Hot Time in the City

Riding the train sounds like a good idea. It sounds like lots of fun, and it sounds like something the kids would really like to do. So this morning, we all got up, went to the train station, and hopped on a commuter to go to the City. ( In northern California, the “City” is always San Francisco, and it is NEVER referred to as “Frisco” by anyone who lives here) Anyway, both my kids, my mother, my 22 year-old brother, my friend and her two kids all headed to the City.

The problems is, Eric seemed to think the train was an airplane, and acted accordingly. He began to scream just like he does on a flight. I am very grateful for my brother, because he had the energy and the wherewithal to walk from car to car with Eric, keeping him somewhat calm. And, I am very grateful for my friend, because she is a very laid-back parent and doesn’t stress when kids are kids in public. That helped. Then, for some reason, today was the day that my mom ran out of patience with my kids. I guess it’s about right; we have been here for almost a week.

So we got to the City and it was very hot and I cannot stress how unusual this is for San Francisco in August. Usually the summers in the City are cold and foggy; you can almost bet on it. But not today. We walked about 8 blocks to get to the California Academy of Sciences and Steinhart Aquarium, which is an easy walk if you are a big person, but no so, if you are barely just four, and your legs are very short. Jeffrey was not too happy about half way to the Aquarium, but I rather thought he did well. My brother again came to the rescue, and offered a piggy-back ride. I think that helped morale a bit. Anyway, Steinhart is being remodeled, and the Academy of Sciences is as well, but the temporary digs downtown are pretty nice for a part-time gig. The kids had fun, and except for a couple of incidences of my mom over-reacting, which I will omit for the sake of domestic tranquility, all went well.

We stopped in the China Basin (an area that used to be a lot of run down warehouses but is now a trendy hot-spot) Whole Foods for lunch, and paid $12 for a burrito, and $9.50 for some enchiladas. Seriously. Eric fell asleep in the stroller (finally), and my mom waited outside while the rest of us ate inside. (Whole Foods and my mom are like water and oil) I am not sure how or why, but the decision was made to head back early, and we went back to the train station. My friend decided to head over to PacBell Park with her kids and watch the Giants game through the right-field fence, which I think would have been fun too; but I am not making waves this trip, remember? So, mom, my brother, and the kids and I caught the earlier train, and mercifully, Eric slept almost all of the way back down the peninsula.

So, to recap the day: we spent 3 hours on a train, with an often screaming, cross toddler, to go back and forth from a sweltering, crowded city, to spend 2 hours in an Aquarium, and pay too much for lunch, with a mother who was nursing some silent hostility. How. Fun. Anyone for tomorrow?

Notes from California, Part II

There are a few things about California that are simply in my blood. While I have lived in the Northwest now for over three years, (and for the most part, really enjoy it) there are just some things about northern California that I will never get over missing.

In seventh grade, I had a history teacher who told us that this place was the only place in the world that has this climate, and that things grow here that won’t grown anywhere else. At the time, the miracle of that escaped me, but now I know how right she was. For anyone who doesn’t already know, northern California and southern California are basically two completely different states. The south is L.A. land, with the picture-perfect, flat, white beaches, hot days and nights, celebrities, and an inversion layer that creates the thickest smog ever. The north is San Fransisco land, much cooler and foggy, with rocky, cliff-like beaches, very cold oceans, organic farms, vineyards, Redwood forests, and lots of water. This is where I was born and raised. There is something about the sunlight here, somthing about the mountains and the fog. Nowhere else on Earth will you find California Redwoods, lush cooling fog that rolls over the banks of the Santa Cruz mountains each afternoon, and dappled sunlight shining through trees that stood at the time of Christ (in your backyard!).

DFM and I play this game; when we are watching something on TV that is filmed in California, we can almost always tell where, just by the color of the sky and the way the sunlight falls. Maybe we are crazy, but we are usually right, when the credits roll. There is no logical explanation, other than the sunlight is in our blood.

I miss the way the breeze picks up each afternoon around 2, no matter how hot the day. I miss the lovely, thick blankets of fog rolling over the mountains that divide the Bay from the Pacific ocean. I miss the Redwood trees as big around as my living room, and their lovely furry bark that is impervious to fire (did you know that?). I miss the smell of night-blooming flowers and jasmine that are everywhere. I miss six-foot redwood fences that give you privacy in your backyard, no matter how close your neighbors are. I miss the smell of the ocean, and the sound of crashing waves. I miss the taste of salt on my lips, and the wind whipping my hair around as I drive down Hwy 1 south of San Fransisco.

What I don’t miss is the impossible real-estate market where a simple condo goes for over $1/2 million. I don’t miss having to wait over an hour to get a table at a half-way decent restaurant. I don’t miss crabby people who don’t have time to smile because their lives are so busy and important. I don’t miss people flipping me off for driving 75mph in the slow lane, with my kids in the car. I don’t miss my 45 minute commute to get less than 10 miles. I don’t miss the competitive nature of life down here, where even the preschool you send you toddler to has to have status. I don’t miss shopping malls the size of entire towns in eastern Washington. I don’t miss needing two incomes just to pay rent, and I don’t miss having to consider day-care because I had to work outside the home to pay that rent. I don’t miss the pressure of having to have more. More of what? Oh, more anything and everything. I don’t miss lines everywhere you go. I don’t miss crowds at the grocery store, the farmers market, the parks, campgrounds, national parks and restaurants. I miss my family; I don’t miss all the other people.

But I do know why they all want to live here.

Oh, Baby!

This afternoon I found out I am expecting my third child!

This is marvelous and welcome news to me and my husband. The boys will be thrilled when we tell them, as Jeffrey has been drawing me pregnant for about 6 months now. I think we’ll wait until I am a little further along before we make a big deal out of it, however.

Here is my problem: I don’t want to tell my mother. Well, that’s not exactly true. I want to tell her, but only if she will be happy for us, and congratulate us and welcome this baby as much as we do. That’s the catch. She has made numerous comments over time about how crazy-busy my kids are and how I would be insane to have another. My mom is…ummm…very gererous with giving her opinions. I told my brother and his wife, and they were happy for me- even though having another baby is about as far from their plans as possible right now; they know it is what DFM and I want. My sister-in-law suggested that I put an “I’m the big-brother” t-shirt on Eric and see how long it takes her to notice… Not a bad idea!

Maybe my mom will surprise me. And maybe pigs will sprout wings and fly.

P.S.
Later: Cat’s out of the bag. The first thing she said was “Are you getting your tubes tied now?” Just what every girl hopes her mother will say with the announcement of a new grandchild!

The Necessary Evil of Children’s Birthday Parties

Does anyone really enjoy kids’ birthday parties? I mean really? We have to do them. It’s our job as mothers and family. We have to get out the crepe paper and balloons, send out the cute invitations, order the cake, and make the “happy birthday” signs. But, I am not even sure the kids really even enjoy a party.

Today we had a party for both of my sons. Jeffrey is four, and Eric is two. Now, since we are at the grandparents, they are already all hepped up on goof-balls, and what do we do? We invite lots of friends and kids over, plan it for the late afternoon, give everyone lots of sugar, and mix with new toys that no one wants to share; it sounds so good on paper!

Well, the the party was actually ok. My mom and step-dad went to a lot of work to make it nice, we barbecued, and the kids had a slip-and-slide in the backyard, and the weather was the afore-mentioned perfect 73 degree afternoon. Everyone who came was either family or close enough friends to qualify as family, so at least we were all comfortable around one another. Note: comfortable does not always mean great buddies, but I won’t speculate on who doesn’t like whom yet… Suffice it to say that living far away gives me fresh eyes for folks I have know much of my life!

Now, I am not good at parties. For a variety of reasons, I am just awkward and gawky, and I never know what to do with my body, but I wanted to have this party for my kids. Today was about giving my kids happy childhood memories, making birthdays fun, and making the grandparent’s the place where good things happen.

The reality is, for some reason, it was hotter than Hades in my mom’s house. Sweltering is what comes to mind, and I hate to sweat. Sweating makes me crabby and mad. So I tried to stay outside in the shade as much as possible. But, I also felt the requisite guilt about all the work my mom was doing; so, while trying to avoid being hot, keeping my kids from killing each other (or worse, someone else) and being properly social, I was chopping stinky onions in hell’s kitchen.

No one except Eric, the baby, would go on the slip-and-slide that my step-dad had carefully set up. We did not make enough hot dogs or hamburgers, (but the devilled eggs were really good) and the cake we got from Costco was ugly and looked nothing like the picture. Jeffrey tore through his gifts with the speed and care of a boy-hurricane, and I have no idea whom to thank for what. Eric opened one present, from my dad; it was a sticky ball-thingy that stretched and squished and he didn’t open anything else. He only played with the stretchy-squish thing. At least I have his cards and some idea who to thank.

Icing and little kids is always a riot- if you don’t have to clean them up. After everyone ate lots of sugar and icing, the boys decided to fight over the squishyball thing, and lots of crying and tears and yelling ensued, sprinkled intermittently with laughter and happiness. They won’t remember tomorrow that they hated each other today.

After everyone left the real fun began. Getting the kids ready for bed while they are high on inhuman amounts of sugar, pressure washing the frosting and ketchup from the patio, cleaning up the hellishly hot kitchen, and trying not to feel like I am a massive disappointment to my mom. Coming home is so much fun!

My kids will remember this as a happy day. I will never tell them otherwise, but someday, when they have kids of their own, they will exhaustedly look at me, and they will know. And I will sit in the shade and smile.

Old Home Week

Well, I suppose since I am “home”, it only figures that I will encounter people from my past. Some are welcome, some, aaahh, not so.

This morning I got an e-mail from an old high-school girlfriend that I haven’t seen in over a dozen years. She is someone whose good example played a part in my interest in joining the LDS church, and I was very pleased to hear from her. Like all of us, life has given her some ups and downs, but it’s always good to hear from a friend who is basically doing well.

Yesterday I was in a department store with my mom, and ran into the ex-wife of an old friend of mine and my husbands. She had her kids with her, and after I got over the initial shock of seeing how big they were, we chatted for a while. Her husband was part of a circle of friends that DFM and I have asolutely nothing to do with anymore, and she had news from every corner of the world about them. Two of the men in the group are serious ex-boyfriends of mine, and one woman an “ex” of DFM. It seems one of my “ex” and DFM’s “ex” are now together and have two children. Another lives in Hawaii and runs a restaurant owned by yet another old friend. Others are scattered, but from what she told me, they have all basically settled down, which is astonishing considering how messed up this group of people were! I guess anything is possible.

My best-girlfriend (from the time we were 12) is a newleywed, and she and her husband are coming over today for my kids’ birthday party. (It kind of bothers me that we are having my kids’ party on a Sunday, but the goal of this trip is peace and harmony with my mom, so there we are.) My extended family do not belong to any church, and I am trying to decide if I can sneak out for a Sacrament meeting at 11 without causing tension, but it doesn’t look promising. There will be about 40 people here this afternoon, and I know my kids will have a ball. And for now, that is good enough.

When did Northern California turn into Beverly Hills?

My cousin Michael and I went to this new shopping/downtown type area last night, and I am unsure of even how to describe it. It is a planned downtown, perfectly executed. The entire area covers several city blocks, and while it was all built at the same time, the buidings all appear to be distict, unique, architectual masterpieces. The sidewalks are wide and artistically imprinted and stained, the planters and trees are mature and lush, and the stores are unbeleivable high-end. There are living lofts, condos and businesses. There are fancy restaurants, public chess boards and gardens, chic coffee-houses and thumping nightclubs – and more beautiful people than I have ever seen in real life. The cobblestone and brick streets are blocked off during the day to accomodate foot traffic, but at night they are open the parade of luxury cars that pour in for the night life. While I was walking down the street with Michael, no less than two Ferarri (plural?), a Lamborghini, a Bentley, and a custom motorcycle from a famous southern California designer rolled by. It would appear that Mercedes and BMW are the disposable, starter cars here.

So we walked around for a while, peeking into stores that I will never buy anything in, and marvelling at how beautiful everything was. The only store we went into was the token bookstore, yet even that was a large-chain model. For how glossy and slick and well-lit it was, the book selection was surprisingly lacking. One of the things I love about authentic, organic downtowns is the variety of tweaky little shops to find. Not so here. No dusty used books, vintage shops or anything that might mar the visual perfection. And that could very well be what the super-chic twenty and thirty-somethings that frequent this place are looking for. All of the people I saw last night were also visions of perfection. There was not a wayward hair, bumpy thigh, or unsculpted ab, (besides mine) to be seen.

The place was seductive. The beauty draws you in, and you want more and more. I found myself feeling very grateful that this type of place is something we live far from, mostly because of how seductive and enticing it was. I felt like I was skirting the edge of Babylon, and if I continued to look, I might loose my way.

Michael and I were hungry, and after looking in the windows of several ivy-covered cafe’s, we decided that Taco Bell is what we wanted. So, we left Sodom and Gomorrah, cruised the drive-thorugh, and went home. Taco Bell was never so wholesome and appreciated! And, I was never so pleased to kiss my sweet, innocent, sleeping children as I was last night.

Notes from California, Part I

My children are going to grow up thinking California is a dream-fulfilling fantasy-land where only good things happen, the rivers run with chocolate milk and the the sidewalks are paved with candy. Why wouldn’t they? If this is what they think, they are in the company of many, many good people. Remember 1849? Me neither, but you get the point.

We come to California about twice a year to visit my family. DFM often stays home, (unless we are talking about Christmas or a family occasion, like a wedding, that required his attendance) so the kids are exposed to long strings of days without dad’s influence, showered in love from grandparents who see them only every few months. Their every wish is fulfilled, generally before they even realize they have a wish. I am not complaining… I get a secret little thrill out of seeing my children so very loved and of seeing my parents getting to be generous and loving grandparents. Far be in from me to say “no” while we are here!

This trip through the airport was much less traumatic than January… I was the only one who had to take off my shoes; both kids whizzed right through the security gates. Whew. We cut it a little close time-wise, and they were starting to pre-board as we ran to the gate. We were behind a group of older folks who were kind enough to let us go ahead. (I think they wanted to see where we were going to sit so they could move far, far away!) We made it all the way down the jet-way before Eric started to scream. Now, when I say scream, I really mean scream; purple-faced, back-arched, stiff-body, back-diving screams. We were the second people on the plane, and he was already wigging out. It is a two hour flight into Oakland, and after about 45 minutes, he was so exhausted that he collapsed in my lap. My arms felt like over-stretched rubber-bands from trying to contain him for an hour. It took him about 20 minutes to regain enough strength to begin to scream again. He stopped when we stepped onto the jet-way in Oakland. Seriously, like a faucet-tap being turned off; he just stopped. He has been a happy, happy kid ever since.

My mom and step-dad picked us up in baggage-claim, and the boys ran to grandma and grandpa as soon as we rounded the corner out of security. My mom’s face was all teary when she finally hugged me, and I felt kind of like we just experienced the perfect, movie-like moment. When we got to my parents house, the boys discovered new bikes for both of them, a playhouse including carpeting and a chimney that my mom made, and various other goodies waiting in their room. Within a short time, my dad came over to hang out, my brothers were both by, my sister-in-law showed up with my nephew, my cousin Michael came over, and two friends called about getting together with our kids. No wonder they love it here!

Everything in the world can be found in the bay-area. It is unreal how much is here, and things for kids are no exception. Today we went to this huge, indoor playground, complete with climbing walls, two-story slides, obstacle courses and inflatable trampoline rooms the size of a softball diamonds, no kidding. (I am not going to even wonder why they need an indoor playground when it is always 73 degrees) My kids had a ball; they were a sweaty, tired mess when we left to go have lunch at a friend’s house.

When we returned to my mom’s after lunch, my step-dad had a delivery of dirt dumped by a big dump-truck in the driveway, and was wheel-barrowing it to the backyard. Is there anything in the world more dear to hearts of 2 and 4 year-olds than grandpas, dump-trucks and dirt? I am hard-pressed to think of anything better.

Right now they are getting ready to walk to the new multi-million-dollar park (1/2 a block away) and ride their new bikes. I get some peace and quiet, and they get one-on-one with grandma and grandpa. We are celebrating my sister-in-law’s birthday this evening, and tomorrow there is a big party at my cousins house.

Why did we ever leave this magical place? I haven’t forgotten, but that, my friends, is another post, on another day. For now, I am out to enjoy the magical air of a northern Califonia late summer afternoon.