I’ve Been Thinking About the Brady Bunch

Look, it's smiling! Oh, no it's not--it's just a robot.

Look, it’s smiling! Oh, no it’s not–it’s just a robot.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about judgment lately. About how, usually, the one who stands in judgment doesn’t think he (or she) is judging. They just know they’re right. I didn’t learn this until as a freshman in college I read a book called The Children of Pride, which contained transcripts of letters written by Confederate civilians during the American Civil War, so certain that they would win it, because they knew that God was on their side. 

I’ve been thinking about the limits of knowledge. About how a person who knows nothing about, for example, Tarot cards might be fearful of them because they believe someone who consults them might make a life-altering decision based on a picture on a card. About how a person who knows nothing about them could not possibly know that they are often used to stimulate thought in a direction it might not otherwise go, like the daily WordPress cue for a blog topic, or to offer perspective–like, for me, getting on an airplane and looking out an oval porthole that shows the world I know from ten thousand feet off the ground, reminding me of the vast Sonoran Desert, the barren Indian reservations, the wideness of space beyond my kitchen sink filled with yesterday’s dishes.

I’ve been thinking about trust. When I was nine or ten years old, a neighbor found some drunk from the harborside bar down the street asleep on her couch, and we started locking the front door. I remember my mother talking about burglars and murderers. I remember picturing the steak knives in the kitchen cupboard, which was unlocked, and wondering why we, the ones behind the locked door together with all those steak knives, weren’t afraid of each other. After some thought, I concluded that we trusted each other because it was in our best interest, both individually and as a group, not to hurt each other. We trusted each other also because there was no history in our immediate family of anyone knifing anything other than a T-bone. We trusted one another to be rational. “Rationality is not universal,” writes Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. “Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it.” Whether you love or hate Ayn Rand, you have to concede her an extreme clarity of thought, and anyone who’s ever lived with a four-year-old knows these words ring true. But to accuse an adult of acting irrationally is to pass a grave sentence. It assumes that you have access to all relevant information. And that you recognize what is relevant. It denies the accused a chance to explain themselves based on logic because it renders their premise crazy. It may say more about your lack of knowledge than their lack of rationale. Ayn Rand also famously wrote, “Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

I’ve been thinking of acceptance. About accepting the things we do not understand, and of recognizing the things that are not ours to change.

I’ve been thinking lately about strength. About how sometimes the stronger someone is, the greater the burden they can bear and the more quietly they can tolerate it and the longer they can endure. And the more surprised and indignant others are when they say, at last, “Enough.”

I’ve been thinking about times of hardship. How historically, during plagues or famines, a social group turns on one individual, or a small group of individuals–who are different from the rest, to persecute them for not following certain conventions of society, certain rules. Consider medieval witch trials, during which intelligent women, often women who were healers using herbs the medicinal properties of which the community did not grasp, were burned or drowned.

I’ve been thinking about times of need. My mother once told me–when her children, jokingly, pressed her to choose her favorite among us, “My favorite child is the one who needs me most at any given time.” I’ve always loved that answer and now, as a mother, I am learning that I cannot always know which of my children needs me most at any given time. It is not always the one who comes whining to me. 

I’ve been thinking about the Brady Bunch. About how they are not real. They are on TV. They are two-dimensional and never to go to the bathroom.

 

(And no, Husbot, if you are reading this, this is not about you. ;> )

Goodbye, Junebug

June, 2001 (copyright

June in 2001

Yesterday we said goodbye to Junebug.

Since I picked her in 2001 from among sixty inmates at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, where she’d been living for twelve months, we never really knew how old she was. According to the lady at the shelter, the scrawny black and white dog was one or two when she’d arrived, which would make her fourteen or fifteen this year.

Friends and I in Idaho’s Wood River Valley joked that she was a genuine Wood River Retriever. The product of ne’er-do-well parents sporting substantial doses of Labrador and Border Collie in their questionable pedigrees, these middle-sized, athletic, poorly trained hounds are ubiquitous in the Valley. The B.C./Lab mix gave Junebug webbed toes, an unquenchable desire to run far, far away, and a dense, fluffy undercoat protected by a long, oily topcoat, with which she performed Olympian feats of shedding.

Junie was as strange a dog as her appearance suggests, by turns cripplingly empathetic and discouragingly aloof. In spite of her flipper-like feet and waterproof coat, she did not like to swim. Instead, she preferred to wade, and after our first month as a team, during which together we watched dozens of tennis balls bob downstream and out of sight, she finally succeeded in training me not to throw tennis balls.

But if I demonstrated undue optimism in the early days, I wasn’t alone. Every morning she woke up knowing that this–this!–would be the day that she would finally catch a squirrel.

She chased cats (although it’s important to note that not once did she chase Tesserwell), and she chased foxes, but her quarry of choice was the squirrel. Idaho, where she spent her first seven years, is ideal for such pursuit, boasting thirteen species of ground squirrel. All of them were faster than June.

This morning, teary-eyed while tying his sneakers, Mbot asked me to tell another Junie story. “Juniebug woke up every morning,” I began, “knowing–just knowing!–that that day would be the day she caught a squirrel.” I zipped the bots into sweatshirts and we shuffled over the new Bermuda grass, glowing green around our shoes, to the car. “But she never did.”

“Never ever?”

“Well, there was one time….We were housesitting at Nanny and Poppy’s. Now, you know how Nanny and Poppy don’t like the smell of onions, right? For some reason I can’t remember now, I had one with me, and put it on top of my car overnight instead of bringing it inside. Then I did some gardening at Nanny and Poppy’s and Junie spent the morning racing around in the grass and woods after squirrels. Now, Junie was fast–fast as a cheetah on the African plains. But not as fast as a squirrel.

“Well, just as I was getting ready to get in the car and go home, Juniebug prances up to me, and by jigger if she wasn’t carrying a squirrel in her mouth. Oh, she was so pleased with herself! She was prancing and dancing. Can you imagine Junie prancing and dancing? I, on the other paw, was horrified. By the look of the squirrel, it had probably been dead for a day. That would explain why it was so stiff, and also why it couldn’t outrun Junie. I took it out of her mouth–she didn’t care, she was still dancing and prancing with glee to finally get a taste of squirrel–it tasted just like candy to her–Squirrel Skittles, and Squirrel Duds–and I put it on top of the car next to the onion.

“Then I went to get a bag to put it in. I didn’t want it stinking up Nanny and Poppy’s garbage. But I got distracted, and forgot about it, and finished up the gardening, and called Juniebugs out of the trees, where she was looking to double her score, and she leaped into the back of the car–can you imagine Juniebugs leaping? Just like a gazelle on the African plains. And we drove home.

“And out on the road, I said to Junie, ‘I must look awfully lovely today! Everyone we pass is looking at us. Aren’t we a couple of beautiful girls?’ And it was true: heads were turning on the highway the whole drive home.

“And then we got home. I climbed out of the car and Junie jumped out and sat looking at the car. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘It’s time to go inside.’ But she just sat looking past me, and so I turned around, and what did I see? There on the top of the car were the onion and the squirrel. I had driven all the way home with an onion and a dead squirrel on top of my car! Everyone we passed must have thought I was going to make squirrel soup. Junebug particularly wanted me to, because after all it was the first squirrel she’d ever caught. Oh, that was a happy day for Junebug!”

By that time, we’d reached school. We bundled out of the car, navigated the parking lot holding hands, hugged and kissed goodbye, Junie temporarily forgotten in pursuit of the day.

I have told the bots that we need to be thankful that Junebug was part of our family. I can’t with a clear conscious tell them that she went to heaven. Unless heaven is our collective consciousness, the narrative through which we navigate past and present and future, as real and powerful and invisible as oxygen or gravity. We’ll tell Junebug stories.

And so Junie’s having a good day, today, chasing squirrels, and catching them.

Nope, no squirrel here any more....

Nope, no squirrel here any more….

A Small, Irritating Raccoon Celebrates Father’s Day

So, here is a confession: the Andrews family crest is headed by a small, irritating raccoon.

The small, irritating raccoon can even irritate another inanimate object.

The small, irritating raccoon can even irritate another inanimate object.

A small, irritating raccoon made from cotton pompoms, holding a pompom apple, both apple and raccoon circa 1975.

A small, irritating, inanimate raccoon by the name of Superpeeky.

There are actually two of him. Different generations. Identical except for the fact that one was acquired by my brother when he was five, and the other two years later. My brother carried them around everywhere, with a fist around their necks (an anatomical feature denoted by the layer of glue affixing the pompom body to the pompom head.) Over the years, their necks elongated and they lost any semblance of a chin they once may have possessed.

Over the decades, Superpeeky has contracted a personality like some contract a disease. He is an egomaniac; he thinks he can fly but is tragically anti-aerodynamic; his brain, such as it is, with just one axon spinning wildly in attempt to synapse with itself, actually resides in the apple that he carries between his front paws; he lusts after the female wild boars who root about the bamboo forests near my brother’s home in Japan, and he is suspected of having fathered several boar/raccoon offspring, probably born with their apples in their mouths, but no one knows for sure, as none have ever been sighted.

The Superpeekies have also acquired a brief but notable wardrobe. Grandpa Supes (the elder) wears a red-and-white striped suit that I hand-stitched for him I think when I was nine. He has not taken it off since. Over this, he wears a Magic Tanning Shirt. It is pale yellow with a white polo collar, fashioned by my mother long ago in homage to a ten dollar shirt my father wore for over two decades during annual family vacations to Hawaii, and which he insisted accounted for his deep and even tan, which was the envy of his teenaged daughters. (It was the eighties). The original shirt was immune to the ravages of time, the changing of fashions, and an onslaught of sand, suntan lotion, sloughed skin, and derogatory remarks. As though feeding on the negative attention, it only grew stronger (while growing shorter and more misshapen) as the years passed. Sort of like Yoda.

I finally forced its retirement by purchasing a new Ralph Lauren model in a similar shade of yellow, but like Freddy Kreuger or, more accurately, like a wolf spider, who carries its pinpoint-sized, newly hatched spiderlings on its vast back, and if crushed by, say, Harry Potter, Volume 3, in the middle of the night, lives on in the miniature versions of itself that are small enough to scuttle to freedom (until they’re sprayed with toilet bowl cleanser)*, the shirt found new life in Superpeeky-sized versions of itself.

(If at this point you are questioning the sanity of my family, I am in no position to offer you assurances of normalcy. But if you ever find yourself in an airport interrogation room being questioned about why a small, irritating raccoon holding an apple and made out of pompoms is wearing a polo shirt, you’ll be able to whip out an answer with convincing speed.)

Superpeeky the younger can often be found sporting the Magic Tanning Shirt, which he wears sporadically, as the mood moves his keepers (the Superpeekies rotate between my brother’s office in Japan and my parents’ bookshelves in Idaho, when they haven’t been kidnapped by other family members who have been known to demand ransom in macadamia nuts).

One could write a doctoral dissertation on the psychosociological ramifications of Superpeeky. In the meantime, he has several practical uses.

He makes an excellent foil against which to measure oneself and the situations in which one finds oneself (for example, “Wow, gout must really suck, but by God, at least your brain isn’t in your apple.”)

He also provides a good go-to subject for special-occasion customized greeting cards when the selection of eCards falls short. For example:

FATHER’S DAY CAN GET BETTER AS YOU GET OLDER

and your hearing starts to go:

img001

img002

I’m just saying, every family should have a Superpeeky. (But if ours disappears, we will track you down and make you wear a Magic Tanning Shirt.)

*Not that that ever, ever happened in real life in the bots’ bedroom, leaving Husbot to clean up the poisonous toilet bowl cleanser which presented much more of a potential hazard to bots than a harmless yet large and gross mommy wolf spider.

A Four-Year-Old’s Icebreaker

Mbot's first visit to the pediatric dentist. Free Pac-Man in the waiting room, movies on the ceiling, and a balloon. Oh, and dental x-rays, sharp tools wielded gently, and three cavities. I tried to hide my shock and dismay, but I think it's actually greased the wheels of Mbot's social life.

Mbot’s first visit to the pediatric dentist. Free Pac-Man in the waiting room, movies on the ceiling, and a balloon. Oh, and dental x-rays, sharp tools wielded gently by kind Amy, and three cavities. I tried to hide my shock and dismay, but I think they’ve actually greased the wheels of Mbot’s social life.

Mbot, pumping all by himself on the swingset at the park, to the six-year-old (judging from the gap in her front teeth) stranger girl pumping by herself on the swing beside him: “Do you know I go to the dentist now? Do you go to the dentist?”

Stranger Girl: “Yeah.”

Mbot: “I have this many cavities–” (untwines one hand awkwardly from the chain of the swing to hold up three fingers, then counts them) “–three.”

Not-Quite-Such-A-Stranger-Girl: “I have one.”

Mbot: “They’re going to give a filling. It’s weird, isn’t it?”

Friend Girl: “REALLY weird.”

We Are Going to Another Continent.

Evening flight to grandma, mercifully uncrowded. Honorary Aunt Solveig knits. Mbot draws a picture of the wing of the plane out the window. All is calm.

We are in Florida. It is not, techically, another continent, as Mbot told his teacher yesterday when I pulled him out of preschool early to make the plane. But it might as well be one, because we are entering a foreign world: the world of the old.

My grandmother turned ninety-six on Saturday. I’d seen her last when Mbot was five weeks old. At ninety-one, she’d flown to a family reunion in Idaho. She’d been very much herself–slightly shorter, slightly whiter, slightly slower. But the same lightning sense of humor, keen intelligence, and outspokenness was in full display. “You look good,” she would say. And then, “Are you sure you’re not too skinny?”

But time changes everything, and things fall apart.

I have been attempting to visit her since Gbot was born, just three years ago. But several factors held me back, one of which was that I, a self-made expert at visualizing, and then enacting extensive travel plans that include one adult (myself) and an unmatched set of under-two, or under-three year-old seat-mates, simply could not visualize the bots and I making the journey. But in the past ten days, several sereptitious occurrences colluded to help us on our way, among them, my friend from second grade, Solveig, agreed to meet us in Denver and accompany us. She is a good sport, with an endless supply of humor and a cunning resourcefulness that can include a corkscrew when necessary.

In the days prior to departure, I steeled myself for the worst: I knew my grandmother might not recognize me and if she did, it wouldn’t last. I knew she might just doze off. I feared she would be smaller even than I remembered, bedridden, wearing hospital garb, confined to a room. I wondered if the staff kept her nails pretty and her hair–which always, in my memory, looked nice (although at a price–my grandfather used to kid her about her “lightning rods,” which is how he referred to her curlers).

Our plane touched down at close to midnight, and so we got a late start the next morning, arriving at John Knox Health Center close to noon. Solveig and the bots played on the grounds while I went up to her room. She wasn’t there–I was surprised to hear that she was at lunch. I ventured down the hall to a windowed room in which maybe thirty elderly people, in various states of aging, sat eating a meal that didn’t look too bad.

I recognized my grandmother immediately. She looked remarkably similar to the photos my parents had taken the year before. Her hair was well-taken care of. She was wearing fresh, clean clothes, including a very pretty red knit jacket that matched the vest I’d left in the car. A nurse was helping her eat dessert, a piece of lemon cake. I bent down and put my hand on her shoulder. “Grandma,” I said. “It’s your granddaughter, Betsy. I’ve come to visit, and I’ve brought my little boys, your great grandsons.”

She looked up, took me in, and said, “You’re so skinny!” I laughed with relief. No matter what I’d heard about her good days and her bad days, the incoherence over the phone, the tendency to get agitated–this was still Grandma.

Much of what followed didn’t make sense, but much did. I wheeled her inexpertly down the hall, into the elevator, and out the door onto the grounds. The weather was lovely–low seventies, the sun not too bright, a cool, fresh breeze. A few minutes later we came upon Solveig with the bots.

Something about the children seemed to awaken her synapses and bring her alert. She worried aloud when one of the bots would disappear behind a rose bush, or the fountain. “Thank you for helping me keep track of them,” I laughed, and she laughed too. Maybe not at that, but does it really matter? “Bring them to dinner,” she said. “Children are enjoyed,” she said. “They’re so much fun.” Mbot, who has always loved the smell of a rose, asked to smell one in the rose garden, and I picked one, held it to his nose, to Grandma’s. A look of pleasure crossed her face.

Nearly an hour into our visit, sitting by the fountain, she looked me, our faces twelve inches apart. “You know,” she said, “you look a lot like my granddaughter, Betsy.”

“I am your granddaughter, Betsy,” I said.

And we stared at one another, her bemused expression revealing that memory was attempting feats that mostly it had just grown too old for. At that moment, Mbot ran from the fountain. He held up his wrist, devoid of the red, heart-shaped sillyband he’d chosen from the airport store silly-band pack the day before. “Mommmmmm,” wailed Mbot. “Gbot threw my heart into the water.”

Oh, I know how you feel, I wanted to say to Mbot. I think I did say it, with tears in my lashes. “It will be okay,” I said to him, next. “I have another.” I felt how big a mother’s heart has to be. I felt like a magician able to pull a heart out of my sleeve whenever there is a call for one, and that as a mother, I have an endless supply. As a mother, and now, as a granddaughter. I was taken care of, all those years–am still taken care of, to some extent, by my own mother, although she lives three states away. And now it’s my turn. I am the grown up. Because, I think, of the role reversal, in my grandmother’s presence, I saw myself more as a grown up than I do in the presence of my children.

Just twenty minutes before, she had known who Mbot was when I’d introduced him. They’d held a brief conversation. She’d watched Gbot run and play. “He will be a fine man,” she said, smiling. At another point, she smiled again, admiring his hair.

Later, she looked at me and asked, “How’s your writing?”

I told her, briefly.

“Did you write any today?” she asked.

“Not yet,” I replied, not thinking of the notes scrawled across the palm of my left hand, or the ones I’d texted to myself on my phone.

Mbot asked to accompany us when I returned her to the social area on her floor. We left her sitting by a table. She hadn’t wanted to face the TV. (Like grandmother like granddaughter). We hugged and kissed her goodbye. She smiled and asked if “they were meeting us,” and I just said smiled and said yes. I turned back before we turned the corner to the elevator and she was still sitting, hands in her lap, just sitting, looking within, and I knew we had been lucky to have come on a good day. And I couldn’t help but feel that our coming had help make it a good day.

We will go back tomorrow.

Gbot and Spruce Bear sleep their way to another continent.

Fifty Million Shades of Okay (Part 2)

is what I should have named last night’s post. Except that it was very late by the time I finally sat down to write, and the title I ended up Twittering and Facebooking across the land was not only not entirely accurate but also grammatically incorrect.

Gbot hard at work painting a giant rocket in the craft room of the Phoenix Children’s Museum, because I didn’t take a picture of him fabric surfing.

But speaking of okay, Husbot sent me to the spa on Sunday. I’d done a solo fifteen-hour marathon (isn’t that an Ironman?) (and not unlike those I do many days) with the bots Saturday, including trips to the Phoenix Children’s Museum, the swimming pool, and that massive mecca of fabric, 35th Avenue Sew & Vac (tip: do NOT go here with Gbot, who will, when left to himself for thirty seconds (my mistake–I admit to letting go of his hand and turning my back), will attempt to bodysurf across the floor on a bolt of extra-thick-‘n’-fluffy fleece, to his mother’s mortification (I quote: “Who’s child IS that?” At least that’s what I wanted to say.)), and I guess that evening it showed. Maybe it was the three glasses of wine I downed at Grandma’s house during dinner. I ALWAYS pay when I drink three glasses of wine, and the next morning, indeed, I was wishing a third glasses hadn’t sounded so good–nay, so necessary–at the time, when Husbot walked in the door from his morning dog walk and announced that I would be at the spa from 9:45 until three that afternoon.

My first thought of course was, “and WHO is paying for it?” But he assured me it had been “reasonable” and that I deserved it. I knew he was right about that last one, and hey, one outta two beats Vegas odds, so, as he packed up the Husbotmobile, I transferred a pile of dirty dishes to the dishwasher so I didn’t have to do them after I’d been pampered into noodlishness, and headed over to the historic Wigwam resort, where I crossed the Einstein-Rosen bridge* into a parallel universe.

(squidoo.com)

I’d been to The Red Door Spa a few times, but not since I was pregnant with Mbot, and I hadn’t had a facial in what my good friend Z will tell you had been unforgiveably too long. But Husbot had signed me up for a facial followed by a pedi/mani and then a “makeup refresher,” (to refresh, um, what makeup? I wondered, along with, “is he trying to tell me something?” but looking a gift Husbot in the mouth didn’t seem helpful) at which point I was free to lounge about in any of the “relaxation rooms,” use the outdoor hot tub, or swim, or lounge by the pool in my extra-thick-‘n’-fluffy robe–(almost as good as floor surfing on a bolt of similar fabric).

I didn’t mentally wind down until about forty minutes into the facial, but it did, eventually happen. And afterwards, as I fell asleep briefly on a chaise longue in a relaxation room (look how easy it is to get used to using those words–I don’t even need quotation marks anymore!), I thought, “This feels strange because I never sit down and do nothing. EVER. When I do sit, I sit in front of the computer (or of course on the loo, but even there I do my catalogue shopping). I know I should find time to medidate, but I now think “meditate” is just another word for “sitting and doing nothing and feeling good about it because it is goal-oriented.” Either way, sitting and doing nothing is WAY UNDERRATED.

Personal experience has verified that it is not so easy to return through the wormhole, and that it is a very good thing children exert a very strong gravitational pull.

I returned home a nicely altered version of myself, and escaped after spending only a little bit more on a small tube of exfoliation goop called Phytomer Vegetal Exfoliant. My esthetician had revealed that it had been known to significantly reduce hyperpigmentation, that pesky result of pregnancy and aging. Fifty million shades of hyperpigmentation are not so much okay.

So last night I used it again, and left it on for ten minutes instead of the recommended five, because I was busy, and this morning when I looked in the morning, I actually blinked because the hyperpigmentation on my chin had actually faded. I’m still stumped about how it worked, and so fast…could I have done this years ago? Will it continue to fade? Tune in next year. I’ll let you know. Unless I’m too busy meditating in my extra thick-‘n’-fluffy robe and my new-and-improved shade of okay.

(*contrary to the calculations of physicists, the journey wasn’t difficult at all.)

I Love You But do I Have to LOVE You Every Day?

In belated celebration of my one-year blogiversary, I’m reposting the post I posted exactly a year ago, 13 days after arriving in Bloggingshire. There’s no particular reason I chose today to celebrate being with WordPress for nearly the gestation period of a manatee, except that I’ve been meaning to look back, and I finally got the chance. So here we go:

*  *  *

Due to operator error, yesterday’s post was not published ’til this morning, marking my official Off Blogday debut since September 13. My sister (the one who has ten shelf-feet of National Geographic (as compared to Mom’s forty, see Saving the World, One Stick of Secret at a Time), suggested recently that I post once or twice a week. My friend Solveig suggested that a decade ago. Of course I ignored both of them.

I ignored them because I liked the idea of a daily meditation that results in a completed thing outside of myself, little and whole, like a nut.

I still do.

But I have a paying job (a manuscript to edit), and query letters to send, essays to complete, and Midgets who need me to be present outside my head.

Urging me to cut back on the blog, another friend, who wished to remain anonymous, cited a married couple who’d had sex for a hundred and one days straight. People get around the world on rafts in fewer days than that. Annie and Doug Brown did it, literally, so they could write a book about it, like a naked heterosexual version of Julie and Julia. “Can you imagine?” asked my nameless and knowledgeable friend. “I’m sure it got to, ‘Can’t I just enjoy thinking about it for a few days before I have to mount it?”” 

Apparently the book, Just Do It, published in 2008, has a happy ending. After their project, the couple reported that they touched more and felt more intimate. One could argue that soldiers in a foxhole evading flying mortars feel more intimate toward one another afterward, too.

Not that posting 400 words can be compared to either.

If blogging has made one thing abundantly clear to me, it’s how insulated and safe my middle-class American life is.

But back to the point: This post is my official notice that I may miss a post or two. Not that I don’t love to be with you, WordPress. But can’t I just think about you for a few days before…?

Have you had too much of a good thing lately?

Shelve the Guilt, Girl, and Go

Girl’s Night Out: Not only increasing your own health and happiness, but giving your bots the best possible chances of survival. (examiner.com)

Husbot returned Thursday night from two days on the road (work), and when he asked about weekend plans, I reminded him that I was flying to Denver for forty-three hours to attend a party celebrating the thirty-fifth wedding anniversary of dear friends whom I hadn’t seen in ten years..

“Oh,” he said. “I forgot.”

He was stressed out from work, the dog had been peeing twelve times a day, not always outside, and I know he’d been looking forward to a respite. “It’s okay,” he assured me, sincerely, but after a moment of silence. “I just forgot it was this weekend.”

Although he spends hours each day and most of every weekend with the bots, it’s an entirely different gig if you’re playing solo.

“Ginger’s coming for fours Saturday and again on Sunday,” I added. “And Grandma wants a couple of hours each day with them, one at a time. And I’ll be back at 9:30 Monday morning.” The heavy silence told me he was trying to remember the last time he had taken a vacation, but was probably too tired to recall.

I am fortunate that he recognizes the value of vacations. But I wanted to explain to him that, although I am thrilled to be going, although I will have a splendid time because I love these people and I will get to sleep in on Sunday morning and none of this will feel like work, this isn’t a vacation: It’s part of my job.

When I gave birth to Mbot, I was teaching a college writing course, nursing and pumping a combined ten hours a day, and patchworking together an average of five hours of sleep in every twenty-four. Every single second of every day was accounted for. Every moment I spent lying down, nursing, pumping, teaching, reading, writing, errand-running, laundering, cooking, showering, emailing, talking on the phone with sister, brother, friends, I asked myself, “Am I using this moment to its greatest efficiency? Does this really need to be done?”

I found myself justifying the time I spent emailing and on the phone (let me tell you, not much) and at the same time it was daawning on me that I was the one upon which responsibility wordlessly fell to create and send out birth announcements, bot pictures, updates, birthday cards. To respond to offers to help and invitations to dinner. To take bots to visit friends and out-of-state relatives. These last few things fell under the umbrella of social secretary—not social-ite.

And I found that no one took seriously the time or energy necessary to maintain our connections with family and friends. It’s the sort of thing that men, I think, consider an extracurricular activity that women do because we’re just gabby girls and like to do it. And I do enjoy much of it. I also find much of it a pain in the ass: (summoning patience during my mother-in-law’s sililoquies, updating my (woefully unupdated) Facebook page).

It’s probably taught in Sociology 101, but it took motherhood for me to figure this out: what might be labeled by society as mindless, frivolous socialilzing serves a very specific purpose: the maintenance of a community that will not only support and nurture the bots as they grow, but will support them and nurture them in the event of my absence.

By spending precious time and energy (and Husbot’s time and energy in the form of American Express), I’m strengthening bonds that will very likely help my children survive and thrive. I’m sending out the message: I care about you. I’m there for you. And please don’t forget about us.

Mahjong Dream Club: Playstation hopes to attract men to this traditionally all-women table game. (www.siliconera.com)

This responsibility—the keeper of connections–falls, traditionally, on the woman. And judging from Husbot’s nonexistent social schedule, if I counted on him to do it, people would start thinking the earth really is flat and that we’d fallen off the edge of it.

Of course, if you’re Facebooking instead of feeding your bots breakfast, you might want to consider scaling down your social network. But otherwise—drop the guilt, moms. When you’re chatting on your cell with your best friend from college instead of folding minature pants? You’re just doing your job.

The Love Boomerang

Today, we tested this hypothesis. (dollsofindia.com)

We had one of those days you could make a movie out of. And even the bots know that in a movie, before the happy ending, something bad needs to happen.

The real-life drama began at 10:30 a.m. It set out on a quest: to Toys ‘R’ Us for a bubble gun, Play Doh, and poker chips.

Mbot asked if he could take Junepbear into the store. He sometimes asks, and I always say no. He never fusses. But today, I was feeling extra-magnanimous. I thought, “it’s just a quick trip. And if he has one hand filled with Junepbear, then he cannot touch as many toys.” And so I said yes.

We found a bubble gun. We found the Play Doh. (On sale! But it’s cheaper at Target). We checked out. The bots’ behavior was exemplary. Which is why, upon leaving, I stopped when Gbot clambered into the big toy car in the vestibule between the sliding sets of exit doors, wherein lie The Claw game, bubble gum machine, and various other mechanisms meant to lift the last of your change from your pockets. I did not put a quarter in the car.

Nonetheless, Gbot pretended to steer with delight for a few minutes, and then it was Mbot’s turn. He climbed up, and very carefully set Junepbear on top of the truck. I looked at the enormous floppy old bear there and thought, “We are going to forget him. We can’t forget him. Of course we won’t. There’s no way. He’s huge. He’s blue. The top of the car is red. I am looking right at him. And we’ll only be another sixty seconds.” Sixty seconds later we headed out to the car.

Fast-forward 4 1/2 hours. My niece had come to botsit while I went to a coffeeshop to work. At 2:40, I left the coffee shop for home via Toys ‘R’ Us because I’d forgotten the poker chips. I got them. I returned home at 3 o’clock and decided to load everyone up with the hope of driving them quickly to sleep. As my niece strapped them in, I went searching for bears. Found none. Checked the car. Not there. Under the beds I found Spruce Bear. And that’s when I remembered the last place I’d seen Junep. On top of the play car at Toys ‘R’ Us. The one I had twenty minutes ago walked right past. Lying trustingly against the red paint. Waiting patiently and silently. An empty dread filled my ribcage. I ran through the house again, looking everywhere. But the bear had left the building.

Mbot, mercifully, did not fully grasp the gravity of the situation. He was cheerful that we were going back to the toy store. But what if someone had walked off with Junep? Look! A free bear! A big one! It was unthinkable.

I broke the speed limit heading south. Now that my registration is current, I was only breaking one law, not two at once, which is a key, a former boyfriend pointed out long ago, to avoiding run-ins with the law (see The Ex-Con’s Rule).

We marched into the vestibule. Another cold flash as I saw the red top of the car: empty. We marched to the customer service counter. I knew before we reached it that Junep wasn’t there. He would have been on top of a counter. The employee persisted, even after I’d described the missing party, to look in cupboards into which he could not possibly fit. I was irritated but at the same time I appreciated her perseverence. She called someone on her walkie-talkie. No one had heard of Junepbear. “Thank you,” I said. Mbot remained mercifully unconcerned, sure that the universe would spit his beloved back out. Sure that his bear was back home on his bed.

On the way out, we re-entered the vestibule. We would look there again. Gbot broke free and climbed back up into the driver’s seat of the play car. I turned to watch him–and there on the floor, wedged between the car’s rear wheel and the Claw game, was a crumpled, raggedy lump of faded blue. I believe I closed my eyes in relief and felt another wash of emptiness in my chest and abdomen, a “but what if….”  I picked up Junep. I handed him to Mbot, who smiled brightly and held him tight. “You’re here!” he cried, and Mbot constructed an elaborate and entirely fictional narrative about why the bear was there, and I’m afraid I was so awash with relief that I can’t remember a word of it.

The symmetry–or asymmetry–appeals to me: that loving something so much and so long and so hard actually raises the chances that others will find it physicaly unappealing. It’s some kind of good karma, what you love coming back to you.

But Junepbear has totally lost his shopping privileges.

Dear Nora,

Nora Ephron. Photo by Elena Seibert on tumblr

I will miss you.

In today’s New York Times obit, Meryl Streep is quoted as calling you “stalwart.” Stalwart is something I’ve never been.

You weren’t a whiner.

I am.

I don’t like that about myself, but obviously not enough to make great inroads into changing. Husbot bears the brunt of it. But this is not a whiny post. This is about how you affected–and still affect–my life.

I remember when Mbot was six months old and I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, that I came upon a profile of you in The New Yorker. For a couple of months after reading the profile, I sucked it up. I kept my mouth shut when I wanted to whine. I looked on the bright side. I had more confidence in myself. I didn’t mind making enemies for the sake of saying something I believed. Yet at the same time I attempted to be more diplomatic.

Then we moved (down twenty-one stairs, without professional movers, in the summer in Pheonix, eight months pregnant with a fifteen month-old on my hip–sorry, am I whining?), and the article got buried in a pile of other New Yorker articles I’d ripped out and put in a folder to take with us, and I forgot about it. I gave birth again, lost sleep in a box-filled apartment to not only a hungry infant but to a howling one year-old; I forgot to not whine, to look on the bright side, to have confidence, to be diplomatic. I had my sense of humor, but it works better somehow in the company of those other things.

It is time–past time–to read that profile again.

But since it is not at my fingertips, and since quiet time in my house has failed to result in a nap for the two year-old (the almost four year-old finally fell asleep, in spite of the midget Cirque du Soleil on the next bed), my blogging time allowance may end at any moment, shifting you to stage left and the weebots to front and center. In fact I am right now typing to the chant, “Please give me a cookie,” which, however polite, is distracting. And so I will just briefly mention three points in the profile that stayed with me.

# 1

You were married three times, divorced twice. You obviously weren’t afraid to try, and fail. You turned your divorce into a best-selling novel (Heartburn)–and not only a best-seller but a funny, self-deprecating, insightful, vivid story about womanhood, marriage, pregnancy, professional life, and motherhood. You felt like a failure, as a woman, and as a wife, but you wrote about it, bravely and with humor. I am not planning a divorce, but there are things other than my husband that aren’t working out so well, that I would like to walk away from.

Like my whining. Some might say it’s a symptom: a symptom of my need to communicate honestly; of my children who no longer nap regularly; or of the fact that I am living in Phoenix in the summertime. But that symptom is f**cking with my life.

Honest communication is great, but so is strength of character. And if I were a character in my own book, would I admire me?

Not when I was whining.

#2

You were taught by your alcoholic screenwriter parents that everything in your life is material for your writing. I always felt that was true about mine, but often lacked the conviction to jot things down on the spot. Although I was the first junior high student in Juneau, Alaska, to wear legwarmers, a bandana around my head, and a cropped t-shirt, when it came to real life, I was afraid of doing the unexpected. My floor might as well have been cold, hard, Mexican ceramic tile for all the times I made love on it. Reading that you and your writer sisters embraced this way of seeing your lives–as material–strengthened my courage to do the unexpected, even if it was only ignoring snickers when I whipped out my notebook or took notes on my arm during events or conversations that others deemed unremarkable. Being true to my need to document the ordinary has a temporary effect of whine-quelling.

#3

You have two grown sons whose absence in the tabloids leads me to suspect they are fairly well adjusted. As a mother of two sons myself, I know this is part their doing, part yours. I would like my own sons to grow up with a mother who can lead by example in the nonwhining department. But it is too late to send them to you. And so I will just have to buck up.

In an essay of yours that appeared in The New Yorker not long after I read the profile, titled “My Life as an Heiress,” you wrote about how you were working on a screeplay at the time you received an inheritance from some long lost relative. You mentioned that you remember the screenplay was “‘really, really hard.'” The sum of the inheritance was debated among family members, and estimated to be quite large. You had some expensive landscaping done to your house in the Hamptons. You fantasized about retiring to a life of leisure.

When the money finally came, it was something like $5,000. I think it barely paid for the landscaping. You finished the screenplay because you suddenly really needed the money. You pointed out that it was a good thing you didn’t retire right then and there, because the screenplay you were working on–the one that was “‘really, really hard,'” was When Harry Met Sally. Which, in spite of its lack of Oscars wins, is probably–among women between forty and fifty–the most quoted and widely referenced movie I know. Still, today, over twenty years later.

I shouldn’t whine, even when things are really, really hard. You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.

I want to just suck it up and turn it into material. I want to have the confidence in myself to leave behind what isn’t working and try something new. I want to have the confidence in myself to believe I am trying hard enough. Or if, in fact, I’m not, to recognize and remedy it: read more, write more, seek a mentor, seek an audience, seek the quiet time I need. I want the longterm perspective to see past this tired day and draw strength from knowing that I will not always be this tired, this constantly needed, emotionally and physically. And also to appreciate that as long as I am needed, I’ve got job security.

I want to be braver, more confident, more persistent, and more stalwart. Even if it’s really, really hard.

I want what you’re having. But with the dead part on the side.