Archive for October, 2005

false alarm

Some contractions this evening, but apparently they were just my body’s way of repudiating this strange American custom you call Halloween.

Claire overdosed on candy and has retired to bed. I go and do likewise (except for the candy).

not fall out of bed, get ouchie

Claire fell out of the toddler bed with a resounding thump at 3am. Once I’d dried her tears, reminded her that she had plenty to live for (“I like movies,” she volunteered) and put her back to sleep next to J, that was it for my night’s sleep. I had a long bath and read the New Yorker on Scowcroft and Breyer and Calatrava (a wonderful issue, actually). It was the end of daylight saving, so my insomnia lasted an extra excruciating hour. Towards dawn I dozed fitfully. There were noises downstairs: Jeremy answered the door and it was the entire Supreme Court. He made the justices line up on the stairs and gave them all white t-shirts to wear, with the legend “What about Plame?”

That last part may have been a dream.

Awesomely beautiful late fall day. We caught the very end of Breakfast with Enzo, then met Salome and Milo at the park for a playdate. This was interrupted by a caricature of a Berkeley hippie chick, barefoot and somewhat filthy, asking us about homeschooling, telling us proudly that she ripped off welfare and didn’t vaccinate her children and believed the US Government had explosively demolished the Twin Towers and blown up the Pentagon. I’m actually not unsympathetic to aspects of each point of view, but she just went on and on, arguing from (questionable) authority, dismissing various contradictory facts, then lost all credibility when she said to Jeremy: “If you would just use your brain…”

Hippie chicks of the world! Take note! You diss my boy genius at your peril! I’ve been making fun of her ever since.

Next we went to Rockridge Kids for socks, and to Hillegass to see the Jaffe-Tsangs, but by that time Claire was asleep so I stayed in the car reading New Scientist on hypergraphia (a neurological condition I would kind of like to have). Bay Bridge, awesome sunset, radioactive apricot on alien’s-blood-green sky and lavender-and-purple Marin. Bread from Tartine and home to no parking and I swore and a car moved and we parked. Then Ian and Kat came by with meat pies and Claire wore a Hawaiian lei around her waist and Ian said I never blog the cute things she does any more, which is obviously a cruel lie. Then everyone went home or to bed or had another bath.

J (sticking his head around the bathroom door): So we had a conversation.

R (covered in bubbles): Oh yes?

J: It went like this: ‘Goodnight darling.’ ‘Goodnight darling, be careful.’ ‘Be careful? Not fall out of bed, get ouchie?’ ‘Yes, that’s exactly right.’ ‘Okay!’

R: Well, I’m glad we got that settled.


No, I’m not in labour. We paid the bills and shredded the correspondence. I sorted all of Julia’s clothes while Jeremy converted Claire’s crib to a toddler bed. We put the dollhouse in Claire’s room and the Moses basket in ours. We found new homes for the towels and bed-linen displaced by Julia’s clothes. We replaced the icky brown curtains with pretty champagne-coloured ones. We carried stuff into the attic and emptied the drip pan underneath the leak in the roof. I even sorted the CDs and DVDs, because GOD FORBID that my daughter should come home to a house with an untidy media cabinet.

I’m wrecked.

I read Jennifer Weiner’s In Her Shoes, because someone had cited her as unfairly maligned chick lit. I read Cynthia Ozick’s The Puttermesser Papers immediately afterwards. In Her Shoes stars Rose, a 34-year-old single lawyer who quits to start a dog-walking business and eventually marries a nice man from her old firm. The Puttermesser Papers stars Ruth Puttermesser, a 34-year-old single lawyer who creates a golem from the soil under the pot plants in her apartment. The golem becomes her campaign manager, and Puttermesser is elected mayor of New York.

And that, my friends, is the difference between chick lit and lit.

not so fast

Ada came running into Shannon’s hospital room, saw me and said joyously “I love you!”

My heart shattered into a thousand sparkly pieces.

“Yeah,” said Quinn, “she was saying that to random people in the elevator.”

the adventures of preg-brain and sleep dep girl

I’ve lost all meta-cognition, so how can I post? Here’s proof:

1. Preg-brain was thrilled to make it to Oz complete with clothes for Claire; when we went up in July I forgot to bring anything for her to wear, and we had to make an emergency stop at a consignment store in San Rafael.

This time, it turned out, I had forgotten my own underwear.

Recheng offered to lend me some, but she wears butt-floss on her tiny Asian ass, so I borrowed Jeremy’s boxers instead. Wow. Boxers are incredibly comfy. No wonder men rule the world.

2. Salome, AKA sleep-dep girl, drove me around all afternoon. When she turned on the ignition she said “Where the HELL is that music coming from?”

“Your car radio,” I said.

We looked at each other.

“Did you think it was a heavenly choir?”

“Shut up.”

“I am totally blogging this.”

“Shut. UP.”

We laughed all the way to 24th Street.

I finished work yesterday so today was my first full day of lying around waiting to have Julia. It was filled with entirely appropriate activities: Erin Brockovich on TiVo, glorious chicken from Gooood Frikin, pre-natal yoga, a visit to Shannon and the divine Ruairi (who snoozed adorably in my arms), and birth prep class. I’ve done so much yoga lately that two of the women in birth prep recognized me from separate yoga studios (I actually go to three). Yoga has saved me this time around. Without it, my joints would have calcified months ago. I’d be a wizened little ossified Venus of Willendorf.

Indian summer is in full swing, with nasturtiums and California poppies throwing out their very last blooms. I’ve been having a huge amount of fun just pottering around the neighborhood, overdosing on chai and madeleines, relishing being able to walk to the library and Shannon’s hospital room and Mitchell’s Ice Cream. This house really is ideally located for lazy pregnant girls. No wonder people have started to call it Maternal Heights.

urban baby names

In Pacific Heights I met Conrad, Portia and Somerset. In Bernal, sisters Tallulah and Zenobia. Yesterday I was delighted to hear a mother call:

“No, Mason, Carson is in Boston. You’re talking to Jasper.”

readers respond!

Mark writes to say:

“i beg to differ


he has arrived

R: You’ve been invited to do an MBA at DeVry University.

J: It’s the Harvard of Fremont.


R (singsong): Clair-oo!

C (singsong): Yes, mummy!

R: I love you.

C: I not love you.

We shouldn’t fall about laughing when she says things like that. It only encourages her.

recent reading, largely about faith

I’ve been catching up on various purchases from Adobe Books, which has an outrageously good history section. First up was Theodore Zeldin’s An Intimate History of Humanity, not at all what I expected – I’d been thinking it was something like a shorter History of Private Life, but in fact it’s a set of contemporary interviews woven around a narrative that traces the emergence of humanity – not humankind but humane thoughts and acts.

It was a mind-bending and addictive read, a bit like Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence in that it cast new lights on everything I’ve read over the last few years. Despite many setbacks and abundant evidence to the contrary, I’m a great believer in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and humanism generally. It pains me considerably that civil discourse is presently flying from reason and tolerance and humanity and back to benighted faith in invisible superheroes in the sky, with all the misogyny and oppression that seems to imply, but I try to take a longer-term view and remind myself, for example, that my lifetime has encompassed the journey from Stonewall to gay marriage in Massachusetts, which is pretty damn cool.

Next up was Alan Moorehead’s Darwin and the Beagle, followed immediately by William Irvine’s Apes, Angels and Victorians which picks up more or less exactly where the Moorehead book leaves off. They’re both a bit dated and completely outshone by Janet Browne’s exceptional two-volume Darwin bio, but good nonetheless. Writing in 1955, Irvine very endearingly takes the position that the Creationist argument is discredited where not actually dead. It’s hard not to grind your teeth over the fact that the church is making exactly the same arguments now that it did when Darwin published a century and a half ago, but it’s wonderful to be reminded what a complex and well-supported and insightful piece of work he did, and how many of his predictions and guesses have been nobly borne out by subsequent evidence. The science gets more and more polished and refined, even as the church gets duller.

I’m not a huge fan of Dawkins and his taunting tactics, but it is the case that I got bored with Christianity as a way of interpreting the world. It’s just not interesting or complicated enough. A propos of which, I finally finished Roy Jenkins’ Gladstone, ten months after I started it. As with his Churchill, I walked away from this book with immense respect and admiration both for the subject and for Jenkins himself. Gladstone started his extraordinary parliamentary career with the proposal that all civil servants should be required to be communicant Anglicans. By the time of his second premiership, fifty years later, he was disestablishing the Irish church.

Jenkins pulls off two masterly feats in this funny, warm and utterly engaging story. The first is to track Gladstone’s conversion from hardest of hard-line Tories into the statesman who defined English liberalism – an conversion brought about by his exceptional combination of intelligence and conscience. It just became apparent to him that he couldn’t force his deeply-cherished beliefs on other people. You can almost hear the ship of state groaning as he goes about. Queen Victoria, by the way, was not amused.

Jenkins’ second achievement is to convey the sense of what parliamentary work is actually like: the whistle-stop tours, the long speeches, the kowtowing to interests with a constituency in their gift; and then after the election victory, the wrangling with the Queen over the Cabinet appointments, the setting of the government’s legislative program, the protracted process of drafting bills and ushering them through both houses, the back-room deals and horse-trading required.

The church figures hugely in Gladstone’s life, and not only because he was so devout. I hadn’t realized how small the government was in his day – the budgets (that he balanced superbly) are ridiculously small! Of course, there was virtually no income tax, no welfare safety net, no National Health Service, very little in the way of state-funded education – because all that was considered to be the province of the church; hence the immense importance of Anglican politics, and the main matter of Trollope’s Barsetshire novels. Gladstone’s career embodies England’s trajectory away from the ruthless equation of social conscience with Christian morality, and this to me is what liberalism is. Poverty isn’t a punishment for bad behaviour and welfare isn’t a reward for virtue; providing welfare is simply the right thing to do.

After Gladstone I powered through a couple of colic-momoirs, Inconsolable and Operating Instructions, just in case Julia spends her first six months in a state of violent outrage. Recent turbulence in the media- and blogo-spheres raising fresh hell over working versus stay-at-home mothers just depresses me. My early new year’s resolution is that I will not judge other women for their choices at all, any more; my hands are way too full trying to deal with the well-meaning ignorance of even kind, intelligent men to fracture my essential feminist support network by dissing my sisters.

This resolution informed my first re-reading of Gaudy Night in about ten years. This book had way too much influence over me, figuring largely in my dreams of doing a DPhil in English Lit at Oxford. Didn’t get in (it’s okay, Trinity College Dublin took me instead). Still, I had to handle Gaudy Night with tongs for a long time after that. Very odd returning to it now. Sayers remains a charming and persuasive writer. Harriet is likeably brittle and Lord Peter amusing, if not particularly credible, but the whole argument of the book is flawed, or at least goes nowhere near far enough. Sayers keeps banging on about equality and to do her justice, it is significant and praiseworthy that the final settlement has to account for Harriet’s intelligence and integrity, as well as the work she’s called upon to do. Even so, Peter appears all deus-ex-machina at the end, explains the plot to us and to Harriet – who is too emotionally involved to have solved the mystery on her own! Bah, I say.

I wonder if I’m importing too much extraneous information to my reading of it now? Sayers’ marriage was not particularly inspiring and she eventually moved away from amusing, brittle detective stories to a fairly conservative theology (and a highly readable but somewhat didactic translation of The Divine Comedy). She’s not likely to win unqualified approval around here while I’m in the mood for admiring Darwin and Gladstone and intelligent accommodations between public secularism and private faith.

As for that whole Oxbridge fiasco, I must tell you one of the funniest and sweetest things my mother ever said to me in my life. We were visiting Cambridge and walked through the gates into the beautiful Trinity College there, and my mother looked around at those hallowed walls that had housed Bacon, Marvell, Dryden, Newton, Byron, Thackeray, Tennyson, Maxwell, Thomson, Rutherford, Russell, Wittgenstein and Nabokov, and she sniffed and said “I like your Trinity better.”

Now that’s good parenting.

freak of nature

Sometimes Claire is uncanny. Today I came home from a notable professional success all bouncy and flushed and free to fall in a heap and just be pregnant with Julia now, as I have been yearning to do lo these many weeks.

Claire looked me shrewdly in the eye and said: “Have fun at work?”

“Er, yes,” I said.

“THAT’S my mummy,” said Claire.

surprises and unexpected skills

On Sunday Salome threw Claire a Becoming-a-big-sister party at Aquatic Park. It was great; the weather was glorious, all her friends were there and there were presents and bagels and coffee and cake. Claire burst into tears a couple of times from sheer overstimulation, but hey! It was her party, and she could cry if she wanted to.

It was a proper party with an A story and a B story. First Heather and Carole had a stand-off: “Wait, I know you.” “Carole?” “HEATHER?” They’d both been activists with Seeds of Peace back in the day, and in fact, they’d shared a house. This is just ridiculous, because Heather met Jack at Burning Man, and Jack met Salome through pit bull rescue, and Salome met me through the Bay Area Equestrian Network, and I met Carole when I went to Osento for my first post-partum massage after Claire and she said “How old is your baby?” and it turned out our kids were almost exactly the same age. So really, what are the chances that Heather and Carole would know each other, outside a poorly-plotted sitcom or excessively economical play?

Also, Heather showed me the scar from her gills.

The B story was that Jack locked his keys in the car, and had to go and get a wire coat-hanger so that he and Jeremy could break in; which they did with great relish and to general applause. Inside every hacker lurks a ne’er-do-well.

In other news, Claire drew the sun.

pixaardman blows my nerd circuits

Because Jamey is TEH AWESOME, she got us in to see the new Wallace and Gromit film at PIXAR.

You have to understand that Pixar is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to people like us. Toy Story was the first film Jeremy and I saw together – so long ago in fact that I was still with Phil, and brought him along. It’s the only time Phil and Jeremy ever met. (Phil’s comment: “He’s very short.”) Aardman is also very close to my heart, because Trea Smallacombe – a personal friend of Nick Park – showed me The Wrong Trousers long before its commercial release, when I was staying at her place in Manchester trying to get a job writing for Coronation Street (ask me about my thwarted career choices some time), and I was WOWED. So I was raving about Wallace and Gromit before you ever heard of them! So nyerny!

Anyway, Pixar: apple orchards, huge atrium in gorgeous I-beam and brick, gleaming Cafe Luxo, comfortable modernist nooks everywhere to drink your free soft drinks and eat your free breakfast cereal, original Incredibles and Nemo art all over the walls, irresistible twentysomething boy and girl geniuses playing foosball, cheekbones like polished steel. I’m so on-to-the-next-phase-of-my-life these days I’m not sure whether I wanted to shag them or adopt them.

I’m a professional corporate campus curmudgeon, but this corporate campus succeeded in making me question all the career choices that took me away from computer animation, sigh. As for example: when the lights go down in the cinema, the ceiling is turns into an accurate starfield, complete with crickets chirping and meteors. Or, when we left the campus (reluctantly) and walked under the beautifully-lit Pixar logo suspended over the gate, and it totally felt like we were characters in a Pixar film.

And Were-Rabbit? It rocked. Ever since, Claire has been saying, unprompted: “I like movies.” She’s curled up on Jeremy’s lap right now watching Fellowship of the Ring. We’re very excited; she shows every sign of growing up to be a nerd. Such joy.

remembering devil mountain

at my most annoying

Quinn, a guest in my house, making cups of tea for me and her: Where’s the sugar?

R (crashed out in the comfy chair): Beets.

Quizzical looks from Quinn and Mike.

R (warming to my theme): Sugar cane. Various kinds of fruit. Corn.

Silence, crickets, tumbleweed.

R: And there’s a pink cardboard box in the cupboard beside the fridge.

Q (calmly): Thank you.

sometimes the blog posts write themselves

…or, The Untold Dangers! of Instant Messaging.

R: i have a sore back. is there any particular reason i couldn’t just lay an egg? INTELLIGENT DESIGN MY GIANT ARSE

S: alain is just with a customer, selling a computer

R: *blush* hello my brother’s coworker

S: hi there im stew

it’s nice to be understood

I’m lying on the couch with Bebe on my hip. She’s so relaxed that she is sort of oozing onto Jeremy’s leg.

R: Did you know cats are actually a liquid?

J: Yeah, you can tell because of old church cats.

R: Right, they’re thicker at the bottom than the top.