Posts Tagged ‘december’

The trip to the emergency room story

June 29, 2013

My Oldest Friend’s baby took a random toddler spill and ended up in the E.R. with a broken nose and battered mug. Today there is also a gruesome black eye.

Mr. Oldest Friend is across the country on a business trip.

I feel for her, balancing an injured baby on one knee and keeping her preschooler from feeling ignored on the other; and for Mr., seeing ghastly photos of his little girl on the monitor — unable to be there offering strength, comfort and protection.

I’m an hour away from her, and I feel helpless, so I’ll bet he’s crazy with it.

Being a parent is much more painful than being a kid in pain, I say.

Here’s how I know.

One afternoon we bought a steam cleaner. That year we had adopted a puppy.

My 8-year-old son saw an opportunity in the empty box, which, as it happens, slid beautifully over the carpeted steps.

And which, he discovered with delight, he fit inside.

He went up to the landing halfway between the third floor and second, climbed into the box with his bed pillow and rode belly down and feet first to the bottom.

When the box hit the landing, the top swung over. The back of my son’s head hit the hardwood floor with a sound like when you drop a watermelon.

He lay there, noisily. 

I had been making chocolates when I heard the launch. I ran to him, but didn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t lift his head. I’m not good in a crisis, it turns out.

I called my husband, who was shooting pool in Uncle Mike’s garage.

I told him our son went down the stairs in the steam-cleaner box. My husband laughed. “That’s hilarious!” he said. I was in no emotional state for his not getting it. He proceeded to say the wrong thing: He told me to calm down.

Then he said something productive: Check his eyes to see if the pupils are the same size. They were.

“Let me talk to him.” I handed the phone to my son on the floor. He had calmed, and wanted to hear about Mike’s new pool table.

He’ll be fine, my husband said. He’s just stunned.

After lying there a while my boy got up and started moving around the house. He ate a few chocolates, but he wasn’t right.

At 6:30 p.m. he lay on the couch and said his vision was blurry.

That was it. We were off to the emergency room.

My husband met me in that little room where they check blood pressure, weight and temperature. My son got off the examining table, puked my chocolates into the sink, and lay back down. He went promptly to sleep. We couldn’t wake him.

A doctor was summoned. He said something about checking for bleeding on the brain and used the word ‘fatal.’ We were off to a CAT scan.

It was much ado about nothing. My husband was right. After about 15 hours of sleep the blurry vision was gone and so were the rest of the chocolates.

I wasn’t so quick to recover.

Thinking of my girlfriend sitting in the emergency room from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. brings it all back.

So I write this in empathy for her, so she knows I know that sometimes, you just gotta hang your head and cry.


May 27, 2013

In the English class I taught today, I made a list of big words and gave meaningless bonus points to students who could define them. It’s amazing how badly children want imaginary points.

I pulled from former ‘word-of-the-week’ terms at my house. I used to put a vocabulary word on the fridge every Sunday — ignominious, wan, penultimate. If my kids used the word 10 times that week, they got to choose something out of the prize drawer.

This was right up my daughter’s alley.

My daughter was loquacious right out of the womb.

Her first word was a sentence: Read-a-book.

By 18 months she was conversing clearly. People who heard her for the first time always whipped their heads toward me in surprise.

I confess I cheated. During her infancy I was finishing my linguistics degree, with a focus on language acquisition. She had better have spoken early.

When she went to the doctor for her 2-year check up, the nurse tested basic mental and motor skills. She asked her to point to the balloons on the wall. She asked her to hold up three fingers.

Then she gave my daughter a piece of paper and a pencil. “Can you draw circles?”

My daughter nodded, “Side by side or concentric?”

“Nevermind,” the nurse said. “I got what I needed.”

So did my daughter. I have it in her baby book, under first bonus points.

The James Bond theme

May 19, 2013

My son and husband just rented Quantum of Solace. They’re doing their guy thing in the living room, while my daughter and I make baby clothes for my brand new niece.

We have Grey’s Anatomy on. It’s making us cry. We are not doing the guy thing.

I have never seen a James Bond movie. It’s my son’s first.

One Christmas I got the game Cranium. My son and I were a team, and I drew a name-that-tune card. It was the James Bond theme.

Shoot, I didn’t know the James Bond theme.

So I hummed the Mission Impossible theme.

My son yelled, “The James Bond theme!” and we won the game.

Yeah, we’re that good.

My son’s tumors

February 18, 2013

This morning I have to take my boy to the doctor for a physical. This is a requirement for high school athletic teams.

We have a long history of doctor visits, this boy and I.

I’m a little nervous telling this story. The experience was tedious and stressful. The story may be so too. I’ll do my best.

When my baby was 2 he had a CAT scan because he had bulges on his temples. We were told it was nothing to worry about.

When he was 5 one side grew noticably bigger than the other. We had moved from Colorado to California, and I was pushing the doctor.

“If it makes you feel better, we’ll order an MRI.” The doctor seemed certain it was just a case of children’s growing disproportionately.

My son was afraid of the MRI. Weeks went by waiting for appointments. Then we would come home without having had the imaging. He wouldn’t get on the machine. Sedation didn’t work on him. I was falling apart.

On the third try we went to UCLA Medical Center. A nurse named Julie Lopez put him in a swivel chair and kicked it into a spin, talking casually to him about little boy things. She took away his fear. She was magic.

After an agonizing 10 days the results came in. Our doctor asked me to come in. I begged him to tell me on the phone.

I was alone in my hallway when I heard, “Your son has at least three tumors in his head. Two of them are outside of his skull. The others are intracranial.”

I’m ashamed to admit I felt a little relief. They had identified the cause of the deformity. They could fix it now.

Children at school were being cruel to him. He seemed strong enough to handle it, but I wasn’t.

This was early December, a couple of weeks before his 6th birthday. We didn’t know how to tell him. We took him and his friends to Disneyland as a salve to all our emotions.

This was followed by months of “We’ll know what’s wrong with him after….” There was an x-ray and another CAT scan before the doctor threw his hands up and said he needed a biopsy. “That will be the definitive diagnosis tool,” he said.

The insurance company said no biopsy. We fought. It was long and painful. We won, and we got to go to UCLA, where the magic people work.

My son’s biopsy was on a Monday in July. It was supposed to be two hours. It was six. There were extra layers of inpenetrable stuff on his skull the surgeon couldn’t drill through.

The tumors were drawing the bone into them in spicules.

We would have a diagnosis by Wednesday.

On Friday morning the surgeon told me they still didn’t know what my son has. The biopsy wasn’t revealing. Doctors in Europe were being consulted. No one has seen anything like this.

On Saturday morning my grandfather had a heart attack and died.

At some point the doctors gave up and named the condition after my son. The good news is that the tumors were benign. The bad news is that they couldn’t tell me what would happen.

In a year they would remove the extracranial ones, but they didn’t think they could get inside my son’s skull to get at the others. At least he would look normal.

I have to live with knowing that for a moment in that hallway I felt relief.

link to photos


February 2, 2013

Recently I went to Disneyland with my mom and grama, because my daughter was performing there. Fun fact: My daughter spotted Orlando Bloom in line for Grizzly River Run, and then to her surprise he was seated with her on the ride.

My daughter’s marching band kicked off the parade. She was right in the center of the front rank, and I had to cry a little bit as they went by.

She’s still itty-bitty, but at least she’s allowed on the rides now.

In 1999 we took all my son’s friends to the park to celebrate his 7th birthday. My daughter had turned 5 the week before, and was a wee 3 feet, 3.75 inches.

This little girl loved to be sped, scared and startled, but she didn’t meet the height requirements for the exciting rides.

Disneyland insists you reach 40 inches to ride Star Tours. Now, I understand not wanting to put a wisp of a child in a Space Mountain seat, but Star Tours is basically a movie. The ride is the illusion of movement.

It broke my heart for her to stand waiting at the entrance, watching younger children run excitedly toward their place at the end of the line.

She never complained once that day, but when I turned back and looked at her, she was watching the boys at my side in line,  and I saw tears in her eyes.

She would have done me a favor to whine and stomp.

She was so close to reaching the requirement, I was cursing myself for not teasing her hair. You wouldn’t have fit a slice of cheese between her head and the bottom of Mickey’s glove. My husband tried to persuade the attendant to let her through. No go.

But halfway through the wait, a tiny hand slipped into mine, and I looked down into a huge smile.

“Daddy put folded park maps in my shoes,” she whispered.

My husband had seen a new attendant start her shift and took action.

The force was with us.

link to photos


January 22, 2013 is reporting a new district attorney in Boulder is looking into the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

That murder is the reason we left Boulder.

When I was a single college student, I lived with a girlfriend in the front half of an unimposing duplex near the university. It was a flat box of a house with no personality. After I moved in, I walked over to the most impressive house on the block, took a picture, and mailed it home to California with a note saying, ‘Here’s my new place.’ It was the Ramsey house.

As a newlywed a year later, I bought my first house across the street from the Ramsey’s block. In the five years I lived in the neighborhood, I never met the Ramseys.

By 1996 I was working in the newsroom at the local paper. My parents and grandparents had come visiting for the holidays. Even on Christmas night I had to work, but I got to clock in later than usual — 9 p.m. instead of 7.

I invited my family to drive me to work, using the opportunity to drive around looking at Christmas lights. The last house I took them to see before they dropped me at work was the Ramsey home.

‘Recognize this one?’ I teased. It was about 8:58 p.m.

The murder was a big story in Boulder. It was hard to work, because every night someone was in my way — Geraldo Rivera, ABC Atlanta, Dateline, they were all in the newsroom at some point. One night I came in and Katie Couric was being filmed sitting on my desk.

There was chaos. Officers were alluding to knowledge. One reporter hung up and rolled her eyes next to me, “He said ‘I don’t want to say we have a suspect, but there were no footprints in the snow.’ ”

The paper ran with it, only to run a clarification that there was no snow on the whole south yard, which is where the broken window to the basement was.

Meanwhile, there was “a killer on the loose.” We saw it on TV. Patty said it in her first interview on CNN. “If I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep your babies close to you, there’s someone out there.”

Wait a minute. I was a Boulder resident. I had babies.

I was up checking on them throughout the night. The last time JonBenet was seen alive was an hour after we went by, when her mother tucked her in bed. On the nights I was home to do that, I couldn’t put that thought aside. I fought that, because I could see I was missing the tucking with all the imagining.

I couldn’t escape it. The paper more than covered this story. We smothered ourselves with it.

I had to get away. My last day at work in Boulder was eight months after the murder. Dateline NBC cameramen were in the newsroom.


The homeless guy story

January 21, 2013

Starbucks is running a new campaign, inspired by President Obama’s call for service. If you pledge five hours of community service of any kind, you get a free coffee.

Here’s my first experience with community service. It was unplanned.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I drove into San Francisco to meet a friend after work. My friend worked in a fancy hotel. Though I lived a few minutes from The City, I avoided it because of the homeless. It tormented me. I couldn’t sleep at night when it was cold for thinking of them.

So I grimaced when my friend said he wasn’t off yet. There was a man with a guitar and a turned-up hat sitting on the sidewalk by the hotel entrance, where I was to wait.

He sounded pretty good.

I stood there a minute trying not to be noticed, but he shouted at me. He wanted to know my name.

He wrote an impromptu song about my beauty. This was his shtick, but it wasn’t very effective, based on the coins in his hat.

I didn’t have any money to give him. So on top of the pity, I had guilt.

Out of panic, I asked if he knew ‘Proud Mary.’ I thought I was brilliant. I was distracting him from noticing I wasn’t giving him money.

“Do you?” he asked. Shoot. Don’t insult me. “Sing with me,” he said.

So I sat on the ground next to him, backs against the wall, and said, “Left a good job in the city….”

We made more than a hundred bucks.

The hamster story

December 31, 2012

I don’t go out on New Year’s Eve. I’m afraid of drunk drivers.

I like to work a jigsaw puzzle and watch the Twilight Zone marathon.

One year my husband was in Los Angeles at a Grandaddy concert, and the kids and I were in the family room, on the third floor of our house, working a jigsaw and watching the Twilight Zone.

I heard a crash from the second floor.

My son had gotten three hamsters for Christmas, which, added to our cats and dogs, completed our personal food chain.

We found an upturned cage, and among the three of us were able to capture Brave Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot. This was no small feat. Those dudes can scurry.

An hour later we found the third. He was on the first floor at the bottom of the stairs in a dog’s mouth.

He was wet, and his front leg was broken, pointing the wrong way.

It was 8 p.m.

The nearest animal hospital that treats hamsters is an hour’s drive. I don’t see well in the dark, so I avoid driving at night, but I was trapped.

When we got there, the veterinarian Googled ‘hamsters broken bones,’ split a piece of McDonald’s straw lengthwise and fashioned a splint, and sent us to a drug store for baby Tylenol. I paid $60 for this assistance.

At 11 p.m. we were homeward bound. I was in a state of panic. I couldn’t focus on the traffic. I had my children in the car. I couldn’t shake the image of that leg jutting out an angle. I was on the freeway on New Year’s Eve.

During this time, King Arthur chewed the straw off.

We got home at 11:56 p.m. The leg was sticking out again. He wouldn’t take the Tylenol.

Within a week he was fine.

Naming the baby

December 28, 2012

My grampa and I were close. He did little things all the time to show me he loved me.

For instance, whenever he knew I would be stopping by the house, he went up to A&W and got me a vanilla shake. I only like chocolate shakes, but I so loved that he did this for me that I never told him.

He used to say all the time, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

My first baby was due on Dec. 20, and Grampa had brought my family to Colorado to be with me. They got there Dec. 13, just in case.

By the 23rd I was jumping in the snow, trying to hurry things along.

Grampa came out with a cup of coffee and sat down to watch me. “What will his middle name be?”

“It’ll be my husband’s name, unless he’s born on the 28th. If he’s born on your birthday, Grampa, I’ll believe fate wants him to have your name.”

Grampa made me stop jumping. “Hold that kid in five more days!”

My son was born the next day.

While I was in the bed, my husband filled out paperwork.

“I named him after Grampa anyway,” he announced. That baby-naming maverick.

But the truth was, I was happy he wanted to make Grampa happy.

I would do anything for him, too.

Finding Christmas

December 25, 2012

A few Christmases ago I announced there would be no gift giving.

My children’s perspective on the holiday was awry.

They had become shallow and greedy. Christmas turned them into brats.

My son said, “But you’re taking away the best part.”

I raised a brow and he added, ” — the giving!”

Too bad. We were going to have a real holiday with a fire, caroling, charades and togetherness, and we were going to appreciate it with a good attitude, damn it.

This is when I discovered I truly am the boss. Everyone said OK.

I planned a Dec. 23 evening of caroling at hospitals, followed by egg nog and baked goods back at home. I invited the friends and neighbors of my parents, my kids and myself. It was glorious.

Christmas Eve I put on a turducken feast with the whole family — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. There were hugs and games. Norman Rockwell had nothing on me.

Christmas morning brought the crowning glory of the whole year though, and it was a surprise to the boss.

We were lingering over the dregs of breakfast, and my mother was fussing with the remaining bacon. She was trying to give it away. Then she wanted to consolidate it to the potatoes plate. It was becoming disruptive.

I got irritated. I asked her to leave it lie.

Finally she said, “Heck with it.” She scooped all the bacon off and flipped over the platter. There was something taped to the bottom of it.

We looked at it and frowned. We looked at her. She just sat there. We looked at one another.

My grama reached out and took it. It had a line of hand-written music notes. There were shrugs and more looking around.

My mother just sat there. Nana passed it on.

Halfway around the table it got to my kids. They looked at it and read aloud by humming Deck the Halls in unison. Musicians and show-offs the both of them.

My mother finally spoke. “I thought you would go to the piano and play it.”

She was disappointed? We were all excited, what’s to complain?

We all ran to the hall. There were boughs of holly decked there. Tucked inside one was a slip of paper. It had a four-word crossword puzzle drawn on it.

Nana solved it. The four words led us out to the patio fountain. We found another clue there and a small basket of wrapped treasures. The hunt was afoot.

The six of us ran from clue to clue, puzzling them out as a team. Sometimes there were treasures too.

One of the clues was a rhyme about pressing against light. When we put the clue against a light bulb, invisible ink came to the fore and revealed the next destination.

Each was challenging and clever. Each played to a different family member’s strength.

It was more fun than opening gifts, which we returned to the next year, because doing Christmas right was too much work.

My son’s birth

December 24, 2012

When I was seven months pregnant with my son, people not only thought I was ready to deliver, but that I likely carried twins.

By the time I was in my ninth month my size was downright unreasonable.

My bottom left rib hurt. My back ached all the time. The baby kept getting hiccups. I was a  miserable pregnant lady.

More than once I thought raising the child had to be the easy part.

A week before I was due I heard “Silent Night” sung in harmony from  my porch. My parents and grandparents were standing in the snow, announcing their arrival from California.

The due date felt like it would never come. Then it passed right by.

On the morning of the 23rd I had my regular appointment with my CNM  (a midwife with medical training who works out of a hospital.) The hospital was in Denver, an hour away. After a nap at home, I woke up to an invitation to lunch at The Harvest.

Oh boy! A carob shake was in my future.

Ooh. Cramp.

Throughout my shake having, I had periodic pains. This is the last thing I wanted to say out loud in front of my mother, so I sneaked looks at my watch and kept track of how far apart they were. I watched the little airplane second hand fly around the map of Southern California on my Swatch.

After a time my dad said, in a ridiculously loud voice, “How far apart are they?”

Imp. Observant imp.

For dinner my mom and grama made albondigas. There’s good eatin’ when Mom and Grama come by.

Come dinner the pains hadn’t grown much larger or closer. But toward the bottom of my bowl I had one great big pain that didn’t stop.

I ran to the downstairs bathroom. There was something yucky and shake-like in my future.

Dad was there. I ran upstairs to the bathroom. Mom was there. Halfway down the stairs I couldn’t go up or down. I sat and screamed. Mom came out.

My husband got me into the bathroom and called the midwife. She said to draw a bath, light some candles and have some wine. It was time to relax. It would be a while.

I tried. Couldn’t. I was still with the big pain that didn’t stop.

Mom was all a-dither. We went to the hospital.

As we entered I started in with ‘I want an epidural,’ (I say ‘started in’ as if I hadn’t been saying it for nine months already.) I said it to the people in the lobby, the guy in the elevator and some nun handing out booties she’d knitted.

I was told it was too early. Hours of badness passed. I kept saying it.

I threw up my albondigas.

Finally I hit the magic number of dilatedness and my midwife came. I told her I wanted an epidural. She said it was too late.

Hours of hell passed. At some point I escaped everybody and locked myself in the bathroom. There was a lot of door pounding. I sat in the Jacuzzi and ignored them. I hated my nurses. I hoped their dogs died.

When I came out I was in trouble and didn’t care.

My midwife told me to push. There was no urge, but I pushed. I kept pushing. I got in trouble for pushing when I wasn’t having a contraction.

There was a break between my contractions? I had only felt one long pain since dinner.

At 6 in the morning, because it was either pass that baby or die, my body let that baby out. He was purple and limp. Me too.

I sound heartless, but I didn’t listen for the cries, or notice the glances of the staff looking at a seemingly dead baby. I couldn’t tell it was over. I was still with the pain.

As they worked to get him breathing, I began to feel some relief. I later learned my son broke both the hospital’s record for head crown size and my pelvis.

Now we’re both fine, but can you imagine my panic when I learned I was pregnant with my daughter?

The Christmas pageant

December 20, 2012

This morning I saw a Christmas pageant written and performed by teens. It was not the traditional birth-of-Christ tale.

This one was a what-if story: What if Jesus had been born in 2009?

The play opened in the apartment of Mary and Josephine, a married lesbian couple struggling with unemployment.

God tells the angel Gabriel she’s (yes, God was a she) putting a baby in Mary that would be the savior. Gabriel shows up on TV, interrupting Survivor Egypt, to break the news. This was because God had specified texting the announcement was not in order.

Nine months later the expectant moms were turned away from two hospitals because they had no health care coverage, and were forced to deliver in their apartment on the couch.

Three wise men from Hollywood were following not a star, but the red dot of Gabriel’s laser pointer, to offer gifts to the baby Jesus: myrrh, frankincense and an iPod.

I later learned they had planned to dress in drag, and enter singing ‘We Three Queens,’ but the pastor got calls from the some of the parents. Killjoys.

There was great comedy throughout, timely topics and a chorus of Halleluja.

The Christmas season has begun.

My grandparents’ song

December 5, 2012

On the morning of my grama’s first anniversary after my grampa died, she walked into the kitchen and turned on the radio.

She was stunned to hear “If I Loved You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. It was their song.

Who’s ever heard this song on the radio?

The last time she had heard it, Grampa was singing it to her on their 50th anniversary, seven years before to the day.

Today would have been their 69th.

The Christmas shopping story

December 1, 2012

Back in the day, San Bernardino was the shopping destination for anyone in or near my town.

It was a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic, and there was a foul sewage smell that let me know when our offramp was near.

One year my mom and I had a disastrous trip to there.

It started out fine. We pulled into a great spot in the Toys R Us lot and spent an hour or more tossing goodies into the cart with wild abandon. I always say things should be tossed into carts this way. Sometimes I even do a little foot-lift thing.

We stopped at the automatic glass doors leading out. It was pouring rain.

There’s nothing worse than a Southern Californian in the rain, (unless it’s one behind the wheel of a car). (Bonus bad if that person is my mother.)

We leaned over the booty to effect a shelter and made a run for it.

We loaded the goods and jumped in, sopping despite our rush.

Click. Click. No juice. My mom had left the lights on.

After some dramatic exhaling we ran back into the store and borrowed their phone to call for a battery jump from Triple A.

It occurs to me that several of my stories would be non-stories if they had happened in the age of cell phones. This one is doubly obsolete, because now headlights turn off automatically.

Triple A took a long time. I was a kid, so however long it took, it was longer in kid years. It was, like, a hundredth of my life. Who knew there was a circumstance under which I wanted to not be in Toys R Us?

The dude came. Clip, turn, rev. We were all set.

Mom left the engine running for warmth and battery charging while she climbed in the tow’s cab to do the paperwork.

Naturally she locked our car, so no one could steal it or the presents.

Naturally we didn’t realize this was a bad idea until the guy had driven away.

Back in the store we went to call and wait all over again.

After another 100th of my life had passed, we were on the road.

I think we moved four blocks before we ran out of gas.

In the moment an hour later, when I walked dripping and hungry into my home, I had never been and would never be so surprised not to have gotten a flat tire.

How I got my pans

October 29, 2012

Several Christmases ago Dad bought Mom an expensive set of pots and pans. She pulled them out of the box and said, “Oh no. This isn’t the right brand.”

Mom doesn’t have anything in her kitchen that she ended up with, like I have. Her tools have been researched.

I got the pots and pans.

They’re made by a company called Gourmet Standard. On the bottom they say ‘professional.’ These are magic pans. They’re stainless steel, but nothing sticks to them. They heat food evenly. The handles don’t get hot. They’re shiny.

Mom went out the next day with Dad and got the kind she wanted. They burn everything, including her hands, and the bottoms are lousy with the food she can’t scrape off.

She came over and helped me one night with a big dinner. She eyed my pans.

I was wide-eyed, nigh hysterical.

I protected one with my body and said, “Mine, mine, all mine, not yours.”

I forwent my right to complain about being treated like a 13-year-old, but I kept the pans.

Jersey number humor

October 17, 2012

Last night we went to our kids’ homecoming game.

I was so excited all day, I had a bounce in my step and an irritating hum.

I threw on a team jersey and tossed  my husband in the car. I started yelling, ‘Go team’ while we were still in the parking lot.

The final score was 48 to 0, us.

I love school spirit. I didn’t have any when I was a student — nobody I knew did — but my kids’ school is thick with it. There’s so much pride, people cry and sway singing the Alma Mater.

So I drag my poor husband from bleacher to bleacher.

Once we were at a basketball game and one of the boys from another school had the jersey number 00.

I pointed him out, “Look honey, that kid is licensed to.”

He just frowned at me. Maybe he would enjoy these games more if I weren’t there.

The purse

September 17, 2012

My daughter lost her wallet after we went to Big Bear last weekend to eat at Saucy Mama’s.

This morning on the way to school she said she found it, and I told her about the time I lost mine.

For Christmas my senior year in high school one of my girlfriends gave me a beach-bag size blue vinyl purse. My sister gave me a make-up bag.

I tucked my dark green mascara and liquid glitter eye shadow in the bag in the purse and went out for ribs and a movie with the peeps.

At dinner my mom passed me $20 for lunch for the week. That was a ton of money then.

Then we were off to see Platoon.

Not too far into the film it was clear I didn’t have the emotional strength to watch Platoon. I told my parents I’d wait in the lobby and slipped out.

When they came out later, they didn’t have my purse. I ran in.

It wasn’t there.

My driver license, school ID, photos of friends — all gone.

It turned out I also lacked the emotional strength to lose my best make-up.

The mysterious mail story

September 9, 2012

Shortly after John Lennon was killed I came in from school with an envelope from the mailbox.

It was for me, and the address was handwritten.

I gripped it in my little kid hand all the way to the kitchen. I wanted an audience, and found Mom making dinner. Dad was at the table with the paper. I sat across from him and opened my letter.

There was no letter.

It was a newspaper clipping. I didn’t know which side was relevant. It was either an announcement about a toy drive or a sketch of the late Lennon, who was four days gone.

I flipped the clipping over several times, looking for a clue.

The sketch was an elaborate line drawing of his face with tight spirals in the glasses lenses.

The bit had been cut out with pinking scissors and folded in half.

I didn’t think of anything other than puzzlement until my mom said, “Why would someone send you a picture of a dead man?”

Great. Now it’s threatening.

My dad gave her his you’re-so-dramatic-about-everything eye roll he had lots of opportunity to master. “He’s not dead in the picture.”

Well that’s some comfort.

I said, “Mom! Somebody sent me a picture of a dead guy!”

She rolled her eyes at me. Team switcher.

“He’s not dead in the picture,” she said, as if I were unreasonable.

I think she thought I couldn’t hear Dad, who I was actually closer to me than to her.

I never learned who sent it to me or why, or which side of the clipping I was meant to care about.

And I didn’t contribute anything to the toy drive.

I was dismissed from the PTA

August 23, 2012

Today is Gloria Steinem’s 77th birthday.

My mother grabbed the women’s lib movement of the early seventies with both hands and held on tighter than John Travolta to a mechanical bull.

She didn’t wear dresses. I was taught “housewife” was a dirty word. My bedtime stories came from Ms. magazine. At 3 I knew what ERA stood for. I knew Gloria Steinem’s birthday.

Naturally, I spent my childhood dreaming of taking my husband’s last name, wearing an apron and being an H-word.

When I refused to live with my boyfriend before we got married, my mom said, “Where did I go wrong?”

It was sheer rebellion that had me specify ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ was the phrase to be used at my wedding. (Although it was sheer sassiness that had me specify ‘You may now kiss the groom’ follow it.)

When I quit my job and joined the PTA my mom gave me a bitter speech. “That’s just a clique for moms who don’t work. I tried to be in it, but they treat you differently if you have a job. And they schedule meetings so working moms can’t attend. They disapprove of moms who aren’t H-words.”

I heard this lots. I figured it for outdated if not emotionally skewed information.

When the kids moved from elementary to middle school, I ignored the PTA and joined band boosters. Go ahead and brag about knowing me — I was the vice president.

For my youngest child’s last year there, I joined the PTA on the hospitality committee. The PTA president — a close friend and fellow band booster — asked me to do this, based on my cooking or baking all the food for several band events.

I would be doing things like the welcome-back faculty breakfast and baked goods for teachers at Christmas, right up my alley.

There was another change at the beginning of that school year. I started working as a substitute teacher.

I know you think I’m about to concede my mother was right. I’m not quite that big a woman.

But I’m going to suggest it.

Several weeks before the Christmas break I did what the committee chairwoman asked: I pulled out my recipes and made a 15-item list of items I thought would be great for faculty gifts.  I was excited to do this. The previous year they had made Rice Krispy treats, half-dipped in chocolate.

I told the committee chair to pick two items. I would make them both.

I didn’t hear back for a long time. Then on Dec. 5 I got this e-mail, which I cut and pasted without altering:

I was talking with Sally today and she told me all that you have going on right now, with Substituting and all. You sound overly busy at an already too busy time of year. So I can’t in good conscienciousness ask you to make anything, let alone 400 of a bake item. And since we need to have them packaged and ready by the end of next week…  I think we will just go with the simpler idea of the dipped pretzels this time around.  Thank you so much for thinking about all this and in a less hectic time of life it would have been perfect to have your yummy treats.  I hope you agree.

I was gobstopped. That H-word had dismissed me because she found out I had a job.

Now, I’m not saying my mother was right, but I may give my daughter the same warning when her time comes.

The Santa Claus story

August 17, 2012

All of the Beatles’ birthdays are within a week, with mine in the middle. Today is Paul’s.

Before Paul moved into my other house, he lived in a rental home with his girlfriend of many years. He and she were both reporters at the paper where I was a copy editor. They were both in Scotchie’s poker group.

In mid-December the girlfriend called me for a favor.

She would be spending Christmas in the midwest with her family. Paul would be out Christmas Eve past midnight, playing poker with some group that wasn’t ours. Paul is a poker whore.

There were empty stockings hung above the fireplace and all over the rest of the living room, presumably for decoration. But hidden behind the tree were bags full of small gifts.

My job was to slip into their house and fill the stockings. My husband and I went over armed with a key at midnight. We stuffed for 10 minutes and slipped out without leaving footprints.

There was no cookies and milk left out. I guess Paul was a non-believer.

Paul came home and climbed in bed unawares, but woke up Christmas morning to find every stocking in the house bulging with evidence St. Nick had come.

We’ve never told him it was us.

I wonder if he’s started leaving out cookies and milk.

The birthday cake story

July 23, 2012

I just got back from Costco with my son.

There were photos under the glass at the photo center showing the different sizes you could order. My son was pointing to one of a baby with a handful of crumbly goodness, which was also all over his face.

My son said, “I wanna know what this kid is eating.”

I looked over. “It’s birthday cake. He’s turning 1,” I said.

It doesn’t surprise me he couldn’t figure this out. He, himself, did it all wrong. I told him as much, and reminded him of this story.

From birth, my kid couldn’t stand to be dirty. If something was on his hands, he held them away from his body and went “Ah ah ah ah ah” until somebody got him to a sink. He howled as soon as his diaper was wet.

Anything sticky was right out. I wish I had videotaped the day I tried to give him peanut butter and jelly on crackers.

Jump to his first birthday party. I had ordered a cake from the local bakery. Globs of colored frosting made Sesame Street characters on top. Grama placed it excitedly in front of him while we sang “Happy Birthday.”

We gathered around with our cameras for the ceremonial grabbing of frosting.

What were we thinking?

He looked at the cake. He looked at us.

We smiled. We nodded. One of my aunts yelled, “Go for it!”

We waited.

Finally he looked at me helplessly and said, “Fork, please.”

My daughter’s birth

July 20, 2012

My daughter’s homework tonight is to ask me specific questions about her birth — how long was it, where was it, did I have medication, blah, blah, blah.

The final thing she asked was, “Do you have any anecdotes about my birth?”

Who are you talking to? Of course I have an anecdote.

She was a week overdue, and my certified nurse midwife said I had to come hook up to beeping things that make sure the baby is thriving. My husband and I made a date night of it.

Our birthing room in the hospital had a couch, a VCR, a stereo and a Jacuzzi. What with our having an almost-2-year-old at home, we were looking at this overnight as a belated honeymoon.

We sent out for Italian food and watched “Hook” on cable. I pulled the monitors off and we got in the Jacuzzi. Hey someone, put a do-not-disturb sign on the door.

At about 2:30 pains began to periodically wake me up, but after a few seconds they always stopped, so I kept going back to sleep.

I did not identify this as labor, because my son’s birth was just one long — and much worse — pain. You’ll read about that on Christmas Eve.

Then a contraction hit that made me make an inhuman noise. My midwife’s partner was happening by in the hall. She knew me fine, and slipped a glove on to check my cervix.

She looked lovely in a fuzzy angora sweater and red lipstick. She must have been out. “Call Kate,” she ordered. “She’s at 4 centimeters.”

I cried out to wake the dead and spider-walked up the headboard and wall behind me. I was trying to escape my body. It didn’t work.

Kate’s partner frowned, grabbed my feet and pulled me back down. She thrust her glove back in for another check and gave a holler into the hallway.

“Tell Kate to go back to bed. Mama’s jumped straight to 10 centimeters.” She directed her serious expression at me, “This baby’s coming out right now. Push.”

The head came out.

Here’s the anecdote part. The midwife said my water hadn’t broken, and that she would have to pop it. I have it in my head this was after the head came out, but that seems impossible to me. Maybe I’ve the order screwy.

She reached in with an awl or something, and my water shot around the baby’s head like a geyser, all over my poor, impromptu midwife’s beautiful, fuzzy angora sweater. I had tragically perfect aim.

One more push and the baby slid out.

The whole production took about 10 minutes, but I’ve spent 14 years being upset about that sweater.

I met Saddam’s capturer

July 9, 2012

The rumor that Michael Jackson was buried before his funeral, which was two years ago today, was widely reported on reputable news stations. They suggested that gold-plated casket was empty as it rolled from Forest Lawn Cemetery to the memorial service. No one seems to know where it is now.

What? People lie to the media?

That is so wrong. Journalists are generously serving the public’s right to know, and some people are using them to spread lies. I can’t stand it.

It’s bad enough our government does it. (Did I just shock you?) A guy at a bar told me this happens.

My husband and I were in line at B.B. King’s on Universal City Walk, where we were waiting to see The Chris Thayer Band.

The boy in front of us had a Navy SEALs jacket on. I thanked him for his service, and asked him if he’d been overseas or seen combat. He looked young — with blond hair and a baby face — but he also looked bad ass.

He told us he had been in Iraq until just now. This was his first day back in the States. In fact, he hadn’t been home yet, he said. He couldn’t wait to take his best girl out on the town.

We nodded at the girl. She nudged him with her elbow, “Tell them.”

He said his team was sent home as a reward for capturing Saddam Hussein. He, personally, was the guy to put his hands on the man and pull him out of the spider hole.

I pictured the sleeves of that SEAL jacket dipping into the styrofoam hideout. Probably my image wasn’t accurate.

We were dying for details, and started firing out questions. My last one was, ‘What went through your head the moment you realized what you had?’

The SEAL looked at his best girl, then at us. He shrugged. “It didn’t happen that way.

“Some other unit located Hussein. We got to be the ones to ‘find’ him, because the president owed my commander a favor. Hussein’s hole was guarded until we could get there and pull him out.”

I used to do this with my kids and Easter eggs.

It was that revelation that made me believe the guy. To that point, starstruck as I was, I had a niggling it might have been a tall tale. I have more fun when I ignore my nigglings, and was doing just that.

But the casket thing, no. I was a niggling-free believer.

A misunderstanding

April 14, 2012

I always flew home for Christmas break during college.

One year an ex-boyfriend whom I had stayed friends with called my parents house to see if I was visiting. He was home from UC Berkeley for the holiday, only for him it was Hanukkah.

We went out to T.G.I.Fridays for dinner and drinks.

Our waiter was friendly. When he brought the food, he looked at me with fascination. “Are you Indian?”

I was enthusiastic and chatty, “Wow! I am. Though he was born here in town, my grampa’s ancestors were Tarahumara Indian. I like the idea of it, and identify myself that way some, but no one has ever just noticed it before,” and on and on.

I figured I was overly excited. He said “cool” and left like I scared him off.

That night when I brushed my teeth I saw why he had asked. I had a big pimple right in the middle of my forehead. I must have scratched it open in the evening. It was as red as paint.

He didn’t mean American Indian.

The story of our new house

April 6, 2012

Now you know why we moved. Here’s the story about the buying of the new house.

The woman who lived in this house raised four children to adulthood in it. Then her husband died and her brother and sister moved in. All three were elderly.

The house was decorated in traditional old person, from the macrame blinds to the striped wallpaper. The brown shag complements the copper pipe decoration that hangs from the cottage-cheese ceiling in the entry.

We haven’t done a thing to it, incidently, in the year we’ve been here.

The woman lived in the master bedroom.

She was old, and she became sick. The sicker she got, the more she stayed in bed — in the master bedroom.

Ultimately, her siblings called her children, who now live in other parts of the United States, and said that the woman was no longer lucid. The children flew to California in early December and determined she needed to live in a convelescent home.

They wanted to sell the house while they were here. They told their Realtor to come up with the property’s market value and knock $300K off the price.

“Sell it today,” they said.

That’s when my Realtor interrupted my breakfast by cell phone.

They accepted our offer of full asking price that evening.

During the escrow period we had to get a professional home inspection.

The inspector found three kinds of mold in one room. The levels were “off the charts.” Guess where.

Meanwhile, the woman was healthy and had regained her lucidity, having spent a few weeks out of that master bedroom.

To add insult to toxicity, the seller had to pay $10,000 to get the mold eradicated and the house retested.


Why we bought another house

April 2, 2012

The Beatles are the guys who live in my other house. This afternoon I was talking to George. He was telling me how happy he is in that house.

I told him how happy I was in that house.

“If only that break-in hadn’t happened.”


Uh-oh. George didn’t know. No choice but to tell him.

Fridays from September to December John “Scotchie” covered the high school football games for the paper. I lived near the stadium, so he would come straight over and use my computer to write and send his article.

Then we would stay up all night playing poker.

One of these Fridays, about midnight, we were playing cards in the first-floor family room when a helicopter started circling. We could see the spotlight going by in the yard.

It was going on for a while. It was so close the windows were rattling.

We looked out a bit but couldn’t conclude anything.

A couple days later it was all over the news — the Los Angeles-based news, even.

It had been a home invasion. A man held a couple at gunpoint, tied up the husband, took $300 from his wallet, and raped the wife.

It was two blocks behind us, and two blocks to the north.

The guy was never caught.

I was not cool. In fact, the light from cool took three days to reach me.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s the JonBenet thing all over again. How many times is your poor husband supposed to buy a new house because you got scared?

I know this, because my husband told me, right before he told me no.

He reminded me we were just finishing up a major remodel, the house was paid for, and we had two kids headed for college.

He had some points.

I was still afraid, but I dropped it.

By coincidence, the Realtor who sold us that house called my cell one morning when we were at our favorite breakfast diner with my parents.

She just got a listing we had to see. Fun fact: I am a licensed Realtor, and this was a coworker of mine. She was so good at matching people to houses, and so knowledgable, I used her for my three home purchases and recommended her to family and friends.

I told her we’d go see the place before we went Christmas shopping.

I forgot.

She called again when I was in a shop. “All right, all right, we’ll go see, but we’re not planning to move.”

This house was hard to find. We went to a quiet street, a block from my parents’ house, and turned onto a long tree-shaded private drive. Then we turned onto another little private road to get to it.

I got out of the car and looked at the house.

We have always lived in multi-story historic-era homes. We like character, nooks and crannies, wrap-around porches. We like the smell and sound of oak floors, and detailed banisters and woodwork.

This was a patched-together one-story with no trim and aluminum window screens. It was past ugly. It was tacky.

It was half the size of our house.

I said, “Ew.”

My husband had gotten out of the other side of the car — the side by the jasmine-covered archway to the acre and a half of orchard and raised gardens.

Before he turned around to see the house I heard, “We’ll take it.”

My son had gone through the back gate and discovered the koi pond. He yelled, “Sold!”

My daughter had made herself at home by the pool.

I got the best deal of all. I got to say, “Oh, all right.”

Congratulations instead of story today

December 6, 2009

Last night was a big night for our hometown’s marching band.

They won third place in the Southern California championships. They are among the best of the best.

I am so proud, I can’t think of anything else today.

For my many readers who went home, lifted medals over their heads and hung them over the family’s mantels, thank you for a spectacular season.

I know how hard you worked. You deserved it.

Julia, Myles, Will, Hunter, Carlisle and the other 119. Good on you.


I fought with a nurse

July 27, 0010

This weekend we went to a party to welcome my new baby niece. I love holding newborns, but my birthing stories would scare anyone off getting pregnant, me being at the top of the list.

I gave birth to my son throughout the night. He was stuck.

At 6 in the morning he finally made it out and I wanted to sleep.

‘Look at your new son!’ someone said.

I closed my lids. They were blackish purple all the way to my brows because my pushing had broken all the blood vessels in them. ‘Just plug him on my breast. I’ll see him later.’

They did and I went to sleep. I was sleeping blissfully when a new nurse came on duty.

She shook my arm roughly and yelled, ‘Wake up and pee!’


I didn’t open my eyes, but I murmured, ‘I don’t need to pee.’

‘Yes you do.’

She wouldn’t go away. She said, ‘You have to pee, and if you don’t, you’re going to wet the bed. Then you’ll have to go find someplace to sit while I change your urine sheets. Get up and pee.’

‘I don’t have to pee.’

My husband, who was sleeping next to me, said, ‘Just go. We could have been back to sleep by now.’

But I didn’t have to pee.

I threw back the sheets with a huff, gentled the baby closer to Daddy and stood up.

And peed all over the floor next to the bed.