Mar 31, 2005

Goodbye, Raffi

John has mercifully taken out the Raffi CD we've been listening to in the van for the past few years. He replaced it with Honest Bob and the The Factory-to-Dealer Incentives. This is the best way to get me to listen to new music. Jack and I both really dig "Dinner with Laurie," where a guy runs into Laurie Anderson at the supermarket. It's sung/spoken in the inimical Laurie Anderson style. Jack asks to have it played over and over again. He has the refrain memorized.

And she said ooh, it isn't very hard
The cellar's in the attic and the attic's in the yard
And she said ooh, try it now and see
The ocean's in the kitchen and the kitchen's on TV.

They also have a song in which the lyrics are taken from this website by a "Dr. Gene Ray." You have to stop to admire the guy's tenacity, verbosity, tortured syntax, and liberal use of underlining. Not to mention the consistently fevered pitch of his rhetoric and the almost total lack of explanation. His site is very popular, and you can understand why. "Dr. Gene Ray" doesn't have any terrorist or counter-terrorist agenda, or any particular leanings even toward Republican or Democrat, and he doesn't ask for money, as far as I can see. He only asks that you believe, but believe what, exactly? Dr. Ray's got a case of good old-fashioned crazy going on. It's refreshing.

That said, it's possible that "Gene Ray" is actually Laurie Anderson taking performance art online. Or maybe David Byrne? He's done a bunch of weird stuff with PowerPoint. Whoever you are, Dr. Ray, great site. Keep the faith.

Mar 28, 2005

Y! M! C! A!

It's been a long rainy spring vacation and it's still going on today, both the rain and the vacation. Anyway, we got a family membership to the Y in January and not only am I becoming incredibly buff, but I have a place to go in which the boys can do their thing in "kid zone" and I can do mine. And I've already paid for it. Woo-hoo. We've been trucking over there with great frequency. It saved our sanity this past week. After I'm done with my workout I try to slip past the "family lounge" but it never fails that we have to stop there to play foosball and air hockey.

Foosball. Back when I was in what they used to call "junior high school" my family lived on an army base in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and there the "teen club" had foosball, ping-pong, pool, and . . . that was about it. Oh, soda for a quarter and Reese's Peanut-Butter Cups for a dime. When I was grounded I would hand my best friend Kathy a dime through my window and she would get them for me. The phone was very expensive to use, so we would just go to other kids' houses or apartments and throw gravel up at the window and pretty much undermine the whole concept of being grounded, which was the Ineffective Punishment Du Jour. Back to foosball, it was so popular at the teen club I hardly ever got a chance to play. But now's my window of opportunity! There certainly are a lot of dead zones in that game, like between every row of players. Jack and I are both such novices that the ball either meanders slowly between the players, goals being scored by accident or by the wrong team, or the ball is "kicked" with great violence, slamming into a player on the same team.

Only one more afternoon left--we can make it, right? It really hasn't been too bad a week. We had company for Easter dinner and most people brought a dish. All I had to do was the ham, and I made a balsamic red pepper sauce for it. We drank beaujolais and I believe a good time was had by all. I'll try to think about that, and not the projectile markers zinging around the halls with the caps gone, or . . . The Note. While I was cleaning the bathroom on Saturday I heard something land on the floor, and the scurrying of little feet. I turned around and saw a pad of paper with writing on it in marker. It said


A few minutes later we had the following discussion:

Jack: (eager) Did you read the note?

Me: (with studied nonchalance) Yes.

Jack: Are you sad?

Me: (breezily) No.

Jack: Why not?

Me: (knowingly) Because I know the tricks that little boys play.

Jack: It wasn't a trick. It was the truth. I meant it.

I couldn't think of what to say, so didn't say anything. Later I remembered the conversation we had had coming back from the Y, and I thought I knew what prompted The Note:

Jack: Mommy, do grown-ups cry?

Me: Yes, sure they do.

Jack: When do they cry?

Me: Lots of times, like when someone dies, or when the person's feeling are hurt.

Jack: (offended) Well, I cry then, too!

Me: But grown-ups don't cry at little things, like when they have to stop playing foosball.

That probably ticked him off. It was a cheap shot.

Have to go, trashbaskets are being flung. Jack just called Will "you disgusting nipple," so maybe it's nothing I said.

Mar 24, 2005

Sauce, Legos and Videotape

Yesterday after dinner Jack asked me, "We can have a party any day, right? It doesn't have to be someone's birthday, does it?" "Um, no, why do you ask?" I answered, a bit suspicious. Does he want cake? Presents? "Let's have a party for Daddy tomorrow, because we love him."

So Jack, Will and I made John gifts from Legos when he was away at his class (in Database Management, if you must know), mainly robots, that we propped up on his desk. Will also wanted to add a subscription insert from Cooking Light. Will and Jack made "newspapers" from creating manuscripts in Word with 72-point webdings. Will screamed delightedly while making his. One stroke of the keyboard and . . it's a truck! A strange little man wearing a tux! A thick diagonal line! Whatever!

Then we made a short video, in which Jack and Will admired themselves greatly. Will would show a book to the camera and say solemnly "It's at your wocal wibary." I really should have wiped that pizza sauce off his mouth before we made it, oh well. Then today, after much ostentatious, highly audible whispering in front of John, the boys and I hid in John's office and he was so "surprised" to see us when he came in.

Mar 23, 2005

So Big

On Monday I took Jack, who's five, with me to my three-hour drawing class. It was my last class, and I really didn't want to miss it, and Will had a place to go, but Jack had vacation. I packed markers, his own pad, and a banana for him and hoped for the best.

I set his pad up on an easel, which made him feel so grown up. The class members fawned over him considerably, especially the grandmothers. He smiled shyly and didn't talk much. First he drew a set of emergency vehicles and a horse, using his markers. Later he drew a rainbow, asking me the order of the colors and then numbering them. He did use some of my pressed charcoal,and drew othe objects on the table like the rest of us, a vase and a crane figurine (the bird, that is). At one point, he decided to see what the medium could do, so he grayed his paper like the rest of us had done, and rubbed the side of the charcoal over it so many times the whole thing was almost black. Then he got his eraser and made white lines, forming a grid. Very Mondrian.

I pinned his drawings to the wall like everyone else when it was time for critique. Cavin, the teacher, said, "See how Jack didn't leave out any elements of this vase." It was true; the pedestal was there, the stem, the rim around the lip. As far as I know, he has never drawn an object that is sitting in front of him before. His crane even had the feathers on it. Later I could hear him telling John what the teacher had said about his drawing, verbatim.

Then lunch at an Indian restaurent nearby. He ate pakoras, naan, some chana dal, and tandoori chicken. He didn't care for the mango juice, though, so he got apple. Every so often he would say to me in a stage whisper, "There are real Indian people here!"He was sitting there at the table, so civilized and proper, and then he would suddenly puff his cheeks out and pop them with his fingers.

Mar 20, 2005

The One About Poop

Not for the faint of heart. Please visit some other more intellectually or spiritually elevated blog for today's reading, if you cannot stomach the earthy nature of this post. That includes even the ghost of Jonathan Swift. Thank you kindly.

Because Will drank a quantity of Jack's juice this morning, which was spiked with a little Miralax, which Jack needs and Will does not, there emanated from his bottom a quantity, consistency, and forcefulness of poop that caused John and me to marvel exceedingly. (And yes, the child still wears a diaper. That's for another post you can look forward to.) When we were done washing off his heels, penis, and knees, and when we had put his shirt, left sock, jeans, and changing pad in the laundry tub to soak, we reminisced fondly about the old days. . .

J: (soft, hushed, reverent voice) "Wow, he hasn't had a poop like that since he was a baby."
L: (enthusiastically)"It was a blowout! Remember those?"
J: "Ah, yes . . . . those were the days, weren't they?"
(J and L hold hands and gaze into each other's eyes.)

And just the other day we were saying how great it is that we don't need to worry about Jack's poop any more. We don't even need to wipe his bottom. A few months ago we were having dinner guests, and during a comfortably quiet lull in the conversation, whilst we were sipping our pinot in the candlelight, Jack yelled "Wipe my bottom!" at a decibel level fit for a referee. We still need to check to make sure he has flushed, but in general we seem to be almost entirely absent from his pooping experience.

This return to the "blowout" of infancy takes me down memory lane. I remember the time Jack, at 11 months, pooped in an empty box shortly after his bath. Very handy. Then there was the time he squirmed and kicked violently in mid diaper change, flinging a medium size turd somewhere----where? How could we lose a turd? Oh, there it was, behind the bureau. They are so much easier to pick up when they've had two days to dry up, don't you know. When Jack was 16 months old, he pooped in his bathwater. When he saw the long brown coil that had come out of him he screamed in terror. We could not get that child to sit down in the bathtub for about eight months after that.

And then there was the time I found a large fresh one in the sandbox. "Gee," I thought to myself in a Pooh-like way, "I don't remember seeing a large mammal defecating in the sandbox in the last 10 minutes." Then I observed that the heaviness of Will's diaper had gotten the better of the Velcro fasteners, and the diaper had slipped mostly through his shorts, some of the contents having escaped.

One time in grad school we had a contest to see who had gotten the most disgusting substance on their dissertation, and the father of a baby got the prize. People who don't have children tend to find baby poop disgusting, but I don't any more. I almost kind of miss the yellow newborn kind . . . . Someone please stop me.


I'm back. I'm so inspired by this post that I just told a bedtime story about Sir Poopie Poopsalot, a poop inside Will who begged to be set free in the toilet, to spin downward in that beautiful spiral, which all poops deserve, not to be squashed in a diaper and thrown in the trash! Dignity for poops everywhere!! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!! Gurgle . . . gurgle.
(Loud flushing sound)

Mar 18, 2005


Apparently, from what I read and see in the media, the term "housewife" is being reclaimed by younger women. Check out this retro-ly hip shirt, for example. But a couple of weeks ago a doctor I had to see for my back called me a housewife. Coming from a fifty-something professional woman, it sounded harsh and insulting. I had explained "I'm home with my children now." and quickly she said, "Oh, so you're a housewife."

I'm not going to get my knickers in a twist about something like that. I have a doctorate. I am forty-six years old and I'm so fortunate to have even had two children over forty. Hell, I'm on the edge of menopause. It isn't worth my time to feel personally affronted. Yawn.

However, what interests me is the ways in which this stay-at-home-mother role is interpreted so differently by different generations. One friend of mine, a fifty-year-old anthropologist, upon hearing what I am doing with my life right now, said to me "You are your mother." Of course, she never know my mother, but I knew what she meant. Back to the 1950s, and all that. (There's a reason why those hip housewife t-shirts re-use the old graphics.) The multiple feminisms in our culture right now create a dissonance on this subject, and I feel it because my age puts me with late boomers, but my young children put me with women in their mid thirties or younger.

It seems women who are intentionally at home with their children for the long haul (I don't include myself in that) need some ideology to prop that up, be it conservative Christian values, natural living, attachment parenting, whatever. Other women will say "I'm home with my children for now" like I just did, even if they don't know when and how they'll get back into the work world. Because it's just very difficult to claim a "homemaker" status as your identity without some more transcendent values that justify doing that.

I do think we're feeling our way toward an enlightened domesticity, as the popularity of Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelsohn indicates. Jean Railla has a lovely essay about domesticity here. It's the introduction to her book Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec. The introduction is the best part of the book, as most people don't have any interest in knitting a bikini or making large volumes of limoncello. Anyway, the book seems to be a significant gesture towards redefining and reclaiming the domestic. Read Railla's intro and let me know what you think.

Mar 16, 2005

Of Beet Greens and Memory

In my oil painting class (yes, two art classes) I must finish my painting of the latest still life presented by our instructor. I choose the beets. They repose on the table, exposing their curling tails, the most charming part. "They look like mice," commented my neighbor in the class, but that's what I love about them. The problem is that between the class from two weeks ago and last week's class, the greens wilted to an ugly little heap. Not the luxuriant outgrowth of curly-edged leaves I had seen earlier. I might have known that would happen, but I guess in my mind the beets seemed eternal, like Keats' urn. So last week I painted them from memory. It was stressful and uninteresting to me. Part of my deprogramming from literary theory involves simple observation, and the object having decayed presents a problem. I'll carry on.

On another note, I bought Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried for my father for Christmas. He started it and "didn't care for it." He told me last night he prefers straight military history. The O'Brien stories, um, certainly aren't that. My father was an officer in Vietnam in 1959-60 and 1966-67. He reads many volumes of history every year, nothing on Vietnam. Behind this decision is a world of small and large denials: personal, generational, historical. At least I convinced my father to try reading it again, because I'm reading it for my book group in the summer, and "I thought it would be nice if we could read the same thing."

Mar 15, 2005

Study in Charcoal

Yesterday, I had my penultimate Basic Drawing class. Almost everyone has improved tremendously. We did charcoal. Charcoal is so dirty and fun to use. You can crumble it and smear it with your hands, or rub it on its side, erase it with the gentle kneaded eraser, or with the harsh whitening rectangular eraser. You feel like you are sculpting the picture instead of drawing it. We drew a cup, a vase, and a small pitcher sitting on a windowsill. The morning light made it look like they were glowing. The sun kept going behind a cloud and muting the effect, though, so we couldn't take the light for granted.

We were quiet, as some of the chattier members of the class were gone. Lisa, a guidance counselor at a Quaker school, who has breast cancer, left for a much-anticipated trip to France with her husband. I don't know where Eleanor was, the retired Quaker school librarian who spins, weaves, makes baskets, and talks a blue streak. Quakers aren't as silent as you would think.

We also have an incredibly well-dressed young woman who teaches at a Christian college nearby. I can't believe she works with charcoal in those clothes. She is one of those people who is careful and neat by nature, so maybe she enjoys the challenge. Her drawing has come a long way, but she still tends to draw the concept of an object instead of the object itself. (And no, I'm not going to put quotation marks around "itself.")

I just turned off a small toy SUV that had been going around our little racetrack on its own for a few minutes, with no one to observe or interfere.

Mar 14, 2005

Bless the Day

Some quiet, unassuming lives have great power and scope, but you only learn this definitively when they are cut short in their prime, one day talking and laughing, the next day in the morgue.

My friend Miriam was such a person. At the age of fifty, she had sent more encouraging notes, cooked more meals for others, taught more children, and blessed more people with her attention, than most of us would do if God were to give us 100 years. Her funeral yesterday, at Woodland Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia, filled up the sanctuary with all kinds of people, her colleagues at her elementary school, her students, her fellow members of her Mennonite church, her neighbors, even people who rode the 6:15 bus with her every morning. She had blessed us all.

During the ceremony I felt the immense power of Miriam's kind and humble spirit. I'm now in one of those rare times in my life in which, instead of being mired in my own plans and dreams and memories, I am attentive to the present and grateful for each conversation with a stranger, moment of sunshine, whiff of coffee, kiss from my husband, and cowlick on my boys' heads.

Marilynne Robinson writes in her latest novel Gilead, in the voice of the dying preacher who narrates the book,

". . . .There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn't. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don't know why I thought of that right now, except perhaps it is because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it."

Mar 10, 2005

What She Said

So, anyway, I have decided to eschew hair color, as I said in an earlier post. I went to have my hair cut, just cut, and just as I was paying the almost small bill, the owner/prima donna colorist, Pat, comes in and says, looking upon my hair, "I'm thinking we need to adjust the color." She saw my silvery hair creeping in on my temples, is what. "She's growing it out," Vicki the haircut lady said quickly. "Fifteen years!" taunted Pat. The owner's daughter, Helen, upon whom Pat tries every new Aveda color trick on her perfectly fine chestnut mane, smiled at me pityingly, in silent agreement with her mother.

Plainly, it's a cult. "Fifteen years for the infidel. And may her gray hairs become yellowish and frizzy. And may she grow a beard, which we'd be glad to wax for a cool $50.00."

Mar 9, 2005

Blogout is Now Over

My blogout, a period of time in which I totally forgot about blogging, is now over. Until the next one, that is. My "back went out," and I am doing some physical therapy, had to do some committee work, bla bla bla. No reason, really. Blogging is either a total waste of time or a great new creative medium, and my brain can't decide which so I just go back and forth in a manic way.

Only it's too late for me to do any writing now . . . . but I'll tell you soon the catty comments my hairdresser made about my hair going gray. Excuse me, I meant my colorist.