Friday, April 28, 2006

Pulling Teeth

I've been lazy about posting this week because we've been busy – sitting down and spitting out words has been as difficult as pulling teeth. Just didn’t want to do it. Had lots of papers to grade but didn’t feel like breaking out the pen and slashing away at the students’ work. Had a dentist appointment today but I didn’t want to go (hate, hate, hate the dentist!). It was a bad week for J in getting to school in the morning which made me dread waking up, too. There was a lot of homework for A which made me dread the kids coming home from school. M was great this week, though. She was a doll actually, which made me not want to ship her off to school.

The usual I suppose.

After the dentist appointment this morning, I had lunch with my grandmother and my sister. While eating, we got onto the subject of loose teeth. M has a couple of them and these teeth are really hanging on. We keep wiggling them but still they sit, rooted in.

Sister asked me, "Why don't you just pull them? Try with your fingers."

I shuddered, "I can't – can’t cause them any sort of pain that way. Can't pull teeth, can't clip fingernails, and I can't pluck eyebrows because I can't stand the sensation of plucking skin."

"I remember having a conversation about you with my friend – she and I are like monkeys, constantly grooming our children."

"But pulling teeth?"

"My kids pull their own teeth. You should see AH! Six years old and yanking the tooth out like a real Amazon woman.”

“Mine, too. The boys totally pulled their own teeth.”

“We really should use pliers,” Sister said. “Not even wait for the teeth to get loose.”

“Like Mommy did with us!”

We cackled, laughing a bit hysterically.

My grandmother chimed in, “Your mother did that because she inherited the ability to treat a human body without fear. My father used to remove bullets from the troops without blinking an eye.”

“But Mama Nana, we weren’t soldiers in the Mexican Revolution on the front line, we were her CHILDREN. She was…masochistic.”

“No, no,” I clarified, “She was a SADIST.”

“’Just hold on to the chair, mija!’” Sister mimicked herself as a child, holding the sides of the chair and screaming.

I laughed and shook my head, “What chair, she held me down in her arms and pulled those babies out with everything she had. I swear to GOD, my teeth weren’t loose.”

We laughed while my grandmother gnawed on a large roll. “I ruined my torta,” she said, her tone one of aggravation. “Shouldn’t have put it in the microwave. I could loose teeth on this.”

She didn’t want to hear us mocking our mother, shaking her head at us while we still chuckled and looked at each other in disbelief.

“But Mama Nana,” Sister said, “Our teeth weren’t loose.” She had such an expression of horror that I burst out laughing again, much to the chagrin of Mama Nana.

What can I say? It’s mostly true – the teeth she pulled those few times were somewhat loose. I have a particular memory of being in my mother’s arms on a chair in our old house on Holliston in Pasadena, tasting the metal of the pliers, and screaming like mad as she worked to get a tooth out. She pulled it out all right, smiling and waving the pliers about, “See? Not so bad, eh?”

The weird part is I cannot remember the pain. I know I felt it, why else would I be screaming? Granted, it could have been fear, the anticipation of pain that never came. Or the pain was so mild, I forgot about it. Or maybe it simply is a natural inability to recall physical pain. Have I written about this before? Sounds familiar. My mother used to say that women forget the pain of childbirth which is why they go on to have more children. If we could recreate in our head physical pain, the world would have fewer people.

Mama Nana finished her ruined torta, and we finished our remembrance of pulled teeth. I packed my bags and left to pick up A. After I shuttled A home, I turned back around and checked J out of school early in order to prevent him from slipping away after school under the guise of, “I forgot I was grounded.” I felt good about it…rather sneaky. I had warned him that if he was late again to school, he’d lose the computer and his friends for two days. I knew I surprised him and he even said, “Did you do this to stop me from going with my friends?”

“You bet your bippy, I did.”

“What’s a bippy?”

“I have no idea but you better not go looking for any.”

“I was kidding. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was just kidding.” He smiled hugely.

“Yeah, sure you were.” I smiled back at him and hugged him. “You little brat.”

You know, writing this wasn’t quite as bad as pulling teeth.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Catching Oranges and Cutting Flowers

The irises are in bloom at my grandmother’s house, as are the roses, the crocuses, the oranges, lemons, grapefruits and a variety of flowering cacti. She has a “catcher,” or fruit picker for the fruit – a narrow, plastic basket with curved metal prongs that sits at the end of a long wooden handle – and taught M how to use it yesterday when we visited for lunch. M had a wonderful time doing the “catching,” moving the tool in and out of the leaves and laden branches to get the prongs caught on the fruit so she could pull and loosen the fruit away from its tight hold onto the tree. She squealed in delight when the fruit fell into the basket. She laughed even more when the fruit missed the basket altogether and came down to the ground, narrowly missing her.

Before that, M and my grandmother walked beneath the old trees and pretended they were in a jungle chasing bears. They waved their sticks at the flowering brush around them, living in an imaginative world for a while. At age eighty-nine my grandmother can’t walk like she used to, having to be extra careful back there. Recently she said she was bent over, trying to avoid low-hanging lemon tree limbs and bumped her head against the trunk of the tree, not realizing how far she’d managed to move. While the two cavorted in the shadows, I watched to make sure Mama Nana didn’t fall.

I also took pictures of the cactus plants, the names of which I don’t know. We took pictures of M with flowers she picked and arranged into a small, woven basket with my grandmother’s help. M sat on the grass, a leg to the side, like a model. I don’t know where she learned to sit like that but the pose reminded me of my mother. We spent a long time in the backyard, doing nothing, really, beneath grey skies, in chilled air.

My grandfather was inside, fuming over recent trouble he shared with me over lunch. His driver’s license has been suspended pending a driver’s test – I’m not all that confident he’ll pass. The two drive the freeways still. They go to the Valley to visit my grandmother’s sister – they drive to Orange County to visit my aunt – they drive to Los Angeles to visit another aunt of mine. They drive a lot of places – that used to be their entertainment. Long drives to the desert, the mountains, and Tijuana. Once they drove as far as Central Mexico to visit family.

Losing his license, my grandmother said, will be like death to them.

My grandfather wasn’t worried however. “I’ve been driving for sixty years! I’ve never had an accident and in my opinion, I’m an excellent driver.”

He has no idea that we all bite our fists when we watch them leave our houses. He drives slowly, just like he walks. My mother, in her last year, had been so worried about the way he drove that she threatened me with my life if I ever let him take my kids anywhere. That was six years ago – Papa Raul hasn’t exactly improved with age.

I don’t know what to do for them – I don’t know if there is a taxi service that will be as accessible as a car at the ready. I know my sister and I will have to be more accommodating as our aunts live too far away. We’ll have to research for alternatives. The reality is sad, but necessary. I’ve heard too many stories of elderly people getting into car accidents due to poor reflexes and poor vision. I’ve heard the horror stories. They’ll have to adapt. Unfortunately, change isn’t one of their strong traits. My grandmother still refuses to get air conditioning because she believes her house will get too cold. So to this day, they suffer in their Pasadena house, cooled only by electric fans.

My grandmother shuffled around her kitchen, gathering sweets for our ride home as if we were going by horse, the way she used to travel when she was a young girl. When we were through with our hug, we looked into one another’s eyes and thanked each other for a perfect afternoon. We enjoyed the moments, the flowers, the food, and being with M.

As I drove away, they waved to me from the corner, appearing small and frail. I touched the grapefruits in the bag - yellow, blotched with dirt from the rain, smooth skin, large and bittersweet.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Queen of the Mundane

So I opened my e-mail a few days ago to find a rejection notice of a maternal-type essay I wrote and sent in to a parenting journal. The essay talked about the stresses of being a modern mother of three extra-demanding children and was pretty much typical Adriana Bliss stuff, you know?

The notice said, “We liked your story but felt it did not move beyond the mundane enough to be right for us.”


The word, “mundane,” was familiar to me – an online critic once applied that particular criticism to a couple of my photographs I’d put up at a forum for review. The description incited some argument because of course the critic was like 20 years old and living in New York City and couldn’t be further disconnected from the L.A. suburbs or from a non-working, aging mother. The two perspectives were grossly skewed. The proponents of my shots argued that there was nothing mundane about my point of view, that there was beauty and excellent form and there was uniqueness to what I expressed. Perhaps. Certainly, I thought later, when the child has free access to clubs and plenty of time to compose artistic, black and white fluff…well, shots of “backyard flowers” would certainly seem...


Am I mundane? Have I become a lonely old woman who frets about mold growing on bread in an overheated bread box? Am I ordinary, speaking in ordinary tones, speaking of the mundane in a voice that doesn’t, cannot, go beyond unfixable limitations?

I’m reminded of a quote by Dale at the blog, Mole, that I was a little horrified by last month (brought to my attention by the inimitable Diana at Diaphanous):

I feel diminished and ordinary, though. This was what I have been protecting myself against, all these years -- against this sense of myself as just a person like any other person, subject to the same discontents, laboring under the same conditions. And that's exhausting too. I hadn't realized just how heavily I leaned on a sense that I had something special about me, something in reserve that would dazzle people if they only knew -- how much I depended on that.

The statement Dale wrote, beautiful and haunting, horrified me because it rang so true. Since I was a child I labored under the idea that I was someone unique and special and…brilliant (yes, yes, the term had been applied to me in college by beloved professors, a term I hung on to and so badly wanted to believe)…a person who would accomplish great things. As I struggled with failed goals, I kept putting new ones in front of me, different ones, each one seeming just as impossible to attain as the last, each goal getting less and less spectacular until one morning I woke up and my goals consisted of getting out of bed, making a fried egg, and showering.

“If I can do those three things, the day should work out fairly well.”

Happiness continues to elude me – depression comes and goes – hopes ebb and flow. I sigh often and droop about the house, an ordinary house in the middle of an ordinary suburb somewhere southeast of Los Angeles. Time is catching up and in some circles I am beyond hope to do much more than mother and teach a couple of classes on the side.

What if that is all I was ever meant to do? How does one let go of the extraordinary illusions? Do I try to be the "best darn mother this side of the Mississippi?"

How ordinary, how mundane, that at this midlife I wonder these things.

This morning I sat in traffic on the way into Studio City to meet my dearest friend, Lori, for a breakfast at Jinky’s Cafe. A pick-up truck drove past me, a display case full of Mexican sweet bread in the bed. The pinks, the yellows, the browns…the bread to accompany cafĂ© con leche on a chilly spring morning. How funny to see the bread there in the center lane, the imagined scent making its way into my car.

So ordinary, the bread.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Kicking the Pack Rat

We were lazy as usual so for dinner D ordered a pizza from Papa John’s – not the best but the kids like the dipping sauce. I volunteered to pick it up because I was in need for a few minutes quiet time, looking forward to popping in a CD and relaxing for the 20 minutes or so I’d be gone. No argument from D who was more than happy to stay seated on the couch.

In the Passat, I zipped across the city in the last of the afternoon light, passing a strutting guy (and I mean strutting), two moms walking in identical step with their babies in purple strollers, and a guy with tattoos in a wife-beater walking his four Chihuahuas (no, they were walking him). Once I had the pizza ($20.52), I climbed back into the car and zipped back home, listening to Credence Clearwater Revival all the way.

As I pulled up into the driveway, my heart sank a little. Out in front, ready for the trash, was the rocking chair my father bought me for the birth of J. It’s been sitting in the back porch for a long while because there’s no room for it anymore in the house. The kids’ rooms are full of their own needed furniture, their books. Every room in our house is filled with our necessaries.

There is no room for sentimentality.

And it’s not like the chair has great monetary value. It’s not an antique. It’s a glider that was popular back in the early 90’s and cost maybe $100. You could get them anywhere. Sears, Robinson’s, Levitz. The pillows are terribly used, dirty, even more so having been outside this past winter.

There’s no room for this chair in my house.

I rocked all three of my babies in the chair, rocked them to sleep and breast-fed them there. I would rock in the dark of their room and look at their faces and think, “My god, how could I have made something so beautiful and so perfect?” I sang familiar lullabies in that chair, I made some up. I made the new ones familiar to my babies. There in the dark of the room, I thought about stories to write, tales to tell. There in that chair, I grieved horribly the loss of my parents – so many nights after each one left, I wondered why they couldn’t have stayed. There, I said to my husband, “My god, how lucky I am to have found you.” There in that chair, I said behind the back of my husband, “Jesus…what was I thinking?”

In the chair I watched the children grow from helpless infants to capable ones with teeth who grinned and bit my nipple as a sign that they were done…they were ready to move on. I remember how difficult the separation was – I didn’t choose to stop nursing, they did. They…grew up.

If I close my eyes, I can feel the glide of the chair and the warmth of the baby (all three of them) in my arms. I can remember wondering what they’d be like when they were older, so excited for them to get older, so resistant to it happening.

In the chair I remember asking my mother about my two-week old baby, “Do you miss them at this age?”

She lied and said to me, “No, you will be too busy enjoying them at each new age.” I know she lied – she didn’t want to taint the moment I had right then, the moment with J in my arms, my first. I know she lied because right at this moment, I miss those babies. There is a certain grief that comes with each age, a shadow right alongside the joy of each new age.

The chair is done – to keep it is silly, a pack rat’s tendency. There’s no room in our house for an extra piece of furniture, but there’s plenty of room for the memory of it, for the sighs and laughs and cries and songs that it brought me.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Happy Easter...and belated Passover wishes, to all.

Today, we're off to my Aunt's house in the OC for a fine Easter lunch tradition. Unusually, we're actually having this family get together on THE day. For a long while we've been hosting the family party the week before so there's no clashing with the myriad in-laws.

I think of my mother today. I miss a special Mexican dish she used to make called, capirotada. I encourage you to look at the link - great pictures - an almost identical view of how my mother made it except my mother used cheese in her recipe. Here's another good article about it. The dish consisted of dried fruits, fried bread, cinnamon, and the best brown sugar syrup. For us kids, the making of the dessert was much better than the actual dish itself because we loved to just dip the fried bread into the syrup. That was the best part. I'm laughing as I write this because in fact I don't think I ate more than a few bites of the completed capirotada in my entire life. Of course, the dipping and eating and hanging out in the kitchen took place the day before Easter. We'd wait patiently while she cut the bread, fried the bread, and then made the syrup. Then...eating just enough so as to leave enough for my mother. She was never sober while making the dish, but that was okay because her tipsy-ness was always a happy sort. The making of the food always brought her such joy.

Anyway, I miss her today, but in a good way. Memories that "warm the cockles of the heart." As they say.

Happy Easter, everyone...happy, happy, happy.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fiction: Pasadena Freeway

She gripped the door handle of their twelve-year-old Jaguar when she saw the red lights of slowing cars at this midnight hour. A squeak slipped from her throat as she pressed a sandaled foot on the floorboard and he grumbled, “I see them, I see them.”

“But I always see them first.”

The Pasadena Freeway’s hairpin turns were treacherous. Stopped cars sometimes appeared to come out of nowhere, the sharp curves preventing a driver from seeing the wall of red before it was too late. A driver had to be firm on toes, anticipate the dangerous spots.

The play at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown, L.A., ended surprisingly late. The show had been enjoyable, a comedy of errors made even better because the tickets were given to them by her husband’s coworker in the bank’s real estate department. Traffic was surprisingly heavy even for a Saturday night. She’d been sweating when he honked the horn going through the Figueroa Tunnels, afraid of the cars to her left and right. The lanes were narrower than on most Southern California freeways because there was no room for expansion.

Putting her fingers on the cold glass, she craned her neck to see the old houses at Heritage Square. For years she passed by on her way to school and never learned the exit to get to the park. The insides of the Victorian houses culled from decaying Los Angeles neighborhoods were left to her imagination. There was a new one there – white siding, green shutters on two stories of windows, a black door. Moonlight lit the homes. They were ghostly in their natural states of emptiness.

“Just needs a white picket fence,” she said more to herself than to him but he heard.


“Quaint and predictable can be beautiful.”

The car swished to the left and then to the right. She forgot to keep her eyes on the road and the turns made her a little ill. As old as she was, she still got car sick. The window came down with a press of a button and a whoosh of air came inside. She breathed in the chilly night. Cool for midsummer.

He chuckled, “Please, you hate predictability. It’s why you left your job. You wanted the excitement of living hand to mouth.”

“I left because my mother died and there was nobody else to take care of the kids.”

Their ten year anniversary was in two weeks. She bought him a modest Rolex watch. Can a Rolex ever be modest? She’d saved up for it, cutting a few indulgences here and there such as making sandwiches for the kids instead of having them buy at school, picking up canned coffee from Von’s instead of stopping at Starbucks, and buying clothes at Target instead of Nordstrom’s.

They passed through Highland Park and Lincoln Heights. Only one time in her life did she actually get off the 110 before hitting the end of the freeway at Arroyo Seco Parkway and that was to check out a new condo that had gone up at the entrance to Highland Park. The place was gorgeous, the price fit her first year lawyer’s salary, but the impoverished surrounding neighborhood rubbed against her Pasadena self. She bought the Jag instead and lived in an Arcadia apartment until she met her husband. The idea of a condo filled with her books, a computer, and silence, almost brought tears to her eyes. A flush of well-learned shame followed.

The car swerved around another curve, the traffic breaking up. She shut her eyes, mocking sleep, like she often did.

“I called the sitter,” he said. “She’ll be here on Saturday at the usual time. I know it’s not the actual day of the anniversary but…”

“Makes no difference to me.”

He turned on the music, zipping around stations. The easy listening came first, followed by the oldies, then the top hits, finally landing on Led Zeppelin at the rock station.

“Is that ‘Stairway to Heaven?’”


“I always think of–”

“Whoa!!” He slammed on the brakes and she put her hands out. The car’s tires screeched and a thump bumped beneath them, and she could tell they were spinning so she screamed, continuing to hold on to the dash, closing her eyes, thinking they were going to die and god damn it why didn’t she get the trust signed last week like she wanted and Jesus Christ, she wasn’t going to see her little angels again, and just before they hit, just before she was supposed to say, “I love you,” like all the movies say she is supposed to, she reached to him and said, “No such thing as fucking picket fences.”

They slammed hard against the metal railing of the center divider to amazing silence. In minutes she realized the quiet wasn’t real because traffic continued on the other side of the freeway. Cars all around were only in the process of slowing. They sat in their crunched sedan facing the wrong way. They could be seen at least. Perchance they were in a place where the curve didn’t block views. Everyone stopped. Seeing white lights coming toward her was even more frightening than red. She looked outside, out her husband’s open window, and in the middle of the freeway was a massive black animal. A dog, a deer, a wolf, a big cat from the Zoo, maybe. Who knew what it was? How could a person possibly tell now?

Tears fell and she swallowed the lump in her throat, turning to her husband, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, yes…Christ.” He turned the key in the ignition. Miraculously the car started. He was breathing hard and looking in her direction. “Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think so. I thought we were going to die.”

“Maybe we did.” He opened the window and poked his head out. “Doesn’t look like heaven. Stinks just like the city I know and love.”

He eased the car around, cars all stopped dead. There were voices. People were out, milling, poking at the dead thing in the middle lane. An act of God, someone said. Unstoppable. Came out of nowhere.

Sitting back a moment, he waited. Reached over and held her hand, “Picket fences? We’re about to die and you’re still thinking of those stupid houses?”

She laughed a little and shrugged. “An epiphany at the moment of death.”

“Stupid-ass epiphany. We’re living the picket fence life, baby. We got everything anyone could ever hope for.”

“Of course we do. It’s just what I wanted. What I dreamed about when I graduated. I don’t know what I meant.” She smiled and squeezed his hand back. People were getting back into their cars. A flare burned around the dead creature. Smoke snaked upwards.

“I’ll call the insurance company in the morning. Miracle we don’t need a tow.”

The empty houses had long faded into the night behind them. Up ahead was the first of several South Pasadena exits. The neighborhoods there were filled with Victorian houses, houses that had people inside, children in beds, bikes waiting to be ridden, swing sets in backyards, cars in garages, and white picket fences with their pointy tops and rusty nails.

The car took the last of the exits and disappeared to the left, white exhaust enveloping them. Their last twenty dollars in their wallets would pay for the sitter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Break

I’m feeling sentimental about M going to kindergarten. She will be off on her own journey and before I know it she will be in junior high and beyond. I’ve discovered this phenomenon by watching the boys. Kindergarten seemed the first defining moment of the rest of their lives. A certain independence emerges that year. Maybe it’s the reading, maybe it’s the “public” nature of public school. Might be the fact that on the playground they are lost in a crowd.

Whatever it is, kindergarten changes everything. Even thought the date is months away, I have found myself watching her, pulling her to me, indulging her make-believe games. I’m hanging onto these moments.

Every morning she awakens and comes to sleep the rest of the morning in my bed. I always awaken to her warm body next to mine and my husband always awakens to an elbow in his back. Lately, I’ve been staying awake a while to watch her sleep. There will soon be a time where she will be so big, “too big.”

So quick this passes.


This week is Easter Break and the children have been great. I don’t feel nearly as drained as I usually do. I’m relaxed even though I’ve got a lot of work to do for my own classes. I’ll be sorry when school starts up again. As we drove today to the candy and ice cream shop, Scoops, in Monrovia, I realized that I have this wonderful family of slackers. We LOVE not going to school or work.

We LOVE it and are happiest when we have no responsibility to anybody. We listened to the Doors on the C.D. player with windows rolled down and Sassy jumping all over us.



A got his bass guitar this week and had his first lesson tonight. We bought the guitar from the Fret House in Covina. The place is a throw-back to the 70’s – the owners are totally laid back and seem to have a real passion for the art of the guitar. What matters to these owners isn’t the money, but the guitar. Tens of them hang from the ceiling and line the walls. Books fill the aisles and amps of all ages haunt the corners. The Fret House has a basement where musicians play every weekend. Stuck to the door of the entrance to the basement were several fliers for musicians. One was looking for a bass player to play gigs and just have fun and had to be influenced by Nirvana, X, and the Misfits. The player also had to be between 17 and 19 years old.

Our future?

“Backdoor Man” is playing now and I’m glad the boys have an outlet of energy, of creativity. Hopefully their enjoyment of music will last. Hopefully, all three of them will find their ways in our complicated, responsibility-laden society.

Must go…papers to grade.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Birthday Songs (updated again)

The song was some weird variation on the usual, but the Margarita allowed me to just smile under my sombrero (a new thing at the West Covina Chevy's) despite the humiliation and clap at the end as I stared down at the cinnamon-shelled, ice-cream thingie covered with whip cream and chocolate syrup. Yummy – more calories. I can blame my brother-in-law BW for that.

I'm 42 today, sharing a birthday with Hugh Heffner and Charles-Pierre Baudelaire. Yesterday was surprisingly busy – baseball game with A in the morning (he hit a ball off a pitch and ran two bases!), getting-to-know-you pizza party with the team at a Glendora park, clothes-shopping for M at the local Target, the nice dinner. Oh yes, and opening my present. A brand new, second-generation Playstation 2 because our other one broke. In truth, my birthday was the excuse for the purchase – a conscious effort to limit our necessary purchases. We didn’t want to just go out and buy one for no reason at all or worse, to follow our instincts and get it to appease J’s recent resurgence of tics. We felt so sad for him this week because some kids started to make fun of him. He fumed because he’s too old to cry. My husband was ready to go out and buy him something to make up for it.

I lassoed him. “NO! We’re only going to teach him to buy things in order to soothe himself. We already do it enough. Please, let’s try to avoid that connection.”

We avoided it. So...Playstation for my birthday it is. Today we’ll see a movie – probably Ice Age. We have a flowery ice-cream cake (mint flavored, not my favorite, but the kids like it…are you all seeing a theme here?). At some point, I’ll have to prepare for classes this week. A terrible year it’s been for me – maybe it’s the kids draining me. Maybe the novelty of teaching as finally worn off. Whatever it is, I’d rather not be doing it.

Not surprisingly, I’m feeling a little blue today. Feeling unpretty, feeling fat, feeling that I’m not quite recognizing the girl in the mirror – remember when you wanted to be a doctor? Remember when someone called you beautiful and meant it? When did you get so gray? Why aren’t you doing more of what you love to do? On the other hand, isn’t it the passing of all these years that lets you write as freely as you do? Isn’t that a blessing?

The high point of the weekend will have been last night’s brisk walk of the dog near ten, M next to me, chatting and wearing her new clothes. The boys were on skateboards and zipping around the neighborhood in the dark of night, taking advantage of the fact that there weren’t any cars. They took different routes and we kept meeting them before they went on their way again. I wore my coat because cold runs through me so. The moon shined so whitely that we almost didn’t need the flashlight.

At one point M had walked far ahead of me and all I could see was the reflection of pink of her rain jacket when I pointed the flashlight towards her. The shadows hid her, then she was there, then she wasn’t…when I caught up to her, I held her hand and we skipped home, Sassy tugging on the leash.

And so another year begins.

Update: the near miss with the emergency room. In getting ready to go to the movies, everyone takes baths and showers. My husband decides to get really serious about the birthday grooming and begins clipping nails. Clips M's nails...a little close. So close there's blood on the finger and there are tears and screams and there's a gap the size of Mt. Vesuvius on her fingertip and we're all in a panic, thinking we should go to the emergency room, but then the Hello Kitty bandaid comes out and a spread of Neosporin and all seems to be well again. So...we're back on with the movies. J is blow-drying his hair and I'm here...buying tickets online for Ice Age. The next showing.

Ahh...a lovely birthday...a perfect one.

Post-Update: The movie was cute, but not as good as the first Ice Age. The finger is well on its way to recovery - I think we can avoid the doctor or the emergency room. The father, however, is not as recovered, now vowing to never trim nails ever again and especially not in a dimly lit den.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fiction: Suburban Paranoia

I’m driving along Rosemead Boulevard in Arcadia, keeping pace behind a primer-grey 1970's van with rear frosted windows. A splash of red cuts across the glass on the right side and it looks like a face or blood. My stomach lurches because the more I stare at the streak, the more convinced I am that it is a child behind that glass, a stolen child. Sweat beads under my blouse and the silk sticks to my back. I press on the gas as the van picks up speed. My god, I think, I can’t see the license plate. I can’t read the letters. My god there is a child in there and he’s been kidnapped and it will be my fault if the child dies because I can’t focus on the letters and numbers.

Hell in a hand basket – this is where we’re going. I have to keep up with the van.

There were no less than five reports in our local newspaper today about local child molesters. The AP used a new term for them: seducers. The internet was the virtual alleyway where these men were caught seducing young things into watching pornography and exposing themselves using webcam. The internet is Satan’s playground and it should be shut down. Several years ago we had our very own Father Joseph arrested for fondling altar boys. He hanged himself before he got to trial. To think that a priest in our very own neighborhood was seducing young boys in front of our praying selves. On our knees we were and so were the boys.

I’m slamming on my brakes because the van has slammed on its brakes. Exhaust snakes upwards in this morning, rainy hour, wrapping itself around my car and I breathe hard with indecision. I could ram the van to open the rear doors and let the boy out. I wonder who is in there. The Smith boy? The Greenblatt boy? Maybe it’s a girl. A girl who looks like my daughter. Curly hair. Freckles across an innocent smile. Baby teeth. A beautiful, tragic package draped in a red Easter dress plastered on a photo, spread around the city.

The van turns right and I follow it, flooring it because the distance between us opened up too much. The van cuts across a lane, two lanes, and I’m right there, speeding along Foothill Boulevard and heading out of Arcadia into Monrovia. I’m missing a PTA emergency meeting on keeping children safe at the Mall. Last week’s meeting was about teenage sex. According to some parents, girls had taken to wearing short skirts, covering their laps with blankets, and letting boys touch them in class, right under the noses of teachers.

The van is stopped at a light. Following the rules. Obviously trying to avoid the police. Exhaust drifts into the traffic. I feel like honking my horn, screaming out of the window. I look at my neighbors, one putting lipstick on, another talking on a cell phone. Isn’t it obvious? The blood on the window, the child’s open mouth against the glass? They are being hauled away, torn away from mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Young lives a wreck.

Thank god I stopped that myspace thing. Thank god I stopped my son from hanging out with that kid. Horrible parents, letting their child put his picture up on myspace. Child molesters could have gotten a hold of them. Both of them. Picked up in a van and taken away forever.

The van is driving forward. I’m driving forward. We’re all driving forward. The traffic is heavy, congested. I can’t move to the side and the van, the van is caught suddenly in front of another car. I honk the horn. The old woman gets out of my way, scowling at me as I pass. She wouldn’t mind if she knew.

I honk the horn behind the van. I honk and honk. I roll down the window and point like a mad woman. I’m pointing and screaming that there is a child in the van. People at first don’t notice but then they do. Then there are several trucks nearby. Strong men in trucks. They hear me, thank god, they hear me.

I point and scream. I honk. The van pulls over, pulls into a gas station. He climbs out and he’s a Mexican. There are men on him and they drag him away from the van. Kick him. Kick him again. I’m there, screaming, demanding the van be opened. There are people all around. They are screaming that this is why we need walls on our borders. The children, they scream, the children.

The rear doors are opened at last.

The man is beaten and curled up in a corner, bloody. He deserves it – the seducer deserves it. I’m heaving with relief at having rescued the child, the boy, the girl, the young thing in a photograph.

The doors are pried open. There is nothing in the back except a bouquet of red flowers.

Red flowers pressed against glass.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Unreal Life

I’m done writing. I’m never going to ever write another piece for as long as I live. I’m not going to submit anything else for publication ever. I will not look to my family for stuff to write about. I will not reflect on my past.

Will not, will not, will not.

I’m reading a book called, “Digging the Vein,” about an L.A. drug addict and what’s caught my attention the most is how many typos there are. Every twenty pages or so one will pop out at me. Made me think that this was put together quickly – that someone read it and liked it but didn’t really read it, that not enough people really read it before going to press. When I’m finished I’ll throw it on top the other drug addiction books I’ve read – Permanent Midnight, Trainspotting, Candy.

I read Junky while sitting next to my mother who lay in a coma.

I read Diary of Drug Fiend while my father lay in a coma.

There I go again. Reflecting on the past.

The other night I took a late-hour trip to visit with one of my best friends. Drove the 210 to the 134 and got off at Hollywood Way. Drove to Cahuenga and pulled into the lot of the Holiday Inn Express. Waited there a bit until S came down, leaving behind the hubby and her toddler. After coffee, after some soul-warming conversation, I took her back. We chatted on couches in the lobby, “Gone in 60 Seconds” playing on the television too low for us to hear. Later, near midnight, I hugged her and said goodbye.

A young, Latino man stood outside the entrance against the wall. Just stood there, waiting for something. He watched me as I got into the car. I sat there a moment deciding how the hell I was going to get out. The lot was packed – no place to turn around. There was a set of three, skinny, bleach-blonde couples, talking and laughing, huddled near the entrance. A hand-written sign on the door said, “No Vacancies.” I decided I’d just pull forward a little, turn the wheel a tad, and drive backwards to the entrance of the lot where I could then turn around and get back on Cahuenga. It worked – got out without scraping the car.

The time was 12:30 and I took a different way home – got right onto the 101 which would eventually turn into the 10. I passed all my old exits for USC and Loyola, passed through downtown. I passed the Norris Cancer Hospital in East L.A. Passed the shut-down Sybil Brand Institute. Immediately, at seeing the hills across the freeway from Cal.State L.A., I thought about a turning point in my life – a visit to Sybil Brand, the women’s county jail, where I watched a ragged prostitute in a torn, red satin skirt get booked. I was visiting with my criminal law class from Loyola Law School. When we left her, we were treated to a throng of the most frightening women I’d ever encountered behind glass jumping up and down and mocking us. Sheer madness. The sight made me decide against becoming a public defender, a dream I’d entertained since high school. My Pasadena, privileged upbringing had rushed forth hotly and suddenly all my visions of representing the underdogs in society melted away.

I’m going the safe route, I said, I choose safety.

The rain has come again and I’m inside, feeling protected. M has just come in from outside. She wore her pink rain boots and played in the mud a little. Sassy watched from the porch, barking every so often. She has no fear, no discomfort at being wet or dirty. She’s still young, I think.

My coffee’s cold. The cereal from earlier this morning is soggy. The tests are still at my side. Showering awaits, tidying up the house awaits, and then there’s lunch, dinner…things to do…nice, safe things to do.

Fiction awaits.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Nothing Left

Last night, I spent a night out with D – we had dinner at a local steakhouse, I drank wine. Within the flow of alcoholic numbness I reflected about the situation with the boys. They have been combative lately, overly sensitive. I suggested we try to step back from our expectations because I notice that we get most upset when our goals (for them, for us) are not being met, whether it’s their being quiet or their doing their homework or meeting some other school obligations, or when they are acting in a way that is different from what we want in the moment. We have to put what we want aside in favor of bringing them some peace.

Simple, logical, you know?

The numbness slipped away as we walked in the misty night, holding hands, deciding what to do next with our free evening and in that nicety a jolt of guilt suddenly ran through me. I felt bad about writing so openly about the children on my blog – I felt bad about putting my personal expectations above those of the kids. A fellow blogger wrote about it recently and I understood his point because he wrote under his real name but I found I could not do what he did, I could not separate myself from my children, from the experiences I was having, pen name or not. The other day, I shared with a friend in similar circumstances an idea about gathering our essays, our reflections of being parents of unique children, into a collection of sorts. She shot down my idea hard, almost angrily. I felt terrible about even having the idea, sick about it.

Perhaps someone out there knows who Adriana Bliss really is…perhaps I’m exposing my kids’ personal problems to the world without their permission. Perhaps I’m violating their privacy. She thought so.

Maybe all my writing violates privacy. There isn’t a single person in my world that doesn’t enter into the fiction, the memoirs, the daily posts. They are my life – they are my inspiration, they are everything.

Maybe I am wrong in what I am doing. Maybe I’m a horrible person for exposing my life, their life. Maybe I need to keep silent about the reality – shove everything beneath covers, beneath a layer of suburban bliss. Maybe I need to learn to speak in metaphors. Maybe I need to appear more like all those happy mothers with perfect children – speak only of pink princesses and football-carrying heroes and cookies baked from scratch. Or better, pretend I don’t have any children or a husband. Pretend I’m someone else entirely. I’ll bury myself in complete fiction –science fiction, romance, the murder mystery.

Like the profanity…will I have nothing if I drop my life from my writing, if I protect everything and everybody from exposure?


Once upon a time a girl, a boy, no a dog, no…an ant crawled his way up a tall Calla Lilly, no a rose bush, no…a birch tree, wishing to see the world from other than the base level in which he lived. He climbed until he reached the top. He gasped at the vastness he saw. He’d have to tell the tale of his venture – everything he learned up until now was changed. New light revealed truths he never imagined. Infinity was possible.

That’s when a bird picked him off the branch and ate him.