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GroupDots.jpgApparently I’m wrong. And I’ve been wrong for a while.

Here’s what: one is “one”. Two is “a couple.” Three is “a few,” and somewhere around six or seven is “several.”

Turns out that’s wrong.

According to Merriam-Webster,

sev·er·al adj ˈsev-rəl, ˈse-və-
2a : more than one
b : more than two but fewer than many

So three is “several.” And seven might be “many.”

I have spent the bulk of my life – I don’t know when I first used “several”… “Don’t touch my several Star Wars figures”? – not only misusing the word but judging others for using it too liberally to describe just a little more than a couple.

Well, “misusing” might be too strong. Six might still be several. “Limiting its lower bound,” let’s say, which is a lesser crime and no one is coming for me in a linguistic squad car. (Which would look like what exactly? A Prius? No – a Volt. With a supercilious air. Like mine when I read “several incidents” and find out the journalist means “three.”)

Isn’t “a few” three or four? Doesn’t “several” imply at least seven, given that they share almost all the same letters? And how is that not infallible logic? I didn’t take Latin, but wasn’t there something in third grade, or second, about root words? I think I’m right about this. Really. Someone back me up here.

And, even if it isn’t technically inaccurate, isn’t referring to three of something as “several” kind of an overstatement? If you can use “several” to describe anything from barely more than a few all the way up to, say, twelve, isn’t that like saying “I told you several times not to eat that crayon,” when really this is only the third time just now and who doesn’t want to suck on colorful wax, so back off already, I’m waterproofing my teeth?

All right: I’m soooo sorry if I have inaccurately judged you in the past for using “several” inaccurately when really I was wrong.

Sort of. We both know I’m kind of right still about that overdoing it thing. Kind of.

OK not. But give me a break: “several” to mean “more than one”? Really? “We owned several cars,” when we had a 1986 Corolla and a ’92 Camry? Really? Really???

Own It

swing2.jpgThere are people who love the gym and the people who don’t. I don’t. I use the gym to further my plans of world domination. Meaning, if you’re not planning on going to the Olympics, why go to the gym? Why bike if you aren’t headed for the Tour de France? Why run if you aren’t after the New York City Marathon?

“Well,” you say, “there’s also the issue of your basic health and fitness to be attended to.”

I see your point. I do. It’s just not my deal. The gym is super boring. Competition is where it’s at in sports for me. I tend to be a athletics bulimic: binge when there’s a goal, purge when there isn’t. Aim for everything or just skip it.

“But sports can be fun,” you persist.

I agree. Especially when you triumph.

I know. I hear you. This isn’t the healthy approach for body or mind. If the most adaptive of the species survive, I’m in trouble, ’cause my attitude hasn’t worked well for me. Or my knees. Or ribs. Or hips, neck or back. And I’m still not world champion of anything.

The last time I was in a binge phase, I was training 30-40 hours a week on the trapeze. It was awesome and nerve-wracking. I had bloody palms, huge shoulders and rope burns and bruises all over my limbs and joints. I’ve never been stronger or more tired. That career ended with some irresponsible spotting leading to a couple bad falls that led to a fractured rib and a dislocated one that will never heal.

That event was the equivalent of running my Ferrari into a brick wall: now I have to get a Volvo and drive the speed limit because I can’t survive another accident. Well, maybe not a Volvo: they’re nice and the little ten-year-old Bostonian Izod-lover in me has a soft spot for them. Let’s say I’ve been downgraded to one of those rolling bubbles at the gym so I don’t hurt myself again. Or more.

So you know what I do just to get back at the universe for not being able to obsessively overcompete? I don’t go to the gym at all. So there. I’m sure someone out there is learning a lesson… Right? RIGHT???


Lately however I’ve cracked. I’ve kind of started working out. Accidentally. And only kind of. Even though I don’t think I’m going to be the get a yellow jersey for it. It’s a big concession.

And it’s not really working out per se. It’s walking. But we live on the side of a giant San Francisco hill, so a straight sprint skyward with a baby and a stroller probably counts as a workout, especially since I haven’t gotten any organized exercise in a while.

And by “organized,” I mean, “doing repetitive things on machines where the weight stays in the same place unless you personally stop and move it.” What I have been doing is disorganized. It involves suddenly lifting or catching or pushing up a slide an ever-growing weight (OK, “child”) which is usually in motion itself and whose bulk usually falls on my muscles at an uncomfortable angle that is not ergonomically healthy, tested or approved by the National Council on Fitness, a very thin blonde celebrity or a inhumanly fit former monk/kickboxer.

I’ve taken on the vertical walk in the mornings because there is an odd hour between breakfast and naptime (our daughter’s, not mine – I’m not that much of a sloth) and there is espresso at the midpoint of the rainbow. It’s too early to be too hot to climb the hills, or for me to be awake and focused on anything including hating that hill or not being the Most Best Hill Climber Ever. The need for coffee carries me upward.

But do you think they have that Best Hill Climber thing? ‘Cause if they do, I should definitely get on that. Or maybe Most Moderate Worker Outer? No. That’s not a thing.

I do have a yellow sweatshirt around here somewhere. Maybe I’ll start wearing that to make myself feel more competitive.


There is a giant Bed Bath & Beyond right next to our grocery store, and they’ve just added a giant drugstore section to their giant kitchen section. Everything there is giant. I guess their store is so gigantic that it crowded out their plan for a giant backstock space because everything is hung or stacked up to the sky. Some morning, I’m going to go in and ask for assistance getting down the one thousand and first spatula up near their 50-foot ceiling because THAT is the one I need. Eye level is for suckers.

Gigantism aside, I went into the baby products aisle and ended up staring at the colorful condom display instead. See, the birth control section is right next to the baby section. So you can stock up on products for your current offspring while making sure no others join her.

I have a lot of questions after looking at my options.

First, do the “Twisted” condoms come with a little man in leather wielding equipment that looks like it belongs in the hardware aisle? Second, what is the Trojan company implying about my sex life when they try to sell me a condom labeled “Sensations”? I feel insulted and intrigued all at once. Third, can you get the Sensitivity pack gift wrapped so I can send it to couple of my ex-boyfriends? Oh never mind. I just read the fine print. That’s not what they meant.

Being a “her,” I appreciate all the boxes that promote all manner of features “for her pleasure.” Thank you.

Not to get too specific about the guys I dated in my 20’s but I think there’s an untapped segment at the other end of the market. “The Pleasure Is All Mine” condom would be super cheap, flimsy, bad at conversation, and be packaged with a dehydrated shot of Jagermeister. Get on that. You could make a killing. You’re welcome, Trojan.

OK, yeah, I’ll just collect my unscented suncreen stick and Mickey Mouse Band-Aids and be on my way.

FAO Bear

polar_bear_standing.jpgI was cruising around the FAO Schwartz web site last night hoping to preclude actually going into their mayhem of a store when we’re in New York in two weeks when I found this: a five-foot tall polar bear reared up on its back legs.

I’m sorry, but what parent in his right mind is going to get his kid, presumably a small kid, something this large and terrifying? Actually, not even: what person is going to get something this intimidating to live in his home? You don’t have to watch Colbert to know that bears are a threat. And from what I hear, polar bears are especially unpredictable and mean. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be – extreme cold makes me crabby and I don’t usually have to hunt my own lunch further than the ski lodge french fry line in those conditions. Yes, their little cubs are adorable, but I’m just saying, I wouldn’t invite one into my home, even if it is fake and frozen in position.

When I was eight and went to swim in my grandmother’s swimming pool, I was convinced there was a shark in there. I couldn’t see it, but that was because it had seen me and swum down to the other end of the pool, camouflaging itself in the refracted light. Maybe I was wrong, but who’s going to take that chance? Just because no one had lost a limb yet didn’t mean it wasn’t there. It was like Bush’s WMD. Or that joke about elephants painting their toenails red so they can hide in cherry trees: the fact that you haven’t seen one just means it’s working.

My point is, how do you know it’s really a fake polar bear? And if you say you know because it’s smaller than real ones plus obviously made of synthetics, I would say, “Tell that to your brain’s fear center when you see if out of the corner of your eye on the way to the bathroom at 2AM.”

I know whereof I speak. A few years ago, in the middle of a margarita-soaked afternoon, I bought an almost-life-sized cardboard stand-up Aragorn. He hung out in our apartment just barely within my line of sight when I was lying in bed. I had to evict him a few months later because my nerves couldn’t take the strain of waking up to a short-ish, tunic-clad, long-haired intruder in the foyer.

(By the way, why are all these things almost life-sized and not actually life-sized? Aragorn and the bear are both just shy of real height. I say, as soon as you pass “half-sized” you may as well go for the full monty. Really, what is up with shaving off 6-12 inches? That just makes them look short, not “not real.”)

My point is this: the world is intimidating enough when you’re knee-cap height on the rest of the household and dependent on others to provide your Cheerios. You don’t need a giant bear in the corner to keep you in your place. That’s all I’m saying. Shout out to the little people.

Full-Fault Divorce

slip-hazard-sign.jpgI get a lot of paranoid email. Some of it’s spam, but the other some isn’t. It’s mail from parenting sites about all the risks and hundreds of horrible things that can happen to our child at specifically her age. Next month will bring a new crop of “information” for that age. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate a good piece of paranoia as much as the next guy and am aware of how it’s improved all our lives. For instance, I’ve completely stopped licking the walls of my apartment in case the paint has lead in it, and I make it a rule to no longer eat any toys made in China, which was a big shift.

Honest to God though, some of this stuff definitely falls under the, “Don’t be a $(&#! idiot,” clause and some more of it makes me wonder why the people who raise the Alarm of the Week choose to live on the mean streets of San Francisco and not in a hermetically sealed bubble, which would be more in line with their anxiety levels.

I got a note yesterday from Baby Center telling me that 7 million Fisher-Price children’s tricycles, 2.9 million Fisher-Price infant toys and 1 million Fisher-Price high chairs have been recalled. That’s a big oversight down at the Fisher-Price factory. But it was the last thing on the list that really caught my eye: the Fisher-Price Stand n’ Play Rampway has been called back.

While I am understandably disappointed that I will not be able to get my hands on one of these to test out my ability to entertain myself with one leg higher than the other, this recall doesn’t come as a big surprise. Why? Because if you develop a recreational product for a segment of the population who can barely keep their balance while standing perfectly still (that’s toddlers, not me, thank you very much), and your premise requires them to be able to both stand and play while on an incline, I’m going to go out on a limb and say your idea is ill-conceived. I’d even go so far as to guess that it will be source of injury and ridicule. Much like Anaphylactic Kiddie’s Snack n’ Stab Peanut Butter Stand with Epi Pen and Wonder Bear’s Wiring for Tots Motherboard and Bath Toy.

I’m just saying, some of this stuff does seem obvious, that’s all.


baby_dove.jpgYou know how, when you get pregnant, one of your friends can’t wait to tell you horror stories about her nine friends who had their babies in the back of cabs or were in labor for, like, a week or gave birth to the antichrist, but how she’s sure you’ll be fine and none of that will happen to you? For all you pregnant and pre-pregnant women out there who were thinking that your magnetism for negative input might diminish once you had your baby, brace yourselves. There’s a whole herd of parents out there waiting to tell you how you should cherish every second while they’re little because (insert disappointed sidelong glance at their own offspring who are standing right there) everything is downhill once they can run around and talk.

This is disconcerting for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that that tyke who’s listening to his mom diss him to me is going to need a dumptruck of therapy. After one such mother stopped by our table at a restaurant, the little girl – maybe seven years old – said, “Yeah, my mom tells us all the time how she wishes we were still babies.” That’s some solid parenting right there. Little shout out from your kid, mom.

It’s also weird, isn’t it, to walk up to a stranger (me) in the coffee line, ask how old her baby is and then indirectly reveal that you don’t particularly like your ten year old? For Pete’s sake, my FedEx guy chatted with me the other day about how he wishes his five year old were still five months. That’s kind of a lot of Oprah-ing to tack onto the, “Sign here, please,” moment, don’t you think?

I have two theories about why this keeps coming up.

First, people like to complain. I do too. It’s a non-threatening way to bond: “I hate my boss,” puts you into a conversation with just about anyone. Opening with, “I love my job,” is more dangerous. Not a lot of people do, so you’re putting yourself in the minority, plus you risk sounding, well, lucky. Lucky feels…vulnerable. Also maybe oblivious or dim-witted. Coming from the northeast (Puritan, understated) and a difficult family situation conditioned me to be very aware of the negative potential in any situation. It takes a lot of work some days to let that lie and pick up the equally possible positive thread instead. Maybe these parents are letting the anxiety of a negative outcome overwhelm their enjoyment of who their kids are turning out to be: a talking, walking child with an extending track record of preferences and skills means limits on your infant’s previously unlimited potential. Complaining may feel like a socially acceptable and safe, if indirect, outlet for that anxiety.

I don’t mean to be judgemental of course. It is also possible that their child is exhibiting distinct terrorist tendencies (stockpiling weaponry, a prediliction for holidays in desert training camps) and is deserving of parental disappointment early in life. That could be. Maybe that seven-year-old girl is disconcertingly adept with a handgun and kidnaps other little girls on the weekends. In that case, yes, her mother should be worried and I take it back all my analysis. Ma’am, you can disregard that previous paragraph.

That case excepted, this brings us to my second theory: that it’s incredibly easy to project onto a baby and having to stop is challenging. I know. I do it. At five months, your baby can be the next President or the next breakout Olympian. Losing that option when your baby turns into an actual person with her own interests has got to be a disappointment if you didn’t think about how to manage those unconscious expectations before your kid got all back chatty and able to run away from your conversations about electoral politics and the luge course in Calgary. Babies are 100% potential. We were too. I remember thinking when I was twelve that, barring sudden advances in bionics, the door to becoming a professional gymnast had almost definitely closed for me. That was quite a blow. Also very disappointing: realizing that my increasing physical similarity to my “family” probably meant that I was not the lost fourth child of the Swedish monarchy.

Here’s the thing: a kid who wants to wear rain boots and only the top half of a bikini out to run errands is very different from an infant you can dress up in that adorable outfit with the matching hat. Sure you can pick up a baby and put her where you want her and she can’t really object. You can talk to her about your day – you’re supposed to, in fact, to help her language skills develop yada yada yada- but there’s a good chance that once there are really two of you in the conversation, you’ll have to start making room for her preference for talking about edible paste and not how unbelievable it was when your one friend didn’t show up on time after you went to all that trouble setting up a nice lunch and everything at that place that’s hard to get into and what the hell was she thinking anyway bringing her new boyfriend who doesn’t know how to chew with his mouth closed when you were hoping for a nice afternoon out? Which is a big shift.

So we’re back to anxiety. You just don’t know what’s next. It’s a legitimate fear that the narrowing of your kid’s options that goes along with developing a personality and a voice (literal and metaphorical) will result in the option that’s left being “mid-level office manager.” Or “crack whore.” So yeah, it’s nerve-wracking. But here’s the thing: what am I going to do about it? Nothing different really. Aside from not forcing her into intensive early training on the violin, the tennis court or the half pipe, I plan on loving her (of course – as I’m sure these other parents love their kiddos), and focusing on enjoying her for wherever she is, six months or six years or sixty, and getting to know who she’s turning out to be. (Which will be even better advice the older she gets, right? Who likes going home from college and being reminded of the braces you had when you were fifteen rather than seen for the sexy sophomore you are now?)

Displacing my unconscious anxiety about who she’ll be or, worse, who I wished she’d be, onto her little self is a bad choice for both of us, I’d think. There’s no way to control for where she ends up – that’ll be a combination of her choice and circumstance – so I’m just focusing on providing her with self-confidence, a great work ethic, a clear playing field and as many self-regulating skills as I can to help her approach her options with a calm heart and clear vision.

So anyway, that’s my Monday Theory. I hope all these parents who keep wishing for babies are also spending a lot of time enjoying their actual kids. Or making more babies. But lay off the reminders if you would. I need that coffee I was headed for when you stopped me. Really. A lot.

I am that guy

exit.jpgRemember that scene in When Harry Met Sally where they discuss how guys can’t get out the door fast enough the morning after? This morning, as I was lying next to little A. trying to get her to go to sleep so I could get up and get going on my morning while she naps, I realized: I’m that guy. I just wait til she falls asleep and then bam, I’m out the door.

“Come on, sweetie, time to sleep. Yeah, that’s right: close your eyes. I’ll be here when you wake up… well, maybe after you wake up… if you cry a little to let me know you’re up… yeah, then I’ll definitely be here. If you just hang out in bed wondering where that nice person went who was there snuggling with you when you fell asleep, the one who seemed sincere about sleeping next to you and keeping you cozy, well, then it might take me a while to get back to you. I mean, I didn’t know you were up and thinking those things – what was I supposed to do? Not go clean my andirons?

… Huh. Well, that’s true, I don’t have a fireplace, but you didn’t know that for sure until I just said it because, let’s face it, you only know the parts of the apartment that I’ve showed you, right? … No, I didn’t mean that I’m keeping things from you. It’s just…we haven’t known each other that long, so there’s still some things you don’t know about me. You know – I’m sure you have those things.

… You don’t? You’re an open book? You’d spend all your time with me if you could? Well, I don’t know what to say to that. Of course I’m flattered, but…what about my andirons? You don’t really want to clean them with me, do you?

… Oh. You do. Well, I’m just not there yet, I guess. Plus they’re kind of sharp and you might hurt yourself.

… No, I didn’t mean to imply anything about your motor skills. I’m sure you’d be fine – I’m just trying to look out for you and now you’re crying again. God.

… OK, I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry I said that. But it’s a little early in our relationship to be having this conversation, don’t you think? I mean, it’s been less than six months. What’s next – you want to move in together?

… You do? Oh – ’cause you left all your stuff all over my living room already so now I guess you live here??”

See what I mean? Like that. I’m definitely that guy. She is awfully cute though. I’m probably going to cave. I mean, she’s right – all her stuff is already here…

To The Mean Lady in the Bathroom

dark_light_clouds.jpgI noticed you before in the gallery. You were being loud and sounded angry even though it was a Maira Kalman exhibit. She’s not loud or angry. She’s all about being good-natured and wry and taking things in stride. And being amused. You didn’t seem amused.

I don’t know what’s up with you today. Maybe it’s every day. You are in a wheelchair so maybe it’s that. That would be difficult. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in a wheelchair. I hope I’d be one of those inspirational people who take up extreme skiing or sailboarding and get profiled in People or on Good Morning America. I think it would take me a really long time to get there though. I mean the being great about it, not the sailboarding. The sailboarding might take me forever. (I’ve never had very good balance.)

Whatever it is that’s bothering you though, it’s not nice for the rest of us if you take it out on a stranger who didn’t know you were waiting for the mom-with-kids/handicapped bathroom stall in the really nicely designed ladies room at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Honestly, I didn’t know you were waiting when I took my time sorting A. out. Do you think I would’ve kept you waiting on purpose? I hope not. That would be a tough way to go through your day, thinking people who don’t even know you are purposely being rotten.

Not to sound like a mom, but you really didn’t need to take that tone with me. If you’d just politely said you were waiting or made your presence known – a slight cough, an amusing note under the door – I’d have been just as obliging, I promise, but you wouldn’t have put that little bit of unpleasantness into the world by making me and little A. feel bad. I know you can’t feel good about it either. No one does when they’re mean, however justified they feel they are. It backs up on you. I know. I’ve been there.

Please, next time give me a little more credit for being a person who doesn’t knowingly inconvenience strangers. And remember: other people don’t think about us as much as we’d all like to think that they do. Which means that when they drive by you in their cars, even if they seem like they’re looking right at you, they probably didn’t register your amazing ensemble, the one with the alluring hat and the matching socks that you wore specially. (Don’t worry: the people who love you did and that’s what matters.)

But it also means they didn’t mean to cut you off in traffic. They were probably thinking about something else entirely. Like how their boss yelled at them this afternoon or that maybe they married the wrong person. Or maybe they’re rushing to save a kitten, one of the really adorable ones.

Of course, there’s a very slight possibility that you’re right, that that person really did mean to intentionally rain on your day. I’m sorry if that happens to you regularly. That has to be difficult to bear. But take a moment, just today, to consider whether that’s really true, even if you really, really believe it is deep down inside. Think hard. Is the world really not on your side on purpose? Between ourselves, I doubt it. You know why? Because I wasn’t, even though you thought I was.

We – everyone, all of us – are exceptionally bad guessers. It’s the scared part of us that thinks we’re great at guessing and tells us our worst guess is the correct one. The fact is, most of the time, we just don’t have any idea what’s going on with other people, so we may as well decide to believe the nice thing, right? Because in the end, it will make everyone’s day, including yours and mine and tiny A.’s, a little brighter. And we can all use a little sun.

Have a nice afternoon.

Thanks to numupdraft for the photo.

A New World (sort of)

Census-Bureau.jpgYou know how I’m neurotic? Maybe a little paranoid with a tendency to obsess a little? Do you remember that about me? Miss it? Well, I’m happy to oblige with a dose for your summer: here’s how that’s working itself out in my parent world.

Let’s hark back to March. It’s census time. Our census form arrives. Of course it doesn’t go smoothly.

“How many people were living or staying at this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1, 2010?” Let’s leave the mobile home part of the question alone, along with yearning for an Airstream, and move on to the math. Technically only two of us lived here in March, but the baby was pending on April 22. Her pre-personhood deserves to be counted, doesn’t it? Yes, thank you. I elect to answer, “Three.” I fill out Person 1’s information (R) and Person 2’s (mine). So far, so good.

My pencil hovers over the blanks for Person 3. She has no official name yet. That’s a minor detail, really though, no? If I put “Beauregard,” and we name her, “Huffington Baby Spangles Herkimer III,” no one will care, right? They’re counting mainly, they’re not cross-referencing to our birth certificates. Maybe if I put her name in quotes they’ll know it’s kind-of/maybe. Like banks that say, “FDIC-insured,” or restaurants with, “home cooking,” on their signs. Great. Done. Beauregard F_______ it is.

I look at the form again.

“Please report babies as age 0 when the child is less than one year old.” No problem. “0” it is.

“Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?” Box 1: Children, such as newborn babies or foster children, etc.”

OK, hold up. First off, I just answered Question 1 not thirty seconds ago. To have omitted someone that recently and to then remember them even more recently is weird. How many people do they think are living with me that I can’t reliably count them? There can’t be that many Duggar situations out there, can there?

Related, if I do have that many people living under our roof – say, I’m training up my own soccer side in the basement – and I forgot one, why would I count that one person under Question 2 instead of just going back to Question 1 and upping the number by one? Maybe I’m passive aggressive and have a chip on my shoulder about just that one member of the household so this is my way of letting out that seething rage that I’ve bottled up until exactly this opportunity to snub them presented itself? Of course, only the government will know that I consider them a separate-question-level-sub-par citizen but I guess that’ll take the edge off my rage for another month…? OK. Maybe.

That’s not the problem though. I am not mentally deficient or passive aggressive (mostly), so I counted properly in Question 1. The main problem is the date: April 1, 2010. I was thinking of holding onto the form and mailing it in late April after the baby was delivered so I wouldn’t technically be lying re: number of persons under the roof. Now it looks like my honesty isn’t the issue. She’s not going to get counted for ten years because she’ll be born three weeks past the deadline. Now that, my friends, is some seriously garbage precedent. How will we get her apportionment of rice or crayons or Skittles or whatever they’re going to send us based on the form? We won’t and that’s the end of it.

This bothers me. I think about it at night. She’ll be ten before she’s counted. That’s messed up. It’s an identity thing, an acknowledgment that she has a space in the world. The census is, of course, missing tons of people who aren’t even prospective infants at the time of the counting, but nevertheless I’m irritated.

Fast forward a month. A. is born three and a half weeks early. On March 30. One day before the census cutoff. I’m lying in my hospital bed. What am I thinking about? How grateful I am we have a healthy daughter? Sure. How great R. has been throughout? Yeah. How cute she is? Fine. What I’m really thinking about is what an idiot I am for having already mailed the census form. So not everything is different when you have kids. Pointless neuroses still firmly intact. Excellent.


astrid.jpgShe’s here. Three weeks ago today, Astrid Zealand suddenly joined our family. 6 lbs., 7.7 ounces and three and a half weeks early. We couldn’t be more delighted to have her.