party in the u.s.a.

“Is there a reason the cat is eating frozen peas off the living room floor?” my husband asks me this afternoon.

Now before I answer that, first off, it’s endearing he says “the cat”, sort of casual as if we have one, as if our life isn’t sort of a constant Feline Shame Parade and it could be any staggering leggy fleabitten beast in any state of disarray doing Lord Knows What. And of course he’s not even accusing me much, his voice is almost mild and vaguely sedated, he’s been a daddy for many years now and is used to Whatever Is Going On (or has he puts it a minute later, “Clown House”, while doing a funny penguin walk) and that he might come home to total Chaos or Preternatural Domestic Calm and it’s really anyone’s guess as to which one, wheeee!

And actually there is a reason. For the peas. But before I get to that it’s confusing Ralph is even here at 2:30 PM (turns out he needed to pick up something at home then head back to work), and now what is really troubling me is how I’m going to relate the fact that we’d made a little run to the recycled clothing shop (hat for Nels) and the bookstore (Christmas book for Phoenix, shhh!) then stopped at the little charity shop where I donate my well-organized sewing scraps (they love us there!), and the proprietress at this latter venture gave my children these tiny little noisemakers that play incessant tinny Christmas tunes, and I was thinking it’s funny one kindness many grownups show small children is to give them either candy or noisemakers, and I don’t really think they’re being sadistic haw haw, just sweet (and it is sweet!), and it was kind of funny how the kids were playing these horrid things when we got coffee at the diner and I’d thought it might annoy customers but the two people sitting closest to us were profoundly deaf (for real), so a few minutes later we’d pulled up at home and I was going out of my mind with the repetitive Christmas carol MIDI crap and I leaned down in the car to rescue the box I’d carried my fabric scraps in from the footwell and I’d brought my arm up just as Nels leaned down to help me and the corner of the box caught him right in the eye and he howled in anger and I realized this was the first time (I think) I’d ever hurt him like this and quick as a flash I got him inside and wet a dishtowel and wrapped it around a few frozen peas in a plastic bag and set him on the couch and Phoenix entertained him on YouTube for a few minutes while I put away groceries and went pee and hopped on the computer and –

I guess the bag, you know the one with the peas, it had a hole in it.

Despite odd and weird and disconcerting mini-drama (due to our quick action Nels barely has a scratch evidenced) it’s been a good day. Over coffee I asked my mom for a loan to buy fabric for Christmas sewing and – gasp! – sewing for myself. Tonight we have a friend over for a sleepover and after the girls took an adventure (“We’re going to play in a ditch,” Phoenix informed me airily) we cleaned up and visited the gallery for their Winter Christmas Show (where we met new people and the kids made a straight beeline for the appetizers). Back home I slogged away at some sewing (a baby bunting, exactly no one is surprised) while Ralph made dinner (turkey meatballs over fettucine with almond pesto, salad with butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, carrot and cuke, and lemon broccoli) and then we bathed the kids and I folded all the laundry and some of the cats rolled around in ecstasy –

warm house, yule tree, friends, red wine, B-movie, blankets and soft laughter.


don’t look under that giant woolen hat – for about four days

I am notoriously bad at “people math” – that is, if we have one guest over I suddenly don’t know how many plates to set out for dinner. So you can imagine the fact that today starting at about 6:30 AM I’m taking four extra children (three from one friend for most of the day; a regular Tuesday three-hour gig with my friend’s daughter E.) and farming out one of my own children (Suse, to school) means that at this very moment I’m not sure how many children I’m taking care of (OK, it’s four now since E. just left).

But I also knew the real dealbreaker would be the 9 month old. I can handle a passel of toddler / preschoolers pretty good but babies – the care of a baby immediately sets you back to this odd formula that is both simple but easily missed. Baby crying inconsolably? You try everything and then you go back to the check-the-diaper and try-to-feed-it ritual, even if you just changed a diaper, even if you just fed them. What’s amazing is how much diaper you change; I forgot about that (two Poo Specials by 8 AM). You also pray for a nap (literally, honest-to-God pray) and tell yourself you’ll rest while they nap but then don’t.

Five minutes ago I finally got the rather sad, very full, completely dry baby sporting a large, quarter-shaped shiny spot on his forehead from either a burn or rug-burn (yes, and I wish I could say I was joking but he did get injured on my watch – I think I’ll spend the afternoon finding and kicking puppies, just to make myself feel better). And don’t think little baby T. isn’t surrounded by as many blanket retaining walls as I could muster! The older three are playing in the living room nicely, I’m listening to Elvis and about to wash dishes – again (I’ve made ten meals so far today! not including the breakfast enchiladas I scarfed for myself). Most of the way through my shift and we’re all safe and (relatively) sound.

The oldest four in my crew are phenomenally well-behaved, sweet children which goes a long way to making the day an enjoyable one. Even amongst the phenomenal task of dressing six people for a walk in our cold sunshine we get these great teaching moments: before embarking for a treasured destination I ask these four, “What happens if we get walking and T. starts crying and crying and crying?” A., the oldest in my flock today says, “We’ll stop to nurse.” Four pairs of child’s eyes beam their headlights on me in silent query and I laugh and say, “Do you think I can do that?” “No but look,” says A., “You trick T. by putting him against you like this and then give him his binkee.” “You know, that is a great idea,” I tell her, “but it doesn’t work – it actually makes him mad. Great thinking though!” How smart are these wee ones?

People that do what I do every day for a job? They deserve more compensation than they get paid, and a lot more accolades for their work. P.S. it took me a full ten seconds to think of the word “accolades” because having a baby also makes you temporarily mentally disabled, apparently when you’re not even sporting nursing hormones.

oh yeah, about that.

It would be untrue to say the reason I didn’t respond to Chris’ IMs – 2:12 PM through 2:24 PM – was due to “the largest poop event I’ve had to deal with in my life.” The truth is, it’s more like the biggest event for about a year. It really did come abruptly and without warning. Nels called me in the bathroom and – well, he was trying to take care of things himself and failed. As I ran a bath and cleaned the bathroom he said, “I’m sorry, Mama. Thank you for cleaning up the mess,” but I told him the truth is, the whole thing was so out of nowhere and impressive I was amazed. I wasn’t even mad.

No, what surprises me is how easily it was for me to go from being used to dealing with someone else’s poop – on demand, at any time day or night – to being so, so blissfully happy and used to not having to do so at all after less than a year of reprieve. It seems one’s default state of humanity is to not have to clean up excrement on a regular basis. Interesting.

A few minutes later, post-bath, he wraps the towel around him and strolls into his sister’s room to select his wardrobe (his latest fad is dressing in sister-drag). After a selection from head to foot Sophie I tell him we have to head out to the van to go grab The Girl from school. Nels descends the steps and grabs at the back of his dress (actually his favorite rugby knit casual frock over a Mary Kate and Ashley full white skirt serving as a petticoat – he’s the prettiest girl at the ball) and I ask what’s up and he says in surprise, “My underwear!” Because of course, it isn’t his underwear, it’s his sister’s. And apparently a set of boy tackle – even a miniature set – disrupts the fit significantly.

Speaking of Nels’ garb, I found out I have only six days to get his little Christmas velveteen suit sewn up in time for the Christmas program. Time to get on it!

dear neighbor, sorry about the public urination

I don’t think I have that hectic of a life. I mean I only have two children and we only have one paying job and I don’t take my kids to a million soccer games nor volunteer hours and hours at a church.

However there are just some moments that get the best of me. Like today when after a vet visit where I got financially bamboozled and I’m trying to get the cat inside and put away the various coats and medications and cat-carrier and helping Sophie take our shoes off on the porch and after getting things settled inside when I go out to the van to retrieve Nels (who’s been roaming freely and playing inside it as I sort out the rest of our business) and he has stripped down entirely naked, climbed on the passenger seat, opened the van door, aimed and peed outside (mostly; some got on the footboard) in an (entirely successful) attempt to not pee his pants.

I am, however, impressed with his ingenuity and coordination. I’m not sure why he had to take his shirt and socks off to perform this maneuver. Nor why he had to do it in front of our mailman Charlie and Tom the Maintenance Man, either.

In other news: Tom the Maintenance Man is done with our fence. I have to think of something to put back there that will occupy the kids for hours and hours.

"complete and total Barf-O-Rama"

Last night was a small slice of hell. Our two children both awoke vomiting at about 1 AM. It continued through the night. As Ralph and I dealt with this drama we got in an argument. Because of course! What else do we need. After about forty-five solid minutes of vomit detail Ralph and Nels went back to bed and I spent until 4:30 AM up with my daughter, cleaning bedding, giving her a bath, helping her vomit, and trying (successfully) not to cry. About every thirty minutes thereafter Sophie and I slept-talked through her illness; she would fidget, I’d say, “Do you have to puke?” and her voice would come back crystal-clear and small and precise and duck-like: “Not quite yet.” Then she’d say, “Mama, I have to puke,” and I’d whisk her over to the floor where her vassal awaits. After she was done I’d wipe her mouth and go flush and rinse the barf-tub. Rinse and repeat, all night. Surprisingly, I really did sleep pretty well once we got this rhythm down.

And this morning while Sophie continues to dry-heave on the hour, Nels so far has not thrown up since last night. This makes the amount of times he’s vomited in his lifetime, um… once? That boy keeps stuff down.

The amount of foul-smelling laundry, bedding, towels and clothes I have this morning is overwhelming. And here I am with my son on my lap typing and smelling puke in his hair and hoping to God I don’t get whatever it is they got. We have company coming over for the weekend – one of my best friends, her daughter, and their two dogs. Needless to say my guest preparations are set back a bit (I did disclose to my friend).

Readers, if you’re even reading this far, I have two sick kids and a lot of vomit and am feeling very alone.

three things.

My house is a farkin’ mess. I can’t clean it. It’s full of boxes and packed and soon-to-be-packed items. We’re leaving in eight days.

My husband is downstairs playing “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam. What he can’t know is that this song will always and inexorably take me back to the summer after my senior year in high school.

This morning after a more-than-usual hectic routine – where I was hounding my children for not getting dressed fast enough, not eating their breakfasts properly – Sophie looked up at me as I distractedly buttoned her coat and tearfully said, “Mama, you’re giving me and Nels the balls.”

every which way

Today I am distracted, frenetic, lazy, and sad.

I am distracted and frenetic because I don’t know how to tackle my many, many to-do list items for our move. People ask the harmless and sweet question, “Are you packing up yet?” to which I think, Holy shit, am I supposed to? I mean, how I do I pack a couch I sit on every day, or clothes I wear? Yet the inevitable fact looms: in just a few days this stuff has to go in one truck and I can’t even imagine it.

I am lazy because in some way, my confused activity has resulted in a decidedly non-efficient use of my time. Here’s the problem: I know that if I tick off my “to do” list, methodically, stuff will get done. But how can I focus on one “to do” item at a time? No, so much easier to run about my house, hands flopping uselessly in front of me and making “pfft! pfft!” sounds with my mouth.

I am sad because I really miss Fancy our cat and would like to have her home.

I have to hand it to single parents and dual-working parents. Today I got just a taste of the kind of shuffle that must be part of their life. This afternoon my lovely friend Sara babysat my two children for a couple hours and this evening my friends the Creccas babysat my boy for dinner (so Ralph and Sophie could do their swimming lesson). The amount of shuffle-shuffle, do-you-have-a-carseat?, remembering details of who went pee and who’s been fed, do-you-have-Sophie’s swimsuit? – Holy shit. I think I’ll keep my quaint and relatively measured SAHM gig. For now.

where love and hate collide, or at least kind of co-exist in a gooey way

No school today. Mid-morning I ventured out into the world with the kids for errands. First it was steamed milk for the kids and placing an order for some TV I’ve decided I can’t live without – both down at the downtown record store Quimper Sound. Then – since we need shampoo, and I’m interested in a natural-bristle hairbrush for my daughter’s soft, beautifully fine hair – we hit a health store uptown in hopes of getting both.

In case it isn’t abundantly clear from, you know, reading about my life: it isn’t easy to shop with two little kids. Sometimes both of them are angels and they carry my parcels and people smile at them and there is soft tender music playing presenting a facade of control and ease in my life. But usually at least one of them (guess which one) is slightly less “well-behaved” and more like, “let me fuck with everything with my many arms like Vishnu.” * Sometimes they both give me the bollucks and in those cases a essential part of my non-reptilian brain is glad the public frowns on corporeal punishment. Yet – it isn’t legal (or smart) to leave them in the car while I hit these shops full of knicknacks and snooty fellow shoppers. So my solution, Port Townsend historical-district shopkeeps, is to attempt to actually support your fat, saucy asses with my money and WITH my kids in tow and talk to them before the shop, begging for them to behave, and do the best I can.

Today’s shopkeep is an odd person anyhow who I have not enjoyed patronizing in the past. But I’m going to chalk it up to personality differences, what the hell. From the second I walk in she seems instantly pissed I have kids in the shop at all. I ask for help; she answers my question curtly and then darts around the aisle end-cap where my son Nels is running around with some sort of “woman’s product” (tea, vitamins, Menstru-Lert, I can’t tell – all I know is it’s non-breakable and he’s happy to carry it in lieu of touching other things). I hear her querying him with that “anxious shopkeep” tone (i.e. “hinty”): “Do you know where you got that box from?” she asks my 2 1/2 year old. And I’m thinking, It’s your fucking store, isn’t it? Apparently she’s hoping he will literally stand in the middle of the aisle doing nothing with folded hands. I give in to her (unspoken) preferences and pick The Boy up to continue shopping thus hampered.

I find one item I’m looking for and put it on the counter by the register since I can’t easily carry items and hold my youngest (who is has now morphed into a less benevolent supernatural entity). He wiggles and asks to be let down but I grimly hang on and go back to the shelves. The shopkeep bags the item and rings it up on the cash register, even though I am not finished browsing the shelves. She stands and watches me, clearly vibing, “Pay up and get the fuck out.” (please note – there is not one other customer in the store). In hindsight, what I wish I would have done, was to leave without buying anything – to give up the ghost on the shopping trip and the unfriendly shopkeep. But no – I doggedly search for shampoo (mmm), find it, and return to the counter to ask about hairbrushes. They only have two, she shows me. She doesn’t know if they’d work for my daughter. She doesn’t know where else to find one in town. She isn’t going to order any more. I give up and ask her to ring me up, setting Nels on the counter. She gasps and dives for his hand when he attempts to touch – a pen. That’s it. I’ve decided: Fucking bitch. I start writing the check (about thirty-some bucks) and with every movement of my pen I feel more and more sluggish about paying and I do not want to give this business my money.

Normally – normally! – I would either take up the issue with her right that minute, or write a tactful but direct letter requesting their policy on treatment for caregivers with young children. But I am just too damn tired of this vibe from her and others like her. I am just not going to shop there any more. And that’s fine.

Oh – and for what it’s worth? Many, many places in town have excellent customer service and will attempt to help both you and your child(ren) in your shopping experience. Abovementioned Quimper Sound being one – which is why I buy as many things there as fit my needs.

I made a “love song” mix CD for a friend expecting a baby. Here it is:

1 Neverending / Damien Jurado and Gathered In Song
2 Fell In Love At 22 / Star Flyer 59
3 Hello Love / The Be Good Tanyas
4 Sea And The Rhythm / Iron & Wine
5 La Petite Fille de la Mer / Vangelis
6 Baby, I Love You / The Ronettes
7 You Love Me / Devotchka
8 Between The Bars / Madeleine Peyroux
9 History Of Lovers / Iron & Wine / Calexico
10 Always See Your Face / Love
11 My Beloved Monster / Eels
12 From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea) / The Decemberists
13 All Is Full Of Love / Björk
14 Love Story / Harry Nilsson
15 A Love That Will Never Grow Old / Emmylou Harris
16 Love You / Sondre Lerche
17 Love Me Tonight / Tom Jones
18 Stable Song / Death Cab For Cutie
19 Take Off Your Cool (Featuring Norah Jones) / Outkast

* Actual photograph of Nels in the shop today.

power up!

Port Townsend’s Windstorm 2006 has abated for the time being. Last night after our dinner out we ventured to the store for candles and matches. Then home to our dark house to pack soap, shampoo, towels and pajamas for showers down at the Boat Haven. I took a lovely 4 1/2 minutes (three $0.25 worth) of hot water while my naked daughter stamped and splashed. After we were clean I sat in the heated shower stall bench and combed out my daughter’s freshly-washed fine tangles and realized how very, very comforting it is for me to bathe or shower. I bundled her in her pajamas, socks, rain boots, a hoody of mine to cover her wet head, and her winter coat over all. We ran out to the van to join the boys, also freshly scrubbed.

Home and time for many candles, coloring books, piles of blankets. I set aside some laundry to take to the laundromat should our power still be out in the morning. But at about 10:30 PM the fellows from the power company arrived across the street; two cherry-pickers and a spotlight truck. They remove the offending tree limb and saw it in huge chunks; pieces fall and bang on the mailboxes below (nailing Cynthia and BJs but missing ours by happenstance). We watch the workers brave the storm and cold. At midnight or so our bedroom light clicks on; my husband and children shout, “Thank you! Goodbye!” out the window to the departing trucks.

To bed late, my daughter nestled against me as I read a few chapters of my latest book. Then finally sleep for us all; a nightlight glows in the hall. The small economy of light is comforting for what we briefly lost.

and the wind whispers…

Today at about 10:45 AM my life changed temporarily by a modest, but definite, shift. I was standing in my kitchen having tea with my neighbor Cynthia when we heard this horrific BOOM! and a flash of blue light. Just across the street from my house an aging madrona had given up it’s spirit in the wind and broke a line.

My son is the first to alert us that our power has failed; he sets up a cry that his computer game is no longer operational. Cynthia calls the power company to let them know. My house seems suddenly depressed, less welcoming. The heat I’d smartly garnered for our day in seems now to be only reserves of warmth. We decide within minutes to head out, the four of us, for pizza and a coffee.

Upon our return the power is still out and although it is only about two o’clock the light is fading a bit. I pile blanket after blanket on my bed. I read a book, I put my my children to bed, and I join my oldest and soon grow drowsy myself. We sleep hours, only interrupted once when my son leaves his bed and joins Sophie and I.

At five my children and I awake and my husband is home. He calls a family meeting, and in the light of the few meager candles we have we discuss our options. At first Ralph is unsure if we can sleep here; it is very cold in the house. We decide to eat dinner at a local restaurant and invite our neighbor along as well. Maybe hunt for some hot showers for tonight, then sleep all together for warmth.

At 5:30 Ralph and Sophie leave to run bank errands while Nels and I get dressed. He follows me around the house as I carry a wine bottle with candle; his hands touch me in the mean flickering light and he is a tiny sattelite of trust. Recognizing the temperature problems, I dress in a not-too-sexy combo of overalls with yoga pants underneath. I know if I get cold tonight I won’t easily get warm again.

For now, off to our dinner with our neighbor. And then off for our night’s adventures.