Friday, December 15, 2006

Spell it Out

Parents often resort to spelling or abbreviating words in front of children so that the children do not get riled up by sensitive information. For example, if David and I want to say "children's museum" in front of Clara, but we don't want to go there, we call it the CM; otherwise, if she hears the phrase and we DON'T go there, she will freak out unduly. We spell out certain snacks that are special treats, like c-o-o-k-i-e-s, so that we have the option of NOT giving one to her. Like I said, if she hears a word, and the object the word symbolizes is not forthcoming, then there is t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Sometimes David will spell something out that, in my opinion, does not need to be spelled out. He'll say, "Can you take that thing away from Clara. It's a c-h-o-k-i-n-g-h-a-z-a-r-d. Not only does it take me forever to figure out what the hell he's spelling, but also I can't see the danger in just saying the word. Tonight it was, "Do you mind if I do the d-i-s-h-e-s?" indicating that he felt like doing dishes tonight instead of giving Clara her bath. He and I switch off doing one or the other after dinner every night.

He cracks me up when he does this spelling out of seemingly harmless words. H-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Diego can't nurse right now, and so there's major mayhem over here.

I had a CTA today -- a CT Angiogram, like a CT Scan with intravenous iodine contrast, which intensifies the view of the brain more than a normal CT scan. As a consequence of the iodine contrast, I cannot breastfeed Diego for a minimum of 24 hours. Well, I could breastfeed him, but the pamphlet from the pharmaceutical company that the nurse gave me says in effect "we [the drug company] pretty much know that this contrast is passed undiluted through breastmilk to baby. We don't know what this does to baby. The mother may bottle feed baby for 24 hours."

I've heard that some doctors calmly say there's no necessary waiting period to breast feed after getting iodine contrast. But then there's the technician today who, when answering the question I asked everyone from receptionist to phlembotomist to nurse to technician, said gravely, "well...every hospital has a different opinion, but we recommend...48 hours."

48 hours is a long time to wait for a delayed flight, say, or a golf marathon to end on a major network like ABC or CBS. 48 hours is a long time for a sleepover with your best friends when you're all 13 -- and these are your best friends. 48 hours is a long time for even the most pleasurable of activities.

So imagine 48 hours of uninterrupted baby-crying. Baby's in pain because I'm denying him my nipple, offering him instead a silicone rendition of it, which is nothing like the real thing. And he knows it. And I am listening to him wail, screeeeeeching like a favorite pet being run over by the neighborhood gang -- over and over -- just for the torture. And as bad as this pet tragedy sounds, baby-being-denied-real-nipple-crying sounds worse. To me it does, anyway.

Imagine how long this event feels.

His confusion and distress create in me a frenzy -- a chaotic ache to quell my child's trauma.

I am drinking so much water right now, trying to push this iodine contrast out of my body as fast as possible. My kidneys are double-timing it.

Daddy is caring for baby right now. I think they're bonding. Daddy's all baby-whispering in there, getting Diego to take the bottle. Diego knows by now that Daddy has no boobs, so it's easier for Daddy to get him to take the bottle. But true to baby-whispering form, Daddy is doing what seems to have been impossible only moments ago: get him to suck my milk from the artificial nipple. Bless him.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Today I Die

Two caesareans, one appendectomy, one auto accident, one hard fall-down during my seventh month of pregnancy, and one brain hemorrhage later, I am here to tell you that all those cliches, all the poems, all the plays and great books about the fleeting nature of life -- life, the expanse between being born and being dead -- are true. There is nothing trite about the sentiment. I now know because by some amazing grace I recently had a brain hemorrhage and not only did I live, but I live with VERY few complicating factors as a result.

For example, I am still as wickedly smart as I was before. And funny. I'm funnier than ever now. My husband might say I'm funny in a "touched" sort of way; and he would argue that it didn't start as a result of the hemorrhage. I can see his point; for example, this morning I aerobicized around the living room for 20 minutes in my pajamas because dammit it's time for me to start losing 25 pounds. He drank his coffee on the couch and watched me while I danced and jumped jacks and lifted legs to the Breeders (without irony), the Pretenders (which kept skipping) and some Romanian gypsy music.

Recently, I watched Robert Altman's new movie, "Prairie Home Companion." Awesome movie. The backstage banter at the beginning is perfect; anyone who has spent time getting ready backstage before a show will feel the real as captured by Streep, Tomlin, Harrleson, Reilly, etc. The movie is an allegory about the nature of life -- its sweetness, the brilliance all around us that we don't see until it's too late, the cruelty of it, the darkness. At the end of the movie, Kevin Kline, playing Guy Noir, quotes a famous Robert Herrick poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." Here's the first stanza:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

When I taught British Literature, inevitably this poem would come up in the syllabus. I never really cared for it before, but now it plays in my head, like a happy ghost, probably 20 times a day.

My step brother recently told me about some sect of monks who wake up every morning and say to themselves, "today I die," intimating that they must live that day as if it were their last on earth. After my brain hemorrhage, I realized that each day previous to the one I found myself in might very well have been my last; the veil between life and death is thinner than I ever imagined. I mean, one morning I laid down to take a nap, and I woke up 20 minutes later with the worst headache of my life. By that same time the next morning, I had had three MRIs, two CT scans, one angiogram, and a large amount of morphine and other types of pharmaceuticals, and the only certainty the neurologists could tell me was that I was very, very, very lucky. They had no idea why it happened and told me that I was "a medical mystery."

Now I'm living as if each day is my last, because it could be. It could be yours. Really. And if it is: what do you want to do?

Here's my list:
1) Hang out with my kids
2) Have sex with my husband
4) Tell my family and friends that I love them
3) Write

Everything else is negotiable, but those four things are not.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Behold, A Son

Diego Aaron Brown
b. August 17, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006


She's an amazing big sister.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One more stress bot....

Today our landlord came to remove this disgusting, mold-covered window unit from the window directly next to where David's head rests each night during sleep. We've never used the unit, and I figured it was inoperable, given the general disrepair of the thing. Plus, David has had too many sinus infections for the thing to be benign. Since we have a newborn coming home with us in two weeks, and will be sleeping in our room with us for a while, we pushed the landlord to remove the grody window unit pronto. He's going on vacation in the Southern Rockies for two weeks, leaving Thursday, and we really wanted him to get it out before he leaves.

So he calls and says, "I'm just about mad enough to come take out a window unit. Is this a convenient time?"

It's Clara's bath and bedtime, but I say "yes."

"I'll be up in 5 to 10 minutes," he says. In our landlord time that means anywhere between 20 minutes to 20 days.

I move the bed and get the area ready for him to remove the unit from the window. He finally arrives after 25 minutes. "I'm gonna leave in that other unit on the other side of the house, in case the compressor breaks and you need to seek refuge."

In case the compressor breaks?!?!

"Don't say that, Bob," I say.

"I just hope it doesn't," he says.

He's just trying to scare me, because supposedly I scare him. Right? Now I'm all stressed that the fucking air conditioner is going to break while he's high up in the Rocky Mountains. While we have a newborn in the house.

"Where is that unit gonna be stored, in case the compressor does break while you're gone."

"This thing is gone, Missy. If it breaks, you'll have to go to the other room."

"It's not gonna break," I say.

"I sure hope not."

Does he know something I don't know? Is the warranty expired? Doesn't he sound like a really nice guy?

The air-conditioner is not going to break while he's gone. But in case it does, I made him give me the name of the company that will come out and fix it. Jason McCann services; something like that.

"These people get greedy," he says.

If the air-conditioner breaks while he's gone, I don't care how much they tell me it's gonna cost to repair it; you can be sure I'll give them the go-ahead.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Quarterly Update

It's been too long, but I've been so pregnant. Still am, though not much longer to go: two weeks or so. The baby boy in me is big, very big, so big the doctor put me on a diet to curb him from growing too big too fast. So I dieted using strict portion control, eating lots of fruits and raw vegetables. After a week on this diet, which is a diabetic diet, I felt better than I have in 10 years. Once the doctor told me the baby's growth had gone back to normal, I tripped a little off the diet. I'm still eating much better than I was before the diet; I'm gaining the perfect amount of weight each week, says my OB. Because sugar's the only drug left to a pregnant woman, it can be abused and have a deleterious effect on her nutritional input. It did on mine, PD (pre-diet).

As soon as I started feeling better, I got a new job, one that came to me through an acquaintance. I'm recruiting sales people for positions in my acquaintance’s company. A global corporation has recently bought his company. I'm recruiting sales people in many many cities to sell a "financial solutions" product. When I took the job, it sounded simpler than it's been in reality.

Today I'm not feeling so hot, actually. I've been nauseous and headachy and winded. The August heat and humidity are hard to begin with, but the heat and humidity coupled with my having a 17-month-old toddler and being 8.5 months pregnant, makes living harder than normal. Baby boy (still unnamed) moves around a lot and uses BIG movements, grand gestures. Sometimes it feels like he's tap-dancing on my bladder. Often it feels like he's tap-dancing on my bladder. I have to pee all the time. Maybe there is an hour's worth of minutes during the day when I don't have to go pee. My dad says that this condition, typical of pregnancy, resembles the condition men find themselves in when they get older.

My daughter Clara has entered the superest cutest stage: she's extremely verbal, but not coherent in Standard English. She toddles around discovering new things -- new sights, new, new sounds, new moods -- all day long. This past Sunday morning, she pulled a paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet from the bookcase and carried it around with her throughout the day. That evening, when we got to the book-reading part of our night time routine, she picked up Romeo and Juliet from the floor and handed it to me.

"You want me to read Romeo and Juliet to you?" I laughed.

"Yeah," she said. Yeah is her one perfectly pronounced word at this point.

"Are you sure?" I said.

"Yeah," she said.

"Okay....Let's see....what should I read?" I scanned the play, looking for a sonnet or a series of lines that I could pull out and read to satisfy her whim. Not finding one easily, I settled on starting from the beginning. "Act I, Scene I," I began.

I read three or four pages to her that night, finishing at the part where Capulet declares he's having a party and sends his illiterate servant off with a list of guests to invite. Periodically, while reading the play, I'd stop and ask her if she wanted me to read Goodnight Moon (a highly poetic board book, by the way). She scowled and growled loudly. "You want me to keep reading Romeo and Juliet?" I asked.

"Yeah." She smiled and went back to drinking her before-bed milk, snuggled up in my armpit, listening to and babbling along with Shakespeare.

The next night it was the same story: only Romeo and Juliet would do. Tonight, bedtime reading started out the same way, but when we started Act II, Scene I, she finally lost interest (just when I'd found my rhythm!), demanding Easter Egg Surprise instead.

She's at a stage in her development where she has strong relationships with her cow stuffed animal and her bunny stuffed animal. She protests, like any red-blooded child, going to bed each night, but if I ask her if she wants to read Cow and Bunny a story in her crib, she acquiesces and goes gently into bed. Then she spends the next twenty minutes "reading" to her animals. I hear her in her room, reading to her animal friends wbo share her crib, and at moments like this, I can't quite believe how beautiful life is.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


"Hi Monica!"

During my 14th year, strangers in my relatively small hometown started greeting me this way, mysteriously often. The first few times, I felt like I must be imagining it: Did I just get called Monica? Again? After about the 8th time it happened, the mistaken identity began to bother me.

"Who's Monica?" I asked my friend Leah.

"She's that other redheaded girl," Leah said. "She goes to Marco." Marco Forster Junior High School was the public Junior High School in town. I went to the Catholic school. Leah played fullback on the AYSO soccer team where I played goalie. We'd been Brownies and Girl Scouts together in Elementary. We were also in National Charity League together during high school. Incidentally, we also went to the same college, although we didn’t room together. Leah liked nothing better than to hang out and chat with me in the backfield while our forwards were running the ball furiously toward the goal. (I owe much of my former soccer goalie prowess to Leah's sieve-like defense of the goal box.) Leah went to public school; therefore, she knew this Monica. "She's taller than you are, but you look a lot alike," she said.

Instead of playing soccer, Monica danced ballet, which explains why our paths took so long to cross. We finally met when our different National Charity League subchapters convened at a common house. The girls in Monica's subchapter were debutantes. This meeting-nay-party was all about how to give ourselves manicures -- a very useful skill, like typing, for example; how to arrange flowers; how to sit down in a chair properly and what to do with your legs while sitting. My own subchapter did community service together: we candy striped; we patterned a local quadriplegic girl who had been paralyzed since birth; we delivered meals on wheels, read for Head Start students, walked together, along with our mothers, in the Swallows Day Parade. A few times, we met with California stateswomen, like Marian Bergeson. I have to say that as noble as these things were, I remember more from that one meeting where I learned manicure skills (always file in one direction), flower arranging skills (cut the stems under running water), and sitting etiquette (back up to the chair until the backs of your legs brush the seat; sit straight down; fold your ankes around one another and let your legs lean together to one side. Never! Cross! Your! Legs!).

It might have been through our participation in this group that my parents found out about Young Republican Camp, where they sent me when I was 16. But that is a totally awesome memory that I'm reserving for a future writing.

The moment I saw her, I knew I'd met my match.

"You must be Monica," I said.

"You're Christa!" she said.

"We don't look alike at all," I said.

"No," she said.

We stood staring at one another, trying to belie our greedy need to find our difference in one another. Then, recognizing our awkward silence, we tried to start talking again.

"I guess our hair color is kind of similar," I said.

"And it's cut sort of similar," she said. Our haircut resembled the cut that Tracy Austin, the 80's teen tennis star, sported in the 70s: longish, with bangs and slight feathering around the face.

"Yeah," I said.

Monica and I didn't say anything to each other for the rest of the party, and I never saw her again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fate and Free Will

Lately, I've been wrestling with fate. That is, I've been contemplating the concept that one's existence requires her to behave in accordance with the life choices she has made. I'm operating here under the understanding that the life choices people make constitute their "destiny" or fate.

Ideally, we make our life choices consciously; for example, a woman may love many, many men in her lifetime; however, when it comes to choosing a mate, she combines as much awareness as she can muster with a generous dose of dumb luck and chooses one man. What results is the life she leads as a married woman to that particular man; i.e., her "fate." Likewise, a woman gets pregnant with her husband (they are poor artists, they are "not ready," they have decided to wait; nevertheless, she gets pregnant the old fashioned way--without "planning") and chooses to go ahead and become a mother, knowing that having children will complicate her life in the deepest way. She lives, in short, with her eyes and heart open to the experiences she's having; she does not crash or thrash through her life, complaining that the life she's creating for herself -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- is unfair. She does not become a victim of her fate.

Sometimes, while contemplating my fate, passages from Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being seep into my consciousness, passages like "The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become" (Kundera 5).

Before I became a new mom/shut-in, I enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle: I played in a band; I wrote and produced original performances; I acted in plays; I taught English Literature; I traveled the world. My husband and I spent a lot of time out with our friends. We attended parties -- pool parties, cast parties, democratic parties, garden parties, galas. We even threw a party now and then. Mine was a relatively light existence, a troubled existence to be sure -- whose isn't? -- but free of irrevocable responsibility for the most part.

Not so much these days.

Recently, my friend Jason asked me if I wanted to be in a play -- the world premiere rock opera by Daniel Johnston and Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Jason is directing it. It's gonna be amazing, and I would love to be in the play more than most anything else. But I had to say no. No. No. No. Because not only am I a wife, and the mom of a fourteen month old daughter, but also because I'm carrying another baby in my uterus. These three things are major responsibilities, each one compounded by the next. Being a wife is easy; being a wife and mother is exponentially harder. Being a mother of two, I've heard, is exponentially harder than being a mother of one. Besides the responsibilities to my family, there's the reality that by six p.m., I can barely stand. The only thing I'm successful at during the evening hours is passing out from exhaustion.

Is it worth it? Is giving up this extravagant, seemingly expansive lifestyle for the limited, burdened one of family worth the exchange?

Yes. It is. I think. I hope.

I used to think of the Fate phenomenon as the opposite of Free Will. But over the years, I've learned that Fate is a result of Free Will; there is no versus between the two. They are intimately connected, in the same way all great oppositions are connected: dark/light, male/female, parent/child, heaviness/lightness. There is no one without the other.

There is no extravagance without burden.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cut Loose

I believe I can come out now.

For years when I've gone to get a haircut, and the stylist asks me how I'd like it cut, I've wanted to say, "like Keith Richards." But I haven't said it, because I was afraid of the resulting look. And also, when I did say it once, the hairperson looked at me like I needed to up my meds.

I don't take meds; I am totally serious.

So today I went to a new place. I get my hair cut twice a year. I wash it twice a month, maybe three times. Let's say I'm low maintenance when it comes to my hair. Mostly, I pull it up into some sort of situation. Lately I've been wearing it plaited, but I started to worry that I might end up one of those old women with braids, and with that vision in my head, I couldn't wait any longer to get it cut. I heard from a good friend, a visual artist, that John Chao was the man for long hair in Houston. So I made an appointment with John Chao. Turns out, the rumor that he's the guy for long hair is fallacious. He's also the guy for short hair, medium length hair, curly hair, gray hair, hair color, etc. Apparently, people go to him all the time because they've heard that he's the guy for ______ hair.

John Chao did not ask me how I wanted my hair cut. He simply began cutting it, dry. He said that he was going to cut for a while to get a feel for my hair and then he would figure out what to do. I liked him immediately.

While he cut, he told me tricks for how to bring out the natural wave in my hair. He said, "You must begin preparing your waves in the shower." Then he launched into a step by step description of how to prepare my hair for waves. Only shampoo the scalp -- never the ends. Wash with just water at least once a week. While you're in the shower, separate your hair into sections, and let the hot water hit your scalp while you pull the natural oils that normally live on your scalp all the way from the roots to the ends. There was even more arcane knowledge imparted by John Chao, more than I've ever heard or read before. He applauded me for washing my hair only twice a month. I was charmed. Because he speaks with a thick Asian accent, I had to listen veeeery closely to absorb all his hair wisdom.

To cap it off, I left the salon looking like the rock star I used to be but never was. In fact, I look a little like Keith Richards. A ladylike Keith Richards. It was as if John Chao read my mind, discovered my secret hair wish by feeling his way through my hair.

John Chao cured me of my everlasting bad mood. I heartily tipped him. As I left, he walked me to the door, opened it for me, and said, "Enjoy your new life."

Friday, February 10, 2006


I am sick of everything: internet forums, blogs (including this one), folk, cars – not only SUVs – toast, whining toddlers, do-gooders, neck pain, grandfather clocks, Baby Einstein, Walt Disney, shiny pennies, romantic comedies, Hollywood video, brick and mortar monopolies, poetry, peanut butter, stale pancakes, public and private schools, oil slicks, pot holes, refried beans. The list, of course, goes on ad infinitum. Periodically, I enter a fog of dense misanthropy, which hovers around my head for a week or so. When it lifts, I feel refreshed, ready to blaze back into the world with an open, hopeful heart once again.

If I were to read the newspaper on a regular basis, the fog would never lift. I don’t know how newshounds live with themselves and the other 6.5 billion people on earth.

Maybe they only live with themselves.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Xta’s Scrap Book

Before I got pregnant, I frequented smoky bars, punk rock clubs, speakeasies, blue-black alleyways. I was hung over nine out of twelve weekends. Today, my daughter turns 11 months old, and I admit that sleep trumps drunk.

Becoming a mother necessitates a dramatic shift in behavior. For example, recently I’ve been ducking into stores with names like “Scrapbooking with Grammy,” looking for a 6x6, linen-covered, elegant number produced by a company called 4 TIMES. Someone gave me this scrapbook as a shower gift, and although I didn’t know what to do with it then, I am a different person now. A scrapbooking addiction has replaced the party girl in me. And like any addict, I will go to great lengths to feed my need.

In order to document the wonder that is my daughter Clara as well as the ineffable love I feel for her, I found myself maneuvering a bright blue shopping cart through the aisles of Hobby Lobby last week. The 4 TIMES scrapbook proved particularly elusive. Not only did I fail to locate this particular brand, but also the whole scrapbooking aisle looked like desolation row. I wondered: Is scrapbooking becoming obsolete? Are craftfolk in high places phasing out this past time just as I am getting into it?

On to Michael’s: another strip-mall acre of dust-collecting crap for sale. I rolled my shopping cart past teetering displays of ceramic deer heads, picture frames, scented candles, Styrofoam orbs, widgets and whopdoodles. I kept asking myself, “Who buys this shit?” If the amount of ceramic deer heads for sale is any indication, people not only buy this shit but they buy of loads of it.

In short: I did not find the 4 TIMES scrapbook at Michael’s either, but I found another brand that would do. As I waited in the checkout line with my books, glue dots, and pack of 300 multi-colored, pre-cut 6x6 papers, the customer in line before me ran to the front of the store, grabbed something, and ran back to the register. She held up a 4 foot Santa Claus fashioned from wooden pickets. “Do you think someone would like this?” she asked me.

“Hmmmm,” I said, “depends on the someone.” I wanted to say “Lady, who in their right mind would like that?” But I knew better.

When I told a friend of mine about the current dearth of scrapbooks in stores, she reminded me that Christmas was coming; apparently, scrapbooks are popular gift items. “Easy does it, honey,” my friend warned. ‘Some people go overboard with this scrapbooking. I know one woman who turned a room in her house into scrapbooking central.”

Already I’m fantasizing how someday I’ll have whole room, a scrapbooking den, if you will. I’ll be a scrapbooking denizen. I imagine I’ll paint the walls of my room a cool, dusty blue….