Other people's children

My favorite moments from Jackson's middle school graduation yesterday

1. Blowing up balloons the night before graduation in a last-ditch effort to make up for all the years I did zero volunteering at school. I got assigned to balloon detail with two sixth-grade girls and their grandmothers, one of whom was a salty old sailor who maybe would have preferred a nice cocktail somewhere to blowing up balloons with me. At one point she chided the girls for not blowing up their balloons to the full extent of their potential. One of them had a small, squishy balloon that she was batting around in lieu of developing a work ethic and Salty Gran looked at it and said, "You need to blow harder, that ballon's retarded." I was in some sort of ballsy mood and said to her, "We don't say retarded any more, we say developmentally challenged," and Salty Gran raised her eyebrow at me and said, "Oh, really?" I doubt I opened her eyes to the linguistic nuances of our time, but it did give me some insight into the woman I'm going to be in a couple of decades when some smart-ass tells me, "Oh, we don't call them robots anymore, we call them extra-humanoid-Americans," and I'll be like, "Okay, well, your extra-humanoid-American needs to pump my hydro-gas a little faster, I am on my way to get my head frozen and the cryolab does not reschedule missed appointments."

2. The fifth grader who was standing at the door to the gym handing out travel packs of tissues, and who looked at my all-set-to-start-sniveling face and said, "Do you maybe want two?"

3. Unsuccessfully repressing my sobs while Mr. Reed told everyone how loyal my son was, and how he told the truth instead of just saying nice things to make people like him, and how much he loved his family, and how his teachers had to peel him off my leg every morning in pre-kindergarten.

4. Delicious cake at ten in the morning.

5. Having one of Jackson's classmates, a really wonderful girl who got up at 5:45 to get her makeup on (her makeup was perfect), come up to me as I was leaving and say, "I like your tights!" It was chilly and I was wearing mustard-colored tights with red shoes and other clothes, and I said, "Thanks! I got them at Macy's, they're HUE." She smiled politely, so I continued, "H-U-E is the brand," as she continued to give me a polite, fixed smile, so I went on, "They're great, they have a lot of colors, although these are like five years old," and then I realized that despite her ongoing smile, the light behind her eyes had gone out so I said, "Okay, then! Congratulations!" Apparently she didn't expect me to start telling her every single thing I could think of about my tights? I don't know how girls talk to each other, it's an ongoing problem for me and I imagine things are just going to get weirder as we move on into high school and Jackson starts warning people before they meet me: "Just so you know, my mom is going to take everything you say as an opportunity to treat you like a library patron who doesn't understand Google."

Some of these kids will never see each other again.

6. The school secretary reminding me of when Jackson, at age five, asked if she could come over to our house for a playdate.

World champion school secretary and black-belt shoe collector, Mrs. Loster.

Thirteen

Jackson turned thirteen years old this past weekend, which we spent at a kids' basketball tournament at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Jackson is the newest kid on his team. Back in third grade, when all the other boys on the team were in the gym learning to dribble and shoot, Jackson was learning to rally and lob and serve until the day came when I tried to drop him off at the tennis courts and he sat in the back seat sobbing that he didn't want to play tennis anymore. So after arguing and tugging on his leg for ten minutes and then realizing that I didn't want to carry a screaming child into the clubhouse, we drove home and waited until 2013, when the basketball switch in his brain flipped on. The boys on his team have been playing together for years, which could have made them insular and weird about change, but they're good kids and the culture of the gym where they play will not put up with any bullshit, so when Jackson showed up last March they folded him in. From day one not just the coaches but the kids helped guide him through the unfamiliar drills, and shouted at him to get into position so they could throw him the ball, and included him in all the teasing and jive that goes on with normal kids, and he loved it. He'd found a new home. Even though he's (his words, not mine) "the least talented player on the team."

"You're not the least talented. You have lots of talent. But you are the least experienced kid on the team, and you need to build your talent into something that really helps your team."

I know: I'm mom of the year. That's why I'm wearing this tiara.

So this weekend was another in a series of basketball tournaments, and in the middle of it all was his birthday. It was a good birthday, he got a lot of things he wanted, some cool gaming stuff, a nice pair of sunglasses, fancy basketball socks, a heat-sensitive t-shirt. We got a room in a dog-friendly hotel and brought Peewee. We ordered room service and drank bubbly drinks.

"What else do you want for your birthday?"

"To make a bucket during a game."

Jackson is the kid who gets put in if and only if his team has already got at least a fifteen-point lead. Then he goes in, gets the ball a few times, runs around, and gets called back to the bench and sits next to the coach and watches, and he seems fine with that. He wants to get better, but until then he feels lucky just to be there. He has no illusions.

Their first game on Saturday afternoon was against a team who had no chance, we outplayed them from the start. Our team was more balanced: we have strong guys who rebound hard and we have skinny outside shooters, we have fast kids and kids who make layups and kids who duck and pass, and nobody's scared and everybody runs like hell. At three minutes before the half we were up by 20 points, so the coach pulled out a couple of the starters and sent in Jackson.

"JACKSON GET IN THE CORNER." The coach has a voice that inspires instant obedience. Jackson gets in the corner. This is where he makes 70% of his shots in practice. It's his spot.

"GIVE IT TO JACKSON! GIVE IT TO JACKSON!" All the boys on the bench are yelling, too. In all the games he's played on this team Jackson has never made a basket. They want him to make a basket. It's his birthday.

Jackson catches the ball and throws it up. It bounces off the rim. His team rebounds.

"THROW IT BACK TO JACKSON!" Half of the bench are on their feet. There's a defender in his spot so Jackson moves back, staying behind the three-point line. He gets the ball again. He just sort of flings it up. His form is terrible. The ball goes in.

The bench explodes. His teammates are going out of their minds with happiness, jumping up and down, screaming. Jackson jogs back up the court past me and Jack and we are losing our minds, too. All the parents and shouting. Jackson's face is shining with happiness. The team mom (whose son is the three-point assassin responsible for the lead that allowed Jackson the time and space to do what he just did) turns to me and says she wishes she had been filming the team's reaction to Jackson's shot, it was such a moment for all of them. She looks choked up.

Jackson gets the ball a few more times and shoots but he doesn't score, so he goes back to his spot on the bench. They win the game. Afterward, one of his teammates hoists him up. Another one of them punches him thirteen times for his birthday, seven times on one arm and six on the other, and he rubs his arms afterward, smiling at the possibility that he's going to have bruises the next day.

Two hours later I'm sitting in the stands with some of the parents. We're getting to know each other, and they're really nice people. They say supportive things about Jackson, and I say appreciative things about their son, too. What court are we supposed to be on next? one of them asks. I pull out my phone to look at the tournament web site and discover that Jackson has changed my lock screen to a photo of some guy's hairy balls. Because he's thirteen years old, and balls are hilarious.

These are good people, and I have just flashed a picture of a hairy pink scrotum at them.

I slap my hand down over the photo. I laugh awkwardly and say, "Ha ha, Jackson put some guy's balls on my phone!"

The parents look at me in confusion, and I realize I should have kept my mouth shut, but now it’s too late and I have to explain, so I begin to babble. "You know, he Googled balls," I said, as though the reason for their confusion might be that they think I'm telling them that the boy they'd all been rooting for had literally got some guy to lay his balls on my phone. How I would know someone's balls had touched my phone is a mystery. Like, Oh no! There's a scrotum print on my screen protector! Or, Oh no! There's a pubic hair in my headphone port!

One of the fathers looks at me with genuine concern. One of the mothers says brightly, "It's weird how some things you don't expect come up in those searches!" She's covering for me, as though maybe Jackson had been Googling basketballs but Lance Armstrong's missing testicle came up by accident instead.

I could explain that half an hour earlier Jackson had laughed until he could barely speak when he saw me react to surprise balls on my phone screen, and that I'd forgotten to change the photo. I don't know these parents that well, would they punish their own son for doing that, for being so disrespectful? It's totally disrespectful, I agree, I agree so much, and I adore it. Jenny Lawson once gave a speech about how you're supposed to follow your passion, and her passion was breaking the rules, and if her passion is breaking the rules then being disrespectful is my most secret passion, I think it's hilarious and necessary and I am terrible with authority, I will never be president. I have an inner thirteen-year-old boy and now I have an outer thirteen-year-old boy, too. I don't know how much better my life could get. But I can't explain any of this to the parents because they will think I'm a terrible mother and adult, so I say, "Our next game is on court three," and put on a sorrowful expression, one that I hope says, My son Googled balls. I'm so disappointed. I hope that the other parents will forget I ever said anything about balls. This gym is full of balls, though. Balls are bouncing over here, balls are flying through hoops over there. Even the girls have balls! Balls are everywhere.

The team goes on to win their next game, and the two after that, and they take home the championship trophy. The ball Googler gets in some more minutes but he doesn't get any more points, and goes back to being the guy on the bench getting his ears flicked.

I change the photo on my phone back to Peewee's face and change my password.

I wonder what will happen when Jackson turns fourteen.

 relaxingHello, room service? I need a burger, raw. It's for my dog. I have to give him some pills.

Gossip

On the way down to Oxnard to pick up Jackson from a sleepover Sunday morning I was going back and forth between Patton Oswalt's Finest Hour and Aziz Ansari's Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, and by the time I got to Jackson's friend's house I had tears running down my cheeks from laughing. So when Jackson got into the car I was all, You have to listen to this! It's so funny! I often forget that Jackson's not 30 years old, and then I'm lunging for the power button to turn off something that I only that second realized is completely inappropriate for someone who's actually 10. Fortunately, we were only about four blocks away from his friend's house (i.e., before he heard anything that would change his life for the worse) when Jackson paused my iPod and said, "Mom, I saw Britney Spears yesterday."

Me, of course, I was thinking, Sure, you saw somebody who looked just like Britney Spears, ha ha, put Aziz back on. So I said, "Oh, really? Hm."

But he insisted. "Mom, I'm not kidding. I saw Britney Spears. She brought her kids to the trampoline place." And then I remembered that we live in Southern California, and that Britney probably lives somewhere in the Valley and has two little boys who would totally want to spend their Saturday afternoon at a place filled with trampolines. I pictured Britney chugging a Big Gulp, kicking off her Uggs, and jumping right in until somebody got a black eye or hit their chin and bit off the tip of their tongue.

I wasn't sure what else to say. It's not every day Jackson sees a celebrity so I thought it would be polite to be interested.

"What was she wearing?"

"Some green bathrobe thing."

"Uh, hmm. A bathrobe? Did she jump on the trampolines?"

"No, all the parents were standing around her. She had four bodyguards. I know they were bodyguards because they had those curly wire things coming out of their ears."

I knew that was the end of the conversation because then he put Aziz back on and we didn't talk the rest of the way home.

Tour Diary: San Francisco

San Francisco, you were on your best behavior for us. Your sky was blue, your taxi cabs prompt, your coffee delicious, your streets colorful but unthreatening, and your residents inspiring. You know what? I've had enough of the Golden Gate bridge and its majesty and grandeur and its gateway to Napa-ness. How about a round of applause for the Bay Bridge instead? Let's dress up like a gang of motorcycle vikings and go to Oakland. C'mon, it'll be fun.

Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up my motorcycle viking outfit from the cleaners, and Alice's helmet wouldn't fit in her suitcase.

This is City Lights Bookstore and no, we didn't do a reading there, I just happened to be passing by as I walked home from our meet-up at The Press Club Wine Bar. At every stop on the BlogHer-sponsored portion of our tour we had meet-ups with whoever wanted to come out and say hello. Some who came out were bloggers, some we knew from Twitter, some were readers, and some were writers. Some drank and some didn't. If you're ever nervous about going to a meet-up where you don't know anybody, you can be pretty sure that everybody else feels the same way, and that will be fine. We'll talk to you no matter what the voices inside your head have been telling you about us. If you're still not sure which way to go, Alice is the funny one and I'm the one who wants to hear your entire life story. (If you need more reassurance than that, may I recommend you read Pema Chödrön's Comfortable with Uncertainty.)

At the readings, our crowds were about 80% women, 10% men, and 10% the result of men and women mixing their reproductive material. Note also the die-hard Fussy fans in the front row! San Francisco represents hard.

Anyone who asks me to sign her forehead automatically gets a piece of my heart. I'm writing up a proposal to arrange the marriage of this small, delightful person and my son. 

The meet-up after the reading at The Green Apple ended up being a full-on mimosa-fueled brunch situation complete with magnetic letters. Magnetic letters tempt young and old alike to misuse the English language. The sign for the restroom magically turned into BREASTROOM and it was way too far off the ground to blame on anyone under the age of twelve. Here you see our two sprites concocting some breathtakingly inappropriate poetry behind Alice's back. 

After the meet-up we took a long, sobering walk over to a friend's house to join her and a fistful of amazing women I was truly honored to meet for yet another mimosa-fueled gathering. This is Bug. He may be one of the most lovingly-photographed dogs on the Internet as we know it, but I couldn't help but want to take my own shot of him. Bug is a Very Good Boy and is loyal, helpful, calm, obedient--basically, he's the smallest Eagle Scout in these United States.

So, thank you, San Francisco, you never disappoint. Burlingame, I didn't take a single photo of you so your post is going to have to wait until I can borrow some of Maggie and Alice's.

The Tiger Mother Made Me Do It

Amy Chua may be tough enough to keep a couple of little girls and an academic husband in line, but she can't make me do anything I don't want to do. Not only am I bigger than her, I'm pretty handy with a field hockey stick. Her shins look kind of delicate, is all I'm saying. But I think we can all take something useful from the Tiger Mother, and to that end what I really want to tell you is this: I have recently become concerned about my dog's modesty. When I take him out to the grass to whizz, inevitably someone drives by and starts staring at him. Apparently, people are helpless not to gape in fascination at a bulldog all hunched over and doing his business. Bulldogs are pretty stout to begin with, so when they hunch over and start grunting they become a solid ball of bulging eyes and dingleberries, and if you're seeing it for the first time, it's impossible not to wonder what the hell is going to happen next. Is it giving birth? Is this how we get bologna? Whenever a person drives by and I catch them staring at my grunting, pooping dog--and who knows, maybe it's just because you don't see that many bulldogs out in the wild. Bulldogs are pretty crazy looking, even when they're just standing around waiting for a bus. It's not like they need to wear motorcycle jackets or leap through flaming hoops to get attention. But if you're going to stare in fascination at my dog while he quietly knits a Dr. Who scarf and you're about to drive over a curb, it's time for you to refocus. Maybe I'm doing this as much for you, the driver, as I am for my dog, but it's now my habit to protect my dog's privacy from the prying eyes of strangers by carefully stepping in front of his back end, blocking it from view.

Yes, I know he's "just a dog," and has a different set of boundaries than you and I, but if you persist in staring while he performs his toilet you will be rewarded with a couple of things you might prefer not to see. Me turning a biodegradable bag inside out to make a hot, thumbless glove for myself and then freeing the clingons from beneath his curly little tail, for one. Go ahead, wince. You're not the one who had to pay a vet to shave his butthole.

So, like the Tiger Mother (you were wondering how I was going to tie this all together, weren't you!) I am fiercely protective of the dignity of my hairy little cub (in person if not online). I also drill him daily on his spelling and vocabulary, and someday he's going to roll over and play dead at Carnegie Hall.

What Else

Well, spring break is over and we all survived without broken bones or lawsuits, just a few long playdates and several hours in front of the computer discovering the intricacies of cereal company-driven computer games. And one trip to Chuck E. Cheese's where a couple of preschoolers cleaned me out for token money, but I was able to finish an entire New Yorker magazine for the first time in months, as well as observe a woman wearing a navy blue silk shorts ensemble and black pantyhose stalk around shrieking, "CRYSTAL! Well, you lost the helicopter machine, Crystal, someone else is on it now!" while little Crystal could not possibly have given a shit, as the Whack-A-Mole! game was open and she had her own token. I actually felt sympathetic toward this mom's competitive instincts, because I have them, too, and I think most parents will cop to heated moments of wanting their kid to be first and get what s/he wants to have a good time and blah blah blah, and I am often reining myself in so that Jackson can explore and learn to wait and fall on his face without me hectoring him like a ninny. Yes, these are the deep thoughts you, too, can have while occupying a booth at Chuck E. Cheese's and eating several slices of terrible, terrible pizza. They have great ice cubes, though, the Chuck E. Cheese's in Ventura. Not too big, kind of crumbly. I've become, in the last few months, a tooth enamel-destroying ice eater. Edentate cubicalis. I'm told that's because I have too much internal heat -- my yang is outpacing my yin two-to-one but I've been too busy to consult my acupuncturist for the proper compensating herbs.

However, I did have to high-tail it over to the HMO urgent care office last Thursday for an unspeakable and sudden-onset condition which did not require the removal of my clothes, and for which was prescribed Cipro. Cipro! Did she have anthrax? you may be asking yourself. No, I did not have anthrax, but the antibiotic drove my internal fire ever higher until my little hot spot of eczema re-erupted on my left shin. (For new readers, let me just say that I have a little hot spot of eczema that occasionally erupts on my left shin.) This reminded me of two things. One, it's time to call in for the goddamned herbs, and Two, maybe I was misdiagnosed and I actually have Guinea worm. In case you're not interested in clicking on that link I will tell you that once the Guinea worm gets inside you it eventually makes its way into your body cavity, often preferring the lower limbs, and then when it's a good foot or three long it secretes an acid from its mouth to burn a hole through your skin and worm its way out (pardon the obviousness of that turn of phrase). "Once the worm emerges from the wound, it can only be pulled out a few centimeters each day and wrapped around a small stick. Sometimes the worm can be pulled out completely within a few days, but this process usually takes weeks or months."

Well, I doubt I have Guinea worm, but if reading that doesn't make you want to donate twenty bucks to Doctors Without Borders then you're a stronger man than I.

What else. It's been raining. Apart from some predictable traffic hazards I've discovered that taking Katie out for a nighttime poop in the rain can result in some inadvertent snail and worm carnage, which we find littering the sidewalks the next morning. Jackson claimed to like the crunch made by stepping on a snail's shell, but after I told him a little bit about how some people like to eat snails, maybe with a little butter and garlic, while other people get angry at snails and go after them with Slug and Snail DEATH, Jackson suddenly became quite protective and compassionate toward the gastropod class, and has declared his intention to protect and cuddle with all who slime their way through our lives.

The only other thing that happened that was kind of funny was one day when the three of us were sitting in Jack's truck waiting for a train to pass at Milpas Street. It wasn't the Surfliner, it was a regular freight train and Jack and I talked a little bit about what each car was for -- cattle car, cattle car, oil tank, oil tank, oil tank, boxcar, boxcar, hey! Where's the caboose! No caboose!

And this little voice from the back says, "That's cold-blooded."

Okay, Little G, no more Tivo'd Dave Chappelle shows for you.

Ugh, children

I'm feeling bored and hostile and I'm looking at you.

On Friday the 13th a black cat crossed my path! I was coming back from the garage when I ran into my neighbor who likes to take her cat out for walks. She doesn't use one of those little cat leashes, and consequently spends a lot of time talking to bushes: "Come out of there! You come out right now!" The cat's kind of skittish anyway and darts in and out of bushes as it sees fit. And thus with the darting it crossed my path, and I am accursed.

I didn't really feel the curse barrel into me until the next morning when, after taking Katie out for a poo on the grass, I was carrying the subsequent bagful of poo to the Dumpster when Katie shot between my feet from behind, nearly knocking me over. Normally she only tries to sideswipe me in her state of post-poo exultation, so I think the curse has slightly intensified her euphoria. She will probably kill me one day. When forty-two pounds of solid meat and bone decides to try to tear off your clogs, you can be assured that death will not be far behind. My skull will meet asphalt! The coma will be brief. They will bury the dog by my side, no doubt, before I'm even cold, as Jack has promised me that she would not live too long after a stunt like that.

Jackson got grounded for the first time ever last week. He ran out to play light saber fights with some neighborhood kids, and we told him that he had to come back inside in ten minutes because it was getting dark. Fifteen minutes later we looked out the window and no one was there, including our kid.

And thus Jack and I began knocking on doors throughout the neighborhood until, on our second visit to Javier's, because that's who everyone said he was with last, who should open the door with a warm tortilla in his hands but our little Jedi! Who was henceforth and forthwith grounded for two days. I think he liked it; not the being stuck inside, per se, but getting grounded ended up being a rite of passage that made him feel like one of the Big Boys. He wasn't shy about yelling it out everyone who came to the door. "YOU CAN'T COME IN TO PLAY, I'M GROUNDED!" It also gave him plenty of time to memorize our phone number, since he is now required to call us whenever he goes inside a friend's house.

So now I get calls like this:

Jackson: Mom?

Me: Hi, Jackson! Where are you?

Jackson: I'm at Boloni's. Can I have dinner over here?

Me: Sure. What are they having?

Jackson (after a whispered consultation): Meat.

Anyway, once the grounding was over and Jackson was again cleared for take-off, the whole goddamn neighborhood was back in our living room, and I'd just like to ask here: Why are children so annoying? Honest to god, we get a few of them over here and within ten minutes they start pestering me for snacks and digging through the laundry closet and helping themselves to Snapple or Gatorade or Coke, or getting all up in my business while I'm trying to work. A couple of them always start picking through the bead tray I never remember to put away, and asking me if they can spread it all out and make necklaces. Or they want to get on Jack's computer to play games or browse through Ebay(!), or grind Play-Do into the carpet. Honestly, it doesn't take long before someone's chasing Katie with a baseball bat and she's foaming at the mouth and I am so exsperated I have to kick them all out before it goes completely Lord of the Flies.

I always thought I'd be that neighbor lady that all the kids think is mean, but who is secretly nice and bakes cookies? But I was wrong. No cookies for you! And I'm keeping that ball you hit through my window, too.

I am still somewhat blue today, just not very enthusiastic about the details of my existence for posting purposes. Also a wee bit lonely, and feeling bereft of culture, but slowly planning for BlogHer next July, when I will be rooming with the astonishing and provocatively Canadian JenB, who sent me two wonderful books and an assload of candy just in time for my birthday last week:

jenb_candy.jpg

And nowEmilyhas tagged me to do this list thing. I think it's the first time I've been tagged. I am imagining myself as a groggy polar bear with a dart in my butt and a plastic card dangling from a hole in my ear.

Five Weird Things That Mrs. Kennedy Admits To Doing Regularly

1. When I'm buying a book for myself, I always take the most beat-up copy on the shelf. This comes from working in book retail for one million years and consistently having customers ask me to dig around in overstock for a spotless copy of the book they wanted. Inevitably they'd claim it was going to be a gift, but I know better: you're all obsesive compulsive, WHY DON'T YOU JUST ADMIT IT? And so now I always take the crappiest copy so that some poor floor clerk will have another moment's peace to contemplate the fultility of his career path.

2. I walk under ladders. Another bookstore hangover, somebody's always coming at you down that skinny aisle and if one of us has to divert and go under the ladder, it may as well be me, you superstitious fuck. I can take the karmic debit.

3. Uh, I don't know. I don't like to wash my hair?

4.

5.

You can see why I never did one of those clever "100 Things About Me" lists.

And so another long-ass post comes to an end. Happy MLK day! We plan to celebrate the life of that incomparable civil rights leader by eating Mexican food and watching a Lakers game on TV tonight.

Whoops

Warning: parenting issues ahoy!

So I took Jackson to a birthday party yesterday for one of his best friends who was turning five. We hadn't seen this friend for awhile because we moved away and Jackson changed schools, so it was a welcome chance for the two little pals to reconnect. I, however, was looking forward to a little errand-running time, so after we arrived at the party and exchanged greetings with many familiar faces, I asked Birthday Dad if it would be all right if I left Jackson and came back in an hour or so.

This, my friends, is when, as Jack's grandma might have said, "The wind blew, the shit flew, and there stood Mrs. Kennedy."

There was shock, and consternation, and the words "common courtesy" were bandied about by both Birthday Dad and Mom. Apparently I had crossed an invisible Line of Expectations, on one side of which are responsible parents who bring their children to children's parties and continue to watch over them and get them juice and take them to the bathroom, and on the other side are somewhat neglectful and selfish parents who drop off their children and expect others to provide for and entertain them.

I then got a harried explanation that they were concerned for Jackson because "no one [is] really watching the kids and something might happen." I looked around. Fifteen or twenty adults were milling about the yard. I looked at the yard: was there a cliff somewhere? A drowning pool? But I just wasn't getting it: the Birthday Parents believed that they were responsible for the party as a whole, not for individual children at the party; guest children continued to be the job of guest parents, for whom there was an Igloo full of beer.

So I stood there awkwardly for a minute until I saw a mom I knew who was standing by herself. I was a little upset by the reaction I'd provoked by doing something I thought was completely normal, something I'd seen parents do at other birthday parties we'd been to, something other parents had done to me and to which I'd replied, "Yes! Leave your child! They will have fun and we will take care of them and I won't require you to sign a waiver absolving me of responsibility should they take a header off the balcony or choke on a potato chip."

I thought I might ask this other mom if she thought I was insane when Birthday Mom came by and said to her, "So, you're you staying?" "I'm staying!" said Other Mom quickly, and I realized that Birthday Mom had been primed for me by poor Other Mom wanting to do the same thing, leave her child to have fun while she went and did whatever.

That shut me up for another minute until Birthday Mom came by again and said, "You've made me feel really weird, that you just expected you could leave Jackson. Other parents called ahead of time to ask if it was okay, and that's fine, but just your expectation, and then your reaction when I objected . . ."

"It's fine. I'll stay. I'm sorry. I just assumed," I said rather weakly, feeling slightly queasy. The sun had come out and I was trapped in a turtleneck, and part of my plan had been to take the time to go to Ross and look for some clothes that didn't totally suck.

"No, go. It's okay," said Birthday Mom. "It's fine, really, you'll make me feel even weirder if you stay."

"Uh," I said boldly and decisively. I mean, really, what the hell are you supposed to do when someone says something like that to you? I felt like we were breaking up or something.

"Really?" I asked.

"Go," she said.

So I said goodbye to Jackson and told him not to climb the fence and fall down the hill or run out into the street and get hit by a truck, and then I went to my car and sat there wondering what the fuck I was going to do. I certainly didn't feel like shopping at that moment, so I just started my car and drove randomly around Santa Barbara's west side until I ended up downtown.

Nordstrom! I thought, grasping at but somehow not quite achieving a feeling of relief. I'll be able to look at stuff there! And perhaps leave this awkwardness behind in a haze of impulse purchases.

Instead I called Jack from my cell and explained the whole stupid thing while I stood in front of women's shoes.

"Fuck it. Buy me some slippers," said Jack, thus giving me a welcome sense of direction. Slippers! I need some, too! So I focused on slippers for awhile, and bought us both a new pair (scuffs for me). And then I looked at my watch and thought, Fuck, for it was time to go back to the scene of my disdain.

When I returned, all the children were sitting in a half-circle in the back yard while a young man entertained them with two hand puppets and a voice that didn't seem to have been affected at all by puberty. Birthday Mom was videotaping, Jackson was sitting next to Birthday Boy and, to my surprise, everyone was watching the children.

I got a bottle of water and sat down with some parents and whiled away the rest of the party baking in the December sun. Birthday Dad was totally nice to me from there on out. Birthday Mom, I saw, was still kind of stressed, and as we were leaving I thanked her and apologized again for my assumptions and I said I hoped we were cool because Jackson loves her son and wanted to have a play date as soon as humanly possible. She gave us a goodie bag and reiterated her point about her needing to take care of the party, not my child.

Which no doubt means that she will not be one of those moms who drops her kid off to play with mine while I do laundry and update my blog, but who stays the whole time, and what? Expects me to entertain her?

Hear this!

Jackson now goes this local preschool that's governed by some interesting principles.

After mom and dad say goodbye, the students' morning routine begins with an assembly of the entire school, from the little kids up to the eighth graders. A couple of things bother me about assembly. One is that they kick it off with the Lord's Prayer. Most of the littlest kids just stand there and blink, they haven't really figured out how to recite anything yet, and the bigger kids just mumble along. But still. I knew it was part of the program when we signed up, but I kind of made myself overlook it because the rest of the program is so academic and child-centered. Maybe you've noticed that Jack and I aren't churchgoing folk -- as a matter of fact I've seen holy water turn into boiling pitch at Jack's touch. But in the end I rationalized keeping Jackson in this school because it allows him to learn French, Latin, and coloring within the lines while being exposed, obliquely, to one of our culture's dominant strains of belief. My best hope is that morning prayer is kind of like giving him a live polio vaccine: he might feel a little weak at first, but in the long run it will make him immune.

The next thing that weirds me out about assembly is when one of the third graders walks up to the front with a big piece of foam core that's been stenciled with an affirmation, usually something reminiscent of Louise Hay crossed with L. Ron Hubbard. Honest to god, I don't know where they get these things, they're always some kind of weirdly conformist meditation on a not very interesting truth, like, "I will always strive to maintain a cheerful demeanor because a smile communicates good will. Oh, lord, help me to be of good cheer even in the face of those I wish to kick."

Again, I like that most of the kids are half-heartedly droning along, and while I'm sort of listening it warms the cockles of my tiny, fossilized heart to see a few displays of stubborn individuality in the face of a not-terribly-oppressive dress code. One of these days I'm going to take this one kid aside and shout You! Fifth grade boy with the wiggy red corkscrew hair and the puffy skateboard shoes! Let your freak flag fly, son!

Things move along at a pretty good clip after that, and next an eighth grader walks up to the front carrying a big, laminated map of the United States with the states all colored in pink and yellow and blue, which the kid hands to a teacher to hold while the kid then begins pointing to each state while everyone mumbles the state being pointed at and that state's capital. They're in no discernible order, we seem to be hopping up and down the eastern seaboard at the moment, adding a state or two every week, presumably until the end of fucking time.

Seriously, though, I'm learning my state capitals all over again. Quick! What's the capital of Kentucky?*

However, what I love most about sticking around for assembly is that it takes me through the entire spectrum of feelings I have toward children viewed from afar while they're singing. Because the next thing they do is hand out some amazing Americana sheet music. Everything from This Land Is Your Land to some thing about Forty-niners starving to death to -- my God, this was my favorite -- Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho.

Little, tiny Afro, Anglo, and Latino children singing in slave dialect! It took me two days to figure out that Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. One first-grade girl spent the week belting out JERICKA!, thus influencing an entire class of impressionable kindergarteners to do the same.

Then, one day not long ago we were driving home after school and Jackson said to me, "Mom! Hear this!" And he started singing a little song:

The Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me
The things I need
Like the sun and the rain and the apple seed
The Lord! Is! Good! To! Me!
"

And I looked at Jackson in the rear-view mirror and said, "So what's this lord, giving everybody everything they need?"
And Jackson shrugged, "I don't know."
And I said, "Is the lord, like, the earth? Giving people everything they need, sun and rain and food?"
And Jackson said, "Can we go to the toy store?"

The more I read about the debate between "intelligent design" and evolution, the more tightly science grips me. And believe me, I've always been inclined to embrace the mystical explanations, the karma and the destiny and the fate and the maybe you needed this lesson to get to the next level of consciousness. So this is new for me, and I'm finding that what's changing about my approach toward life now that science is seeping in is that I need to do something, I need to act. You know? Like, the rollercoaster of least resistance that I've been riding since God knows when, well, it's time to get off.

So, you know, I'm selling t-shirts. Want to buy one? They're still cheap until Tuesday.

*FRANKFORT, ya big dope. Well, don't feel too bad, that's what Google is for.