Thursday, July 28, 2005

Putting the Fire Back into a Marriage

This morning my daughter came into D's and my room near five, her little legs going one way, her arms the other, effectively kicking D out of bed. He stumbled into M's room, thinking he'd sleep the rest of the morning there. Except near six, A got up and turned on the t.v. too loud, waking all of us. D was angry, tired, frustrated because we'd stayed up late talking and reading, and he let A know making him cry. I hopped out of bed when I heard the commotion (peeling M off of me), guided A back to bed (which was short-lived), assuaged his hurt feelings, and bitched at D for being such an ass. Because he was.

The next hour was spent fuming at D, thinking I should get up, thinking I should write. Thinking I'd write about what happens to marriage when you have three exhausting children, not quite enough money to make life slick and easy, not enough friends to ease the pain, and enough differences in personalities to sometimes make the ride hostile. M cuddled up to me, pushing me to the side of the bed, and the anger left me. I thought about my poor husband having to sleep (not sleep) on M's plastic-covered, cheap matress, surrounded by Hello Kitty pillows and one newborn baby doll. As the sun rose, I figured I'd write about those moments when I love D so much I think I'll burst for the lack of physical expression. Because...let's be honest, all the things I mentioned that strain a marriage lead to "bed death." We can't even remember the last time...criminy where did all that early passion go?

Oh sure, we touch toes every so often. As we turn over in bed, we give each other little fingertip rubs to let the other know we're still alive. When the kids are finally sleeping, D falls asleep, too, leaving me to my thoughts and books and movies. On occasion I complain but nothing changes really because of course, our situation remains the same. The stresses are still there. Some would suggest our marriage is in trouble. I read once that a "sexless marriage" means having sex once a month. Good god then, what do you call a marriage where it's happening once a year?

The thing is we're good. We're in sync. We're best friends. What we need is to get away without the kids. When we manage that (a rarity because nobody wants to take on our children) we can get together. When we're free of the usual strains, we remember.

This morning we woke up wanting the fire back in our lives.

So at seven our day started. The usual happened...breakfast, a little bike ride, showers, the kids playing inside the house, the kids battling to occupy the same space (fighting physics). D worked on changing the windshield wipers on our ancient BMW. He did a great job except for that one wiper arm, the one which slipped out of his hands and smacked hard against the windshield causing it to crack in many brilliant directions. While D screamed outside in horror, I worked on the list for our trip (which looks like I might as well hook up our house to the RV we're renting). After lunch, after consoling D about the broken windshield (what's another $600 honey? Your dad always did say fixing things wasn't your forte. Consider it...destiny.) I went shopping for the goods. When I got back, D helped me unload and then promptly went back to the market to get the things I forgot.

We wished we could go out, we wished for candlelight romance...the tiniest bit of fire. We settled for a roasted chicken from the market and frozen veggies in the microwave. Salad on the side. The kids ate relatively non-wolf-like, the floor not as littered as usual. M ate all her chicken ("See, I told you I like this kind of good chicken!"). A and J chowed happily. Then, a knock at the door.

I got up, M and A running behind me, trying to race me to see who was visiting. It was our neighbor, still in her bathing suit.

"We were at the pool and we saw a branch fall off your pine tree onto some wires and there's smoke! I called the fire department!"


Within minutes a fire truck came roaring up our street, lights blazing (but siren-less out of consideration for our small neighborhood). They unloaded their stuff (boots, little yellow, fire-resistant outfits) and we all followed the extremely handsome and bulky firemen into our backyard. Sure enough, there was a broken branch at our back fence, a rather hefty branch and it was lying on top of flimsy-looking wires. I could hear the zapping of electricity. I rushed the kids inside at the firemen's suggestion ("That's like 4000 watts...high voltage...serious stuff," the captain beamed).

While inside, rushing around, trying to make the house look decent, I heard a loud sound. The electricity in the house flickered. M and A ran somewhere in the house. Another boom. All the power went out.

Outside, we'd gotten our wish. Fire had returned to our marriage!

According to my husband, he'd been standing far too near the tree, listening to the zaps, watching for the plumes of smoke. Suddenly, the branch burst into flames, igniting the oleander shrubs beneath. Fire, fire, fire! D booked it like a man with a mission, the flames a picture of the very mouth of hell! So he said. As he watched from behind a fence, the firemen came around (coolly, not rushing at all) from the front of the house, hoses in hand, and like out of a movie, wrangled that hose to control the gushing water to put out the flames.

And with that, the mass of the neighborhood gathered in front of our house to learn what happened because...well...the entire neighborhood lost power. We were all awash in darkness. Dinners were lost, refrigerators were heating up, homes heating up as well. All our fault!

A neighbor looked at my oldest son with suspicious eyes. J swore he didn't do a thing.

Tonight, Edison is outside our house working to fix the downed power lines. They did manage to at least return light once again to our corner of the world. The children are asleep. D, my prince, has convinced the Edison folks that they need not cut the branch tonight. They can keep silent their wood chipper.

"Come in the morning."


What a wise and excellent negotiator D is!

And so...D and I sit now on our porch, clicking our mugs of ice cream together in a salute. We are alone. We wanted fire in our lives...we got it.

Have a wonderful, lively weekend everyone! See you when we get back!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Take note, I added a little section on the right-hand column of my blog that lists the books I’m reading (or rather, what’s sitting on my night stand next to my bed, the many books that I read parts of at a time because I rarely read one book in its entirety before picking up another) and the music I’m listening to.

I wish you could hear how beautiful the “Frida” soundtrack sounds, how melodic and emotional each piece is. You don’t have to understand the language as the lilt and sway of the music speaks of the lilt and sway of an artist’s life and is really something to love. Much of the music sounds like the music I grew up listening to on Saturday mornings while my mother cleaned house and worked to get her lazy daughter to do the same. I’m reminded of the bright kitchen in our old Pasadena home, the mustard colors mixing with blue and green, the scent of bleach in preparation for a party, the music reflecting the anticipation of people and drink and food. The music pushes me into a place of tense reflection.

One thing on my mind these days is how close to the surface my fears live – I’m bothered by this truth, wishing for a way to manage them, to set them free. I’m ashamed, actually.

On Saturday, my sister, her kids, a good friend of ours, my children and I attended a showing of “Herbie” at El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. After the movie, we crossed the street to see more sidewalk stars and the cement imprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I was holding M’s hand and let go of her, turning slightly to take a picture of my sister and her daughter. When I reached for M seconds later, she was gone. I swept the crowd surrounding me and couldn’t see her.

The people moved about, continuing as they were. A throng of Chinese students, all identically uniformed, laughed and took pictures while a family stamped on footprints and bent to touch handprints. I couldn’t see M anywhere and panic overtook me. Sweat beaded on my neck and my breathing sped up. The crowd closed in on me and I heard myself call M’s name in a particular, strained, high-pitched voice that only comes when I’m terrified. I was useless – I couldn’t see her, I couldn’t hear her, my only consciousness was of A’s hand in mine.

My sister remained calm and heard my daughter crying several yards away from us, a crowd having gathered around M as she was making a bit of her own terrified fuss. I caught sight of my sister waving me over and managed to get to M, to hold her and assure her she was okay. Her little body in my arms served as much a comfort to me as my arms were a comfort to her. It took a while for M to stop crying and for me to recover as well.

The loss of her in that crowd ripped open my horrible fear of separation. In the moments I couldn’t see her, I was convinced someone had taken her from me, that I lost her for good. I was a child in that moment, as childlike and helpless as M. I felt myself to be a poor example of a mother. I was sorry that M should have such a fearful parent.

I do try to hide my fear from the children. With D’s encouragement, I let our sons ride to their friends’ houses to play and permit J to skateboard all afternoon outside our neighborhood with his buddies. I fight the urge to yell, “Be careful!” But I usually lose that battle and forewarn them, without mentioning specific dangers. J sometimes reflects my fears though, getting nervous when things are seemingly out of the norm for an instant or two but that doesn’t surprise me as he’s the oldest. He has borne the brunt of my nervous parenting. D balances me out with his confidence. I thank god for D’s assuring presence. Perhaps that’s why I got so frightened in Hollywood – I was without D.

Perfectly in tune with my experience, D and I went to the movies last night to see “War of the Worlds.” Talk about feeling out of control, being at the mercy of luck and good fortune in order to not be killed by all-powerful death rays. I took it as a metaphor for the current ideological war being waged by extremists, but I think it’s also commentary on modern day America. Each day, I open and never fail to learn of the latest child abduction, the latest freeway sniper shooting, the latest bombing in a subway or vacation spot. We’re so on the edge of Armageddon, one wonders how we wake up in the morning.

I wonder.

In the meantime, I hope M will grow up with less fear than I have. I took her experience as something to be expected – the crowd was an unfamiliar one, a large one, she’d never been to Hollywood her entire life, the separation was sudden. She hasn’t talked of what happened, making me think she’s either forgotten it or has pushed it down into her subconscious…only to waken when she’s 41 and loses her own 4-year old in an unfamiliar crowd.

What’s coming up…a weekend in Newport Beach in a rented RV. Camping of a sort. Should be interesting. We’ll be going with my brother and his family, with my sister and hers. I’ll let you know how it goes.

As a final commentary, “Herbie” was a cute movie. Ironically, one aspect of the film was about a father having to let go of his fear for the safety of his daughter.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Plodding Along

The depths of summer have come, we're swimming lots in the community pool, popsicles and fruits are primary snacks, the temperature has soared at last, summer school is over. D and I caught a movie on the weekend thanks to D's sister Mx and her husband Uncle Bb, both assisted by their little dog, Molly, who's been leash-sensitized by my daughter M (leash in hand, she likes to chase Molly because there's nothing quite like experimenting with a dog on a much they're like little toys!). On this lovely night out away from the children, we ate at a fine BBQ restaurant and then saw "The Wedding Crashers". Very funny movie...very adult, Vince Vaughn made for a hilarious fall guy and Owen Wilson was smooth with his serious presentation of lies.

Yesterday we caught Charlie and Chocolate Factory and were quite entertained. The film was a wee bit too slow or quiet at moments for 4-yr old M (she said on numerous occasions that she wanted to go home), but J and I loved it and A and D enjoyed it quite a bit. Johnny Depp did an excellent job at at showing the contempt Willy Wonka had for the concept of family. I was glad to see Charlie never make a mistake and at the end, won over Willy Wonka to the importance of family, to love's sweetness. I much preferred the ending here to the one in Gene Wilder's movie...I say that ducking and covering to avoid the wrath of original-movie supporters. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved Wilder's Willy Wonka...still do. Wilder's Wonka believed his whimsical, isolationist philosophy of life was the correct philosophy and through the end, that philosophy was never challenged. He was arrogant and was rewarded by Charlie in one step. Depp's on the other hand was told by Charlie that his philosophy was wrong. Depp's Wonka had to change to win Charlie over. Visually, you cannot compare the two because time has allowed the creators of the remake to spoof up the Chocolate Factory. Computers have allowed the Oompa Loompas to look even more alike, thereby building up their absurdity.

In the end, I walked out of the theater satisfied (and full of candy because while we're trying to be candy-free all summer, I thought it unjustly cruel to take the children to a movie theater to watch a movie about candy and not allow them to actually eat any).

An update on our summer trip...we've abandoned our long road trip. Sadly, regrettably. D and I decided that while spending the money is not a problem, in truth, due to A's emotional difficulties, 10 days on the road might be too much for him to endure. So we'll be doing short trips. In a couple of weeks, we'll be experimenting with a motor home - "camping". My brother and sister and their respective families will be there, too, all of us camping out at Newport Dunes. We've never done it before, so it should be interesting. If we like it, we'll plan something bigger next year...something further away such as Sequoia National Park or the Grand Canyon.

My kids does so much better when they're with their cousins. I can't explain it, but the stress level decreases for us tenfold. We're also considering a weekend in Catalina Island with the kids...just us. That should go well, lots to do, only a short stint.

I'm sorry I haven't been commenting much at other places. My office has been taken over by my son, J. Between drumming and his new-found love of the internet (he and his friends discovered MySpace and he has a blog), I hardly get much of a go at this old computer of mine!

All right, that's all for to have lunch with a friend of mine who's a professor at the community college where I teach. for me starts August 15. My summer is fast coming to a close and I cannot tell you how sad that makes me.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Beach

I planned on writing about my visit to the shore the past couple of days with M and my sister and children at her in-laws’ house on the Strand in Manhattan Beach. The boys stayed home because of summer school and a burning desire to spend afternoons with their friends. I wanted to write about how I sat at the edge of the water in my low-down, red chair, burying my feet in the warm sand, watching the kids play in the gentle surf, and listening to the to-and-fro harmony of the waves. At one point, M came up to me, wet and sandy, shivering a little, and asked, “Do the waves stop when I go inside the house to sleep, Mama?” Her question made me think of the famous query, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I didn’t play around with my response, “The waves never stop, not ever.” The concept of infinity is beyond her youth now, but not beyond mine. The children screamed into the coming waves that were so much bigger than they, waves that thankfully broke into harmless, foamy, ankle-deep water at their feet. The children looked to be a vision of defiant humanity, insistant on surviving the unstoppable tide of time.

But I’m not going to talk about all that. Not quite.

While I focused my camera on the children, my sister told me her best friend was coming to dinner, a young, unmarried woman who works the corporate arena. Jt’s great – she’s funny, observant, and can hold her liquor better than anyone I know. That evening, after dinner, after A and I put the kids go to bed near nine, the three of us drank wine at the dining table, looking out across the now-dark ocean, catching up on the goings-on in Jt’s life.

As we worked on our third serving of Merlot, Jt's cell phone beeped. She checked it, saying she thought she knew who it was, and listened to her voice mail. She showed us the blinking red light on her phone, the one that announced a message waiting at her office phone. My sister, A, and I nodded appreciatively at her possession of the latest communications technology. After a moment of more listening, she chuckled, and indulged our curiousity, telling us about the vendor who called, that she called at a quarter-to-eight, that the vendor is most likely nervous because Jt invited the vendor’s boss to a meeting without giving the vendor a timely head’s up.

“She’s probably upset at me.”

I asked her, “What meeting is this?”

“A client meeting.”

My sister asked, “And she’s upset…because…?”

“Her boss will be at the meeting.”

I asked, “And that’s bad because…?”

“Because she might not want to be seen in action by her bosses, she might get nervous, she might think I’m ambushing her. You know, it’s a client meeting.”

“I used to have client meetings,” I noted, a touch of wistfulness in my voice.

“I used to have vendors,” my sister said, “Man, could I manage those vendors!”

Jt refocused the conversation, “Notice she called at a quarter-to-eight.”

“Quarter-to-eight,” A said, looking mortified, adding, “Criminy.”

I couldn’t keep up the ruse. “And a quarter-to-eight is bad…because…?”

“Because she’s clearly working at that time and she’s making a point that I’m not in the office working, too!”

We belly-laughed along with Jt as if we were intimately familiar, currently familiar, A and I chiming in at the same time, “the bitch!”

The talk turned to e-mail, computers, comparing today to the days of when we typed papers in college using a typewriter, single drafts, only able to correct typos by backspacing and retyping over the errors with corrective White-Out paper. Jt told us business correspondence is changing, that casual communication is the order of the day. Problem is that sometimes the notes get too casual. Recently, she had to chastise an employee about his not capitalizing the pronoun “I” in status e-mail sent to clients.

“How did you find he was doing that?” my sister inquired.

“I saw copies of his e-mail.”

“Clients sent them to you?” I asked.

“No, he cc’d me.”

“Oh…cc’d you…”

I talked about letters I used to write to clients, how formal my voice remained throughout all levels of correspondence.

“But the law is different, traditional, no matter the format, phone calls, e-mail, snail mail.”

The house got quiet, the voices of the children long muted, the night fully rolled in. Jt tapped her foot against the leg of the table, her foot in expensive leather heels. She played with the stem of the glass and I sipped my wine.

I wondered if I’d locked the door downstairs, imagining some child molester coming in and stealing away one of the girls or all three of the kids without our knowing because we’re so entrenched in listening to Jt’s adventures in corporatism. A revealed what was on her mind by saying, “I took my baby to the doctor and he says not to worry yet that she’s not crawling even though she’s eleven months.”

The conversation had turned again.

When midnight came, Jt got her things together and we said our goodbyes, planning a dinner soon, out on the town. As soon as she left, my sister and I fell into a couple of chairs, laughing and laughing because we couldn’t believe just how far we’d come from the single life, from the cubicles in the glass-walled world of Century City, El Sugundo, West Covina.

“A quarter-to-eight?” she choked out, hardly able to finish the thought.

“A quarter-to-eight…my god, what’s this world coming to?”

At one o’clock in the morning, I’m in the kids’ room fixing M because she’s rolled off her sleeping bag into her cousin Aa’s sleeping bag. Near three, Aa woke up, calling for her mom over a nightmare, but I go in because my sister was upstairs sleeping with the baby and she needed all the sleep she could get. Near five, Aa was in my room because M rolled into her sleeping bag again and I drag myself to fix them up again. Near six, my sister was up. I heard the footsteps and baby Iz crying a storm. I slipped back into sleep until seven-thirty when M and her cousins fully woke, running out of their room to the tube to watch Sponge Bob in the living room and play a game of meowing cats. Meowing...loud enough to break glass.

A quarter-to-eight the time read when M came to my room asking if I could get them all some yummy, “Coco-pups.”

“Sure,” I said, “you got it.”

There’s no question that time is as relentless as those waves that never stop.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Purposeful Mental Breakdown

Taking a break from the London bombings, the Iraq struggle, and natural impending disaster, turning away from death by sex offender, random sniper, serial killer, and terrorism, the Californian housewife keeps quiet company. She doesn’t belong to any overtly oppressed group nor does she have any agenda or cause or drama with which to catch media attention. Her intelligence, her education, is unseen and she’s associated with the petty, with soap opera, with paranoid concerns about unsafe toys.

I dusted the curio cabinet today and worked chewing gum out from the carpet, I Swiffered the laminate floor and wiped the cabinets, all while the news showed blood-drenched persons, shell-shocked, repeating their stories. While the chicken sautéed and the vegetables heated in the microwave, the White House told us to be vigilant and to watch for unmanned baggage, packages, and whatnot. M scratched her hand as she ran through the kitchen, falling and crying and demanding a bandage, a Barbie one, it had to be a Barbie one. As I tended her hand, she then cried because she lost a puffy emblem off her blue sock and asked if I could tape it to her sock so she could be whole once more?

“I need it put on, Mama! I need it now!”

The chicken needed flipping once I heard some more about the killer of the Idaho family with the sole survivor. A asked me and asked me some more for cucumbers and tomatoes and J wanted his cd’s back, the ones I took away because he’d bought them without permission, bought the “parental advisory” cd’s even though we’d said, no, no, no, the bad language is too negative for your learning mind, but as I said, “negative” again for emphasis the news in the background reported the number of deaths first of Iraqi citizens, then of Londoners moving onto those in Haiti and Cuba.

“You can’t listen to music that says, ‘fuck the world.’”

“Why not?”

“Because you get drawn into the ugliness and don’t pay attention to what’s great about the music such as the drumming and the chords.”

“I want my cd’s back.”

The dinner was ready and as I searched the side drawer for a spatula, I saw the bills spread across the counter, stamps aside ready to be pasted, checkbook ready to be used, asking us to pay for electricity, gas, gasoline, the mortgage, line of credit, credit cards, cable, internet access, the phone, cell phones, dentists, doctors and the pre-school. Checking to see what was needed to finish setting the table, I noticed under the chairs a mess M left where she’d been peeling and eating hard-boiled eggs earlier. I turned to the sink and noticed a line of mold where the caulk had deteriorated and turning further still I saw at the foot of the refrigerator a puddle of blue yogurt that A spilled and didn’t bother to clean up. Barely, I eyed the dust under the fridge and became immediately tired at the prospect of pulling this thing out and cleaning the filth behind. I couldn't stand the dirt (endless, nightmarish, constant) and started sweeping under the chairs and wiping the yogurt even though dinner was now beginning to overcook.

I had to stop when J asked again for the contraband cd’s and when I said, “no,” (saying it while I peeled the chicken off the pan, having to scrape the burnt bottom) he made a big show by yelling wordlessly and banging on his drum set as hard as he could to let us know he was very, very disappointed.

At last I heard progress with North Korea and Dennis Rodman just in time for the children to scramble and slam themselves into their chairs at the dinner table, D putting final touches on the table, wondering whether the knife went on the left or right of the plate. I’m not sure, I told him, but I do know we need napkins. I went to the pantry and pulled out napkins from the last birthday party (Hot Wheels for A's 8th) while pictures of missing family in London flashed across the screen.

Any moment, I thought just then, we can be hit and lose one another tragically, any moment life can end as we know it, one push of a button and nuclear war will break out, Armageddon is on the brink for god’s sake. Any second now, utter blackness. I smacked at a mosquito (West Nile River) and handed out napkins, stopping when everyone has a napkin for their laps. Louder than I intended to, I said, “I used too much pepper on the chicken.” I hoped not because M won’t eat the chicken if there’s too much pepper.

“I don’t like pepper, Mama!”

“There’s no pepper, I was wrong,” I said, trying to save dinner, “besides even if there is too much, the pepper will be drowned in a sea of catsup. Not to worry.”

As I sat down in my place, as I took a swig of beer, the doorbell rang and M and A tore from their seats, running fast to the door against all the rules because one never knows who’s going to be at the door, running as if they’re expecting the Sweepstakes, and they scream across the kitchen once at the forbidden door that it’s Johnny and Brendan and Ryan and they want to play. Without waiting for my answer nor sending the visitors away, the three kids tore back to their seats, grabbed chicken chunks and announced their fullness. Could they be excused now that they were done eating? D began to object and I drank more beer, shrugging my shoulders, muttering something about summer and who cares anyway? I didn’t hear what D told me.

I think it would be nice to take a break from calamity, dirtiness, bills, dissatisfaction and hunger, to fall apart in front of everyone, to scream and rant and rave and pull my hair out so I could be carted away, away for a day, for two, for two weeks maybe in a sanatorium, talking to air conditioned faces and sleeping through breakfast in the dining hall, through the friendship hour in the recreation room. Perhaps I could make a lot of noise and walk around the house in my nightgown and slippers all day, crying and walking and listening to “voices in my head” so I could be given the respite that I, the housewife, so need, so want. Maybe at night in the recovery ward I could watch I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch to ease my troubled nerves.

Fuck the world, I’d paint on my forehead! Strip the nightgown off and dance in front of our house, nude in the garden, dancing to reggae and disco of the seventies that only I hear, dance on top of the SUV, waving my arms about, claiming insanity and culture shock, weakened nerves and thrashed sensibilities.

The housewife, the mad, mad housewife, I’d be.

The dinner table was a wreck, forks and knives helter-skelter, pink and grey lily-swirled plates (gotten for our wedding) shamefully laden with food, Tupperware glasses half-empty of water and juice, one empty Corona beer for me with a wedge of lemon curled at the bottom. I cut the chicken slab on my plate into pieces, spread margarine on the broccoli and cauliflower (a frozen mix made by Birdseye), and ate, serene and smiling.

“Eat your chicken my dumplings,” I sang to my husband and absent children, “you need the protein to be productive members of society, to live long and prosper in our fine world.”

As background to my wisdom, I heard on the television, A giant panda bear was born today at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. The first one in 16 years, the mother at first was surprised…

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Lemon

Mercilessly sour, a cruel joke of an orange, the subject of cliché, lemon is a staple of Mexican cooking right along with lime, cilantro, oregano and onion. When we were children, my brother, sister and I coveted the fruit, taking the unused halves from the kitchen counter, sprinkling salt over them and eating them while my mother cooked, while we watched television or sat outside on the porch mid-make-believe-game. When I was about 13, I learned another trick from a favorite cousin…sticking a saladito in the center of a cut lemon and sucking the juice out, getting the salt of the salted plum in a most delicious way.

As a child, I was keenly aware that my non-Latina friends found my love of salty “candy” odd. I couldn’t explain it – it was in my blood.

We loved lemons so much my mother planted a lemon tree in our side yard one year. We were anxious for those lemons to start growing. Imagine…all the lemons we wanted right in our own house, right outside our kitchen door, just like at our grandmother’s house! I watched that tree change from sapling to full grown tree, but only to face disappointment. The tree was fruitless, not a single lemon came, not even through the second season of maturity. We waited, waited some more, dying for our own lemons to suck on, to use, to indulge in. Still no fruit came.

A housekeeper, Elia, stood with us one afternoon and studied the tree, all of us wondering why the thing wouldn’t produce. She had an idea and immediately went into the house. We sat patiently beneath the leaves, looking upwards, the sun’s rays shining through to our bare toes.

Just as we began to give up the vigil, Elia returned with small items in her hands, a tiny doll missing a leg, a toy dog with no tail, a plastic necklace long abandoned, a colorful measuring cup chewed by a puppy. She placed them aside and pulled from her apron pocket a ball of twine and scissors. Carefully, she hung each of the items all through the tree like Christmas decorations. She told my mother in Spanish that we needed to fool the tree into thinking she was a productive tree, that once she felt the weight of the “fruit” on her branches, the need to give more would be triggered.

“A woman can produce milk if given a baby to love and to care for, if the baby is put to her breast to nurse, even if that baby isn’t hers,” Elia explained. “The weight, the need, the love, can bring milk.”

My mother agreed, promptly offering her own recall of such incidents back in her hometown in Mexico. She added, “The trick works for cows, goats, too.”

We were fascinated.

One morning months later, we woke and ran to check the tree, our now-usual routine. We couldn’t believe it, there were fruits sprouting among the leaves, hanging on the branches. Green fruits, small, tight within, bitter. A week later, they were still green, small, tight within, and bitter. We were troubled. Why weren’t the fruits turning into lemons? Elia chuckled and my mother figured out the problem. They were limes. Over our groans of dismay, Elia told us not to be sorry because limes were wonderful, too. Why with a little salt, they could be bitten into and chewed. I knew that to be true...limes were particularly good with tequila...I'd seen my parents use limes that way many times. During parties (of which there were many), we'd hang around the "bar" in the kitchen, taking the cut limes. Sure, true, the stinging bite at the end was the best part. Provided the limes had the salt.

Well, we didn’t get the ever-producing lemon tree, but we still got to enjoy our salty “candy” right outside the kitchen almost like we had imagined.

Today, M and I visited my grandmother, to check on her, to see that she had food, and to spend precious time with her and my equally-frail grandfather. M wore a pink sundress, carried her Hello Kitty pink purse (a special five-dollar bill tucked inside) and stomped around in her favorite pink-tinged, lightening shoes (they light up when she walks).

After lunch in the kitchen, my grandmother brought out a basket of lemons to make lemonade. I stayed seated at the table, flipping through old recipe books and watching as the two juiced the lemons, made sugar water, and stirred the ingredients together. M stood on a rickety stool with her wooden spoon while my grandmother directed each step of the process, talking softly, moving slowly. There wasn’t any music going, no television. Mama and Papa don’t have air-conditioning. The air was warmish, the scents of lunch still hung about, cotija cheese, liver and onions, chile, and one burnt tortilla.

When they were done, M beamed as she dipped a quarter-cup into the wide-mouthed pitcher to get lemonade all by herself into juice glasses. With my grandmother’s fragile hand on her elbow, she stepped off the stool and brought me a drink.

“For our guest,” Mama said.

“For our guest,” M repeated, smiling at me.

We three then sat at the table and had summer “tea,” lemon with sugar.

A lemon is an unexpected joy because it’s too sour to eat outright. How the fruit transforms itself when accompanied by salt or sugar or when you cook with it. The lemon tells me a tale of family, of summery closeness, a clash of hearts whether blood-related or not. The lemon tells me we can’t go it alone. Alone, we’ll remain fruitless, unproductive. Sour.

As I drove home this afternoon, M spoke to me of her lemonade and how she wanted to serve it up to her brothers, to her dad, just like we did today.

“For our guests,” she said, placing her hand on the jar of lemonade next to her, next to her purse. The heavy traffic didn't bother us, not one bit.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Fourth

“And a lovely day was had by all.”

We spent the morning in a parade, walking around our neighborhood with all the other parents, waving to neighbors I only see this one day of the year, walking behind dog-walkers, stroller-sitters, and bike riders. We do this every year and the number of participants changes as the neighborhood changes what with kids getting older and sleeping in (like J), older people moving away to smaller places and beyond, young families moving in and having kids. A rode his bike and M decided for kicks to have D push her in our old jogger (a stroller of a sort) which didn't last because her shoes touched the front tire and she decided all on her own that she was too big. She pushed the stroller for the second half and from down the block I saw still how little she is in that I couldn't see her above the handlebar, just shoes, just hands curving over the black. At the end we had popsicles and chatted, breaking up by ten, when the sun started to move to the center of the sky.

I made breakfast (hard-boiled eggs and tomato salad) and then M and I went to the community pool, where we spent the next 3 or so hours playing in an imaginary world. There, we had a house on the pool steps and lived in a neighborhood in a city like the one we live in and made water-cakes, picked out water-library books, floating all over the edges of our Atlantis in our make-believe car (an orange noodle we both held fast to). M sang a song for me (such a long, sweet song the notes of which bounced the edges of the pool, staying with me, even now) and I told her stories about being in a forest with a lot of trees and bugs (“Nice bugs”). We took a cake to an under-the-water Mrs. Hockensox in the deep end and bought shiny purses at a watery boutique in the shallow end. I confounded M’s language abilities much to her delight by telling her about the car manufacturer and the oil refinery for gasoline in our blue city. We played, interrupted only by D bringing us sandwiches and Cheetos for lunch. By the late afternoon, when the pool began to get too busy, we left, cheeks and shoulders pinked, tired, wet, and happy.

The boys joined us, noisily for a short while, in between their hours with their friends.

The night was spent (after a requisite BBQ on our old charcoal kettle grill) watching fireworks from the bleachers at a nearby high school. We bought smoothies from Uncle B who managed to work the concession stand in spite of ill health. Then the show. In those brilliant bursts, I was reminded of so many other hot summers. 1976 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl for the only formal show my family ever attended. 1997 with my newborn, A, being rocked by my mother inside her townhouse while the rest of us lit firecrackers outside on the street, my brother B burning his fingers after warning my little J to always “play safely and sanely.” We really, really laughed at that. Many, many childhood summers with an aunt who no longer wants to have anything to do with me or my sister for reasons I no longer understand. A summer on the beach with a lover during my law school years that made me think marriage was something possible. 2004 in Washington D.C. with my son J, a wonderful, exciting two weeks where I said goodbye to J as a little boy and welcomed him as a preteen. As those silly explosions of light colored the night sky and M screamed in innocent, pure delight, I found myself weeping a little with both joy and melancholy.

I saw an interesting movie today, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which so cleverly told me to “enjoy the little moments of love.”

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Good Movies

Since we've been home a lot, D and I have been movie watching. Some good ones we've seen in the past weeks:

Batman Begins (in the theater): Finally, Batman has stepped away from camp and entered the realm of comic book drama. I really enjoyed the visual presentation as well as the character of Bruce Wayne - nice, thrilling, but for Katie Holmes. Thank god, her role was limited.

Kinsey: I have to say, I was impressed with the fact that Kinsey was ever able to do anything during his time with regard to openly talking about sex. The university really had to have been quite progressive. Considering that Kinsey's Report has been recently cited as one the most dangerous books published, this makes for an interesting viewing.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman: This is much better than the trailers made it out to be - it's about love, rage, God, family. Both sweet and funny.

Vera Drake: A very interesting, quiet movie about abortion in its dark days (days that may soon return to us) - Vera was a fascinating character for her extreme naivete and saintliness. I was surprised that it was entirely fiction - for some reason I was under the impression she really existed, or rather, the movie played like a pretty typical bio-pic. Lordy.

Friday, July 01, 2005

What I Do Best

Blogging is bad for me. I tend to avoid all my other writing, rather enjoying the short attention span format of the blog. I’d hoped for more – more stories, perhaps a workshop or two, attention to a novel of mine…not happening. Not sure why. Perhaps the blog feeds into my laziness. Perhaps I’m not a writer and never will be. Perhaps I should stick to what I do best…which is…


My grandmother fell a few weeks ago, resulting in a brief stay at a convalescent hospital. Her age showed – all 88 years. She told me during one of my visits there, “The food is delicious.” I knew then that things were much worse for her than I was willing to accept because food at a hospital is never “delicious.” When she got home and we were sitting in her den, she said to me, “You know your mother moved very high up in the police department,” a completely erroneous statement. She insisted she was talking about my mother. She said several times, “Your mother did that.” I finally corrected her, telling her that she wasn’t talking about my mother but about her sister and she said, “Oh that’s right.” I visited her again yesterday, after a week of avoiding her, and as she directed me to a couple of sardine cans for lunch, she told me, “Your brother ate a whole can of smoked oysters – you know, at your house. Your mother and father only let us have one oyster, but B, he ate a whole can!” More folding of time and place in that she was referring to something that took place in the 1970’s, when my brother, sister and I were kids.

The incidents have shaken me. I’m reminded of my mother’s neurological illness that killed her, I’m reminded that once again I am at the end of a life and I don’t know this person’s history, this loved one’s past – I don’t know the details, the technicalities. I haven’t learned everything there is to know and because of that I will never be able to pass on to my children their own history. I’m again left with the frustrating question of, “What is this all about?” All that energy a person gives, all their thoughts, their words, their worries…what is it all for and where the hell does all of it go?

I’m not ready for her to start slipping away – I’d hoped for the transition to be smoother, less traumatic, I’m not sure it will be. As always, I find myself grabbing hold of the relationship with a kind of desperation, fear. I’m sunk with worry and that worry spreads elsewhere, coloring my vision of everything around me, focusing all my attention to the negative and away from the positive.

The positive sits just beyond me, tapping her foot and crossing her arms...indignant…the perfect weather, sitting on the patio with my book in my lap while M plays with her Barbie dolls in the pools, the feel of her sweet, wet cheeks against mine when she comes to me, to show me the leaf she fished out of the pool. Summer fruits – the berries, the cherries, the peaches, the nectarines, watermelon, and the plums. The sense of no obligation to anyone. The “rest of the summer.” A late dinner on the patio. A bike ride after dinner at dusk, near eight o’clock. The idea of a trip to the mountains, a museum, the Aquarium, a boat tour to Catalina Island, a July 4 extravaganza, new books on my nightstand. A late night movie with D because the babysitter’s home from college and she’s got the kids. Walking across a parking lot at midnight and not needing a sweater.

The positive…the possibility, the plans for summer, enjoying a breeze that cools the room, a breeze that only lasts a moment or two.