Tuesday, May 25, 2004

California Dreaming

The other night Chef had a dream that he was back in Arcata, where he found himself working at Lamps by Hilliard again. In the dream, he was initially relieved to be away from his current insane stress-case of a boss, yet he soon became filled with disappointment at taking a step back in his career after all the years he has spent moving forward.

I told him I have had that exact dream at least a hundred times since we moved here, complete with the wildly conflicting emotions. At first I am always thrilled to be back, eager to jump on my bike and head off to Moonstone Beach or sip Guatemalan Dark Roast by the frog pond at Cafe Mokka while enjoying my favorite snarky local paper. But then it slowly dawns on me that if I stay I will be stuck again in the same old dead-end jobs and hand-to-mouth existence I fled so many years ago, and I spend the rest of the dream trying desperately to get back to the Bay Area.

Escaping away to the simple rhythms of the North Coast is a wistful fantasy that sustains me whenever I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, my mortgage payment or my job. Oh, how I would love to run away and never again hear the words "webinar" or "intrapreneurship", to gather with people who do not constantly discuss mortgage refinancing or interest rates or crown moulding, to make impromptu plans with friends without the use of Blackberry Wireless technology.

The last time we visited there was a few years ago, when Bug was just a baby. I had recently been promoted to manager at work and was excited to arrive triumphantly in a shiny gold Camry, cell phone in hand, with money to spend on the restaurants and jewelry and books I could never afford when I lived there. Frankly, I thought my newfound corporate experience and internet savvy had transformed me into a vastly more sophisticated person than my friends who were still trapped behind the Redwood Curtain. Luckily I dropped that pretense as soon as I arrived. My cell phone never left the nightstand in our cottage (I doubt I could have gotten any reception in tiny Trinidad anyway), and my snazzy new car rapidly became covered with sand and dust and stuffed with surfboards and wetsuits and coolers full of picnic supplies, just like my beat-up old Chevy Celebrity was years before.

It turned out that people HAD kept up with technology, to a certain degree. Most of our friends owned cell phones, but they weren't glued to their ear at all times, interrupting meals and conversations. Nearly everyone was hooked up to the internet by that point, but they still picked up the phone and called people - or just ran into them at the usual haunts, Wildberries Market or the Plaza Grill - instead of relying on email and Instant Messaging.

The first day we stopped by the foundry to visit Janene, Chef's old boss. She mentioned that everyone was out having lunch at the Noodle House, where they go together daily to slurp down udon with Chili Lime sauce and listen to Fresh Air on NPR. I couldn't help but think unfavorably of my own coworkers, who were more likely to spend the lunch hour obsessing over fat grams at Jamba Juice while thrilling to the demented ravings of Michael Savage. Afterwards we walked down to the plaza in the center of town, where the very sight of my beloved indie bookstore, in full gleeful celebration of Banned Books Week, made me ache with longing.

By the end of the trip, and much to my relief, I did not find myself wanting to drop everything and move back as I had feared I would. I saw things I hadn't noticed or cared about when I lived there, like the fact that hardly anyone I knew was making a decent living at their jobs. Everyone was scraping by, taking side gigs pulling espressos and tending bar, or getting sucked into marketing schemes selling multivitamins or water purifiers. And even while enjoying a lavish brunch in the Hilliard's cheery, sunny kitchen, a question nagged at me like a pesky insect: How is it that these creative, talented and successful business owners can travel the world searching for funky native artwork to adorn their new house, yet cannot afford health coverage for their employees? Even the town itself did not beckon as brightly as I remembered. The once-charming town square was overrun with squalor, taken over by filthy squatters begging for change and spewing drunken obscenities. And I, the erstwhile hippie chick, found myself firmly on the "can't somebody sweep these bums OUT of here?" side of the issue, with nothing but eye-rolling impatience for those who insisted "c'mon man, they're just people, they have the right to be there too!"

It was then that I knew we had probably outgrown the place. But whenever life gets a little too much for us, it is always nice to know that "we'll always have Humboldt." At least in our dreams.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Nursery School Notes

Our trip to the JCC went well. As soon as I walked in and put Bee down, she ran across the room and eagerly joined a little boy in stacking and knocking down colored wooden blocks. We stayed there for nearly an hour, during which she barely acknowledged me, so busy was she with flipping through dozens of board books, trying on dress-up clothes and attempting to ride the tricycles outside.

Her poor friend Peanut did not fare quite as well. Peanut is smaller and more tentative than Bee and has no brothers or sisters to teach her how to defend herself. In the space of an hour, she was pushed down several times, had toys yanked out of her hands, and was almost strangled by a wayward lunchbox strap. In the end, J. decided she couldn't feel comfortable with plunking her daughter in the midst of all that chaos.

And it WAS chaotic, no doubt about it. I think that, ideally, I was hoping to see an organized group of cherubic children gathered quietly around a table putting the finishing touches on a fresh-baked apple pie or something. Instead there were kids whizzing every which way, getting paint and Magic Marker ink all over themselves and flinging toys around with abandon. The reality is, no matter how the JCC might tout their wonderful curriculum, with the art and the songs and the gross motor activities and the Jewish holidays, with this age group often the best you can do is pen them up in a safe place and let them be.

Monday, May 17, 2004

This, That, & the Other

Extreme Nursing

I got a free subscription to Mothering magazine awhile ago. I thought it would be a nice alternative to the glossy, ultra-consumerist rags like Parents or American Baby, with their 10-page photo spreads of Pottery Barn-perfect rooms and $90 Baby Dior swimsuits and dire warnings against co-sleeping. But my god – this magazine really puts the “dippy” in “hippy-dippy.” On the very first page is a snapshot of a strapping, chubby-cheeked 3 ½ year old boy celebrating at his (long overdue, in my opinion) “weaning party”. In front of him is a cake lavishly decorated with pink-frosting boobs topped with shiny licorice nipples. Seriously! Now, I am about as La Leche League as they come, but . . . ewwwww!

But maybe I shouldn’t talk. How many times did I swear I would wean my kids long before I became one of those crazy earth mamas I always make fun of? And yet the other night I was happily camped out on the couch watching American Idol when Baby Bee ran from the other room, lifted up my shirt, leaned over and took a quick swig before taking off again. I just sat there stunned, feeling like nothing more than a human drinking fountain. Chef just shook his head quietly and muttered “Just promise me you’ll stop before she starts calling them by name. . .”

I Need to Win the Lottery

Tomorrow I am taking Baby Bee to the JCC to look at their K’Tan Tan program, which meets two days a week for kids from 16 months to 2 years. When she turns two, she can transfer directly to the nursery school there where she can go up to five days a week. The program sounds marvelous – the kids sing and dance and play and celebrate Shabbat with fresh-baked challah every Friday. Unfortunately it is also in a horribly inconvenient location as far across town as possible, and incredibly expensive considering I have to purchase a family membership for over $600 for Bee to even be eligible to enroll. So why am I sending her there? There are lots of great nursery schools that are less pricey and closer to home, but I must admit I instinctively recoil at the idea of her coming home with Easter Baskets and Christmas cookies, humming Jingle Bells to herself. Providing her with a solid, positive Jewish identity is important to me – and the JCC program will encourage her growth and development while celebrating our wonderful foods, holidays, songs and traditions.

At the same time, part of me – the harried, frustrated, middle class working mom part of me – can’t help but chafe against the indisputably astronomical cost of being even a moderately observant Jew. I am not even THAT religious, so I don’t have the added expense of, say, purchasing Kosher chicken and buying two full sets of dishes and flatware for meat and dairy. But still, when I add up the costs of synagogue and JCC membership and Sunday School fees and nursery school, the totals knock me off my chair. And that is without factoring in future expenses like Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, summer camp, and the vertigo-inducing tuition at the Jewish Day School I hope Bee will attend. Logically I know that none of these institutions are exactly rolling in money – in fact I am sure some are working at a considerable deficit – but I can’t shake this feeling that the prohibitive cost of even the most basic requirements of Jewish affiliation creates an elitism within the community which often makes me feel very alienated.

A Slightly More Trivial Matter

Chef picked up a wonderful little impulse item at Costco this weekend, the Gazillion Bubble Machine. You pour the liquid into the top, flip the switch, and immediately you are transported to the set of the Lawrence Welk show, surrounded by hundreds of floating iridescent globes. The kids were thrilled with it at first, squealing and laughing and chasing the bubbles all over the yard. After about five minutes they got bored and wandered across the lawn to play in their favorite patch of dirt. I, however, kept the machine going in their absence. I found it extraordinarily relaxing to work on the Sunday Times crossword puzzle while immersed in a frothy swirl of bubbles.