Category Archives: Parenting

Busy, Busy in Inverness

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. First we had Hugo’s birthday party, and his birthday of course. He’s 5. The party was of the Ninja gymnastics variety which means we made a ninja cake and suggested he wear his ninja costume to the gymnastics center 15 minutes north. And then Hugo and a dozen of his mates did ninja type stuff on trampolines and in foam pits and on strap-in trapeze things, and an hour and forty-five minutes later we took him home and watched him put together Lego Star Wars and Ninjago kits.

Actually that last part’s not true. He put together Lego kits while we furtively slid off to other parts of the house and did work-like things while intermittently watching things like footie highlights  or reading about another celebrity career dropping so far under water that the sewer looks like a guitar-shaped pool. Hugo’s that builder five-year-old you keep quiet about when other parents complain about their kids getting Lego kits cause it means they (meaning the parents) have to spend the best part of the next three days on their hands and knees searching for parts they can barely see while following instructions they can not only barely see but barely understand. The trick here is to feign camaraderie without overdoing it, so they don’t not get Hugo a Lego kit next time around.

So that was last weekend and then my parents flew in on the Wednesday for an extended Thanksgiving visit thing. We hadn’t seen each other in well past a year, and it’s one of those moments where you realize they’re really getting old. They look like ironing boards when they bend down, nor do so well with any kind of steps. but It’s wonderful to see them cause they’re good people, good northern people; they have no compunction about telling the kids it’s absolutely not okay to behave like kids, they still hold hands, and my mum flattens his hair down for him and reminds him where the bathroom is.

We rented a house for the best part of a week in Inverness. Marin, of course, not Scotland, and the house is absolutely stunning. To post pictures would be unfair. There’s a treehouse that undermines the rustic sense of the very word, and Tomales bay itself is beautiful, especially in the morning. It’s the kind of thing where being out there today at sunrise with my daughter and the dog made all seem right with the world. Even when you get back to the house and realize you forgot to bring the most important part of the gizmo you have that makes the best coffee like ever, and in your inbox there’s an email from Termitimix with a list of all the expensive things you need to do to stop your house being eaten from the inside out. In terms of Thanksgiving, we’re in good shape. Made the pumpkin pies a day early, and we’re going with both a ham and a turkey to push that sense of it not really being  5,000 miles from Blackpool. We’ll worry about a sugar update some other time.


Christmas in November

So, first things first. A sugar update. Finally got serious. It’s been two weeks. Two weeks and two days actually. No carbs, no alcohol, no fruit, nothing with sugar in it. So no Peet’s coffee a la almond milk, no Friday night beer, no chocolate–not even the low glycemic stuff they sell for eleven dollars a bar at the fancy artisanal grocery store up the street. No baked goods of any description. I had a student last week get me a selection of beyond fancy treats as a thank you for a letter of recommendation. Brought them straight home and fed them piece by piece to the kids. I walked around and around on Halloween with my hands stitched inside my pockets thinking too late that I could have been Silence from Doctor Who, which, to those not part of the Doctor Who Fandom, is the guy who looks like the guy from Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Sans mouth. The first week was horrifying. The headaches, the dumpy moods, the desire to lick the bottom of donut boxes. And dreams about pizza. Not about pizzas chasing me naked down the main street, or pizzas talking to me consolingly on a park bench somewhere. Just dreams about eating pizza. My brother was there, but not in any weird way, simply as my brother sat at a table with me eating pizza. Next we had spaghetti alla carbonara. So an awful first week and then I wake up on day eight ready to fight woolly mammoths with my teeth. Imagine ferrets after chocolate cake. Nine days later, still off it, still feeling irrepressibly giddy. The kids a little concerned, but at least they know they don’t need to hide their Halloween candy in the sock drawer. I’m not gonna lie and say the cravings have gone–urban legend claimed three days, which is nonsense. Three days in I would have split the dog in two for a chocolate mousse, or, not even, half a dozen frozen grapes–but they are easing, and I crave a half-inch of persimmon, not half an apple pie.

Anyway, to the main point, the first real test was Christmas dinner last week, the first week in November, over at an Irish friend’s in San Francisco. She’s making it a tradition, this the second year. And when I say Christmas, I mean Christmas. A tree, Santa hats, flashing lights, a ham, traditional Christmas pud with whipped cream and brandy sauce. It’s mainly her Irish friends, so I’m fortunate to be tolerated. There’s another woman goes, from London’s East End, but she has the voice of a never-scolded angel and sings traditional Irish ballads after dinner. The kids chase the dog up and down the apartment all night and the adults talk about England and Ireland and football and Ireland and England and kids and football, and occasionally someone really interesting shows up like the bloke this year who goes walkabout for a month each year on some disturbing trip. This past year, for instance, he and a mate from County Cork took an old Land Rover through all the Stans. I had no idea what he was talking about at first, and then after Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan came up a couple of times, the penny dropped. He mentioned how pretty Afghanistan is in May as if he were talking about Yosemite, right about the same time he said something about being shot at near the border of Tajikistan. When he excused himself to get another drink, I looked at the other bloke he’d been talking to, a sensible fella originally from outside of Dublin, and we both had the same response: how does he sell that to the missus? Two kids under ten. A month in some dodgy part of the world doing dangerous things. Maybe it keeps him young, the sensible one suggested. Maybe, indeed. Being far from the kids for a month anywhere would tend to keep anybody young.

So, anyway, interesting people tend to show up, and I got some brilliant tips for how to fix the clogged shower back at the house from another ex-pat building his own home in San Rafael. There was something jolly about the whole thing, almost as if a Christmas tree and silly, fur-trimmed hats are all it takes to keep people from mentioning politics and atrocities for hours at a time. After dinner them that could sing sang and the rest of us hummed along, mostly Irish ballads, but there was one memorable take of Me and Bobby McGee.

And, yeah, the Christmas pud was tempting. Wickedly so, but I kept a safe distance. Just.

Not About the Election

So this is not going to be about the election. Just to be different. I’m going to write about my four-year-old’s birthday, which was the Saturday after the election. An important day, Saturday, November 12. Certainly to him. Far more important than Tuesday, November 8. As far as he’s concerned a “Trump” is something you do after too many beans or, in his case, almond butter, which goes straight in at one end and out the other in a rectal tympani. He thought it hilarious that the word kept popping up on the radio, and I love the fact that in each case he’s visualizing an air bubble escaping from someone’s backside—he must think that to be the bedrock of our culture.

But, like I said, this not about the election. This is about us driving over the Golden Gate Bridge into Golden Gate Park on a beautiful fall day. About us stopping at Peet’s first for the obvious, packing some snacks, getting an early start so as we come down 101 we see downtown San Fran coming out of the fog, a fog which lifts just as we get rock star parking, because it’s early, because we prepared, all of this a reminder that there are other currencies.

Oh, and we have a dog. Arrived Thursday. Not a post-election knee-jerk move. It’s been in the works for weeks, which is not to dismiss the welcome distraction though the way he casually lifts his leg in order to allow his tongue to get to his balls serves as a constant reminder. He’s a Havanese, Bichon, terrier mix—the dog that is— and came to us via a local shelter. They think he’s about a year old—another remarkable parallel—and spent a lot of time adapting on the streets. It’s hard to imagine him surviving, but there it is, the unfathomable miracles of nature, and now he’s about to get his first romp around Golden Gate Park, not to mention his first trip on a Stow Lake pedal boat, or any boat come to that, unless he was some variant of stowaway. Same for my four-year-old. This his birthday extravaganza—being pedaled around Stow Lake looking at ducks and meandering turtles, crayfish, waterfalls, pagodas, arched bridges…all under dappled sunlight while sipping on a mix of ginger apple juice and water and slipping grapes sliced into quarters into his eager mouth—positively Elysian.

After this, we walk around the island to get to the top of the waterfall, another first, and a thing of beauty in itself, except for the pipe emitting a layer of sewage scum into the middle pool—a timely reminder, but also a reminder that every bucolic scene possesses its own sting. There’s no place to hide from it, but, then again, as with sewage, it’s a thing of our own making. Nobody put forward reforming the electoral college in Obama’s first two years when the Democrats controlled the world. Why reform one of the most antiquated electoral formats in the first world when it’s working for you? I’m not a history professor but as far as I can tell the electoral college survived because of slavery. Even the most rudimentary online search reveals that in 1787 when James Wilson proposed direct national election of a president, James Madison responded that “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.” Meaning, slaves were not allowed to vote, but under an electoral college they counted as part of the state population and, thus, impacted the number of electoral college votes allotted to each state.

But, anyway, I digress. From the wonders of Golden Gate Park back across the bridge, by this time embedded in traffic, but no worries, cause we’re satiated by the wonders of urban nature and we can see all the sailboats. Then, to home, and lunch of hotdogs and beans—more Trump jokes—followed by the requisite singing of Happy Birthday and the vanilla hazelnut chocolate cake from the gluten-free bakery, because he loves a gluten-free cake. This followed by a spot of TV, cause it’s his birthday and an early night. Pretty much the perfect day in a four-year-old’s head when you throw in the new toys and the time spent on the living room floor playing with said new toys while scolding new, adorable dog for treating new toys as chew toys. As I said, perfect. And nothing like Tuesday, though, as I promised, we’re not talking about that.