Saturday, May 21, 2016

Wild child


No words can capture the raw life force of my seven-year-old daughter, a child whose preferred weekend activity is to fill a pit with water, take a full-body mud bath, and then climb a tree.

On a recent trip to the school library, she scored big time: Animal Atlas of the World by E. L. Jordan, Ph.D. (Hammond Inc., 1969), a large green hardback, was being discarded by library staff, probably to make room for more princess books. Their loss was her gain, because she got to take that wonderful book home . . . forever!

After school, she sat on the couch poring over its pages with a highlighter and pen. As a rule, I am against scribbling in hardback books.  Then she explained she was not "scribbling," but annotating the text with her own thoughts. Well okay, then.

Flipping through Animal Atlas later, I was in awe that a small girl could imprint her very essence on a fifty-year-old reference work. A sampling of her comments:

Animal: Tasmanian Devil

Description: In its native land, this creature is regarded "with a mixture of annoyance and admiration." People "acknowledge the courage with which it attacks animals larger than itself" and devours them with its "splendid bone-crusher teeth."


Animal: Tasmanian Wolf

Description: These animals roam the "uninhabited wilderness . . . pursing their prey indefatigably until it is exhausted and surrenders."


Animal: Gorilla

Description: Usually "shy and retiring," this powerful primate "does not attack anyone without reason." However, it is "unmanageable as a pet; it may act well behaved until in periods of anger it drops all restraints normal to human beings."


Animal: Fennec

Description: "One of the most handsome of all animals, with fluffy, soft, long fur and big dark eyes. Its baby-like appearance is enhanced by the whimpering calls it utters when disturbed."


Animal: Dingo

Description: "The only flesh-eating non-marsupial in Australia."


Animal: Arctic Fox

Description: These icecap-dwellers "feed on whatever edibles come their way, dead or alive, lemmings and fish, young seals and whales washed ashore, or the leftovers of the polar bear's meals."


Animal: Gray Wolf

Description: "In general not nearly as bloodthirsty as it is reputed to be. It is adaptable, intelligent, loyal to its mate . . . " This animal "hunts in packs . . .  killing deer, elk and moose," and occasionally, under famine conditions, human travelers. Cubs are "born in a lair dug by their mother."


Is it just me, or is it time to get this kid a dog, already?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pioneer Days

Spring -- the season of field trips, class parties, and mandatory paperwork concerning same -- is here.

At a recent parents' meeting, I learned that the third graders' spring was kind of a big deal. In May and June, they would learn to swim, re-enact olden times at a historic mansion, dress up on certain school days ("Pioneer Days") for role-playing games, and perform an original musical play about -- if I heard this correctly -- "biomes."

My memories of third grade were of an orange-haired old woman shushing us while we tried not to punch each other and/or wet our pants. How things had changed! Third grade was now a magical journey through the elements and Time itself.

Busy practicing a series of throat-kicks for a martial arts tournament, my son took this in stride. He was accustomed to a certain amount of educational razzle-dazzle. When I mentioned I'd spent third grade sitting alone on a stump, reading library books about The Boxcar Children, he was like: "That's sad, Mom. Can I borrow your phone and go watch YouTube now?"

Well, I for one was jazzed about all the upcoming opportunities!

First, I volunteered to be a driver for the field trip to the historic house. Putting aside disturbing memories of last year's spring field trip -- when, blinded by eye-watering allergies after a farm tour, I had to drive three boisterous boys back to school ("Be quiet! I can't see!") -- I indicated on the form that I could take three kids. No problem!

Next, I began plotting to secure the best job offered to parents that day: churning butter. Oh, how I wanted to churn butter and not be stuck in some "barn scavenger hunt" nonsense! The hell with the barn! We'd all seen a barn! Perhaps if I arrived in period dress, it would give me an edge?

Third, I considered killing two birds with one stone and getting married at the historic house. Dave could take the day off work, and we could do it in a flashmob. Just let me put down this churning stick and -- hey, Mom! glad you could make it! -- stand before these splendid columns while I recite my vows . . . Then I imagined my son's eyes pleading me not to embarrass him with a flashmob wedding, but just to show up, take my post in the barn, and hand out snacks like all the other moms. Oh, all right!

After the field trip came the pioneer party. On a yellow posterboard on the classroom wall, I signed up for the task of making corn cob dolls for two hours on party day.

Two hours! It was one thing to make a corn cob doll (how hard could it be?), but quite another to guide a rotating cast of nine-year-olds through the process until my hands blistered from cobbing.

One thing was certain: After two hours dressing corn cobs, I would be a master of the form. Increasingly, I would sneer at the children's pedestrian efforts ("That's a very derivative cob, Dylan. I've seen that one a thousand times!") while pushing out in bold new directions.

My cob dolls would start out insipid -- buttons for eyes, a scrap of calico -- but soon evolve into Impressionist cobs, Cubist cobs, Dada cobs, cobs that problematized the arbitrary and oppressive binaries of male/female, black/white, and corn/carrot.

Meanwhile, the third graders would be grubbing around in my bucket of cob bling. No! I must have peace!

From across the room, I would summon my son for a private chat.

"Can you get these kids out of here? I'm working on something -- not to brag, but -- I think it could be pretty important."

"Sure thing, Mom."

Biome performance? I got nothing.

I don't even know what that word means.

(Image: Churn by Pearson Scott Foresman [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mjolnir


As anyone with a nine-year-old boy knows, Mjolnir was the name of Thor's hammer, and Thor was the hero of Asgard, a celestial city of Viking gods.

He fought giants and rode in a carriage pulled by two magical goats.

His sometime enemy -- or "frenemy" -- was his half-brother Loki. They battled for control of Midgard, which sounds like a women's undergarment but actually was Earth. Thor's beautiful wife Sif could stir things up between the brothers, but mostly she just brushed her gold (literally, it was made of gold) hair.

Though I know a lot about Thor, the idea of owning a hammer never excited me. That all changed a few weeks back, when I came upon the perfect hammer.

It was a meat hammer, silver and brilliantly gleaming like the moon.

* * * *

I was doing my Saturday morning lap around the Fancy Grocery Store, where I buy hand-rolled sushi, organic chicken, saffron threads, and highly-specialized kitchen gadgets made by the Swiss. (This is followed by a trip to the Inexpensive Grocery Store, where I round out the week's shopping with white bread, canned soup, Cheetos, and a Kardashian-themed tabloid.)

My plan was to make chicken parmesan and do it properly: with uniformly flattened chicken.

That's when I saw THE HAMMER. (Technically, a meat tenderizer.) As the kids say, it was sick.

For a while, I carted it around the store, admiring its heft and weight.

Then I posed it on a stack of raisin loaves, took a picture of it with my phone, and texted it to Dave with the message: "Check out this bad boy."

The hammer made me feel vital and powerful, like I was finally going to cook meat, for real. I feel like men must feel when they fire up an outdoor grill the size of a small car, with a pile of raw steaks and a giant fork at hand.

Eyeing the chicken breasts -- which had lived a wonderful, expensive life somewhere in Napa County -- now in my grocery cart, I thought: You are GOING DOWN, my friends. You will be [evil silent laugh] UNIFORMLY FLATTENED with my SILVER HAMMER.

Once home, I rinsed the hammer and peeled off the tag. It was ready to fly!

* * * * 

Did I mention I have been eating a lot of chickpeas lately?

As it turns out, chickpeas in an Indian simmer sauce are delicious served over jasmine rice. Cucumbers are good on the side, or oven-roasted cauliflower with a sprinkling of cumin and chili powder.

And almond milk actually tastes better than real milk! It's crazy.

Halfway through pounding four raw chicken breasts, the obscure and idiosyncratic figure we'll call my conscience piped up. There was a piece of pale flesh on the counter, and I was banging on it -- pretty hard! -- with a large metal hammer. The chickens were long-dead: defenseless. And here I was, mutilating their corpses!

The chicken parmesan was good and flat. But chewing it, I experienced a certain ambivalence . . . (Lesson: NEVER OVERTHINK MEAT. Just eat it and don't think about it!)

The silver hammer makes a fine addition to my kitchen tool set. I'm sure I'll use it again, or Dave will, while my conscience covers its eyes and whistles.

In the meantime, I will sadistically run zucchinis through the Spiralizer. Maybe I'll pulverize some chickpeas and make hummus!

You just never know.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lunchbox


A few years back, global capitalism glitched or broke down, and the above product appeared on the shelf of a Northern California Target.

No American kid wanted this item. They wanted Frozen, they wanted Spider-Man, they wanted to blend in with the crowd and not be kicked down a flight of stairs to the sound of mocking laughter.

And what kind of mother would buy this lunchbox for her (presumably loved) child? "Good-bye, darling! I'm off to the office in DKNY and a salon blow-out. But here, you take this hideous thing designed by a thick-fingered halfwit and made in a third world chemical plant for fifteen cents. Have a great day!"

Because my kids have two houses, one lunchbox each is not enough. At any given time, half their possessions are "probably at Dad's." So I was excited to find an extra lunchbox marked down to $2. The store would just about pay you to get it out of there, as it was bringing down the tone. Sold!

Honestly, my reaction to this lunchbox was love at first sight. And because I think in hashtags: "#globalcapitalismfail"

* * * * 

Quickly, the lunchbox became a test of the love and character of those close to me.

After a series of leading questions, my son agreed that it was funny. He was willing to take it to first grade once in a while in a spirit of hilarity, and to please Mom.

My daughter was stuck in full-day preschool. Every afternoon found her on the swings, singing Frozen songs at the top of her lungs in a fugue state until I finally showed up to rescue her. The lunchbox was amusing, sure, but the salient issue was that I did not pick up her up at noon like certain other mothers. If I thought a cheap-ass lunchbox could bridge the chasm of this betrayal, I was mistaken.

Dave and I had not been dating very long when, one morning, I packed up some leftovers for his work lunch. Handing him the Leering Abomination, I explained that I loved it, but he didn't have to take it. I could put his lunch in a paper bag, no problem.

"Are you kidding? I would be honored to take this lunchbox to work."

Well played!

A few months passed, or maybe a year. At lunch-packing time, Dave gently expressed his preference for a paper bag.

"But I thought you were honored to take that funny lunchbox!"

"I was honored. On that day."

The lawyer in me respected this carefully-parsed answer.

Sadly I put the Mistake That Should Never Have Seen Daylight back in the cupboard.

* * * *

The other day, it was in the backseat of the car. Of poor quality to begin with, it was now smelly and stained.

Inside were the remains of a peanut butter sandwich and a bag of carrots. That was all it could hold. Even a juice box would have split its flimsy seams.

Yet its primitive, electric-blue face was perky as ever. It seemed to be calling out to someone, saying: "Hello, friend! Remember me? I'm not a dinosaur, or any identifiable creature, because the person who designed me was too stoned or insane to give me any features besides two vertical slits for eyes and a gaping red mouth. Ha ha! How 'bout that? Friend? . . . Bye, friend!"

I washed it out and put it back in the cupboard for next time.

Best lunchbox ever.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In Memoriam


If you can possibly avoid it, don't be pregnant in San Francisco.

Every able-bodied man on the evening train will remain seated and looking at his phone while you stand in the aisle, huge on swollen feet, for thirty minutes.

If you fall down while crossing the street, a sea of young professionals will part around you and keep walking while a homeless person offers a hand up.

In public discourse, you will be described as a "breeder," and people will deplore your horrible child -- ruining restaurants! airplanes! -- even before it's born.

Your only consolation during all this will be -- what else? -- the food.

Thus at lunch, I would often end up at the Miette patisserie in the Ferry Building, mentally working out how many cupcakes I would need to survive the day.

Between stress and prenatal hormones, I was turning into a hoarder: I could eat one cupcake now, but what if -- back at my desk -- I wanted another one? And what if, after that one, I desperately craved another one? I had better get three. But what if . . . ?

"Four chocolate cupcakes to go, please."

Even now, years later, I am occasionally seized by the instinct to collect as much food as possible, like the industrious ant in the fable. This explains why, the other day, I found myself ordering an entire pizza topped with tater tots and bacon.

Arriving at Whole Foods at 10 a.m. ablaze with purpose, I was informed they no longer served breakfast pizza by the slice: It was "not popular."

Turns out, the kombucha-buyers at Whole Foods were not too keen on breakfast pizza: everything on a Denny's menu baked on a thin, crispy crust.

As I struggled to recover from this news, the nice young man behind the counter offered to make me my own breakfast pizza for pickup the next morning. Would it have tater tots on it? 

It would.

Would it have bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese, onion, and bell pepper? 

Yes, of course, whatever I wanted!

I glanced over at Dave, who had the distant, slightly troubled expression of a man watching his future wife order a 16" tater tot pizza.

Fifteen minutes later, we were playing Scrabble after a non-pizza breakfast. A terrible clarity descended on me: I was no longer hungry and could admit my folly.

"I need you to go over there and cancel that pizza I just ordered."

"Sure."

Even the counter boy seemed relieved: Both of us had been temporarily caught up in a swirl of madness. Tater tot pizza?

Back in San Francisco, the other thing I loved to get at the Ferry Building was a spicy beef curry, served daily over white rice at a Japanese cafe called Delica. I owe a lot to this curry, which many days was the only thing standing between me and a mind-shattering insight into the pointlessness and misery of human life: "I just can't possibly. . . It's just too . . . Wow, they have once again achieved perfection with this curry. Bravo!"

I can't say a slice of breakfast pizza ever helped me out of a tough spot, per se.

But I will always remember it fondly.

(Image: Baby Shower Cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rough chop

I've been cooking more lately: chicken parmesan, egg custard, shrimp scampi, roasted broccoli and pancetta, shepherd's pie, and chocolate-cherry muffins.

It's pleasant to putter around the kitchen while the kids are in screen heaven, recovering from the school day and the demands of reality in general.

My signature move is the rough chop: hacking things into large pieces, throwing them in a pot, and describing the resulting dish as "rustic."

With spices, I am generous and imprecise. (A quarter-teaspoon's worth doesn't seem worth the effort.)

I carefully time and monitor the oven. I am afraid of BROIL and avoid it.

My favorite ingredients are pre-washed vegetables in a bag.

I enjoy assembling simple things, like a decaf chai latte with a slug of Irish whiskey, a few drops of vanilla, and a cinnamon stick. (So delicious that once you try it, you will kick yourself for all the wasted years . . . )

Cookbooks are like the Internet: With no particular plans, you flip through them until something catches your interest. And the Internet is a like a cookbook: Recipes for every imaginable food are a Google search away.

Always looking for ways to alleviate the boredom of winter nights, I'm glad to have hit upon cooking as a minor hobby.

Plus I'm so new to it that, every time I take a rustic, Internet-sourced casserole out of the oven, I feel like I'm being amazing.

"Am I amazing you, kids? Are you amazed that your working, single mother has lovingly prepared this meal for --"

"Can I be excused, Mom?"

"Me too?"

#stillamazing

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lowbrow


It's the middle of winter, and all our standards have gone out the window.

In other seasons, we bike, read, swim, and play Sudoku.  But in February all we want to do is curl up on the couch, in the flickering light of some trash or another, with a bowl of pretzels.

Here's what we're staring at, slack-jawed, on any given night:

1. Animal Crossing. In this video game, the player (my son) is the mayor of a town of animals. He walks around, buys and sells things, and decorates his house. For a long time, I  tried to figure out the point of all this. Then it dawned on me that there is no point: The player is plunged into an existential nightmare of terrifying inanity, and that is all.

Heads bobbing, the animals interact with the mayor by chirping frantically, like gerbils on speed. The mayor goes from house to house, buying baubles from his constituents. To pay off six-figure debts, he is reduced to selling fish, insects, and his own clothes. On the upside, his house contains a jukebox, a bubble machine, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and the animal mafia have not (yet) broken his kneecaps for outstanding loans.

That my son can play this game for hours is perhaps the most disturbing development of my adult life. And yet, I'm hardly one to talk, because . . .

2. Married At First Sight. Three seasons into this "groundbreaking social experiment" -- in which couples are blindly matched by relationship experts, meet at the altar, and remain married for six weeks before deciding whether to divorce -- I've learned a lot about the dos and don'ts of marriage.

It is helpful to be a burlesque dancer who falls for a fireman on sight and instantly devotes herself to being the best wife in the world.

It is unhelpful to maintain a contemptuous expression at all times and then sign up for a TV show in which you are paired with a male stranger who will, inevitably, repel you.

For men, it is unhelpful to be (1) a psychopath, (2) a guy who, honestly, wants to keep living with his parents, and what's wrong with that? and (3) on this show, because unless you are the specific fireman mentioned above, your marriage will crash and burn faster than Bart Simpson in a soapboax derby.

Each season, the relationship experts -- one from Harvard! -- achieve the impossible, turning hopeful newlyweds into bitter divorcees in six weeks.

Almost every contestant would be better off getting a dog. Which brings me to . . .

3. Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3. If you put the worst dog in the world in the worst town in the world in the most unnecessary sequel in the world, you get Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta!: a film suitable only for seven-year-old girls whose families are in February Neglect Mode.

Passing through the living room to get a snack, I try to neither see, nor hear, nor speak of Viva La Fiesta!, though it's in its sixth or seventh run, and my daughter seems to know all the words. These days, Papi and Chloe may be more real to her than her own brother (off selling his shoes to a chipmunk for a candelabra) or her own mom (deep in a fug of schadenfreude).

I have resisted the knowledge that these dogs and their litter are now living at the Langham Hotel, and that Papi has been relieved of his homeschooling duties. I have blocked out the snooty chef and all the talk of one pup's Quincea├▒era -- though I have wondered whether my daughter could have a Quincea├▒era. If a talking dog can do it, doesn't that open the door, culturally, to anyone? Any human at least, who isn't just turning 15 in dog years?

In March or April, we will all peel our brains off the floor and resume living.

Until then, we're drawing the shades and hunkering down.

Don't call us. We'll call you.

(Image: Duck Hunt Video Game by tympsy (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The white seal

Years ago, my daughter saw a cartoon about a white baby seal. It was a 1975 film based on a Rudyard Kipling story, available at the library on DVD. 

The seal's name was Kotick, but the actors pronounced it "Koteck." Watching the movie with my daughter, I was preoccupied with how much the seal's name sounded like a certain feminine product. I half-expected him to get covered in blood and unceremoniously thrown in the trash. That was not Kipling's plot, however.

My daughter --  then about four years old -- fell hard for the white seal. She watched the film over and over, yearning for a seal of her own.

At a toy store downtown, we found one: a plush white seal cub with melting brown eyes. My daughter took it home and cherished it. It slept in her bed. She introduced it to all her other stuffed animals.

The other day, she brought the brother of Koteck in from the garage. This was an identical white seal, purchased some weeks after the first seal.

Tucked in her bed with the white seal at her side, she looked adorable.

"I'm glad you brought Koteck inside," I said. "He missed you. I can tell he's happy to be with you again!"

"Mom," said my daughter, suddenly awake, her eyes shining with merriment. "Remember the first white seal? Remember what happened?"

"Uh, no, I guess not. What?"

She recounted how her brother had been lying on the couch, sick, when he suddenly leaned over the side and threw up. By sheer coincidence, the white seal was on the floor beneath him. 

Helplessly my daughter looked on as waves of vomit erupted onto the head of her white seal, to the sounds of groans and retching.

Needless to say, the white seal was defiled beyond repair. I bagged him up and threw him in the outside trashcan.

"Oh yeah. Now I remember!" I said. We had a chuckle, though it had not struck her as funny at the time.

While just as cute, the second seal was not quite as beloved as the first. By the time he came along, some innocent corner of my daughter's heart had closed forever.

Now seven years old, she gave a last cruel laugh at the memory of the white seal and fell asleep next to its replacement, a faint smile still on her lips.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Neck fund

So we were watching Downton Abbey. He was following the plot (something about a child abduction and a pig farm). I was focused on people's necks.

Actors have good necks for their ages, because at some point -- as a professional requirement -- they get "work done." Between the pale swan neck of Lady Mary and the firm, still-elegant neck of her mother, Lady Cora, there was not as much difference as one might think. Around them swarmed the young, fresh necks of various servants and attendants.

Jail, trench warfare, heartbreak, the occasional pensive smoke after serving a six-course meal from silver tureens: none of it took any visible toll on anyone's neck. Nor did advancing age or rustic medical care from a 1920s village hospital. It was uncanny.

"I'm going to start a Neck Fund," I remarked to my future husband. "If I sock away $40 out of every paycheck starting now, by the time my neck is in really bad shape, I'll be able to get it fixed."

Dave said there was nothing wrong with my neck. Though supportive by instinct, he seemed confused by the topic.

"All older women are obsessed with their necks," I explained. "Nora Ephron -- the famous screenwriter of When Harry Met Sally --  published a book of essays called I Feel Bad About My Neck."

"Men don't care about stuff like that," he said.

I didn't care that men didn't care. This was about me, my neck, and forty-five hundred dollars, give or take.

We riffed about Dave explaining to his accountant "my wife's Neck Fund." We discussed the Neck Fund's rightful inheritor in the event of my untimely death.

"One of my resolutions for 2016 is not to look down," I confided. "Looking down at your phone, at a book, at anything? It's really bad for your neck."

He mimed holding his phone above eye level and looking up at it. "Like this?"

"Yup."

Being engaged is so great! I probably will never get around to starting a Neck Fund, but if I do, I feel like someone will have my back. Neck.

Whatever.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Questions for the married


So I recently got engaged. Yay!

Excited about a future wedding, I asked my officiant-of-choice if she would do the ceremony. She would! Yay!

Within five minutes, I thought: Crap! I forgot to run this decision by my future husband!

Luckily, when informed post hoc, he thought it was a great idea. But the incident was a sobering reminder that I was no longer in Single Mom Mode.

Single moms don't have it easy: They are one person doing a two-person job. As a consolation prize, their title at home is Queen of Everything.

No one points out their mistakes, oversights, and small hypocrisies ("You guys can eat dinner in front of the TV just today, okay?"), because no one knows or cares what they do except children, who have few standards. The single mom's home is a black box in which she operates with near-total impunity. And if the kids are fed and clothed and seem happy? She's doing great!

I function well in Single Mom Mode, because I like efficiency and lack of fuss. After my first marriage ended, I learned to trust my own snap judgments. I relaxed into a semi-responsible parenting style. The bar was low, there was only one of me, and I didn't care much about most things anyway. It was a non-match made in heaven!

Yet by 2016, I had taken Single Mom Mode as far as it could go. Dave and I both were ready for something new, a shared life richer and more challenging than bumping along on our own. In video game terms, we were ready to Level Up. (In fact, foreshadowing my son's proposal to his future wife, the actual words used were: "Would you do me the honor of Leveling Up?")

So I love the idea of being married again, but I'm a bit rusty on the details. It's hard to recall how married people behave -- or should behave -- if I ever knew. Questions arise about how the thing operates in day-to-day life. Help me out, marrieds, by clarifying a few key topics:

Subject: Brangelina

Q: Is it possible for a married person to "commandeer" the living room on a Friday night in order to watch the new Brangelina movie, in total sincerity, without anyone saying anything about it?

Q: What if they are wearing a pore-refining mud mask? Could the situation still pass without remark, and even engender a respectful silence?

Q: Is said married person entitled to only half the leftovers in the fridge during this theoretical Brangelina-thon, even if she cooked them herself, and God knows the kids won't eat them?

Q: Could a married person plausibly remark  -- as the credits roll for By the Sea or whatever -- that while they enjoy Brad Pitt as a character actor, they find their spouse far more attractive and that Angelina, while beautiful in a severe way, seems like a real handful?

Subject:

Those actually are all the questions I have.

Thank you.

(Image: AJ and BP at the Cannes Film Festival, by Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Goodbye Girl


At twenty-three, I lived in a house in North Berkeley with wooden floors and a koi pond in the backyard. My room cost a few hundred dollars a month, and I had two housemates: girls with long, blonde hair and baggy, ethnic-print clothes.

One's father taught public policy at Harvard, a fact she seemed to find exasperating. Another had a boyfriend who was always around. One week a third girl visited us from Ohio. Her dad had announced he was transitioning into a woman, and she was shopping around a memoir-in-progress on the subject. This struck me as a shrewd response to her dad's news: a "what's in it for me" approach that I respected as an artist.

I didn't live there very long and never grew close to my co-tenants. I preferred to sit alone in the sunny, half-wild backyard by the koi pond, watching the brilliant-colored dragonflies alight and fly away, alight and fly away. This experience felt like pure freedom -- freedom from people, responsibilities, and even my own thoughts. I knew it wouldn't last and tried to soak it in.

The other thing I liked to do was watch The Goodbye Girl, a 1977 movie written by Neil Simon and starring Richard Dreyfuss. In it, a single mother (Marsha Mason) is forced to share her Manhattan apartment with an aspiring actor (Dreyfuss), who is starring in an off-Broadway production of Richard III.  

As was often the case, this movie was more real to me than my own life. I had no interest in dating anyone, as I was on some level "involved" with the Richard Dreyfuss who existed when I was five years old. Sure, it was complicated. But I was busy, get it? 

The Goodbye couple's relationship -- triangulated by a ten-year-old child -- fascinated me. Beneath its romantic-comedy surface, it seemed to hold some vital message.

Paula (Mason) is an average-looking woman in her thirties who distrusts men after being jilted by her boyfriend,Tony. Elliot (Dreyfuss) is pugnacious and a bit of a loser, hanging his hopes on Richard III. Both of them are adrift, nor do they like each other very much -- initially.

Then there is Paula's precocious daughter Lucy, weighing in with her own opinion: 

Lucy, although she likes Elliot, sees the affair as a repeat of what happened with Tony. Elliot convinces Paula that he will not be like that and later picks up Lucy from school and takes her on a carriage ride, during which Lucy admits that she likes Elliot, and he admits that he likes her and Paula and will not do anything to hurt them.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Here was a love story different from every one I'd seen about childless people. It was more domestic, more cautious, tinged with awareness of a vulnerable third person. Paula and Elliot make jokes and argue, negotiate domestic compromises ("No panties on the rod!"), learn each other's quirks, and test their compatibility, all while living in close quarters with each other and the offspring of a former relationship.

In the end, they don't get married, but when Elliot has to film a movie in Seattle, he leaves his treasured guitar behind to show Paula and Lucy he'll come back. (This may be as close to a committed relationship as anyone got in 1977.)

That summer in Berkeley, I watched The Goodbye Girl over and over, studying these flawed, funny grownups as they fell in love and learned to coexist.

It seemed like the best possible use of my time.

* * * *
On the last night of 2015, Dave and I played Scrabble.

Using a new cookbook, we made a brie and pear tart, but it was just okay. We put honey on it and ate half of it with a glass of wine. 

At some point in the game, we opened a bottle of champagne. 

There were some good potato chips in the pantry, so why not? 

After a few good words, I won the game. Dave later said he was glad I'd won: It was, in his view, more romantic. 

At midnight, we said Happy New Year. And at 12:01, he proposed.

The next morning, the kids came home and we made waffles. The neighbors and their kids dropped by. We didn't tell anyone just yet. 

I finally had what I'd wanted: the grown-up version, kids included. 

It was magnificent.