian by name. Don't you see something a little wrong about that, Library?

And I know you're starting to hate me too. Look, I've lost Dim Sum for Everyone, ok? I know that's wrong. I should know where all the books I check out are, and when they're due, and get them back on time. But I lost this one. Somehow. Somewhere in my house, probably. I'm sorry, ok? But you didn't have to send me such a mean email message about it, with all those capital letters and so terse and grouchy. How about this: Caro, you've been one of our most dedicated patrons, and you've gone over 35 years without ever losing a library book! I'm sorry to see you've lost this one. Please pay us for it as soon as you can. Don't you see how that would be kinder? I am not just card number 220880085451xx (although that is my card number, and yes, I have it memorized, all fourteen probably unnecessary digits of it). I'm a person. With feelings. Aren't you? I'm just asking for a little love, Library.

And then. Then! Here is what really does not make sense: I paid for Dim Sum for Everyone. Fifteen dollars. And then I asked you: If I find it, can I return it and get my money back? And you said: No.

I'm happy to support you, Library, but I have to admit I was a little hurt. It was like you were going to hold a grudge. That didn't seem right. But I kept trying: Oh, ok. Well, I'll just bring the book in and donate it back, then, if I find it. When I find it. You can keep the money. It just seems like the book should still be yours.

And you said, We can't take it back. Once you've paid to replace it, its yours. If you bring it back in we won't put it back into circulation.

Now, Library. THAT DOES NOT MAKE ANY DAMN SENSE. I know you're having a hard time financially. A lot of us are these days, and I know you've been worried about your budget for a long time. But I think the financial stress may have started to eat away at your brain. I know the reason you can't be open more and can't have more parking spots and can't hire people who know how to read is that you don't have the cash. So for God's sake, when a person wants to give you a book—and not just any book but a perfectly good $15 book that up until it spent three weeks under my couch cushion (or wherever) you considered A-1 library-circulation-eligible material—then you TAKE THE BOOK.

You know?

Assuming I end up finding Dim Sum for Everyone, that is.

Anyway, I'm going to try to turn over a new leaf, because the strain in our relationship is making me sad. I'm going to get a better system for turning my books in on time. And I'm going to try harder to connect with the librarians, who must be awfully pissed that these days all they get to do is troubleshoot the computers.

But I'm asking you to do the same, ok, Library? I'm just a book lover doing my best to get through my to do list and keep my house together and teach my kids to love you as much as I have. I'm not looking to rip you off or get away with anything. I just want a little compassion, and a little acknowledgment that I've put something into this relationship over the years, too.

Yours in the Love of Books,




Tonight at bathtime, Ingrid stumbled on the concept of infinity, but, like many people staring down the unending, felt more comfortable imposing limits on it:

She: ...twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty!

Me: All the way to thirty by yourself! Know what comes after thirty?

She: Um. Thirty...two?

Me: Thirty one.

She: And then thirty two! And thirty three!

Me: You got it.

She: (plays in the water for a while) The numbers keep going on and on for ever.

Me: That's right. It's called being infinite. It means there's no end. If you keep on counting, you just keep getting to another number.

She: I can just keep counting and counting and counting.

Me: Yep.

She: But not at bedtime.

In other news, Iris's new trick is, when she's mad about something, she throws herself down on her stomach and smacks her forehead into the floor over and over. This is so awful and bizarre to see, I can't help but believe it's the result of terrible mothering. So, naturally, it makes me feel like screaming. Which, tonight, I did, because the head banging was not only awful as usual but was the result of a long drawn out battle over whether Iris would wear the short-sleeved cotton PJs on this 90-degree night or the the thick fleece pajamas. Guess who was on which side. Guess who won. Guess who feels like kind of a rotten mama.