the Mammal Chronicles: October 2007

when it comes right down to it, ya lactate or ya don't.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some notes on taking a toddler to work...

My husband is out of town -- he, his four brothers, and a couple friends are in New York to see the Police at Madison Square Garden. It is his first trip away from the girl. Like a dutiful stay at home dad, before leaving he set me up with bags packed with snacks, diapers and instructions to take to the sitter. We arranged for the teen next door to watch her while I was teaching but after class I had to come by, pick her up and take her to work with me.

Our university is undergoing a process called "prioritization and recovery" -- yes, a euphemism for "who's getting cut?" Today was a big townhall meeting for support programs, mine among them, and so there I was with the girl on her trike (she doesn't pedal; it has a push handle) in the back row. It did not, let's say, go well.

So here's what I've learned about taking toddlers to meetings:
  • a plate full of grapes will get you quietly through a few minutes
  • a plate full of grapes will not stay on the plate for long once the toddler decides she wants to hold said plate on her own
  • it is hard to stop a toddler from eating grapes off the floor and keep her quiet at the same time
  • if you are going to take a toddler across campus to a meeting, remember to bring a fresh diaper
  • don't take toddlers to meetings wearing shoes that squeak with each step
  • don't take toddlers to meetings

Saturday, October 27, 2007

venturing into the village

I am chronically early. If you're having a party, plan on having me show up inconveniently and unfashionably 30 minutes before it is scheduled to start. I can't seem to help it. My dad was in the Navy, so he was always pushing us to be on time. I responded by being early, my sister responded by being late. I guess I'm not a rebel (in some ways at least).

So the Holistic Moms said they'd start setting up our booth at the village fair at 8 am, and I was there before 7:30. I wandered around, probably annoying merchants who weren't yet ready for looky-loos, and making others wonder who the transient in the "Homebirth Mama" t-shirt was.

Looking at all the craft booths being set up took me back in time to college when I worked for a novelty rubber stamp company. I'd worked many of these fairs, and recalled those long days of constructing booths, demonstrating stamping all day, until when I finally went to sleep all I could see in the darkness were stamped images of bunnies skipping under clouds holding multi-colored balloons. I remember my body aching from head to toe and collapsing in hotel rooms, only to repeat the cycle the next day then drive or fly back home to get to class on monday. It was often days before I could fully wash all the glitter out of my hair.

So today there I was, prepared, with my stamp carving tools in hand ready to set up for the fair. When the volunteer who brought the potatoes arrived, I was dismayed to find that carving potatoes was not nearly as easy as carving erasers. I'm used to being able to carve stamps with significant detail and the potatoes (Holistic Moms wanted a nature-based craft) refused to cooperate. Finally I had to let go of my expectations and just go with roughly hewn hearts, moons and leaves.

Mostly though I was there to get to know the other Holistic Moms. We talked about local school districts and homeschooling, nursing, and other holistic stuff. At noon my shift was over and I wandered the village where I perused the various crafts arrayed in booths and thought about how I could make this one or that one but how I never would. At least not for a long time. So now I buy handcrafted items more than I make them. Today's haul: three bars of goatsmilk soap (lavender/lemongrass, spice, and green tea/lemongrass/ginger) and three tins of shea butter (patchouli, grapefruit and lavender). Mmmm...grapefruit.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pumpkin Fest 07

We didn't expect it to be so big.

Each year my university, historically an Ag college, holds a Pumpkin Festival. I'd never bothered to go, but my daughter is 2 now and it seemed the thing to do. Our friends with kids had been going every year. When I mentioned my astonishment at the size of the event, which seemed to go on for acres, one of the friends declared, "You're a virgin."

I assume she meant to the pumpkin festival, but it'd be equally applicable to parenthood. It's funny that even though I was the type to like this sort of event before becoming a parent, I had never bothered to go. Besides, I'd always thought the pumpkin festival was a small patch outside the farm store, but the pumpkins, lying in fields surrounded by sunflowers, went on and on and on. They were complemented by a petting zoo, pony rides, kettle corn, funnel cakes and other fair fare. Other folks were clearly more familiar with the event and came prepared: as we drove up, the walkways were filled with people carting off literally dozens of pumpkins in wheelbarrows, wagons, and strollers (in which the child had been displaced by, yes, pumpkins).

We ate hot roasted and buttered ears of corn, picked out two good-sized pumpkins, and ate pumpkin ice cream. I was sorely tempted to purchase one of two Ag school t-shirts: One said "Plant Geek" and the other said "Eat, Sleep, Garden" over our school name. I've never been much for school pride, but loved these.

The day was dusty and hot, and by 2:30 or so we were ready to head home. We were tired enough that we didn't make it to the Insect Festival on another part of campus. Maybe another day.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Dancing Elephant

It was a work night, and by that I mean that someone had to ride the second bus with students to LACMA and that someone was me. Yet despite it being a work night and a work trip, somehow it ended up costing me $42, which if I had lied and said I couldn't go, I would have saved and my salary wouldn't have changed one bit.

Here's the tally, some of which I could probably write off as a business expense but probably won't:

  • Ticket to see the Dali exhibit, which the university paid only for the honors students and the professor teaching the honors section: $12
  • Assorted salads: $7
  • Sparkling water: $3
  • Funky little doll for my daughter: $5
  • Bathtub stopper with chain and floating lily pad attached: $15

Sure, I didn't have to buy the lily pad bath stopper, but how could I not? And then how could I spend $15 on myself and come home with nothing for my daughter? Clearly I had no choice in either situation. I suppose that I could write off the lily pad or the doll if I argued they were educational tools.

The Dali exhibit was good, though I would have liked to take it in chunks instead of trying to pack it all into one visit. I have a hard time at museums because I'd like to just spend quality time with a few pieces but always feel like I have to see it all. In this exhibit, the Disney/Dali collaboration, Destino, was particularly beautiful and haunting, but then I'm not as big on ants crawling out of a hole in your hand, which seemed to be a motif in the rest of his work.

On the way home the students were bored and wanted to play telephone. I was assigned to come up with the phrase. "She'll make it good and weird," I heard someone say from the back of the bus. "No pressure!" I shouted, "I'm thinking!" Eventually I came up with "The Dancing Elephant looked for his keys in his long, long trunk." By the end of the line, it became "Anna lost her keys in the back room."

That was the theme of the night I guess -- Not losing your keys, which is certainly the theme of many of my days, but the mundane becoming weird and the weird becoming mundane.

Story of my life.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Finding My Tribe

It was the noisiest meeting I'd ever been to (small children raced across the circle as women tried to talk over the din) but then in two years of being a mother this was one of the very first times I'd attended a mommy group. I probably would have done so sooner if not for two reasons:

  • I work full-time and sometimes through the weekend while most mom groups meet on weekdays.
  • I'd never really connected to other moms. I don't always feel like the same species.

I had my suspicions though, that this group promised to be different, worth making time for even though I'm often dead tired after work. There's the name, Holistic Moms Network, that made me think maybe I'd find "my people" here. They have chapters all over the country, but until recently the closest one was in Pasadena. I'd tried it once when my daughter was only a few months old, and liked both the people and the talk on nutrition that the guest speaker gave, but the drive was just too much on a weekday evening. When someone posted on an Attachment Parenting list I'm on that a chapter would be forming in my area, I was thrilled.

Upon entering the meeting place at a local new age shop in the same center that held the first natural foods market in the area (which had opened only a month or so before), I saw pillows on the floor, crystals in glass cases, and mommies with babies in slings. I knew I was home. We went around and introduced ourselves: there was a mom named "Summer" and babies named "Tara" and "Paisley." Women talked about how out of place they felt in other mommy groups, how long they breastfed their children (the winner: still nursing at 4 1/2 years), how good it was finally to be in a group where homebirths were the norm rather than a freakish anomaly (I remember 2 years ago one mom asking me upon finding out I gave birth at home, "On purpose???"). Here, in this group, I felt almost conservative because I vaccinated my daughter and am only vegetarian, not vegan.

I am home, I am home, I am home.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Can you go back?

I have been overcome in the past week with a fit of nostalgia. It happens now and again: the urge to google my past. These days, enough people are online in one form or another that a lot of former friends and lovers come up in searches. I'm saddest when I can't even remember full names: only a shared experience perhaps or an alias. There was a woman in college I only ever knew as "Madeleine" -- I never knew her real name, or her real hair color. She had short bleached hair and had chosen Madeleine because she felt it represented her better than her birth name, which she never told me. She lived in a rambling house with half a dozen other people where there were whole five foot eucalyptus branches in the living room to repel the fleas the cats brought in. Or Lianne -- I can't remember her last name -- I only remember taking mushrooms with her at Will Rogers park, hiking to the top of the hill, and hearing her sing a song to the sky that she composed on the spur of the moment. She had a way of holding your face with her hands on both your cheeks and looking at you with an intensity I've never seen since.

I'll never find those people, but I do find others. I don't feel compelled to email or call all of them, but a few I do. Some don't write back. Whatever happened in our past to pull us apart still sits in the long road between us, causing us to only see the obstacle and not each other.

In one instance, in this case an ex-boyfriend, we had the loveliest chat on the phone. Lovely, really. All the detritus of our failed relationship seemed to have disappeared and all that was left was fondness. It felt as if enough time had passed and enough happiness had transpired in our respective lives that we could finally move forward. But then it happened: in a week of email, suddenly it was there again -- the criticism I remembered, the judgment, the "unlike the past when I bent over backwards for you..." (which in this case seemed to mean that if he wanted to criticize me for what he didn't understand, he wasn't going to hold back). Sigh. Old patterns, old blame. What he didn't get was that I didn't expect him to bend over backwards for me, which maybe I did do in the past, just that I wanted a friend who would try to understand the choices I made in my life rather than making quick assumptions about them. It's a loss, definitely, and I feel it all over again. He was quirky, talented, affectionate and fun. He probably still is.

So will I write or call folks the next time the urge hits me? I don't know. All these people I cared about for one reason or another and that doesn't always go away with the passage of time. It's hard not to hope that you might one day be able to build on that.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I was at a street painting festival today, manning a booth for the organization I volunteer for. People walked up, told me their stories. I watched children in the distance drawing on the ground with chalk and blowing bubbles. I played matchmaker a bit, chatting with another volunteer about someone I'd introduced her to at the last board meeting. She wasn't sure, but thought his passion for community service was "hot."

A week ago I turned in my tenure file. I won't find out for many months whether or not tenure will be granted, but already I feel a weight has been lifted off of me. The days feel lighter. There will be more blowing of bubbles and the asphalt will be brightly colored. Suddenly my life is less about jumping through arbitrary hoops and more about the work I do, and the play in work.

It rained last night, but the morning was clear. I can see the mountains again.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Now you tell me?

My tenure and promotion file is due on Monday. On tuesday, the chair of my department relayed to us that the dean had a number of "tips" she requested we follow in preparing these documents. Yes, that's less than a week before it is due. Among these requests are that our narrative be no longer than 10 pages (mine is 30 pages single-spaced), that we do not state how we have "fulfilled the criteria" because that is not for us to decide, and that we do not list publications that are accepted but not yet in print because it is "double-dipping" or because some anthologies may never actually come out.


  • I didn't want to write a 30 page document, but that is what five years of these reviews have wrung forcibly out of me: each year the letters from various committees have urged me for more and more detail.
  • I have fulfilled your fucking criteria. You haven't let me think of anything else for the last five years and I am nothing if not thorough. But fine: I'll change my wording to say "I have worked toward addressing the criteria by..." rather than saying "I have fulfilled the criteria by..."
  • I worked hard on those publications that are still in press, and sometimes the process for them to actually end up on physical paper is long. But I did the work.

Besides, the dean is not the end of the line: the University committee and Provost evaluate it after she does. People with other deans are putting in this stuff and my file will be side by side with theirs. So I told my chair that I would still be turning in those thirty pages. She responded by saying, "as long as you feel what you are turning in is authentic, you should be fine." I responded, "Oh, it's not authentic, but it's what this university has groomed me to turn in until its sudden u-turn less than a week before the deadline."

So here's my 30 pages. Read it or not. I'd like to see you try to deny me tenure because my file was too long.