Wednesday, May 28, 2008

If you lived here, you'd be home by now.

I pass by this sign, nailed to an apartment complex on Fair Oaks Boulevard, and it hits me like a wet glove every time.

If you lived here, you'd be home by now.

I think about how I had never lived in a home that wasn't a rented one before I was married. Growing up and throughout young adulthood, I was a tenant. Never tethered anywhere for long, the only home I knew was my Grandmother's, my Bubbe's. Her home, a 1930's Spanish duplex was cool in the summer, warm in the winter and I spent many a night standing over the floor heating vents in my flammable nightgowns doing my best Marilyn Monroe imitation, not even knowing it. My grandmother's house, my grandmother, was home.

When Chris and I got married, we were already homeowners, having signed away what felt like our lives, the day of the rehearsal dinner. Our first home, a two bedroom, one bath and less than a thousand square feet was dollhouse cute. We furnished it with our first joint furniture purchase: a floor model couch and chair from the now-defunct Robinson's May department store. I remember waiting on the couch on the showroom floor, anxiously hoping Chris, on his way from work, would like it. It seemed so huge, us buying an actual couch, quite the upgrade from the futon we had been so used to.

That house, the Coloma house, was where we first learned how hard it is to take off wallpaper. Where we had our first really big fight. And really big make up. It was where we sat outside on a warm August night in our very own backyard and marveled at the fact it was our very own backyard. The ownership was binding and thrilling; we were giddy with the beginning, the monument of our life starting together.

We brought Reese, our first child, home from the hospital to that home, to that house. Chris, balancing the video camera on the dashboard, filmed the whole two-minute car ride and followed me and the car seat holding four-day old Reese up the stairs and into the house. We sat down, "now what?" the obvious question. Now what turned out to be wearing out those hardwood floors walking that little colicky baby up and down and around that little house again and again, memorizing all 964 square feet, passing by our room in green and then hers in bright pink and then through the kitchen with the old cabinets and vinyl flooring and out again to the living room.

We moved into our current house when Reese had just turned one and had her first real cold - a snotty, feverish affair. It was foggy and unforgivingly chilly and of course, our movers didn't show up. But, by the end of the day, we were in - 1625 square feet! FOUR bedrooms! TWO bathrooms! We languished in the space, using first this bathroom, then that one. Maybe we should talk in this room, or that one. Why don't we go into our FOURTH bedroom to chat? It was all just so criminally indulgent. I worried our friends might think we were stuck up now, all hoighty toighty with our big fatty of a house.

Then Finn came the two-minute car ride home - and moments later it seemed, took his first steps right here, trying to keep up with his sister. The two of them laid on our living room carpet, rolling around mugging for the camera. We had our morning dance party each day, all of us embarrassing ourselves terribly, never once thinking of stopping. It was here that Reese began her tradition of always kissing Finnie goodnight at naptime and bedtime, regardless of whatever trespasses occurred that day. It's where just this evening, Reese fed Finnie dinner with a baby spoon, something he hasn't let anyone do for months now. She fed him spoonful after spoonful, both of them giggling hopelessly, white rice and edamame flying everywhere, our two dogs eager to get in on the fun.

Yet, in the midst of all this wonderfulness, I have been thinking lately that we may need more house. Or maybe a house with a bit more growing space. More living space. A bigger yard. Maybe even a little office out back for me to write and dream. But if we found that house it wouldn't be this house. It wouldn't be where we brought home our babies. Where I passed out at eight o'clock for six weeks straight when I was pregnant. It won't be where we opened our wedding gifts or christened the bedrooms. It wouldn't be next door to Reese's best friend or surrounded by the best neighbors anywhere.

It is then that I think of the apartment house banner: if you lived here you'd be home by now and wonder to myself - when is enough enough? I wonder when sixteen hundred square feet or two thousand or ten thousand will be enough for our, for my, wandering attention span, my ever growing needs and wants. When will I just be able to live HERE, RIGHT NOW. Just to be in this house, this moment. Just be home and not be thinking of what might be around the corner.

I want to know: when will my tenant self unpack permanently and lose the mover's number. When will whatever we have be everything we need; will there be a day our square footage will fill the space in my heart perfectly, no cracks, no light seeping in, just our family, perfectly nested in just the place for us.

Knowing that as the world at large rocks with instability, with real need and hunger running rampant, I aim, just for today, to embrace our abundance, our unbelievable luck. This house of joy and happiness and laughter has been so good to us, all 1625 square feet of it. At this moment, as I look back on all that has happened here, it's never felt bigger.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Katherine Alysone.

You are not even one day old yet, Miss Kate.

The reason I know this is because I had the priviledge of being in the room when you were trying to make your way into the world.

Your mom and dad, good friends of ours, asked me to come and be there with them as they helped you out of your cozy little pod and out into the most wonderful of families.

Kate, I want you to know how much you were wanted and loved, right from the start.

Your Mama was so strong and brave and calm. She tried harder than I've ever seen anyone try anything to get you here. She never once complained; her effort, determination and pureness of heart were without compare, qualities that maybe already are there inside your tiny self, just waiting to be shown.

Your Daddy was this big, tall oak for your mom: his tenderness for her, his concern and love, was so big: stroking her hair, holding her hand, supporting her with all of his focus and attention. I'm sure his strength and kindness is running through your being as well, ready for the day you need it most.

One set of your grandparents were in the waiting room, thrilled and joyful, the first to see their son emerge from the operating room to announce your arrival, as triumphant as an Olympic gold medalist. Your other grandparents were at home with your big sister, Natalie, waiting for her to wake from her nap to come meet you, her new best friend and worst enemy, the one she will learn and grow from more than any other. Her first really big gift in life, next to your mom and dad: you.

So, as you probably figured, you didn't come out the way we all planned, but after a quick labor and and a quicker C-section, you did, in fact, come out. I saw you for about five minutes and I could already see you were special. You are perfect and as you can see from my story, you are loved without end.

Here's to a wonderful life, Katherine Alysone Stewart. The best is yet to be.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

For Reese, on her 13th birthday.

My sweet girl,

I don't know your thirteen year old self yet. I've only known your one, two, three and four year old selves. Thirteen: I don't know if you are wearing long skirts and high collars and then changing at school into tight pants and applying layers of body glitter and red lipstick. Maybe you are hiding behind thick glasses and braces and hanging out in the library. Or maybe, hopefully, you are somewhere in between, part fun, part serious, all you. I do know that no matter where you are, your heart, the heart that I know so well, is still beating strong inside that mysterious teenage self; your kind, tender core remaining, regardless of the clothes you wear over it.

I don't know if, at the all too confident age of thirteen, you now think I'm the stuffiest, dullest of women; one who simply doesn't get you. Maybe you don't want to be seen walking down the street holding my hand or god forbid, hugging me or being hugged.

So just in case, I want to tell you now, before I forget: once you were my biggest fan, my shadow, my own personal very small and mobile cheering section.

I want to tell you. And I want to remind myself. For there will come a day I may forget.

When you were just a girl of four, sweet Reese, I would put you down for bed at night and you would say to me with all the sincerity of a holy one:

YOU: Mama, you know why I love you the best, the most of anyone?

ME: Why angel?

YOU: Because I never had a mom before you. You are my first mom. And I will love you forever. You are going to be my mom until I'm 100.

ME: OK.

YOU: You'll be 100 and I'll be 100 too. I don't ever want to be without you.

So, Reese, on this day, on every day from now to 100, remember this - know that you saw me this way once. Remember on the day you get grounded for staying out too late or hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or mouthing off. Or picking on your brother. Remember this when you think I don't understand you or don't care the way you want me too. Remember this when I'm not the mother you wish I was. Remember that once, I was. I was everything you wanted.

I was exactly enough and you, you were everything.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Daddy's boy.

I admit it. Sometimes being the favorite is kind of nice.

For the past four and a half years, I've been my daughter Reese's favorite person (known around the house as F.P.) Don't get me wrong: she adores her father the way I only dreamed my daughter would. They read, they play ball, they dance and cook and tickle and are often partners in crime; I find them doubled over with laughter about something neither can articulate and when they do, I still don't get it. Nevertheless, when the chips are down, it's Mama that Reese wants and wants now.

Well, the tide is turning around here lately with Mr. Finn, my eighteen-month old son, who since birth seemed to like both of us just fine, thank you very much. It was always he/she who held the Sippy cup ruled Finn's day. Until recently, at least. That's when the Daddy bus pulled up front and center and continues to hold court full time. What do I mean, you ask?

Yesterday, Reese, Finn and I had to drop something off at Chris' work on the way to a fun kid thing we were doing; we pulled up in front of the office. When Finn saw his Dad it was like a tourist seeing a soap star walking down the streets of Santa Monica - shock, awe, joy radiated from his mega-watt, eight-tooth smile. He couldn't believe his good fortune.

We gave Chris what he needed and said our goodbyes, pulling away from the curb, Chris waving goodbye, knowing he will see us in just a few hours. Finn on the other hand, was already in mid-emotional flight, skyrocketing to the other end of the spectrum, sobbing, heaving with sadness and rage. Pulling at his car seat straps, tears and snot running freely, nothing I say to him in the least bit comforting.

It is then that I realize my little F.P., my little Finn Patrick, has his own F.P. - his own Favorite Person. And it's not me.

I have to tell you though, it's only a little bittersweet. Mostly it's just sweet. My heart fills for these two who have each other, for our family who is so lucky to like each other this much, during the moments we're not driving one another crazy. My heart fills just for the sake of filling I suppose, because I have them and together our cup is overflowing.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why I love my husband.

It's our anniversary today - six years since the day we stood underneath the trees and were announced man and wife by the fastest talking rabbi in the business. I think he may have been going for a record. Well, at least it wasn't a bris.

Anyway, of all the reasons Chris rocks, so many of them blow in and out through the day and I think to myself, wow what a guy, but then someone throws up or has to go to work and I forget to make a mental note about how absoulutely singular he is, how good he is at being my husband and these children's father. Like tonite. He's about to give a bath to Reese and she, true to form, is peeing before the bath, talking his ear off about this and that and this and that and since my child is a talker and I am working steps away from them, I am tuning it out, when I hear:

REESE: I wish I was a boy. Being a boy is funner.

CHRIS: What do you mean? Being a boy isn't more fun. Why do you think that?

REESE: Because boys get to pee standing up.

CHRIS: Well, it's not more fun to pee standing up. Girls can do anything boys can do. It's just as good to be a girl.

REESE: Really? Yeah, and girls can have babies.

CHRIS: See, girls can do even MORE than boys.

REESE: Maybe even it's BETTER to be a girl.

CHRIS: Nope, it's better to be whatever you are.


Need I say more. Six years with this makes me long for sixty six.

Happy anniversary baby.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Don't even think about it.

I know, I know, what is this two posts in one day thing?

I just couldn't resist sharing this tidbit.

Our little Westie dog, Logan got neutered a few days ago. He's been quite bummed since the procedure, certainly not helped by the embarrassing cone he has to wear on his head, because "even though most dogs don't do this, HE is a licker." So the punishment for licking, for which I assume the temptation is both strong and wholly understandable, is the cone. He is now Cone Dog. As such, his spatial sense is all out of whack and he keeps bumping into things: my leg, the door to the outside, my other dog, Rose's bum. Let's just say Logan will not be entering this week in his diary.

Before "the procedure" Logan was known to sleep in a very open way - on his back in his little bed, all four legs straight in the air, dowstairs package wide open for the world to see. He also has a prominent underbite in his sleep, further building the comical appeal of the whole display. Anyway, he has not assumed this position since the surgery, which I quite understand, considering the vulnerablity of such a move. Well today, I was walking past and there he was, flat on his back, legs splayed, not a care in the world. I decided to take a closer look at his incision while he was making it so easy, fulfilling my owner responsibility of checking the wound two to three times a day for infection. So there I am, inspecting said area, when I notice Logan is awake, eyes wide open, staring at me, his little stuffed toy dog behind his head, also staring at me and baring it's cotton teeth.

Step away from the package. Step away, please, says the real dog.

Step away from the dog's package, right now, says the stuffed dog, eyeballing me menacingly.

So I do.

The real dog, sweet Logan, resumes sleep, one leg sort of shielding his privates, protecting him from any further injustices, tongue sticking out, looking very much like he's giving me a raspberry. And well he should, I suppose.

The ultimate compliment.

We were outside yesterday afternoon, my kidlets and I, doing what you do in one-hundred degree heat with two small children and no pool: you turn on the hose and let the fun begin.

Reese in her brown swimsuit with the polka dots and Finn in his tractor T-shirt and swimshorts cavorted in that sprinkler spray like they were in the tropics. Both of these children are water fiends, their idea of a good time letting the outside faucet run and filling watering cans and buckets to the brim, using the contents to water the yard, each other, and often their own heads. While it may not be the most conservationist move we've made, it is cheap and fun entertainment.

So with this added sprinkler feature, the happiness of simply filling buckets was replaced by the sheer joy of running through the spray; whole body immersion now possible. Finn stood straight in the outpour, being pelted by water pellets, his body vibrating with happiness, eyes closed, smile permanently fixed to that gorgous little face. A shayna punem, my grandmother would say, a beautiful face on this one.

Part of his absolute, knock-your-diaper-off delight was watching Reese running through the sprinkler like it was spraying chocolate. Her giggles bounced off every corner of the yard; more than just infectious, they remind you of every giggle you've ever had, the good ones that come in waves, where you just can't stop no matter how hard you try.

In the middle of all this, I am sitting on the steps, feet in the water, all mama-bear; keeping an eye out for hoses that might trip or bugs that might sting or anything else that might ruin the fun. I spy Reese whispering something to Finn. He is listening intently. She whispers again.

"What are you whispering about, Reese," I ask, not ready to be left out of the fun.

"I'm telling Finnie a secret and I'll tell you too, Mama."

She runs over to me, feet splashing through the water, her wet hand cupping her mouth close to my ear.

"I told Finnie he can come to my birthday party and you can too."

She squeals, pulling back from me, water droplets like crystals in her hair. She searches my face for understanding. Do I get that this is the highest praise, the "I LOVE YOU" in skywriting, the bouquet of roses at my feet?

I do. I am not trying to do anything else right then. I am not trying to make dinner or change a diaper or talk on the phone. I am right here and I see what she is offering and I take it, her damp swimsuit pressed up against me, arms around my neck. I let her hold on tight, until she's ready to let go.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The view from here.

I'm sitting at my Mother's Day present, which is a day at the spa, starting with lunch, don't hold the curly fries, please. I am one at a table for two and it's me and Jhumpa Lahiri's first collection of stories and I just can't think of any place I'd rather be. After curly fries there will be a massage and a facial and then home to the fam for a BBQ and darn it if life just can't get any better than that.

Anyway, the view from my table is of a group of ladies having a baby shower for a second baby 's arrival in a family. I can tell because the shower is small and subdued, everyone passing around pictures of their kids and looking tired and happy to be eating bread that no one has taken a bite out of before them. They are a bit older. A bit wiser than your average baby shower crowd. There are no games, just gleeful, interruption-free conversation.

The view from their table is of the wall-length glass that separates the restaurant area of the resort from the resorty-area of the resort. The glass reveals a long hallway of sorts. From the baby shower table they can see a young couple taking their wedding pictures on the way to the ceremony. The bride is, of course, lovely with long dark hair and a young groom on her left who holds her train uncertainly, but with great kindness and effort. The couple smiles at the photographer and at one another. They do not see the women at the table having the baby shower. They do not see me seeing the women seeing them. It is as though it is a one way mirror this window between us; us with a view into our past, them with no view at all, except the one into the camera, into the unknown.

The women talk of sleeping schedules and not sleeping and birthday parties and whether or not boys should be invited to tea parties. It is the talk of women who have not debated the colors of bridesmaid dresses in quite some time. Or cakes. Women who can't remember dreaming of honeymoon locations. It is the talk of reality, and in listening to them, seeing the couple muted through the glass before me, I feel the distance between these phases of life. Between marriage and babies, it seems the miles are growing.

I wonder, as these women look on at the life forming in front of them, if they are reminiscing, reflecting back on their big day, their gown, their groom. I think they might be and I think it is with an experienced glaze over the memories, their skepticism, the skepticism of real marital life hanging over them like cartoon bubbles. If you could read them, they would say:

"Wait till you see how he NEVER takes out the trash on trash night."

"Enjoy that size 2 now honey. You are never seeing that again."

"Enjoy the honeymoon kids. It's about to be over."

The bubbles waft around the room and I look at them and wonder why the moment the ceremony is over, the biggest ceremony of our lives, the committment to a life together, why the romance of all the days before needs to be shut out and forgotten. We are urged to move on the "next." The next whatever: house, kid, boat, job, etc. The giddy moments before the vows, erupting into the air like earnest confetti, are gone. Perhaps it is too much to wish for: to have, to hold, for now and for always. For better and for worse. In good times and in bad.

Perhaps it is too much to wish for.

Perhaps it is easier to laugh it off. To think it impossible. To lose ourselves in babies and real estate and RV's and big screen TV's.

But I think of the other night, when I came home late and got into bed, still wearing all my clothes and Chris folded me in his arms, never once asking what I was doing, only holding me warmly, not letting go.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Reese-isms.

That girl of mine, she is a funny bunny.

Just in the last few days, I've taken to writing down her especially good ones.

Good one #1:

I had told Reese that this year, she and her little brother will be having home birthday parties. We are on an "off" year, having decided after last year's one-year old fifty-person hoopla for Finn followed closely by Reese's four-year old Pump It Up party-rama that we will be having big parties only every OTHER year. This builds in at least one year of recovery time for my nerves, probably not nearly enough. Anyway, we've explained to Reese that on the "off" years, there will be a small celebration at home with as many guests as the birthday kid has years under their belt.

Reese, contemplating the upcoming passing of being four and a half, commented:

"So, at my party, I can have four and half guests, right?"

I'm still envisioning Reese with her four friends and maybe one midget four-year old. I mean, little person four-year old.


Good one #2:

Reese is not fond of people in costumes where you can't see their faces. Which, I suppose, is perfectly understandable. This includes Chuck E. Cheese, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, the Sacramento Kings lion mascot and the Sacramento River Cats River Cat. Whatever that is.

Anyway, I've been trying to work her through this fear over the last few years and yesterday, as we were sitting watching a Wiggles video, she was asking yet again about the Wiggles sidekicks, Wags the Dog and Dorothy the Dinosaur - characters who prance around in big foam suits.

"Reese, those are animals with people inside them. The animal part is just a costume. There are people inside there, " I said, trying to diminish her anxiety.

She sat thinking for a moment. I guess she was thinking of our two dogs, Rose and Logan, because then she said, with a completely straight face:

"So, are there people inside Rose and Logan?"



Good one #3:

My kids get up at the crack of dawn every day.

For years, I fought this. Now, I just try to get some work done before their little internal early morning clocks go off.

The other day, Chris was already at the gym and I was working on my laptop in bed when Reese stumbled in at around 6 a.m. and crawled in next to me, all warm and sleepy.

"Why are you always on your computer?" she asked me semi-accusingly, as though she'd caught me eating a gallon of Chunky Monkey without her.

"Because Mama decided not to go in the office anymore so I can be with you and Brother more. So now this (gesturing to my computer) is my office," I said, all therapeutic and zen-like.

"I don’t want your bed to be your office. I want your bed to be your bed."

I laughed and then pushed the laptop to the side, gathering her to me, her head on my chest, heart on my heart. We stared off together, quiet, the light of the computer the only one in the room.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The more things change.

There's a girl of thirteen who hangs out at the park I take my kids to. It's a little kid park and if big kids stop by it's usually to look cool with their buddies, talk on their phones and split. This girl does not split. And she does not hang out with friends. She is usually alone, save for a small dog that sometimes accompanies her. She is also on the heavier side, with a beautiful face and shiny brown hair.

We got to talking the other day, her swinging on the swing next to my four-year old. She was telling me about her school, one that goes from Kindergarten straight through eighth grade. She's about to finish her sixth grade year there and she wishes she could transfer to a regular junior high in the fall, somewhere she could get a fresh start. She says if she stays where she is, she will be friendless, which the way she says it, sounds exactly like lifeless, which I suppose is what she meant.

She tells me she only has a few friends, most of them boys, that one of them has dandruff and doesn't realize how truly bottom rung he is, unlike her. She says she's about two steps up from Dandruff Boy.

"At least the popular kids talk to me," she says, half-bragging, dragging her toes in the sand as she swings, altitude not her objective.

When I came home that day with my two little ones in tow, I have to say, this girl stayed on my mind. I realized it'll soon be twenty-five years since I too was a friendless thirteen-year old, not to mention scrawny and frizzy haired and flat chested to boot. I had one friend and I clung to her and she to me, our lifeboat of two on a sea of acne and insecurity. We had each other at least, braving the "Sportsnights" which were school dances where we didn't dance and no sports actually occured, except for maybe the game where everybody tries to get in everybody else's pants. Purely a spectator sport for us, our pants completely secure.

I don't forget about the girl that I was, the big geek inside me who is still shy and awkward at times, though no longer frizzy or flatchested, and rarely pimply. What I do forget is that the insecurity, the Breakfast Club-type typecasting that occurs throughout puberty and beyond, is still happening. I get caught up in the iPhones and the texting and the technology of this next generation and forget that technology does not shield these young ones from the pain of being human, of being a human in progress, finding her way in the world. Twenty-five years ago we did not have Facebook or cell phones or GPS or AOL. But we had nerds and geeks and goths and gamers and jocks and prom queens. And now, we have it all: the agony of growing up and the ability to communicate that agony, or hide from it, faster than ever.

As much as that reminder was a big, wet rain on my parade of a good life with my sweet little family, it was also good. Because I realized even though I had my first child at thirty-three, when she is thirteen I will not be clueless as to what she is going through. Even as she is complaining about how her jet pack is so last year or her hydrogen bike is the laughingstock of the seventh grade, I will get it. I will know that as much as technology solves every problem humans face, it will never solve the problem of being human.

For this, I am grateful.

Mostly because I am here, writing this and not sitting on the park swing with my toes in the sand.