Friday night, I took the chickens to the local brewpub for dinner. As is common to the genre “casual American restaurant”, the BBC boasts televisions perched above diners like rocks on a cliff, threatening to fall on your head or at least your nachos.
We have a TV at home, but it sits in the basement unenhanced by cable and functions more like a disregarded piece of furniture inherited from a maiden aunt than an entertainment device. This makes public TVs all the more enticing.
Chicken Noodle glanced up just after we sat down and said, “I saw the president!”
I looked up. On screen was the Orlando Magic/Atlanta Hawks game. Great, I thought. My child can’t tell the different between a basketball player and the president. But I knew immediately from where the confusion stemmed.
“Are you sure it was the president?” I asked her. “Or did he just have the same skin?”
“He had the same suit and the same skin,” she said matter-of-factly.
I watched the game with her for a minute and sure enough, here came a guy with the same suit and the same skin as our president—Hawks’ coach Mike Woodson. In practically no other way did he resemble Obama, but I could see how the misidentification might be understandable if one were, say, four, with a mother who never let her watch TV.
Ten years ago when we had time for such leisure activities, Captain Daddy and I used to pass entire evenings arguing about completely speculative, futuristic problems, like how we would raise well-rounded, cultured children in a practically all-white town, and what we would do if a child of ours demonstrated an impolite reaction to what would surely be an uncommon sight. How would we teach respect and equality without practical experience? “Well, if our country elects the first black president by then, we won’t have to worry,” was not part of any realistically imagined scenario we hauled into our futile discourse.
I observed Noodle split her attention between coloring a rainbow and watching the game. She had no further comment. And then it hit me—a wave of joy. This was my problem? My motherhood challenge of the evening was to correct Noodle’s assumption that all black men in suits are Nobel-prize winning leaders of the free world?
I think only as I watch my children come of age in this era will I understand the truly remarkable feat that Obama, and we who elected him, achieved a year ago.
(See Bye Bye Bush to read about last January’s Inauguration Playdate.)
I recently bumped into the professional photographer who took my glamour shot—the headshot I’ve used for magazine bios and my website for the last few years. The photo is only four-and-a-half years old, but friends have been complaining that it doesn’t look like me anymore.
(Aside: Chicken Noodle is also four-and-a-half years old. A coincidence that my entire appearance has changed in the same amount of time I’ve been a mother? I don’t think so.)
I told Carol that apparently, I need a new headshot.
“You know, I would totally do that for you, Kim,” she said.
“Well, I would pay you,” I replied, thinking that, in reality, my glamour shot savings account has a balance of about $1.52 these days.
She read my mind. “Really, who has money to pay anyone for anything anymore?”
Her generosity was appreciated. Still, my respect for the creative process is too great to take advantage of her. At the same time, I don’t want to be one of those writers who persist in using a head shot from thinner, blonder days; the kind that makes people do a double take (and not the good kind) when they see them in person.
So I went home and trolled through my own computer photo files for a semi-recent shot that would update me without breaking the bank. I found one I’ve always liked, taken earlier this year in Hawaii. True, it’s a bit overexposed in the face. But it looks like me, it’s kind of fun and casual, and the background is lovely. Better yet, I already owned it.
Still, I thought I’d better ask the photographer’s permission.
I called Chicken Noodle into my office. “Do you remember this?” I pointed at the screen.
“At the Hawaii Zoo!” she said.
“Who took it?” I asked her.
“Me!” That kid has an ironclad memory.
I pulled off of my website the picture of that blonde I used to be and replaced it with this one, taken by Noodle when she three. With no offense to Carol (www.carolsternkopf.com), whose talent is clearly superior than my preschooler’s and who I will definitely commission to photograph me prior to my first book publication, I think I’ll go with this for awhile. It feels more appropriate to the economy.
And anyway, it’s good to support budding artists, even if they aren’t in Kindergarten yet.
The Universe must have heard my siren call to the aging process, my little shout-out to 39, because last weekend was one of those rare times when the stars aligned and every single thing that happened made me want throw my arms in the air and sing like Julie Andrews.
Here’s how the hard facts lined up:
B) Press pass to the Bend Film Festival
C) Captain Daddy willing and able to liberate me from motherhood for the better part of three days
Sounds pretty good, huh? But the hard facts never explain everything. Last year, the hard facts were that I was in New York City for my birthday weekend. The trip was undeniably incredible. But I will admit that on the day of my birthday I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that I wasn’t with my peeps (except for my main peep Captain Daddy). No reason to complain—it was 70 degrees and sunny, I spent the day walking through Central Park and visiting the Met. But something was missing.
This year the magic started with Bend Film’s opening night party and didn’t let up until the Chickens sang me “Happy Birthday” for the 15th time. In between were a hundred tiny miracles.
I drank Rainier beer with a filmmaker who made a movie about D.B. Cooper, my grandfather (okay, his movie (www.theskyjacker.com) was about the hijacker; my grandfather was just a regular guy with the same name). I met a woman who journeyed to Antarctica with the eco-conservation group Sea Shepherd to fight illegal whaling four years in a row; I sat next to her while watching footage of her in a Zodiac, zipping under the prow of a Japanese ship (www.attheedgeoftheworld.com). I met a trio of filmmakers in their 20s whose film was flipping brilliant and who swept the awards (no late blooming for these little buggers: www.theatticdoormovie.com).
I ran into friends I hadn’t seen in ages. I made all sorts of new friends. I saw amazing films. I saw one heck of a sunset from the roof of a downtown building.
I saw a movie about a guy and a bike and cancer that made me want to go right home and hug everyone I love. I did. Then I went back downtown and hugged all sorts of other people, because after four days of soaking up tons of energy and story and creativity in the company of others, I loved everyone. By Sunday I was on such a Bend Film high, I kissed the director of operations, even though I’d just met her.
I know! I don’t know what happened to me, but it was incredible. Like ecstasy, you know? Yeah, me neither.
Bend Film, which totally rocks the Kasbah, had a lot to do with my little trip to Blissville. It helped that my expectations for the weekend weren’t already sky-high (as they were for NYC, or my what-the-heck-was-that? class reunion (see The Lost Weekend)). Surprise rapture is always better than premeditated rapture. And it didn’t hurt that it was my birthday.
But I finished those four days with such an existential buzz that I might venture to say that powerful joy and connection is always out there somewhere, should we just be bold and brave enough to go searching for it.
This Sunday is my 39th birthday. 40 has been looming large this year: A Hindenburg blocking the sun, inflated by the hot air of my 20th high school reunion, Facebook, an offer of anti-aging products from my dermatologist and the realization there is little chance I’ll publish a book by the Big 4-0.
If 40 is when the weight of the past is equally balanced with the weight of the future on a life-sized scale, all the taking stock and anxiety that comes with it might be utterly requisite. (I am a Libra; naturally I will provide a scale metaphor with overdramatized consequences). This mid-life crisis stuff is not to be snickered at. I see the two halves of life pulling at each other in a matched tug-of-war, the past desperately trying to justify itself and the future taunting with undivulged secrets.
I spent the last year feeling 40 coming like a freight train, me the shrieking girl in red heels and fluttering skirt tied to the tracks. Count on me to get ahead of myself, fear the future when it’s still ten miles away. But now that here-comes-39, I am secretly a little bit excited about 40, and not just because I have another year until it hits or because I’ve been promised a massively awesome 80s dance party.
As my wise friend Rainie said on her 40th birthday last month, “My 30s were weird.”
Remember back in your 20s when you thought your 30s would be when you’d get it all together, blossom into your whole, fabulous, confident self? And then instead your 30s turned out to be about forgetting yourself altogether in the midst of new and utterly dominating identities as wife and mother? Then there was all of that grief—holy crap, who could have seen that coming? And how when you had two minutes alone with your own head all you realized—with an existential thunderclap loud enough to summon the dead—was how totally screwed up you were?
Wait, who am I talking to? Sometimes I slip into second person when I really should be in first person because I want everyone to feel the same way I feel so I won’t be so alone in the world and so I can pretend it’s really not about me, it’s about someone else and therefore maybe I can get my head around it, seize control and fix it. This is because I have boundary issues. I just figured it out the other day. I plan to address it in my 40s.
Chicken Little is potty training. This means that I’ve been carrying pants and panties in size 2T in my purse everywhere I go, scanning new environments for bathrooms as a claustrophobe would scan for exits, and muttering “do you need to go potty?” in two minute intervals like a paranoid schizophrenic with bad childhood memories.
I have also been witnessed leaping in the air and shouting “hooray!” over a pile of poo and groping my child’s crotch a little bit too often. It’s a strange time, potty training—thrilling and a biohazard all at once.
Little is doing great. Even so, twice I have dismantled the car-seat (a task those who have tackled will recognize as a gigantic hassle), once pulling it actually dripping from the car. Eww.
After that episode, and before a three-hour drive during which I decided to take the bold Mommy-step of giving Little, who refused a diaper, the benefit of the doubt, we three girls made up a song.
To be delivered in a ghetto accent with a strong cadence, accentuated by rhythmic finger pointing:
Don’t go potty in your seat
In your seat
In your seat
Don’t go potty in your seat
Fun to sing, educational and another example of the new skills motherhood has forced upon me. I can now add songwriter beneath hairdresser and short-order cook on my resume.
Meanwhile, Noodle, feeling the limelight shift to her sister, is reacting with predictable attention-getting behavior. The other day she left a urine sample in a cup on the front porch for Captain Daddy—trying to prove (I can only imagine) that while her little sister can now pee in the potty, she herself has honed her skills to accurate aim at smaller vessels.
Captain Daddy didn’t rise to her bait. He stepped right over the cup and left it there. The neighbor discovered it later, inquiring of its origins when he came seeking my help with a bit of writing.
“Shall I test it for pregnancy?” he asked.
Dear God. A nod to stages to come (hopefully not for at least twenty years), and a reminder to enjoy the innocence of potty training, the simplicity of problems solved by simply dismantling a car-seat.