Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Mostly Bearable Heaviness of Morning Coffee

Fellow with glasses a beard and snazzy brown loafers stands behind chubby lady sagging beneath an overloaded backpack. The distance between the counter and the line is Grand Canyon wide. Had I not known this was the line to order our mediocre name brand lattes, I would wonder what these people were waiting for in their orderly single file. The next register is available. Chubby lady advances. Now he’ll move closer, right? Things are bunching up in the back. The line is practically out the door. No movement. I almost stumble into him. Come on, dude. Shuffle those fancy loafers closer to the counter. Have you never waited in a line before?
“Next.” Coffee lady calls to Loafers.

I take three large steps into the proper line position. Ah, that’s the ticket. My brow un-furrows. I’ll lead by example. I feel the coffee army behind me relax. No need to crowd together by the door. I will give you the space. You’re welcome.


I step to the counter. They know my order by heart—double, non-fat, extra hot latte. I can’t believe that I added the obnoxious extra hot to my order a few months ago. 2 years ago Me would roll my eyes at Extra Hot Me.

I wish the coffee slinger a nice day and silently thank him for not trying to upsell me on a Danish. I feel simultaneously annoyed and guilty when the new kid in the coffee shop asks me if I’d like a bagel or muffin with that. I envision the meetings where the managers, plastered grins on their fake tanned faces, toss required scripts at the new employees. “Be sure to call it a fresh muffin.”

I turn to move sheep-like to the waiting area near the other end of the counter but Loafers has taken up residence in the slim corridor between the counter and a rack of coffee. He is blocking the corral. Not only is he unaware of how lines work; he also needs training in the etiquette of waiting for your order. Fan-fucking-tastic.

I hit play on my iPod. I am forced to back track through the line. “Excuse me, sorry.”

I pick a spot near the rack. I stare at the back of his head.

“Tyler,” calls the coffee lady.

He steps to the counter and grabs his frothy, whipped cream-topped drink.

Oh Tyler. It’s not his fault. With a name like that he never had a chance.

I wonder who is staring at the back of my head, marveling at the oddly aggro energy emanating from iPod lady with the overloaded messenger bag. (Who I should mention just came from yoga class thus should be oozing love and compassion for all beings, even those who are named Tyler.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Cruddy Spring Break 2011: Crud Family Edition

(Fiona, Purvis, and Monkey Boy all pirated up and ready to go)

Last year we missed our yearly trip to visit JADE—the power quartet of my bro/sis-in-laws, Dan and Anna, nephew, Monkey Boy, and niece, Fiona*—in Pompano Beach, Florida due to the recent arrival of Purvis in January. Traveling with a 2-month-old sounds easy now—What’s the problem? She’ll sleep the whole time—but to rookie parents, the trip sounded impossible.

Although I was nervous for this year’s trip, and had the pre-trip insomnia to show it, we were raring to make what would be our final visit to the spring break appropriate, Florida. (JADE will be relocating to Connecticut this summer. I looked at the spring break weather in their future neck o’ the woods. Rain, partly cloudy with a few hints o’ sun. Basically like Portland but 10 degrees colder. Spring break Connecticut! Woohoo?) Lazy days by the pool? Check. Walks on the beach? Check! No to-do list albatross around my neck? Yes, please.

Magazines Read:

US Weekly and half of People: My typical magazine intake per flight is 4: 2 of them fast-flipping rags like the aforementioned; an O to empower and enrage me; and an Utne Reader to cleanse the palate. Traveling with Purvis significantly reduces my magazine time. On our first flight I had to stroke her head and whisper sweet nothings for 30 minutes to lull her to sleep in her car seat so that I could steal a few minutes of hating on the Kardashian clan. In denial, I purchased 2 more magazines, Glamour and Rolling Stone, at our next stop. If I bought them then Purvis would know that she had to give me a few minutes to read them, right?

During our stay, I nibbled here and there from my magazines while trying to shield my 8-year-old niece, Fiona, from the Japan tsunami coverage in People. I was impressed that she chose tsunami over the latest Bieber news. Sometime between her visit to Portland for Purvis’ naming ceremony and now, her Bieber Fever had been cured. I asked her, sounding like the out-of-touch grandma I am fast becoming, “Do you still have Bieber Fever, dear?”

She shook her head and gave a half-roll of her eyes, “No.”

If she had still been under the influence of the flippy-haired one, I would have directed her to the Rolling Stone interview that I read in bits and pieces whilst logging time on the JADE toilet. Not that I expected much from a teenager who has rocketed to worldwide fame so quickly, but sheesh, what a little shithead.

The Snooki Rolling Stone, Glamour, and O await my nonexistent free time on the table next to my side of the couch. For now I skim the Do’s and Don’ts while Purvis nurses.

Books Read:

Half of Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
When a supposed page-turning thriller starts to feel like a slog through a Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak article (please pardon the Dennis Miller moment, but I did slog through a Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak article in my grad school days so the reference feels earned), is it really suitable vacation reading? Since Purvis burst on the scene, my reading list has become almost exclusively humorous memoirs and thrillers, especially thrillers by chilly Scandinavians. Literary fiction is too difficult to digest in the 1-2 page increments that have become my reading style. In past years our spring breaks were filled with delicious stretches of free time in which I devoured the latest voices of our generation. Alas. (I hope you have not yet grown tired of the many references to how life has changed since Purvis came along. Can be summed up with: I ain’t got no more time to myself.) I’m still on the fence as to whether I’ll push forward through the Mankell. He comes highly recommended by reliable sources. I do appreciate that the main character has diarrhea not once but twice for no apparent narrative reason. Diarrhea is random. Mankell speaks the truth.

Goodnight, Baby

An instant classic, Purvis requests that I read this picture book detailing one sleepy baby’s march towards bedtime 5 times in a row while seated in my lap on the plane.

Noisy Farm
Another instant favorite with Purvis. All the baa-ing and moo-ing and maa-ing leads up to her current favorite animal noise in the world: cock-a-doodle-doo! I hear the man behind us on the plane sigh after I’ve cock-a-doodle-doo-ed for the tenth time. Would you rather listen to a screaming baby, sir?

I Am A Bunny

The more I read about the spring-summer-fall-winter antics of Nicholas the bunny, the more I feel like there is an untold dark underbelly to his tales of chasing butterflies, observing frogs, and hiding under toadstools during rainstorms. Where is Nicholas’ family? Were they killed by hunters? Snatched by evil pet store owners? Do they not approve of his decadent lifestyle? (“Enough of this pansy butterfly shit,” Nicholas' father snorts. “Get a real job.”) The story teems with families of birds, squirrels, and raccoons. I imagine the poor little bunny watching on with envy as the mother bird regurgitates worms into her babies’ gawping mouths. So much pain in his cute, furry face.

Books Not Read
Pat the Bunny
Purvis white knuckles this book as she cruises around the coffee table in the Florida room, her favorite toddling path chez JADE, but gets angry if anyone attempts to read it to her. No, she will not pat the bunny.

A pre-spring break gift from a former colleague, this book remains zipped away in my suitcase. My hopes for a return to literary fiction are deferred. May they not shrivel like a raisin in the sun.

Witch Business Conducted

My niece Fiona and I are witches so when we get together we get down to witch business. Our business has been curtailed since the birth of Purvis. No chance to ride our brooms, cast spells, or craft fiendish plots while intertwining our knobby fingers over a bubbling brew. Purvis goes to bed an hour before lights-out for Fiona so we have a few chances to TCB.

After kicking her mom out of her makeshift room (Fiona sacrifices her room to visitors and nests down in the family office.), she said, “So, like, do you know any other potential witches aside from Purvis?” (Fiona has coached me in how I will turn Purvis into a witch after a certain mandated waiting period. It involves spells and dances that make me jerk and twitch like a crazy person, which is sadly not so different from my usual jerky robot dance style.)

“My other niece Lyla. She’s too young right now but maybe in a few years.”

Fiona scribbled Lyla’s name on a piece of paper. She leaned closer. The air mattress belched below her shifting weight. “What is her witch name?”

My witch name is Missy; my niece is Fiona. Our names came from our source witch, Miss Fiona, the protagonist of a book I read to Fiona years ago when our witch world was sparkly and new.

Fiona told me that Lyla means night in Hebrew. I did not know that. Could a witch’s name be any more perfect? We brainstormed night-related words.

“How about Luna?” I asked.

“That means moon.” She said.

“Or how about Stella-Luna for star-moon and Luna is her nickname?”

“Witch nicknames are extremely rare,” she corrected.


Fiona had given Purvis the witch nickname of Dibbie, short for Dibba-Dibba-Dibba-Dibba, which is one of Purvis’ babbles du jour.

“So, what else?” Fiona asked, pen poised over paper.

“Spirit animal?” I asked.

She considered. “I’m a panda because I’m sweet but violent, but I’m not violent like I would kill someone without a reason.”

“That’s good.”

“I’m a poodle because I’m smart and fashionable.” I said.

She scrunched up her face. “A poodle?!?”

“A standard poodle, not one of the yippy miniature kind.” I clarified.

“Okay,” she said with raised eyebrows.

Lyla will be a lioness. Purvis remains spirit animal-less for the time being. Her excitement over Zooey, the 18-year-old JADE family cat, leads me to believe that she will be the witch-appropriate cat.

Before every visit, I wonder if Fiona will have outgrown our playtime together. She is so much like a teenager at times—kids they really do grow up so fast, I blame Bieber—that I get a sinking feeling that she won’t want to play witches anymore, that she’ll shrug off my talk of spirit animals and power stones as childish things. I know that day will come. I remember my older cousin, Elizabeth, shunning my wish to play Barbies and feeling like a fun part of my world had been crushed beneath her newly acquired kitten heels. Elizabeth traded Barbie’s Corvette for the redneck trucks of the boys who lived in the surrounding hamlets of rural Virginia where she lived. She shoved her box of Barbies at me and then locked herself in her room to talk on the phone.

I hope Fiona will let me down easy when the time comes or maybe find some liberation from adolescent strictures in playing with Purvis. For now I relish the twinkle in her eye when talk turns to witches and her shushing me when I try to talk business in front of outsiders (like her mother).

(Note to Dan and Anna—please do not tell Fiona I wrote about this. I hear that she has a violent side and I don’t want to see the vicious panda in her awakened. )

Baby Steps
Purvis walked! She walked at least 4 steps back and forth between Mr. Crud and me. Even though I am not officially worried that she hadn’t started walking by the time she turned one, I occasionally fret that she is delayed in some way. Or maybe it’s just that the first question on everyone’s lips is “Is she walking yet?” I feel like I have to make excuses. “She’s taken a few steps here and there. Oh sure, she walks around holding our hands all the time. Not yet, but she’s getting there.” Part of me looks forward to seeing her totter around hands-free. Of course I want her to walk. Then again our house is barely baby-proofed for her as a crawler.

In other exciting development news Purvis now knows the location of her head, her eyes, her nose and her feet as well as the heads, eyes, and noses of her doting parents. Sure, we get poked in the eye a few times a day, but it’s so worth it to see the pride on her face.

Food Eaten
When I made my list of things to do on our final trip to Florida, two of those things were food. The third was the beach, but I could have done without the beach if push came to shove.

Las Vegas
While I am no big fan of south Florida, I am a huge fan of the delicious Cuban food that dots the landscape inside and out of Little Havana. A few trips ago we checked out Versailles, the Cubanest of the Cuban restaurants that has hosted Bill Clinton and a number of visiting dignitaries. I drooled over the colorful treats in the bakery case and snooped around the old men drinking strong coffee out front. So wonderfully old world.

Sadly a trip to Miami was not in the cards. So we settled for the equally tasty, but not as fashionable restaurant, Las Vegas, in the heart of Fort Lauderdale. The hostess pointed at a table and before we could even buckle Purvis into her highchair, a basket of buttery garlic bread appeared. Immediately Purvis pointed. My girl is a carb fiend like her mama. Be it cornbread, garlic bread, baguette, waffle or slice of whole wheat, she devours her bread by the fistful.

I ripped tiny pieces from the slices of garlic butter-slathered baguette while we perused the menu. Everything came with black beans and fried plantains so the entrĂ©e was almost beside the point. Soon our chow arrived. Purvis’ grunts of bread satisfaction were redirected to the black beans she was now shoving in her mouth. I am terrified of the prospect of a choking Purvis. She has a super sensitive gag reflex so coughing fits can easily transform into puking fits. As a result, I cut her food into dollhouse miniature sized pieces. I carefully sliced each bean in half and smooshed it between my fingers before depositing it on the table in front of her. She hoovered them up as fast as I could make them. I’m still not sure if my care is necessary since she eats my tiny pieces by the handful, but I’m not taking any chances.

We snatched minutes of adult conversation between feeding Purvis beans and bread. My mealtime conversations with Mr. Crud and anyone else who shares table time with Purvis consist of me asking a question, Mr. Crud starting to answer, our attention getting called to Purvis, whining over not getting enough beans fast enough averted, and then we both lock eyes, “What were we talking about?”

Eventually we were stuffed and gestured to our server that we were done. He reached to clear the plate with two cups of half-empty beans left. Had she not been belted into her high chair, Purvis would have leaped from her seat.

“Nuh-nuh-nuh!” She cried, grabbing at the plate as the server lifted it over her head.

We pried her fingers from the plate, leading to a baleful wail. I freed her from her high chair, a cascade of bean pieces and bread sprinkled to the floor, and walked her around the restaurant, pointing out the old-timey pictures of little kids that lined the walls. Thankfully the images of the kids made her forget all about the travesty of black beans gone uneaten.

Cypress Nook

There is nothing exactly special about this tiny German-ish breakfast-lunch joint a 20-minute walk from JADE’s house, but it is my one must-do meal while spending time in Pompano Beach. Maybe I love it for the memories of past visits to Florida. When we step through the door images of Fiona, her round cheeks smeared with chocolate from her M & M pancakes and my nephew, Monkey Boy, ripping pieces from his pancake flood my mind’s eye. I remember the year when Fiona was three and buzzing around the outside patio while we took a family portrait that still hangs on our refrigerator. So many low-key yet sweet breakfasts in our nook of the Nook. Vegetable omelets and hash browns and ladies scribbling our orders on their pads while calling us “hon.” I ordered Purvis a pancake and ripped her miniscule pieces while she fumbled with the crayons our waitress had given her to pass the time. My vegetable omelet and hash browns were the platonic ideal of down home breakfast. Cypress Nook, I will miss you most of all.

Vacation-y Activities Partake
Putting the Beach in Pompano Beach
We settled on Tuesday afternoon for our big beach outing so as to avoid the spring break crowds and midday sun. Purvis, resplendent in the hot pink poodle tankini I picked up for the trip, and I and Mr. Crud in our saggy 5-year-old swimsuits packed into the JADE-mobile with Anna, Fiona, and canvas bags overflowing with beachy necessities. In 10 minutes we were there. The waves ebbed and flowed, seagulls cawed, Purvis soaked through her swim diaper before our toes touched sand. We schlepped our goods to a spot by the water and unfurled the beach blanket. I set Purvis down. The second her toes touched sand she whimpered and lifted her arms. I obliged, letting her soak the hip of my capris with her pee. Ah motherhood: pee is as benign as water to me. Anna offered to take Purvis on a jaunt down the pier while Mr. Crud and I relaxed the rays of the fading sun and bathed in the glory of the crashing waves.

The moment they were out of sight, I panicked.

“I’m just going to say this out loud because it’s ridiculous: I’m suddenly afraid that Anna will drop Purvis into the ocean.” I said. So remarkable how quickly my mind origami-s a new fear from mental scraps.

Mr. Crud grabbed my hand. “I know. Me too. It’s okay.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust Anna.” Anna is one of my parental spirit guides. Her handling of parenthood with grace and bad assed-ness was one of the reasons that I thought I could venture into the murky waters of mothering. Her kids have made it to age 8 and 4 without being dropped into the ocean, I reminded myself.

“No need to explain. I get it,” he said.

“I’m also terrified that I will drop her in the ocean.”

“That one has crossed my mind as well.”

A short and incomplete list of Purvis-related things that have made me shiver with fear in the past week:
• I will let Purvis walk on the Hawthorne Bridge and she will slither beneath the guardrail and fall into the Willamette.
• I will forget I am holding her and just drop her (sometimes this fear is compounded by standing atop the Eiffel Tower or near an elevator shaft).
• Purvis is somehow sleeping in our bed and I am lying on top of her, smothering her (I still wake up in a panic some nights convinced that she jumped out of her crib and climbed into bed with us).

I’ll stop there. You get the picture. My fear is malleable. It bends and twists to fit whatever situation hooks my overactive imagination. Were it not for yoga, I would be a walking panic attack. Sometimes I wonder I will ever trust the world with my sweet Purvis. How did my parents ever let me walk out of the door and into my high school boyfriend’s pea green Mustang without hyperventilating? I guess there is no trust about it. You protect them from what you can, attempt to protect them from what you can’t, and hope for the best. A little prayer here and there helps too. (Even the hippie dippy post-yoga-not really-to-any-particular-G-d prayers that are my stock and trade.)

After a few minutes I saw Purvis’s hot pink hat bobbing along the pier en route to our patch of sand. She survived the completely non-harrowing walk among the fishermen and pelicans waiting to snap up any discarded fish. Huzzah.

Anna handed her off to me. “Yep, she’s wet all right.”

Fiona, Mr. Crud, and Anna filed into the water. I hefted Purvis onto my hip and stood at the line of sand where the waves became moving puddles of foam. The water licked at my toes. A little cold, but doable. I dipped her into the next round of water, letting it wash over her feet. Instantly she recoiled and curled her legs as tightly as she could into her body. “N-nuh-nuh-nuh,” she whined.

“Okay, okay,” I said.

I set her back on my hip and took a few steps into the water. The prickly band of broken shells and rocks that separates beach from ocean cracked under my feet. The waves started to hit my knees. The sand turned smooth again. Purvis’ grip around my neck grew tighter and tighter in direct proportion to the urgency of her whines. The ocean was not on her vacation agenda.

I backed out and stood on the packed sand. I remembered my childhood visits to Fenwick Island where I spent as much of my day body surfing and diving under waves as I could without my skin peeling off due to sunburn. How did my mom let go then? She always insisted that we play in her view and that my dad be on duty. He had been a lifeguard and knew how to swim. That was the deal she cut with the universe. As long as my former lifeguard dad was around, we were safe. I was the former lifeguard in this equation and I did not feel up to the protector task. For a moment I rejoiced that we would not be returning to Florida. The waves in Oregon are too strong and the water too cold for kids. (Well, actually for adults. You see kids splashing around the shallow water even when the temperatures hover around 70.) Still the Pacific is not a body-surfing kind of ocean. Maybe the JADE relocation to Connecticut would help me to dodge this one tiny bullet. I await the new Connecticut-related fear that will pop up in its place. (That Purvis develops a love of penny loafers?)

Our afternoon at the beach came to an end with the promise of take-out sushi pulling us back to the homestead. During our brief stay Fiona had created a lovely bit of sand art from seaweed and rocks. She is my beloved niece, but I know talent when I see it.

Purim Carnival
What? Doesn’t every vacation include some sort of Jewish festival? While I am somewhat well-versed in the ways of Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover, I’ve never participated in Purim. Mr. Crud assured me that it was the fun holiday, the one where people are commanded to drink wine by no less a force than G-d, G-d-self. Fantastic. Where was this holiday 2 years ago when I was still full force in my boozerini ways?

My bro-in-law Dan, Purvis, and I headed over to the temple to meet up with Fiona and Monkey Boy who had gone earlier for the kids’ Purim service. Mr. Crud, who was battling a gnarly cold, and Anna took the opportunity for a few hours of quiet. I put on makeup for the first and final time of the trip. Even though I have heard only positive, accepting things about the congregation, I still wanted to feel confident, and my confidence is always enhanced by a swipe of mascara.

When we arrived, the children’s service was still in full effect. I spied Fiona in her kick-ass Vashti costume, ready to read a section from the Purim story. She alternates between Esther and Vashti each year because Esther, the hero of the story gets all the attention. Later that day on our way to the car, a woman complimented her Esther costume.

“I’m Vashti,” Fiona said over her shoulder.

That’s my righteous niece, sticking up for poor Vashti whose refusal to parade herself naked in front of King Achashverosh (spell check does not look kindly on that name) set the Purim action in motion, but gets no respect.

The rabbi stood in front of the costumed congregants in a dread-locked rasta hat-wig and rotated the gragger, the Purim noisemaker, at the mention of Haman, the story’s bad guy. The kids joyfully boo-hissed and rattled their graggers along with him. Purvis quickly got excited about all the kids in costumes and started making smiley eyes at a tanned lady a few rows back. My usual default at Jewish gatherings is nervously optimistic, but I felt at ease almost instantly. Purvis is a wonderful social lubricant—much better than wine—and if I don’t feel comfortable, I can always take her to a patch of grass to work on her walking skills.

The service ended. Dan and Monkey Boy hit the snack table. I lingered by the craft station while Fiona made a shaker out of a folded paper plate, black beans, and staples. She handed it to Purvis who rattled it around and smiled. She probably would have loved anything Fiona handed her, but she joyfully shook it while Fiona ran to another station.

My stomach growled. The rabbi had mentioned hot dogs (first pass at typing this hot gods appeared, Freudian slip?), hamburgers, veggie burgers would be served at the carnival. I headed over to the table where hot dogs and burgers were spread on platters. Nary a veggie burger in sight. Dan went for a hot dog while Monkey Boy filled up another bag of popcorn. I decided that a hamantaschen would be my temporary hunger-sater. My rules about eating meat are random and haphazardly enforced, but I stick by my plan to avoid hot dogs and hamburgers of unknown origin. I slipped Purvis a few crumbs. As my stomach got growlier, I kept my head. I did not start cursing the Jewish holidays for not letting me eat. I watched the kids zip around and breathed in the moment. I understood why Dan and Anna did not want to leave this congregation. The members were smiley and accepting. Several people commented on Purvis’ cuteness. I wondered if Mr. Crud and I would ever find a congregation that made sense for us, i.e. one that reminded Mr. Crud of his childhood yet didn’t activate my feelings of outsider-ness. We have a few years. But Passover, the holiday that starves and tortures me, looms on the horizon.

Home Again, Home Again
The flight home took us through Midway where Mr. Crud successfully resisted the urge to gorge on a hot beef sandwich. Airport restaurants never properly sate cravings unless such cravings are for tomato-pastey pizza with oil-puddled dry cheese. We boarded the plane. The people around us gave us the now-familiar wary baby-eye which can be summed up with: Is your baby going to make this flight miserable for me? On our first flight out of Portland, a man sat behind us. While Mr. Crud hustled to install the baby seat and get our many bags situated, the man said, “I have tinnitus. Is that going to be a problem?” He nodded in Purvis’ direction.

Mr. Crud kept his sarcastic responses in check and ignored the man. The man’s wife slapped him on the shoulder from her seat across the aisle, “It’s a baby. If you need to move, you move.” Thank you wife of clueless Tinnitus man.

Once in the air, Purvis did not satisfy my craving for some uninterrupted Us Weekly time by falling asleep in her seat, but she did nap for some good time stretched across my lap. Heavy but cute. I can’t imagine how the lap-baby parents do it.

For the first time in our air travels with Purvis, we found our car in the long-term parking lot at PDX without too much cursing and trudging. We shivered in the damp air as Mr. Crud installed the car seat base and I jammed luggage into the back of our Subaru station wagon. Purvis vacillated between faraway stares and crying. Although it was 6:00 Pacific Standard Time, it was 9:00 by our east coast internal clocks. Yawn.

We pulled into our driveway. A tow truck driver was hooking up his truck to the port-a-potty that had been parked in front of our house for almost a month. The backhoe that had been its partner-in-illegal-parking was already gone. In the last two months I had grown into my crotchety old lady-hood with ease. I had learned to use (and love) the City of Portland’s online complaint form. To date the power of my complaints have cleaned up the trash littering the front yard of the twenty-something flophouse across the street and now the backhoe and port-a-potty would be an abandoned auto memory.

“It worked! My complaint worked!” I said.

“Dang, I was hoping to watch them tow the backhoe,” Mr. Crud said.

Even though the cold air was a slap in the face after the long days of sunshine in Florida, at least the view from my window wouldn’t be eclipsed by a mud-caked backhoe. Now if only I could find a way to keep Purvis from waking up at 3:00 the next morning, the spring break miracle would be complete.

* Names have been changed to protect the young and innocent, thus rendering the JADE family nickname not as self-explanatory.