Sunday, June 28, 2009

Here I yam in France. It's 10:17 Sunday night, and even though it's late it's still light out and the birds are going off. Being on California time I'm of course very much awake, but I hope I'll be less so at 3 o'clock in the morning. Last night jet lag hit me hard and I felt like a teenager who'd popped too much No-Doz, but I plan on thwarting that tonight by swallowing 18 mg of Melatonin in a little while.

So far everything's gone well: flying on Air Tahiti was fun (the crew did wear interesting garb, the grub, if not pork- and rum-based, was good anyway, and the decor was all blue and teal) for the most part, although none of us really slept and breastfeeding Malko was a total joke. We made it to Furren Soil without too much trouble, and actually ended up in the right country despite having walked, in LA, halfway down the gangway for a plane going to Papeete, Tahiti (I thought "Papeete" was "Paris" in Tahitian).

Besides learning that I should never again plan on breastfeeding in an airplane (three words: No. F'ing. Room.), I learned that I should invest in higher-quality deodorant, because the Trader Joe's stuff just doesn't cut it. I felt all prepared and organized pre-departure, having had flying practice with Lula and Malko just the week before, but as soon as we got into the line for security screening my adrenaline spiked; by the time we had our shoes back on, a quarter of the wipes I'd stuffed in my backpack for Malko had to be used on his mommy's soggy pits. When we landed in the Land of Freedom Fries I was coated in throw-up, crumbs, and confetti (don't ask) anyway, so a little extra dewiness beneath the wings didn't matter, but hey--it's good to at least try not to stink.

On Friday we chilled with my dad and aunt at my aunt's house in the suburbs, and on Saturday I took the kids to see some dearly missed friends in the city. We ate lunch in their garden, and it was fun despite Lula's jet-laggedness expressing itself incessantly and obnoxiously. When she began wailing and tearing up their newly-seeded grass I decided to cut the visit short; my dad drove us home in a way that was both terrifying (when in France, he drives "like a native," practically taking aim at people lingering too long in the crosswalk) and entertaining (he used creative language to describe the gay pride parade, which was blocking every street, bridge, and alleyway).

Today Joedy did not arrive as planned, due to a complicated sequence of events involving his passport, or lack thereof, so I got to sleep till noon; I spent the rest of the day hanging out with my cousin and his wife and eating butter. It was great to see the first two and the third simply rocked my world, as Le Bon Beurre Du Vieux Pays is wont to do. French butter is like, um, buttah: creamy, rich, velvety, decadent. Some ignoramuses have been known to gorge themselves, resulting in upset stomachs and lots of beurreping, but I know my limits and only eat half a stick at a sitting, which is very reasonable given that the temptation to sin is EVERYWHERE.

Tomorrow I'll drive with my dad and the kids to my parents' beach house on the southwest coast, joining my mom, who's already there, and Joedy should hopefully show up not long after. I say "hopefully" not because Joedy might, for example, forget to bring an important traveling document (for example, his passport) with him, but because when he arrives in Paris tomorrow morning he'll have to take the metro to the train station and then take two trains and a boat to get to where we'll be. When I was 17 I attempted the same journey and, getting off at a wrong stop, ended up missing the last boat of the day; after wandering around for a while and determining that all the hotels were filled up, it became clear that my only option was to sleep in a bush by the side of the road.

I could go on and on about why I don't want Joedy sleeping in a strange bush, but what it comes down to is that he's going to be in no shape for it: by tomorrow, he'll have had his share of traveling adventures, and I'm pretty sure jumping in the delicious ocean with his delightful wife (me) will be the first thing he'll want to do.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tomorrow I'm leaving with Lula and Malko to France to visit my parents for a few weeks. Since Joedy's work prevented him from leaving on a weekday, he'll be flying this weekend, which means he gets the delightful job of cleaning up the outright filth and debris blanketing the house, the result of this afternoon's packing extravaganza.

Packing is a pain in the butt, in my opinion, but I miraculously got a head start on it a few days ago and even kept a tally of every item that went into the suitcase. I like keeping lists--it makes me feel on top of things--and even if my writing is unintelligible and all the hatch marks blend into one another, making it unclear whether we're bringing 46 pairs of underwear for Lula or 6 onesies for me, at least I've made an attempt at being methodical and organized and I can remember that two days from now, when the contents of the suitcase are a big tangled jumble of clean/dirty diapers, t-shirts, camera batteries, socks, and vintage ceramic salt and pepper shakers.

Given that the last time I flew to France alone with a child (three and half years ago, with Lula) I almost had a nervous breakdown at the end of the trip, and spent the entire vacation battling tears in large part because of that, you'd think I'd be stressed now, but weirdly I feel fine. We're flying on Air Tahiti, and it's a direct flight, and although Malko will technically be on my lap we have a bassinet reserved for him, as well as some very prime airplane real estate--the bulkhead seats. Of course, sitting in that spot means the movie will be playing right above our foreheads, but I'll take that over two square inches of legroom any day.

Since getting the tickets I've been having perhaps slightly ridiculous fantasies about what flying on Air Tahiti will be like. I've been imagining a cold rum drink pressed into my hand as I board the plane, the crew dressed in grass skirts, tribal drumming piped over the PA system, and flaming slabs of pork served on palm leaves for dinner. When I selected my meal from the drop-down list on the website, I was staggered by the choices available--raw fruit only! ovo-intolerant! lactophilosophical!--and thought "Wow, here's a classy airline." Then I bought our tickets to Seattle and found that US Airways offers the same meal choices, and the vision of plush luxuriance faded a little.

Regardless of whether Air Tahiti allows me to pretend I'm a plantation owner for thirteen hours, I'll be able to escape into "traveling world," something I've always loved to do: while on the plane, nobody (except for those two little people) will know me. To everyone else there, I'll just be a brown-haired woman with glasses standing by the bathroom door; I could be anyone, from anywhere, thinking about anything. I've always found that temporary anonymity freeing, and look forward to it before embarking on a trip. Of course, once someone talks to me, I'll become regular old Isabel again, flying from California to see her parents, daydreaming about rum drinks and flaming slabs of pork while waiting in line to wash off all that spit-up.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Saturday Malko turned three months old, and if there's anything I wish had happened differently in the last three months it's that I'd written more. There's so much I could have written lengthily about: the fight Joedy and I had in the car on the way to the hospital, two hours before Malko would be delivered by C-section (we fought about who was responsible for Lula's loose car seat straps); the surreal feeling of knowing a baby would soon be removed from my body; the even more surreal experience of having the baby removed from my body; the baby's first cry, which sounded exactly like our Siamese cat, Lapis; the incredible softness of the baby's cheek when it was put next to mine.

There's so much more: the drive home from Santa Barbara--it was a bright blustery day, the ocean full of whitecaps and glittering spray--and the first day together as a four-person family, which I remember as oddly hushed, like a film without sound. The weeks following his birth are a blur of gigantic leaking boobs, cuddling, and, ok, Vicodin. The pain from the C-section flared up after a day of "My god! I'm fine!" and rushing around, carrying Malko in his car seat, from Trader Joe's to Lula's school to...the pharmacy (for more Vicodin).

Family members came to visit, I dyed my hair brown, the night sweats stopped, and Malko smiled and then laughed at us. And then, before we knew it, three months had gone by, and all the monumental details of a baby's beginnings faded into the past.

This morning, lying in bed with Joedy and the kids, it occurred to me that in two days it will have been a year since I found out I was pregnant. The past year has been filled with change--not only because we moved and had a baby, but because at this time last year Joedy and I hit a low point in our relationship. A year ago, after twelve years together, it looked like things weren't going to work out, and for a few hours we decided to call it quits. After a few hours of calling it quits we realized how much we missed each other already, and decided to keep trying to make things work; the next day, on my break from work, I discovered I was pregnant.

We moved to Ventura a month later, and we started seeing a therapist. The problems stabilized and then became less frequent, less of a problem. By January, our relationship had entered a new phase--we were new people, in a way, and new life was starting in more ways than one. By the time Malko was born, we were the happiest we've been together, even happier than when we could go to concerts on the spur of the moment or, for that matter, to the movies. I hesitate to attribute the changes in our life to Malko, even though they began when we learned of him, but I'll always think of this past year as one of the best and happiest of my life, and of course his presence will be associated with that.

Malko is like his sister in that he's an easy child: he rarely cries, he smiles often, and he's, well, kind of cute, too. I know I'm his mother and all, so maybe just a tiny bit biased, but I really think he's a fun person to hang out with. For someone who regularly throws up on his feet, he's remarkably good-natured, and when he performs Beethoven's "A Capella I Pastrami" sonata in C minor on Lula's toy piano it's really something.

It looks like more big changes are brewing in our lives, and I have the feeling this year is going to be another interesting one. When we moved to V-town we hoped it would be a temporary move, a stepping stone on our way to someplace more exciting, challenging, and satisfying--like maybe Costa Rica or France--and by golly and gum and gosh what do you know? It might just work out that way.


Friday, June 19, 2009

The other day, while flying to Seattle with Lula and Malko, it was made clear to me that I'm still a pretty good liar. I don't have as many opportunities these days to practice the skills I honed during most of my youth and, specifically, during my first attempt at college, when I double-majored in Lying and Fucking Off at UC Santa Cruz, but life is full of surprises, and there I was--rattling off lie after lie in a way that would make the most psychotic psychopath jealous.

If Lula's discomfort about every aspect of the trip--from having to remove her shoes before walking through a menacing gate, to being strapped into a cramped seat next to a strange man, to going way, way too high up in the sky in a rickety-seeming "flying machine"--hadn't matched my own so perfectly, I might not have gone to such lengths to calm her, but as it was I completely agreed with her on every point, and understanding what she felt allowed me to come up with benign answers to her terrorized questions before they even left her mouth.

Pre-departure, it went like this: "Maman, why do we have to take our shoes off? What are they going to do with our shoes? What is happening?"

I didn't miss a beat, and was even able to inject the right amount of aren't-you-silly-for-worrying in my voice: "Oh, they're just checking our shoes to see if they're clean, Lula. If they're not, the plane will get dirty. That's why we're taking them off and putting them in these plastic bins."

A little later, after three separate stewardesses told me I'd need to put my mask on first, before Lula and Malko, if cabin pressure went cuckoo, Lula demanded: "Why did they say you need a mask? Why do you need a mask? Maman, why do you need a mask??"

I silently thanked the stewardesses for reminding me that things can go very wrong in airplanes and for adding to Lula's worry. "The masks are in case it gets too warm in here. If it gets too warm, cool air is sent through the masks and we breathe it that way. Isn't that nice?"

She was quiet until we took off, and then we heard an ominous creaking coming from somewhere in the plane. It sounded very much like big pieces of metal pulling apart, and Lula whipped her head around to face me: "What's that sound? What's that sound? Maman, what's that sound??"

Hm. I didn't like the sound either. I looked out the window to see if the wing was still attached to the plane; it was, so I assumed the other wing or the tail was falling off. I didn't tell Lula that, though, as it would have prompted more questions and ultimately prevented me from slipping into the soothing world of upright steam cleaners and self-filling dog bowls portrayed in the in-flight magazine--a magazine whose sheer weirdness was obviously devised to take people's minds off the fact that flying around the sky in a big metal object is, well, totally unnatural. I looked at Lula's flushed face, noting her watery eyes and her breathing, which came in short wheezy gasps; something drastic needed to be done. A little desperate, I threw out my resolution to insist on healthy foods during the trip, her "at least four" cavities be damned: "That sound, Lula, is the food carts moving around in the closets. They're packed with all kinds of sodas and snacks. You know you can have as much as you want, right?"

It did the trick--her next question was motivated by greed, not fear, and when the carts began rolling down the aisle and I saw a spark of excitement in her eyes, I turned my attention to Malko, who was slumped like a drunk against my chest in the Babybjorn. Unlike his sister, flying had a narcotic effect on him, and the only sign of life came in the form of a recurring dribble of spit-up that slipped from his cutely gaping mouth to a small pool above my sternum. Reaching carefully to pat the barf with a burp cloth, I felt grateful that it was just in that spot and not on my back, in my hair, and down my pants, the way it was the first time I flew with Lula. We'd gone to Rhode Island when she was two months old, and halfway through the flight she looked at me with adoring eyes, opened her mouth, and blessed me with a tsunami of regurgitated milk that drenched my entire upper body. I spent the rest of the trip smelling of throw-up and making crinkling sounds when I moved, from all the paper towels stuffed beneath my shirt.

Having successfully cleaned up this particular mess--I neither woke Malko nor jabbed my elbow in my neighbor's ribs--I folded up the burp cloth and reached down to stuff it in my backpack. Doing so reminded me of another plane trip: I was headed to Rhode Island again, but this time my traveling companion was a white rat named Allegra. I was in my sophomore year of college, and since no one had begged to keep my pet rat while I went home for Christmas break I'd decided to take her with me. Everything went fine, more or less: she rode in my coat pocket until we passed security, and then I transferred her to my backpack in the bathroom. We got on the plane and I congratulated myself on my ingenuity until I glanced down and saw Allegra's head and shoulders sticking out of a hole in my backpack. I spent the rest of the trip compulsively reaching down to check if any new holes had been made, certain that any second I'd hear a scream and see a little white body scampering down the aisle. I tried not to think about what would happen if she did escape, but something told me the things I'd learned the past quarter in Evasive Bullshitting wouldn't help much.

We arrived without further excitement, and ten days later we made the trip back to California, again without trouble. Allegra returned to her cage in the corner of my room, and I returned to my half-ass collegiate ways, spending more time chugging Gallo with a fellow degenerate than reading or, for that matter, going to class. UC Santa Cruz was great because evaluations, rather than grades, were issued at the end of the quarter, which allowed for much more creative interpretation of my performance. More importantly, it allowed for creative renditions of my performance while talking on the phone to Certain Key Members Of My Family (CKMOMF). Evasive Bullshitting came in handy at those times, and the creative renditions continued until the spring of my junior year, when I dropped out/was kicked out, depending on the perspective. I spent the next few months trying to hide the truth about the depressing end of my "studies" from CKMOMF, telling them anything I could to avoid admitting that I'd fucked up, and fucked up bad.

Looking back on those days, I've often regretted many things. Mostly, I regret deceiving CKMOMF, but I also regret simply not having the courage to say "I can't do this." It was a difficult time overall, but as the years add up between now and then I've started to see that in some ways, it wasn't such a loss. At the very least, I learned how to tell a lie, and the other day, my lying helped my daughter with her flying. And for that I'm happy.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Last week, while eating a bowl of cereal before school, Lula said that one of her teeth was hurting. I told her to open her mouth and show me with a finger which tooth it was; despite the chewed cereal mush everywhere, I saw clearly that one of the lower molars had a hole in it. It wasn't a huge hole, but it wasn't tiny, either, and it definitely looked "unnatural"--perfectly round, perfectly smooth, and perfectly terrifying.

Guilt flooded me. Although Joedy and I have given Lula plenty of "sugar lectures" (reinforced with descriptions of the shots I got in my mouth each time I had a cavity), and we've rarely had soda or candy in the house, we haven't exactly raised her on a diet of green tea and raw vegetables either. When we've gone out to eat--for a while, we went out pretty often--we've allowed her to have soda, and sweets in general have played a much bigger role in her life than they did in Joedy's and mine when we were growing up. The juices, yogurts, and fruit bars that have been mainstays of Lula's lunchbox for the past three years have been free of high fructose corn syrup, but they haven't been particularly low in plain ole' sugar, and for at least a year now she's begun each day with a scoop of sweetened cocoa powder on top of her cereal.

For a long time I've had a nagging feeling about the amount of sugar we've allowed Lula to eat, but I ignored it, thinking she ate less than most kids these days and, therefore, that we were doing ok. We told her to brush her teeth at least once a day, and I convinced myself she had Joedy's teeth genes (he's never had a cavity). We kept delaying taking her to the dentist because it didn't seem necessary (and because I'd successfully traumatized her with my shots-in-the-mouth stories).

Seeing the hole in her tooth and hearing her say "ow" when she chewed sent the pangs of guilt straight to my heart. I made a dentist appointment for 10 a.m. the following morning, and braced myself for what was likely to be a tearful experience for at least one of us. The next day, during the twenty-five minutes of frantic scrambling before leaving the house (change Malko! find pacifier! wash face! feed Lula!), Lula emitted a high-pitched whine of fear that turned into screams as we got in the car. My cautionary tales about cavities had more than done the trick--she was terrified of going to the dentist. She was in such a state of apprehension that everything I did during the drive--glance at street signs, check my phone, scratch my nose--sent her into a higher realm of I'm Going To Die.

"Maman, what are you doing? Why did you do that? What were you looking at that car for? Huh, Maman? Huh? Why?! Why, Maman?!"

It would have been kind of funny if I hadn't been worried too. She obviously had a cavity, and there was a good chance she was going to feel some pain at some time during this visit. Memories of the horrible sensation of having your teeth scraped with a metal pick made me feel vaguely ill; I hoped there would be no mention of shots, because Lula would definitely lose any remaining self-possession, and that could be disastrous.

We arrived at the office on time, miraculously, and Joedy met us there soon after. Thanks to the soothing balm of Spongebob on the TV overhead and the gentle kindness of the assistant, who called her "honey," overall the visit went well: Lula's teeth were X-rayed and cleaned, and she didn't cry, although her eyes got red and her foot jiggled. She was composed enough by the end to remind the assistant to give her a sticker, although said sticker--it showed a kid taking a picture of a giant tooth--didn't rate too high, apparently, and immediately ended up on the floor of the car beneath her feet. The visit went well in the sense that Lula was only moderately afraid, but the diagnosis--that she has decay in not one, not two, but three teeth--made my heart stop.

Three cavities, and she just turned five.

Since that day, I've been embroiled in a tangled web of confusing and contradictory instructions from the dentist, the pedodontist, and our dental insurance. If I didn't learn my lesson the moment I saw a tunnel in my daughter's otherwise perfect tooth, or when she cried out in pain and fear, I've certainly learned it now:

Sugar is not my friend.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

This morning I woke up next to a *monkey. He looked at me across the pillow and said:

"Good morning. Sleep well?"

"Sort of," I replied. "Though the bed seemed a little crowded."

"Yeah," said the monkey, "I don't know what all these people are doing here." He gestured towards Joedy, Malko, and Lula's sleeping bodies and yawned. "Nice hotel, though--they leave candies on the pillows." Putting two long fingers in his mouth, he fished around and pulled out a small pink object. It was soggy and had bite marks on it, but I recognized it anyway.

"That's not candy--that's my earplug."

"Oh," he replied. "That's why it tastes funny." He put the earplug back in his mouth and, crossing his arms behind his head, began chewing it slowly.

"And this isn't a hotel, it's a house," I said.

The monkey didn't seem to hear. He continued chewing in silence, staring at the ceiling, until suddenly he sat up and began frantically scratching his stomach.

"Goddammit!" he said. "What the HELL!!"

"What's the matter?" I asked. A few wiry hairs floated towards my face and I brushed them away.

"Fleas!" he replied. "This place has fleas! Goddammit! I hate fleas!!" Grumbling, the monkey separated the tufts of fur on his stomach and peered closely at the pink skin lying underneath. "Aha!" he said, "I got one!" Pressing two fingers together, he held them up to my face. "See the little sucker? See it? I'm going to kill it...god! I HATE fleas!" Still grumbling, he lay his head back on the pillow. After a few moments of silent chewing, he turned to me and said:

"So. What's your story?"

"My story? You mean my life story?"

"I don't know. Whatever." His interest seemed to be fading, so I said the first thing that came to mind.

"Well, I have a blog."

"A what? A dog? Is that why there are fleas in here?"

"No--a blog. A, you know, thing on the internet where you write things." I could see the monkey's eyes glaze over, so I went on quickly. "In a blog, you can write about anything--having six pets, driving around with stagnant water in your car, being $173,000 in debt--anything. You write about it, and then people read it, and then..."

The monkey leaned closer, and I caught a faint scent of rubber on his breath. "And then what?"

"And then, well, it can go one of two ways. You can be glad you wrote all that stuff and that people know so much about you, or you can hate yourself for being so open. It kind of goes back and forth all the time." I sighed, and the monkey stretched out a long furry arm and patted me gently on the head.

"How do you feel about it now?" he asked in a soft voice.

"Actually, not too bad. Better than I have for a while. I worked on an old entry last night, rewriting it so it would be better, and I was happy with it when I finished. In fact, I was really happy with it, and I think I'll send it to this online magazine."

The monkey's jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide. "WOW! You go, girlfriend! That's what I'm talking about!" Shaking his head, he laced his fingers in his lap and continued gazing at me. Cheered by his reaction, I went on:

"It was neat, actually, to have a 'successful blog experience' this morning--it was 3 a.m. when I finished--because today marks my blog's one-year anniversary, and I felt like, I don't know, it was kind of giving something back to me. You know what I'm saying?"

"I do know," he said, nodding his head wisely. "It's almost like fate or something, right?"

"Right! Exactly!" I said. "It's so cool! And I have, like, all this renewed energy, and I feel positive about the whole thing again. It makes me excited for the next year, and then the next..."

"Woah, don't get ahead of yourself," said the monkey. "Just take it one day at a time."

"You're right. You're totally right." I sighed again--happily--and the monkey sighed too. Neither of us spoke for a while, and then he said:

"So--since you were up so late, should you maybe try to get some more sleep?" I noticed his eyelids drooping, and he tried to disguise a yawn by scratching his teeth with a blunt gray fingertip. I was tired too, so I nodded my head and lay down, pulling the covers up to my chin. We both closed our eyes, and a few seconds later I heard him murmur softly in his little voice:

"Sorry about your earplug," he said. "And happy blogiversary." I smiled, and we both fell asleep.