Archive for January, 2006

as quinn said, oh yeah, this’ll be the tipping point

I love Bernal so very much. There’s a tree on Folsom Street festooned with red sweaters, one for every death in Iraq. Then today, for the State of the Union, someone wrote “BUSH STEP DOWN” in huge letters on the north slope of the hill.

first day back

I have these very occasional days when I am inhumanly efficient, and today was one. I had Claire dressed and dropped at school by 9.30, and got to work before 10. I unpacked all the boxes from the move to the new office and set up my new work area. I exchanged friendly chucks on the shoulder with my colleagues. I led a productive conference call to prepare for a big panel session at an upcoming show. I booked interviews for a couple of weeks out, realized I was duplicating part of a colleague’s work and corrected the error. I found a cafe that does excellent pasta for lunch. I did some important and long-overdue banking. I picked up Claire and took her to Nervous Dog for a quick playdate with Salome and Milo, and then I came home and played happily with both girls until Jeremy turned up.

Unfortunately I didn’t get around to doing any, you know, actual writing. Baby steps.

conversations birds would have

Jeremy: I’ve been reading Jeff’s paragliding blog. It’s like conversations birds would have. Ten thousand words for updraft.


Danny (after a silence): See, I read your blog, so I already know how you are.


Alain: Your post is untrue. Only a mother and crazy uncle can tell.


Claire: Zerbuts are preposterous!


Jeremy: I made scones. Claire calls them scum.

only their mother can tell them apart

Claire, 2003:

Julia, 2006:

Claire, 2003:

Julia, 2006:


I certainly wasn’t expecting to reap the benefits of two children at, what is it? Ten weeks? (How can it be only ten weeks?) But Julia loves Claire so much, it’s nuts. Jeremy dragged the bouncy chair down from the attic, so these days Julia spends her mornings watching Claire eat her breakfast. If Claire goes out of sight, Jules makes heartbroken complaints. When she’s turned towards her sister, she coos and gurgles adoringly.

Claire is taking the hero-worship in her stride.

claire reads

Claire likes to play in Appleworks. I keep a document on the desktop for her, and sometimes we type in our own names. This morning she scrolled back through the document and found everyone’s names.

“That’s Daddy!” she said, pointing to the word Jeremy. “And me! No, Julia! That’s Julia and that’s me! And that’s Mummy!”

Jeremy and I stared at each other in amazement; then there were high fives all round.


Jamey: Are you at the park… in Berkeley?

R: Yes, we’re all here… in Berkeley.

J: Great! I’ll meet you there! In Berkeley!

R: Cool. We’ll see you soon, in Berkeley.

species of spaces

Grant reminded me recently of a great Kushner quip: “Heaven is a place much like San Francisco.” Claire has been reading the Miroslav Sasek book “This is San Francisco”, and so nowadays whenever she sees the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz or a cable car, she asks “Can we go to San Francisco?” I sound like a trendy vicar when I tell her: “Honey, San Francisco is all around us.

I mention this because today we went to a clothing swap at my yoga instructor’s sister’s house, and it turns out that my yoga instructor’s sister is married to Brewster Kahle of Internet archive fame. They live in one of the old officer’s residences in the Presidio with this quite awesome view out over the Palace of Fine Arts and the bay. Claire played the piano and while we all frantically tried things on, Julia slept beatifically amid the piles and piles of clothes.

Afterwards Carole, Jamey and I took the kids down to the Warming Hut, and Claire lost part of her cheese sandwich when she was mugged by a starling.

On Kevin Kelly’s recommendation I just watched one of the most amazing films I’ve ever seen. “Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life” is a 1925 documentary by Merian Cooper, who went on to make King Kong. The filmmakers travelled from Turkey across Arabia to what is now Southern Iraq, then followed the migration of a Bakhtiari tribe over the Zagros mountains. You watch fifty thousand people walking barefoot over Zard Kuh, the highest peak.

I close with a witty observation uniting these various anecdotes, an observation I haven’t thought of just yet.

we reflect on our behaviour

Last night I put Claire to bed.

“I wanted to look at the necklaces,” she said.

“You sure did.”

“The man was putting colours on the animal.”

“That’s right. We were in the Mayan art store on 24th Street. The man had a wooden rhinoceros, and he was covering it with tiny glass beads.”

“Very sharp.”

“That pointy thing he was using to pick up the beads? Yeah, that did look sharp.”

“I wanted a necklace.”

“You did, and I didn’t buy you one.”

“And I cried and cried and cried, ALL the way home.”

“Yep. You bothered everyone on the bus.”

“I went like this: uh-HUH, uh-HUH.”




We both collapsed in giggles.

Three-year-olds are challenging. Quite literally: it’s their job to make you nuts, because they’re experimenting with how far they can push people before people go nuts. I’ve had to be far more patient and creative with Claire these last few weeks than I ever have before. It’s mind-bending. I’ve taken good degrees at good universities, ridden half-broken Arabians across Turkey, apologized to people I’ve wronged: I am no stranger to the difficult. But raising that kid is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

What makes it worth it is that moment (and it is rare) just after I get something right, after I don’t snap at her, after I think of something to distract her or charm her or make her laugh; that space that opens up between us, full of possibility. In my mind I call it glad grace, like the silence after a perfect cadence, when the voices of the choir seem to hang in the empty air.

julia fights the power

Jeepers, what a day. Dropped Claire at school and Jeremy at the station, consigned books and clothes on Cortland, met Blanca and Milo on the way to the playground. Left the car at home, caught the bus to City Hall, picked up Julia’s birth certificate, had lunch at Arlequin (shepherds pie! yum!) and made it back to City Hall just in time for the Rec & Park meeting.

The open space at the top of Bernal Hill was wilderness, then goat paddocks, then just waste land until a group of concerned residents (Bernal is awash in concerned residents) organized the transfer of most of it from San Francisco’s Department of Public Works to Rec & Park in 1975. For some reason they left off a lot on the north-west side, outside the boulevard. Today it’s all grassland and trees and habitat for the hawks and their prey.

Public Works wanted to sell it off to help pay the city’s debt.

I’m conflicted, especially after the first 75 minutes of the meeting covered the city budget in great and intriguing detail. I missed a lot of it while Jules was squeaking (I think Prop 13 offends her sense of civic responsibility), but I was impressed both at the sheer amount of money it takes to run a city and at the tenacity of the people who are trying to do it.

Golf pays an awful lot of the bills here.

I’m a bit conservative fiscally and would like the city to balance its budget (saner property taxes would greatly help), but frankly, I’m not prepared to sacrifice that particular chunk of land. I drive past it on the way to Claire’s school in the mornings. The light shines on the green green grass and the red clay path winding its way up to the summit. It’s totally Middle-earth.

So various people got up and declared their passion for the acre, pointing out that Bernal has narrow streets and tiny lots and that we all live on top of each other and need our open space. A woman called Melanie, who had brought her three-year-old Margaret to the meeting, was particularly good. She’d dug up various other proposals to develop the hill, and submitted the evidence that the Board of Supes had rejected them all.

A counter-proposal to transfer this last chunk of land to Rec and Park was one of twenty or so items included on what was called a consent calendar. At the end, the commissioners took a single vote on all the items and came to a unanimous agreement. After all that impassioned testimony the actual vote was business-like and cryptic.

“Was that it?” I asked Bernal personality Gail Sainsbury when we got out. “Did we save the park?”

“Yes we did!” said Gail.

I felt very mildly euphoric. I’m very glad I went. It’s always fun to watch public America in action, like reading a book by Sarah Vowell. I got the impression that Gloria Bonilla is decent and likeable and that Jim Lazarus is extremely sharp.

Carved inside the City Hall dome: “O glorious City of our hearts that has been tried and not found wanting, go thou with like spirit to make the future thine.” I’m totally sentimental about San Francisco. The United Nations, gay rights, the Interwebs – half the things I care about were invented here.

Met Quinn and Bryan at Ritual, picked up a panettone from Lucca and Claire from school, caught the bus home, made gnocchi with a sun-dried tomato pesto and cream sauce (delicious). Chasing two kids makes me nuts – when one stops crying the other one starts – but today Jules learned why taxes can be a good thing (“Stop smirking young lady! In this family we are for libraries”), and we saved Middle-earth and ate pie and drank chai. We’ll all sleep well tonight.


Julia has found her hands. She stroked her burp cloth and pulled it up to her mouth to chew.

I remember when Claire was this age, and I went shopping at Rainbow carrying her in her sling. She picked up a green bean and held it tightly as we walked around. When I got home I told Jeremy: “Claire held a bean.”

Still brings tears to my eyes.

salome and rachel go to burger joint

R: Do you like my new purse?

S: This is new?

R: Yes!

S: How is it different from your old one?

R: Remember where my old one had a zip? Look, velcro. And the lining?

S: Gray.

R: The old one was black!

S: …

R: …

S: I can see this is a time of great personal change.

R: Purse-onal change?

S: I totally meant that.

neglectful mother

I left the kids with their besotted babysitter and went out alone. Alone! I dropped off library books, bought an Armani wool coat at Buffalo Exchange, had lunch at Herbivore and soaked in the tub at Osento. The whole time, no one vomited on me or screamed in my ear. It was heaven, I tell you, heaven.

I came back an hour early because I missed the little monsters.

hereinafter known as

Yesterday we drove down to Santa Cruz and saw Josh, Cate, Alexa and Zachary, who live two blocks away from us in San Francisco. Oh well. Julia got to meet her namesake, hereinafter known as Big Julia, and we took pictures of the two of them together, hereinafter known as the Julia Set.

I was crosseyed with tiredness when I got home last night, so what made me think I could get both girls to the playground on foot without Jeremy this morning is a mystery. Salome asked the obvious question – Why didn’t I take the brand-new twin stroller? – to which I had no adequate reply. I ended up carrying them all the way, a combined 42 pounds of daughter. There were tears and recriminations on all sides. When Jamey met me at the playground she immediately confiscated both kids and made me sit in the sun with a book of Ros Chast comics. Somebody give the woman her nursing degree already!

After lunch we walked the rest of the way up Bernal Hill; I can’t remember the last time I was up there. Quite a view, from Candlestick Park to the Golden Gate Bridge, the air clear and bright. Red-tailed hawks, over-excited toddlers, fighting kites. Jeremy borrowed a kite and immediately slew two hapless rivals. Beneath his mild-mannered exterior, &c. I sat and watched him and thought of my dad, former president of the Australian Kiteflyers Society, and how I used to sit and watch him fly kites at Tanya Park.

Oh, and Jamey, Carole and Rowan are hereinafter known as the S’mores, because they’re warm and sweet.

emergency orange

12 noon, C: Mummy! Daddy! An orange sock! It’s very dangerous!

9pm, J: Claire passed me a piece of curled-up orange thread and said: “Look! It’s an antler!”

mother’s little helpers

I seem to have picked up Claire’s cold. It’s mostly manifesting as a fiercely sore throat. All hail over-the-counter painkillers. If it weren’t for the Tylenol I’ve been knocking back this evening, the girls would have been given away.

The best part of the day was sitting on the floor of the preschool, chatting to Molly, Ethan, Ada and Claire. Although shopping with Quinn at Rainbow was also fun. I bought pie!


When I woke up this morning, Jules was curled into me like a barnacle.

Also today: Claire’s first pair of Levi’s, Julia’s first laugh.

we did have fun

I was really tired, so I invited Jamey, Rowan, Shannon, Bryan, Cian, Ruairi, Salome, Jack and Milo over for dinner. Yeah, I know.

new stroller smell

After a play at Aquatic Park in Berkeley yesterday – Jamey was going to meet us, but went to Aquatic Park in San Francisco by mistake – I succumbed to the siren song of Rockridge Kids, my favourite store for Claire-n-Jules stuff in spite of the fact that it’s RILLY RILLY EXPENSIVE. They carry all my favourite brands, Britax and Zutano and New Native and Maclaren, this last one being the point, because I really needed to replace the ancient Kolkraft double stroller now on its fourth family.

I love my marigold Volo with a foolish passion, so I didn’t even look at the (far cheaper) Peg or Graco twin strollers. (In my defense, I didn’t look at the much spendier Bugaboo or Stokke Xplory either.) While I was examining the Maclaren Rally Twin, Claire found the matching doll stroller, both blue-ringed like octopi. I wasn’t sure about the design until Jeremy said he liked it; then, because I am impressionable, I liked it too.

Turns out the doll and twin strollers were both the last of that design, so we bought the floor models for ten percent off! Yay! So this morning Claire loaded one doll into the stroller and another into her doll sling and said “Two babies! Like mummy!”

Julia was surprised!

family resemblance

“You have a spooky nose. No, you have a sharp nose. I have a sharp nose too. Daddy has a sharp nose. Julia has a sharp, little nose.”