Saturday, May 29, 2010


There’s a bird’s nest on my porch. It sits in a little nook on top of a column, just under the roof. Nests are kind of amazing when you think about it. It’s inconceivable to me how something with no hands can get twigs and grass and leaves to hold that shape – sitting in a tree, no less. This nest is your standard issue brown-basket model, with some clear packing tape hanging off one side.

Two baby birds hatched a little over a week ago. The mother comes back and forth, back and forth, all day long dropping worms into their squawking mouths. Last Monday they were helpless, tiny, hideous-looking creatures, all beak and opaque eyes. Today – less than one week later – they’re gone.

The first one flew away yesterday. Today, the other one was standing on the edge of the nest ready to go. I’m not even exaggerating when I say they seemed to double in size overnight. (I don’t know the Weight Watcher’s point value of worms, but I’d venture a guess that it’s on the high side.)

It’s springtime. Birds and bees abound. I know there is nothing especially remarkable about a bird laying eggs, eggs hatching, baby birds flying away. Except that it is unbelievably captivating to witness.

I sit on the porch in the late afternoon and try and read my book. I get about three sentences in and I hear Mama fly into the nest. The babies squeal: More, more, we want more of whatever it is you have for us. Mama gives them a little exasperated look and flies off to provide for them. How many times does she do that in a day? A hundred? A thousand?

My bathroom contractors parade in and out of the house and if Mama shows up when they’re on the porch, I point up to the nest. We all silently watch this miraculously ordinary process take place before us. It leaves everyone a little speechless, but happy, too.

“Do birds only build nests when they lay eggs?” Scott mused during dinner tonight. “I wonder how the mother feels. Her babies are gone. Does she just see them in the yard now and say, ‘Hey, there’s a good worm by the garage!’”

Me, I wonder if Mama’s time with them seems as short to her as it does to me. She’s working like a dog so on some level she has to be relieved, but two-weeks-and-they’re-out-the-door -- that seems really quick, even in birdland.

When Scott suggested Mama was now going through Empty Nest Syndrome, I had to leave the table to keep from spitting my food out with laughter. His timing was perfect. Not just for the joke itself, but it was the exact right time to wrench me from dwelling on that fact that, as much as I try to dismiss it, all we’re really doing here, us Mamas, is getting our babies ready to go.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Point Is A Point

I went down again today in tennis.

Shelley and I had just solidly recovered from our initial crappy start; we were now tied, up from 0-4. She was serving and I was playing the net and all four of us were playing really good tennis in general. (I was very proud of us.) Someone hit a ball to my right and as I moved to get it, my right foot “stuck” to the ground and I misstepped and felt myself going down.

In that short time between upright and Plop, lots went through my mind.

Oh, shit, I’m going to fall on my tailbone again!
The last time that happened, I was off the court for almost five weeks. I think I can prevent landing on it by shifting my weight, which I did and landed on flesh rather than bone. Why do I have such bad butt luck? This would be the third time in a year I’d be sustaining a tennis related butt injury. Does Serena go through that?

After both my Butt Sprain of 2009 and my Coccyx Contusion of 2010, I hauled my ass (literally) into various doctor’s offices and needed only one question answered: When can I play again? Missing tennis is unacceptable. Eileen plays with severe tennis elbow. Ann plays with strained hamstrings. Everyone comes on the court with Bronchitis and Sinus Infections and IBS. What is it about this game that no one can get enough of?

I knew a woman who had breast cancer and passed away a few years ago. Her name was Leigh. She was a cheerful woman and a crazed tennis addict – always tan, always dressed in pink, always smiling. I never played with her personally, but even after she’d relapsed, I’d see her in town in sneakers and a tennis skirt, a pink bandana covering her shaved head. I’d heard a rumor that she was buried with her tennis racquet beside her and at the time I thought, man, what’s up with that?

But here and now, I get it, Leigh. I get it.

My last thought on my way down: Will Shelley get the ball?

Indeed she did. “Stay down! Just stay down!” she yelled while she covered the whole back of the court. God forbid anyone stop the point to see if I’m all right.

It quickly occurred to me that I was all right though, so I picked up my racquet, jumped up and continued playing. The same point was still in progress and Shelley and I picked up where we left off and played it out. I think we lost that particular point, but I gave Shelley an honorary gold star in my mind for tenacity.

I actually gave us all gold stars today, because we have come such a long way. When Shelley and I took our first clinic together five years ago, we would sweat more from nerves than exertion. I would be terrified that I couldn’t get a serve into the box (which, usually, I couldn’t), and both of us were a wreck when anyone took a court adjacent to ours – we couldn’t control the ball well enough to keep it out of our neighbor’s game.

You would never guess that today. Four women who learned to play doubles (arguably one of the world’s most complicated games) after bearing scads of children and having little, if any, brain function left. We played with authority and control. We all looked like we knew what we were doing. If I may say so: we totally rocked.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 5

The Pink Bathroom used to be set up as two completely separate rooms. One room held the non-working tub and the falling-apart sink. The other room housed only the toilet.

One of the reasons it’s taken 10 years to address these under-performing rooms is that we kept trying to figure out an inexpensive way to make a single space for all those fixtures. It’s too tedious to explain the mismatching windows and the placement of the radiator and how that, along with several other factors, makes it practically impossible to reconfigure the plumbing. So we worked with a designer and created an elaborate plan to change everything and keep everything the same, all at once.

Everything was removed: tub, sink, floor, walls, the greatest storage cabinet a bathroom could ever have. The plan was to replace everything in exactly the same place, but with new fixtures that actually worked. But the plumber just told Scott that the toilet will now need to face the door.

“It’s some sort of code regulation,” Scott said. “Apparently, if you need to poop, you are required to have a full 21 inches of space in front of you.”

How do you get a job figuring out that kind of stuff? What do you tell your kids when they ask what you do for a living? “I figure out how much clearance you need to poop.” A job like that affects so many lives, yet goes virtually unnoticed.

So now we have to move a wall that we were previously not going to touch. This gives us more room between the sink and the tub, something we desperately needed, but seemed too costly to bother with. The decision has now been made for us, though, so, whoever you are, Mr. Poop-Clearance-Decider, I guess we owe you a beer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 4

There’s a whole lot of conferring going on in that bathroom. Not much hammering. This is because, as always seems to be the case with every house I live in and every remodeling project I undertake, it has been discovered that whoever did the work on this room before made senseless decisions about important structural matters.

This doesn’t only happen with remodeling (which I do scant little of for this very reason). It happens with every home repair job. Every time I go to a new haircutter. And every time I go to a new dentist. No one likes anyone’s previous work.

Once my handyman had to rebuild my back porch steps and he spent a good deal of time explaining what a bad job the previous step-fixer had done. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m pretty sure it was he who had last fixed those steps.

When I first met my bathroom contractor we stood outside that useless pink room and he explained step by step how the process would go. How the process should go. I said to him, “Here’s the thing you need to know about me: I’m a nervous wreck.”

He chuckled a little when I said that, but I feel like he’s totally gotten the message. He comes to find me several times a day and gently tells me why there are nails poking through my kitchen ceiling, how he himself will open up the kitchen wall so they can access the plumbing, how they plan on reinforcing the joists so that there won’t be any danger of the main staircase falling apart. All good news. But all procedures that had not originally been deemed necessary when he first bid the job.

When I was pregnant with my first child, we lived in a small three-story row house that didn’t have a level floor in its midst. It was falling apart everywhere and when we talked to a contractor about renovating the third floor to make it habitable for a baby, my husband and I decided to take the path of least resistance. We moved.

I’m really looking forward to having a new, usable bathroom. But I think the real work going on here is mine.

I’m making my peace with Pandora, yo.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Secret Ambition

The teenager and I were driving around doing errands today and out of the blue he said to me, “You know what I think is the worst job in the world? Tour Guide.”

I was absolutely dumbstruck. “Tour Guide? Is the worst? Not Garbage Man?”

“Garbage Man?” he said. “You get to ride around hanging off a truck!”

I don’t care if my kid thinks sanitation work is cool, but I took it as a personal affront that he thinks so little of Tour Guides. “What’s so bad about them?” I asked.

“They just talk and talk and no one cares about what they have to say. They just try to come off sounding like a big smarty-pants.”

Aside from being a professional doubles player, Tour Guide is my dream job. It’s the one thing I volunteer for regularly for the PTA – taking prospective parents on a tour of the elementary school. We have a complex magnet school system in our district, so giving a tour requires a lot of explaining. It’s taken me years, but I’ve nearly perfected the art of walking and talking at the same time; sometimes I can even walk and talk and field questions. The whole operation is not as easy as it looks and I take a kind of sick pride in it. I’ll be blunt: It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do.

Just the other day, I toured a woman and her son and when we got to the Science Lab she stopped in front of a display of small posters that seemed to have been created by the CDC. “Those are up there because the Science teacher offers a class on Infectious Diseases,” I explained. (I was standing still at the time, but she was still impressed.)

“I’m an epidemiologist,” she confided.

“Oh my God!” I blurted. “I’m a germaphobe!”

I don’t think she really understood at that moment that even more than giving tours, would I love to add her to my arsenal of personal resources – people that I can call upon to talk me off the ledge during a Swine Flu media melee or when a note comes home from camp that a child has just contracted viral meningitis.

As my son and I drove, I quickly I replayed my entire hour-long interaction with her, trying to see it through my son’s eyes – trying to assess whether I was just being an ambulating know-it-all. I know I certainly turned on the charm full blast when she told me her profession; did that make me come off better, or worse?

I took a stand with my son and defended myself. “I give school tours and I think people are really interested in what I have to say.”

He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head. Not so much in agreement. More like the way you’d react to a three-year-old talking about her invisible friend. He all but patted me on the head; a pat that would have said, “Poor delusional you.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 3

Our ex-bathroom was always referred to as The Pink Bathroom, for obvious reasons. It was covered with deep, saturated, pink tile and when we moved into the house, it only seemed right that we paint the walls in there pink as well. I always liked that bathroom. It was the only overtly feminine room in the whole house. It had Deco fixtures and I’d hung lace curtains. It was really kind of perfect except for one thing: nothing in there worked.

The tub didn’t work and the plumbers said it was so old it was practically a hazard to try and fix it. Whenever a plumber starts bandying about the term Pandora’s Box, I’m happy to just live with the problem fixture for eternity.

The sink’s faucets worked, but its chrome legs kept falling off. For five or six years I was able to rejigger them. But more recently, the jerry-rigging was like building a house of cards. The legs and adjoining towel bars needed to be placed together gingerly and with exacting balance. Turning on the venting fan was sometimes enough atmospheric interference to send them clattering to the floor again.

The toilet worked sometimes, not always. It would frequently choose a feces-filled moment to cease all flushing functions.

The room had a great built in cupboard, tall and deep with little sub-shelves where small bottles could be stored and easily retrieved. The rest of the space, while it may have looked like a bathroom, was really just a pink-tiled enclave for the world’s most efficacious storage cabinet.

I tried to explain all this to the woman at the Tax Assessor’s Office. I’d made a special trip down there last week, suspecting that I may not get my point across effectively over the phone.

“I don’t think our taxes should go up based on the work we’re doing,” I explained. “We’re remodeling, yes. But we’re really just replacing broken fixtures with working ones. It just so happens that the floor and walls need to be ripped apart in order to accomplish that.”

“You’re replacing an old bathroom, with a brand new bathroom. That needs to be reflected in your assessment.”

“But nothing in the old bathroom worked,” I said, talking loudly, as I sometimes do to people that I perceive to be dense or inept. “I don’t even think the current room should count as a bathroom. It’s unusable.”

She repeated her position, verbatim, in response to every argument I made. The old me would have stayed there and engaged her for an hour, enamored as I am of always being right. But today’s me only needed to hear her party line three times before I realized I was not going to make any headway with her.

I came home, crossed TALK TO TAX ASSESSOR off my to-do list, and somehow made that small accomplishment – just the act of going there – count for something.

Good for you, I said to myself. That’s one less thing you need to do this week.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 2

The demo guy looks like Brad Pitt. Not the 2010 Brad, with that hideous foot-long blues patch he seems to insist on sporting. The Thelma and Louise Brad, all innocent and bedimpled. (Ok, that T&L Brad wasn’t so innocent, but he was innocent-looking, which is to say, adorable.)

This renovation has only been going on two days and already there seems to be an endless supply of adorably cute, workboot-clad tradesmen parading around my house. Why are construction workers always so cute?

Is this secretly the reason why every woman I know is constantly remodeling their living space? Am I the last to understand this phenomenon?

Brad approached me at the end of the workday and asked if I’d like to see what they had done. Of course I did. But it took all my willpower and restraint not to reach up to him and say, “Just get over here and let me pinch those cheeks.”

If you had seen him you would have thought the exact same thing. You really would.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Final Exam

This week was our last week indoors with Laura The Tennis Pro. Our “season” began in early September, so it’s like a three trimester clinic. As such, Laura typically spends this last indoor day with the Monday group giving us our final exam.

One thing we’ve been working on for lo these many months is our Four-Person Volley skills. Every Monday during the warm-up, all four of us are up at the net and Laura feeds one of us a ball. Our job is to work together, passing it across the net to another player, and keep that volley rally going for 20 hits without the ball ever bouncing.

If we do this drill in pairs, two of us hitting back and forth just to each other, we can hit 20 fairly often. We get into a Zen kind of place and volley for what seems like ever. But the four of us together – not so much.

Our highest Four-Person Volley rate remains at 14.

I can attest to the fact that it feels indescribably awful to be the person who botches up shot number 15 -- either by hitting too hard, or missing a ball that’s come to you. Laura never belittles us, but you can tell she, too, is exasperated. “Ok, let’s move back to the base line,” she’ll say, when it’s obvious that she can’t take the disappointment one more second.

We always start the drill on such a positive note. You can see it in our faces, in our postures, that we are ready to please her. “We can do this,” one of us will say aloud. And we should be able to. But so far, we haven’t been.

I think one problem is this: you cannot think about anything else during this exercise. We’re all close together and we have to react quickly to a ball that has very little distance to travel. You can’t think about your runny nose or whether there’s enough Soft Scrub at home for the cleaning woman. No carpools, no errands, no LOST. And most of all, you cannot think about how much it will mean to Laura if we can just make it to 20. You have to be mentally 100% present and stay that way for the entire time. I think this, more than our physical skills, is where we might fall short.

On our exam day, Laura The Tennis Pro moved us into position for our Four-Person Volley drill. We faltered a bit at the beginning, but then started to hit our stride. I’d like to tell you that finally, on our last indoor clinic of the 2009-2010 season, we successfully hit 20 balls to each other without a one of them touching the ground. But we didn’t. I think we got to 13.

We would have stayed and tried all day for Laura. Just so she’d feel like she wasn’t wasting her life and her talents trying to make tennis players out of us. But instead she moved us back to the baseline, trying to hide her resignation with some contrived lilt in her voice.

Then the real final exam began. A Tennis Clinic Stew of all the drills we’ve been working on for years. And that, we rocked. We even dazzled her at times.

She smiled for the whole clinic and even said we played great (a jaunty little phrase that rarely passes her lips). So, I dunno: Volley Drill notwithstanding, I think we aced it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bathroom Renovation - Day 1

The other day I told my 10-year-old that on Wednesday the guys were coming to prep for the demo.

“What’s demo?” he asked.

“It’s short for demolition. They’re going to come in and rip everything out of the pink bathroom. Break the tub apart with a sledgehammer so they can cart it out in pieces. Tear all the tile off the wall. Smash everything to Smithereens. After they’re done, there won’t be anything left in here at all.”

“Mom! Mom! Mom! That’s what I want to do!”

When I told that to Mike The Contractor, he suggested I keep the kid home from school that day so he could help. “Would I get a discount?” I asked.

What they’re doing today, though, is pre-destruction. They’re just taking down doors and salvaging some molding. Capping pipes and putting plastic everywhere.

I’m really happy that my cleaning woman was here yesterday. The house is spotless, as it always is for the (approximately) 24 hours following her bi-monthly visit. I’m hoping that when the contractor walks into a spotless house, he’s going to form the opinion that we are a clean and tidy household, and he will work hard to keep the dust and disaster to a minimum.

If he’d come here on Monday, before the cleaning lady came, he may not have even bothered putting plastic around at all.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


“No need to be nervous. It’s a game of luck.”

That’s the message that Herb sent to me when I voiced my trepidation about accepting his Scrabble invitation. It’s true; Scrabble is, to some degree, a game of luck. It all depends what letters you get. But this is also true: Those are the exact same words I write to people who I know I’m going to beat the pants off of.

I’m not sure how many points Herb won by that first game. Over 100. Maybe he was lucky.

My husband and I started playing Scrabble early in our courtship. I won every game. I hadn’t ever told him it was a game of luck, because that particular assuagement is reserved for the opponents I know are going down fast and hard. I didn’t know that about Scott at the time. I also didn’t know that Herb, Scott’s then-boss, was an avid Scrabble player and suggested Scott read “The Strategy of Scrabble” to improve his game. He did and he did. All of a sudden Scott started winning. A lot. Often. Always.

He read a book, I told myself. He memorizes two-letter words. It was like taking steroids. It felt like cheating.

All my Scrabble is now played online. I play with people I know, one-on-one, and we take turns at our leisure when we have a few minutes to play. Games can last an hour or a month, depending how often either of us moves.

I don’t really like losing Scrabble games. Or, put another way: I hate it. I’m playing about eight games at a time right now and there are only two people I regularly beat. Guess what? Those are the only two games that I like. The losing games are like torture – they physically hurt.

One of my opponents is my brother, who is, by all accounts, a Math Geek, not a Word Nerd. I was surprised he played Scrabble at all, and the first game he challenged me to was called “Wolf Bragging Rights.” He won that game, but I was sure it was a fluke.

We’ve played about eight games since and he’s won them all. The game we are currently playing is called, “Had Enough Ass Whoopin?”

Apparently not.

I think the guys that I’m playing Scrabble with “shop” for words in the dictionary. You can do that when you play online. You’re completely on the honor system…and, in fact, there’s a dictionary built right into the application, so you can check and see if a certain letter combo is a legitimate word. The way this application is set up, it’s almost a given that you’d use the dictionary. What? That’s so un-scrabblish to me.

My brother puts down words that I know he doesn’t know. I’m not saying you have to know what every word means, but you have to know it’s a word before you play it. “PINGO?” I texted him in the little chat box. “WTF is PINGO?

He didn’t respond.

Another guy I play with put down these three words in a single game: TROGON, OYEZ, ANURIA. Anuria is some kind of peeing problem. Did you know that? Of course not. He only got 12 points for it, but he was able to get rid of all his pesky vowels without swapping out his letters and missing a turn.

These guys get Bingos galore, they average 35 points per word, and they are all beating me, regularly, by 100 points.

I should just stop playing with them. Stick exclusively to my nice lady games, where I win some and I lose some. But it’s like an addiction – what I imagine a gambler must feel like sitting down at yet another slot machine, trying to convince herself that this is going to be the one…the game where, out of nowhere, armed with only her wits and sheer luck, she is going to pull that handle and finally hit the jackpot.

Mr. Anuria just “invited” me to play another game. This one is named after the free-swimming larval stage of crustaceans. What? You don’t know the word for that? C’mon, everyone knows that. ZOAE. Forty-eight points on a triple-word square.

You call yourself a Scrabble player?