March 30, 2005

sick and more sick

First Damian got sick. For a week. Sitting on the couch wrapped in blankets, insisting on my constant presence. Then, just as he started feeling better, spring vacation hit. His, that is. Not mine. Nor Dan's. Dan, in fact, stayed at work until 1:30 a.m. one night. Dan is on deadline. So. Week One. Damian sick. Week Two. Spring Break. Week Three, get that kid back to school and get some work done?

Nope. Sunday morning Damian walked into our room and threw up all over the floor. Poor kid. Poor us. He's been home for three days and, judging from the cramping pain he was in last night, he'll be home the rest of the week. And. Yesterday I started feeling achey-feverish. As did Dan. So now we're all sick.

I am so frustrated I want to scream. I have a rewrite I desperately want to start and, as always happens when I don't write, I feel like a worthless nonentity taking up room on this planet but doing nothing of substance. I hate that feeling. I have to write. I'm too sick to write, and besides, Damian is home and Dan is not only working hard this week (through the flu because he can't take a day off, not with this deadline), he'll be working hard this weekend. And next week.

This sucks.

That is all.

No, that's not all. I find myself thinking � found myself thinking last night as I soothed Damian at 12:30 am � that I'm actually one of the lucky ones. Assuming he goes back to school Monday, Damian will have been out of school a total of three weeks. If I had a job as intense as Dan's, what would we have done? Hell, if I had a part time job in a bookstore or an office, what would we have done? Some well-heeled folk have full time nannies, yes, but most parents don't. By this stage in a child's life, most either have nannies who come to pick the child up from school and stay a few hours till evening, or they rely on on-site childcare at school or at a YMCA. And if your child is sick? He can't attend. So you have to stay home with him. And jeopardize your job, because who has that many sick days stored up?

What do other parents do? Not everyone has this luxury to stay home with a sick child. Most don't. I may hate the idea of myself as a stay at home mom, but damn. It comes in handy sometimes.

Posted by Tamar at 04:55 PM | Comments (3)

March 26, 2005

suburbs, what a concept

A few days ago, Alice of Finslippy asked her readers for some advice. She and her husband and adorably funny toddler son own an apartment in Park Slope; it's small, with various other discomforts of urban life. They're considering cashing in on their equity and moving to the Jersey suburbs. Her readers have been weighing in with pros and cons and personal stories and I've been devouring the whole thread. That could be me, only with a long layover in Los Angeles.

Yes, it turns out our Toronto vs. New York dilemma was no dilemma at all. For various reasons, the answer has to be New York. If the opportunity materializes, we go. We don't know yet if it will, but we should have a better sense of that soon, thanks to the good offices of some very good people. But if they want us, we want them.

So we've been thinking/dreaming/exploring what life would be like there. We can't move back to the Slope even though we loved it there. The Slope is no longer the same, nor are we. The prettiest parts are now overrun by investment bankers, you can't get a nice brownstone in the North Slope for under two million. And we don't have a stack of gold nuggets stashed away in our sock drawer, not even under the bed, so that's not gonna work. Plus which, the public schools suck, so we'd have to throw in tens of thousands per year on private school and extra services besides. And I remember the smell of garbage on the streets and the richocheting sound of our neighbors' shouts on those crammed-together blocks. You can go home again, maybe, but home has changed. And Los Angeles has changed me. Fact is? I love living in a house. My house. With walls, floors and ceilings that abut nothing but sky and earth.

We live in an urban area here. Smack dab in the middle of city, just not the downtown core. Too urban in some ways. Noisy, obnoxious, in-your-face. On the other hand, we can walk a few blocks to two Thai restaurants, a dimly lit Mexican place, a great pizzeria, or a written-up-in-the-LA-Times American comfort food joint. We can drive a few blocks to a well-stocked Whole Foods market or one of a dozen little Russian delis selling poppyseed sweet breads, beet salad and a noxious but oddly addicting mayonnaise-laden "Russian salad." I grew up in the city, I still live in one. But this city, for all its aggressive city-ness, is not New York, not Chicago, not Boston or San Francisco. It's a car town, and as a result the suburbs have joined forces with the city, and a few blocks from here you'll see peaceful streets with gorgeous old bungalows and friendly neighbors. I've learned to yearn for that. I experience half of it, in my pretty California Craftsman with its (paved but planted) back yard. I experience the other half of suburbia, perhaps, when I get in the car to go just about anywhere. In a sense, I already know suburban life.

And yet. Do I? If we move to New York but choose a New Jersey town on the commuter rail line, what would that be like? I imagine peace, I imagine lush lawns in summer. I imagine knowing our neighbors up and down the block and becoming passionately involved in the life of this particular town's artsy, liberal community. I imagine a pretty downtown with a good independent bookstore (yes, the town we're considering has one) and sprawling parks and a row of restaurants we will enjoy but inevitably find a tad boring after a while. Then again, we have a whole city to choose from here and yet we usually go back to the same handful of places, is that so different? I imagine a twinge of discomfort when I have to get on the highway to find a great fresh fish market. But I drive to Santa Monica now for that, a good half hour or so from here. Again, is it really different?

Suburbia in the Tristate area carries a particular meaning for me, though. The bridge and tunnel crowd, we called them. The ones who come into town as semi-tourists seeking excitement. Am I to become one? I remember being twenty three years old and driving over the Manhattan Bridge with an ex-boyfriend who owned a truck, all my belongings in the back of said vehicle, thinking, "Am I really moving to Brooklyn? Leaving Manhattan behind? How can this be?" I remember that first night wandering out onto Seventh Avenue, bemused at how few stores there were, how quiet it felt, comforted by the presence of a Korean deli. (It's a New York thing, these small storefront shops open 24 hours, stocked with everything you need to survive another day in the city.) I got used to it, grew to love it, grew to prefer it to Manhattan.

Of course, the Slope has changed since then. Had changed already by the time I left, had become filled with shops and upscale restaurants. But I remember that feeling still, bemusement as my point of reference shifted so suddenly and completely. The fact is, the Jersey towns we're considering (there are two but with a strong preference for one in particular) are roughly as far by commuter train from downtown Manhattan as the Slope is on the D train, but the feeling is so very different. Towns rather than part of the city. After a decade and a half in semi-suburban Los Angeles, I suspect this will feel more natural than I think, maybe more natural than moving back to Manhattan or Brooklyn ever could now, but nevertheless it seems so odd to consider. I try it on for size, I consider the ramifications, try to imagine the flavor. I think I like it, but how can I know?

And so I read through the nearly 200 comments responding Alice's blog post, all those discussions of suburb vs. gritty urban living. I find myself amused, because some of those comments are about an entirely different kind of suburb than the kind she and I are considering, these people describe truly sterile bedroom communities that would drive me around the bend in short order while the towns I'm thinking of sound like real places unto themselves. But other times I find myself pondering. What would (will?) this life be like? It's one I haven't tried yet. It's one I can't know yet. It entices and overwhelms both at the same time.

Posted by Tamar at 10:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

how not to bake brownies

Sit on bed, minding your own business. Child hops on bed. "Mommy, I want to do something with you."

"Sure, what do you want to do?"

"I don't know. You think of something."

"How about we take a nap? I'd really like that." (You are tired.)

"No. No naps. Think of something else."

"Um we could read a story. Or watch TV." (Trying to think of things that require no physical exertion whatsoever.)

"Too boring."

"Well, why don't you think of something, then?" (Something low key. You are, yes, tired.)

"I don't have any ideas. You think of more things."

"We could do anything. Draw a picture, bake a cake, do a puzzle"

Watch child's eyes light up. "You gave me an idea! We could bake brownies and then while the brownies are cooking, we could have dinner and then we could eat the brownies for dessert."

Sounds so benign, doesn't it?

You sigh inwardly at the calories you'll undoubtedly consume, while simultaneously (and visibly) smiling with pleasure that your kid did after all come up with his own idea.

Go to kitchen to investigate ingredients. Unsweetened chocolate? Yup, back behind the peanut butter chips. Man, this stuff must be old. But it looks bug-free, and chocolate doesnt go bad, does it? Decide to use chocolate. Unsweetened cocoa? Yup, got that. Butter? Yup, that too. What the hey, why not make the brownies? After all, it's a semi-structured activity, a chance to interact while working on a project that involves exactly zero small rubber frogs.

"I want to eat some of the chocolate."

"You won't like it. It has no sugar in it."

"I want to! Can I have that one?" Pointing to half an ounce of pure unsweetened cacao.

Offer child a teeny head-of-a-pin homeopathic sliver instead.

"Ptui! Yuck!"

Explain how the chocolate he likes has other ingredients to mellow the flavor. Put chocolate and butter in saucepan. Show child the lumps of yellow and brown. Ask him simple questions like: what's going to happen to them? And: What colors will they be? Feel good about the interaction, about stimulating him to think and be part of the process that way.

Turn to the cocoa. Ah, another little lesson, this one perhaps more age-appropriate. "We need two thirds of a cup of cocoa. But we only have a one-third cup measuring cup. What should we do?"

His first thought: we should buy a two-thirds sized cup. But none exist. Confounded, he reconsiders. We should have two one third measuring cups, then. Smile, "You're very close." Explain the methodology.

Wonder why you haven't explored math in the kitchen before. Heretofore baking together has been all about stirring and pouring and whisking and running a knife across the top of the measuring cup to knock off excess flour. Actions, not concepts. Feel proud of yourself. You could even be a homeschooler, the way this is going!

Kid dumps cocoa powder into now-brown now-bubbling butter-chocolate mix. You stir, put it back in stove. Time to measure sugar. No, not to eat it. No, really, child, don't stick your fist into the sugar bag and stuff your now-crystallized hand into your mouth. Please. You're six years old, not two. Kid has a sugar addiction. Wonder where he got that from? (Give you a hint: not his daddy.)

Moving right along: You and kid pour sugar into dark, muddy chocolatey concoction on stove. Stir and go back to butcher block counter. Next step: cracking eggs. Kid is relatively interested in the whole separating-out-the-whites process but doesn't really want to hear about the properties of whites and yolks. Maybe next time. Meantime, kid wants to get into butcher block drawer.

Get irritable. Kid is not listening. This is supposed to be baking-together time, not child-drums-with-utensils-while-Mom-makes-overly-caloric-treats. Discover kid is looking for whisk, ie: thinking ahead. Have Egg Whites, Will Whisk. Feel chagrined, nay, positively guilty. Kid was more involved than you knew. Apologize, praise, continue.

Smell something burning. But what? We're baking here, not oh. Right. Chocolate-butter-cocoa-sugar concoction, the heart of the brownie recipe. Burning while you debated whisks. Turn off stove. Check chocolate mixture. Decide it's okay except for a tiny bit at the bottom. Hope you're right.

Continue. Whites, whole egg, whisk. Flour, baking powder. Discuss tablespoons and teaspoons, halves and quarters. Back in the math groove, maybe it's not too late to rekindle the whole baking-as-learning-and-togetherness deal?

Mix dry ingredients with (clean) hands. "Why are you using your hands, Mommy?" Because um because they're here and clean and everything else is full of chocolate goo?

Kid is interested in everything again, watching the melding of egg and chocolate, readily answering the question: "How long do I stir the flour in? How do I know when to stop?" Calories are worth this, definitely. This is great.

Kid leans forward, wanting to peer into the pan as you pour the brownie mix. Drops his raisin box on the floor. Raisins scatter everywhere. Kid cries buckets. Remember, he just today got over a week-long debilitating bout of flu. He has low self-regulation reserves. Kid wants, not more raisins, that would be too simple. No, kid wants a toaster pastry (Nature's Way, the organic version of Pop-Tarts).

"Sorry, I can't give you one this close to dinner."

Kid cries more buckets. Wails turn inevitably to a coughing fit (a flu remnant). Coughs erupt in vomit. Copious amounts. All over the kitchen counter. In measuring cups, mixing bowls, everything. Except, miraculously, the pan with the brownie mix.

A lesson, yes. But for whom?

Brownies come out well, though. And kid is in a good mood for the rest of the evening. Go figure.

The moral of the story: Life is messy. But sweet. And sometimes chocolatey.

Posted by Tamar at 11:48 PM | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

face recognition

Yesterday I took Damian to the pediatrician. He's had a fever and cough since Saturday; we wanted to make sure he wasn't harboring an infection. But traffic was mindbendingly horrible: a twenty five minute drive took close to an hour. At three p.m. This, my friends, is what happens when an ever-growing city doesn't think ahead to create a strong mass transit infrastructure (or dismantles the one they have, a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was a colorfully clad rant about the death of the Red Car trolley system).

Anyway. As a result, I lost the appointment time and had to sit in an overstuffed chair in the waiting room reading a kiddie science magazine cover to cover as my sick boy snuggled in my lap and discussed volcanoes and magma with me. People came and went, those with check-ups and sick-kid appointments that they somehow managed to appear for at the allotted hour. This is a very desirable pediatrician, progressive and intelligent, with a warm way with kids and an embrace of the alternative but not the quack. (In fact, he was just written up in the LA Times.) I always feel like the poorest person in the waiting room when we go but it's kind of irrelevant. So what if everyone else lives in the Pacific Palisades and sends their kids to private school? He's a good doc and not a snob.

Anyway. A woman came in, elegant and lovely, beautifully put together, poised. She came with her teenaged daughter. I looked at her, then looked again. She looked so familiar, why? Oh, of course! I knew her in college, didn't I? Not well, we weren't in the same communities, but then I saw her last year at a classmate's reading. Yes, that was it. I remember being struck then by the sadness beneath the poise, the pain under the rich gloss. Yesterday at the doc's waiting room, I regretted my own state of, well, un-gloss (sick kid, y'know) and tried to catch her eye. Meaning: I kept glancing at her, hoping she'd remember me.

A minute or two went by. I thought maybe I could say something as she sat down. Tried to remember her name. Did. Along with her name, I got a clear image of her the last time I'd seen her.

Um. Not the same woman. Similar affect, but not the same. Why had I had that flash of recognition, then?

Duh. Because I did recognize her. From the MOVIES. I'd been spending the last five minutes staring fixedly at Renee Ru$$o.

When you live in and around Hollywood, one crucial thing you DO NOT EVER DO is make a celebrity feel overexposed. It's as uncouth as you can get. What did I do in that doc's waiting room? Yeah.

Boy do I feel like a dork.

Posted by Tamar at 04:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

ly

I've learned some important things about myself lately. For instance, I use of course a lot. As in: He was already there. Of course he was. I'm not big on adverbs, it turns out, but excessively fond of the ones I do use. Like oddly and carefully.

What does this mean? Oddly, I'm not sure. But of course Im going to find out. As carefully as I can.

What? Oh. Yeah. Novel rewrites. Can be fun.

Lots of fun, actually.

(And no, I dont overuse actually, actually.)

Posted by Tamar at 11:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

out there

Stories went out Monday. One story to three places, another to three other places. Easy, it turns out. Just look up the literary magazines, read samples of the stories they publish, decide you like their sensibility, read their submission policy, take notes, look up more literary magazines, do the same. Divide the results into categories (this story goes here, that story might suit that place better). Print cover letters, label envelopes, affix SASEs to cover letters with colorful paperclips, double check that you're putting the right story/cover letter into the right envelope. Seal it all up and hand to spouse to run to post office. (Last step optional, depending on availability and mood of said spouse.) That wasn't so hard, was it?

But for some reason it was. It felt as terribly dreary, as horridly mind numbingly depressing, as preparing for our tax appointment. Why? It should be fun, shouldn't it? Should carry with it the promise of publication or at least more deliciously personal rejection letters. Should tantalize and tease, not depress.

I think it may have something to do with this: A friend and I were IMing yesterday about writing and having written. Fact is, once you've written and declared the manuscript complete and fully realized, you have to send your material out. And then it's no longer the idealized version of itself and you're no longer A Great Writer Nobody Knows About Yet. You're exposed, judged. And maybe you will be discovered, maybe everyone will love and devour your words, maybe you'll be the next (fill in the blank depending on genre of choice and preferred success measurement). Maybe so. Big risk, though, isn't it? That you won't be. Easier to be going to, to be on the verge of, to be about to find out than it is to actually, y'know, go ahead and risk it.

This, I think, explains that slogging through mud feeling. It's a tidal wave of emotional resistance. I did it anyway, though. And will do it again in April. And in May. And in June... and maybe at some point it'll get easier.

I'm thinking a few "yes!" responses along the way will help get me past this hump. But until then, doing it instead of talking about doing it, that helps too.

Posted by Tamar at 10:40 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 07, 2005

tub time

Damian came home from school (via the Dan Mobile) to find me taking a bath. (Yes, a bath in the middle of the day. I grab my decadence where I can find it.) He was tickled. I usually take showers. He's the bather in the family. He peered into the tub. "Is it nice and warm?"

"Why don't you see for yourself?"

He dipped his hand in cautiously. "It's hot! You're going to get burned!"

I told him I was in fact not in any danger of a scalding. He seemed to accept this but still stood staring into the water. Then he smiled at me. "Now you know what it's like to be me. And I know what it's like to be Daddy." (Daddy is the Bathmeister of the house. Usually, anyway.)

Then he ran out of the room. "Don't do anything! Don't get out of the bathtub!"

Soon enough he came back. Holding, what else? Two toy frogs. "Now we can play a bathtub froggy game." Just like when he takes a bath, you see.

I played the game with him until my fingers and toes were too pruney for comfort. I wonder what would have happened if I'd asked him to wash my hair? I think he'd have tried. He likes changing places. I kind of do too.

Posted by Tamar at 11:36 PM | Comments (1)

March 04, 2005

doing the limbo

I feel like I'm living split lives. There's our life in the present, here and now. Dan's working on a respected and respectable TV series. Damian attends a traditional public kindergarten a couple of miles away; I don't love it but I dont hate it. I'm in between writing projects and feeling disoriented as a result while not yet knowing what people will think of the book I've written. We live in a pretty house on an ugly block in a desirable neighborhood; we're largely done prettifying the place to theoretically sell. We don't have enough money coming in to put away for the future, or even a rainy day, and that scares me. I have a few good friends here but more elsewhere. Life is not great, not terrible. Life just is.

Thats here. That's now. Everything else is theoretical. But there's an awful lot of theory going on inside my head right now. Will we move? Where will we move? Will it work out if we do? What will life be like if we do? Will Dan's show get picked up for the fall? If not, what will he/we do? Do I need to get a non-writing job? If so, what? Will this new charter school work out for Damian? Will we stay in LA long enough to find out?

The thing about living on the edge of change is that it doesnt seem much like change at all.

I remember an apartment in Park Slope. I remember a brick wall in the living room, a barren kitchenette, a marble fireplace in the bedroom. I remember a sense of home that seemed like forever but in fact only lasted a year and change. We lived in New York together, and that was fact. We thought about moving to LA. The thought was so strange, so foreign. Would we? Could we? Should we?

We decided: if Dan got accepted to the graduate directing program he was applying for, if the editor I worked for landed the PBS drama gig he was up for, if either of these things fell into place, we would go. Both happened. Fate giving us a westward nudge? We made our plans, packed our belongings in myriad boxes, I flew across country to start my job and find an apartment while Dan finished packing and drove our stuff through Pennsylvania and Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri, Colorado and Nevada. My books and pots and pans have seen the Grand Canyon. I haven't, merely glimpses through thick airplane window glass. Dan arrived, accompanied by brother and sister-in-law. We settled in. We explored the stucco and canyons of El Ciudad de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles. We tried to carve a home here. Succeeded, after a fashion. Failed too, in another sense.

Now I find myself thinking back to that time in suspended animation. Would we, should we, could we? Questions dangling unanswered for months. It didn't matter then. We lived in Brooklyn and loved it there. We had a life and lived it there. The future was a question mark but I think we took that for granted. We were in our twenties, anything was possible and everything was unknown.

Somewhere along the way you're supposed to know more, though, aren't you? Somewhere along the way you're supposed to be able to make five year plans, ten year plans, map out your future, know your life. And maybe even though we haven't consciously done that, we have in fact done it too well. Maybe we've been existing for the past several years in suspended animation, treading the same path again and again, a path leading nowhere but right back to where we began, following our own muddy footprints. Maybe this state of not knowing is the real knowledge. Maybe we need this time, this new iteration of Will we? Can we? Should we? Midlife crisis, wakeup call, something. Sometimes you need to shake yourself awake.

Posted by Tamar at 06:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack