Category Archives: Cars

How NOT To Drive to Los Angeles

FinallycartoonDo any of you other married people have a random, sensitive topic you never bring up because you and your partner once had a huge fight about it and that weird fight came to symbolize all the ways you and your partner don’t see eye to eye?

Yeah, me too.

Only, it pertains to my first marriage. My husband John and I were both married before (no kids) and I think his trigger topic with his first wife was television medical dramas or home improvement shows or something because she was always buying sod in Tahoe and killing it.

My ex-husband and I, on the other hand, could never bring up:

The Best Freeway For Driving Between Northern And Southern California

A fact that my mischievous cousin Vanessa probably remembered, so when we were all siting in a hotel near Disneyland last week (more on that trip in future posts) and she casually mentions how her buddy Steve was arguing about why people shouldn’t take Interstate-5 to get to Los Angeles, I had to jump up and shout:

“WHAT?? I-5 is the ONLY sane way to get to Los Angeles and ONLY LUNATICS WOULD TAKE ANYTHING ELSE!”

Before launching into a history lecture about how I-5 was specifically built so the military could move weapons across the state and any other route takes forever… getting far too worked up about the best freeway to use because, well, this argument and I have a long history together.

Taboo Marriage Topics

See, I met my first husband in the Army during a youthful existential crisis where we were both learning Arabic. He was from Virginia whereas I’m a Northern California native who went to college in Los Angeles and therefore lived in Southern California for several years while regularly driving up north to visit family.


Well, imagine you’re a California native who is engaged to a Virginian who hasn’t set foot off the military base, yet keeps telling you Wrong Things About California. Like, that San Jose is part of San Francisco. Or that you should be calling it “Frisco.” (I had to refer him to Emperor Norton during that argument).

And further imagine that you’re getting ready to drive up north to your wedding rehearsal dinner, with your super-gay usher in the car (I’ll tell you more about him if you want), when said Virginian starts demanding you take US-101…

And you tell them NO, because you’ve made this drive a thousand times and truly know that I-5 is the better route. You keep pushing for I-5, yet they keep insisting on 101 and when you want to know why, you find out that their dad once had a business conference in California where someone told him that 101 is a prettier drive–a dad who never actually attempted I-5 but clearly must know better than you.

“Okay, so you know that I lived in Los Angeles and probably drove up north about once a month for several years, right? Don’t you think I’d have a better idea than someone who never even tried…”

“Well, my dad said it was better.”


And it was true.

See, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat. I have a HORRIBLE sense of direction and I completely accept that about myself.

People have different strengths and weaknesses, and finding my way around will NEVER be one of my strengths. My family tells funny stories about how I tried to drive to San Francisco in high school and ended up in a cornfield or whatever… in short, I know this and have made peace with it. My ego is completely disconnected from the art of knowing the best way to get to anywhere and I DO NOT BOAST about knowing any directions unless I’m 100% SURE.

But if I know any direction in the world, it’s that I-5 is the best way to drive to Southern California, because I’ve tried the other ways and have been stuck in a 21 hour-vs-6 in rush hour San Francisco traffic before.

I’ll probably be shouting as much to the convalescent home aids after Alzheimer’s has devastated 98 % of my brain: “TAKE I-5 TO GET TO LOS ANGELES BECAUSE IN ANYTHING ELSE, MADNESS LIES” as the nurses shake their heads: “She’s going off about Interstate 5 again…”

Because THAT fact may be the last one left standing.

No matter. My ex pulled out a map to show me how 101 parallels 5. He kept arguing about how his father’s casual overhearing of something should trump my actual, hands-on knowledge until I finally said:

“FINE. Let’s take 101.”

And of course, a more experienced man would’ve known that “fine” translates to a dare in the female universe. But we were kids at the time.

So the drive ended up taking twice as long.

We missed our wedding rehearsal.

We missed the rehearsal dinner.

I ended up in a hot tub in the middle of the night, drinking cheap wine out of paper cups with my gay friend, who kept asking me if I really planned to give up dating forever for a guy who kept insisting he could smell ozone and that San Jose was part of the greater San Francisco metropolitan area (allegedly mentioned in southern textbooks).


Yeah, he kept correcting my knowledge about California until I was forced to pretend that dividing by zero is possible (“You’re dividing it by nothing, so it doesn’t divide. Five divided by zero is five!”) just to watch him freak out (this is what happens when nerd marriages go wrong).

And that’s the thing with these weirdly-sensitive arguments that never make sense to outsiders–they always represent something deeper.  In this case, his lack of respect for what I brought to the table and my pleasure at letting his doomed plans blow up.

But here’s the thing… turns out Vanessa’s friend Steve was arguing that 99 was the best route. He made some compelling arguments.

Compelling enough that John and I actually tried it. We drove home from Los Angeles using California State Route 99 as Satan ordered his minions to shovel all the snow inexplicably blanketing his domain.

And… it was… ahem

(What passes for historical artifacts in California)

Roughly as good as taking I-5.

It took a little longer, but only about 20 minutes, and had more interesting shops and restaurants along the way.

In fact, we briefly fell into a time warp when the kids discovered old Coke machines and novelty soaps outside a unique antiques & snacks shop.

So… I was wrong. There IS another sane way to dive across California. 99 is a breath of fresh air after years of taking I-5.

But I’m STILL completely against 101 for interstate travel, despite the 40 minutes of prettier initial scenery before adding several hours to the trip.

And I won’t even talk about the Pacific Coast Highway.









Pillow Feathers and Turds and Dogs With Rebellious Ears

Have you ever done something that you thought was a SUPER WONDERFUL IDEA only to later see that same SUPER WONDERFUL IDEA as proof there’s something wrong with your brain?

See, we’ve been going through an extremely stressful few months around here trying to sell our house and buy one at the same time. Trying to bid with contingencies, spending ungodly amounts of money fixing up our yard to look more inviting and having to keep our stupidly white house with white carpets looking absolutely perfect, just in case strangers need to walk through and judge us.

And complicating this endeavor is the fact we’re raising two crazy toddlers in this stupidly white house. Look, toddlers are all a little crazy, but I suspect my toddlers are even crazier than most.

I have my reasons. Like, when I attended mamma-baby yoga classes with my kids, all the other babies were sleeping or playing quietly with their toys, whereas MY babies were either concocting complex schemes to rip off all the other babies’ toys or so wound up they were repeatedly smacking themselves into the wall mirrors while disrupting class with their shrieks.

My toddlers appear to have a death wish. I kept trying to rationalize this away, but after baby-proofing every room in our house, we kept seeing them think up endless ways to throw themselves off our loft or stack up enough furniture to remove lightbulbs so they could stick their fingers into the empty sockets.

You’d think they’d grow out of that nonsense as they got older, but l’appel du vide is only becoming more sophisticated. Just this morning, I caught Bridget dipping her TOOTHBRUSH into the toilet, then sucking the water out of it.

Since plummeting off the balcony didn’t work for her, she’s now clearly trying to contract some form of cholera.

Witnessing this, there first was horror. Then, uncomfortable curiosity about whether or not it was the first time. And finally, the painful realization that she grabs my husband’s toothbrush whenever she can get her hands on it…

Unwilling to fully process the implications, I piled the kids into the car to hit the library. We were nearly there when bloodcurdling screams exploded from the back seat, whereupon I turned around and saw this:



THAT’S RIGHT, SHE’S STRANGLING HERSELF WITH THE FRONT PASSENGER SIDE SEATBELT. It wasn’t actually tight enough to hurt her, but what an impressive effort. How have we all managed to survive??

And this kind of insanity; this type of gritty, single-minded focus on senseless destruction has been aimed at our white-carpeted house for the past four years. At any given moment, I get a text from our agent telling me someone wants to view our house within the hour, usually just after realizing my kids did something like not only bust into my lipstick selection but also the ten-pound bag of rice hidden in our pantry, because such an exciting combination of two new forms of artistic media couldn’t fail to be explored.

And as much as I’ve tried blaming our kids’ foolishness on my husband’s genes, I’m now forced to admit that mine may also be responsible. Because in the middle of all this house-swapping lunacy, some crazy mad scientist living deep in my brain decided:

“You know what?  I don’t think this situation is nearly stressful enough. We should probably take everything up a notch by throwing a hysterical, house-shredding, not-potty-trained puppy into the mix.”

Yes, that was actually MY brain, surveying the landscape and determining how to proceed. Since the lipstick stains and rice everywhere hadn’t already broken me, I felt I needed a dog who’d shake every pillow in the house until feathers coated whatever clean space was left.

And you know what else? I don’t believe Douglas is a chihuahua mix. That’s what we were told by the sweet old lady handling him, but she’d pretty much gotten everything else about him wrong. She said he was six years old, but it turns out he’s 18 months. She said he was fixed, despite him clearly being intact.

I’m starting to wonder if she just assumed he was a chihuahua because most little dogs at shelters are (the bigger ones are Pit Bulls). Because since then, we’ve looked at photos of various dog breeds and he looks kind of EXACTLY like a Jack Russell terrier, which would explain the ridiculous amount of energy. It also means we busted straight past the beginner dog breeds to tackle the Advanced Calculus of challenging dog ownership.

Those ears are an in-your-face abomination, according to my kid

We still love him, of course, despite the fact that Brontë is deeply dissatisfied and has already put in her order for a secondary dog. When we move, as she’s explained to us multiple times, we need to get what amounts to the EXACT OPPOSITE of Douglas: a giant, black, female dog named “Bella” with TWO ears that stick straight up.

You see, Douglas has one ear that sticks up and one that folds over. I think it’s adorable, but it’s driving Brontë nuts. She keeps trying to unfold the bendy ear in a fruitless attempt to set things right. Something about Douglas’s mismatched ears really tweaks her 4-year-old concept of predictable world order.

For me, those concepts are a tad bit more unhinged by errant pillow feathers settling into dog turds on our expensively-cleaned white carpet right before our 2-year-old with an angry colon tries to hang herself with the seatbelts in our car, but why should my personal definitions of domestic tranquility take precedence, right?

Yet tonight, just as I thought the whole crumbing chaotic universe was about to claim my very soul…


Hallelujah! It’s OVER.

Someone is buying our house and someone else accepted our offer on theirs. On the same night.


Everything is right again and all we need to do is move.

(And get a giant black female dog with TWO sticky-up ears so my 4-year-old can again feel the world is just and consistent.)

Everyone is beautiful and wonderful again and I wish you all a good night. I love you all.







Are You A City Person or a Suburb Person?

Sacramento’s Tower bridge, or the “Golden Kitty Cat” bridge, according to my daughter

Seven years ago, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown Sacramento. I owned six pieces of furniture and all of my clothes and shoes could fit into one of them: a wooden IKEA wardrobe with guitars and fencing sabres piled on top.

I could walk to work in thirteen minutes, bike to the grocery store, and go for weeks without using my car.

My future husband lived a few streets over, in a fancier TWO bedroom apartment. Our courtship involved lots of margaritas and backgammon, plays and quirky coffee shops. River walks, museums and running around the city  until 4…

We got married a few years later and found out I was pregnant a month after that… Surprise! With a family on the way, we figured it was high time to become conventional grown-ups. Time to settle down and buy ourselves a house.

The American Dream

And conventional wisdom says you should raise families in suburbs. Bigger houses, better school systems, less crime…

So we packed up our belongings and moved into a suburb roughly half an hour away. We found a big, beautiful house we could’ve never afforded in Sacramento and were incredibly excited about this new chapter of our lives.

But as time wore on, we couldn’t help wondering if we’d made a mistake. Especially after our car was vandalized, eventually stolen, and houses around us were broken into several times (so much for lower crime).

And now, four years later, we know that we did. Our house is lovely, but we’re isolated and bored. We feel it harder every time we visit Sacramento and will be putting our house on the market by the end of the month.

Which raises the question…

Is it better to to raise a family in the city or the suburbs?

I don’t think there’s a right answer.

Or at least, the right answer depends entirely on you.

Who are you and how do you define a good quality of life?

While the suburb I currently live in and Sacramento don’t necessarily represent all cities and suburbs as a whole, I’ve lived in a variety of cities and noticed some common differences. To help define priorities,  I’ve come up with five telling questions I think anyone considering the leap should maybe ask themselves first:

1. How do you feel about your car?

the-tech-meme_104621.jpgWhen living in Sacramento, I usually walked to work. Instead of fighting traffic, scrambling to find parking or investing in  passes, I’d listen to music while getting fresh air.

My monthly gasoline bill was a less than a hundred bucks.

Since I often came home for lunch, I had an hour of free exercise automatically  built into my day. So, no need to join a gym or find time to work out.

That may have been an ideal situation, but city people generally live closer to work. Walking or biking are feasible options, unlike for suburbanites, who mostly face long commutes in unpredictable traffic.

Since my husband still works in Downtown Sacramento, moving back means two extra hours in his day. Two more hours to spend with his family, play outside, or just get extra sleep. We both consider that time invaluable, even at the price of higher property rates.

How about you?

2.  How do you feel about your stuff?

stuff.pngWhile having two kids means I’ll never live as streamlined a life as I used to, now the pendulum has swung too far the other way. More space means accumulating more stuff… more stuff than we’ll be able to keep after moving back into a smaller house.

It’s great to have lots of  things, but there’s also some downsides. While I used to tidy my apartment within thirty minutes, now I’m endlessly scrubbing a house that’s never completely clean. A bigger house means higher heating and cooling costs, every nook and cranny an ongoing entropy challenge…

They say the things you own start to own you, and I believe that’s true. I wrestle daily with wanting to get outside to DO something while simultaneously not wanting to live like a pig. We have stuff we forget we own and space we barely ever use… that nevertheless needs be cleaned, organized and maintained.

Plus a giant lawn to keep presentable so our neighbors won’t assault us with pitchforks and burning sticks.

Of course, that’s just MY opinion.  We have a finite number of waking hours and I’d rather not spend half of them maintaining a bunch of stuff.

But others may feel differently, wanting nothing more than to build a gorgeous domestic palace, a vast receiving house for guests with a lush green lawn and extra bedrooms.

Whether you find this idea appealing or suffocating depends on you.

3.  How do you feel about going outside and talking to strangers?

City people spend more random time outside. Everything is closer, often in walking distance, so you tend to get out of the house more when going about your day.

Not that suburbanites don’t get outside, but it tends to be more organized: soccer or swimming practice for the kids, working out at the gym or spending the weekend doing sporty things.

Even restaurants and shops are smaller in the city. You’ll be closer to the next table over, which means you’re more likely to strike up conversations with random people next to you. I’ve had strangers offer to let me try out their bikes in Sacramento within ten minutes of saying “hi.”

It’s not that suburbanites are unfriendly, it’s just more awkward to talk to folks from twenty feet away. Suburban areas are spread out, so everyone has more personal space.  You’re less likely to transact with people unless you’re buying something or already know someone well.

Cramped city life, on the other hand, means people are relatively “in your face.” You have to deal with them, for better or worse.

And whether you like that depends on your comfort level. Are you a homebody who would rather keep to themselves, staying indoors to watch TV or read a book? If so, you might just want a bigger, nicer room to read it in.

4.  How do you feel about familiarity vs the unexpected?

cody-pirates-and-mermaids-1Not only will more city people talk to you, they’re more unconventional than folks in the ‘burbs.

Or even kinda weird. For example, my family attended a festival run by Sacramento Pirates last week.

And I mean PIRATES. They dress like pirates, talk like pirates, and run around doing pirate-y things (except for, of course, actually marauding ships).

Would that make you uncomfortable?

Personally, I think it’s great. The Sacramento Pirates are people who know what they want. At some point in their lives, they asked themselves what made them happy and decided, “the Hell with what anyone else thinks, I want to be a grownup who runs around acting like a pirate with my friends.”

That takes a lot of guts and I respect it.

The kids had the time of their lives, being incredibly popular amongst pirating folk. The pirates gave them loads of attention and make-believe gems. They even let them hold their parrot and lizard pets.

My kids also collected wheel presents from members of the Sacramento Chapter of Official Mermaids, longtime buddies of the pirates, of course.

My kids carried these gem and shell offerings in little buckets for hours, later hanging out with folks in the Sacramento Beard Society, a bunch of guys who grow unusual facial then run around wearing bowler hats and Victorian vests.

My 2-year-old settled immediately into pirating life

People dress weirder and are weirder in the city, which, depending on your personality, can be either creepy or liberating.  Creepy for unsettling your expectations, but liberating because it means YOU can be weirder too. With fewer social penalties.

So, do you like living a conventional life with clear expectations, surrounded by people who behave in familiar ways? Or are you cool with bizarre hair colors, piercings, tattoos, and perspectives outside the comfortable norm?

I’m always surprised by how much culture and social rules can vary across a distance only thirty minutes away.

5. What kind of culture are you into?

Speaking of culture, what is yours? Do you love sports, football players and cheerleaders?

Are you a committed, born-again Christian who loves to socialize with other members of your flock?

Because if you are, suburbia may be the place for you. At least that’s how it is around here, where impressive mega-churches dominate the landscape and folks are gunning to get Donald Trump in charge.

Which is fine (some of my best friends are extremely religious), but it can be isolating for Unitarian Universalists like us. There’s a massive churchgoing element to socialization around these parts and not being born-again Christians, it can be hard to connect.

Some people worry about un-Christian influences facing shaping their kids once they start attending school.

Me? I’m more worried about them coming home insisting the Earth is just 10,000 years old. Or that other kids will shun them if they don’t

On the other hand, if museums and art galleries are more your speed, the city may be the place for you. It’s littered in theaters, concerts, bookstores, and writers’ groups. Not that museums don’t exist in suburbia, churches in the city, but it’s a question of proportion and saturation degree.

In the end, it comes down to your personality and priorities. Do you want a nicer house for your kids or more things to do?

And for me, it comes down to where you feel an emotional connection.

I love Sacramento. I love the people, the vibe, and its one-of-a-kind restaurants and historical spots. I love Corti Brothers, an Italian family-owned market that includes a full-time butcher, a wall of pasta, and 80 year old Scotch locked behind glass.

Our suburb includes lots of great chain stores and restaurants, but for me, nothing with Sacramento’s unique, irreplaceable charm.

I love Old Sac with its 200-year-old underground city, reading Joan Didion’s thoughts about growing up there and picturing Mark Twain on a Riverboat nearby.  The underground flashlight Halloween tours offered for when you want to check out 19th century brothels, remains of the Gold Rush or old Pony Express.

I’ve  lived in Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco, but have spent more adult years in Sacramento than anywhere else. Now I’ve spent four years in suburbia feeling like an outsider, like I’m on a vacation that’s gone on too long.

A vacation that needs to end so I can return to Sacramento.

Because it’s home.

This stuff happens here

Where is your home?

Because in the end, that’s the most important question of all.
















Why Kids Are The Best Biking Accessories

I used to bike a lot, though I never called myself a cyclist. Mostly because I biked, in normal clothes, just to save college parking pass money and stay in shape. Not pretend I was in the Olympics.

“Cyclists,” on the other hand, ride bikes costing thousands of dollars while wearing expensive spandex pants and shirts that look ready to have brand logos slapped all over them. They wear this stuff into Starbucks, apparently hoping people will think they’re taking a coffee break mid-Tour de France, then spend all their time talking about gears and personal equipment setups.

These are the guys that scowl at you from under their cycling helmets before attempting to pass. Many seem permanently peeved.

These guys

Maybe it’s because they have to share the road with so many drivers that hate their guts.


And their bad attitudes made drivers hate MY guts too.

I was always surprised by how many drivers made a point to visibly roll their eyes while speeding around me while I was minding my own business, riding in the designated bike lane. It never make sense, because I wasn’t one of those fancy bike jerks. Cars could get around me. I even hopped onto the sidewalk whenever a parked car was in the way.

Funny-Bicycle-Meme-Rides-Extremely-Slow-In-The-Middle-Of-The-Road-PictureYes, I know you’re not technically supposed to do that, but there were never any pedestrians on the sidewalk. We Californians love our cars. I figured detouring around the sidewalk was better than weaving in and out of traffic, at any rate.

Fast-forward several years and I’d dropped the biking habit entirely. Post-college life wasn’t nearly as bike-friendly, what with all the employment, freeways and fatigue getting in the way.

Ibert child seat

But when Brontë was nearly two, my husband and I decided to give biking another shot. We did some research on child bike seats and eventually outfitted my bike with a green Ibert front-carrier. I slipped her into it one day and took off…


She was amazed by the experience, singing and waving her tiny arms in the air. I imagine it would be pretty exciting, picturing it from her point of view. She was waaaaaay above the ground, flying by at a speed uncommonly fast for babies, feeling the breeze blow back her curls and wondering where we were heading next…

Unfortunately, I was pregnant at the time. We only managed to bike around the neighborhood a few more weeks before every time my thighs moved up a couple inches, they’d slam my belly and crush my ribs.

WHATEVER, Superwoman…

We moved the bikes back into the garage.


Until a few weeks ago, when John and I grabbed our kids’ hands and led them back to the bikes.

Brontë was THRILLED. “We gonna BIKE?” she shouted while beaming. She asked for her kitty-cat helmet and I was amazed she could remember so much about something that happened so long ago. You never know what kids will remember.

Only now, the kitty-cat helmet belonged to Bridget, along with the green Ibert chair. Brontë got a new Minnie Mouse helmet and a child seat that went in the rear.

“I LOVE IT!” she screamed.

It was all new to Bridget, but she quickly got on-board, ringing my purple owl bike-bell over and over and giggling at her newfound sonic powers.

Since then, we’ve biked nearly every evening and the kids couldn’t be happier. I’ll ask them if they want to ride the bikes and they’ll drop whatever they’re doing to run away, returning with their bike helmets slapped onto their heads and yelling “GO! GO! GO!”

IMG_3626 (1).jpg
They seem okay with the idea


My husband and I take them to a park outside the neighborhood so they can play for a while and wear themselves out before getting back on the bikes and returning home. Sometimes we grab dinner while we’re out, either take-out or something fast.

It just goes to show that you don’t need to spend much to make your kids happy. Really, spending time with you is all they want.

I’ve also learned something about biking outside our neighborhood with the kids:

Remember how I said drivers tend to be hostile to cyclists? Well, not when kids are involved.

Something about having a smiling, waving baby with a tiny pink helmet between my handlebars has completely turned people around. I’ve suddenly gone from Annoying Cyclist, plaguing the road, to Awesome Mom, doing right by her kids.

We’ve gone from this…


Now, cars give us a wide berth. They motion us forward, even when I was waiting to let them go first. Drivers hang their heads out to smile and wave at Bidgie, who yells, “HI GUYS!” in the most adorable way.

To this

I guess I can’t blame them. Bidgie is pretty dang cute when she she rings her bell and shouts “BYE BYE!” to the passing folks. Brontë waves too, from behind her dad, before telling him again how strong he is for biking so fast. They’re finally getting a chance to hang out together and talk, and it’s bringing them closer. She used to hate his singing and now she asks him to sing.


And I think we’ll be riding for years to come. Especially now that I know kids are a biking superpower.











When Your Kids Catch You Flipping the Bird

It had already been a rough day by the time the bleached blonde in the white SUV was giving me the middle finger.

Rough, as in my two-year-old daughter Bridget had been throwing irrational fits for hours, those kinds of spiraling tantrums where the kid slams their own head against the floor then screams even harder because their head hurts and you just can’t talk them down from the ledge.

Her antics were driving big sister Brontë up the wall too, because we were supposed to go to the library. I had promised we would go to the library earlier, as four-year-old Brontë kept reminding me.

Again and again.

Finally, we hopped in the car after Bridget calmed down enough to maybe hold it together for a while.

If we can just get to the library, I thought, maybe the kids will start having fun and calm down.

And the girls’ faces did light up upon seeing the library as we crossed the parking lot holding hands. Running up to open the big library door, they giggled while running straight to the play area inside.

Strolling in behind them, I walked over to the check-in machine within play-area viewing distance. I plopped my giant pile of books down on the table with great relief then pulled my head to my shoulder to work out the kinks.

I glanced over to check on my kids. Where’s Bridget?


Stepping back toward the play area, I was hoping to find her innocently standing somewhere since she’s little enough to disappear behind a chair. I looked around, but…

No Bridget.

Grabbing Brontë’s hand, I started wandering about the library, softly calling “Briiiiiidggggggget…” as I began to panic. Just then, some flustered library employees came running up.

“Is that your baby upstairs?” they asked. “She’s running around tossing books off the shelves.”

Turning purple, I almost said “No, but I’m going to march her right back to her negligent mother and give that lady a piece of my mind.”

But I couldn’t, because I was right about to bring them the mangled From Up On Poppy Hill DVD we’d checked out that Bridget had gotten her hands on a few days earlier.

Instead, I mumbled some weak excuse about her taking off real fast before hoisting an angry Bridget onto my hip and returning to deal with the giant pile of books. She kicked the stack all over the floor a couple of times before I managed to check them all in.

Today’s library trip just wasn’t meant to be. I grabbed Brontë, handled the mangled DVD fiasco, and carted the thrashing toddler circus back to the car.

Backseat shenanigans
The kids were wailing as I drove toward the freeway, fantasizing about how I was going to lay them down the moment we got home. Coming up the off-ramp onto an exit-only lane, I pictured myself shutting their bedroom door before stepping outside for a breath of fresh air.

And quiet. That beautiful, peaceful, upcoming moment of quiet.  I put on my left blinker.

An SUV far, far away began to speed up behind me, but there was still plenty of room and my lane was ending. I went left.

Then I noticed the SUV’s blonde driver in my rearview mirror. Pouty-mouthed beneath her giant sunglasses, she flipped me off wildly and conspicuously, so I wouldn’t miss it.

OH YEAH!?  WELL, RIGHT BACK AT YA!  I thought while throwing both arms out the window.

SUV Lady clearly wasn’t expecting this because she sped up to the next exit and left. Either she was scared or she had been planning to exit all along, which only make her outrage all the more confusing.

I watched her disappearing angry blonde head for a minute before hearing a little voice peep up across the backseat: “Mommy, what was that? With your fingers?”


Okay, try to be casual… 

“That was a very rude gesture we’re not supposed to make, but mommy got caught up in the moment.”

“Why?” Brontë asked.

“Because that lady made it first.”


“Because she’s a… Umm, because some people are mad that other people need to use the road because they think only they should be allowed to drive and no one else should ever get in front of them. See, mommy needed to drive in front of that lady, so the lady got angry and made a rude gesture with her hand.”

“So… her mean?”

“Yes, she’s mean. She doesn’t want to share.”

“You make it with both hands.”

“Yes, to show the other lady how wrong she was. But it’s not a nice thing to do.”

“You did it by accident?”

“Kind of.”

That seemed to satisfy Brontë and she dropped the subject, shifting into yet another rehash about why Pinkie Pie is the best My Little Pony and the many reasons we need more pasta in our lives.

And since she hasn’t been running around the house flipping off her sister left and right, I figure we negotiated that minefield about as well we could.

Could have gone worse, at any rate. Someone could’ve started a fire.













Caca Sausage and the Traffic Jam


bronteteagardensLast weekend, we took the kids to the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco. Since I grew up closer to the city, I forget how rough the drive can be when you’re coming from Sacramento.

And especially with godawful traffic. It was raining off and on this weekend, which seems to scare the living crap out California drivers. We’re not used to it, you see, even though it happens…

Every year.

Back when I lived in Los Angeles, it used to amuse me how much the weather channel would panic every winter. “FLASH FLOODS!” the meteorologists would shout, as though the Great Weather Apocalypse had just hit. Weather reports would be all flashing red lights and exclamation points, even though it rains in Southern California…


You’d think someone would eventually see it coming and build some overflow pipes, but why prepare for inevitabilities when you can throw up your arms in terror instead?

Of course, I say all this from the safety of Sacramento, where we are amply prepared for these kinds of disasters. Centuries of water torment finally taught us to plan ahead, even if it means building a whole new city on top of your old one.

I don’t mean to pick on LA, though. As a peace offering, I’ll concede that you have much better drivers than we do. In fact, I think Bay Area drivers may be some of the worst in the world.

tailgateLook, Bay Area… I love you guys. You have many positive qualities, but your driving skills aren’t among them. Those never-letting-anyone-merge and irrationally-stopping-in-the-middle-of-the-street moves aren’t cute. There’s a reason all your fenders are dented.

So, my family set off for The City and four hours later, we were trying to find a parking spot (another circle of Dante’s SF driving experience) when the kids’ patience ran out out and they start shrieking as loud they could. They wouldn’t quit, no matter how many “we’re almost there’s” they heard, as I felt my temples stabbing and frustrations exploding.

By this point, I was struggling with the crazed impulse to escape out the window. Deep down, I knew it wouldn’t help, but I kept picturing a cartoon-style mommy-shaped hole in the windshield as the car kept inching and stopping and the kids’ wailing wore on.

Eventually, my mood meter spiked into red. This used to be a good time to scream some expletives, some harmless 4-letter grownup words to blow off steam. And five years ago, I would’ve done it, but you can’t go dropping F-bombs around children.

But the kids just kept getting louder and louder until I couldn’t stand it anymore and screamed “CACA SAUSAGE!”at the top of my lungs.

Brontë was scandalized.

“Mommy, stop it!”

“Caca sausage.”

bridgetteatgardens“STOP IT MOMMY!” Brontë yelled, but she couldn’t keep from giggling, which made me laugh and say “Caca sausage” some more.

After some snickering, things got quiet until Brontë put on her best growling monster voice. A low rumble floated from the back seat.

“I… AM… CACA SAUSAGE MONSTER,” she shouted. “Wash… your… HANDS!”

Finally, we made it out of the car and went to the Japanese tea gardens, where we had a great time. The kids loved running around the grounds and sampling different cookies. Brontë ordered hot chocolate but insisted she was drinking COFFEE because she’s not a baby anymore.



We also went to the California Academy of Sciences, where the kids had fun roaming the exhibits and checking out the rainforest display. They especially loved the aquarium, pressing their little faces up against the glass and probably believing, for a moment, they were actually inside a wonderland of fish.

It was all in all a great day, apart from the horrendous traffic and made-up swear word incident. I’m guessing the Caca Sausage Monster will be a running joke in our house for months to come.



When Your Carseat Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

Okay, we’re ready… where’s the DMV?
I like to have conversations with my daughter in the car on the way home from preschool. She’s usually worked off her crazy toddler energy, having run around playing with other crazy toddler for a few hours, and is ready to talk for a bit before eating lunch and taking a nap.

And it’s fun to hear what she’s been thinking about lately. We were driving home the other day when she piped up from the backseat…


Brontë: Can we go to the pumpkin farm?

Me: It’s not open right now. It won’t be open till Halloween.

Brontë: For our next Halloween house, I want to decorate with LOTS of pumpkins. We had a happy pumpkin but next time I want a happy pumpkin, a sad pumpkin, and a mad pumpkin… When is Halloween?

Me: Not for a while. Your birthday is coming up sooner. You and Bridget will have birthdays in March.

Brontë: I will be four.

Me: Yes! And Bidgie will be two.

Brontë: I wish she was turning five.

Me: Really? What do you want to turn?

Brontë: I want to turn six. No… Sixteen. I want to be sixteen.

Me: Sixteen, why?



It’s amazing how much three-year-olds pick up.

My Daughter Resorts to Shapeshifting to Get My Attention

Carseat sticker wars

Since my husband and I were both only children, we knew we were entering a brave new world by having two kids. We did our best to give them both attention and encourage them to be nice to each other.

And they DO love each other… most of the time.

But we’ve learned that no matter how much you encourage siblings to get along, they’re going to bicker and vie for your attention. Whenever I’m holding Brontë (my three-year-old) on my lap, for example, Bridget will ask to be held too. I’ll plop her on the opposite leg where, without fail, she will s l o w l e y inch over in tiny increments until Brontë is effectively smeared off the other side.

It’s both touching and frustrating to watch your kids fight for your cuddles, but then again, they also fight over toys, snack, cats, cardboard boxes, and take pleasure in annoying each other on principle.

Because that is what siblings do and I’m starting to think that’s Nature’s intention.

Why? Well, it’s a sort of rivalry that stirs up competition and what is life without some friendly competition? We’ve been doing it ever since the first fish managed some flip legs, said “see ya, suckers,” and crawled onto the shore to found the amphibians.

Still buddies, despite all the bickering

And I can’t help noticing how this competition is sparking creative leaps and bounds in my kids, so maybe it’s not all bad.

Ever since they’ve wrapped their minds around the idea that direct aggression, AKA might-makes-right maneuvers, are forbidden in this house, they’ve had to evolve from punching each other in the face to far more subtle tactics.

For example, Bridget has figured out that big sister likes to do things by the book, even when those things are silly.

Case in point: When I’m driving them around, whenever we drive through a tunnel or long overpass, I start yelling, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!’ The kids picked up on this early and like to do it too.

Why? Because it’s fun, that’s why. One great thing about kids is how they don’t question mommy’s bizarre behavior. “Because it’s fun” makes perfect sense to them and they see no reason to question it further.

But even silliness needs to follow the rules, in Brontë’s book, so it didn’t take long for Bidgie to figure out that yelling thirty seconds BEFORE you enter the tunnel will drive sister up the wall.

So as soon as a tunnel is within sight, Bidgie will start yelling, which drives Brontë into flailing hysterics. “NO! NOT YET SISTER! NOT YET, BRIDGE-JIT,” Brontë screams as baby sister giggles maniacally and yells as loudly as she can.

Then, the moment we enter the tunnel, Bidgie goes dead silent, making Brontë throw up her arms and scream, “NOW, SISTER! WE YELL NOW!” Bridget clamps her lips together with true conviction as big sister flips around, demanding that everyone scream.

Brontë doesn’t forget these indignities, of course, and pays her sister back every morning.  Brontë is what people call a “morning person,” popping out of bed at the crack of dawn like an over-caffinated meadowlark.

Bridget, on the other hand, takes after me… not a morning person by anyone’s definition.

So when I say it’s time to wake up Bridget, Brontë lights up and wants to go too. As soon as I open the door to the girls’ room, Brontë races over to the crib, throws back her head, and screams “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING BABY SISTER!” at the top of her lungs while Bidgie winces.

“TIME TO WAKE UP!” Brontë yells, giggling as she reaches through the crib bars to poke at her groaning sister. Bridget always scowls, though she is somewhat comforted by the knowledge that she will be tormenting her sister throughout the evening by flipping lights on and off (after figuring out that Brontë is scared of the dark, Bridget learned how to work the light switch real quick).

This has all been incredibly entertaining to watch, but while I’ve been impressed by both of my daughters’ creativity, this week’s prize for manipulative genius must go to Brontë…

Whenever I’m in the middle of doing something with Bridget (changing her diaper, feeding her, etc), Brontë suddenly has an “emergency” that needs attention. Maybe she suddenly wants to go use the potty, or “accidentally” trips and hurts herself.

Tired of Brontë lighting fires whenever I was in the middle of something, I started telling her she needs to wait her turn, that I was dealing with Bridget at the moment and she needs to be patient.

But kids are nothing if not quick character studies, and Brontë has figured out that making momma laugh is one of her most effective tools.

Next time don’t blink

So when I was holding Bridget the other day, I heard screams coming from my bathroom…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Brontë yelled at the top of her lungs. I raced in to see what the problem was:

Brontë: MOMMA, HELP! I’m turning into a mermaid!

Me: A mermaid? You have a tail instead of legs?

Brontë: No, I’m a kid again. You missed it.


Good show, Brontë… Good show.

Clockwork Dubstep

Oscar winner and soulful prompter of outrageous toddler tantrums
Oscar winner and soulful prompter of outrageous toddler tantrums

We may have discovered an ingenious new way to discipline our kids. It’s outside the box, completely nonviolent, and we happened upon it by total chance yesterday.

After a long day at the park, John was listening to Adele on the car ride home when Brontë started pitching a fit because she doesn’t like it. John was growing more and more irritated, especially since we fully expected our kids to give us a break by knocking out in the car after hours of playing.

But Brontë wasn’t having it. She kept flipping out and screaming, “I NOT LIKE IT!” while demanding we turn Adele off. John told her he was listening to it and didn’t want to turn it off, but she kept fussing about how she needs it to stop while waving her arms around wildly and keeping her baby sister awake.

So finally, John grabs his phone, pulls up Pandora, and Dubstep starts playing.
The car goes completely silent.

My daughter struggles to find meaning in a world where Dubstep exists
My daughter struggles to find meaning in a world where Dubstep exists

After a couple of minutes, John turns around to check on Brontë and finds her glaring back, open mouthed. It’s a look of utter toddler revulsion, a look that says she never knew such crappy music existed and hearing it makes her too furious to speak… the same look she would probably have if he had just peed all over her toys.

John starts laughing so hard he has to wipe tears away, sighs, and, defeated, puts the “Frozen” soundtrack back on.

“I only talk to dad like this now”

I’m thinking this was a happy accident. Listening to Dubstep could be the ultimate parental threat, when nothing else has worked and we are at our wits’ end: Listen here, you will sit down in your chair and stop running around the restaurant screaming or so help me I will make you listen to a Dubstep album when we get home, you hear me? AN ENTIRE DUBSTEP ALBUM!

Maybe it’s too cruel.