Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Return of The Prodigal Son

On a lighter note, here's a little story with a happy ending.

On our second morning in Texas, I got a call from my mother. She'd been babysitting the dog, the fish, and the hamster, and when I heard her voice, my heart sank. Turns out darling Dr. Frizzle the hamster had gotten out of his penthouse, and was gone. Nowhere to be found. My poor mom was in a guilty panic, turning the house upside down looking, but to no avail.

Anyway, Dr. Frizzle didn't turn up, although my mom put out food and water for him and dutifully kept searching. This wasn't the first time the Friz had escaped, and once Pippin even sniffed him out. He'd never gone missing this long, though, and I prepared Hedgehog for the fact that he might not return.

We arrived back in Brooklyn to his sad and empty cage. I slept on the couch the first night to try and hear any sign of gnawing or scampering; no luck. Sgt. Pepper, however, claimed that in the early hours of the morning, a little shadow passed by our bed, moving more slowly than a mouse. I didn't believe him. Then, last night, I woke at 3 a.m. to Sarge shouting "He's here! He's here!" I ran downstairs, and Sarge was poking around under the radiator; he'd been unable to catch Friz, or maybe unwilling--he's a little unnerved by the rodent to begin with, and now that the rodent had reverted to a possibly feral state, the fear was greater--still, Sarge was intensely invested in the rescue. And in another moment, sure enough, there was Friz, trundling across the bedroom floor, a little dusty but without a care in the world.

Thus Dr. Frizzle was "rescued" (although I'm not sure how psyched he was about this), none the worse for wear--not dehydrated, seemingly well-fed. So, I ask, what was the free-ranging hamster doing for nearly two weeks out on his own?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Such schlepping around as was never before today experienced. First of all, mmmm....sweet, sweet mullet and tackle...

Then we went to the world's most boring place. I'm sorry, but I don't like to trundle around in a group, banging into each other and praying for the excursion to be over. There were some highlights, however: 1. we ate a paper cone full of warm candied pecans and 2. there were many delightful birds doing delightful birdish things. I caught up with this feller taking his afternoon nap:

Hedgehog stoically posed with the perp penguin:

And she played in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, so that I could capture in a photo the ubiquitous idyll of the child in the waves:

She watched an elderly man surf, and then pretended to do it herself:

Then M-I-L took us on a tour of the Victorian mansions of Galveston, except that she got lost and we ended up at the bootleg package store (click to see the sign):

and here:

Then we had our third command performance extended family meal of the day, and I almost dozed off over my beans. It turned out I didn't even need prescription tranquilizers--the conversation did it for me. Hedgehog was shockingly rude and announced at the table that she was bored and could she be excused? I forgave her because she had been so well-behaved all day. And besides, I felt the same way...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I must begin this post with a tale of a very selfish person, and that person is me. Today we visited Sgt. Pepper's aunt's extremely high-end jewelry shop. Now, Hedgehog is very interested in gems, she has a thick book of gems at home that she avidly studies, and so she loved the shop. She got to see a watermelon tourmaline, which she had only before read about, and was sweetly excited about that. But the longer we stayed in the shop visiting, the more closely she began to examine the jewelry, and the more covetous she became.

"Mama," she said. "I have a hundred dollars saved. Do you think there's something I could buy in here?"

"No, sweetie," I told her as kindly as possible. "It's not that kind of store."

"Oh," she was momentarily deflated, but strangely didn't seem to internalize this information. "What about this little ring?" she asked, pointing to a gold band set with ruby, emerald, diamond, and sapphire. Granted, it was not ostentatious. So I could understand her confusion. "It's my favorite thing in the whole store," she told me wistfully. I showed her the price. "Oh," she said. "I don't have that much."

"No," I said. "Neither do I."

"I love it so much, mama."

"Hedgehog," I said. "There are so many things in here that I would dream of having, but I just have to dream, because they're not for me."

However, her innocent words were overheard by a very indulgent grandma. And what do you think happened next? Yes. You are correct. Seven-year-old Hedgehog became the proud yet non-comprehending owner of a gold ring set with ruby, emerald, diamond, and sapphire. And what was my reaction? Jealousy, pure and simple. Never ever before have I been jealous of Hedgehog, never have I begrudged her a moment of happiness or any material thing given to her. Never ever. But here we were, surrounded by stunning jewelry, much of which I would have loved beyond words to receive, but that Sgt. Pepper and I could never ever afford, and instead a little girl was receiving a totally insanely decadently luxe gift, a gift she can't even understand. I felt my throat tighten momentarily, actually felt tears welling up. I'm making this confession here; I comfort myself that one can't help what one feels.

And once I got over these shameful feelings of jealousy, my mothering instinct kicked in. Now I'm still sorting out the event in my mind. Do I object to her getting such an expensive piece of jewelry, for no reason at all, just because she said she liked it? Maybe it's not my place to object--and her grandmother can do whatever she likes with her money. Should I have said something to halt this maybe immoral display of largesse? No, I don't think so. And I tried not to ruin the moment by making faces at Sgt. Pepper and perhaps pinching him until he screamed. In the end, I'm going to let it go and consider that now Hedgehog has her very own special possession that will always be with her, if only in her jewelry box.

The rest of the day was spent in the minivan driven maniacally from place to place.

We ended up at an amusement park, where Hedgehog convinced me to ride this with her:

I agreed and, indeed, enjoyed myself. We saw the moon over the Gulf of Mexico:

But poor Hedgehog as it turned out really really didn't like the height:

Here she is, as she explained to me, trying "not to fall out":

After which, we took a ride on the beautiful carousel:

Where the crazy lights and angles and movement were just a wee bit trippy for me:

But the dignified old rabbit was a comforting presence:

We ended up at a barbecue joint, where Hedgehog rallied enough to ham it up for the camera with a piece of smoked brisket:

Then she flagged, and who could blame her. Between the jewels and the heights, it was a very intense sort of day:

Now why on earth can't they get the punctuation right?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Misty Morning, Albert Bridge

I went on a wonderful date last light with my man A., whom I've decided to nickname Sgt. Pepper here (I find it awkward to call him "A"). We hadn't been out together, just the two of us, since last year around this time when we left E. (who shall henceforth be Hedgehog) with my mother-in-law and went to a bookstore together. At night. Woo! But then when we got there we immediately separated, Sarge to Sci Fi and me to Knitting, then me to Sci Fi by which time he'd already moved on to Military History. By the time I got over to neighboring True Crime he'd left for the magazines. And never the 'twain shall meet. The last really real date was five years ago, a Who concert. Is there something wrong with this picture? I guess it's okay-- we're true homebodies and we like to be in our house cozily. I think Sgt. Pepper's boyhood, spent globe-trotting, tired him out. Although occasionally he will get a wild enthusiasm for day-tripping in the city. I rarely do.

Anyway, this picture reminds me of us, although I've quit smoking and we're not in London more's the pity. But we were at a Pogue's show at Roseland Ballroom last night! We took the subway from Brooklyn and laughed the whole way, after we'd gotten over a bit of stilted transitional conversation about car insurance...the show was like a giant sing-along in an Irish cop bar. We sang along, screamed and cheered, avoided getting knocked over by the drunken careeners, and generally had a fantastic time. We love the Pogues so much. Almost as much as we love each other. The two things seem inextricably linked--the whole history of our relationship is set to a soundtrack, and the Pogues feature prominently in this. The fact that Hedgehog now loves their music all of her own accord makes it that much more meaningful.

I've plugged them before, but if you've never heard the Pogues, and have any inclination at all whatsoever toward Irish music, or think you might, you must at least give them a listen.

So, what music is in the soundtrack of your relationship, past or present? I'd really love to know.

Friday, March 14, 2008

In the Interests of Keeping it Random...Some Musings on Crafty Motherhood

Well, it's quite a departure...but I've been moved by certain people's posts to post some of my own craftish things. When Hedgehog was a toddler and we were pretty homebound a lot of the time, I liked to try my hand at various projects to keep her and myself entertained. One afternoon I made these felt puppets for her:

I've always loved to make things with paper, fabric, and yarn. Whatever's handy. I'm good with knitting needles and crochet hooks, less so with the sewing needle (although that doesn't always stop me). When I got pregnant I think the thing I was most excited about was the potential for crafting--first the little blankets and sweaters, then later all the projects I knew we would do together. And we have done them. The things I've made for Hedgehog over the years have run the whole gamut from the ridiculous (a hideously hand-sewn a-line dress in My Little Pony cotton print--might have been cute but for the drunken stitching) to the sublime (a very elaborate sweater coat with hood, cables and bobbles, in super-luxe purple yarn)...from the meditative (the thousands and thousands of tiny origami stars I folded for her when I was still pregnant) to the ill-conceived (bean bags made from one my old dresses; the old fabric gave way and left Hedgehog strewing beans like Gretel all over the house)...from the cherished (a gigantic crocheted Eeyore) to the reviled (a pillow knit from sneezy ugly novelty yarn)...Hedgie has known it all.

Crafting has helped me keep my mothering sanity over the years, though. In fact, I know I'm in terrible shape when I'm too down to work on a project; nothing on the needles or in the works--it's like a mental health red flag! In general, when I'm overwhelmed by the responsibility of Hedgehog or underwhelmed by my parenting ability, I have turned to the sweet cheer of bright yarns, embroidery floss, fabric bits, and patterns--it doesn't always fully subdue my feelings, but it's a great comfort anyway.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Have Strong Opinions, and I've Decided to Air Some of Them

I've come to the firm conclusion that there's no place in this world for my politics. I am not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican either. I like to say that Sergeant Pepper and I are a party unto ourselves. But that's a lonely place to be.

Sarge and I attended an ultra-liberal liberal arts college. I mean, this place is liberal. It's so liberal that many liberals would find it too liberal. That's one of the things it's famous for. I fell in love with it because it had a gorgeous campus and a wonderful Greek and Latin program. And it was very small. But politically, it was all wrong. The student body there has a habit of political correctness, en masse, to a fault. Plus, and more egregious, very little collective sense of humor.  It's strangely and paradoxically not a tolerant group of people, and it wasn't when I was there either.

I've never towed a party line, not when I came of age and awareness politically, and not now. When I met Sarge on campus and got to know him, I was blown away by his unapologetic iconoclasm. I'm going to pause to give a definition for iconoclasm, because although we might have an idea of what it means it's good to review. An iconoclast is someone who destroys icons: one who attacks or "assertively rejects cherished beliefs and institutions or established values and practices." That was Sarge when I met him, and he's still fervently so. In a milieu (our college) where nearly everyone thought and spoke in unison about socio-political topics, and any dissent was (ironically) set upon with witch-hunt enthusiasm, Sarge spoke his own mind. And like so many I went to college with, he was absolutely brilliant, but unlike the rest of the crowd, he was a true free-thinker. I was one too, but sheepishly so. It became quickly apparent to me that Sergeant Pepper was my soul-mate romantically, but also intellectually and politically.

But it's been hard over the years. I find my neighborhood now to be similar in its politically one-sided vehemence to our college. Me, I'm a mix, incredibly liberal on certain topics near to my heart, but I'm quite conservative on others. I won't do the run-down topic by topic, because no one cares about that but me. But I've found myself again and again sitting in conversation and feeling quite alienated by the assumption that I lean a certain way politically. It's something about my appearance, or the fact that I am quite a tolerant person by and large. But let me say from experience that liberalism does not, in this age, always equal tolerance, and conservatism does not make you automatically judgmental. So, often unbeknownst to those around me, I don't always lean a particular way. And when I do speak up, if my opinion is out of step, I have to explain myself, and that makes me uncomfortable. Lively political debate is one thing; what passes for it is quite another.

You know, it's interesting, but I've found that, similarly, it's unfashionable in certain circles to believe in God, or to practice your religion.  Now, please let me say, I have no problem with  agnosticism nor even with atheism.  I'm no proselytizer (well, Jews don't really proselytize anyway, except to each other), and every person has a right to their own private spiritual journey.  I really firmly believe that.  But sometimes I find people are quite surprised to learn that I practice my religion, and even more surprised to find that I believe in God (a topic that does come up in casual conversation from time to time!). The fact that I'm Jewish seems to make my religiousity it a little more acceptable in liberal circles than if I were Christian.  I think the relative oddity of Judaism, the fact that it is out of the mainstream and its proponents are and have always been outsiders, makes it more palatable somehow.  And since I'm Reform, not Orthodox, there's no question of my being overly doctrinaire.  Still, I think it sometimes makes people uncomfortable. But I would never make anyone defend their religious beliefs; I shouldn't have to defend mine.

Well, some may believe I'm a mass of contradictions, but I'm just questioning, always questioning (hey, now that's a really Jewish value).  But it boils down to one very important thing. A. and I want to be tolerant and free-thinking, and we want to raise E. to be tolerant and free-thinking, in the very deepest sense of these attributes.  It is really that simple in the end.

WARNING, some bitter vitriole is coming up. Please skip it if you want to like me:

Now just to end on a negative note, and round out my political broadsheet, I must air my opinion on the latest sickening display of hypocrisy: Eliot Spitzer. Ech. That's my opinion. And let me say, I'm not one bit surprised; I never am. Why are people continually surprised by these things? And that Mrs. Spitzer standing next to him like the Quintessence of Wifehood, please, for the love of all that is holy, give me a break. What ever happened to a woman's right to dignity?

And here's another opinion while I'm at it: David Paterson, the Lieutenant Governor who's now going to be Governor. He's the one who kept trying to get that legislation passed, you know, he recommended that if cops neeeded to fire their weapons at a suspect, they should shoot them "in the arm or leg" just to disable them. (Okay, the legislation was more complex than that, but that's the crux of it) WHAT?! How exactly is this achieved? He obviously has no idea how police interactions, especially dangerous scenarios, play themselves out on a minute to minute basis. Nor of the impossibility in most cases of hitting an arm or a leg "just enough" to wound but not severely...oy. How freaking dangerous that legislation would have been--to police and to civilians. I know all the police groups said it before, but I'm just reminding myself of why I dislike Paterson so much. That legislation was just too asinine to bear--and he supported it year after year, just to make a statement!

Phew, I'm done for now. Wow, this was super fun. I really said some things I believe. I don't do that too often. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Stormy Saturday Afternoon

I feel a little like I'm just waking up from a long and restless nap, but I'm much much better today. Torrential rain all afternoon, which Hedgehog and I braved to keep a luncheon date with some dear friends of ours. It's always so much easier when the girls and the mamas get along. I find it very congenial when we all hang out together. I ate a delicious hot squash soup with tarragon, which tasted like the very essence of getting better after a long illness.

Late this afternoon, with the wind and rain howling outside, I got out my dear violin. She is much beloved, with a strong true tone. I've had her since I was twelve:

I played a bit on my own, then Sgt. Pepper got out his guitar and joined me for a little hootenanny. Hedgehog played the buttons (as in, she rhythmically clicked two buttons together in time to our music; actually sounded pretty cool) and we all sang. I can't possibly explain how I feel when I play my violin--she's one of my oldest friends, and I just love her so. Her familiar heft, her lovely sound. We took some requests from E. ("Dirty Old Town," "Scarlet Begonias," "Lullaby of London") and then moved on to some of our favorite Irish music:

What a wonderful afternoon.

Now, having been tagged by Cecile to list Seven Things about Myself, here you go:

1. I got my driver's license just a few years ago (I'm 38). But I've become a really good driver, and drive all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, midtown, the streets and expressways, like a pro. I think of myself as a taxi driver who doesn't make you carsick. Even Sarge doesn't like to drive in the city, but I'm kinda ballsy like that.

2. I've played violin since I was five. Some of my earliest memories are of playing.

3. I'm Jewish and I majored in religion in college, but I specialized in formative Christianity. I'd never even read the Christian bible before that, and I got very interested in the Apostolic Age. I minored in Ancient Greek.

4. I am a Rabbinical School drop-out. Yes, I was studying to be a Rabbi, but switched tracks to criminal justice. Hmm.

5. My first love was thirty years older than I. I was a freshman in college. He was a pretty well-known rock journalist. He totally stomped on my heart. But he made me amazing mixed tapes.

6. I have a rather useless Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology. My favorite class was "Introduction to the Rorschach," where we learned to read the famous inkblot test and even practice on people we knew, then write up evaluations of their psyches. Totally presumptuous and not so useful. SO MUCH FUN.

7. After some peripatetic years (college, Israel, Texas, Queens) I've settled in the neighborhood of my childhood. I feel a deep connection to it, and have no real desire to leave. I'd even live in my childhood home if I could. You know the small-town girl who breaks away? I don't want to be her.

That's it--a little bit of me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Special Words

Cynical Gal has a great meme on her blog: you choose a quote near to your heart and dedicate it to friends.  Following C.G.'s lead, I'm dedicating these to all friends who visit here.  Please tag yourself and post a comment so we can check out your quote(s)!

And here are mine, for you:

"All the world is a very narrow bridge; the trick is not to be afraid." 

--Rabbi Nachman of Breslav


"But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods.  She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle.  She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now.  They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago."

--Laura Ingalls Wilder, "Little House in the Big Woods"


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

F.U.B.A.R. (or, No Cheery Thoughts Today)

Yes, it's truly f-ed up over here in Plagueville.  I'm still sick, but praying the amoxicillin will kick in soon and do its missionary work.  Two weeks is a long time to be out of commission, and the toll is taken on this family.  A. looked at E. the other day and commented that between her long, raspy, over-grown fingernails and her matted hair, she looked like someone's neglected pet ferret. I hastily directed him to the hairbrush and nail clippers, but she still has a slight look of unkempt varmint.  I now know definitively that I bring a certain je ne sais quoi pas to this household that no one else can.  Without me, we're just a little dustier, a little less well-nourished, and I must say, it's a comforting revelation.   

So when can I reassert myself as empress of this wretched piece of the earth? When do I regain status as Lady, or is that Grand High Inquisitor, or just simply Butler...whatever, I miss it and the limited control that came with the role.  I've absolutely hated giving over this control to other people--most notably my darling mother, who has been an absolute Saint of Helpfulness.  Even with her kindness, it's been hard.  I am used to being in charge of things (as I bet a lot of you are too in your own lives).  I'm trying to see it as an exercise in letting go, these weeks of lying on the couch coughing weakly like a Victorian consumptive.  But it's had another downside, which is that I've really missed E. and A.  I have seriously been beyond communication for a lot of the time--I mean just totally out of it, first feverish, then stricken by excruciating sinuses--and E. just flutters around me, but I'm used to really being with her and with A.  I cannot wait to be back to myself.