Life begins at the hop

Bini strikes a pose, complete with an Elvis sneer.  Jones is yawning.
Bini strikes a pose, complete with an Elvis sneer. Jones is yawning.

So, Bini’s elementary school had a sock hop last Friday night. At the beginning of the week, I asked him: Do you want to go? “No way,” he said. I asked a few more times, and I always got the same answer.

This was fine with me. Bini has soccer on Friday afternoons and he’s usually cashed by day’s end. I had my book club on Friday night, and I was looking forward to it.

The first thing Bini said when he got home from school on Friday? “I want to go to the sock hop.”

I wrestled with the whole “you-told-me-repeatedly-that-you-didn’t-want-to-go-Mommy-has-a-life-too” thing, but I knew where it was headed. There are times to be a hard ass — bedtime, eat-your-vegetables time, don’t-flush-the-cat time. But going to a sock hop? Not the time.

My first dance was in middle school, once we’d discovered hormones and how to bogart booze from Dad’s dusty old Canadian Mist bottle. So I was curious: What does an elementary school dance — one with a “Happy Days” theme, no less — look like?

It looks like chaos. Happy chaos. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First up: The outfit. We had to scramble a bit to pull something together, but the 50’s theme was a good device to get him out of sweatpants. He wore jeans, leather boots, a button-down shirt and black shades. “I’ve never seen him get dressed so fast,” said Steve.

The three of us marched up to school in the dark. My son was confident — he had some swagger. But once he got into the gym, which was a sea of tall parents and varying-sized children, he lost a little mojo. He hopped in to do the hokey pokey, but then hurried back to cling to my leg.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, kneeling down.

“I didn’t think it would be like this!” he cried.

“Like what?”

“Dancing!” he wailed.

We were just about the throw in the towel when out of the crowd came Bini’s school BF, Marco. Marco’s face lit up when he saw Bini, and they rushed to each other like two separated sweethearts. Then, they took off, snaking through the dancing kids and socializing parents.

Steve and I tried to track them through the crowd. “Do you see them?” I shouted.

“No — wait, yes! There they are!”

The two ran into a cluster of poodle-skirted girls from their grade. I heard a chorus of female kindergarten voices chorus “Bini!” and “Marco!”

“Oh God,” I said to Steve. “I guess we know our future.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Steve said, shaking his head. “You didn’t tell me Marco looks like A-Rod.”

School is, for many kids, the first real separation from parents. For 30 hours a week, my kid is having experiences and feelings and frustrations that I can’t help him cope with. I try to ask the right questions, but he gets to decide what’s pertinent. That’s OK, but I wonder, and I worry: Is he scared? Are other kids nice to him? Does he feel confident during class? I can discern only so much from the classwork his teacher sends home, and the weekly, glowing reports on his behavior.

Seeing Bini at the sock hop, surrounded by much of the student body, helped me understand who my son is at school, and who he’s becoming. He’s very well liked, and kids gravitate to him. That’s a huge relief. But he’s also overwhelmed at times, and still needs his parents. That’s also a huge relief. The day is coming when he won’t cling to my leg, and when he responds to my well-crafted questions about school with grunts and non-answers. I’m grateful that he still needs me sometimes.

By 7:30, Bini was delirious from the excitement and “The Chicken Dance” and the laps he’d made around the gym. He didn’t come willingly, so Steve scooped him up and we made our exit.

“Did you have fun?” I asked.

“No!” he said. “Too much dancing!”

I’ll bet he goes next year, though. And I hope he still wants me there with him.

Why I’m a traitor to my hometown team

I grew up a 49er fan, from the San Francisco Bay Area. But on Sunday, Jan. 19, when the Niners squared off against the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship, I wasn’t rooting for my hometown team. I was screaming for the Seahawks. This allegiance change has less to do with football and more to do with me accepting, at long last, that the Pacific Northwest is home.

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve been called a traitor by five different people. Some could see it that way. I grew up during the era of Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice. I remember “The Catch” — the high pass from Montana to Clark that resulted in the Niners besting the hated Dallas Cowboys in the 1982 NFC Championship Game.

At first, we were Raider fans, being from the East Bay and all. But when Raiders owner Al Davis took the team to Los Angeles in 1982, my dad vowed never to forgive. So we became 49er fans, which was easy back in those days. I stayed loyal through college and my subsequent relocation to Washington D.C. I remember being ribbed for it by the sports guys at Washingtonpost.com, where I worked as an editor: “Is Steve Young a quarterback or a running back?” and “Young better stay in the pocket, or he’s going to end up a vegetable.”

My interest in the team — and football in general — declined as my life grew busier and more complicated. When I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I was more interested in working and eating out and drinking cocktails in the Mission than cheering on the then-hapless Niners. I became a San Francisco Giants fan, and drank Gordon Biersch microbrews at the spanking-new stadium South of Market.

I wasn’t thinking about cheering for new teams when Steve and I moved up to the Seattle area in 2005. I was miserable and homesick and lonely, something you would have found out quickly had you met me back then. I would have told you, within about two minutes of our introduction, that I was a San Franciscan and Seattle was boring and SMALL. I liked to call it Frontierland back then. I had one foot here and one foot in San Francisco for a long, long time.

It’s been almost 8 1/2 years since Steve and I pulled up roots and moved to the soggy but beautiful Pacific Northwest. I have a good hairstylist and a favorite grocery store and friends that I can count on. I’m raising my child here. The Seattle area is … home. Or at least, it feels more like home than it used to. I miss certain things about the Bay Area, but when people ask me if I’d move back, I actually hesitate before answering. I don’t know if I’m a Bay Area girl anymore. The Pacific Northwest has grown on me like moss on a rooftop. So last year, when my son became infatuated with Russell Wilson and all-things Seahawk, I climbed on the bandwagon.

Seahawk 12 expAs this season wore on and it became clear that my adopted hometown and my childhood hometown were headed for a slugfest, I had to do some soul searching. Did I really care if the Seahawks lost? And surprisingly, the answer was yes, yes, I did care, and a lot. The Niners are my family’s team, but I have my own family now, and we have our own team. My son idolizes Wilson and Golden Tate and Earl Thomas, who have brown skin, like him.

Green Bay fans like to say that winter starts when the Packers’ season is over, and I get that. What Seattle lacks in wind chill and below-zero temperatures it makes up for with relentless gray. From December to May, it’s  gray skies, gray clouds and gray rain that can be showery, or ceaseless. Summer doesn’t really start until July. Having a winning football team brings some cheer into the lives of sun-starved Seattleites. I am now one of them. I am a Pacific Northwesterner. I felt nothing but joy when the Seahawks beat the Niners on Sunday, and I will be watching, nervously, as our guys take on the Broncos on Feb. 2.

Go Hawks!

My kid only wants to wear sweatpants

John Gotti Junior, in a tracksuit. This is not what I envision for my child.
John Gotti Junior, in a tracksuit. This is not what I envision for my child.

My five-year-old son is all about track pants and sweatpants these days. He claims it’s because he likes to play ball at recess, and because they’re more comfortable. He says jeans are “fancy clothes,” which speaks volumes about Seattle style. Our neighbor wears shorts and Tevas every day, unless it’s snowing. Fleece is OK at the ballet. Jeans are “fancy clothes.”

To me, sweatpants are for lounging. They are for wearing to and from the gym. They are indeed comfortable. But they are, as someone once said, a sign that you’ve given up.

They also remind me of my former San Francisco landlord. Steve and I lived underneath his beautiful home in Golden Gate Heights, in an illegal rental. Igor wore track suits every day. He said he was “an accountant,” but he drove a $70,000 Mercedes. His wife’s Neiman Marcus bill was the size of a textbook. Guys in fancy cars would often visit, and they also wore track suits. Are you catching my drift?

Whenever a mobster is gunned down, he’s wearing one of two things: A Brioni suit, or Fila track pants. I don’t want Bini to be a gangster. I don’t want him to be gunned down. I would rather that he didn’t go into “accounting.” I would like for him to wear jeans occasionally and not throw a monster tantrum.

I’m fighting a losing battle. When I walk the kids to school, they’re all wearing sweatpants or track pants. If our kids are starting from sweatpants, where do they go from here? What’s down the rung? Pajama pants? Shapeless tunics and tube socks? Cats and dogs, living together?

I’m hoping this is a phase.

The upside of being sick

On Saturday, two days after getting back from our week-long trip to the Bay Area, Steve got sick.

Steve gets sick more than I do, so I’m not usually very sympathetic when it happens. Typically, I roll my eyes and rib him about his inferior immune system. He’ll snuffle and pop DayQuil for a week and it’s all over. But this time, I got it too.

And it was a bad one. Really bad. So on Saturday, Steve went to bed at 7:20 p.m. and my plan was to sleep downstairs, so as not to infect myself. By 9 p.m., I knew it was over. No matter where I slept, I was getting slammed: Body aches, extreme fatigue and a fever. It was grim, but I’ve emerged from the flu foxhole to tell you that being sick has a few plusses. Namely:

  1. You can catch up on your reading.  I haven’t yet delved into Donna Tartt’s latest tome, or my stack of unread New Yorkers. Instead, I spent my bed-ridden hours blowing through easy fiction. Specifically, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mysteries. In the past four days, I’ve read “The Drop,” (meh) “The Closers” (awesome) and now, “Echo Park.” And I could gorge on these cheeseburgers of literature thanks to my Kindle, friend to the bed-ridden shut-in.
  2. You can experiment with drugs.  We’re usually a NyQuil family, but Target had a tantalizing end cap of Kleenex and Mucinex FastMax, so I bought both. The daytime stuff works fine. Maybe a little too well. I had no aches, pains or congestion to speak of, but my brain didn’t function. You probably shouldn’t operate a motor vehicle on Mucinex FastMax. Another tip: Do not drink wine after taking cold medicine, because everything tastes terrible. It’s a waste of perfectly good wine.
  3. You can clear your social calendar. I’m a social person, but when you tell people you’ve got the flu, they steer clear. My entire week is totally free. I can lay around and read crappy bestsellers and eat cough drops and sleep and revel in my own filth.
  4. You can’t exercise. I really like to exercise. It makes me feel good. But I have a long history of doing stupid things like running with strep throat. Here’s the deal: If you’re sick, you shouldn’t exercise. It prolongs the illness in many cases and it depletes what little energy you have. Stay home, keep your filthy germs to yourself, and get better. A couple of days really isn’t going to make any difference. Really.
  5. No one expects anything from you. When you’ve got a cold, people feel bad for you for about 24 hours. After that, you’re expected to medicate and function. Not so with the flu. People die from the flu, dude. I was able to dispense with all sorts of requests with a simple, “I’m sorry, but I have the flu.” It was awesome.

How to survive the holidays, a postmortem

My dad, wielding the champagne bottle, Charlie, my brother's partner, and me, surviving New Year's Eve dinner.
My dad, wielding the champagne bottle, Charlie, my brother’s partner, and me, surviving New Year’s Eve dinner.

It’s January 3, I’m on Day One of my post-holiday austerity plan (no booze, kale for lunch) and trying to remember what happened over the past four weeks. Well, for one thing, I didn’t write a damned thing that I wasn’t paid for. Also, what do we think the shelf life is for a gluten-free chocolate cake that’s been in the ‘fridge since December 24?

Never mind. The purpose of this post is to share with you, after nearly a month off, what I’ve learned about surviving the holidays. Every year I say that I’m going to take it easy, that I’m going to be prepared, that it won’t be stressful. But it always is, goddammit. There’s no way to get through it all without some stress, particularly if you have children or family of any kind, but I’ve got some helpful tips. Which are no good to you this year, but maybe you’ll remember.

  1. Go out, right now, and buy Christmas crap. It’s probably picked over, but here’s what I’m getting for next year: A ton of little gift bags, ribbon, festive tissue paper and a box of generic holiday cards. Put it in a bin, and then put a reminder on your phone for November because if you’re anything like me, you’ll forget. Then, next year …
  2. Buy a bunch of iTunes, Amazon, Starbucks gift cards. Also, little bottles of liquor (those were a hit) and little packages of coffee beans. Then, assemble a bunch of little gift bags with the generic cards, coffee and gift cards for people like your dog-walker or your regular babysitter or the UPS guy or the neighbors. One year, our neighbors all brought us stuff and I had to send Steve to the store to buy 12 bottles of wine and a bunch of gift bags. This year, we were READY. (And only two neighbors brought us stuff. Oh well. It’s the thought that counts.)
  3. Give something to the garbage collectors. We gave ours booze, and the recycling guy was so appreciative that he got out of the truck and wheeled the emptied bin back up the driveway. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
  4. Ship gifts directly. If your family, like mine, lives out of state, you have two choices: Pony up for the gift-wrapping at your favorite online store or gift-wrap yourself and ship by Dec. 10. (See No. 5).
  5. Ship by Dec. 10. If you don’t, the little weasel at the post office will try to scare you by telling you that your giant box of gifts won’t make it by Christmas. By Dec. 14, the post office is like Mad Max. You don’t want to be there with your kid. Trust me.
  6. Find a funny picture for your holiday card.  We kept putting off the family-in-front-of-the-fireplace-with-the-timer thing, so two weeks before Christmas, Steve and I just picked a funny/cute picture of our kid and that was the holiday card. I still can’t believe how many compliments we got on that card. Lesson learned: No one cares what you look like, mom and dad. It’s all about the kid. Particularly if he’s adorable, like mine.
  7. Screw your rules about drinking and eating. During the rest of the year, I only drink three times a week. But during December? Please. And don’t be that person at the party who goes on about overeating during the holidays and it’s BAD and food is BAD. You’re a big bummer. Just have the damned Buche de Noel and shut up.
  8. Let your kids watch TV.  Maybe you had an idyllic childhood in Vermont and you spent the holidays sledding and caroling. That’s terrific. I remember spending a lot of time watching “All My Children.” And I lived in Northern California, where it’s always 60 degrees out. Winter break is for allowing your brain to turn into mush. It’s fine. Jeez.
  9. Rent a car. This is hugely controversial with my parents, but we do it anyway whenever we visit. Because even if your parents make their car available to you whenever you want it, you’re still borrowing your parents car. Like you’re 17 years old. You’re already sleeping in your childhood bed with your spouse, so do this thing. Then you can escape.
  10. Even if they make you crazy, try to enjoy your family. I’m saying this now, 24 hours removed from my family visit. But I’m really glad that I have family to visit during the holidays — that my parents’ marriage is intact, that they’re healthy and that my brothers and I like each other. Yes, we all revert to ancient roles and rituals when we’re together and my husband has to retreat to the solitude of his iPad and ESPN,  but it’s good. It really is. (And my mom reads my blog.)