nonBlog: July 2007
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My Day, the Treadmill—Tuesday, July 31, 2007
A puppy is like a baby on fast-forward. All the stages are accelerated. The one in which the newborn comes home and cries all night and drives you to madness from sleep deprivation takes three days instead of three months. The stage in which the new addition gains the first bit of weight that makes it less likely he will suddenly decline takes ten days instead of thirty. And don’t get me wrong, I am appreciating this. Really.
But the fact remains that I have four beings besides myself to manage now. I have a scattered brain to begin with, but now it feels positively fractured. What do they all need today, and where the heck are they? Ava is with the nanny until four. Check. Greta is off at spy camp—she needs new pants and swim goggles—gotta pick her up at 3:00 and take her to a friend’s house. Check. Olivia is over the bridge in Marin at the horse stable and needs to be picked up at 5 after I drop off Greta and pick up Ava from the nanny. Check. Arlo is at home—when did he last poop/pee/drink fresh water? Check. And where do I have to be and what do I have to do? Am I missing a deadline? Forgetting to buy groceries/pick up the drycleaning/get the house ready to swap with the family in Bishop? Check.
Having Arlo is lovely. Having anything new to love, especially something new and soft to love, is always a good thing. But Arlo’s arrival has removed the last little bit of ease, the one I had managed to reserve even with three kids and a career, from my day. And it’s hard not to have a feeling or two about that.
The Ayeletization of Me—Thursday, July 19, 2007
Ayelet Waldman may freak me out once in a while—she wrote that she could survive the death of one of her four children but not the demise of her husband, and she says she hopes her effeminate son will turn out to be gay—but she taught me an important lesson about writing personal essays. Tell the truth and don’t try to make people forgive you for it. It makes for a more passionate dialogue.
You can say that again. The reaction to my story about what it’s costing me to work while the kids are on summer vacation was not, how shall we say, charitably received. I was accused of not wanting to spend time with my children. I was asked who my audience could possibly be, as if I’m the only working mother who can afford to do anything more stimulating for my children than sticking them in front of the TV forty hours a week. I was told—by my writing partner Helaine, of all people!—that I should join a pool club so that my nanny can take my kids to the pool every day instead of spending money on all these camps, even though we live in San Francisco where our summer is the coldest winter Mark Twain ever spent. And it was explained to me that my problem is not the antiquated school year and its demands on working mothers, but my sense of entitlement.
But there are rewards for being provocative. In the midst of this barrage of criticism a friend sent me a link to Salon.com’s Broadsheet, which covered my story. I’ve been dying to write a story for Salon for ages, and before I could manage it they wrote about me. When I saw the link I was so thrilled and surprised I teared up. Ayelet is no dummy.
I’m a Working Mom, Get Over It—Tuesday, July 17, 2007
It’s official—there is no way for a well-off mother to complain about any aspect of being a mom without being told that she has no right to an opinion. Apparently money is expected to disable both the mind and mouth of any mother in possession of it. Who knew?
I was convinced of this today after seeing the first couple of responses to my current blog on the Huffington Post, “The Cost of a Working Mom’s Summer Non-Vacation.” In the piece I calculate the weekly costs of keeping Olivia, Greta, and Ava occupied so I can keep working during their summer off from school. I mention another cost, which was reported on Good Morning America yesterday: the catastrophic summer “brain drain” that causes kids to lose some 60% of what they learn during the school year.
But the first couple of readers weren’t interested in chewing on that statistic. They had other things in mind. Here’s a sample:
I suppose institutionalizing our children in schools that less and less give them opportunities to learn through play and doing, so they better adapt to standardized testing is the best possible solution for families who have to struggle while swapping San Francisco houses for mountain retreats.
Okaaaay. The next response included a plea to me to spend as much time as I can afford to with my children, even though I said in my piece that I would prefer people not respond by insisting I stay home like all good (and affluent) mothers should.
I know, I know, I’m a bad mommy because I don’t have to work but I do it anyway because I love it so much. It’s not my life, it’s my kids’. But can everybody stop looking at the usurping of women’s precious time as the cheap solution to every social problem?
Arlo Who?—Thursday, July 12, 2007
In a scant 24 hours I have decided I might actually like this little beastie who now lives here. I attribute this turnaround to the full night’s sleep he gave all of us on Night Four, during which he got the idea that no amount of crying or yelping was going to spring him from his crate. He seems also to have gotten the hint about the potty, which is located not in the front hallway but in the back garden. We had such a civilized day that I spent part of the afternoon typing at my desk with the houndini asleep on my lap.
So, why the name Arlo? It was an effort to avoid Bogie. As in Humphrey Bogart. As in a terrifically Sixties suburban-type effort to name everyone in the family, pets included, using the same embarrassing naming scheme. We thought: Olivia de Havilland. (We didn’t actually name Olivia for the actress, but we’re indulging in revisionist history here.) Greta Garbo. (We did in fact name Greta for Garbo. Our first apartment was in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan and we spotted Garbo not once but twice. Which made us think it would make a nice grandma-name accompaniment to Olivia, which was our original thought, naming-wise. Grandma names that everyone knows how to spell and which don’t sound awful paired with Losee-Unger.) Ava Gardner. (This was the deliberate Old Hollywood reference, for which I will never forgive Tom since it then went from obscurity to being a top-ten American name in one short year.) Thus Bogie, which Tom and I embraced but the kids rejected with a big Bronx cheer.
We told said kids that if they were going to deviate from the Old Hollywood theme they would have to think of a reference to our particular family life. We thought of Pixar-inspired names (Nemo, Dash, Woody). We thought of guitarist names (Jimi, Bruce, Carlos). We thought of places we love (the ghost town Bodie, (Point) Reyes, Florence—whoops, it’s a boy). We thought of directors (Woody, wait, there’s Woody again. Guthrie. Alice’s Restaurant. The Berkshires. The church near Tom's family's country house. Doesn’t Arlo Guthrie own that thing? Didn’t he turn it into a peace center or something?) Arlo! The kids loved it. So, Arlo. He’s even brown and curly like his namesake's 'do. So the name Arlo may seem out of the clear blue, but now you know there was a logic to it. Or a process, anyway, however typically pixilated. Arlo doesn’t seem to mind.
Dog Days—Wednesday, July 11, 2007
While the rest of the country is baking in 100-degree heat, we in the Losee-Unger household are experiencing dog days of another sort. Courtesy of Arlo.
Arlo is our new puppy, a chocolate brown, medium-size Australian labradoodle. Yes, a designer dog. Shut up. They’re gentle with kids and they don’t shed. At any rate, I have become Arlo’s mother under extreme duress of the Olivia kind. She has been asking for a dog roughly since preschool. I dodged the bullet by saying that we had a baby in the house (Greta). Later I dodged it by saying that I am the working mother of two and how much responsibility can one person handle in one lifetime. Later still I dodged it by saying that we had another baby in the house (Ava). Then I said we’d get the dog when Ava was solidly on her feet. Then Ava had the temerity to become a toddler. Bullet now squarely between my eyes.
We quickly zeroed in on a 'doodle because good friends have one we adore, plus they resemble my childhood dog Stewart, a royal standard poodle. Stewart died of cancer at the age of six. In response my family went in the other direction and adopted a mutt from the North Shore Animal League, hoping to avoid the early deaths highly-bred dogs often suffer. Maddie, a Labrador/German Shepherd/Collie mix, died at six too, of a stroke. So by the time I reached adulthood I was well and truly done with big dogs who die young.
So Arlo is a leap of faith for me. I am investing in loving this brown ball of fluff against all my instincts—in particular the instinct for getting the least little bit of rest at some point before I die. Arlo cries on and off all night, waking up Ava (who then keeps up Arlo who then keeps up Ava in a soul-destroying cycle of pre-dawn wakefulness). I have yet another baby in the house. I am now the working mother of four. Did I mention that I am wondering how much responsibility can one person handle in one lifetime?