Sunday, September 26, 2010

there's no place like home

Or reason to stay in San Francisco number one. It is just so damn beautiful.

If I close my eyes and click my heels together three times, I know where I want to land.

The last weekend in September is almost guaranteed to be gorgeous. It is the weekend of the Folsom Street fair; a uniquely San Francisco celebration of leather, latex and all things freaky. A giant dance party where burly sculpted men, and some women too, clad in nothing but the tightest leather trousers, or even less dance all day underneath the adoring September sun.  Year after year, the weather is perfect. You can't help but think that if there is a god, he surely shines on San Francisco and all who live here.

On a day like this, if one isn't in the market for a new whip or a leather corset, the beach is the other perfect destination. Our normally brisk coastline becomes a riviera for a day.  We spotted plenty of fetish fair attendees as we wound our way across town to our destination, Crissy Field. Once a military airstrip, it is now one of the loveliest spots in one of the loveliest cities in the world, and best of all dogs are still allowed to run free, indeed sometimes run amok, among the picnicking families, so we could have a true family outing, dog and all.

It is picture perfect. The natural beauty of the bay is offset so perfectly by the man-made wonder of the Golden Gate Bridge. I don't know of anywhere else where architecure and environment meld so satisfactorily.  Children and dogs of all shapes sizes and colours run free in the sand and waves. Our children and I ran and jumped and squealed and pretended to surf the tiny breakers. Geekydog gamboled like the pup she once was. I've lived here forever and I still feel as if I'm living in a movie on a day like today. 

Back home, the still air carried the thud of the dance music from the street fair into our little patch of yard. That our wholesome day of fresh air, sand and sea was bookended by sights of firm buttocks in leather jockstraps on the way out and wafts of dance party the evening afterward only served to perfect it as a quintessential San Francisco Sunday.

I hung up my leather mini skirt some time ago. In fact I gave it to Goodwill, so perhaps it is out there today, on a younger version of myself, slightly sticky with sweat and spilled vodka cranberry. Maybe its owner is reaching her hands to the heavens, dancing her heart out, surrounded by friends and gorgeous half naked strangers. I hope she gets as lucky as I did.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

night of the living hair

The saga of the cooties is not over.

On Thursday we got another call from the school. A nit was found. They are very strict at preschool, finding even a single nit means the child must be picked up and taken home right away. Now, one of the problems with science as a career for a working parent is that experiments are not the kind of work you can take home. They are time sensitive, and quite often they take several days. In this case I'd set up an assay the day before and needed to complete it. It would have been very difficult to take the day off. Fortunately Geekydaddy had no meetings, so he picked up the infested one and took her home.

Reluctant to do another chemical treatment, I decided to try the 'nit suffocation method' with Cetaphil, suggested by my doctor. Experiment complete, I got home early armed with bottles of the stuff. Its a facial cream cleanser, and you spread it through the hair and blow dry it on. It took about four hours to comb it through everyone's hair, but I have to say I can see how effective it is. The lotion loosens any nits and the creaminess makes it easy to comb them out. I found a total of 4 nits and what may have been one baby louse on my daughter, and one suspected nit on my son. The blow drying took forever. I let the kids watch TV with a lollipop to suck on, and turned the volume up really loud. I had a sudden flashback to when I shared a flat with a friend who set her hair in pretty curls every week, sitting for an hour or more under a salon style dryer with "Friends" turned up to ear blasting volume.

By the end of all the combing and blow drying I was wondering why I chose a husband who has shoulder length curly locks and was appreciating for the first time what hard physical work hairdressing must be.
We looked quite the sight when I was done. My daughter asked, "why is my hair big?", patting the dull bouffant it had become. I looked like Bonnie Tyler, if Bonnie Tyler had not showered for a couple of weeks. Bonnie goes to Burning Man, or Glastonbury, maybe.

We sent the kids to school the next day with the Cetaphil still in their hair. I was convinced that all that effort must have paid off.

I had just sat down at my desk when we got another call. A single dead nit found in Geekygirls hair. I should have washed and combed it again that morning, I suppose. For the first time I felt the preschool rules were overkill. There was no way there was a live bug on her hair. I kept my cool, because of course the preschool are just zealously trying to protect everyone else. Only Geekygirl and one other kid, the originator of the lice breakout, have been affected, which is good. Though it doesn't make me feel all that good to have one of the two lousy kids! The director said that if I could fax a letter from our doctor stating she was safe to be in school then she could stay for the day.

Ordinarily I would be quite happy to pick up the kids on a sunny Friday and just take the day off, but being in a new job, and having a lot more lab based work on my plate, I am worried about appearing unreliable. I reached out to the doctors office, who had recommended the Cetaphil in the first place and had and told me the kids would be OK to go back to school. The pediatrician took the time to call me back, and then faxed preschool the required letter. Such a relief to have a doctor sympathetic to a working mum.

We have hot washed all bedclothes, vacuumed the car seats and furniture, and will keep up with daily nit combing. I sincerely hope that we can get through next week without a call from the school.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

my smilers

A post for the gallery

With both of my children I watched anxiously for that first smile. That first sign of cognition, of humanity, almost. I was a self inflicted information saturated mother from day one, and I had read that failing to smile by eight weeks is associated with increased likelihood of autism. I watched my babies grimace and gurn,  cooing at them and encouraging them, telling myself that I was sure I detected evidence of communication in a crinkle of eye and turn of lip.

The smiles grew more certain every day, and still, a beaming smile from one of them lifts my spirits. Though more often these days I am met with an impish grin that signifies some kind of trouble.

Here are the very first smiles I captured on camera. These were the photographs that graced my desk when I returned to work after maternity leave, and indeed stayed there as more and more photos were added, until a newcomer sighting my desk assumed I had about eight children.

I thought this was a great opportunity to give these first smiles a home here on the blog.



Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've always rather liked that American term. I know, it isn't a cute word, I think it actually refers to body lice, but still, one child telling another "ew, boys have cooties" has  a nicer sound to it than saying "boys have fleas", as we used to. Geekygirl doesn't seem to think that boys have any kind of bugs though. No,  we have discovered that our four year old like to kiss the boys. Her teacher told me that she has been planting big smackers on the lips of her friends. When I asked her about this she told me "I kissed Will, because he is my best buddy, but he didn't like it, so I kissed Rowan. Rowan liked it."

I see trouble ahead.

I had worse news from school on Friday. Actual cooties, in the form of headlice. This was our first experience as parents of this plague though I had a few infestations as a kid myself. A stinky shampoo, much combing and an awful lot of laundry later, I think we are de-pestilenced. I can only hope that she didn't pass on the cooties to the objects of her affection.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

opposite boy

Two and a half year olds. I think I blanked out just how frustrating they can be, but here we are again.

We are deep in toddler tantrum hell at the geeky house. It started a while ago. 
Back then I still thought geekyboy would be a milder child than his firey sister, but now I have changed my mind and fear we are facing an exhausting couple of years. My sweet little baby boy has officially vanished and 'opposite boy' has replaced him.

Given choices (which plate, which crayon?) he chooses to throw them at me. He seems to be operating not on the philosophy of 'believing six impossible things before breakfast" like the white queen, but on earning six time outs before breakfast.

I have been camouflaging my face with my touche eclat every morning this week, since look as if I caught the wrong end of a shank in a prison fight after a run in with his fingernails on the way to the naughty chair.

I know, intellectually, that he is just doing his toddler job of rattling the bars, making sure of the rules and testing us to confirm that his universe is a solid and predictable one. I was hoping that at least one of our kids would turn out to be the placid, rule following type though, and that is not what I see. The future looks challenging. In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn't have married a man who was expelled from Kindergarten if I wanted sweet compliant children.

A bright spot is that much of Geekyboy's oppositional behaviour is conveyed with the spoken word.

"Are you done?" I will say at dinnertime. "No. I FINISHED" he replies.

"Hold the handrail" I suggest as he negotiates the stairs. "No, Its the BANNISTER" he corrects.

I say "street", he wants it to be "Path", I say "sandals", he insists "No, those my Crocs". I point out a dolphin, he tells me it's a porpoise.

At least his attitude is improving his vocabulary, as he needs to know at least two words for everything.

He still makes my heart melt. When I whisper endearments such as "you are my precious boy"  he replies "NO. I your SWEETHEART".

I think my adorable little baby boy is still in there, somewhere. What do you think?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guest posting at babybunching

I wrote this guest post a while ago and forgot to link it.

Would love to hear the details of your daily routine.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Paint your own pull up

I had a moment of mummy genius on Friday. I had picked up a new packet of "night time underwear", the marketed term for big pull up diapers for bigger kids, for Geekygirl. Yes, I know, we should probably be working on getting her dry at night since she is four and a half now, but I have to confess I am being rather laissez faire about it. Now that both kids sleep solidly through the night I am loathe to start changing soggy sheets at two am. Judging by the shelf full of big kid pull ups, I'm not the only parent who feels this way.

These particular pull ups were walgreens own brand. I typically buy from Target, but since that retailer started supporting far right political candidates I have been force to seek alternative vendors for my household goods. It is most inconvenient, Target was my shopping Mecca, and I miss it's fluorescent embrace. Walgreens is adequate, but doesn't have quite the variety and volume of it's swankier cousin.

At bedtime I opened up the new pack of pull ups, wondering out loud what kind of pictures they would have on them. No pictures at all, it turned out. I was almost as surprised and disappointed as my daughter was, I must admit. They looked rather clinical. Like adult diapers. Not that I've ever seen an adult diaper, but I imagine that they are not whimsically decorated with pastel flora and fauna. Perhaps plain is better, perhaps a child her age should be mildly ashamed of such attire, but I wasn't in the mood for such justification when faced with a grumpy child whom I was quite anxious to get into bed.

Then I had my stroke of genius. I remembered how a friend of mine whose toddler was dog obsessed had to draw a dog on the kid's diaper every night in order to persuade her to wear it.

I pulled out a set of markers. "I think you are supposed to decorate these ones yourself!" I exclaimed. Geekygirl was sold on the idea, and though it may add a few minutes to the bedtime routine it does at least foster creativity, if not facilitate night time potty training.

Someone should take this idea and run with it, a pack of plain pull ups sold with a set of markers. I bet it would be a hit.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone because my daughter has commandeered my laptop

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A book that changed me

A post for the writing workshop at Sleep is for the weak.

Just before Josie, Sian and Eva announced that they were going to Bangladesh in order to share with their readers the plight of children there I had been reading "Half the Sky". A book by Sheryl Wu Dunn and her NY Times journalist husband, Nick Kristoff, it shows us that most women in the world face huge injustice and inequality. It challenges us to act to liberate women everywhere,  and suggests that only when women are truly free can the world progress to be a humane place for everyone.

It is not an easy book to read, but it is a very important one. As a feminist in a modern country I get into debates about whether women should work full time, about the right to give birth without unnecessary interventions, about maternity benefits or  the need for professional mentorship. This book made me realize that my problems are luxuries. I wasn't abandoned at birth because I was female. I don't have to worry that my husband will sell my daughter to a rich old man, my earnings belong to me and not to the senior male in family. I was not horrifically injured when I gave birth to my children. I can choose the size of my family, be it large or small, and I don't have a 1 in 7 chance of dying in childbirth like a woman in Afghanistan, Guinea, Sierra Leone or Somalia. My voice counts. This is not true for most women in the world. The meaning of feminism has changed for me since reading this book. It means trying in any small way I can to give every woman and girl the chance to determine her own destiny.

I decided to join a microloan organization that was mentioned in the book, Kiva. This is a way to lend money directly to individuals. Most of the applicants are women, who need small amounts of capital to start or support a business. What better way to help another woman become self sufficient than by using some of the money I am so fortunate to earn thanks to the excellent education and great opportunities I have had to support a woman owned business in a poorer part of the world?

I've always been a fan of Nick Kristoff's work. My newspaper often goes straight from the blue plastic back into the recycling bin, busy lives leave little reading time, but I always read his column. He goes to places no one else does and brings back stories that break your heart. He challenges his reader to relate to people whose lives are unimaginably different to our own, and he succeeds. He expouses getting out of your comfort zone, going to see the world and to help people. I feel just a little bit connected to him now too. You see I follow him on twitter, and I suddenly thought "Nick Kristoff would support Blogadesh" and I asked him to retweet a blogadesh link.  He did! (Thanks Mr Kristoff.)

In those 140 characters, I felt the power of social media. I don't have many followers, but he has 953,292. Maybe the internet can change the world for the better.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First day

I stole the idea from Deer Baby, though I can only dream of being as eloquent as she.

I think I remember my first day at school. Sometimes true memories get muddled with the photographs and cine movies that were created to protect them.

I look at this picture and I remember the little flower my mum sewed onto my pinafore. Every year we got to pick out a new decoration, from the drawers in the haberdashery store. I remember my first classroom, in an old sandstone building with windowsills too high for a four year old to peek out of. I remember the rocking horse, sitting next to a boy named Kevin, and my teacher, lovely Mrs Pearce. I ran into Kevin in a pub once as an adult and he was missing several front teeth. Mrs Pearce sadly died from breast cancer a few years ago.

In this photo I'm a few months older than my Geekygirl is right now, I was almost five. If we lived in the UK she would start school this week, since she turns five in February. Here in California, kids have to turn five by December of the year they start school, so she will start next year, and be one of the older kids in the class. I'm finding myself a little anxious about this. Will she always be behind her UK peers, starting school a year late? On the other hand I'm glad that we have one more year of our familiar routine, dropping both kids at the same place, a preschool that they and I love. I'm dreading the logistics of ferrying the kids to different places; to school, afterschool programs, preschool, having two sets of committees and events to remember.

I'm going to enjoy this last uncomplicated year.

And I will be sure to take a photo just like this of Geekygirl on our patio on her first day of school.

Thanks to mum and dad for the picture.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The goat hill parent association

There is something special about our neighborhood. No, it doesn't actually have goats these days, I'm giving it a pseudonym, since it's original name was apparently goat hill. given the popularity of urban chickens I would not be surprised if a backyard goat or two show up before long, mind you. What the neighborhood has is an incredible parents group. Ten or fifteen years ago a few parents banded together and formed it. Back then it was a physical group, with organized meetings, but the organizers also formed an email list serve, and what the group has evolved into is an online community of several hundred members. Someone posts to the group almost every day. A request for a nanny or babysitter, the loan of a pack n play or air mattress for visitors, the offer of toys or gear for sale, a request for a recommendation for a doctor, or a plumber, or a doula. A cry for help with a colicky baby or tantruming toddler, or ideas for gluten free birthday cake recipes or environmentally sound sunscreens, or the loan of a copy of "birthing from within". In response, and many people respond with thoughtful detailed posts, we always sign off with our name, and the names and ages of our kids.

The virtual group fosters a real community. In the playground I've been approached when overheard calling my childrens names. "are you geekygirls mum? I really appreciated your advice about picky eaters". I ran into a woman recently who I bought an exersaucer off a couple of years ago, and I have formed great friendships, initiated by an email.

I was inspired to write about the group today, at the end of a lovely labor day weekend spent towing the kids back and forth from the lake in an almost new double bike trailer. On Friday a parent has posted that she wanted to sell one. I'd not been able to justify the expense of a new one, though had been eyeing them with envy all summer, so I called back quickly and picked it up that night. I'd forgotten what an excellent and enjoyable mode of transportation bicycling is. The children loved it, and decided that it was a fine stage for a duet performance of 'slippery fish.' The thirty minute walk to the beach became a mere ten minute spin with the wind in my helmet and the kids sweet voices behind me.

Biking is good for thinking, and as I pumped sixty pounds of child back home again I realized how fortunate we are in our community. I think it is a little bit special, a modern take on village spirit. In the middle of a dense urban city strangers reach out to each other, share resources and form an intangible web of support. Every community should have one.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone on I80.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I'd hoped that my new job, being spitting distance from the kid's preschool instead of thirty miles from it, would allow me to pick them up a bit earlier. They hired me with high expectations though, and living up to them requires putting in some serious hours.

The kids can't tell time yet, but as the class thins out, other mums and dads arriving for pick up, they know that their parent is later than usual. It's from this window of time, between five and six, that Geekygirl produces her most poignant artwork. The teachers encourage them to make something for their parents if they seem to be missing them, so I have a lovely collection of hearts and flowers with I Love You Mommy written across them.

The kids also get cranky and hungry, so I've started to bring a snack for them on evenings when I'm later than five. One day I ran out of relatively healthy options and resorted to splitting a Twix from the office vending machine between them. The sheer delight that this was met with, combined with my guilty conscience has resulted in a serious Twix habit.

It will be a bitter irony if my kids end up with obesity and diabetes because I was too busy researching obesity and diabetes, but I don't see any way out now, without feeling even more guilty.

This week I have managed a few more of my intended early pick ups, only to be asked "can you be late instead tomorrow mummy, so we can have a Twix?!" Guess I fared badly in the "mum's company vs. Chocolate caramel biscuit bar" comparison.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone while the kids, picked up early and fed healthily today, play in our sunny backyard