So much of parenthood seems to be about capturing firsts: the first smile, the first steps, the first haircut… all those adorable milestones destined for memorialization in the most guilt-inducing item ever marketed by the Maternal Industrial Complex: the baby book.

Baby Bear’s book sits on a shelf in his room. Prince Charming and I dutifully filled out our biographical information, and I may have extended myself so far as to fill in BB’s vital birth stats and a few early triumphs. But more than two years later, I’m pretty sure that his milestones peter out after a fuzzy guess at when he first pulled up. And despite the rather strident encouragement of the book (“Paste footprints here” — the “you lazy beast” goes unspoken but plainly understood) none of them are documented with pictures, ticket stubs, pressed flowers or fancy stamps.

It’s not that I’ve spent the time in some self-indulgent swoon on the couch, waking every so often to notice that our home has become inexplicably filled with primary-colored plastic. It’s that with limited time and energy, especially while I was working, I often chose to triage my parenting. To my mind, I could spend the precious weekend naptime hours dutifully logging, documenting and color-matching. Or I could fold laundry, clean the tub, find a Halloween costume, make baby food, put away outgrown clothes, or even(!) sleep or talk to my husband.

I still paid attention. I vividly remember the first time Baby Bear sat unassisted. And I remember spending the week after Christmas watching him learn to crawl, each day getting closer and closer to the booty displayed under the tree. The new skills, the new words, the blossoming — nay, exploding — personality… I’ve filed them all away in my heart. On occasion, I’ve even been organized enough to remember to grab the camera as well. But still… it bothers me that none of the images I have in my head (or languishing on my hard drive) have made it into gingham-bound posterity.

Perhaps now that I have time to breathe again, I’ll pull the baby book down, chisel off the dust and bring it up to date. Or maybe I’ll leave it where it is and opt to spend a glorious fall afternoon at the park, chucking rocks into the stream in a quest to find the one that makes the biggest splash. If there’s no spot in the book for that, there should be.

We’re all about animals these days. And poop. And if you can combine the two… well, that’s more fun than a barrel of shit-covered monkeys. A veritable Wild & Scatalogical Kingdom are we, Chez Goldie.

Baby Bear is simultaneously fascinated with the diversity of the animal kingdom and the complexities of potty training. In the spirit of interdisciplinary learning, we frequently combine number one and number two. Which yields such conversational bon mots as “Cows [are] too big [to] use [the] potty” and “Hippos poop ZOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

So with the crisp scent of fall in the air, off we went to a delightful little faux farm stocked with all sorts of crap, not to mention the livestock who generate it. We saw sheep poop, goat poop, cow poop, horse poop and (oh sweet Jesus) pig poop. All I can say about pig poop is, if bacon smelled like that, I’d be ten pounds lighter.

And get a load of this — all this shit was free! Frying Pan Farm has no admission charge, no parking fee, no $5 handfuls of Goat Toasties available for feeding. Just a bunch of happy kids, placid (or at least wearily resigned) animals and some mini tractors available for imaginary joyrides. Plus clean bathrooms (for human poop) and picnic tables (for when your appetite returns). Definitely a morning well spent.

Once upon a time, when we were newly married and blissfully unaware of Elmo, Prince Charming and I swapped our two rusting hulks for a brand-new sports car. Our new wheels were shiny and throaty and sleek, and no longer generated scorn, if not outright pity, from the guys at the valet stand. We drove in tautly balanced, two-doored, high-horsepower splendor for years.

And then I got pregnant.

Determined to hang on to some semblance of our past life, we laughed at everyone who asked what kind of minivan we were going to get. “How much room does a 20-inch-long human being really need?” I asked. “Besides, we don’t drive that much anyway. We’ll walk to most of our errands, and just pack carefully on longer trips.”

Baby Bear appeared, clocking in at 19.5 inches. And lo, we were suddenly the proud owners of Stuff: a car seat, a stroller, a pack-and-play, a booster seat, a Costco membership and the sins thus generated. Not to mention the avalanche of books and toys required for longer trips, plus whatever vitally essential items PC and I would bring for ourselves. Like a change of underwear (me) and golf clubs (him).

For two years, we played Car Tetris, carefully utilizing every available square inch, packing and repacking until at least most of the baby’s face was left uncovered. (They don’t sell infant snorkels. I checked.) Finally, unable to surpass our latest triumph (one pack-and-play, one booster chair, three overnight bags, one backpack, two pillows, two bath towels, three beach towels, a couple books, the most beloved stuffed animals, a beach blanket, one set of gold clubs, three human beings and a four-hour drive), we bit the bullet and started car shopping.

The auto-everything minivans with cupholders in the cupholders’ cupholders were nice. But lacking the sherpa necessary to carry the stuff that would accumulate inside, we decided we didn’t need a mobile living room. (And besides, I’m pretty sure aftermarket installation of a sherpa will void your warranty.) We calculated the space in some of the little cargo runners (Toyota Matrix, Mazda 3) and realized we’d be back to automotive Jenga very quickly. And we couldn’t stomach getting a full SUV, not with parking space and gas at a premium around here. Which left…

Now, the fine folks on Madison Avenue can call the Subaru Outback whatever they want — “crossover vehicle” sure sounds all nice and adaptable and inclusive. And they can gussy it up with a moonroof and turbo booster for more wind-in-your-hair per mile. They can even run commercials featuring mud and rocks and rugged-looking people just itching to jump on their mountain bikes and ride off into a sunset filled with hot monkey love. But no matter how you spin it, I’m now driving a station wagon. And I don’t know how I feel about that.

Like any fun-seeking couple, we thought that the best thing to do for the weekend of our wedding anniversary would be to leave the kid with grandma and get the hell out of Dodge.

But unlike most rational travelers, love and nonrefundable airline tickets meant that we spent the past weekend in Austin, Texas, alternately watching CNN and our friend’s wedding celebration. (Perhaps you’ve heard of Austin? It’s the resolutely liberal city slightly to the left of the giant puddle formerly known as Houston and Galveston.) The weather reports were grim when we left DC, but sentiment and the promise of an open bar lured us west.

And I’m so glad we went. From the varsity-level hospitality to the dynamite liquor, Austin knows how to roll out the red carpet — for carpetbagging wedding guests, displaced hurricane victims and everyone in between. You haven’t seen graciousness until you’ve heard people who may or may not have a roof over their heads back home telling the bride and groom that all they care about is celebrating a wonderful start to a beautiful marriage.

Here’s hoping all the fabulous folks we met stay safe in the weeks to come. And that the guy sitting next to me on the flight home remembers a time when George W. Bush may have done something dishonest.  He was 99.9% sure that such an upstanding man could never have done anything outrageously bad during his climb up the political ladder, but was open-minded enough to allow that at some point in our president’s long and storied career, there may have been the potential for one or two tiny missteps. Perhaps if he thinks real hard, something will come to him…

Seven years ago today, I woke up on a Tuesday and thought “What a beautiful sky. I hope this lasts until Saturday.” Seven years ago today, I drove to work with the radio off, the better to monitor the funky noise my ancient hand-me-down car was making. Seven years ago today, I was sitting at my desk, composing some ridiculous message about how stressful the last week of wedding prep was, when I heard a colleague in our conference room yell “Oh my God, another plane!”

I remember watching White House staffers evacuate, all but running out of their shoes across the front lawn. I remember calling my then-fiance, who worked across the street from the WH complex, and getting a recording — this at a firm where a live human being will pick up the phone at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve. I remember how empty the highway was driving back toward the city, and I remember how polite and passive we drivers were, as if we were starring in some tranq-laced driver-safety film. I remember it took Prince Charming six hours to walk home, and that I didn’t know where he was until he walked in the door.

I remember how the smoke smelled, driving past the Pentagon to fetch my future mother-in-law from the hotel where she had refugeed when her homebound flight, the last leg of her business trip, was grounded 10 minutes before she was supposed to board. I remember how every conversation began with “Are you OK? Did you know anyone?” I remember watching the news late into the night, and then waking up the next morning convinced it all had to be some delusional nightmare. I remember that for weeks afterward, I always had radio or TV or news site home page in the background, convinced that something else was bound to happen, that an even more terrible shoe was already in the process of dropping.

I remember how quiet it was; less traffic on the roads and no one in the sky. I remember the people who orchestrated crazy, all-night, cross-country drives to make it to the wedding after all. And I remember those who called and told us that they just couldn’t bring themselves to head toward Washington right now. I remember how deliberately everyone drank at the reception, not stopping until they could live in the present tense for a few hours. I remember checking and rechecking the status of our Sunday morning honeymoon flight, and waiting in the silent terminal with hundreds of other jittery passengers at 0-dark-30. I remember the soldiers with the guns, and the dog that barked, sending everyone three feet in the air. I remember watching the “you are here” flight tracker on board the plane, and how nobody talked until we passed Ohio.

Which is all not to say that I remember September 11 (not “nine eleven” — can we please not reduce the deaths of 3,000 people to some catchy shorthand?) for the way it ruined my wedding. What’s most ingrained is the transitional whiplash of it all, the way endings and beginnings and death and life and horror and hope were all jumbled together on top of each other. I remember how people came together in such an amazing and supportive way. And how quickly we reverted to business as usual. I pray that at some point we can make sense of what happened, and use our memories for something constructive. And I pray that those whose memories are far worse than mine can find peace somehow, somewhere.

We’re at a disadvantage, Baby Bear and I.

You see, most of the stay-at-home parents around here (and by “parents” I mean “mothers” — there’s no Little Children action going on in this neighborhood) have had their current gig since their babies were small, portable and perfectly suited for catching up at Starbucks. By the time their half-tamed wolverines are ready to rumble, they know the parks, the storytime schedules and, most importantly, each other.

Yours truly came to this a little late in the game, opting to stay home around the time BB turned two. So my search for a few daytime companions — ones who can cut their own meat — has required a little more effort. Truth be told, it sometimes feels like I’m single again.

Then as now, the outfit is everything. Heavy on the ironic T-shirts (me), light on the licensed commercial characters (him), with shoes that are attractive yet impervious to fluids (both). And I’ve rediscovered the pre-party — the playground is a much happier place if we both get some snackage ahead of time. (Although I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s bad form to carry your leftover martini in a sippy cup.) From there, it’s a question of making small talk: Do you come here a lot? What’s your major? How old is she?

At this point the weeding begins. Because first and foremost, I’m looking for additions to my social life; BB can sulk about preferred playmates just as soon as he’s learned to sigh “Mooooooommm” in a voice that clearly denotes centuries of suffering and abuse. Are you relaxed, cheerfully overwhelmed and/or more than a bit cynical about the strange role we’ve opted to play? Come sit right here by me. Are you gunning for martyrdom? Or very careful to tell me all about the other friends and playgroups you already have? I believe you want the Lily Pulitzer-clad sanctimommy on my right.

Look, we’re all in this together. Why not spend some time at the park chatting up the new girl, or giving a friendly wave to the folks you see every day but never talk to? Because if we all stay in our individual (and sadly alcohol-free) silos all day, dinnertime ain’t gonna be pretty.

An Open Letter to Everyone with a Cell Phone

Dear Friend,

When I say that I think I’m free next Tuesday, I’m not being coy. You see, a glance at my calendar reveals nothing but cross-outs, redirection arrows and question marks for two solid weeks. Five different people, pleading a variety of Issues with a Capital Ish, have flaked out on me for everything from coffee to movies to dinner. (At my house. With food I had already shopped for. And prepared.)

I still can’t decide if my favorite part of this streak is the last-minute nature of most of these cancellations, or that fact that I was generally the one making the confirmation-turned-cancellation call. (Because after strike #3, you begin to develop a wee compulsion to “just make sure.” Not to mention an unwillingness to turn on the stove before your guests are securely chained seated in your living room.)

Sure, people get sick. And tired. And… whatever. But folks, come on. If you’re feeling out of sorts, or ill, or overscheduled, or as if you really, really need to spend some quality time cleaning out your mother-in-law’s fridge, tell me. As soon as the urge/flu/narcolepsy strikes.

Because here’s the thing: Cell phones and e-mail are communication devices, not time machines. Calling to say you’re “on the way” is not the same thing as actually showing up at the designated place at the designated time. E-mailing a “sorry, I totally spaced” does not remove my memory of the three e-mails and two voicemails I lobbed your way. And let’s not even talk about the “I’m texting my retroactive regrets because even I know there’s no polite way to say I found something better to do tonight” phenomenon.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be busy on Tuesday. But call me Wednesday and we can figure out if there’s time on Saturday to maybe get together and do something somewhere.



Yesterday was Prince Charming’s birthday. In honor of the occasion, Baby Bear and I spent the morning making and frosting a cake. (Because, hey. Sugar. Butter. And did I mention the sugar? And, you know, the butter? I’d wish Dick Cheney a happy birthday if there was cake involved.)

In advance of this peaceful, sunlit mother-son bonding experience, I had picked up some cake mix during Monday’s trip to the grocery store. (Because while I’m not willing to trade real frosting for Sludge-in-a-Can®, I have no issues with faking the medium upon which it’s spread.) With the Toddler Doomsday Clock ticking its way toward a lunchtime meltdown, I quickly surveyed the flavors of boxed nostalgia on offer and grabbed… red velvet.

Now, I’ve spent most of my life below the Mason Dixon line. I like grits. I talk to strangers. My father took great pains to teach me about John Mosby. But although the Washington area is technically in the South, it’s still above the Sweet Tea Line, that fictional but no less influential border that marks the true start of the region, as well as what’s poured into your glass when you ask for “iced tea.” (North of Richmond, you’re generally given a choice. After all, you and/or you server are likely to be come-heres who don’t know any better, poor things.)

So all I knew about red velvet cake when I handed Baby Bear the open bag of benignly gray mix and pointed him toward the waiting bowl was that a) it looked pretty on the box and b) its chocolate-y flavor would appeal to Prince Charming. I didn’t really think, for example, about how you turn a chocolate cake red in the first place. Or its logical extension, what else could be done with a food dye that powerful.

Um, yeah.

During the first phase of cleanup, as the water in my sponge activated the red dye in the spilled mix, it looked as if I had butchered a clown. A day later, we’ve still got magenta spots on the counter. On the cutting board. Around the sink. On Baby Bear’s shirt and bib (because this stuff stains even after it’s cooked). I think it will come off the plates themselves; only time and our dishwasher will tell. 

(But the bits that made it onto our dessert plates were gooooooooood.)

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least held as gospel by features editors everywhere) that a mouthy judiciously opinionated Gen-X writer in possession of a toddler must be in want of a blog. And so herein I do my duty: To my generation. To my son’s Googling prom dates. (Hi, Chkaittlynne!) And to George Will.

Lie back and think of England.

On the Menu

Fish & chips & ketchup. Because in the good ol' U.S. of A., we like a little bit of processed to-may-to goodness with our British imports.