Monday, September 29, 2008

The Details of My Inadequacy

Today is the day my daughter starts classes at the School of American Ballet, which means we'll commute to the Upper West Side twice a week after school. It's at least a forty-minute subway ride each way, so we'll log roughly an hour and a half of train time on class days. I'm planning to bring a clipboard so she can do her homework on the train, and I guess I’d better bring crayons too, because her homework often involves coloring. I’ve already decided that if she gets any more of those mindless cut-and-paste worksheets on ballet days, I’ll let her skip them. I hate them because they take Molly a long time to do – she’s very painstaking with her scissoring - and they’re really not teaching her anything, anyway. Inadequacy number one: I let my daughter skip homework which I deem annoying and worthless.

We really have been trying to get the girls in bed earlier though, for all our sakes. Mom and Dad need quiet work time in the evenings, and little girls need plenty of sleep. A copy of The 7 O’Clock Bedtime, by Inda Schaenen, mocks us from the coffee table, where it's taken up permanent residence. We haven’t mastered it yet, but we’re trying. On ballet days, M and I won’t even get home until seven, but if we eat dinner on the subway, I can (probably) have her tucked into bed by 7:30. In search of packable, portable, healthy dinner ideas, I turned to Google (of course) and found something equal parts fascinating and horrifying (again, of course, right?).

Several Flickr photostreams showcase beautifully packed lunches, dinners, and snacks, handcrafted by supermoms for their precious and well-nourished offspring. See some here, if you can handle it. If you can’t, I’ll tell you: they’re made in Bento-box style containers and feature things like hard-boiled eggs molded and dyed to look like barnyard animals, rice balls decorated to look like cartoon characters, and exotic items such as quail eggs, kimchi fried rice, and – this is the best one – “sauté of enoki mushrooms, red bell peppers, bacon and green onions.”

Holy shit! Here I thought I was doing pretty well to slap together a PB&J and some apple slices, with bonus points for remembering to throw in a cloth napkin and a Hershey’s miniature, but apparently I’ve reached a new, previously undreamed-of level of inadequacy. Is this really what the other mothers are doing now? I hate to stoke the mommy-wars bonfire, but I can’t help wondering why you would go to the trouble of documenting your masterpiece lunches on the Internet if you weren’t trying to gloat, just a tiny bit. If I weren’t so neurotic I suppose I’d be inspired by these women and their lovable lunches, but who are we kidding? I am neurotic and insecure, and I feel like my best efforts aren’t enough when compared to such marvelousness.

I console myself by supposing that these women probably don’t give their husbands very many blow-jobs, an area in which I believe I excel. (If there’s a Flickr photostream proving me wrong about that too, I don’t want to know about it.) I wonder if my parents read my blog. See, another inadequacy: I publicly reveal intimate things about myself (and my poor husband) which my readers probably don’t need to know. But hey, it’ll be fun to see if my blog stats spike this week. To date, the entry with the most hits is still the one with MILF-eat-MILF in the title. Give the people what they want, right? I’m doing my best – it’s just never going to involve cartoon onigiri and Bento boxes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Inappropriate Feelings

Last weekend, Tom and I went to see Endgame at BAM. The show was just all right, I have to say, perhaps because Macbeth, which we saw there in March, was so breathtaking. It was a hard act to follow. Anyway, Alvin Epstein was wonderful, but the rest of the cast was, I think, not really feeling it. Or at least if they were, it didn't show. Beckett is tricky to do well - actually he's simple, but sometimes simple is hard.

After the show, we popped into BAMcafe for cocktails, me teetering along in my painfully high heels, Tom still feeling a happy glow from the performance, which he loved, and with which he found no fault. Toward the end of my first gin and tonic, I noticed an extremely good-looking bartender doing his side work behind the bar. It was nearly closing time, and he was washing glasses and bagging up trash, no doubt eager to go home to his girlfriend, or perhaps just to prowl the night. Maybe I downed my drink just a bit too quickly, because I found I couldn't stop staring at this boy - for he was just a boy - and I started to go weak with desire. His shoulders, his hips, his smooth black hair and sultry eyes - oh, my. I wanted to consume him. Truly, I think if he'd come within reach of me, I might have devoured him. You always hear that women hit their sexual peak in their thirties, but I didn't imagine it would feel like this. Kind of fun though, really. I always did enjoy being naughty.

Then yesterday on the subway, I felt again a sort of yearning - a longing for some sort of connection with someone, or with everyone. I didn't want to rip anyone's clothes off and do dirty things to them, but I kind of wanted to ask people if they'd give me a hug. What would they have done, I wonder? How many people would, if approached by an attractive, sweet-smelling woman in the subway, give her a hug if she said she really needed one because she was feeling sad that day? Would you?

Anyway, I didn't ask. I sat down on the train and took out my knitting, and as the train jerked forward, my eyes filled with tears. It was the anniversary of the loss of a beloved friend, the day before had been full of small irritations, I was very tired, and altogether I felt like an open wound. As the train jostled me, my eyes filled and dried, filled and dried. I took deep breaths and focused on my knitting. Knit two together six times, yarn over, knit two, now purl a row, now knit again.

At the next stop, a distinguished-looking man sat next to me, and as we waited for the train to start again, I felt him watching me. He asked, in a soft French accent, if the train would be going to 50th street. I said yes, eventually it would. Still the train didn't move, although the doors had closed. Knit two together, yarn over, purl. A plainclothes police officer with a badge around his neck walked past our car, peering inside. My French seatmate wondered why announcements were being broadcast in the station but no announcement was made to us, and I joked that they didn't want the passengers to panic; it would be mass hysteria if we knew what was going on. We sat in companionable silence after that, and finally the train started to move. He asked me what I was knitting, and I told him it was a blanket for my daughter's doll. I said I didn't have the patience to knit anything but doll things and dishcloths.

"No," he said, "you are patient. I can tell. You are a very patient woman."

I smiled. He told me that I reminded him of his mother, who used to knit when he was a child. She had to knit, he said - it was how she made a living. All this time, as he spoke gently to me and I smiled and responded, I didn't lift my eyes from my knitting. I was afraid that if I did, those endless, threatening tears would well up and spill over. When he got off at 50th street he wished me well, and once again said, "You are patient. Don't worry. You are very patient." I realized that what I'd really wanted to do was lay my head on his shoulder and let my tears flow. He would have told me more about his childhood, in that lilting French accent, and my grief would have washed away along with my tears. Instead, I finished my row, took a deep breath, and got off the train at Columbus Circle, ready to go on with my day. I was precariously balanced, but with every step, I grew steadier.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ira Glass, My Ass

I got the new issue of BUST the other day, having recently re-subscribed after a short boycott because I was fed up with them. Actually, I'm still kind of fed up with them, and I'm not sure why I subscribed again - maybe for Ayun Halliday's column. I have a love-hate thing going with BUST because their particular brand of feminism makes me really uncomfortable. The whole ironic feminism thing is wearing thin for me. You know, "Don't tell me I'm not a feminist, just because I wear red lipstick and bake cupcakes and knit sweaters and slide up and down a stripper pole! I am such a feminist that I can buy into any form of male-dominated societal bullshit and turn it on its head! My cupcakes and lipstick are ironic!" Yeah. Okay. Whatever. I'm a feminist in spite of the fact that I wear lipstick and knit and bake cupcakes - I'm not selling them as feminist acts. So mostly, I prefer Bitch for my feminist reading, though they piss me off sometimes too.

But anyway, my point. BUST has done another "Men We Love" issue, and predictably, Ira Glass is one of the chosen. Yeesh. I am so over hearing about Ira Glass crushes (and in fact, NPR crushes in general). It reeks of desperation to portray oneself as a quirky-cool, hipster intellectual. What's more, I'll bet you a million dollars that Ira Glass is a jerk. In the BUST interview, he admits that he enjoys being the object of a thousand indie-girl crushes. "It's incredibly dear," he says, qualifying with the fact that he's "devoted to [his] wife and would never consider acting on something like that." Mmmm-hmmm. Sure. Nerdy guys who never got any action in high school, but developed a patina of cool in middle-age, are usually total players. It's like they're exacting revenge for being snubbed in their younger years, although maybe it's not that malicious. Maybe they're just making up for lost time. In any case, let's stop pumping up Ira Glass's ego. If you insist on harboring a quirky crush to bolster your hipster-cred, I nominate Ben from Lost. You'd be helpless before his unblinking stare, as that calm, hypnotic voice instructed you to - well, he could probably talk a girl into doing anything at all. Creepy=hot.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Could Be a Long Twelve Years

Yesterday was report-card day for the NYC Public School crowd - the kids had a half-day and there were parent-teacher conferences in the afternoon. We don't really care one way or the other about grades; we know our daughter is happy and smart and hard-working and that's all that matters to us. We'd just as soon have her in one of those hippie schools that don't give grades at all, if it weren't for the astronomical tuition that most of them charge. (I can't understand how there are so many filthy-rich hippies out there, but what other explanation is there?)

In spite of my professed nonchalance about grades, something about going in to talk to M's teachers brings out a crazed, competitive streak in me. I'm fine while we're there, listening to the teachers say she's bright, funny, well-behaved (whatever) and a delight to have in the classroom. I'm nodding my head as they tell me she is right on target for her grade level, that she always contributes to discussions, shows empathy for her classmates, and is verbally precocious. Great, fine, good to hear, but we already knew all of that. No big deal.

At M's school, they give "grades" of 1-4. A 3 means "meets expectations for grade level," a 4 means "exceeds expectations." A 2 means "almost there" and a 1 means - well, anyway, M didn't get a single 1 or 2. M's report card sports rows of 3's, 3+'s, and a few 4's. So, great, but as I said, I don't care anyway, right? Late afternoon yesterday though, a little voice in the back of my head started to nag me. I tried to ignore it, but it just kept getting more insistent. "She should have been given all 4's," whispers the voice. "Maybe her teachers are too busy to notice that she's clearly exceeding grade level in every subject," says the voice. "They should really have given her 5's in everything - surely she's the most brilliant student they've ever encountered!" screams the voice.

So during Lost last night (isn't this the highlight of everyone's week?) I finally blurted it out. "Tom, why do you think she didn't have all 4's? Do you think she's trying to tone down her brilliance at school so she can fit in? Do you think her teachers are purposely trying not to go overboard with praise, even though she's clearly the most gifted child they've ever encountered? She is, right? You can see how smart she is too, can't you? She should have had all 4's, right? Right?" Poor Tom. All he had to do was give me one of his signature long-suffering looks, equal parts pity and patience, and I dropped it. I took a deep breath, a swig of beer, and the little voice slunk off into a quiet corner of my brain, preparing to resurface at the next likely opportunity.

And to think, I worried that I'd find it hard to adjust to the ultra-competitive New York lifestyle. Apparently, I'm ready to go in that regard. But this is only kindergarten - if I can't shut that little voice up, we're all in for a long ride.