An alternative viewpoint

Sitting in the car outside Safeway, waiting for the beer runner to return. A soft light falls on the automatic doors that lead to the epicurial miasma beyond.

DASH (Four years old this Tuesday): Mamae, do those doors just do whatever they want?

ME: Umm, well, sort of. (Trying to decide just how engineer-y to get, considering my relatively low tolerance in that moment for a lot of Whys and Hows.) When someone gets close to the doors, a sensor goes off and tells the doors to open. When the person gets inside, the doors close again. That way, people don't have to open the doors for themselves. (Thereby contributing to the increased levels of obesity, as well as the lack of manual coordination, not to mention the need for more electric consumption.)

DASH: Oh. Well, that's convenient.

Umm, okay, or that.


And then there were ten...

I was pretty much minding my own business for once. Just keeping my nose to the grindstone (mostly), working, making sure Luca got to school on time (ish) and that Dash wasn't giving some poor kid the beatdown because they had tried to (horrors) steal one of his Hot Wheels. I was even kind of doing laundry and keeping house - at least enough to keep the grossity-gross away. Every once in a while, in the midst of the insanity, I would think to myself, "Might be nice to have another kid..."

The universe must have thought I meant RIGHT NOW.

Cuz guess what? IT'S A GIRL!!!

Shirley Temple hair, dimples, size 9 shoe, and more attitude than a room full of ballerinas in fourth position.

Xochi arrived in March, fresh from Missouri, where she had been living for four years, with, well, not very nice people, let's just say. Sixteen, pissed off (who could blame her), full of energy, and completely unused to any kind of stable routine. It was like taking in a herd of cats that had been living on a commune with occasionally present adults who would pop up like deranged rodeo owners when they felt the need to exert some control over the scene.

Needless to say, there's been a breaking-in period. For all of us. And while there have been hiccups (giant, snorting ones sometimes), we've all worked really hard to get used to the new family size and dynamic. The teenagers are teaching me, six years ahead of when I thought I would have to learn, what it is to deal with hormonal outbursts and unfiltered anger. And they are learning to be a part of a normal (relatively), supportive and loving family.

I realized, shortly after my fourth child arrived (my two boys and Gabi, the 19-year-old sister having come before that - stay with me), that living in New York City, while trying to raise all these people and pay for all the things they needed, with no help from the girls' biological father, was MORONIC. And given that I had been trying to leave the city for five years, I decided to make my move with the fathers of my two boys while I still had that desperate, crazed look in my eyes. It's hard to deny a woman who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Fast forward three months. We are getting ready to leave New York, the car packed to its silver gills, the dog jockeying for space with the two bags of snacks we have at Dash's feet. My OTHER sister (again, stay with me, people, it's going to be a long, kin-ridden ride), who is a year younger than I, and has three kids and lives in England (you read right), Arkansas, calls to say she's thought about my suggestion (I never said the craziness isn't self-inflicted) and is packing everyone up and moving to Berkeley to be near us. The small, silly thing being, of course, that SHE HAS NO PLACE TO LIVE and so will need to shove everyone up in my shiny blue house until she can figure out a job and a place to live.

Clown car, anyone? Xanax, maybe?

For those obsessed with math, I know you're waiting to nail me for there being a mere nine people outlined in the equation above.

Well, you can bite me.

Because shortly after the We're Coming phone call, there was another one informing me my niece quite simply would not leave the state of Arkansas without her boyfriend... Wait for it... So he was moving to Berkeley, too.

From England (you read right), Arkansas.

And for those of you inclined to make some sort of judgment about letting a teenager dictate to the adults, blah blah blah...

Bite me.

Cuz y'all would not want to be in a room alone with my niece when she's mad. Besides, the boy's mother lacks, well, every basic parenting skill. And our family has always taken in strays. And he's got the cutest little accent. And, well, you get the point.

So on August 3rd, round about 3am, what I've come to think of as the second half of our soccer team, arrived with a U-Haul trailer being towed by a black sedan with tinted windows. And a golden Razorbacks hog proudly displayed where a front license plate should go.

In the weeks since, we have been laughing, crying, yelling, ganging up in varying groups, yelling some more, astonishing the neighbors, quite literally stepping on others' toes and tripping over our own feet, yelling, arguing about whose turn it is to take the garbage out, complaining about who drank all the milk, griping about clothes hurled everywhere, and yelling some more. I have threatened to ban candy and offered to escort my sister's dog (c'mon, didn't you see that one coming a mile away) to the local shelter. My sisters have all, independently and as a team, called me bossy and irritable (I'm trying, I'm trying). The two teenage boys have already started to act like cowed, hen-pecked husbands-in-waiting - you just want to hug them sometimes. I've developed a tic in my upper right eyebrow and an inability to go even one day without vacuuming something. And my two little boys run around with their cousins and aunts, happier than pigs in shit.

In other words, we're acting like a family.

Which nine of us knew would happen. And which the tenth has come to tolerate, if not finding it slightly endearing.

Welcome to Berkeley. Welcome to life. Welcome to the Guerreiro Ramos-Marquardt-Bennett-Dalland-Scott family. Welcome to happy.

Y'all come back now.


Sea SpongeWorthy

For those on the spectrum of information-sharing that tilt to cringing when discussing personal hygiene, please turn away from your computers. Now.

For those of you still reading, please be advised this is not some treatise on acquatic fauna or an analysis, academic or satirical, of SpongeBob, Squidward, Sandy and Patrick, and the world of Bikini Bottom.

No, this is the ranting of a woman in search of the perfect menses-trapping-tool. Of that one thing that will not only suck up the, umm, monthly release of the Ganges River that my uterus spews forth since having children, but also not end up in what I'm sure has become an ever-growing mountain of bleached-cotton landfill.

I was raised on maxi pads, of course, as well as Tampax tampons, being a child of the early 70s. I moved on, in my 20s, to OB, having the, uh, balls to finally figure out how to shove the little thing up my hoohaw correctly. You all know what I'm talking about, too - the initial, tentative, scary attempts at putting the tiny obelisk in far enough so that it didn't feel like it was there. Of course, it still felt like I was trying to stuff the Washington Monument up there. But having been raised by hippy parents, I was more afraid of going to Environmental Purgatory than I was of some temporary pelvic pain, or of losing the chochi-plug in the nether regions of my cervix. So the attempts continued until I perfected the delicate technique that involved several steps - from spreading to sitting back, from relaxing to then clenching.

Through years of flow, in and out of full moons and monthly craziness, birth control pills and Aleve, I have purchased and used the Instead cup; more OB tampons than I can shake a (crampy) stick at; every iteration of a maxi pad known to womankind. Thin, thick, extra-thick, wide, overnight, double-wide, with wings, long, extra-long, navel-to-clavicle, without wings, light, heavy - you name it, it's been in my basket at the drug store. I stuck with OB tampons, as they seemed to entail the least amount of damage to the Earth post-use. Then I found the organic cotton ones at my local health food store and started to use those.

I didn't mind paying extra if it meant less of a toll on our planet. I felt virtuous and smart and as if I was heeding the admonition of a great chief of the Iroqouis nation - that we must consider our decisions and actions as bearing on the next seven generations.

Imagine how utterly, mind-blowingly angelic I feel as I write this, with a sea sponge, yes, you read right, A SEA SPONGE, playing the part of a tampon. An Oscar-worthy performance, mind you. No leakage, no pain, same process of insertion, only better coverage of my menstrual hole. And can we just, for a non-cotton-picking minute, talk about the Earth-loving, resource-saving piece of genius that is this innovation?

The sea sponge is like the ocean's version of bamboo!! It regenerates like a bunny in heat!!

They are purse-friendly, come with their own little cotton carrying bag, make OBs look like CO2-spewing smoke-stacks in Newark, and cost as much as one box of tampons. So even if you're not in the mood to save the planet, you have figured out that saving is the new black, right? Go spongy and send your kid to college! No kids? No problem! Take a vacation to Costa Rica, courtesy of Jade Pearl, the makers of the Sea Pearls Sea Sponge Tampon I'm planning on using for the rest of my menstrual days.

I'm so pleased with myself, I was about to forget to thank the Berkeley Bowl, in Berkeley, California (where else would I have found such an environmentally-friendly, hippy invention?), where I bought the two trimmable, customizable, naturally flow-sucking sponges that will, hereafter, adorn my uterine opening.

Here's to sustainability!!!


Family Funnies

Family is a funny thing.

Not haha funny, really. Funny, as in, it's crazy what we will say to one another that we would never allow anyone else to say to our clan members. I'm allowed to tell my sister she's acting like a spoiled brat. You don't want to be within earshot if someone outside the family attempted the same thing, though.

Funny, as in, I share genes and blood with my two youngest sisters and in fact, look more like Chara, who's adopted.

Funny, as in, my parents raised me in such a colorblind and family-is-family world that I only just realized last year that I'm the lone "white child" borne by my mother. All her other four children have black biological fathers. Yes, even my adopted sister. It's as if she decided, having seen my comparatively alabaster skin when I was born first of five, that she preferred brown babies. Maybe because they looked more like her beloved father, my grandfather, whose death when I was 12 nearly destroyed her.

Funny, as in, how unquestioning my kids are that Gabi and Xochi are their aunts, no matter how many times the kids around them ask about the "brown girls" who pick them up from and take them places. Even my older son's black classmates find the girls a curiosity, wondering aloud how people so brown could be related to my very white-skinned son. It's funny to see their faces as I explain that Gabi and Xochi are my sisters. Does not compute in their heads, even though my kids, having known nothing else except this family, find nothing remarkable about the differences in their skin colors.

Funny, as in, no one else in this world can infuriate me as much as my two teenage girls bickering about secretly looking at each other's texts and Facebook affronts; and in the next minute inspire such protective love in me that I feel it in my chest as if someone was holding my heart in their hand and squeezing it like it was a sponge.

Funny, as in, my younger son calling my ex-husband Papai, when Papai is not, in fact, his father. He's just the only one Dash has known in that capacity and so Papai fills the role beautifully - from love and hugs to worrying and fretting about his discipline (or lack thereof). Papai takes Dash on the weekends he sees our son, Luca. Papai is everything to Dash anyone would expect of a Papai - and it makes total sense in my funny little family that Papai is okay, nay, happy, with that.

Funny, as in, family is why I drink and why I don't drink as much as I used to. Like sometimes I need a dose of Mommy Juice so I can stay patient just one more hour but I end up drinking just half the glass because otherwise it's too much and turns into an unhealthy habit that cuts five years off my life during which I could be enjoying grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And watching my sons and my siblings experience the same infuriation and passionate love for their own kids - emotions that reach their arms around me every day and take turns putting their hands over my eyes.

Love, anger, love, frustration, love, love, impatience, love, love, love, crazy, funny, family love.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:World Way,Los Angeles,United States


Who You Calling Broken?

There were lots of things many people had to say when I separated from my husband of four years:

"You were married?" (My ex travels A LOT.)

"I told you it wouldn't last."

"I guess no more double dating?"

"Way to follow in your mother's footsteps!"

My mother-in-law insisted I was nothing but a "bad sport."

And on and on, filters hopelessly absent in most people's assessments of my un-wedded un-bliss.
Most of the responses, however, hovered around the concept of a Broken Home. As in, how will I possibly make up for my son's stigmatized status as a Child of Divorce. Conservative pundits found their way onto my radar with pronouncements of long-term horrors in store for my children, poor bastards.

Children, you say? Did I forget to mention the part where I got knocked up seven months after moving out of the marital home? BY A DIFFERENT MAN?

So now, not only did I have a son whose emotional, financial, and psychic stability I was threatening, but I was about to bring another baby into the mix whose very birth was being ignored by the one who had impregnated me.

And I was still living in Bronxville, Westchester, epi-center (however illusional) of picket-fence, SAHM, family values living.

Oh lo the bygone, sylvan days when graceful (if alcoholic) acceptance of a fucked up marriage was the only path, and girls were sent away to birth babies in secret.

Hark, in their stead, the separated and swollen-with-child Brooklyn Mama...cuz as soon as I could, I beat a fast path back to Fort Greene, where I started to recreate my narrative and tell myself and my kids a different story than the one our world wanted them to know.

So instead of talking about Broken Homes, we spoke of how lucky Luca was to have two Happy Homes. And bedtime stories wove in threads of his country house, where he had a grill and a backyard, and his city apartment, where we had three floors of neighbors and a whole playground within walking distance of our lobby door.

We talked about Papai's new girlfriend and how much fun they all had together.

And when Dash arrived home with me from the hospital, Luca's dad and I both thrilled at how much fun it was going to be to have a baby brother, even though he didn't have a Papai like Luca had. I told my kids how lucky we are to have each other, to have so many people around who loved and supported us. And that we are one Whole Family, all in one place in our hearts and heads.

Un-living together, yes. Un-married, yes.

But so very Un-Broken.


Christmas cheer...undone

I was trying to gracefully, and without much fanfare or ado, get the Christmas tree out of the apartment before the pine needles took over the living room and drove me to drink more than I already do. In my OCD-induced frenzy, I forgot the impact this could have on my two children, the youngest of whom had just discovered Holiday Spirit.

I had a friend come over and help remove the pendant decorations, and made a valiant effort at removing the silvery, stringy hair things I had carelessly and thoughtlessly hurled at the tree in a fake fit of Christmas Enthusiasm, otherwise known as Holiday Spirit For The Children.

We removed most of the decorations that seem so sweet and simple and anachronistic going up and so hopelessly old-fashioned, annoying and clingy coming down. Boxes of old-school Tree Balls, blinky lights, and homemade pinecone, puppet, and collage decorations. It all came down.

Upon waking the following morning, my boys hopped out of bed as usual, brushed their teeth, and went downstairs to watch television while I dragged myself out of bed in order to feed them before school.

Before I could say Organic Toaster Pastries and Grass-Fed Cows Milk, I heard a blood-curdling screech from downstairs, and flew, two at a time, down the stairs from my bedroom to the living room.

Upon arrival, I found Dash sitting on the sofa, mouth wide and lips starting to turn blue from lack of oxygen as he tried to catch his breath. His arm was extended, his right hand pointed out to his side, index finger aimed straight at the now-naked Christmas tree. In a look I can only describe as accusatory and murderous all at once, my three-year-old fixed his normally-sweet-little-face on my person and asked, in a tone nearly synonymous with the voice of Juliet upon finding her Romeo prone and lifeless, "WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE CHRISTMAS TREE?!???"

I went and kneeled before him, took his hands in mine, and said, "Oh sweetie, the elves came and took everything away..."

Because I am not going to be the subject of one more therapy appointment.


Son, meet your father. Boyfriend, meet my husband, and my baby's daddy...

Wanna know what can happen in the space of about six weeks, if you just stay organized and on point?

Your three-year-old can meet his father for the first time in his life.

Followed in quick succession by a meet-up at the Museum of Natural History with said father of your three-year-old. Yes, the same one your three-year-old just met.

And because you were extra coordinated and magnanimous, and maybe drinking on the day you sent that email, three-year-old father's girlfriend has been invited to meet you and your kids at the Museum, where boyfriend (!!) has accompanied you. Because someone has to provide some moral support for you. And well, boyfriend has, amazingly, offered to be that person. Which is why, let's face it, he was even a candidate in the first place to become a boyfriend. Because we all know how well the man thing has been going up until now.

So then, feeling In The Holiday Spirit, you invite boyfriend (!!) to be at Early Christmas - which one can find in the Divorced Family Calendar, about a month after Late Thanksgiving, and shortly before Every Other New Year.

Boyfriend (!!) arrives fashionably late for Early Christmas, meets your ex-husband, and everyone settles in to watch the opening (mauling) of the presents under the tree. Including a couple of packages from your husband's girlfriend. Whom you end up meeting at your older son's birthday, after asking husband to bring her so you can finally meet the girl who has been spending weekends with your kids.

Mass confusion at birthday party on attendees' parts - but since you come from a successfully divorced family, having your boyfriend, your ex-husband, and his girlfriend all there to celebrate your son turning 7 doesn't faze you at all.

Because it's not about you. It's about the kids enjoying as much love and support as the world will give them. No matter how weird the rest of the world thinks your little family bramblebush is.


Stop the insanity!!!

Here's how it went down:

Me: Hurry up, we're going to be late for school.

Luca: Okaaayyyy... I'm getting my coat ooonnnn.

Me, 5 minutes later: Luca, let's go, get your shoes on! Why don't you have your jacket on?! Turn off the television! I'm not going to say it again!

Luca: Fiiine-uh!! I'm going!

Me, 1 minute later: Put on your jacket! Turn off the television! I'm leaving!

Luca: I'm coming!!!

Cut to car, boys in back seat, dog flailing around for a comfortable place to sit.

Luca: Wallace (the dog), sit down! On the floor!

Wallace gets heaved onto the floor of the car, ending up in a rather ignominious heap, head hanging like a limp lampshade.

Luca: Good boy. Stay.

Dash: Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

Luca: Stop saying stay! He's staying already! You don't have to keep on saying it!

Dash: Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

Luca: Dashiell!! Stop saying that!! You're irritating me!!

Dash: Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

Luca: Dashie!!! Say it in the car on the way back from dropping me off!

Dash: I don't wanno say it in the car on the way home. I wanno say it now. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

Luca, melting down: I told you to stop saying that!! Stop it!!

Dash: Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

Me, with one half of my brain already having a nervous breakdown: Neither one of you says another word or I'm stopping this car and you're both walking home.

Dash: Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

Luca, a frazzled puddle by now: Mamae, I'm not the one doing it!! Dashie won't stop saying Stay!! Make him stop!!

Me, the second half of my brain threatening to start acting like Mommy Dearest: That's it. No Wii for either one of you today or tomorrow!!! SHUT IT AND STOP TOUCHING EACH OTHER!!!

Dash: Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

I need a drink. And SuperNanny.