Friday, August 19, 2011

Don't mind me, I'm just camping

I’ve referenced Seattle’s unseasonably cold, grey summer a few times here recently, and I just want to make something clear—I’M NOT COMPLAINING. A summer during which the temperature never breaks the eighty-degree mark is my definition of HEAVEN. (Well, actually, in my version of heaven it would be fall all the time, not summer—but if summer had to happen for some reason, it would happen without ever breaking eighty.)

I think it’s bad manners to complain about temperatures being stuck in the seventies for two straight months when in most of the country it’s been a zillion degrees and humid—so sweat-inducing a friend from Boston reported that she slid off her bicycle seat in a slick of her own perspiration. I grew up in Iowa—I remember what it’s like to spend the summer inside a dog’s mouth. I feel you, Texans.

I’m merely being factual when say that the husband and baby and I are cramming our entire summer into the upcoming week (which is supposed to start off at 83 degrees and end back at a more typical 71.) It wasn’t the plan, it just happened that everything piled up—a weekend with friends in a rental house on an island in Puget Sound, a platform-tent camping experiment on Tuesday, and an outdoor Brandi Carlile concert* on Wednesday. (* The concert is at the zoo, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to ignore the pacing bears and just enjoy myself in the cool evening air.)

The concert has been on the books for months now, the rental house invitation was floated our way a few days ago, and the camping expedition…welllll…

My husband had it in his head that we should go camping this summer because he loves to camp and because that’s just what you do when you live in the Pacific Northwest. I myself have zero desire to spend the night in a tent with my husband and my child who will be WIDE AWAKE because she’s too excited by our scintillating presence to sleep in the same bed with us under any circumstances at all whatsoever ALWAYS.

But my husband said it was super important to him and couldn’t I just do it for the adventure? What’s one night of sleep between spouses?

My family used to camp for a week most summers in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was great fun—campfires and s’mores and nature walks down to the river. I loved it—seriously loved it.

When I moved to Seattle after grad school I was informed that what my family did every summer wasn’t camping, it was “car camping.” Because we hadn’t hiked a bunch of miles with all our crap on our backs, our camping didn’t count. “We didn’t sleep in the car—” I protested, to no avail. “Car camping” to a Seattleite is like RV camping in a Wal-Mart parking lot to most of the rest of the country.

This designation deeply bothers me (in case you couldn’t tell) for any number of reasons.

  1. Why the snotty tone?
  2. Isn’t it better to encourage people to bond with the great outdoors by pitching a tent in it and scrambling eggs over an open flame than to make them feel judged just because their car is in close proximity?
  3. Does “car camping” count as “camping” if your dad can barely walk because he was randomly paralyzed as a teenager? (I especially like to ask people this question because nothing challenges a Seattleite more than pitting their love of extreme outdoor sports against their unyielding need to be politically correct.)
  4. If what I like to do is called “car camping,” what do you call it when you drive out into the woods for the night and sleep in your car?

I ran into a neighbor the other day whose kids are like three and six, and she was all excited because they were going “glamping” for the weekend.


“No, glamping.”

Oh. My. God! Glam! Glamour! Glamour camping! I had no idea what it was, but I was in love.

I did a little poking around online, and it turns out true glamping can get quite expensive, and part of why my beloved likes camping is that it doesn’t cost as much money as a first-class ticket to Honolulu.

But I found a compromise—a platform tent in a state park where we can bring a portable crib in our car and not only have an adventure, but get some sleep, too. They even have lights, a table, and a heater inside. I’m super excited. Just can’t forget to pack the wine, the coffee, the cream, the pillows, the duvet, the matches, and the chocolate.

I love camping! Bring it on!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'm no businesswoman, but...

With Betsy Lerner’s recent post about the various selling tools we Americans have in our extensive capitalist arsenal on my mind, I had to laugh when I saw a grey-haired man standing on the side of the road of one of Seattle’s most expensive, exclusive, exalted, excruciating neighborhoods wearing a sandwich board advertising his architectural services. He was waving.

Righty-o. There you are on your way from Pilates to the spa to get your nails manicured and your hair styled because, you know, it’s Wednesday, and you’re about to call the contractor about redoing the kitchen remodel again since white is so two-thousand-and—wait! Look! There’s an architect right there by the bus stop! Why not call him instead of the firm you’ve been using for a hundred years because, well, there he is?!

Then I pulled up behind a Seattle Metro bus, the backside of which asked whether I have relapsing Multiple Sclerosis and am looking to change my MS medications—if so, a local health center has just the clinical trial for me.

Seriously? Not just MS, but relapsing MS? And not just relapsing MS but relapsing MS and looking to change my meds? What percent of the population can that ad be targeting? 0.0007%? Is relapsing, drug-unsatisfied MS among people driving cars right behind buses much more prevalent than I’d realized?

Would you hire an architect who advertised himself with a sandwich board or allow your marketing department to advertise your clinic’s highly specific drug trial on the back of a bus? Am I missing something here?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Planes, trains, and mall-bound automobiles

When I imagined having kids, I always and not-at-all-secretly wanted to have a girl. I emotionally prepared myself for sons well before I started having babies—before I’d started having sex, come to think of it (late (nerdy) bloomer!)—because I’d minored in Women’s Studies in college and figured I was destined for sons, and I didn’t want the inevitable boys to feel the sting of knowing their mom had once had a strong preference for an offspring she could go shopping with.

While the idea of a gaggle of sisters filled me with glee (even if they didn't turn out to be shoppers), I was fine with having a boy in addition to a daughter. It’s interesting and educational to watch gender differences play out under your very own roof as your daughter picks up a baby doll dressed in pink and cradles it in her arms and your son picks up a baby doll dressed in blue and cradles it in his arms. Just kidding! I know that boys would sooner poke our their eyes with the appendage of a Transformer than play with a doll! No boy plays with dolls! Only girls play with dolls! All girls! Every single girl on the planet!

This is all to say I’ve grown frustrated with some gender stuff floating around my mom’s group lately. Now that the kids are old enough to express their opinions and preferences, it’s become evident that the boys love trucks and trains and buses and balls and something else that I always forget—oh, yes, lots and lots of anonymous sex.

“Are girls like this?” the moms of boys marvel as their sons fight over who gets to ride on the molded plastic choo-choo. Let’s see… Trucks, check. Trains and buses, check. Balls, check. Anonymous sex? Time will tell.

I realize it’s a matter of degree—my daughter is not obsessed with balls or modes of transportation, she merely likes pointing them out when she sees them. And I would not for a second argue that we aren’t born with inherent gender differences. I’m just saying, isn’t it more interesting to marvel over the ways our children don’t conform to type? Like when your toddler son picks up a doll and doesn’t throw it across the room or your daughter picks up a Transformer and says, “More than meets the eye! Robots in disguise!” My daughter, incidentally, would never do this. If she were presented with a Transformer, she would try to feed it wa-wa from her cupped hands and possibly suggest a snack and/or a nap. But who cares about that?! My girl loves her some train and some bus. She seems to particularly appreciate the two-part articulated buses, which inspire her to call out, “Bus! Choo-choo!” which, in my humble, demonstrates a strong understanding of how big a bus should and should not be before it is relegated to the tracks.

Gender stuff is tricky. I love that my daughter loves spotting buses, and I love that she offers water to every creature she meets—real or imaginary, animate or carbon-free. (A few weeks ago she looked up in the evening sky and cried out, “Moon!” and then proceeded to hold up her sippy cup of milk so the moon could partake. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life, and let me tell you, I’ve seen some cute shit. To wit—at the moment she's upstairs in her crib supposed to be napping but instead she's alternating between singing and saying, "Aye-yi-yi!")

I hope that my girl will grow up feeling like she can do whatever she wants, irrespective of her gender. And I hope that she will grow up liking lots of the same girly stuff as me.

Yesterday I had to return some shoes to the mall, so I packed the baby and her entourage of stuffed animals into the car and off we went. I was determined to make it in and out before she pitched any kind of bored fit—zooooom to the cash register, zooooom back out the door. But as we headed out into the first warm, yummy rays of sun we’ve had for a million and one days, the baby started to cry and pointed back toward the mall. “More!”

More what?

“More shoe.”

Ahhhh… That’s my girl.

More shoe. Yes, baby. More shoe for sure. A life together full of more shoe.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't count!

My husband and I have started watching Friday Night Lights again, after a hiatus of, let’s see here, how old is our child, exactly? It was the perfect show to watch when I was pregnant, then once the baby was born we sort of forgot about it, due to the distractions of late-night feedings, shopping in the nightmare of Babies R Us, boning up on the lyrics to "Old MacDonald." Even after a break of 21 months (give or take a day or two), those Texas football boys and their ladies are still interesting and compelling and surprisingly gripping. I mean, for television.

One of my most sister-like best friends (some of her work is here) left today for two weeks in Rwanda. We squeezed in one last phone date last night as she was packing. After talking for about twenty minutes, I pathetically told her I had to go because my husband and I had a date to watch dreamy Tim Riggins try to help Coach Taylor cope with his West-versus-East Dillion drama. Because my husband and I are super cool, we go to bed moments after dusk, so we needed to get cracking. Rather than hanging up on me or shouting something completely justified like, “I’m LEAVING FOR RWANDA in four hours and you have to go WATCH TV?!” my friend said in a slightly dreamy voice, “Enjoy Riggins… Everyone enjoys Riggins.”

Indeed. When I was pregnant I—the woman who never gets to have sex dreams (not what I want on my tombstone)—dreamed about having sex with Riggins. Yum.

Last night I dreamed I was sitting at a table at a meeting with a bunch of strangers.  We had to go around the circle counting off for some reason, but instead of going one-two-three, the group started counting the way my baby does as she’s going up stairs: Waaan. Two. Aaight. Niiiiine! One of the men at the table (not Riggins) and I started to correct people at the same time. No, it’s “One, two, THREE…” As it dawned on me that the people around the table were fucking with us for sport—what fun to count out of order!—the man gave me a fist bump and said excitedly, “Types like us are hard to find!”

It was the first time—waking or dreaming—that anyone has suggested I’m a Type-A personality. Unlike good ol’ Riggins, I was able to finish college, but come on. I’m a perpetually underemployed creative writer who went to community college at the age of thirty to learn how to become a filmmaker because it seemed a more practical career path.

Does believing that “three” comes after “two” make me Type-A?

Incidentally, I do not correct my just-learning-to-talk baby as she counts her adorable, “Waaan. Two. Aaight.” That would be obnoxious.

I just count along with her. Correctly. And with emphasis. And a tiny bit louder than her.

But then I catch myself thinking how much I will miss these sweet moments of learning to talk and learning to count, and I shut up and try to keep my secret Type-A tendencies to myself.

Friday, August 05, 2011


When you live in Seattle, you sometimes hear things that give you insight into why some people make the dark choice to become a Republican.

To wit, I just overheard the woman next to me at a coffee shop tell her companion about a friend who "Just got a grant... to go to Afghanistan... and play the accordion."

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Blue Angels Force Local Resident to Zoo

As a child, I loved the Blue Angels. We’d take mini road-trips from Iowa City to Chicago in the summer to stay in a fancy hotel and see the air show and buy new outfits at FAO Schwartz for my brother’s stuffed dog, Henry, and my favorite doll, Baby Chicago. I loved the noise, the thrill, the way it looked like the planes were flying sideways between the skyscrapers and practically holding hands—wings—with each other when they flew in formation. I sensed how dangerous their stunts were and loved them for it.

Months after I moved to Seattle (nine years ago now!) I learned that the city was not, in fact, under attack on a random August weekend—the Blue Angels were performing over Lake Washington as they do every year.

The same Lake Washington that’s about three blocks from my house.

Every August since we met, my husband and I have hiked down to the lake in our crampons (just kidding—do I seem like the kind of woman who would wear, let alone own, crampons? Are crampons even used to climb down things? Or is that belaying? Or bungeeing?) We have sat on the banks of the lake drinking warmish sodas and marveling at the noise, the danger, the thrill. Then we have cramponed our way back home to try to ignore the hydroplanes that race like angry wasps across the surface of the lake all afternoon. (My husband would be the first person to tell you: those things are annoying.)

We bonded over our love for the Blue Angels in a town where most everyone we know takes the reasonable—but boring and predictable—stance that the Blue Angels are a waste of money and fuel, and they send a nasty macho message glorifying war, and they produce copious amounts of water and air and noise pollution, and they're just generally too much.

“I know,”—comes my standard reply—“but you have to admit they’re pretty cool.” Everyone stares at me like I’m a Republican and then details their exit strategy for the weekend. Mount Rainier. The Washington coast. The Oregon coast. The coast of Anywhere But Here.

My husband would be devastated to miss the show, and I have never been a fan of leaving town during this particular weekend until I had a baby. Who naps. In the afternoon. Between 1:30-3:30. Prime Blue Angel time.

I looked up the schedule this morning, and learned not only do they perform on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, but they practice once on Friday and twice today. Twice! How hard can it be to fly 18 inches from five other fighter jets? I mean, honestly. And what job doesn't have a 10% mortality rate?

At 10am on the nose a Blue Angel buzzed our house. The baby covered her ears, gave me an imploring look, and said, “Pane. Yowd.”

So I scooped her into the car and we went to the zoo, which is a real sign of how much I love her since I’d generally rather kill myself than have to witness a bunch of mangy, patchy bears pacing a 30 x 30 “naturalistic” exhibit (as all seven people who have read this poem of mine know)—only to learn that the jets actually cover most of the city with their flight patterns. I guess it takes a lot of room to make a U-turn at 500 miles per hour. Luckily the baby was too distracted by the pacing grrr-grrrs to be bothered by the yowd panes.

Last year, when the baby was nine months old, a rogue fighter jet (“Not a Blue Angel,” my husband recently clarified, “those guys are professional.” n.b. My husband is no more Republican than I am, he just really likes airplanes) anyway, some non-Blue-Angel illegally—and unprofessionally—broke the sound barrier—BOOM!!!!!—right over our house. I was holding the baby, who was handling it all rather well until I jumped all the way out of my fucking skin. Then she began to cry.

This year, I whisked her home from the zoo and settled her into her crib before the second practice session of the day. I turned her fan on high and left my iPhone in her room with a white-noise app—the combination of which will surely render her deaf if the sonic booms don’t. (At least I won't have to worry about the noise next year!)

Professional or not, those planes are youd. And distracting. And, in a certain mindset, very frightening, especially when you can hear them but not see them, like right now as I madly type these words before the baby inevitably wakes in terror. As they buzz our roof and make our 100-year-old windows rattle in their frames, all I can think to say is: Fuck you, Blue Angels. I love you—but fuck you. Because of you, I had to go to the zoo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Grungy Hippies (Jellicle Cat Reprise)

At the airport in L.A. this morning I was holding the baby in one arm and Eliot the newly cleaned stuffed cat in the other when a woman around my mom's age smiled at our little tableau and, gesturing toward Eliot, said, "That cat sure is well-loved, huh? Is it a hand-me-down, or...?..."

Alas. Eliot was exposed for the grungy Seattle hippie she apparently is all the way down to her core.

I, on the other hand, am practically Republican-seeming by Seattle standards. I shave in all the standard places, wear near-prescription-strength antiperspirant, and do not own any skirts that hit below the knee, much less the calf. So imagine my surprise when I got busted yesterday at a suburban Los Angeles swimming pool for being a grungy hippie mama.

I was minding my own, changing the baby's diaper on a bench by the side of the pool (where it was 95 degrees) instead of in the locker room (where it was 117 degrees and a little too fungal-feeling for my taste) when I overheard a pubescent voice say something about "deck changes" not being allowed. Not paying much attention—and not knowing what a deck change was—I blithely continued to fan the baby's rashy, exposed bits with a dry diaper until the pubescent voice was standing in front of me with a whistle around its neck, gesturing toward the baby. "Next time, please use the locker room."

I glanced around and noticed that, in fact, no other babies were standing around naked. Likewise, no other moms had their hair in a loose braid, their bodies in a vintagey one-piece, or their boobs in the shape god made them.

I wish I were one of those people who would have finished changing the baby right there in full view of god and all of southern California, but I'm not. I perp-walked the baby to the locker room and put her in her chlorine-free diaper and bamboo pajamas in hot, hot peace. Then we piled into my mother-in-law's Prius, and off we drove into the incredible, smog-enhanced sunset.