Grumpy about flying

I have an irrational fear of flying, which I manage these days by flying with the kids. Don’t all good parents cope by exposing their children to the things they fear most?

Um, anyway, flying with my spawn is very therapeutic. One, the rational part of me knows (or at least hopes) that I wouldn’t expose my children to situations that actually endanger them for no good reason, so this helps me remember that flying isn’t actually that dangerous.

Two, I can’t act anxious because of Jesse’s unerring anxiety radar. Once she senses my anxiety, she turns it on me and the world around her like a toxic mushroom cloud. Bad, very bad. Also I can’t just act not-anxious superficially, because Jesse sees through that sort of thing. So I have to dig deep and make the pretending as real as I can, calling on distant memories of Stanislofski. A mommy prepares. Pretending hard makes it more real, and I find I’m just not as anxious anymore. Ta-dah. Behavior modification therapy 101.

Three, explaining all the strange noises and bumps to curious kids takes the edge off my own out-of-control feeling. It gets me out of armrest-gripping mode and moves me closer to reality mode.

Four, I think I experience some sort of emotional transference, but I can’t decide if it’s a push or a pull. My kids exasperate me so completely. They don’t listen well and they run around like monkeys. They’re often loud. So that’s the pull option: I’m so anxious about them that I don’t have any anxiety left for flying fear. They’ve used it all up, sucking it out of me like leeches.

The push option is that I’ve simply transferred my pre-existing anxiety about flying onto my poor hapless children, who actually behave as well as other kids during air travel. In this scenario, I’m obviously the problem, overreacting to completely tolerable behavior and unfairly maligning Nick and Jesse, who deserve more tolerance and patience of me. I’m giving this some thought…

Nah. I think I’ll keep blaming the kids for now. I’m not mature enough yet to face emotional reality on this one.

Grumpy about love, first iteration

parents2

Saying my parents had a “rocky” relationship doesn’t get it quite right. It’s more like they stood tethered together on cliff’s edge, never able to decide whether they should push each other off or jump together.

When I was in high school, they went through an especially bad spell after a massive fight, probably about finances. It was intolerable. For weeks they wouldn’t even look at each other. I don’t remember a single word passing between them. Dad slept on the living room sofa. One day during this episode, I asked Mom point blank why she didn’t just divorce Dad. Mom told me melodramatically that they were only staying together “for the children.” I was so miserable that I replied, please don’t do me any favors. If you love me, get a divorce NOW, because I can’t live like this.

No one ever listens to me. They stayed together. They patched up that rent in the fabric of their relationship, and they kept the fight/get-along loop going until Dad died, about 40 years into their marriage.

parents 3

Some time in my 20’s or early 30’s, while Anthony and I were visiting my parents (probably for Christmas), we suffered through the fight half of the loop. During this part of the cycle, each of my parents typically came to me with their complaints. I suppose I’m glad they were open with me, but I really hated listening to them bitch about each other. As Anthony and I were debriefing on it in private, I wondered aloud why they even stayed married when they were always so unhappy together. Wasn’t divorce the only sensible option?

Anthony looked at me with that special bemused look that tells me he’s thinking, how can someone as smart as you be so stupid?

“Don’t you know why, Carla?” he asked me. NO, I replied emphatically, I have no idea why! Anthony responded with a gentle sweetness in his voice I didn’t expect. “Isn’t it obvious they love each other?”

(Have I mentioned yet that Anthony is a perfect human being? Okay, I take that back, but look. My friend Phyllis told me recently that I’m among the approximately 5 percent of women who DON’T think their husbands are assholes. Damn.)

Anthony’s astonishing insight rocked my world. He was right, of course. I never saw my parents – or their fights – the same way again. Mom and Dad were grumpy in love. Instead of only seeing the grousing and bitching anymore, I also started noticing the little giggles and the big laughs. I watched them hang out together like old comfortable dogs, and also exchange sweet little kisses like prepubescent teenagers. I peeked around corners to catch these moments. Thanks to Anthony, I had a chance to spy on their grumpy love affair in its twilight years. It was anything but perfect, but it was enough.

I hope I’ll write someday soon about how they met in Korea, the sweet and curious stories they told me — never talking together, but only in separate and very private conversations with me — about how they wooed one another. Those stories, most of which I heard even as I advocated for divorce, never took root in my heart.  I guess I thought of them as fairytales. It didn’t occur to me that my parents were sharing them not so much to inform me of something lost, but to remind themselves of the deep, unbroken roots in their own hearts. Maybe they were also asking me, in some inchoate way, to stop being so cynical about them.

My mom was stoic at Dad’s funeral. I don’t think she shed a single tear. We muddled through, and she even made a few jokes with me. A man came through the receiving line, weeping. I held and comforted him, which was strange in itself. He moved on and I asked Mom who he was to be so upset. Mom leaned over to whisper in my ear with a twinkle in her eye, “He’s just crying like that because he’s having a quadruple bypass next week.”  (Dad had the same a few weeks before he died.)

I remember Mom standing next to Dad’s coffin as they prepared to close it. I couldn’t go near his body. I should have been beside her, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the courage to feel his cold body; I didn’t think I could stay on my feet. I was weak, but not Mom. She stood firm, silent, still, looking down at Dad’s face for an unendurable length of time. Her hands rested quietly and peacefully on the edge of the coffin. I have no idea what she was thinking.

But my guess is, she was saying goodbye to her devoted lover and best friend of half a century. Simple as that.

Ivan and Sung Hi

traveling with my kids sucks, but not as much as it used to

best airport pizza ever

best airport pizza ever

Tuesday, 6:30 am PST, Stockton, CA (8:30 am in Wisconsin). Nick and Jesse are awake. I beg them to snuggle just a little while longer so that we don’t wake Little Grandma and Grandpa up. They sort of comply, but it involves painful wiggling and poking all over me, and lots of shushing.

7:00-9:30 am. We explode out of the bedroom. More accurately, two little people explode. I stumble out, slouch-shouldered and exhausted from yet another sleepless night spent between Scylla and Charybdis on a queen-size bed, alternately poked in the eyes by Nick’s elbows and bludgeoned by Jesse’s head. Jesse has also had a terrible night’s sleep, full of bad dreams and much moaning and groaning. She’s in dissonance mode, trapped between sadness over leaving Grandma’s house and happiness over getting back to Dad, and loaded up with anxiety over the changes to come. My mom’s already awake when we hit the living room because she always gets up early on the day I leave, which I forgot happens, otherwise I would have unleashed the kids on her at 6:30. Thank heavens she’s made coffee. I do a one-quart coffee bong, feed the kids, rush through a shower, get everyone dressed, and pack.

9:30-9:45 am. I secretly run to the grocery store by myself in Grandpa John’s car to buy a few travel snacks for the kids. Actually, that’s a tangent to the primary reason for going, which is that I’m desperate for just a few moments away from Nick and Jesse before I’m hopelessly stuck with them for hours and hours in travel mode. I get 15 minutes’ peace.

10:00 am. Jesse’s dissonance is reaching full pitch as we prepare to depart. My brother Mark’s dog, a gorgeous and gentle pit bull poetically named Girl, has been relaxing with Jesse; but even this sweet therapy dog can’t help her now. Jesse’s starting to cry, ululate, and disappear silently to places we can’t find her (literally, somewhere in the yard), in a repeating circuit that appears to be designed to make it easy for relatives to say goodbye and rush us out of town. Meanwhile, Nick has decided he can only pee outside where the feral cat goes. As I’m pulling up his pants after that fun thing, I notice there’s a huge tear in one pant leg which will leave him in a half culotte by the end of our trip. I rummage through our suitcase, find new pants, and tend to that. Nick gets in the car and we start yelling for Jesse.

10:15 am. Got her. Sticky roller has been used to get visible dog hair off her (don’t forget the crotch of her pants) so she won’t freak out about that, and she’s in the car. Everyone’s gotten kisses and hugs, and Uncle Mark is ready to drive us to the San Francisco airport.

10:15 – 11:45 am. Nick is an angel who falls asleep in 15 minutes. Jesse spends most of the drive groveling, whining and groaning about feeling sick, and also making gagging/choking/coughing noises that suggest she might puke. Uncle Mark tells her she’s faking it as he cheerfully swerves over the Altamont Pass, mixing bold accelerations, terrifying lane changes, and sudden braking to maximum effect. I cling to the oh-shit bar and try not to yawp too much, while snapping helpful things to Jesse like, “If you puke on yourself, you’re gonna smell like puke for the next 10 hours so you just ask yourself if you can handle that!” I ask her several times if she needs us to pull over. She says no each time and then groans even louder. She asks me 427 times when we’re going to visit Little Grandma again. Jesse’s sense of time is off. She wants to know if we’ll come in summer, in two weeks? How long is it to summer? How many days? How many months? Will I be out of school? When will we visit Grandma again?

Deep down, I know this is all an expression of anxiety and transition issues, and intense sadness over leaving family (human and canine) behind. Knowledge does not stop my irritation, nor does it stem my rising panic about the 7 hours ahead of me.

11:45 am – 12:30 pm. We check in with relative ease. Jesse even helps with the luggage. We spend a final 15 minutes going crazy with Mark before heading into security as late as reasonably possible. Saying goodbye to Mark is always difficult for the kids and me. We spend a lot of time together whenever I visit Stockton, and I always want that to last longer. The kids handle it remarkably well this time, and there aren’t even any visible tears shed.

Jesse and I visited Mom when Jesse was 3 and I was pregnant with Nick. On our last day, Mark and Mom both came to the airport to see us off. Only passengers were allowed up the escalator to security. We said our last goodbyes, everyone started crying – even Mark – and apparently this is when Jesse realized Little Grandma and Mark weren’t coming with us. She was shocked. She wailed as we rode up the escalator, reaching back as if her parents had just died in a fiery car crash right before her eyes, or I was a kidnapper. She didn’t stop. It cascaded into a 7 or 8 hour ordeal as we made our way back to Wisconsin. More on this later.

12:30 – 12:45 pm. Security. This is when I start saying one of many blessings to my brother Ted and all his future progeny for using his frequent flyer miles to get these tickets for me and the kids. Ted travels a lot for work, so he gets “premiere” tickets on United. We’re flying coach, but we’re treated first class. We get to skip the line at security. A security dude lets us through a cut-in-line rope while about a dozen waiting travelers glare. I don’t even care, because Nick immediately makes a run for it, with Jesse after him like a dog to a rabbit. Two security guards herd the kids back to me, and then we have a minor melee as shoes come off and I dig out the 18 electronic devices I’ve brought for the kids, along with Jesse’s epi-pen and emergency allergy meds. Then we’re sent through a couple odd rope angles to get to the x-ray box kids are allowed to walk through. It takes several more guards to keep Nick and Jesse on course, because they’re confused now and moving in completely random directions, like pinballs. We make it through and collect our things. I don’t bother to apologize to the 4 businessmen whose crotches have been mashed by Nick’s erratic moves.

1:15 pm. We’re at the gate, after a quick stop to pick up a pizza which we’re sure has an egg-free crust. (Finding safe food for Jesse during travel can be difficult. Firewood Cafe is a pizza joint in the SF Int’l United concourse that’ll make you a fresh thin-crust pie in 5 minutes or so, delicious and to-go. Whenever we fly out of SF, we stop in.) The first boarding group is already through when we arrive at the gate. I thought we’d be a little earlier, but Jesse dawdles at every step and refuses to stay close to me, driving me crazy as we move through heavy crowds. Still, with a good deal of snapping and cajoling from me, we make it; and I and my premiere access tickets march right over to the attendant, skipping ahead of all other passengers. But my kids aren’t with me. I look around wildly. Where are they?? Oh. Nick is right behind me, hiding as my third butt-cheek. Jesse is dawdling 50 feet away. I yell at her to come over here NOW, gesticulating madly, oblivious to whatever wicked observations others might be making. She shuffles over, ornery, and I shove the kids ahead of me down the boarding tube. I shove them all the way to row 42. If I was a tired soldier holding a bayonetted rifle and moving unruly POWs along, I’d be using the same move.

1:15 – 6:00 pm PST, or 3:15 – 8:15 pm CT in Wisconsin. On the plane. Direct flight to Chicago. Dreamliner! Yay (blessings to Ted). Free TV and on-demand movies for each passenger! Double yay (more blessings)! Also I have my iPhone, two iPad minis, a Kindle, and two DVD players. We’re set, except for not really. I could go into excruciating detail, but what’s the point. Four year old, eight year old, grumpy mom, 5 hours on an airplane. You can imagine the rest. I’m on call the entire time of course, filling a need, moving things around, managing feelings, taking potty breaks, finding food. As my mom used to say: ee-tee-see, ee-tee-see.

About twenty minutes before we land, Jesse starts losing her cool and Nick gets loud. Nick’s volume control goes out of whack several times a day, and it happens on the plane. It’s hard to be mad, because he’s a really cheerful little guy and he’s yelling happy things, but it’s still painful on the eardrums. Also no one really wants to hear him bellowing at me about the angry birds level he just nailed. Jesse’s issue is that I tell her to stop playing the touch-screen video games on the United TV, because she’s beating the chair in front of her with her feet while poking the screen so hard that the passenger in the seat has to feel like he’s being bonked at both sets of cheeks. By the time we settle that row, Jesse has punched and head-butted me a number of times, and I’m making empty threats about taking her iPad away. As if. Still, she quiets down for the rest of the flight. She’s got the crack in the dam plugged with a little finger. I’m satisfied.

8:30 pm. We find Anthony by baggage claim. Despite Nick’s best efforts as he careens around, I haven’t lost him, but my voice is getting hoarse. Jesse has been crying and whining since we started deboarding. She doesn’t stop when she sees dad. Unfortunately, just then is when I observe that the kids have gotten something yucky and black all over their hands. I pull out wipes and try to fix this, but Jesse’s tired OCD mind becomes absorbed for some long moments with how totally disgusting this is, a la Adrian Monk, and she just lets loose. In fact, she pretty much keeps crying (with brief intermissions) for the next hour, until we’re in the car and well on the way home. The only thing that eventually shuts her up is simple exhaustion: she falls asleep.

11:00 pm, Glendale, Wisconsin. After driving through nasty snowy conditions for two hours, we make it home. The kids are fast asleep. It’s been almost 11 hours since we left Little Grandma’s house. Anthony gets out first to take the dog for a walk. The plan is for me to wait until they’re around the corner (otherwise the dog will be too excited to do her business) and then unload the car before waking up the kids. But of course, they wake up without any help at all. Nick comes to first, and he’s in whiny mode. He wants to snuggle, he wants mommy, he wants his iPad. He dissolves into tears in a few moments and I stop being able to understand anything he says. The noise of him wakes Jesse, and she starts crying too. She wants Little Grandma, she misses Girl and any other dog or relative whose name she can remember, she wants to snuggle, and everything else isn’t human language. That goes on incessantly for a good half hour until we manage to get them into jammies and settle them down to sleep. I only yell at them a few times.

Whew. Time for an episode of MI-5.

* * *

But really, it wasn’t that bad a travel day. I’ve had some awful experiences traveling with Jesse, and this trip doesn’t even touch them. When she was about 7 months old, we traveled to California for Christmas. She had a fit of diarrhea so bad that it shot up her back all the way to her neck. It was inhuman. It wasn’t fit for an airplane restroom, so Anthony and I took care of it together at our seats, best we could. No one complained, but the flight attendant refused to take our ziplock bag full of used diaper and 500 wipes, claiming airline rules prohibited it. So, I’m thankful no one pooped their pants this time around, or vomited, or peed in their pants, especially since I didn’t keep extra clothes with me.

The trip home when Jesse was three, which I mentioned before, was one for the ages. After the betrayal of leaving Little Grandma and Uncle Mark behind, she screamed at me with only a few minutes’ pause until we boarded the first of two flights. Back then in the stone ages (almost 5 years ago), I didn’t have an iPad, and also Jesse was still at a place where any electronic visual stimulation sent her into unbalanced sensory overload for hours. So I had books and toys, and I applied my best effort, and I nursed her, but it was all to no avail. She screamed, cried, ululated, kicked, head-butted, punched, and tortured me all the way to Colorado. The man sitting in front of her stood up and glared at her a couple times. Notably, that did not help. In fact, no one helped me. When we got off that flight in Denver, Jesse was calm for about 15 minutes and then started yelling again. I wasn’t sure they would let us on the second flight, and I had a 2-hour layover. I didn’t know what to do, and I was pregnant and uncomfortable. I eventually buckled her into the umbrella stroller and just sat glumly next to her while she screamed at me. This is when I saw the man who had been sitting in front of us on our first leg. He stopped as he walked past to say some rude niceties to me about Jesse’s behavior, so I asked him what connecting flight he was on. He told me someplace other than Milwaukee but I replied, “Hey, that’s where we’re going, maybe we’ll be seated near you!” He ran off in dismay.

The second leg of our journey was on a 3-seat-wide commuter jet. Jesse was just quiet enough for just long enough that they let us board. But as soon as the cabin doors closed, she released her misery. She never fully calmed down. It was 2 more hours from hell. The flight attendant swung by a couple times to ask me things like, “Is there anything else you can do to help?” Not “I.” Again, no one helped, except for one lady sitting in the row behind me who put in about 5 minutes’ effort distracting Jesse. By the time we landed, which was late in the evening, I was cooked. I got Jesse off the airplane eventually, set her on her feet, and walked away. When I got to the end of the security zone, she was 30 yards behind me, lying in the middle of the empty concourse screaming. Anthony and I waited until she got up and came to us, and then I walked away with no feeling of guilt.

To this day, I have to fight back tears when I think of that trip. I felt alone, crushed under the wave of Jesse’s emotions, and no one stepped up to show me kindness. Compared to that, Tuesday’s trip home was a happy dance in la-la-land. Final assessment: traveling with my spawn doesn’t suck as much as it used to.

Grumpy about nannies

I never went to daycare or had an official nanny. In Korea I had grandma, and also we had a live-in housemaid who did de facto duty as my nanny. We were taught to call the maid “ohn-nee,” which means big sister. The first maid I remember, Song-Ja, was someone I truly loved, and I was heartbroken when she left us to go have her own life, never to be seen again. Among other things, like reading and two-wheeling, she taught me to skip properly. I must have complained to her about my one-sided half limp-skip, so she held my two hands in hers and let me mirror-image her until I got it right. We giggled and giggled, and we romped around the yard skipping triumphantly when I got it right.

For some reason, that’s an important moment in my life — perhaps a spot of kindness and attention that lifted me up — and I got to relive it a couple years ago when Jesse developed the same gimpy-skip. It felt like a call of love and thanks to Song-Ja, over time and space, when I grabbed Jesse’s hands and we cheerfully skipped together until she got it right, girly giggles and all.

I’ve been both mom and nanny to my children, which is a bit of a surprise. I quit working only a month or two before I got knocked up with Jesse. After 12 committed years of lawyering, no one really knew how parenthood would suit me. My mom and Anthony placed bets that I would be back to work within 6 months (Anthony) or 3-months-I-guarantee-it (Mom). I thought they were in the right ballpark, but in my heart I was committed to about 9 months before I thankfully delegated parenting to a well-paid third party bearing the title “nanny.”

But then (doom-and-monster music overlay): Jesse happened. I got Jesse’ed. Everything about her was a challenge. She nursed constantly and she pooped even more. She had reflux, and she acted colicky. She needed constant human touch, CONSTANT. She was covered in painful rashes from head to toe; she had repeated ear infections; she had clogged tear ducts. She was late to solids, well over a year. She refused anything but breast, fresh. No pumped milk would do. At 7 months, I tried joining a gym so I could at least work out. Each of the 4 times I went, Jesse screamed at the gym daycare staff without pause for 20 minutes until they came to get me, and then she spent the following week recovering from some sort of illness.

Knowing now what we do about Jesse’s food allergies, severe anxiety, and behavioral quirks, it seems clear that Anthony and I did the right thing when we quickly conceded defeat and became enslaved by parenthood. 8 years and 8 months after Jesse was born, I’m still an unemployed housewife.

I admit that the control-freak in me would probably have had trouble letting go to nannies. Also I do love being as connected to my kids as I am. All parents should be as lucky as me, to be spending so much hypothetically-quality time with their beloved children. But damn, there’s a big part of me that wishes I popped spawn that just couldn’t wait for the nanny to show up. I would have hired the best nanny I could buy — someone who reminded me most of Song-Ja — and said goodbye cheerfully Monday through Friday, looking forward to delightful weekends and never even knowing what I was missing.

Grumpy about grammar nazis (aka people who make fun of dyslexics)

I wrote a post about a week ago and made a big typo. I wrote “complement” instead of “compliment”, over and over again. I do know the difference. I was tired and rushed, and I just spelled it wrong. In context, any reasonable reader would have known what I meant. Still, it was kind of embarrassing. I’ve fixed it, but it got me stewing helplessly about a mindset that I find fantastically, roll-my-eyes-and-make-gag-me-fingers irritating: the smug, I’m-smarter-than-you, finger-wagging grammar nazi. I can’t get it out of my head, so I must lance this boil. Please forgive me as I vent.

I’m not talking about people who kindly correct others, like my friend Steph who pointed out my mistake. (thank you, Steph.) I’m talking about the smug assholes who circulate smug memes about “grammar” and make smug generalized fun of folks who can’t get it right. George Takei went through a phaser of doing this, for instance, and I stopped being as interested in his ever-so-popular Facebook posts. There, I’ve said it.

I’m a recovering grammar nazi myself. As a lawyer I was a ruthless editor, especially of my own work. I felt (still do) that if your audience has power over you AND may include grammar nazis, then you ought to write to their rules so they don’t get distracted from what you’re trying to convey by something silly like a misplaced comma. But at some point it dawned on me that people who get distracted by that sort of thing are looking for excuses to be distracted, because frankly, most common grammar errors don’t really cause readers or listeners to become confused.

Here are some of the reasons I think it’s incredibly lame to be a grammar nazi:

1. A lot of the jive talk I see from so-called grammarians is actually about spelling. Saying you’re a grammar smartypants because you know the difference between their and there is like saying you’re an astrophysicist because you know the order of the planets in our solar system. Grammar is commonly defined as having to do with how words are put together in sentences. That’s a matter of syntax, structure, and linguistics, not the collection of letters one writes down to help a reader identify a word. If you focus heavily on the morphology angle, one could argue that spelling is part of the study of grammar, but they’re called spelling bees, not grammar bees. I personally wouldn’t conflate spelling and the linguistic structure of a language. Yes, I tried to use fancy words and sound extra smart in this paragraph. Right now, do you share my feeling that I sound like a smug, trying-to-sound-smarter-than-I-am wanker who’s actually full of shit?

2. If indeed your grammar nazi’ing is about spelling, odds are pretty good you’re just making fun of a dyslexic. I’m married to one, and I gave birth to at least one (jury’s still out on Nick). The dyslexic has trouble hearing the separate sounds in a word, so the phonetics of a written word make little sense without hard, ongoing training. The reading disability is also frequently accompanied by word retrieval issues and, understandably, anxiety. A dyslexic who trains her brain to sound things out feels REALLY GOOD about being able to spell a word phonetically, even if it’s spelled wrong. Then she has to wrap her head around the idea that the same-sounding word might be spelled two different ways, like too and two or it’s and its or their and there or then and than, which creates significant word retrieval problems. And also if she’s on social media she knows there’s a healthy cohort of peeps taking pleasure in putting her down. Well goody for you, grammar nazi. I hope you feel good about making fun of someone with a hard-wired reading disability.

3. Even if you’re picking on actual grammar, odds are still good you’re making fun of someone who has a legitimate reason for not being grammatically correct all the time. Maybe an immigrant, for instance. There’s interesting research on how difficult it is to “get” the linguistic structure of a language after the youthful years. As an adult you can memorize a kabillion words in a foreign language, but it’s almost impossible to gain true grammatical fluency. So if you want to pick a grammar fight, maybe you’d be well-served by trying to, say, go to China and speak Mandarin for a while, and see how it feels to have a Chinese grammar nazi call you down for being an idiot, when the actual problem is you’re from somewhere else. The grammar nazi and the xenophobe, joined as one.

Or maybe you’re making fun of someone who hasn’t grown up in circumstances where he was exposed to standard, uppity, proper English. Poverty is a powerful force, especially when it lands you in crappy schools. Making fun of people for having poor grammar, when they haven’t had an adequate opportunity to learn good grammar, is an asshole move.

Worse yet, the grammar nazi might just be making fun of someone who has an intellectual deficit, what we used to call IQ deficit or mental retardation. Not. Nice.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. Hence, hard core grammar nazis might as well lie down on their backs and spit. I have a neighbor who’s a self-professed grammar nazi. She regularly bad-mouths other people’s grammar errors. Last year she posted something on Facebook making fun of a published author for writing in bad English. In that very post, she constructed a sentence so convoluted that she had to put a comma exactly between the subject and verb for it to make sense. There was no irony or humor. It made her look like a self-righteous, hypocritical, smug boob. To me, at least.

5. If I can figure out what the person is saying to me, then in most settings I should be satisfied, because the purpose of language is to convey a message of some kind. Sure, I prefer standard English, but could Faulkner have written The Sound and the Fury in proper English without losing something?

6. It was not uncommon in my experience for some lawyers to poke fun at opposing counsel’s English in written submissions to courts. Usually, it meant the poker didn’t have enough substantive arguments to make. And most judges readily overlooked writing errors and focused instead on substance and merit. They were substance nazis. I too find that I’m more impressed by badly stated substance than well-written fluff.

I could go on, but my boil has been lanced. That’s a relief.

Listen, if you ever catch me grammar nazi’ing, you know what to do: mock me, head slap me, give me a laxative, tell me to f** off. Whatever it takes.

Grumpy about diplomacy

I’m on day 4 of a pretty long visit to my mom’s house with the kids. I haven’t posted anything since I got here. Today my brother Ted mentioned that he was surprised not to be reading some stuff about my visit.

I’m surprised too. After all, I’m home. I’ve descended into the maelstrom of grumpy. Grumpy winds whine through this house when we all get together, a perfect storm of grumpy waiting to happen if we all vibrate the right way at the wrong time, like a choir of Tibetan monks droning on just the right frequencies.

Is that enough inane metaphors and analogies for now? (I sometimes have to think to assure myself of the difference, and right now I don’t have time to do that, so I’ll assume I have both just to be sure.)

Anyway, I’m hypothetically right where the best material resides when it comes to my inner grumpy. But grumpy isn’t the same as mean, and I’m not sure I could muse about my family in close quarters without just being mean or hurting feelings, however unintentionally. We’re all ridiculous — I mean all human beings, not just my family — but most of us don’t want our noses rubbed in this fact.

My family has had some doozies of collective grumpy meltdowns over the years, and we’ve also had individual hissy-fits. As a result there have been long periods of absence for various reasons, for one or another of us. Traditionally, we have at it with each other – a gift of battle-ready gab bequeathed to us by our parents. But we don’t do that so much anymore, and I really don’t want anyone to bug out ever again. There aren’t enough years in a life for it. Some years ago my mom and I talked a lot about how we could all get along better. Love is pretty constant. Mom liked to tell me that breaking a family is like cutting blood with a knife. But sometimes, we concluded together, love asks more of us than just love. It requires diplomacy, and of course respect. Love is the easy part.

So here goes: I’ve really enjoyed seeing my brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and my mom and her husband and all the blessed shedding dogs. Awesome visit. I dearly love my mildly insane, mildly grumpy family. My kids are a good fit here. Diplomacy demands that I leave it at that.

Grumpy about compliments

I feel cringing-and-squirming uncomfortable when people compliment me. Just acknowledging compliments makes my skin crawl. A handful of folks have said really nice things about some of my blogs in the past month, and I’ve ignored them best I can. But in this impersonal moment in front of my computer I can finally say thank you. It’s so kind of you, and it does inspire me to keep dumping my thoughts.

I don’t know why that’s so hard for me to say. Jesse’s the same way. Her therapist, the supreme practical man, says, “some people are just really bad at accepting compliments.” Helpful insight.

When I was working in a law firm, I didn’t have to worry about compliments. There was always something for partners to complain about, and whatever you did right was always in the past. As a last resort, if faced with really irreproachable lawyering, partners could just shit on your billable hours.

Before that, I studied classical music right through college. Compliments in that extremely competitive field come few and far between, so that worked for me too. My all-time favorite compliment came from a tiny French fellow who taught in the music theory department at Oberlin. I don’t remember his name. He walked with a massive limp – might have been a prosthetic leg – and wore a jaunty beret. His personality didn’t fit the hat. I had just finished up my oral exam in his office. It consisted of things like sight-singing a new piece of music to him while beating the time. Imagine this happening in an office with the floor dimensions of a twin size bed. Imagine if I had bad breath. Now say this to me in your very best French accent: “you have no talent, but you are very well trained.”

I loved him for looking me in the eyes as he said it. I walked out of his office with a smile on my face and an A on my transcript.

Grumpy about bread

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I made this bread. Isn’t it pretty? I’ve always enjoyed making fresh bread, all the way back to college. I used to make bread from various whole grains, dense and hearty, and I thought it was cool to give little loaves for gifts. One day Anthony told me, “Carla. You should stop making bread.” Why? I asked. “Because your bread sucks.”

I felt like my Anthony, who can be quite subtle, was gently trying to let me know that my bread sucked. It was kind of humiliating, but in my heart I knew that the cannon balls I generated were more like dog treats than human food. I stopped baking bread for many years, but the siren song of yeasty gluten has always called my name.

About 7 years ago, I was thumbing through Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and found his easy French bread recipe. It used a food processor — power tool! — and Bittman claimed it was easy and amazing. He was right. He referred back to an earlier book, The Best Bread Ever, by Charles Van Over, who was an early champion of food processor bread. I got that and went technical for a while, and discovered that with my Cuisinart I could make bread that even people other than me liked.

And of course, now that I’m finally good at bread, everyone says it’s bad for you. Until last year, I thought “I have wheat belly” was a euphemism for “I just ate a great meal.”

The bread in the photo is a super easy Cuban bread recipe from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads. It’s a beginner bread that makes you look like a pro. In my opinion it won’t come out right by hand or in a stand mixer; you don’t get the same artisanal chew and flaky crust. Someone asked for the recipe and someone else suggested I post it to my blog. I’m not sure if they were joking. Anyway, I’ve never been good at following recipes, and there’s a loose art to baking bread, so here’s how I do it, best I can relay.

Dump into a large food processor:

3 cups bread flour (you can add a handful of oats if you want some extra crunch)
2 tsp instant dry yeast (or one packet)
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp sugar

Pulse a couple times to mix. Now run the machine non-stop while pouring in about a cup of water, ideally warm (120-130 degrees) but it doesn’t have to be. The exact amount will depend on your local weather conditions. Here in dry Wisconsin I usually need about a quarter cup more.

Add enough water for a loose ball to form. It’ll roll around and around on the blade with a few boogery trailers chasing it in the bowl. You might have to hold the machine still on your counter (say things like “whoa Nellie”). Check consistency. It should be sticky and soft, like something you don’t want to knead by hand. If it’s too wet, add some more flour. Run the machine for about 45 seconds.

Oil a large bowl and dump the dough in. Let it rise to double, about 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how warm the air is. Then punch it down good (aggression reduction opportunity) and shape into a ball. I don’t even use a surface, I just dip my hands in flour and go at it. Place the ball on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle the top with flour, and cut two deep slashes (about 1/2″ deep) to make an “x” on top. Put a shallow pan of warm water on the bottom shelf of your oven. Put the dough pan on a middle shelf. Now turn on the oven to 400 degrees. The bread will rise and bake as the oven preheats. How cool is that? Bake about 45 to 50 minutes, until it’s nice and brown and thumps on the bottom (or stick it with a thermometer- look for 205 to 210 degrees in the center). Cool on a rack. For best results, wait at least 2 hours before cutting it.

(Cold location suggestion: preheat the oven to about 125 degrees before putting the dough in, for better results).

Day 5 solo parenting-off to a good start

Anthony is supposed to arrive home this afternoon. I’m pessimistically optimistic about that happening, because I’m seeing flight cancellations all over the country. It’s becoming a parenting emergency. We were only awake an hour before I screamed at the kids because they harassed me and each other while I was on the phone for 5 minutes with Anthony. It’s not like I’m on the phone all day. Still, I was over-reacting badly.

They ran upstairs in a flash. I calmed myself by starting to color a Hidden Transformation picture, another gift from Santa. This one is a peacock and also a school of fish becoming birds becoming flowers. I found a butterfly too. When I was calmer, I pouted in the basement a bit and then went upstairs. I found my babies huddled up together under the covers on Jesse’s bed, watching Care Bears on the iPad mini. I stuck my head under the sheets and muttered “sorry for yelling at you.” Jesse gave me a stern look and announced firmly, “we are hiding from you.” Nick ignored me.

Good choice, because it looks like Exorcist Mama is back in town. I better start having fun with the kids before my head starts spinning on my neck again.

grumpy about pedicures (don’t touch my feet)

I hate the very idea of a professional pedicure. I think I’m in a very tiny minority on this among women, and I do like the idea of healthy callous-free feet.  I just don’t want to pay someone for them.  I guess I’m cheap that way.

More important, I don’t want a strange woman coming at my feet with a razor. It makes me anxious. I’ve also heard that my feet might share soak water with other people’s feet? Musing on that actually gives me shivers and a mild gag reflex. But maybe the shared water is an urban myth bandied about by the 8 women in America who don’t get pedicures. On behalf of the professionals, well… Come on. Other than wiping people’s asses after they poop, I can’t imagine anything worse in the personal hygiene field than having to deal with a bunch of skanky, calloused feet all day. Plus I would just feel awkward going in as a customer. What would I say? Hi Pedicure Lady, it’s your lucky day! Meet my nasty feet!

And yet as I age, I’m finding I need a solution to all this cracking and callousing.  Last summer, I was even occasionally almost embarrassed when I wore sandals, and the heel cracking was sometimes deep and painful. I’ve tried pumice stones, softening lotions, and those scraper thingies, but really it’s too much hassle. I’ve considered my Dremel and the belt or orbital sander, but they don’t seem like super wise choices. I was even starting to think about the need for a pro.

Costco to the rescue! Last Friday I hit the big box and in the pharmaceutical section I saw a display of what I thought were battery-op tasers. Strange and unexpected, but… Sweet! They were packaged Costco-style, with batteries and extra parts in a 4-foot-by-3-foot hermetically sealed double-thick plastic tray that I could use to boomerang your head off. I drew closer and saw that it was actually the Emjoi Micro-Pedi, which will grind the callouses off your feet. If it has batteries and moving parts, it’s a power tool, and I can always go for that. I brought one home.

It’s actually a tiny little doll-size drum sander, so even if it’s not a taser… Sweet! I set that drum sander to work on my feet and oh my god!! I think I may have taxed the motor as the drum worked its way through my half-inch reefs of callousing, but I never smelled a motor burn. Amazing. It was fun too; I felt like I was sanding a piece of furniture to prep it for refinishing. After just 10-odd minutes of effort, my feet looked and felt great.

I never ever have to have a real pedicure, ever, as long as I have double-A batteries and I can order replacement tiny-drums for this brilliant little tool. But I may need to wear an asbestos mask because it generates an extremely fine dust, and it occurs to me that I was probably aspirating my dead foot skin. Another gag reflex moment.

It says a lot about the wealth of our nation that engineers were able to devote energy to crafting an affordable mini-drum-sander to safely take the callouses off my heels. Maybe it also says something twisted about our culture. I’m too tired to go there tonight though. I’m at the tail end of solo-parenting-day-4, and all I want is for Anthony to come home tomorrow and take a good look at my newly primed feet. Sweet!