Tag Archives: big city


I’m cradling a cup of tea in my hands (in between typing) but I’m afraid to drink it. I think I have to wait until it’s lukewarm, and I hate lukewarm tea. I’m looking at a sheet of instructions that tell me “do NOT spit, floss, rinse, chew hard food, sticky food, consume hot food or drink, drink through a straw…” and wondering how this is meant to work.

I’ve taken a sip. It’s not too hot but it’s a little warmer than lukewarm. I think it’ll be okay.

The inside of my mouth looks like Frankenstein’s monster. I got home at 11:00 but it took me two hours to look in the mirror because I didn’t want to see it. I had a periodontal procedure. If you don’t want to know any more, skip the next paragraph, where I will describe it at your peril.

I had a gum graft, which means they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and sew it on to the bottom of your teeth where you should have gum but you don’t because your gums and or teeth are stupid and useless. They did it on four bottom teeth in a row, because for some reason that may or may not be related to my orthodontic work as a teenager, the gum there was eroding badly.

It was a “simple” procedure that took an hour in the chair and only a few more injections than your basic filling. It didn’t hurt, really, but it was awkward and uncomfortable and icky and I’m glad it’s over. Now I have three different sets of pills (anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and antibiotics) and a follow-up for next week, and I’ll be getting a fancy night guard so that I don’t push my teeth out of alignment again. I’m hoping this lasts until I’m 90 so I don’t have to worry about it again. Maybe 100.

Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t want to know that, but that’s what’s on my mind so that’s what you got.

Another thing on my mind is Saturday’s march. I really don’t give a crap about Friday’s inauguration, since it’s happening and I can’t stop it so I’m just going to ignore it. La la laaaaa. Don’t feed the troll by paying attention to him. That’s what he thrives on. But the next day there’s this big march you may have heard of planned for downtown DC. A lot of people are planning to go. Even people who don’t live here are moving heaven and earth to be there.

I’m a woman. I live within spitting distance of Washington DC. I certainly disagree with Trump’s presidency and all he stands for. But I don’t want to go.

That’s my gut reaction. I’m not usually overly crowd-phobic, but the idea of all those throngs of people just sets off my internal alarm bells. And someone on the radio this morning helped me figure out why else it is that I have the don’ wannas about this: it’s not the end. It’s as if many people have focused on this march as an end in itself: but for one thing, its aims are sort of fuzzy and nonspecific – to show Donald just how many people will show up to let him know they don’t like him; way more than will have shown up the day before to say they do – and for another, January 21st is not the end. It’s the beginning. Maybe I think I should save my energy for the four years to come. Maybe I think I should do something more concrete than going out and walking around to show my displeasure.

Maybe I’m just lazy; that’s always an option. Since I’m right here beside DC, I practically feel like I’m as good as there whether I go or not. I feel guilty about not wanting to go, but I’m not going to go just to stop myself feeling guilty.

Anyway, that’s where I am. And where I’m not. Pass the ice cream.

Playing tourist

Saturday’s lovely weather inspired me – me, the effort-averse home-lover – to suggest we go downtown. B, of course, was all for it. (He loves effort and has no problem with taking on a day-trip that may be doomed to failure from the start.) But the gods were smiling upon us and on the whole, the outing was pretty disaster free.

We hadn’t been to the monuments for quite a long time, because they’re unaccountably far from the metro stations (in relative terms, when you’d like there to be a metro station every two blocks in every direction as in Manhattan, I mean). But we girded our loins and tried to stop the kids from climbing every tree they passed and got down to the Tidal Basin without too much ado.

Dash trying to climb a tree

Looking for a good tree.

All the trees here will burst into beautiful cherry blossoms in another two weeks or so, and then the place will be thronged with tourists and we will avoid it like the plague. With great beauty comes great numbers of people with oversized cameras, as the saying goes. But yesterday there were just a modest number of people, and me with my little point-and-shoot, and we posed on rocks. And trees. And monuments.

Maud and Mabel at the Tidal Basin

Jefferson Memorial in the background.

Around the basin a little way we came to the Martin Luther King monument, which was erected nearly three years ago and I had never actually seen. (We clearly need more visitors. I can’t believe it’s been that long.) It’s large, white, and impressive. I really liked the low curving marble wall leading up to it, riverlike. Mabel liked sliding down it, slidelike.

Mabel sitting on MLK's name carved in a wall

B started to tell them the history of civil rights in America starting with slavery. It went on for a while. Dash managed not to ask me if I’d been alive when there were slaves, so I’m giving him bonus child points for that.

Part of the MLK monument

Part of the MLK monument

We continued back across the road towards Lincoln, stopping for a break and a sandwich under a tree. There were plenty of people at Lincoln, and Mabel had stopped wanting to pose for me, but she did look as if she was listening while B read the Gettysburg Address out to them.

B, Dash and Mabel

Good audience

Then, looking for an elusive bathroom because Dash had suddenly come over all OCD and claimed he couldn’t eat his sandwich without washing his hands, we ended up walking all the way back up Constitution Avenue and going into the Natural History Museum, where he had his sandwich and an Incredibly Expensive Cupcake. (The Smithsonian museums are all free, which is wonderful; but they recoup their costs by charging the earth for the food, and I shouldn’t resent that but I do.)

On the way we found Einstein, who also gets a memorial. Obligatory physicist posing ensued.

Mabel climbing the statue of Einstein

A giant among scientists. Har har.

There were Irish flags along with the Stars and Stripes all along the street, for the weekend that’s in it, I suppose.

Irish and US flags

There’s also a red and white striped flag in the middle which is the DC flag, but you can barely see it here.

The whole area near the museums and the White House features curbside vans selling sweaters, hats, scarves, tourist kitch, hot dogs, and ice cream. The kids know that these vans have ice cream, and Mabel, pretty tired after all that walking, began a sustained campaign for an ice cream once we left Einstein behind. I refused, because Dash couldn’t have an ice cream till he’d eaten his sandwich, and he had to (apparently, not my rule, I’m not that hygienic) wash his hands first, and I am not such an idiot that I would buy an ice cream for just one child. Also, I hate those vans on principle because they cause my children to have tantrums, so I don’t want to buy anything from them. (There may be some circular logic at work here.)

A piggyback did wonders for her mood, and the tears stopped until we got into the museum, where the security guard not unreasonably told us that we’d have to leave Mabel’s stick outside. She had, of course found the Best Stick Ever along the way. There were wails and despair and scenes of torture as we wrenched the stick from her little hands and B went back outside to hide it. I’m sure the guard went home and regaled his family with tales of the fearsome stick he saved the museum from.

Mabel with her stick in front of the statue of Lincoln

The stick in question, which was much more interesting than Lincoln.

But we retrieved it safely on the way out, so all ended well. And so back to the Metro and home via some ethical burgers and frozen yogurt. All in all, the sort of Saturday that should qualify me to do nothing at all on Sunday.

Proudly nerd parenting

I was going to write a long and edifying post on the trip to the art gallery we took this afternoon, but then I decided that the salient points were neither the wonderful free museums nor the exorbitant prices of the food in said museums nor even how the children did not express a newfound love and appreciation for art, but simply the following two episodes.

I took Mabel into the bathroom and had a proud moment as she remarked, in her clear piercing voice as I hung out in the two square inches available in her stall, “Mummy, it’s hard to decide who the main character in Star Wars is.” Then we discussed whether a baddie could be the main character, how there aren’t often girls as main characters, and how (and whether) both Anna and Elsa could count as main characters in Frozen. If you have to have a long conversation with your pre-schooler in a public bathroom, all this rates a lot higher than a repeated chorus of “Have you finished?” “Now have you finished?”

But my nerdly pride was not yet satiated.

After a quickish look at the French Impressionists and some other British and American artists (not too bad considering we mostly let the kids direct what we looked at and how long for), it was time for lunch. After sustenance we were planning to go on to the modern-art side of the museum (though it turned out to be mostly all closed, so we didn’t) and I was trying to explain how this would be different and, you know, interesting.

“After a while artists stopped trying to paint what looked real and started painting other things,” I said. “So you could look at a picture and say what you think it looks like, but there’s no one right answer.”

“Oh!” said Dash, not quite getting the point, but ready to apply it to something he had heard about recently from his father. “Like that thing in Star Trek when there was a test the captain couldn’t get right because there was no right way to do it?”

Now, your nerd quotient might not be high enough to recognize this as a description of the test in Star Trek II (The Wrath of Khan) called Kobayashi Maru, but I’ve been acquainted with my husband long enough to know exactly what Dash was talking about, even though I couldn’t swear to you that I’ve seen the movie. (Not while awake, anyway.) But I pretty much brimmed over with vicarious pride (B had gone to the bathroom when this happened, so he couldn’t do it himself) in my well-schooled little nerdling.

I like to think we’re just keeping that whole discovery-of-art thing fresh for them so they can impress the opposite sex with their sophisticated prints of Dali and Klimt on their college dorm walls. Whereas knowledge of the Star Wars and –Trek universes will stand to them much earlier.


Love is…

I love that we can ask Dash if he’s a little concerned and he knows we’re quoting The Princess Bride.

I love that Mabel just spelled the word “sad” all by herself, and said she knew it was an A in the middle because it’s the same sound as in “cat”, which is the only word she knows how to spell apart from her name.

I love that Dash is reading an honest-to-God chapter book for his nightly reading these days. A simple one, but a chapter book nonetheless. Before vision therapy, the idea of his reading that much text on a page was unthinkable. The words don’t go blurry any more.

I love that Mabel keeps announcing things like “Mummy, three and three more is six!” The wonder of math, afresh.

I love that B is reading The Hobbit to Dash at bedtime these days. I thought it might be a bit ambitious, but so far it’s going well.

I love that when Dash criticized Mabel’s drawing of a dinosaur, she replied, “When you say that, it makes me feel as if I’m not important.” He apologized. I high-fived myself in the kitchen.

I love that Dash is finally old enough to make his own damn cardboard swords instead of bugging us to do it.

I love that Mabel can brush her teeth all by herself.

I love that we can take public transport into the city, walk around, do a museum, and get home again WITHOUT A STROLLER. Escalators and steps are so much easier than finding the hidden elevator every time.

Children running

I do love babies, but I love having big kids too.


We went to the theatre a while ago, my husband and I. Say it the posh way, thee-ate-er. We left the children in the capable hands of a babysitter and took our cue to pretentiously discuss Beckett and Joyce on the metro into town. We even had a drink before the show. We’d never have had the audacity to book ourselves tickets for something like that – a real play, at night, in the city, no less – but we’d won the tickets so we had to go.

It’s been so long since I’ve been to a live production of anything other than a tantrum being thrown that I’d forgotten all the things that make theatre such a different experience from a movie, even though on the face of it you might think they’re much the same. This was a great example, though: a very intimate production, in the round, so that watching the audience opposite us react was as much part of the play as watching the actors. And being so close to the protagonists that you could reach out and touch them as they went by (if you wanted to; of course, I would never do such a thing) and admiring the grace and speed with which the actors moved the sets and props around between scenes, like a dance.

I love those moments when they’re between selves; they’re not quite in character yet, but they’re about to be. The curtain call is the same, of course: it’s the actors, not the characters, who are bowing to our applause. I strained to see if I could hear them speak as they went by, because the play was done with British accents and I’m sure the actors were American – but I didn’t catch any hint of their real selves’ voices to lift the veil a little further. I think this is why I love the blooper reels on a DVD so much: it’s not just because they’re funny, but because we see the actors being themselves just for a moment.


I am between selves at the moment, I think. With the kids in camp for six hours a day, parenting is not the immersive experience it has been and will be for the rest of the summer, but I’m not quite sure what else it is I do; other than rush around getting last-minute things I might need for BlogHer. Once I’m there, I’ll be a new self, or an old self – a new old self, perhaps. A professional amateur blogger, doing whatever it is such people do, in the company of many many others. A writer among writers, or a mommy-on-vacation. A woman among women (and some men, but not many, I’d say), without children.

Just me, Sheryl Sandberg, the Pioneer Woman, thousands of other women, and Queen Latifah too.


The National Arboretum happens to be just a 15-minute drive from our house, in good traffic. And yet, we don’t go very often, because once you’ve fed the koi, there isn’t all that much for the kids to do – adults like the herb garden and the bonsai exhibit, and it’s a great place to bring your mother, if your mother is like my mother, but for the children it usually lacks a little je ne sais quoi, where quoi is probably a playground.

But this morning we went with some friends and found that there is a playground, or at least a play area, with big logs to sit on and jump off, and a place to dig, and some sand to sit in, and the kids all enjoyed themselves mightily and we felt smug for exposing them to Nature so well.

Then I came home and wandered through the photos: these are from the first time we went to the arboretum. Mabel was about three months old, and beginning to smile enough for me to capture it on film digital.

And Dash (not yet three, back when he was Monkey around here) was running up the water feature by the columns that are meant to make you think it’s the Acropolis of Washington DC or something.

This was today, at the bottom of the same water feature.

Time. Doing that passing thing it does. Crazy.

So how was your Memorial Day?

Things I would have done differently yesterday if I had an ounce of sense:

  • Looked at the forecast, noticed the number 93 beside the letter F, stayed home.
  • On exiting the metro in downtown DC, set off towards the Capitol, where there was allegedly some free music happening, rather than in the opposite direction, because after one and a half monuments, and not even the one I wanted to see (the new Martin Luther King memorial) we were drooping from the heat and the kids were demanding lunch.
  • Brought a packed lunch instead of a snack which was devoured in five minutes as soon as we stepped off the train, because all the food in Washington DC is on the other side of the Mall and even if you know where the cheap food court is so you don’t have to pay museum-cafe prices, (we do; it’s in the Old Post Office) Dash still won’t eat anything except bare nachos, otherwise known as tortilla chips, and then whine for the next twenty minutes because he didn’t get an ice cream for “dessert”. 
  • Explained up front that tortilla chips don’t count as lunch, so dessert is not merited. It’s not like anyone else had ice cream either.
  • Made a bigger effort to get Mabel to use the bathroom at the last place we were, so that she wouldn’t spend the  entire metro journey home spinning around a pole and almost firing herself off – head exactly level with chair arms – because she couldn’t sit still because she desperately needed to pee.

Things at least I did do:

  • Wear sunscreen, put it on the kids. 
  • Wear a hat.
  • Bring water.
  • Bring a stroller.
  • Not have to watch helplessly as my child peed her pants on the train, because she held it all the way home.

Then we got home, collapsed in a heap, and made the kids watch Star Wars so they would shut up and leave us in peace. That was a good move too, but in all I can’t help thinking the day would have been better spent at the pool.


I went on my first honest-to-God field trip yesterday, and it was a good one. Apart from the zoo, I suppose, you can’t get much more classic for a school outing than the Natural History Museum – and when your kid’s local natural history museum just happens to be the Smithsonian in Washington DC, you count yourself pretty lucky.

Because when the kids you’re chaperoning are all museumed out, after live butterflies and beetles and caterpillars, and (dead) dinosaurs and whales and mummies (yes, really), and the Hope diamond to boot, you can take them outside and let them run around on the National Mall, with the Capitol to your left and the Washington Monument to your right, until it’s time to go back in and see a few more dead mammals before the bus leaves. And they can take it all for granted, because this is just where they live, but some of us know it’s pretty damn cool.

When I arrived in the classroom in the morning, the first thing everyone did was crowd around to show me who had wobbly teeth and who had lost teeth and who had new teeth coming in. Teeth, then, are big news with the six-year-old set. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise to me, but since wobbly teeth are still a thing of aspiration in our house, it was interesting to see the higgledy-piggledy reality up close.

I had wistfully thought how nice it was to go on a field trip while my son is still innocent enough to hold my hand in public and want to sit beside me on the bus. Not so. My hand was disengaged as soon as we got to school, and he sat up front with his friend to play finger-lightsaber battles while I sat a few rows back with the girls and discussed why other kids were sometimes mean, what the best thing to do about it was, and where babies really do come out of.

Still, I think he was glad to have me along, if only to see him hold the big green caterpillar.

Dash holds a fat caterpillar.

Control issues

A school friend who’s coming to town in a few weeks suggested we arrange to meet up for an early dinner somewhere, with our cumulative four children.

Well, I don’t know about her children, who are probably models of decorum and eat what’s put on their plates and are seen but not heard except when saying please and thank-you with adorable lisps, but the mere idea of trying to do that with my children set my head spinning in Exorcist manner (strangely prescient of the demon-possessed way they’d behave, I think) and I nearly ran away from the Facebook on the spot.

You know how my children do in restaurants. Even when not being truly awful, they’re still a handful and I’d spend my entire time shushing and re-sitting and placating and not getting to eat my own, never mind actually chatting to someone I probably haven’t seen since we were on the 6th-year debating team together.

Then I remembered that you don’t control your children: you get smart and you control their environment. That way, they’re happy, you’re happy, and nobody has to think that you’re totally incompetent as a parent, whatever about your erstwhile public speaking abilities. (To be honest, she was better at that too.) So I suggested that we meet in the National Building Museum of an afternoon (or morning, even).

The National Building Museum in Washington DC, if you’ve never been, is one of my favourite places. I rarely look at the exhibits, but it’s an oasis of air-conditioning in summer or of dry space on a rainy day, with plenty of space to run around, building blocks and an arch to put together, a Red Hook bakery shop with coffee, and the best museum shop in the city, full of clever and beautiful toys, kitchen doo-dads, paper goods and books. On top of that it has a separate play area for small children, with giant lego and a little house and books to read and everything to keep them occupied with one parent at a time while the other goes and browses in the shop.

Building Museum interior

See what I mean?

The only possible quibble I could have is the two fountains in the middle of the floor, which might entice an 18-month-old to get rather wetter than you intended.

This is somewhere I could imagine meeting up with two toddlers, a four-year-old and a five-year-old and actually getting to chat in a somewhat adult manner.  Without using a large amount of duct tape and velcro, that is.

Building museum arch

B and a much younger Monkey, with a bunch of strangers, having successfully erected the arch together

Where do you go if you want to keep the kids happy and talk to grown-ups at the same time?