Category Archives: Pablo

Related to Paul

My Life at Stack ‘n Stuff

I’m in this weird place right now. I’m kind of on maternity leave, I’m kind of a stay-at-home mom, but I also have this book thing. The official launch date of Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition was October 11th and every day that goes by, my prime book promotion window closes a tiny bit, and every day that goes by, my kids get one day older. There’s a lot I’d like to do on the book promotion front, but it all requires travel or time at my desk, which my 15-month-old will not allow. It’s an age-old parenting story. Like many parents, I want to be all things at all times. I want to be out promoting the book, but I want to be here with the kids. What’s a frustrated, driven, over-achieving mother to do?

Well, here’s one thing I do have plenty of…. Time with a toddler. I have lots of that. What can one do with a toddler? Well, one can organize her junk drawer. Then perhaps she’ll feel so satisfied she can design and install her daughter’s closet with the help of her toddler wobbling around with hammer in hand. Then she can move the spice drawer and re-organize her kitchen utensil drawer. Well, then, there’s only two more drawers in the kitchen that need help and, well, maybe she can do those the next day because it’s supposed to rain and she has this coupon and they’ll go to story time in the morning, but after nap they’ll need something to do, and there’s a playground nearby and it’s covered so the slide will be dry and so that would be just perfect. It’s just the thing!

This happens to be our routine. Morning, play around the house, naptime where I spend a few minutes at my desk, trying to get some shit done. Then afternoon snack and we head to the mall. We go to the playground first so K can blow off steam, and then to Storables so that I can. He has his fun then I have mine. The result: I’m in that store pretty much every day. I should wear a sign that says “Hi, I’m an over-achiever mother who should not be staying at home but is staying at home. Please excuse me (get out of my way before I run you down) K THX BYE! J” But, then I think, why would I need a sign? Is this not self-evident?

At the store, they greet K and me with a friendly smile and a wave. They notice and comment on his cute haircut. I load up on containers and baskets; then I go home and start getting dinner ready. When Paul opens a drawer in the kitchen, he raises his eyebrows and asks how everyone is doing at “stack ‘n stuff” today. We both know that he knows it’s called Storables but I correct him anyway. Everyone at Storables is fine, I say. Thanks for asking.

Then while Josie stands in her cape on the armrest of the couch and jumps to the floor, while K reaches up to the counter to grab whatever breakable or sharp item he can find, I reach into my supremely-organized utensil drawer and let out a contented exhale as I retrieve the forks and knives for the table, because while I may not be able to control my superhero, my counter-reaching monster, or the trajectory of book sales, I can most definitely, control the contents of my kitchen drawers.

Josie’s Middle-Aged Baby Sister

Josie and I were at a stoplight one day about 18 months ago, before we’d decided to adopt again, when Josie told me her baby sister was coming and pointed out the window. She said her name was Hona and I was super-surprised to find out she was a middle aged white woman wearing sneakers.

We made the decision to adopt again about a year ago but since we weren’t going to start the process right away and we knew how long the process takes we decided to wait as long as possible to tell Josie. So we still hadn’t told her when a friend said, “Hey, if you need any baby boy stuff, just let us know.” Josie was sitting on my lap and she turned, put her hand on my tummy and said, “You have a baby in dere?!” Oops. I told her, that no, I didn’t have a baby in there but that we’d talk about it later.

When we got home late that night she said, “Mommy, who’s Michelle?” Oh heavens. Michelle (name changed) is Josie’s birth mother. I looked at Paul, I guess we’re going to talk about this now… He nodded. So we did. We talked again, about Michelle and the women who choose families for the babies in their tummies.

Then I told her that she was going to have a baby brother or a baby sister and that she was going to be the big sister. She threw her head back and covered her face with both hands. She made a long yelling/laughing aaaahhh sound that could have been agony but that I knew was excitement. I knew the sibling-induced agony wouldn’t come until later, hopefully much later. I could see the smile even under her fingers. Hona would be with us soon.

Tunes My Husband Whistles (While Sleeping)

Paul’s been doing a lot of sleep-whistling lately. I wish I wasn’t awake to hear it.

I bring this up with Paul at dinner. Lots of whistling going on over there at night – what’s up?

What’s the tune? He asks. Is it that Chicago song, 25 or 6 to 4? Because it’s been stuck in my head for like two months. I can’t get away from it. I heard it in a store or in the background somewhere and it keeps coming back.

I don’t know what song he’s been whistling. I’d never thought to listen. Even though I’m often painfully awake wondering why my melatonin isn’t working or if I should take more magnesium or break down and take an ambien. Even if I did listen and even if I did manage to identify the song, surely I wouldn’t remember in the morning. I’d write something unintelligible on my notepad about sunrise, chocolate milkshakes and slurpees that made perfect sense to me at the time but would represent some unbreakable code in the morning.

After dinner, I Google 25 or 6 to 4. Did you know Chicago has produced 250 songs? I came across this special treat (below), and discovered that it’s a song about staying up all night trying to write a song. When Paul hears it’s a song about a song, he hates it even more. He doesn’t like songs about rock and roll either. He’s like the opposite of post-modern. Pre-modern?

Anyway, I don’t know if it’s the song Paul’s been whistling or not but that doesn’t matter now. My sleep-deprived brain has made it so.

Maybe tonight I’ll sleep. Or maybe I’ll lie in bed with my finger on the button of my sound recorder. While I wait for the break of day, I’ll think about how poignant it is that the song he whistles is about waiting for the break of day. Maybe if this continues and I keep recording, over the next few years I’ll actually capture whistled versions of the whole Chicago collection. Once I have a handful of songs, I can make a mixed CD of sleep-whistling that I can give to him for our anniversary or his birthday or some other special occasion. He’ll love it. They’ll be like lullabies to him. Then other people will hear about it and I’ll post it online, you’ll be able to download it from this very blog. You’ll have your own copy of his sleep-whistling. We’ll expand to other classic rock bands by making him listen to classic rock right before bed. Hotel California sleep-whistled or maybe Wake Up Little Susie. Then, of course, it will become a massive internet sensation and he’ll be famous and then we’ll have a Twitter feed of his latest night whistles with millions of followers. And the whole world will wait every day for me to update his list of classic rock whistles. The CD will be produced by a big record label. Instead of Muzak, department stores will play Paul’s night-whistles in elevators. We’ll write a book about it. Someone will purchase the rights. OMG who will play me in the movie?!

Or, maybe the insomnia will go away, I’ll start sleeping again and Paul’s whistling will rise up and dissipate into the black sky unheard. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Like any parents we have our struggles. Without giving you all the details, let’s just say that we’re seeking professional help and not for the first time. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with our girl, but the conventional parenting techniques (ie: Love & Logic) aren’t working, and we need an advisor to help us through our days. There are weeks and months when I feel like I can’t do anything right for her, when I feel like it’s all wrong. When I don’t know what parent she needs me to be.

We met with someone last week. When I thought about the appointment beforehand I worried I’d start crying and not be able to stop. We gave her the whole story from the beginning.

I told her about Josie’s grand entry into the world: spontaneous labor and an unplanned home birth (ie: have a contraction, get in tub, have baby). I told her about Josie’s first week of life in the ICU, and how she had a little orange bow in her hair the day we met her. I told her how Josie had complete head and neck control and cried real tears from the beginning. I told her about the time Josie got so mad at me for running out of formula that she wouldn’t make eye contact. About the crawling and the climbing and the walking and the running, oh god, the running. The running and how she ran without fear or boundaries, how she’d run into large bodies of water, off tall ledges, into traffic. I told this woman about the pinching and the biting and the hitting, but also about the hugging and the loving and the joking and her first words which were ‘owl’ and ‘hug.’ We talked about how other children cluster around her, how everyone is drawn to her, and also about the sleep problems, the night waking, the sensory seeking and the inability to calm herself. I told her I was reading the “Spirited Child” book and that Josie scored 106 on a scale of extreme behavior that only goes to 50. And, finally, I told her about the unreachable place where Josie seems to go sometimes when nothing works.

I talked about all of these things with surprising composure. It was when I got to the adoption, to the part where we talk about the birth family that I got into weepy, quiver-lipped, trouble. I mentioned a friend who had a spirited child. How the boy’s father had been the same way growing up. I thought about how wonderfully reassuring it would be to be to know Josie’s traits came from a relative and be able to say, yes, it’s okay – look at what a lovely and interesting adult she is now.

We know very little about Josie’s birth father but, for some reason, I think she gets her temperament from him. I wonder what his mother would say if she knew there was a small version of her son in the world. I wonder what her life and his childhood were like. I imagine her hearing about Josie and saying something like: Oh heavens! And putting a hand to her chest and laughing. Then saying: You have got your work cut out for you! Or something like that. That’s all. She doesn’t give me any sage advice, or answer questions. She doesn’t tell me what I already know, that this kid is going to be fine and that everything will be all right. We share a look and I get everything I want and everything I need from her eyes because I can see there is someone in this world who knows exactly what we’re going through.


“And here we aren’t, so quickly: I’m not twenty-six and you’re not sixty. I’m not forty-five or eighty-three, not being hoisted onto the shoulders of anybody wading into any sea. I’m not learning chess, and you’re not losing your virginity. You’re not stacking pebbles on gravestones; I’m not being stolen from my resting mother’s arms. Why didn’t you lose your virginity to me? Why didn’t we enter the intersection one thousandth of a second sooner, and die instead of die laughing? Everything else happened—why not the things that could have?”

Jonathan Safran Foer’s short story, Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.

Keep Those Gremlins Out of My Garden

I’ve been chipping away at a vegetable garden for the last two years. I had one in the last house. Then we moved with a six-month old baby. It wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. Last summer for my birthday, I asked my husband and my dad to build 3, 4’x10’ raised beds (in 97F heat). Then we had dirt delivered. What a way to celebrate!

For Christmas my mother made a donation to my drip irrigation system. Then it had to be designed, ordered and installed.

Then veggie starts had to be purchased. Then they had to be planted. Of course, I planted peas. I have to have peas, but it didn’t take me long to realize they had nothing to climb. For the last two weeks, a melee of birthdays and Mother’s Day celebrations, a voice in my head has been screaming your peas have nothing to climb! Get on it woman! Of course this thought was written on post-its and lists everywhere. Then finally, Mother’s Day, the peas got something to climb and I bought a few more starts to fill in the first bed. Isn’t it lovely?

I hope the peas like it.

Then I read this – Rx From the Cursing Mommy. I loved the whole thing but the end/byline was my favorite part:

Looking for new ideas in the garden? Get the Cursing Mommy’s yard-and-garden manual, “I’m Going to Kill Those Fucking Deer with My Bare Hands, I Swear I Am: A Guide to Seasonal Plantings,” possibly available at many stores.

Deer aren’t a problem at my house but so help me if one of those little rats, cats, possums, bunnies, weevils, muchkins, leprechauns, dogs, gremlins, chipmunks, hamsters, birds, squirrels eats a leaf off my lettuce or a strawberry from a vine, I think I will track down the cursing mommies garden manual (or maybe I’ll write my own). I swear I will.

Happy Birthday Babe!

Must We Be Creepy?

We're ALWAYS Happy

While on vacation, we manage to meet up with some friends for a birthday party. My friends’ kids, two boys, are three and almost five and nice, sedate, sorts. Totally foreign.

The party is at my friend’s in-laws’ house, which is filled with white couches and tall free-standing vases… balanced on pedestals… and filled with decorative sticks… Josie loves a good party and runs from one terrifyingly crushable object to another with me trailing behind her whispering in my most compulsive, creepy, mommy voice – these are not our things. These things belong to our hosts. We must respect our hosts and their things.

Oh, sure Mom, I should respect their things, why didn’t you just say so? I’m totally old enough to grasp that concept.

Just as soon as I’m done explaining why bubbles don’t have feelings, I’m going to explain the concept of respect. I’m sure she’s ready. Then we’ll teach her to tend bar. (Yes, sweetie, that’s right, the green jigger. Good work! Now run along and fetch Mommy a slice of lime.)

The next day, still on vacation, while sitting in the sun reading my magazine, I come across a cartoon that has a picture of mother and child on a playground and says Mommy needs to get mad at you in a weird calm voice now. (I wish I could embed it here but I would have to pay the New Yorker $450 for that right.) This was exactly how I felt the night before, and really, how I feel most of the time.

Why is yelling forbidden? Not that I yell often, but isn’t there a time and a place? Dangers, for example? Or instances of extreme frustration? Sometimes it’s the only way to get the point across. Sometimes the kid needs to know how much trouble she is in. Sometimes nothing else works.

Shouldn’t we be free to show the whole range of emotions to our children? Can’t we be loving and happy and nurturing but also sometimes frustrated and angry and just pissed off? Can I write a whole blog post consisting only of questions? Perhaps.

My point is this (I think): why do we have to act all weird? This is how life is. It’s tough, and if we argue and get frustrated and then reconnect and work things out, aren’t we better off for it?

Can I get a hell yes and a fist pump from all the angry mommies in the house?

We Went on Vacation

We swam in the pool all morning, napped, went back to the pool all afternoon. At dinner she asked if we could go “night swimming.”


It didn’t occur to me to bring floaties or pool toys. The pool was the toy.

Nice Hat

She wore the hat I bought for her. For a few minutes anyway.

Oh NO!

Every time she walked past the bee-covered rosemary, she’d say, “Oh no! Don’t ting me bee!”

My ARty SHot

I wandered around in my swimsuit in the mid-day sun, taking arty shots.


It really was that good.

Mattress Quest Part II – New Beds for Everyone!

Have I mentioned that Paul whistles in his sleep? It’s usually a random little tune pushed through his teeth. It’s not an incidental whistle, the result of his mouth-breathing ways, but it’s not a lip-pucker whistle either. If I could put it to a tune it would sound something like twee-te-twee-te-twee. Twee-te-twee-te-twee.

 After my little visit at Soaring Heart , I continue on to Bedrooms & More. I walk in and tell the nice young man with his wire rimmed glasses and bottle of vitamin water what I’m looking for. He shows me three beds.

The first is the super-duper-organic bed from Organic Mattress Inc (I wonder how they came up with the name). It’s made of latex, organic wool and organic cotton. Even the thread is organic. He says they control the ozone in the manufacturing facility. I have no idea what this means. Then he says that when entering the plant, everyone must pass through a series of doors designed to control the interior atmosphere. None of the employees smoke or wear perfume (ever). They keep the wool and cotton material on a machine so it is constantly circulating (I’m picturing a giant taffy machine) because if you leave cotton or wool sitting on a shelf it can grow traces of mold.

Now, I have quite a collection of neuroses but germophobia does not happen to be one of them. I’m looking for something natural and non-toxic, but I don’t think I need my own ozone. That’s lucky for me because their least expensive twin is $1499. 

Paul isn’t just a whistler. He’s a snorer. So go ahead and picture this. Paul, sleeping on his back; he’s pulled the sheets up all along the bottom of the bed so his feet can hang over. He alternates a loud snore on the inhale and a few little notes of a whistled tune on the exhale. A deliberately whistled tune. Snore: whistle. Snore, tweedly-twee-te-twee. Snore, tweedly-twee-te-twee.

Then my new friend at Bedrooms & More shows me a chemical-free, inner-spring, Therapedic-brand twin that sells for $499. Nice enough, but because it is inner-spring it will age and sag.

It’s a little difficult to believe all this snoring/whistling business. I know that. So I’ve replaced the batteries in my voice recorder and stashed it in my nightstand drawer. Now I just need to memorize the button pushing sequence so I can get it to record in the dark. I feel like I’m stalking a nocturnal wild animal. As soon as I have something I’ll post it for you. I promise. (I know, you can hardly wait!)

The winner of the mattress showdown is the last option: the Natura Sunshine 6” latex twin. That’s 6” of all-natural, non-off-gassing latex, guaranteed not to hold an impression for 20 years, encased in a chemical-free cotton and wool package that serves as a natural flame retardant.

For $670 Josie is going to have this bed for more than 20 years. She’s going to have it forever. We’re going to attach it to her ankle. Instead of a ball and chain, she’ll have a mattress and chain. We’ll consider it part of her dowry. Instead of a goat or a cow and a trunk full of clothes, we’ll send her off with an old golden retriever, and an ancient mattress that still doesn’t hold an impression.  

Once the mattress decision was made, we purchased an inexpensive poly blend mattress pad without any plastic, petroleum or chemical additions. We topped it with this wool and cotton, waterproof and machine washable puddle pad. Then inexpensive cotton sheets and blankets because from what I understand none of the bedding is treated with flame retardants and even if pesticides are used on the cotton, very little of it transfers through to the cotton fluff.

Pillows? Don’t even get me started on pillows… After many hours (okay, minutes) of reading pillow labels I finally found a few that were not treated with iso-guard, sani-clean, rest-block or any other bullshit chemical created solely for the purposes of charging me more. Keep your damn chemicals to yourself. Oh, and another thing, no more dry clean only bedding. I’d rather have cooties than Perc any day. Eventually I bought three cheap machine-washable, poly-filled, chemical-free (as far as I could tell) pillows.

Well, finally, the mystery is solved, the puzzle complete, the big girl bed and accessories acquired.

Of course, I didn’t arrive at the decision to buy the Sunshine after just one visit. It took… a few. And a bit of pondering (obsessing?). Some of that pondering was done at night when I was supposed to be sleeping but instead was listening to my snoring/whistling husband and imagining the flame retardants working their way from my mattress into my blubber. I couldn’t turn my brain off and the day after I bought Josie’s mattress, I went back and bought one for Paul and me. New beds for everyone! Another round of new beds over here please bartender! Yes, that’s right, more beds for the crazy lady.

We bought an Englander 5003 all natural firm latex mattress. She’s a real beaut.


The Trouble With Ham

Paul likes ham. I mean, he really likes it. Every day he has at least one ham sandwich. He’s been making the same lunch for about fifteen years – a cookie, a carrot, a baggie of pretzels, and ham on sourdough with mustard on both pieces of bread and cheddar cheese. Every now and then, if he really wants to stir things up, he adds a piece of roast chicken or turkey. But there is always ham. You can be sure of that.

He’s a utilitarian eater and in general, I’m in favor of his lunch-making ham-eating habits. After all, it has got to be better (for the bank account if nothing else) than eating out every day.

But the other day I was in bed, listening to some morning disc jockey talk about a study that followed 120,000 men for 6.3 years and identified a significantly higher risk of stomach cancer for men who ate more than two servings of processed meats per week.

Uh-oh. I walked straight from our room to the computer in the kitchen and Googled the study. Nothing. Paul stood at the counter, making his death sandwich. I reminded him how good a tuna sandwich could be. He slapped a slice of cheddar into his mouth and looked at me suspiciously.

Later, when I was dressed and sitting at my desk, I resumed the search. I still couldn’t find anything about this study but I did find a bevy of other ham-related information. I’m guessing the evil of processed meats has something to do with nitrates but I’m not sure what. Here’s what I learned. 

Sodium nitrate is added to meats in the curing process to delay the development of bacteria, rancidity, odors and, to bring out the meats flavor and color. The American Cancer Society states that “Nitrates and nitrites are substances commonly found in cured meats. They can be converted by certain bacteria, such as H. pylori, into compounds that have been found to cause stomach cancer in animals.” (link to study)   

I guess there’s some common sense to be applied here. Too much of any one thing can be bad. A ham sandwich every day for fifteen years can’t be right. Even too much broccoli can be bad (makes me gassy, sorry, TMI, anyhoo…).  

One study of 175,000 men conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that over nine years, 20 percent of men with the highest intakes of processed meat were 12 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer. When the researchers broke the men’s diet information down further they found that white processed meats, like poultry cold cuts, were not linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. (link to study)

This is the point where I officially become not okay with the ham-sandwich-every-day program. I’ll sing the praises of tuna salad (I know, mercury) or almond butter and apple butter mixed with miso paste. Or, if that’s too weird for him, which it is, why not just a plain PB&J? It’s not just for kids. I’ll offer to buy his favorite jam. Notice, I offer to go to the store but that’s all.

Another study of 200,000 men and women conducted by biochemist Ute Nothlings found that those who consumed the greatest amount of processed meats had a 67 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest consumption. A diet rich in pork and red meat also increased pancreatic cancer risk by about 50 percent. The American Meat Institute claims that this study has not been peer-reviewed. (link to study)

By now it’s clear that Paul’s long-standing ham-eating habit must be broken.

When I told one of my HMN friends about all this she said, “Well, the good news is that he’s clearly a creature of habit. You can be sure he’ll never leave you – at least not alive anyway.” There’s always that.

Maybe I’ll even start making his damn sandwich.