Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eating dirt in the South

I made edible grass last night using shredded coconut and green food coloring. It was for Paolo’s class project; they are studying soils. In a clear cup they are making dirt layers out of two kinds of chocolate pudding, Oreo cookie crumbs, brown sugar, including gummy worms and, of course, green grass on top.
Some days, I would like to trade jobs with my seven-year-old.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Runs On and On

You are belatedly on notice that school is out. Last summer this was a bad thing, as we socked Paolo away into a crappy daycare that closed halfway through the summer, and then begged our way into a decent summer program that he didn't enjoy because all the kids had made friends already, and I suspect he spent much of the day sitting in the corner, not to mention it was located allllllll the way across town, which took even longer to drive than it takes to read this sentence. This year things are going much better due to some better parental planning on our parts, and a better attitude on Paolo's part.

Speaking of Paolo's flaws (and I can admit he has flaws, even though Sam says I'm so protective of my children that if they killed someone, I'd help them hide the body, which is completely untrue, because they always find the body, so you have to make it look like an accident), he had a rough year with his first-grade teacher, due in part to his lack of focus. The other part of the year's difficulty was due to his teacher being a mean, old hag. What follows is an example of the efforts I made to impress upon Paolo the importance of concentrating:
Paolo, your teacher says you were not paying attention in class today. You didn't get your work done, and you had to make it up at recess.

[Deep sigh] Yeah.

Did you like doing work when all the other kids were playing?


So next time your teacher tells you to do your work or you'll have to miss recess, you'll remember what that felt like, right?

[Pause] Um ... yeah.

Do you have any idea what I just said?



No! [explodes with laughter] No, Mama, I have no idea what you just said.

Shortly thereafter, I gave up.

Apologies for the egregious run-on sentences today. I don't know what came over me, unless I'm always this way and don't even realize it. Maybe my endless droning is why Paolo has the attention span of a goldfish. Perhaps the poor kid shuts down out of self-preservation, because if he truly listened to every word I said, his frontal lobes would tie themselves into knots.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What happened to Italy?

I've been hearing this a lot lately, and it's a fair question. Italy entered this World Cup as reigning champions and left it in the first round. So what happened to Italy? There is an army of balding men wearing fat ties and slick glasses in RAI studios right now (over)analyzing this very matter, but I will give you my opinion. Since you asked.

The coach was the wrong choice, and he didn’t select or field the right players. To further devastate matters, our best chances at holding it together in spite of the deficit - Buffon and Pirlo - were injured and unable to play all but a few minutes of the first three matches. On the field Italy were limp, lifeless; they played without organization or heart. Except for the dying minutes of the third game against Slovakia, when Pirlo controlled with his calm, unerring passes, Quagliarella exploded with his bloodlust for goal, and Italy came alive. That was actually the hardest part of the tournament to watch, even compared to the embarrassing tie with New Zealand (who doesn't even have a professional soccer league). I was a ball of emotions: furious that Italy had waited so long to turn it on, overjoyed to see them play with heart and fire, and miserable to know the effort was wasted. The hole they'd dug themselves was too deep to climb out of.

Of course I'm ashamed that my team didn't make it out of group play. It's gutting to fall so far so fast, especially when naysayers use it to gripe that Italy didn't really deserve to win in 2006. Still, I believe the story couldn't have ended any other way. This team was not going to win the World Cup again, and the loss only gets more painful as the team advances. I'm almost glad Italy put it to bed so quickly. As a fan, I prefer to know right from the start that there is no hope.

So now what? Now the fans of mighty Italy lick our wounds and we wait. We change our computer background from the World Cup trophy because it isn't ours anymore, and we watch the reconstruction of the Azzurri. We cheer and we grieve, we praise and we curse, we beg and we boast, we demand and we despair, and we wait for the fratelli d'Italia to rise again.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Hero

Picture it: Downtown Fayetteville, a hot Sunday afternoon. The kiddie race is about to start in the street at the annual Joe Martin Stage Race. The parking lot is roped off for vendor tents and the children’s play zone. My boys were not racing, as one is too young and one hates bikes, so they had the inflatable bounce house all to themselves. Paolo and Luca were hurling themselves around for all they were worth, while I watched at the entrance, cheering them on. Suddenly, I heard something odd: not a noise, but a LACK of noise. Before it dawned on me that the air blower hooked up to the four gigantic inflatables had cut out, the back columns of the bounce house collapsed. Paolo and Luca froze and stared at me in horror as the roof caved in on them. GET OUT, I yelled, BOYS, GET OUT, HURRY. Paolo was closer and managed to army-crawl his way to the entrance, but Luca was no match for the heavy canvas. I watched the tarp come down on him, covering his body until just his tiny hand was visible reaching out for rescue. I grabbed Paolo before he slipped out to safety. PAOLO, YOU’VE GOT TO GO BACK FOR YOUR BROTHER! With no hesitation, Paolo dived back in, grabbed Luca’s hand and pulled him free. I helped them both out onto the pavement, and we stood huddled together, staring in wonder at the puddle of canvas at our feet. A race coordinator sprinted over in full panic and asked, “Is there anyone in there?!” Hugging my boys tighter, I replied, “Not anymore.”

The rest of the day, that brush with disaster was top of Paolo’s mind. He didn’t brag about his own escape, but about how he had saved his brother. He was a hero now, actually, a superhero. If it hadn’t been for him, Luca would have been buried forever. "Just think," Paolo went on, "if I had never been born and Luca was your only son, he never would have gotten out." After assuring Paolo that his bravery was truly astonishing, I reminded him gently that I had been standing RIGHT THERE and would have helped Luca out if we’d been alone. And yet, I know how siblings work. Ten years from now, Paolo will probably still be reminding Luca, “You know, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be here.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Six Flags Over Crazy

As I wrote yesterday, I actually enjoy Texas drivers. Texans drive fast, really fast, no matter how many cars are clogging the roads. When you combine dense traffic, breakneck speed and an out-of-towner driving a less-than-nimble minivan, the very last thing I need to deal with is stupid street names. To get to my hotel, I take Six Flags Drive to Road to Six Flags Street. No, wait. Road to Six Flags then Six Flags, right? Maybe. These roads border the Six Flags over Texas park on two sides, but then one shoots off West and one goes South, so you really don't want to get them mixed up. Thankfully, Six Flags itself is a brilliant landmark.

Another orienting landmark is the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame's monumental bowling pin with rotating stripes. If I had not screwed up each and every time I have left the hotel, I would never have known there was such an institution. As luck would have it, I've passed it three times. I confess to feeling a bit like Clark Griswold as I take wrong turn after wrong turn only to be confronted yet again by skyscraping roller coasters. Look kids! Six Flags! International Bowling Museum!

In the same general where-is-the-damn-hotel locale are two enormous stadiums. Perchance there are some important sporting teams in the area? If you are coming in for a game, enjoy guessing whether you want Exit 28B / Ballpark in Arlington or Exit 29 / Ballpark Way. Also, be warned that while Ballpark Way will get you to Rangers Ballpark, Stadium Drive does not actually go to Cowboys Stadium.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'm sitting in a hotel room in Arlington, Texas, by a window overlooking a closed amusement park. It took six hours to drive here today, and at the last minute, I veered from my directions skirting Dallas and instead drove right through its heart. Dallas is notorious for its heavy, mad traffic and jumbled, confusing exchanges, and I wanted to prove I could still handle it. I never used to blink at racing along in fast traffic on major city roads, and I wanted to feel like the person I was before I got so damn old and responsible and soft. Keeping pace with the high speeds, navigating fearlessly, slipping into the groove of the commuter rush: it was euphoric.

That was my life almost ten years ago, tearing down the highways around the Bay Area, free, bold, answering to no one. The person I was then didn't make meal plans and to-do lists. She had all the time in the world, and her choice of how to spend it.

Just as I was reveling in my invincibility, a song came on the radio that made me miss my boys. It wasn't a sweet, childish song, of course; they have their dad to inform their musical taste. It was Bulletproof by La Roux. Paolo knows every word, knows the song well enough to make up alternate goofy lyrics, and Luca belts out the chorus. Bulletproof, hah! At this point in my life, I couldn't be more vulnerable. I no longer exist in exclusivity; my husband and children are part of me. I am saddled with demands, stretched thin, and chained tight, because I am loved. I do not long for the days when no one waited to hear I had arrived safely.

When I'm away from home, sitting in an empty hotel room, she's so close to me, the person I was. Sometimes I like to check in with her, to step back into the stream of a faster, more reckless life, to feel young and unencumbered, but these are moments of nostalgia, not regret. Living without a net or an anchor is no way to spend your whole life, and I knew that ten years ago with the sunroof open, music screaming, going 80 down the highway.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Recommendations: Novels of the Romantic Poets and the Bronte Sisters

The last two books I read were really enjoyable, both historical fiction accounts of famous authors.

I first suspected Jude Morgan's Passion: A Novel of the Romatic Poets would be silly, poorly written or melodramatic - probably all three. The cover does not inspire confidence. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a strong, well researched novel, with vivid characters and amazing storytelling. If you have any interest in Percy Bysshe Shelly, John Keats or Lord Byron, here is a novel about the women who loved them.

Following close on Passion's historical heels is Emily's Ghost: A Novel of the Bronte Sisters, by Denise Giardina. While I had a hard time liking the characters, I appreciated that the author was not trying to make me like them. I also enjoyed the introduction by Giardina of subplots I did not anticipate, such as mill worker rebellion. I can't really say how much of a behind-the-Bronte-novels peek this is. I would have to read biographies of the Brontes in order to know what is real and imagined. I half don't want to know because Emily's love story ends tragically, as it must.

What I found most remarkable about both novels is how they moved me. Knowing beforehand that these creative, poetic lives were snuffed out too soon did not save me from being devastated when it took place in the novels. I could not help wishing it would turn out some other way.

Between these two books, I lost count of the characters who died of consumption. I read most of Emily's Ghost in the middle of the night while sitting up with Luca. His four-week-old cold has moved down to his chest, making him cough and wheeze like a consumptive. It was disconcerting to hear his rattling lungs while reading of Emily's and Ann's deaths from consumption and no surprise I could not find sleep even after finishing the book and turning off the nightlight.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Greater or Less than Hungry Crocodiles

Sam ran upstairs where I was folding laundry to ask me the trick for remembering the greater-than and less-than arrows. When the arrow looks like an L that means less than, I told him. He only knows the crocodile trick, whatever that is, so he asked me to help Paolo with his homework. I joined Paolo at the table and casually glanced at the directions at the top of the worksheet. They used the crocodile trick, too, so I began my explanation: The crocodile's open mouth always faces the smaller number. It's a great, big, mean crocodile, and he's going to chomp the puny little number. Got it? We worked down half the page before I noticed something was awry. The L-arrows weren't indicating what they should. What the...?

Now, you math geniuses were probably groaning several sentences ago, but I am not one of you. I am of the species Liberalus Articus, and my kind do not understand your strange symbols. My people study dead things and words. So. I re-read the directions and, sure enough, the crocodile chomps the bigger number. Fine, have it your stupid way. Completely mortified, I had to reverse my prior explanation to my trusting child and have him redo the worksheet. Never mind what I just said, I told Paolo, the crocodile isn't mean, really, just hungry, so it's going to chomp the bigger number. If you were really hungry, would you eat two cookies or twelve cookies?

Once homework was done, I lashed out at Sam for putting me in charge of math, when he knew I didn't know the crocodile thing, and he did, and now Paolo is probably totally confused and won't get into college, because these are the types of building blocks an entire education is built on, and I've blown it. He was not surprised at all by my fervor and retaliated by reminding me that he came to get me because he knew his grasp on the subject matter was shaky, and I seemed very sure of myself, and this is what happens to children with two Liberal Arts-educated parents, so we should have known the day was coming when we couldn't help with math and science studies.

Yes, but I didn't expect the day to come while our child is in first grade.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mad Love

Love is...

Not being offended when the 2010 World Cup commercial comes on, and I shush you, turn to the TV and raise my arms in victory at the clips of the Italian team celebrating after the 2006 final.

Mad Love is...

Knowing I will have the same reaction every day until June, but never changing the channel or rolling your eyes.