Archive | March, 2011

Baby Blankets R Us

31 Mar

Finally finished Rhett’s baby blanket so it’s ready when he decides to join us.  The size of my tummy is making it difficult to sew, so I think I got it done just in time.

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Lying in Dachau

29 Mar

(The piece below was written circa 1997 after a trip to Dachau and nearby Munich.)

As if he’s seen this before, the man holds out a handkerchief and says that no one was actually killed in Dachau.

From where I’m kneeling, the wet sting of snow bites holes in my knees despite the extra layers; the skin will be red there for days. I’m folded the way they teach you to be in grade school when they prepare you for natural disasters. I realize he must have carried me at least part of the way – it’s a snowy few miles from Dachau to the southbound platform back to Munich where I started the day. I should probably thank him.

A few hours before, the platform was full of bodies, similar backpacks, Anglo-mouths and Scandinavian voices – maps of Dachau displayed in almost every language. I had picked one up thinking how clean, how neat – a testament to years of blood and genocide summed up so thin, the size of a postcard. You could slip it in your pocket if you wanted, which is what most of us did.

On the platform again, my hands are over my eyes, like it will do me any good. The iron-lipped gates, the butt of the gun punching my lungs as I entered the camp that morning – I had taken note of cracks in the fencing, the forest I would run to if it came to that. A few of us fumbled awkwardly, looking for tickets, welcome signs, someone to take our money, to prove we were just visiting. Amazing how you become a prisoner just by walking inside.

We shuffled toward the camp’s cement center, and I began to see them – the chicken skin of starved human bodies, the bare root feet, red from the snow, men and women planted like beets with no clothes. Convinced they’d appear on the film, I took no pictures.

Most of the other tourists stared casually, unconcerned. They struck poses in front of steely chambers, pretended to hold guns, gas masks, to wear chains on their wrists and be pinned to walls that were now crumbling. They would send the pictures as postcards when they made it home safely, I could be sure.

At a lookout post on either side of the camp, I could almost see the men with guns counting heads, two by two. Jewish targets, numbers on arms, cattle. They would eventually be all of these.

Across the courtyard, a group of German school children skimmed rocks across the pavement, the bloodstains barely visible 50 years later. The teachers told the children proudly that “this is exactly how it would have been to be Jewish then,” pointing to the 10-foot fences, the wooden beds, the snow under their own too-thick-boots. Returning home, the children’s parents will say, “Wie Schade!” and tomorrow everything will be busses and schools as usual – Nazis reserved for field trips, special occasions.

Our tour guide had led us to a room full of pictures, of sleeping. I could almost hear the bones clunk against the wooden boards of beds, how even your neighbor’s clumsy elbows would have reminded you where you were, how much time you had left. I saw pictures of pocket abdomens. A women who was only eyes and teeth – the parts of you that don’t shrink, no matter how hungry. My hands moved slowly across my own protruding hip bones, which, kneeling on the platform, is the last thing I remember.

When I wake, I am already outside the gate, surprised there were no gunshots, no escape with spoons, no running. I’m kneeling outside on a southbound platform, wanting to explain my weak stomach, the reason I couldn’t handle it like a real woman.

I see that the man had set the handkerchief on a bench behind me. He had meant the words as consolation, I am sure. A death camp with manners. A soft massacre. No one was actually killed, it’s like giving me flowers.

I raise my eyes to the handkerchief where he left it, a small act of kindness, how it holds one together like glue.

Eventually it will be my excuse to reach out, once my eyes are dry and my knees are strong again. He says it will be there when I’m ready.

All the ways mummy loves you …

28 Mar

One of my favorite things to do for the monster when I have the time is to write books specifically for him. Now that he’s 2.5, the issues he’s dealing with primarily revolve around behavior … and fighting me on absolutely *everything* (no idea where he gets that …) So I decided to write a book to help him understand that even the things he fights me on daily (holding my hand on the sidewalk, going to bed on time, taking a bath, etc.) are things that I make him do because I love him. It’s a little too early to know the real impact of my propaganda (haha), but I can definitely say he’s been holding my hand a lot more since I’ve started reading it to him. :)

(Click images below to view pages.)

Copyright  Steel City Press.

“Together! Together! Keep your legs together!” (and other mama advice)

18 Mar

So – my mom had lots of fun ways of giving advice when I was growing up. The above, she actually said as a cheer before every single date I went on until the day she died. I can still feel my cheeks turning a ridiculous shade of red when I’d hear her chanting, “Together! …. Together! ….” Once a dork, always a dork – even when she was trying to impart serious advice.

One of the other pieces of advice that has always stuck with me (though less out of trauma and more out of comfort) was this: “You can always make more money.” Having said this, I want to make it clear that my mama was by no means a spendy girl (nor am I). In fact, she seemed to get more pleasure out of telling me how little she spent on gifts she bought for me than in actually giving me the gift itself. (“Can you believe this shirt was only $2!?!?”) But when it came to experiences – at least ones she wanted me to have – she wanted me to be open to spending what I needed to have them.

This came up a lot in college when I tended to live like a prisoner saving money for my next great adventure. I lived a different place every single year I was in school (England … Berkeley … Austria). And yet no matter how hard I worked to get there, I was super cheap about letting myself enjoy it when I did. I’d go to Paris and be afraid to spend money to enter the Louvre. I’d visit London but be afraid to buy a pair of Doc Martens or plaid bondage pants or some other memorable Brit-Punk item I’d always dreamed of, just because my psyche couldn’t let me do it. On a daily basis I’d go without 3 of the 4 food groups to try to keep my grocery bill to $10/week. She’d get *so* annoyed. “You deserve to enjoy this. You can always make more money.”

I’ve kept that advice close over the years. I tend to be a girl who spends money on traveling and experiences more than fancy clothes or “stuff.” We live a pretty simple life here, and I’ve always loved that. The beach is free. The sun is free. The beauty of California – it’s all free. But lately that concept that I can always make more money is making me question – should I?

Basically, I’m at a point where I wonder what is best for my family. I’ve been so, so blessed to work for myself for coming up on three years now. It’s given me incredible freedom to spend time with my monster, and to explore my creative side, not to mention meet some really awesome clients/people. But when it comes down to it – yes, I probably could make more money if I were to go back to the corporate lifestyle. And I’m not sure at this point in my life which is more important – having that freedom to make the family life I want for the monsters, or making more money so that we can move on/move up to bigger things in life.

In Simplicity Parenting, there is a point where they say, “Think back to the vision of what you wanted for your family when you first found out you were going to be a parent. How do the actions you take each day go back to supporting that vision?” The way we’re living now, I can honestly say they do. I love spending time with B. I love working, but having the freedom to take family trips, or pull B out of daycamp if I miss him too much. I love not having to ask someone permission to do those things. (I’m not sure it’s even in my spirit to do otherwise.) I love that Blake already has a huge college fund, and tons of possibilities open to him, and yet he doesn’t live like he needs a grandiose life.

Still, knowing that I could make more money, it makes me wonder what is best for the monsters. Would it be better for them to have a bigger house? To have a big yard? To have more room to run around and be monsters? Which is more important to them in the long term – having a mama with freedom to love them (and having enough money to live and enjoy life), or having less time with mama and having “more” overall.

I guess I’m just not sure what’s best for them going forward. I wish my mama was here to make things sound simple with one of her dorky cheers. Maybe I’m just over-thinking … but I just want to do what’s best for da boys … and to spend as much time with those chubby cheeks as possible.

xoxo

 

Where’s Waldorf …

14 Mar

This morning we checked out the open house at a new Waldorf School up the street (http://maplevillage.wordpress.com/), and we had a ridiculously good experience. In fact, no matter what I seem to do to evade Waldorf, it keeps coming back around to me. After this morning, it’s hard to imagine not going the Waldorf route with our family.

My husband has always been super clear that he doesn’t want Blake Dean to end up like either one of us. I know – ouch. But I think what he means is that he wants him to be a lot more outgoing and confident than either of us are. When it comes to social ineptitude, I’m your girl. (One of my friends once suggested I get a tshirt that says “Making people uncomfortable since 1977.”) Whether he likes it or not, Blake is a lot more reserved than most kids. So in the end, more than a school that focuses on reading and math (which we know BD will kick ass at anyway) we want to find the right environment where BD can grow and flourish and find that confidence that will carry him throughout his life.

Enter Waldorf, which focuses on just those things right from the earliest years. Their program starts even before pre-school with a parent-toddler bridge program to help the monsters get used to attending school with a parent and then gradually moves on from there. After that, it focuses on learning via head, heart and hands – learning about things, caring about things, and doing things – so that when kids learn they do it at a super deep level. It’s also a super small, home-like environment, which really builds confidence and a love of learning.

The families we met were amazing. There was everything from a pair of gay dads with triplets to a pragmatic pilot with his wife and three kids – and Blakey was happy as a clam chilling with all of them. Though it’s an alternative type of school, it just seems to fit so many different types of people so wonderfully … though I love the co-ops and beach schools we’ve seen, I’m wondering if Waldorf might fit closer with the learning experience we want to give our children.

Regardless of where BD ends up, I want to thank my husband (a Catholic boy from Virginia) for being open enough to go to the event with us. Though we have a lot in common, we’re also super different on many levels, and it meant a lot to me that he would consider this type of school for BD. :)

“When I get the time …”

10 Mar

Our tickets to the Descendents reunion at Long Beach Arena finally came! While part of me feels lame about being three times the age of most of the kids who will probably be there, the other part is hella psyched to see a band that meant so much to me back in the day. Look out, muffins. Mama’s taking a night out. Granted I’ll be eight months pregnant by then, but still. :) xoxo!

Pregnant vigilante causes public disturbance; willing to cause more. So watch your backs, Long Beach

2 Mar

Yesterday I was getting ready to pick Blake up from camp when I heard an angry man outside our condo screaming in such a monstrous way that I literally dropped whatever it was I was holding. It was the kind of angry man-yelling that could have been heard for at least 10 blocks, and it gave me chills even just being within the safety of our place. Even more frightening, the man who was making the commotion was screaming not at another man, but at his small son. And he was screaming about how hard he was going to beat him.

I immediately went to the window to try to figure out where the screaming was coming from, and the man’s threats on his child kept getting angrier and angrier. The child couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 based on his voice, which wasn’t talking back – just whimpering. I lost it.

I started screaming bloody murder that I was calling the police. I started screaming to anyone around, asking if they knew who the psycho dad was. I started screaming that I was going to beat up the guy myself if he touched his son one more time. At one point, I even screamed, “I am so angry right now!” – just in case it wasn’t clear to him before.

A women in the ally pointed to the window of the place where the guy had dragged his son, but she didn’t know his name. So I kept screaming and screaming and screaming until all was silent. Neighbors gathered outside, and anyone who asked found out that there was a man in the building beating his son. I made sure every single person knew it.

When all was done, I was bawling. I called a friend to tell her what happened, and she noted it’s probably my mama-lion instinct to protect that is making me such a psycho to stand up for random children I don’t know. Whatever is was, all I can say is this –

Do not underestimate the rage of a pregnant woman who already has one son she’d die for.

If you, or any other deadbeat parents in Long Beach, decide it’s a good idea to beat your child, then be prepared for a spectacle like none you’ve ever seen. I will stand under your window like a psycho cat in heat. I will scream bloody murder until the police come and drag you away kicking and screaming. And if I see you physically beating your child, I will jump on your back and drag you to the street to show you what it’s like to be humiliated and hurt in such a monstrous way.

That’s it. You’ve been warned. So be a man and learn how to love and discipline your child like a grown-up, or get the hell out of my city.

Thanks.

xoxo

Welcome to the Fantin Family Diner …

2 Mar

So – in addition to our “No TV” rule, we’ve been implementing a number of other parenting simplification recommendations in the past month. One of those is to create a general weekly menu to guide our meals – removing the surprise (and hopefully, tantrums) from mealtime for Blakey, and removing the stress of planning meals for me.

To make the process fun, we decided to go one step further to create laminated “Fantin Family Diner” place-mat menus for the table to create even more structure and order to the dining process. Blakey can help set them out for mealtimes, clean them for clean-up time, etc. So far it’s made grocery shopping much easier, and Blake’s eaten a few more green beans than usual. Works for me :)

Did I mention how much I love the book Simplicity Parenting? xoxo

No TV, and other big changes at 1724 E 1st.

2 Mar

So – last week we decided (crazy as it might sound) that Blake is no longer allowed to watch TV. Like – ever. I know – are we crazy? Have we lost our minds? Life without Elmo and Thomas the Tank Engine? Will the sky fall? Will pigs grow wings? It’s Day 3 of our decision, and we’re still running strong – and some truly amazing things have started to happen.

I want to admit – it usually makes me want to punch something when I ask someone if they’ve seen a certain TV show, and they respond simply, “Oh, I don’t watch TV.” What? Are you kidding me? Who do you think you are, Mother Theresa? Beyond that, anytime I’ve ever heard another mom say she doesn’t allow TV in her house, it makes me bristle a little bit. What? Who doesn’t let their kids watch TV? I mean, really?

Well, as it turns out, there are plenty of reasons not to. I’ve been reading this amazing book called Simplicity Parenting, which talks a lot about society today and why our kids are so anxious and stressed. One of the main reasons, outside of the general clutter, fast pace, and “too much” of our daily lives, is the media. I had no idea, but in France, there is actually a law that TV shows cannot be promoted to children under 3 because it’s been proven to be that detrimental to children’s development. Yeah. Like – even Sesame Street has been proven to cause learning delays. So – sorry, Elmo. You’re cute, but apparently you’re not helping. At all.

There are two reasons I was surprisingly OK with the concept of axing the tube despite my usual annoyance with being who are too holy for TV. First, I’ve personally been enraged lately by the media’s coverage of certain events … from the Tucson shootings to the homeless radio guy. It feels like they’re just as happy promoting someone’s pain and tragedy as they are their joys and triumphs. The Today Show was happy to invite Ted Williams onto their show every morning for a week … and then just as happy to run the story that he was in rehab because he couldn’t handle the pressure of being famous. Really? Sounds a little ironic to me. And the Tucson shootings – I don’t need to see interviews of people who knew the shooter in 8th grade or hear them tell me he was weird – or not. It doesn’t change anything. And it’s ridiculous for the media to run those things like they’re entertainment, rather than the fallout of people’s actual lives.

So, besides a general internal rage that’s been brewing for media in general, I’ve also been noticing that Blake just doesn’t respond well to TV. As soon as we walk in the door from camp, he heads to the DVD player to pop in Thomas the Tank Engine. If he can’t watch it, he has a breakdown. And when he does watch it, he zones out to such a degree that I can’t even talk to him. So – what’s a mom to do? Risk a breakdown (which in turn makes me break down), or risk my son’s long-term development. The choice seemed pretty simple.

We decided on Friday that it was necessary to make the change. No TV in the house during Blake Dean hours, which meant our entire morning routine (which once consisted of a lot of cuddles in bed while watching Sesame Street and eating brekkie) would be killed. Truth be told, this was usually my favorite part of the day because 1) I’m an affection addict and love getting hugs from my monster and 2) the beautiful lull of Sesame Street allowed me a few extra minutes to relax before the day got too hectic. But even this seemingly innocent act needed to be changed. Saturday morning, we pulled that band-aid off and haven’t looked back. This is what we found.

1) Blake is a lot more fun when he isn’t around the influence of TV, even just as background noise. He’s a lot more focused, and a lot more attentive. He likes to set the table for breakfast, and he likes to eat – for real – without me even having to beg him. When we made pancakes Sunday morning he ran up to the table to sit down – rather than me dragging him kicking and screaming, as I’d often have to do when Clifford or Elmo or Thomas are on.

2) We have a lot more time, and we talk more. At the breakfast table, at the dinner table – at the beach – it doesn’t matter. There’s less mental clutter to keep us from doing activities we enjoy, and more open space to talk and know someone is listening. Like my husband said – this is a total game-changer.

3) Blake Dean hasn’t really minded the change.

I know – it’s only Day 3 of our decision. But it’s been such a good one that I can’t see us changing anytime soon (unless I’m on a cross-country flight with the monster … at which point I’m sure I would not hesitate a moment to pop a DVD in.) And outside of one or two requests for Thomas this weekend, Blake really hasn’t even seemed to notice the difference – although I’ve definitely noticed a difference in him.

 

The big 1-0-0! Thanks for supporting Safe Warm Loved!

2 Mar

Dear friends, This past July, I shared with you all a simple idea: to sew soft cuddle blankets for child victims of domestic abuse in an effort to give them a small piece of security, and a little bit of love, as they enter shelter life. While my hope has always been to provide a blanket for each and every child who enters the shelter doors, I knew that goal would be difficult to attain; the shelter welcomes up to 180 children per year at its residential center and up to an additional 150 visitors per year at its outreach location. I decided to aim for 100 blankets for the year as a stretch goal, knowing (with a bad economy and so many people facing their own adversities) it would be a difficult to reach. I’m so happy to report that just six months into the project, our stretch goal of 100 blankies has already been hit, and we’re even closer to the possibility of providing a blanket for every single child who needs one. As 2010 comes to a close I want to personally thank every single person who has donated to Safe Warm Loved this year:

Cindy and Cris Murphy – Export, PA

Steve and Sandy Stalnaker* – Joshua, TX

Ed Mamula – McLean, VA

Michael Fantin* – Salt Lake City, UT

Sylvia Gorohoff – Long Beach, CA

Susi Fantin* – Burke, VA

Joanne Fulmer – Reston, VA

Leslie Davison – Redondo Beach, CA

Bob Leach – Santa Monica, CA

The Swistak Family – Burke, VA

Alex Jones – Palos Verdes, CA

Leah Holiman – El Segundo, CA

Jeffrey Paradise and Ava Berlin – San Francisco, CA

Jessie Powell – Riverside, CA

Edith Nealy – Houston, TX

Pollyanne Hornbeck – Los Angeles, CA

Justine Morgan – Alexandria, VA

Susan Yates – Sterling, VA

Debra Timmons – Silver Spring, MD

Susan Piper – Santa Monica, CA

Tammie Crain – Signal Hill, CA

*Indicates multiple donations

I also want to thank:

Deborah Levy, who took time to knit two soft and cozy blankets with her own sweet hands.

Amber Wynn, who took it upon herself to promote Safe Warm Loved to colleagues and friends and was a tremendous help in getting the word out.

Venita Hale, who also spread the word via her mad Facebook skillz.

Community Council Radio, Long Beach Grunion Gazette and CBS2/KCAL 9, for their coverage of Safe Warm Loved this year.

Fabric.com (Georgia), Warehouse Fabrics Inc. (Alabama) and a soon-to-arrive shipment from SAS Fabrics (Arizona), for donating generous amounts of fabric to the project.

David Coalson at Family GraphiX, who continually prints double or even triple the labels I order to support the project (which saves me money out of my own pocket)

-And to all of the other family, friends and colleagues who simply supported and encouraged me along the way. No kind word has gone unnoticed.

It never ceases to blow my mind how lucky I am to know so many people with big hearts, or how much can be done just by putting something small into motion. On behalf of all of the munchkins at WomenShelter Long Beach, thank you so much for making Safe Warm Loved a reality, and for making their stays at WomenShelter just a little warmer.

Big hearts rock! Thank you, XOXO, and Merry Christmas! I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for Safe Warm Loved!