A dear friend asked me to accompany her to the Museum of Modern Art this week. I quickly agreed because I don’t get to see her nearly enough.
And luckily for me, she happens to have a PhD in art from Cal, so she knows her way around a museum. I mean, I do, too. You pretty much start at the door and walk through the rooms looking at stuff. But I have to read the identifying plaques and puzzle out meaning from the piece exclusive of its real historical context. She just…knows. Who, what, when, where, why, what critics said, how history has changed what critics say. I’m awfully happy to know her, and it’s a delight to see her in action in an artistic setting. Her students are wicked lucky.
(I always wondered about Rothko, had my own opinions. Now I know more and the opinions still hold but are informed by historical, artistic, and critical context. Education is super cool.)
We went to the SFMOMA primarily to see Christian Marclay’s The Clock.
It took him three years, but Marclay put together a 24-hour film montage of clips from thousands of movies, all of which reference a specific time (often with a visual of a clock or watch). And he spliced them such that the time announced by the actors or shown on the screen is the correct time of day for the viewer. So the whole film references time, tells time, and keeps time.
It’s outrageously cool.
Mind-bogglingly, unsettlingly, jaw-droppingly cool.
But here’s the thing I noticed after exactly three minutes: in an overwhelming percentage of instances where a film references the precise time, something incredibly important is about to happen. Someone will die in a few minutes or someone is expected in a few minutes or an explosion is coming in a few minutes or something intense makes characters check the clock every few minutes.
It’s an exhausting film to watch because the filmmakers whose works are combined together to produce the effect of an accurate-time experience actively choreographed those clock-referencing moments to be adrenaline-provoking. So after 20 minutes of Marclay’s work, I was quite anxious. Jumping out of my chair “let’s go we have to go we only have a few minutes” kind of anxious. The only relief in those 20 minutes of watching watches was a brief interlude in which The Breakfast Club’s characters whistle the Colonel Bogey march that evokes Bridge on the River Kwai and anti-Hitler sentiment. And even that moment is tense, because we all know Principal Vernon is coming in in a few seconds. At eleven-thirty, in fact, as I’m now keenly aware.
The importance of the word “momentous” became strikingly clear: we note that something is so intensely significant that it requires we pause and pay attention to that particular moment. Then five or ten or twenty groups of people pay rapt attention to one moment. Then the next. The accumulation of the momentous moments makes real life seem slow and insignificant, and simultaneously make the moments the film marks and marks and marks into a river of exclamations. Imagine hearing and seeing, “Pay attention to this precise moment!” shouted dozens of times every minute.
We didn’t have long at the museum, but it was amazing. I learned bits about artists and contemporary art reviews that I never would have. I saw The Clock. I saw disturbing images that made me think about our role in society, art’s need to disturb the afflicted and afflict the disturbed. I made lame observations that will haunt me for a while.
So other than being a long-winded artsy equivalent of Instagraming what I had for lunch, I want to urge you to go experience some art. We often forget how important it can be to see how someone processed the thoughts they had about the time in which they lived.
See The Clock at SFMOMA if you can. The museum closes June 2 for renovations, so go soon. And early, because the line is daunting.
Or perhaps just watch The Breakfast Club again and keep your eye on the big clock on the back wall.
And think about how long a minute can really be.
Since our sweet old cat died, the family has been embroiled in a convivial battle of “dog or cat?”
We loved our cats, but we might be dog people.
We adore dogs, but we might be cat people. (Okay, let’s be honest. We’re not cat people. But Spouse misses our cat and I miss our cat and we’re willing to accept that there might be one or two more cats out there somewhere who would be just perfect.)
The kids seem to like both cats and dogs, though they’ve been pressing for a dog. Peanut, our eldest, is an animal whisperer. Living creatures trust him, and he has the right balance of sincere gentleness and authoritative confidence with critters who are not his brother. Dogs love him, cats love him, sheep flock to him. He’s the kind of guy who can convince spiders to walk out the front door (ours is a no-kill house and we usually ask spiders to climb onto a piece of paper for the ride outside). I’ve actually seen cats hiding under a car come out for Peanut only after the rest of us walk away.
Butter, the three-year-old, is unpredictable. (That was redundant, I know. But I’ve heard there are a handful of three-year-olds who don’t calmly pet pets and then shriek and take off chasing them. Or, say, gently carry a duck’s egg for five minutes before pitching it like a baseball. Sorry, farmer lady!) I pity any pet who is near Butter if the wrong mood strikes. And since he’s three, the wrong mood always shows up at least…what…once an hour.
So during the process of getting ready to visit a few animal shelters today, I stopped fight number 8,314 with the reminder that we can’t bring a pet home until we can prove we can be friendly to each other. That pets are helpless creatures and they need absolute, inviolable kindness.
So the boys shaped up and played nicely and talked nicely and touched each other nicely. We didn’t find our new pet, but we got more information during the search.
And by bedtime the boys were at it again. Disrespectful to each other, saying hurtful things, reacting to hurt with fists.
I stopped them and reminded them that we have to be kind.
But Butter put his foot down. “Nope,” he said. “I don’t want any dog or any cat or any pet.”
I asked him why.
“I don’t like to be gentle and nice,” he insisted.
So now I’m looking for a shelter that will trade a sweet dog for a sometimes-sweet preschooler. Let me know if you know of one. I’m sure they can adopt Butter out if they put clear guidelines on his kennel. “Does well with people and children and pets. Sometimes. Sometimes he’s a raging a**hole, so he needs just the right home where everyone understands that he’s not a bad guy, he just needs some positive reinforcement training to get some freaking manners.”
Any chance you have a pup you’ll trade for that?
But this year is different.
I have a healthy, adorable, smart, funny grandma who lives an hour away. I visited her today while the kids were in school. Being with her infused me with wise, cross-generational “aren’t we lucky, even though the first years with small children are challenging, they’re a blip in the grand stretch of your life” perspective. Being grateful to have her makes a pretty nice Mother’s Day.
I have a healthy, sassy, energetic, interesting mom who lives an hour away. I saw her last week and will see her again for Mother’s Day. That’s a pretty freaking big deal after having lived the first two years of my son’s life in an isolated pocket of Hell (Los Angeles). Being grateful to have her, too, makes an increasingly sweet Mother’s Day.
And I somehow stumbled onto the best idea ever for a Mother’s Day gift. Beginning a few years ago, I forced my husband to engage in this ritual with my kids:
Buy or find the prettiest, smoothest rocks you can get your hands on. If possible, send partner and kids to beach by themselves to collect rocks.
Take dictation from children in Sharpie on the rocks after asking them, “What do you love about Mommy?”
Keep writing their answers on rocks until they have no more interest.
Have children decorate a plain box (wood, cardboard, glass, whatever). As big or little as you want.
Put rocks in box and hand them over on Mother’s Day.
Throughout the year and whenever I want, I can reach in and read a reason, in my sons’ own words, why I’m the best mom they’ve ever had.
And I can’t wait to see what they write this year. Really. That “thanks for cake” rock is begging for a “thanks for 1,092 healthy meals a year” companion. We’ll see.
Mother’s Day. It’s not about sleeping in (as if), or breakfast in bed (ew, the cleanup), or peace and quiet (insert uncomfortable laughter at the realization that it’s never going to happen).
It’s about asking your kids (and partner if you have one) to make the present you want. And need.
And since they can’t build a Krasinski/Rudd/Fiennes/Gosling four-sided hologram, have them build you a box of love notes.
I woke early because the boys were fighting about whether one of them should be allowed to cough at 5am.
We stumbled grouchily through our morning and got everyone to school in clothing with food in their bellies. The principal cornered me to ask if I’d proctor one of the loathsome State Standards Tests mandated by No Child Left Behind Or Lovingly Taught Much Other Than Tests. I was in a fog trying to catch up of errands on this, my child-free morning, and finally got to email at noon.
Please pay your bills, please comment about this idea about the soccer team pizza party, please reply to the doctor’s office about whether your kid’s new allergies are responding to the new medication, please buy stuff at our exclusive, super special sale, please offer to proctor the state test, please proofread this white paper, please edit these case studies, please subscribe now to the children’s theater season, please submit emergency contact forms or your kid can’t come to camp this summer, please sign this petition, please double check your automatic order before we send it, please pay for preschool, please share this committee plan, please go to the Board meetings, please send the school money because we’re underfunded, please respond about your preferences regarding the temporary buildings, please look at this budget so we can talk at the next budget meeting, please read this thread so we can position ourselves for the next funding round, please send a proposal that includes high level strategic work as well as simple deadline-crunched writing, please read this book, please sign up for soccer for Fall by Friday because fees go up next week, please use your reward points before they expire, please bike to school tomorrow a part of the massive community effort to minimize local car trips, please plan Mother’s Day so you’re not doing it last minute again, please look over the lease and sign it by Friday, please return or renew your library books, please return or renew your kids’ library books, please let us know when you mailed your Netflix disc, please upgrade your software, please take care of our cat while we’re away for a week, please rate your experience…
That list of emails, which was tame for the middle of the week, put me in a major, shoulder-slumped funk. I certainly don’t have to answer all those requests, and those that need replies can often get a “no.” But a lot of the things on my list I actually *do* need to do.
Please tell me how people do all this? How do they or you or I fit it all in? I want to do a good job on the projects I’m being paid to write or edit. I want to do a good job rewriting my book. I want to submit a proposal for a conference because I’ve had a paper brewing for four years and still haven’t written it. I want a clean house and don’t have the option of making someone else clean it. I want to run several times a week and go fencing at least twice a week and do yoga at least every other day. I want to actually play with my kids when they’re here. I want to prepare and cook good food for at least three meals each day. I want to see my friends and read a book and watch a movie or two. I want to reply to letters written me by dear friends. I want to take the kids to museums and play word games and develop their science and math skills and remind them about gratitude and teach them patience and kindness. I would like to learn another language or two. And I want to sleep more than four hours a night.
So tell me. How do I do that?
How do you do it?
I knew when I met him that I was meant to be his mama.
I’d been in a relationship for about a year and my biological clock was telling me it was time to nurture something. I mentioned this urge to my boyfriend, and he told me I should look into adopting a newt.
I rolled my eyes and asked a coworker for help with details. She suggested finding a rabbit to parent for a while. A starter family, she said, began small. Then I could move up to a cat or dog. I wrinkled my nose. “Never a cat. I hate cats.”
We went to the shelter, which had no bunnies. At lunch, the waitress gave us our check and asked if we knew anyone looking for a kitten. “Not me,” I said. “I don’t like cats.” My friend, who has fostered more cats than any other person on Earth, asked about the kittens. Abandoned, blah blah blah, eyedropper feedings every other hours, blah blah blah, about the size of this bagel…my friend suggested we go take a look.
Never believe an animal activist who says you should “just” go look at kittens.
The woman went to the back of her house and brought out a huge basket teeming with kittens. And right in the middle was the most beautiful caramel-colored kitten I’ve ever seen. I pointed right at him and said, “I want to hold him.”
And I was done for.
I brought him and his brother home, after a terrifying stop at Target where I panicked at leaving them in the car, panicked at choosing the right litter and box, panicked at choosing the right food and water dish. Panicked at driving home with a cat carrier…pretty much all of the panics I had driving home my son years later. How did they let me adopt these creatures without any proof I could do the job?!
I gave them a bath (yeah, well, I didn’t know, but neither did they) and tried to use the blow drier to dry them (yeah, well, I didn’t know, but they taught me). When my boyfriend knocked on the front door the next morning I ushered them into the bathroom and shut the door. I told him when he came in that I had a surprise. He glowered, and said it had better be a newt.
I opened the door and these gorgeous, fluffy little boys came tripping all over themselves out of the bathroom. The grown man put the tips of his fingers together just beneath his chin and whispered, his face all aglow, “It’s kittens!”
They loved him. They loved us. They made us laugh and we did our best with them. When the first baby came, the black cat was mad but the caramel cat was curious. He stayed, always, two feet away from the baby. We have a fabulous video of Peanut, just able to sit up at 6 months, calling to the beautiful orange cat. In gibberish. Persistenly. At high volume. For more than 10 minutes. And then bursting into tears that the fuzzy brother would not come when called in screechy gibberish.
But whenever Peanut cried, the cat came running over.
That habit persisted until last week. If anyone in the house cried, my oldest love came running to see if he could do anything. And as always, I told him, “Thank you for checking on us. But seeing as you have no thumbs, you’re not much good to me, you silly old thing. But I appreciate the gesture.”
He was huge. When he laid on my chest, all 15 pounds, I felt grounded and true. When he laid on my lap, I acted just as I did with newborns: don’t move a muscle lest you jostle your dear little one.
He was a giant baby. Weaned too early, he and his feline brother both came to us, two months old, nursing on anything they could find. The black cat nursed on his older brother’s forearm. The big beige guy nursed on clothing. He eventually weaned his brother by biting him every time he started to suck on that wheat-colored arm. But nobody pushed him off the clothing, and for 13 years he slept and nursed on the jammies I wore out of the fire.
Whenever I sang, particularly showtunes, that little camel-hair-coated kitty came and sniffed my mouth, as though there were something preternatural inside he needed to diagnose. I wondered if he suspected I’d swallowed a Broadway cast and he wanted to come to their aid.
When his black feline sibling died, we worried about him. But he seemed not to notice. He still had us, and he seemed quite pleased about that.
When he got sick last week, I worried and called the vet. When they said he might not last the day I sobbed. When he didn’t make it even 48 hours from the first sign of illness, Spouse, that same man who crawled around with the kittens and wanted desperately to name them both Newt, wept like I’ve never seen him cry before.
Because Luke was our first baby.
And I’m wrecked.
Spouse took the litter boxes out of the bathrooms today. I thought I was going to be okay until the moment I saw that, for the first time in 13 years, there’s actually room to navigate our bathrooms.
And I don’t like it one little bit.