Wednesday, August 31, 2005

These Boots Were Made For...

a) walking
b) stomping
c) riding a stick horse around the house
d) jumping up and down in front of the mirror, gleefully chanting "Ride 'em cowgirl, ride 'em cowgirl, ride 'em cowgirl!"
e) all of the above

MG got many fantabulous presents for her 5th. I thought I'd scored with a bright pink sparkly Helllo Kitty lunchbox, but these, from her 90-year-old great-grandmother in Wyoming, totally trumped anything we mere parents gave her.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Scrub brush

I've been thinking more about Mermaid Girl's birth story since posting it yesterday, and realized that in a vain attempt at brevity I forgot to tell one of my favorite parts.

That Monday morning at 6:30 AM, we duly checked in at the little hospital room that was to be our family's home for the next three days. We met the doula, and started getting set up. I have only the vaguest memory of what that entailed, but I seem to recall that it involved several different sets of people coming to the room and introducing themselves.

Someone suggested that Renaissance Woman might want to take a relaxing bath in the special bathtub that opened on the side. It took FOREVER to fill, and then while she was in it, oh! oh! the anesthesiologist said it was time to start! Apparently the anesthesiologist is supreme in these things; everyone else sits around and waits for him (or her, I suppose, but not in this case) and when he says "go" they all jump up and go. So we had to go! go! go! right then! Even though RW was in the bathtub and it only opened on the side and it was full! So we had to wait for it to drain before she could get out! but we had to go! right then!

Someone tossed a set of scrubs at me and ordered me to put them on, since I wouldn't be allowed in the O.R. otherwise. I struggled into the scrubs while everyone hustled RW out of the wicked side-opening tub. Everything was happening so fast because of the clock ticking on the god-like anesthesiologist. I'd barely pulled the shirt on before the bevy of nurses was shoving RW out the door, down the hall, to the O.R. "Wait!" I called, but they didn't wait. I tried to pull the pants on over my shoes, but they wouldn't go. I had to take the shoes off, take off my leggings, pull the scrubs on, put my shoes on, tie them back up.

I raced out the door, pulling my mask over my face. Everyone was gone. I have a terrible sense of direction; even though we'd toured it the previous night, I had only the vaguest idea of where the O.R. was. I careened blindly down the hall, peering up and down until I found Sally the Midwife, scrubbing up outside a door that I could only assume led to the O.R.

"Hi," I panted.

"Do you want a really good vegetable scrubber?" she asked, with no preamble.

I'd always appreciated Sally's straighforwardness, but this was a little odd even for me. As soon as she asked, though, I envisioned our sink, with the ratty old scrubber we used for pots and vegetables alike. Who was I to turn down this offer? The baby would certainly need clean carrots. "Um, sure," I said.

"Here." She popped the brush she'd been scrubbing in with into the shirt pocket of my scrubs. "The hospital people just throw these out, and they make great vegetable scrubbers."

"Cool. Um, thanks!" Wow, I thought: we get a baby, and a vegetable brush in the deal!

Sally swept me into the OR, where I stood next to RW and held her hand for the thirty seconds or so it took the obstetrician to cut her open. As the anesthesiologist hummed along to "Greensleeves" and Sally yanked our smart, stubborn baby out by her little blue foot, a warm wet spot bloomed over my heart.

They rushed the baby to a little table and I moved over with them, feeling a little faint from re-breathing the air in the paper mask. RW had been having scary dreams about hospitals and had insisted that I keep the baby in my sight at all times. Everything was very loud and clanky, and all I could do was stare at the screaming blond baby with the perfect head. "Ours," I tried thinking, but it didn't seem right yet.

The doula was still next to RW. "She wants to know how the baby is!" she called over the din of the machines.

"She's blond!" I blurted.

"She says, talk to the baby!" the doula yelled.

"Um, hi," I said to the baby. I'd been looking forward to being the first one to talk to the baby, to welcoming her to the world. But now that she was here, I was completely empty of words. What could I say to this brand-new person that wouldn't be completely dopey? "It's good to see you," I said lamely. She didn't stop screaming.

The scurrying horde of masked people finished encasing the baby in blankets, and popped her into my arms, where she continued to scream.

"What's that?" one of them asked, pointing accusingly at the wet spot on my shirt.

"It's, uh, a vegetable brush."

She plucked it from my pocket. "We have to keep the baby dry," she chided. "It would be very dangerous for her to get a chill."

"Oh. Right. Sure. Sorry." My new scrubber! I wanted to cry out. Give it back! It's for the baby's carrots! But somehow it didn't seem like the best idea to say anything.

The baby was still crying, moving her head back and forth and making little pursey movements with her mouth. I carried her back to the operating table, where RW was still getting stitched up. RW gazed adoringly at her. I started to feel faint and passed the baby to the doula so I could crouch down, pull my mask up over my fogged glasses and breathe for a minute. Then I stood up and she passed the baby back to me. A couple minutes later I crouched down and handed the baby to her again.

We stood and crouched and passed the baby and breathed until RW was all sewn up. Then we followed her in a little procession down the hall, RW lying in state, me carrying the swaddled baby like infant royalty. I sat down with her while the bevy bustled around RW in her hospital bed. She was quiet now, focusing on something, watching, listening. "Ours," I tried thinking again. This time it sounded better.

There didn't seem to be anything useful to say to such a new person, so I tried singing. "When morning comes to Morgantown," I started shakily.

Sally the Midwife appeared, checking up on us. "Oh! Hi!" I stopped, self-conscious. "Go on," she waved at me. "Keep singing."

"The merchants roll their awnings down," I sang, as Sally and the doula negoitated with the bevy of nurses about letting RW nurse before they did a million more things. "The milk trucks make their morning rounds, in Morning Morgantown."

I finished the song. The baby nursed. A milllion visitors came and went. Flowers came and we filled the bassinet with them; the baby stayed in the bed with us. We looked and looked and looked at her, and talked to her, and sang to her. Someone came and showed us how to change a diaper; someone came and showed us how to give the baby a bath.

It got dark, and light, and dark again. Someone came and told me to change out of the scrubs; they were only for hospital staff. I changed back into my T-shirt.

The warm wet spot had long dried, anyway. But I still felt it, right over my heart.

I feel it still today.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Renaissance Woman hates hospitals.

When she was pregnant, she never had any doubt that she wanted an out-of-hospital birth. She picked out a great midwife, a great birth center, a doula, made a birth plan. We went to out-of-hospital birth classes with the guru of home-birth doula-ing. We even both took hypnobirthing sessions to learn more about pain control.

She sailed through the first and second trimesters without a hitch. She took prenatal yoga classes and got lots of sleep. She went swimming at the outdoor pool and swore the baby loved the feeling of being in the water. She was glowing and happy as the third trimester neared its end. She'd had three ultrasounds, and everything looked great; we wanted to know the sex and the ultrasound technician said for sure this was a girl. The baby was due on August 15th. Or maybe 18th. Or 16th. Depending on how you counted. But in any case, RW was sure the baby would be born on the 16th; she just had a feeling.

August 15th came and went. And the 16th. And the 18th. The baby was fine, moving, wiggling around, but apparently not in any hurry to go anywhere.

On Friday, August 25th, a week past the latest possible due date, RW went in for one more ultrasound to make sure her fluid level was okay. She lay down, got greased up, and we prepared to see our fuzzy gray baby on the screen.

"Well, your fluid level's fine," said the tech, sweeping the wand across RW's belly. Then, chattily, as if this were nothing new, "The baby is breech, but the fluid's fine."

"What?" I sat up in my chair. RW's head snapped over to the right. "She's not breech!" we protested in unison.

"Oh, sure she is," said the tech. "See, here, how her head's up at the top?"

Somehow, in the few weeks since RW's last exam, the baby had turned around. We rushed home and pulled out our half-dozen pregnancy-and-birth guidebooks, combing the indexes for "breech." The topic was always in the second-trimester section, accompanied by soothing text along the lines of, "If your baby is breech at this point, don't worry; s/he will probably turn around by your due date..." Not one word about a baby who turned from head-down to breech after the due date.

We called the midwife. She was on another birth and said she'd call us back as soon as she could.

We spent Friday night and Saturday waiting by the phone, and trying to coax the baby to go head-down again. RW lay with her head down and her bottom propped up. I sang to the bottom of her uterus, hoping the baby would be attracted to the sound. We called the midwife again, we called the doula, we called the birth class instructor. We waited, and waited, and worried.

The midwife called back. "We'll try to get you in for a version at one of the hospitals," she said. "If the baby won't turn around, you'll have to have a C-section. There's no doctor in Washington State who'd do a vaginal birth for an 8-pound breech baby who's a week overdue."

A version is when they push on the pregnant woman's stomach to try to get the baby turned around. It's not the most pleasant experience, but we were getting desperate. "The only thing I have to give, to make you smile, to win you with, are all the mornings still to live in Morning Morgantown," I sang pleadingly to RW's stomach. But the baby was stubborn.

We went in for the version on Sunday night. The doctor shook our hands and introduced himself. He was casual, funny, and flamingly gay. RW and I have very similar names, and he found this hilarious. So much so that I wanted to slap him after a while.

The doula went in with RW for the version, and I waited in the hall. We both felt like she'd be too worried about my reaction to focus if I were there.

The doctor came back out before long. "Well, the baby didn't like that," he reported jovially. "We almost had her turned around, but her heart rate went down and she popped right out from under my hands." He gave RW a choice: come back in the morning for a C-section, or wait until she went into labor and then have a C-section.

So we went to the hospital the next morning, after staying up half the night talking with the doula, packing, calling all the relatives, and revising the birth plan. As RW said then, "No way is this baby being born on September 2nd and waiting a whole extra year to go to kindergarten." RW, hater of hospitals, walked into the O.R. on her own steam, and stood her ground with the anesthesiologist until he agreed that her doula would be with her while he put in the spinal. Mermaid Girl was born via C-section at 10 in the morning, with "Greensleeves" playing in the operating room, and with the doula, me, and about a dozen unidentifiable masked and gowned people in attendance.

The nurse midwife we'd worked with all along did the actual delivery. She pulled Mermaid Girl out by her foot. "Oh, she's beautiful!" she said, and RW and I both thought, ah, she says that about every baby. But it was true. She was radiant.

The midwife told us later that the umbilical cord was short and not stretchy enough, and that that was probably why the baby had turned around, so she'd be able to get oxygen. I thought of the advice I'd read somewhere about what to do if you're caught in a snowstorm: don't try to outrun it, but make a little cave in the snow and hole up until help comes. That was what our baby had done, while we were trying to coax her out: holed up where she was safe, and waited for help.

"Smart baby," I praised her, as she nursed ravenously and clutched the arm of the hospital rocking chair with her long, prehensile toes.

That was five years ago this morning.

And in a week and a half, that little baby with the prehensile toes is indeed starting kindergarten.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Whiny parent alert

I'm a teacher, or as near as makes no difference. I can't stand whiny parents who complain nonstop about their kids' school/camp/daycare. But--ta-da--I have become one! Argh!

Just tried to drop MG off at camp. We've been going late because they do swimming first thing, MG won't swim in the crowded indoor pool, and I don't have to go to work at any particular time this week.

The other day I tried to pack her bathing suit "just so you'll have a choice! in case you want to swim!" and she burst into earthshaking sobs and choked out, "Don't! Don't! They check your backpack, and if you have a bathing suit they make you swim!"

So I didn't pack her bathing suit. It's the last week of camp, after all.

Today--the last day of camp--the schedule said they'd have swimming first, then the Perrforming Arts camp performance. We didn't want to miss that so we came in the middle of swim time. But--surprise!--the schedule was wrong! They were partway through the first performance when we got there! All was darkness and tiered bleachers in the gym, and I didn't want her predictable separation-anxiety meltdown to disrupt the performance, so I stayed for the whole damn thing.

And here is where my whiny parenthood intersects with either prudishness or feminism, can't tell the difference at the moment.

Act One (we missed most of this part): Performed by 1st and 2nd graders. Mickey and Minnie Mouse break up, and the other cartoon characters try to get them back together.

Act Two: 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Robin Hood. Robin Hood has to win some kind of contest so that Maid Marian wil marry him.

Act Three: 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Selections from-- guess, no, go on, guess.

Cabaret? No, worse.
Chicago? no, WORSE.


The musical whose wholesome, kid-friendly message is, to quote one of my favorite short stories, "If you want to keep your boyfriend, you'd best put out."

Seriously, I'm not a prude. I'm all for kids feeling positive about their sexuality at any age. I'm probably way on the fringe in terms of how little I think kids need to be protected from knowledge of sex. But when the "Beauty School Dropout" singer turned and did a little in-jokey cough instead of singing the word "hooker" where it normally goes in that song, I smacked my forehead.

More than that kind of thing, though, it's the girls' (or female mouse's) gender roles in all three of those plays that's so exasperating. My frilly, femmy, "boys like Spiderrman and girls like Barrrrrrrbie" girl doesn't need any more encouragement along those lines.

*Brief interruption for some commentary from my Inner Trolls*

Inner Troll #1: Aren't you overreacting a bit? Big deal, it was just some cute plays, the kids were obviously having a blast, it's not like they don't know about sex roles from the entire culture anyway, and are you sure your true motivation isn't just a little prudish?

Inner Troll #2: Sexuality is one of the great themes of all art and literature. It's dumb to pretend kids don't tune into that. How different are you from the parents who don't want their kids to read Judy Blume or Robie Harris's It's Perfectly Normal?

Inner Troll #3: What do you expect? It's a mainstream camp. Quit yer whining. If that kind of thing is so important to you, why don't you do your research and send her to some groovy earthy crunchy progressive camp? You live in Seattle, for godsakes. I'm sure you can find one.

Thank you, trolls. Your opinions certainly provide food for thought. I'll keep them in mind.

In the meantime, I'm going to pick her up early today. Even though I stayed till noon, it just seemed to make her whinier (see, it runs in the family!): she clung and cried and even ran away from the group to try to follow me. Twice.

But I left. Because I didn't wnt to reinforce whining and crying. And because I had to go to work and be productive. See how productive I'm being?

She said this morning that kids tease her because she's not quite five yet. But she might be making that part up; she never mentioned it before today.

And some kid stole her fruit leather out of her bag on Wednesday.

I think next year I might have to find some other way for MG to get her dose of Happy Jolly Jewish Summer Fun.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We wore them to chase the dinosaurs at Woodstock

Mermaid Girl, getting dressed:

"Can I have some jeans? That's what old-fashioned girls used to wear."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Pen Pal

Back in May, Mermaid Girl wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to stop the war in Iraq (I didn't put her up to this. Well, I did suggest the letter, but only because she was ranting about how she wanted to tell him to stop. And I transcribed her dictation).

On Friday, this came in the mail:

From the White House! With a picture of the President! Wasn't it nice of him to write to her? She was thrilled.

This is what the letter said:

He encourages her to "learn something new every day." And she does, usually. On Friday she learned that the President enjoys hearing from young Americans, but doesn't necessarily read or respond to what they actually write in their letters.

She didn't seem to mind, to be honest, though of course her cynical parents did. She was just happy he wrote. "He's nice about some things," she mused.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

This summer I went swimming

This summer I went swimming
This summer I might have drowned

But I held my breath, and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around
Moved my arms around

-Loudon Wainwright

Back when Rennaisance Woman was eight and then nine months pregnant, we used to go to an outdoor pool in the South End of Seattle. We'd sit on the deck and admire all the little babies splashing in the water. One in particular I remember, a little blonde charmer about a year old, laughing merrily and splashing around in her little baby inner tube.

"Our baby will be doing that next summer," we murmured fondly to each other.

Well, no, our baby wasn't doing that the following summer. Our baby hated the pool: she shivered in the cold water, she clung to our necks with a death grip, she screamed when we tried to dip her in. In short, our baby had her own ideas about what was fun. And swimming was NOT FUN.

In spite of her blog name, Mermaid Girl has never been one of those fish-children who's as comfortable in the water as on land. Oh, she loves the water, the water is fine, she'll beg and plead to go to family swim and will pull out one of her many bathing suits at the slightest excuse. But she is exceedingly... cautious. For a long time, she wouldn't enter even the very shallowest of wading pools without her inflatable inner tube clutched around her middle. She refuses to go down the tiny slide in the three-foot warm pool unless a grownup is holding her hand the entire time.

She's taken swimming lessons at the outdoor pool for three summers now, and for three summers she's been in the beginner's group, cautiously blowing little bubbles on the surface of the water, gingerly allowing the teacher to hold her as she practices making ice-cream scoops with her hands. She won't even go into the crowded pool at camp the last few weeks--after we gushed to her about how wonderful it would be that she could go swimming every day--because there's too much splashing: "People are disobeying the law, and I don't like it," she says primly.

It turns out that I am no better than the competitive parents I scoffed at back when I was a preschool teacher. I want my kid to excell! I want her to be a star! In everything! Who knew? But at least I have the decency to keep my indecent vicarious ambitions to myself. RW and I keep staunchly agreeing to each other that MG will swim when she's ready, that she enjoys the water and that's what's important, that she can stay in Group A as long as she needs to. Meanwhile, her friends are launching themselves out like dolphins, doing the crawl and the backstroke and grabbing plastic rings from the bottom of the pool.

At the end of the last round of classes I asked MG--striving for a nonchalant effect that probably didn't fool her for a moment--if she was interested in trying to be in the next group when she started classes again in July, and she agreed that she might be. When we spotted her most favorite beloved teacher on lifeguard duty during Family Swim the next week, I suggested that we ask her what you need to do to go into Group B.

The answer was, basically: put your head in the water. Which MG absolutely would not do, not even to please her very favorite teacher whom she loves and trusts so much that she even went down the big slide with her. She's scared of breathing water, it gets in her eyes, her ears hurt, she just DOESN'T WANT TO.

Then--miracle of miracles--a few weeks ago during Family Swim she started propelling herself in the water for a few seconds at a time, in a sort of frantic dog paddle, always careful to keep her head above water. Last week, her new teacher suggested that she might be able to really leap ahead if she could bring herself to put her ears in the water. So today we let her wear her earplugs to classes (why didn't we do that before? I don't know. Because we're dopes. And then we couldn't find them. Also, we thought she wouldn't be able to hear the teacher, and she's not always the best listener as it is).

During class this afternoon I was chatting with my friend Cindy--whose daughter Soralie (almost exactly MG's age but already in Group D) was splashing and diving and backstroking around the pool--when Cindy gasped and pointed to the shallow end and cried "Look at MG!"

My girl was happily dunking her head in the water, up to her nose, then up to her eyes. Each time she bobbed back up, coughing and sputtering, but game, and tried it again. When she saw me watching, she and her teacher both motioned me over. "Mommy, look!" she yelled, then took a deep breath and ducked down until the last little wisp of hair on top of her head disappeared beneath the surface. She jumped up and grinned an electric grin at me, wiping the water out of her eyes, so proud of herself.

She couldn't stop talking about it, all the way home. "Did you see me? Put my whole head under? Were you amazed? I thought it would be scary, but it was fun! Wait till we tell Mama! Everyone was so proud of me! And even more people will be proud of me! I went under I think six times! Or seven, or maybe eight! No, I think I went under twenty times! I can't wait to do it again!" She even said she might want to try it in the pool at camp tomorrow; after all, it doesn't matter how much splashing there is if you're underwater already.

It's so simple, something like this. I couldn't make her want to swim or like to swim, all I could do was sit on the deck and watch, and reassure myself she'd be fine. And-- amazing-- she's fine. She did it, all on her own. All it took was two tiny blue earplugs. And time.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I Guess It Wakes Them Up, Anyway.

Mermaid girl started Jewish Camp this week. Whoa! It's way different from Zoo Camp, more like a "regular camp"-- arts & crafts, swimming, color war (such a bogus concept-- I *never* liked Color War, even as a kid). It goes from Entering-Kindergarten all the way up to Entering-8th-Grade, so, just as it will be in September, MG, with her August 28th birthday, is, if not the very youngest kid, extremely close to it. Unlike Zoo Camp, she has no old friends there. She was noticeably jittery the first morning, but after I sat with her for about 15 minutes and she met her overwhelmingly friendly, upbeat counselors, she told me I oculd go.

Ive forgotten that at the beginning of a new care situation with MG (the Toddler Room, then the Preschool, and now Jewish Camp) I am ravenously desperate for details of her day. It's such a shock to have no idea what she does all day. Then after a while I get a sense of it and am content with whatever little tidbits she throws my way ("we painted"; "someone threw up") to fill in the rest. This being a new situation, I couldn't help peppering her with questions when I picked her up. She said it was fun, but when I pressd her for more, sighed and said, "It's hard to explain."

I understood completely. I did. I know it's worse than pointless, trying to get information out of her. I hate being interrogated, myself. It's just--I want a picture of it, you know? And part of it is about letting go, too--letting her have a world that I'm not only not part of, but am ignorant about.

This morning we got there a little late so I got to see the beginning of Morning Circle. I don't know what I thought Morning Circle was like-- some quiet, gentle thing happening in each group, maybe--but I was totally blown away by it. 100 or so kids in red camp T-shirts--they're going on a field trip today--stood in a circle in the middle of the gym (this is the Northwest, so camp starts and ends inside in case of rain). A guy in the middle SCREAMED something that sounded like "BO-BO-BO-BOKITUB!" And the kids all SCREAMED back "BO-BO-BO-BOKITUB!" Then more similar call-and-response screaming, echoing off the gymnasium walls.

MG was backed against the wall, looking glassy-eyed, obviously no more ready for Morning Circle than she would be for Morning Firing Squad. We are not morning people in our house. I edged over to her counselor and whispered, "What are they saying?" "Boker Tov," she answered, on her way over to comfort MG. "It means 'Good Morning' in Hebrew."

"Aaah." Actually I knew what "Boker Tov" means, being a Hebrew School graduate, but hadn't been able to make it out at that volume. I slipped a camp T-shirt over an unresisting MG, gave her a hug and kiss, and backed away as the counselor slipped an arm around her and tried to guide her to the circle. The peppy guy was by now jumping up and down on the stage, challenging the circle of kids to yell "RUACH" (spirit) loud enough to bounce him off. I have no doubt that they could, but I didn't stick around to see it, figuring MG would do better without me.

Good Lord, do they do that every morning? I must ask her.

I'm at work now. It's nice and quiet here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Book book boooook!

So, this chicken goes into a library...

No, seriously, a long, long time ago Carrie tagged me with a book meme. And I didn't do it. And didn't do it. And, well, here I am, trying to catch up on things. And I've been reading a lot this summer--books! Finally! Apparently my Internet addiction has now reached a level where it must be physically impossible for me to access blogs or email--i.e. in a camper van in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia--before I can successfully focus on actual books with pages that turn.

So, herewith the book meme. But I'm going to interpret it liberally and answer whatever I want. Because Carrie is in Madison and can't come get me! Hah!

Total Number of Books I Own

Okay, so there's my Fiction bookcase and my Children's Literature bookcase, each 4 or 5 shelves high (depending on whether you count the old Cricket magazines on the top shelf). Then there's the little bookcase full of trade paperbacks: mysteries, SF/Fantasy, Marge Piercy novels, an old copy of On the Road I bought at a used bookstore a long time ago--that kind of thing. Some of those are double-shelved. Then next to it there's the Jewish/Poetry/Memoir/Miscellaneous bookcase, and then the Anthology/Writing/Lit Mag/Library Literature bookcase. Which is only half-full of books because the rest is my old notes from library school, which why did I not throw out already? No idea. Some vague idea that I might need to look through them if I'm ever interviewing for another job?

Also, a couple of shelves and about half the floor full of old New Yorkers. Somewhere in there is the original Genie article that riveted me, and a few Adam Gopnik pieces that I loved, from way back when he was writing from Paris. So of course I have to keep all 300 or so issues.

Sorry...what was the question?

The Last Book I Bought

Oooh, I bought a whole bunch at Vancouver KidsBooks a few weeks ago, then RW went back that very night and bought the Canadian edition of the New Harry Potter at midnight.

I love Canadian bookstores, because not only can you buy the real British un-bowdlerized editions of British books (that's "trainers," not "sneakers," and "prat," not "jerk"--and of course "Philosopher's Stone," not "Sorcerer's Stone," thankyouverymuch), but there are books--especially kids' books--that never ever make it just the extra hundred miles or so over the border. And not just British and Canadian books, but books from Australia, New Zealand, South's a paradise for kids' book lovers and Anglophiles, of which I am both. And even when you can get the books here, it's such a treat to have the original editions with the original artwork. They just feel different. Rare and exciting and crackly.

Anyway, one of the books I bought on our last big binge in Vancouver was Permanent Rose, by Hilary McKay. It's the third in a series about this crazy family of artists in England, the mom hides out in the shed where she has her studio and the dad is barely there because he's busy being cool and famous in London and all the kids are named after colors on the color chart (or rather, the colour chart) and there are various Issues which would all be made into their own problem novels in lesser hands (adoption, divorce, disability, bullying) but which here hardly register as Issues because they're just things that happen to the kids in the book, when they're not being funny and cutting and kind to each other and trying to figure out what to have for dinner because Mum's busy painting again.

Permanent Rose isn't out yet in the States I don't think. I love this series so much that I bought it in hardcover and then bought the first two--Saffy's Angel and Indigo's Star--even though I have them at work, because they had the British editions and I love them so.

The Last Book I Read

Well. I gobbled down Permanent Rose, then I read Gregor the Overlander, which is this terrific fantasy about a kid who falls down a grate in the laundry room and gets mixed up with a bunch of giant bugs and bats and also people who live way underground, and along with his two-year-old sister (who turns out to be a surprisingly effective weapon, especially when she's having a tantrum) saves things. Then I read this great huge doorstop of a fantasy called East which everyone's been raving about and it turns out they were pretty much right. It's based on East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a fairy tale I've never read, but I had no trouble following it anyway. A young girl goes on a journey to the end of the earth to repair the wrong she's done to a white bear who was under an enchantment from the Troll Queen! 500 pages, but it's in short chapters and zips right along.

Now I'm in the middle of the new Harry Potter. So far, it's better than the last one, about which I remember almost nothing except a great deal of almost incomprehensible excitement and yelling and things blowing up in the last 50 pages or so.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me

I think I waxed very wordy about Girls Visions and Everything and A Little Princess last time I did this meme. Fortunately, there are lots of others:

The Work of a Common Woman, by Judy Grahn. All I can think of to say about this is that it's "powerful lesbian feminist poetry," which is so inadequate. It's's poetry like a knife or something, or like, oh, shit, I'm not a poet so I can't explain but it's SO GOOD. So good. I don't always like her later poems so much but this one, this one I love.

A Room Made of Windows, by Eleanor Cameron. Kids/Young Adult novel about a young girl who wants to be a writer. I know, blah blah blah, but this book is just so honest and true and specific and funny. Her dad is dead, and her mom is starting to date again, and she's really conflicted about it. She's also wrestling with her memories of her dad, who was a writer and also a very difficult person. It takes place in I think the 20's in the Bay Area but it feels like it could be happening now, there's very little that dates it or feels old-timey.

Daughters and Rebels, by Jessica Mitford. Jessica Mitford was the second-youngest child in a big, eccentric upper-class family in England. (Her older sister, Nancy, wrote novels of manners and was pals with Evlyn Waugh.) She was a Communist from an early age and ran away at 18 to elope with her second cousin and join the volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. Then they left England and sloped around America for a while before he went off to fight fascism in WWII. She was also HYSTERICALLY funny and addicted to pulling over-the-top pranks. Who knew making revolution could be such a hoot?
*Little-known fact: Jessica Mitford is one of J.K. Rowling's heroes; she even named her daughter Jessica after her. I think Mitford's influence comes through the Harry Potter books in many ways, especially Fred and George's pranks.

Disturbances in the Field, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. This is a fabulous book. I've read it three or four times, but I can't read it again until MG is grown up because--not to spoil it too much for you, but the central event is a Very Very Bad Thing that happens, and its aftermath for the heroine and her family. In spite of that, it is not a depressing book, and there's lots of other wonderful stuff in it, particularly about the power of friendship and the paths people's lives can take, and there's also lots about Greek philosophy and music (the heroine is a pianist) and the Upper West Side and it's just this great big lovely contemporary realist novel which you should run right out and read if you are not superstitious like me. As soon as MG turns eighteen I'm going to read it again. Maybe even on her eighteenth birthday, come to think of it.

Isn't that five books yet? It's almost 10:30 and I still have over 150 pages of Harry to read.

Oh, fine. Okay.

A long, long time ago, I found a book called The Child Stealer. I think it was by John Updike? Or maybe John Cheever? It was on a high shelf in my always-deserted junior high school library. I might be the only person who ever picked it off that shelf. It was about, I think, a man who went around (surprise!) stealing children for his own nefarious purposes. My memory is that it was only very intelligent children he stole. At the end this one kid, a brilliant boy who's also fat and a misfit and miserable, goes with him willingly, even though he knows he's going to be put in a little box in the dark, because the child stealer is the only person who understands the value of his brilliance. It was really good, and really creepy, and I've never seen it or heard of it since, but I've never forgotten it.

Now I should tag someone else, but I'm such a bad memer myself that I just can't bring myself to. So instead I will ask you: what is the weird obscure book you read once and have never heard of otherwise but never forgotten?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Back from the wilderness

So about a week ago I found myself obsessed with BlogHer, despite not having been to it. I was reading other people's accounts on a minute-by-minute basis. Then I read the follow-up posts.

I was so busy reading about BlogHer that I forgot

Then we went away on one last hurrah in Twinkie the Van. And I was all paranoid about mentioning it because someone mentioned that someone at BlogHer had mentioned that someone's house got robbed when they blogged about going on vacation.

Never mind that I don't have my address up here.

I was kind of addled with getting the food ready and putting together Mermaid Girl's new loft bed and running back and forth to Ikea *twice* and then we were gone!

I read five books. Well, four and a half. We went swimming. We slept in the van, we cooked in the van, we looked at the stars, we had a great time. I was full of thoughts and ideas and energy.

As soon as we got back to the house last night, I felt a great WHOOSH as all those ideas and energy flew out my ears and disappeared into the ether, leaving me only with the great reluctance to do anything and corresponding inability to concentrate that seem to afflict me whenever I cross over the doorway of our house. What's with that?

Fortunately, I took some notes during the first couple days. Unfortunately, they're somewhat sketchy. Here they are:


Post: Question of exclusion/community
--Romance/erotica [writing, that is]
--More...Bloggers? Blogrolls?


Trend: Eating sushi off naked person?
People are warm. Who wants warm sushi?
Beauty of sushi is that it is glistening cold slabs of raw fish.


In the souvenir store on the ferry to Vancoover Island, I came around a crowded aisle and started--coming right at me was a heavyset, short-haired, bespectacled middle-aged woman in a tank top. Maybe a dyke, maybe just practical and frumpy. Oh! It was me! A mirror, where I didn't expect it.

MG flopping on hotel room floor last night, rolling her eyes: "Do I have to sleep in the closet AGAIN?!"

Pink overall shorts & braids & Hello Kitty hat! The cuteness!!

Picture-taking tip: "Look away from me! And NO SMILING!"