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Thursday, March 18, 2010

What If You Need a Goldfish?

What if you woke up one day and in the middle of your cup of Trader Joe’s French Roast you made a critical decision that may alter your future? Would you panic? Would you cry? Smile? Give thanks to the clouds and sky above that you finally came to this resounding resolution? Yes. But then, you would finish that cup o’ joe and rush out to the nearest pet store. Because, dangit, you need a goldfish.

This is exactly what happened to my mother a couple of weeks ago. It all began on Valentine’s Day. My good-natured brother-in-law sent mom a bouquet of lilies and roses as big as her head; bigger, since her hair has been shrinking since 1996. After said flowers wilted and were sent to the compost heap, she was left with this massive, boat-like orb of glass. And that’s when it hit her: she must have a goldfish.

Now, like any urban center, we have our share of Smart Pets, Company of Pets, and the like, but mom wanted to meander over to one of the smaller, locally-owned pet stores near her home. We chose one that we knew well in the area and had been in business for as long as we can remember.

First off let me explain that any endeavor made by mom is an excursion in patience. She is an older lady, uses a walker, and doesn’t see very well. And she is ornery to boot. So when we entered the little store, I worried that the service wouldn’t be up to her standard and we would leave disappointed. Boy, was I wrong!

We were greeted right away with smiles and “can I help you?” which alleviated my fears. Mom was slightly overwhelmed by all the supplies but I quickly directed her to the back of the store where all the fish live. They have a great selection of fish: colorful, majestic, tiny, glowing, solemn. Both freshwater and saltwater. But mom just wanted a plain-old, win-it-at-the-carnival goldfish. She couldn’t understand why the two huge tanks of goldfish were stuck on the floor, far away from her line of vision, and too low for her to bend down to get a good look. I didn’t have the heart to explain the cold hard truth, I mean, let’s face it, they don’t cost sixteen cents for nothing. So as I blocked the FEEDER FISH sign posted on the aquarium, and mom and I pondered how to go about selecting one fish out of twenty billion, a woman walked over to save us. She asked mom a couple of questions and then proceeded to pluck fish out of the tank, slip them into individual clear plastic bags filled with water, and hold them up for mom to see. She spent about twenty minutes going through this tedious ritual until mom finally gave her consent on a small, orange and white fish with a flowing tail. After that, our helper indicated which rocks we needed, the best live plant to add, fish food and water treatment products. I was so impressed by her patience and mom was so pleased by her assistance and expertise that we left completely overjoyed.

Thank goodness! We made it home safely and arranged mom’s new little friend so she could be comfortable in her ultra-modern glass house. Hopefully the cats won’t notice her. Either way, mom named her “Blondie”, after the nickname we call one of her doctors. She is part of the family now, whether the cats think so or not. And after awhile, I detected mom sitting peacefully on her couch, watching The View and sighing in relief. Because sometimes you just need a goldfish.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Your Kid Gets Picked On…

Last week Kaileigh came home from school and announced that she was not attending the upcoming birthday party for her friend. Of course I was shocked; the birthday girl had been a BFF for two years now. When asked about the situation, Kaileigh hesitated, and then allowed the story to unfold. It seemed, in a nutshell, that this girl had been teasing Kaileigh on the playground recently. Kaileigh was angry. And hurt. And as the story unraveled, I increasingly felt my skin become prickly and feverish. I was angry and hurt as well.

Do you remember those days? I thought I had forgotten, but it brought me right back. Her name was Megan and she supplied the commands. She was like a mini Machiavelli; she would rather be feared than loved. I wanted to play hopscotch; she regulated us to swing on the monkey bars. I liked the color pink, she demanded red. I felt comfortable in the gingham sun-dresses my mother made me, she ordered me to wear shorts instead. I thought I had a right to my choices, she insisted otherwise. She called me names if I disagreed: she said I was a baby for being upset. I remember deciding not to play with her anymore. And so I didn’t. I found new friends. And so that is what I told Kaileigh. Tell this girl that she is being hurtful and then walk away and play with someone else.

I know that boys have their arguments and then they punch each other until it works out. When they get older, they throw a beer in for good measure and then they are true friends for life. But girls are mean. They play games. They play favorites. Or even worse, they pledge undying friendship one day and the next day they ignore you at recess. And like boys, the manner in which we deal with each other holds true when we get older. Unlike boys, when girls decide that they don’t like each other anymore, there is no turning back: they will NEVER like each other anymore. And to take it further, girls will turn other girls against each other. The grudge becomes so overwhelming that it makes the Montagues and the Capulets look like babies splashing in the paddling pool. We don’t mess around.

Here’s the catch, though: I am one of those girls. I’ve had my share of difficulties with other females. And I talk some mean smack. Heck, I don’t think I could ever have a conversation with my sister without talking crap about someone we know. What else would we talk about? And grudges? I am the queen of grudges. Small, big, lifelong. There is a girl I still see pictures of on Facebook who just happened to have rubbed me the wrong way in the past. Annie. That bitch. I still will never lower myself to be on her FB list of friends. And this incident happened when I was eight years old. It obviously still curls my stomach.

And so the real issue is: how do I protect my daughter from girls who act like this? Who act like me? How do I protect her from becoming me? I know the answer, but it is so unfathomable, so crazy, that I dare not think it, much less put it in words.

I have to be the kind of girl that I want my daughter to grow up to become.

Dang. That sucks. Because it is so easy to take sides, talk poop, act mean. It is much tougher to say something positive, be kind, stand up for what is right, forgive. And that is ultimately what I want Kaileigh to do. But I am the role model. I am the example for her to follow, so I must do it first. I must show her how. I must give her the confidence that it can be done. And then when it is done, I must praise her for her efforts. Because it takes strength to be a good, decent person. To have empathy for each other instead of always trying to compete against each other, or think we are better than someone else. To connect instead of reject. But I believe that it is the only way we can truly be successful as human beings and find complete joy.

I guess I have to log on to Facebook and make Annie my friend. And for Kaileigh, I will.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Only two more days to go! Today was actually the first day that I felt better. Not completely whole, but okay. My headache was finally subsiding, the pain in my legs was slowly leaving my body; I was almost myself. Now if I could only snag a caramel macchiato, my world would be spinning in a sane universe. And really, how could I feel bad? The day was golden, glittering and clear. I have terrific friends and an awesome family. My little girl is miraculous. My boyfriend rocks. I live in a place that people dream about visiting. I needed to put it all into a big box of perspective.

Throughout the day I didn’t crave any cooked food like I did the other days. I felt fine just consuming salad and fruit. And I wasn’t terribly hungry, either. I just snacked all day. After my last meal, I topped it off with apple slices spread with peanut butter and it was very satisfying. Hopefully my last day will be equally as agreeable because since I began this diet, I have been evaluating my eating habits. I have especially been taking account of the emotions associated with how and what I eat. I don’t want to wax poetic about it until I am completely finished with the experience, but if anything, that will be my biggest lesson.


This diet has been improperly named. It should not be called the “raw food diet”; instead it should be named the I-want-to-shriek-at-my-boyfriend diet or the I-give-nasty-looks-to-anyone-holding-a-coffee-cup diet. I am irritated. I had to go food shopping today because, incredibly, I have eaten the entire heap of bananas, apples, oranges, lettuce, asparagus, green beans, spinach, zucchini, avocados, broccoli and tomatoes that I bought just last week. It is amazing. How could I eat so much fresh, healthy food and still feel so crappy? By the end of the day, Daniel was brave enough to tell me never to go on one of these “crazy” diets again. I had to give him a mental high-five even though my eyes were spitting fire at him. Wow. My behavior was that bad? I assessed my mood: my mouth was in a perpetual frown, I was lethargic and listless. My head still hurt and my legs still ached. Even peanut butter couldn’t cheer me up.

For dinner, Daniel was craving a hamburger so we drove to one of the local spots. He opened the glass door and I inhaled deeply. The aroma of oily french fries and juicy meat was intoxicating. He ordered one of those burgers where the grease drips down your smiling face and you need ten-thousand napkins to mop it up. I was in a complete state of jealous agitation. I will have to say that it is a good thing I am so stubborn because I was ready to lick the grease off the formica table. There was no dignity left. But! Lucky for me, I AM obstinate to a fault. I held on. Strong. Determined. Cantankerous. Like a mule.

DAY FOUR—I Think I Cheated!!

On Wednesday I woke up early to take Kaileigh to school and then take my mom for her weekly grocery shopping at Albertson’s. After I rolled out of bed, I noticed it. I had a dull ache running down both of my legs. It felt like all the toxins in my body were bouncing off my shin bones, battling to get out. Ugh. This to go along with the never-ending beating in my head. Throughout the morning I felt distracted, grumpy. I couldn’t focus for any length of time. As my mom and I were in the check-out lane chatting with the bagger, I noticed the guy in line right behind us. He stared at me blankly until we made eye contact. With a lopsided nod, he greeted me. I could smell the whisky seeping from his skin. His only purchase was a bottle of Wild Turkey. It was ten-thirty in the morning. I hurried my mom out of the store disturbed.

When I arrived home in the afternoon, I should have gone straight to the kitchen to bake the butternut squash, steam the asparagus and cook the pot roast for my mom. She needed it to each be pureed by the evening for dinner. But instead, my mind tilting, I crashed into my bed and wasn’t revived until hours later. I woke up serious. Debating. Maybe the drunk in the grocery store was my parallel—addicted to food, temperamental and sullen. Maybe the intention of this diet was to give me some clarity in my life. Find out what is truly important.

Daniel came home in the evening with a jar of peanut butter and some vegetables. Eureka. I slipped my index finger into the inside rim of the container and tasted the creamy nuttiness. That was it! My discovery. I think I heard the angels singing. I scooped it onto fat sticks of celery, apple slices, whole bananas—heck, I was spooning it out of the jar straight onto my tongue. Technically, I could eat nuts and seeds on this diet, but I wouldn’t want to be confronted by a purist. I don’t think peanut butter fit into the slender dress of the raw food diet, but at that point I was starting to lose it. Peanut butter was saving me from a mad-hatter tea party of French espresso and IN-N-OUT, animal style.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This day undoubtedly was the worst day ever. Kaileigh and I got up early to go to school; she was going on a field trip with her class to Legoland and I had volunteered to go along. I made her a big breakfast: scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and orange juice while I had a banana and some tea. My headache had not dissipated since the day before so I was gearing up for a crazy day. We arrived at eight in the morning to fifty 2nd graders hopping around, jumping out of their skin, waiting for the bus. Bravo to all the teachers for organizing this event and being fearless enough to do it. As a parent, I imagine I stood there in awe of the enterprise.

I knew that the minute we parked on that big blanket of asphalt in front of Legoland that I was in disastrous need of caffeine. My head was exploding. It was warming up, too, the sunshine beating down on my naked arms felt like fire. We were assigned ten kids between four of us adults, five girls and five boys. Between the parents prattle and the kids screaming, I felt like I was on the rollercoaster to hell—with no stewardess in sight. At one point, in line for the Tower of Power ride, I stood there reeling, almost as if I were not in my body at all, but floating above it. I was in shock, maybe. Shock from not having an iced latte in my hand. Just the sight of a Starbucks that morning made me want to openly weep. I was about to completely unravel when a distant voice announced, “lunchtime!” and my nerves softened. That is, until I remembered the broccoli, tomatoes and carrots that awaited me in my brown paper bag. I was tempted to snag the little girl’s lunch next to me: egg salad sandwich, salt and vinegar potato chips, tapioca pudding and oreo cookies with milk. Dang.

The day stretched out for miles ahead of me—two hours ticked by so languidly it was as if I could feel each minute drip down my drumming head. The heat robbed my skin of any moisture and the kids dangled from my arms like I was a human monkey bar. I had to fain a full bladder just so I could escape into the cool dark bathroom, lock myself in a stall and have some alone time. Breath deeply. Splash cold water on my face.

By three o’clock in the afternoon, I was done. My intolerance had reached new levels to the point that some of the mothers looked at me sorrowfully and asked me if they could buy me a coffee. I must have been complaining. I saw it on their faces. Actually, it was probably better that I told them about my raw food diet project so I could keep myself accountable. Because at that moment I would have scratched somebody’s eyes out for a Starbucks iced tall double-shot. But I am not a quitter! No!

But then something really strange happened. We packed into the car to head home—an hour and a half drive up the 5 and 405 freeways in traffic—when I started to feel physically sick. Thank god I wasn’t driving. I sat up front and urged the mother who was driving to keep talking because every inch of that highway felt worse. My head was spinning, I broke out into a cold sweat, and my stomach was playing a mean game of hopscotch. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. As droplets formed on my forehead and a watercourse ran between my shoulder blades, I felt myself faintly saying, “Can you pull over to the side of the road so I can throw up in that bush?” But I only said it in my mind. I held on, sometimes quite literally. By the time we pulled into the driveway, I barely made it to my bed before passing out. After a little while, Kaileigh came in and snuggled up next to me, curled her little hand into mine and said, “I’m tired, mama.” That’s the last thing I remembered.


I think by the second day I had resigned myself to the suffering of my condition because I seemed to breeze right through most of it. In the morning I took my mom and Kaileigh to my sister’s house for a visit. Over macadamia nut coffee and bagels spread with whipped cream cheese, they chatted; I sat in a corner and salivated. But, after two oranges and a banana, with a cup of hot herbal tea in my hand, I felt a bit less restless. I thought I was over the hump. Lunch was equally fine—a huge salad with avocados, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar dressing. The day outside was warm and inviting. I drove Kaileigh to her BFF’s house for a play date, and I sat on the balcony in the sun, writing, for the rest of the afternoon.

It wasn’t until dinner rolled around that the torture began again in earnest. We went to a friend’s house and even though we took a relaxing walk to the bay while the kids played in the grass, my slight headache that had been percolating all day burst at the seams and flooded my brain. Oh my head throbbed and burned, like someone tapped a tiny hammer against my forehead, which seemed completely ridiculous because I had cut coffee out of my diet before without this strong of a consequence. I never remember my head hurting this badly. The beef lasagna and chocolate cake that Pam made for dinner didn’t help, either. Just the smell of the cake baking and filling the kitchen was enough for me to send this diet packing. But I stayed strong! No giving in! Everyone had two slices of cake while I stood watching them, their faces smeared with chocolate. Man, my willpower has never endured so much. I think I am ready for a triathlon or maybe a jog through the Mongolian tundra. On to the next day!