Thursday, December 31, 2009

A nice change

Being the mother of Natalie, a freakishly beautiful 5-year-old Chinese girl with a speech delay, sometimes involves having to address or avoid answering inappropriate questions or comments.

"Do you know where her mother is?"

"Is she yours?"

"Couldn't you have your own children?"

"Is she just learning English?"

And sometimes even Natalie is dragged into it. Recently a woman asked her: "Do you like your mommy?" As if I were on loan.

I try to be gracious. I smile, and gently correct them. If I can't think of what to say, I simply pretend I hadn't heard. These comments usually come from basic curiosity, ignorance, or biases that grew out of some personal experience. Sometimes I'm able to shake them off. Sometimes I let it torment me for hours afterward.

The other day I took Natalie with me to get a haircut. She followed me to have my hair washed, and stood next to me as the woman worked shampoo into my hair and I watched a fashion show on the overhead bank of televisions.

As Natalie chattered about hair and princesses, the woman washing my hair said, "My cousin adopted a baby from Russia ..." And I thought: Oh, here we go. I'm always braced.

I tensed up a little.

"And hearing your daughter. Wow, she's so advanced, compared to my cousin's son. Probably from you talking to her in the womb."

In the womb. So advanced.

Well what a nice change. I smiled. Closed my eyes. And felt her fingers on my temples and neck and then the rush of hot water on the back of my head.

"Don't worry," I told the woman. "He'll catch up just fine."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Desperately Seeking Sleeping Beauty

Here's Natalie yesterday, just returned from the eye doctor with dilated pupils and wearing her Sleeping Beauty dress. Here's how our arriving home ritual typically goes: we set down our things, let the dog out and Natalie puts on a princess dress. Yesterday she also added a crown, necklace, bracelet and ring. (And wore all this to the park to play fetch with the dog.) I snapped this pic before we took off.

And today, the more I looked at it, the more I realized that she looked like someone I'd seen before.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An excellent idea

I stumbled upon Nathan Bransford's blog today. He's a literary agent and writer in San Francisco. And today he's got this excellent idea.

For each comment his readers post today, he will donate $1 to Heifer International, my favorite kind of organization - one that doesn't just give, but empowers. Heifer International provides families around the world with livestock and training so that they can make a sustainable living. And part of the deal is that they must pass along one of the offspring of their goat or cow to a friend or neighbor.

So I am following Nathan's example. Since I have so few readers (Hi, Dad!), I'll contribute $5 for every comment to this post, up to $100.

And if you'd like to contribute yourself, here is Heifer International's gift catalog. (You can buy a flock of chicks for $20!)

I know times are tight, but it doesn't take much to make a big difference to someone who really needs it.

Merry Christmas!

Snow White in my kitchen

Yesterday Snow White came to bake us some Christmas cookies.

I didn't know Snow White baked, I said.

"Yeah, Snow White makes pies and soup."

All that's missing is a little bird perched on her finger.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Natalie's Dad

This is Natalie's dad.

He's holding the famous Baby Miss Ann. (He calls her BMA.) He brought Baby Miss Ann to Natalie's Christmas pageant so Natalie would know that her baby saw her perform. It takes a special kind of guy to carry a baby doll, nevermind pose with one on his lap. (It's way worse than carrying a purse.)

He's a great dad.

By the way, don't you think I look like The Penguin?


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Like Your Girlfriend

Moving in together, into the new house, has not been 100 percent dreamy.

We've both been stressed. We've both been busy at work. And we've both been a bit scratchy. Not a lot of romance on Mill Peak Road of late.

Today, we went hunting for a fireplace screen, and having found nothing we could stomach spending hundreds of dollars on at a fire place accoutrements shop in La Mesa, we decided to check Target, which never fails us and didn't today.

But on the way to Target, as I stared out the window, sick of the dry heat and my itchy skin, missing my family, feeling in a rut, I felt the car take a hard right. And I looked up to see a flower shop.

I assumed he was taking a shortcut through the lot, but he pulled into a parking space.

I looked at him.

He smiled. "Let's get you some flowers."

"Really? Ok!"

So we went in and didn't see anything we liked until he spotted a greeting card with a great big bouquet of Gerber daisies stuffed in a Mason jar. We handed it to the florist, and returned an hour later to pick up the arrangement.

I held it on my lap on the way home.

"I love them. I feel like your girlfriend," I told him.

"Were you starting to feel like my roomie?" he asked.


"You're my girlfriend. You'll always be my girlfriend."


When we got home the cat ran away.

But after scaling the hillside and shaking his food bag, we found him and he's safe at home now. AND we're going on a date to the movies tonight. How do you like that?

This day turned out much better than I expected.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Full Credit

I can't decide which part of this I like more: Natalie reading or me getting the credit. She may have a future in PR.

(And doesn't she turn the pages with such purpose?!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Notes from Mom

Sometimes I leave a note in Natalie's lunch.

When I was little, my mother wrote on my napkin. Or drew curly hair and pointy eyebrows on the shell of my hard-boiled egg. I really liked that.

Recently I left this note, after a particularly successful swim lesson at the Y.
She must have liked this note, because it came home from school with her empty bowls and dirty napkin. She asked me to read it a few times, and then we posted it on the refrigerator.

This morning, while straightening Natalie's papers on the dining room table, I found this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Three more bites

The other night Natalie wanted to leave the dinner table.

"Three more bites," I said. And then I returned to eating and thinking. And soon she pulled me back from my drifting.

"All done, Mama." Had she eaten three bites? Really?

"Yes, three." I didn't believe it.

"Are you fibbing, Natalie?"


"It's not right to fib. Did you really eat three bites?"


I sized her up. She held my gaze. What now?

"You know God watches over us. Right, honey?"

"Yyyyyyep!" She goes to kindergarten at a Methodist church, after all.

"He's always watching us. Always."

She kept her eyes on mine. And then a smile spread across her face.

"I eat one more bite, Mama."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Filipina Ladies Room

There is a ladies room on the second floor of the County building that I sometimes use because it's a little farther away and so involves a short walk and therefore more time away from my desk. It's the little pleasures.

Anyway, every time I visit, there are typically two or three ladies already there. And they are invariably Filipina. They are County employees and they are speaking Tagalog.

And while I am there I quietly listen to their conversations as they wash their hands and fix their hair, never understanding a single word that they're saying.

And then I walk back to my office wondering why that ladies room and not some other ladies room has become the Filipina Ladies Room. I think about a ladies room surveillance, noting from where the ladies come and to where they go after. I wonder how and why they all started using those facilities.

By the time I return to my desk I've usually forgotten about it. But not today! I'm going to get to the bottom of this. No pun intended.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lost and Found

Tony was having a feng shui attack on Saturday. I sat on his bed as he hoed out his closet, and carried bags of clothes, including a green and purple leather/satin reversible Mighty Ducks jacket, to the VFW Post. (Its time had definitely come.)

In the car, he was still stricken by the attack. He pulled out papers from the glove box and center console. And to pass the time, I read a magazine in the passenger seat. When he pulled a tube of hand cream from the console, I took the opportunity to slather some on, removing my engagement ring and placing it on my lap, in the open magazine.

Which I promptly threw into the bag of trash Tony was collecting. With the ring still inside it.

Except I didn't realize this of course until I stood up outside the car and noticed my bare ring finger.

I patted my sweatshirt pockets and my shorts pockets and I think I said something like: "My ring! My ring! Where is it? Help me! Help meeeeee!"

Tony calmly looked around the car, under my seat and then asked if I was sure I had taken it off in the car.

"Yes! No... I don't know!"

He then sat back down in the driver's seat. And as my heart raced and my mouth went dry, he methodically removed one item at a time until he heard a clink. And caught a glimmer. And followed the flash of light to a little nook by the door where my ring sat waiting to be picked back up.

He put it back onto my finger. I cried and hugged him.

"I thought it was goooone." I cried.

But it's not! And I'm not taking it off anymore!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


It used to be princesses. Princesses in the morning, at night, all the live long day. "Sleeping Beauty" on the portable DVD player, fast-forwarding through the scary parts. Lengthy discussions on Cinderella's step-sisters and her various outfits: brown dress to scrub the floor, blue to the ball, white to marry the Prince.

Since Sept. 8, the DVD player has not been turned on. Not even once. Sept. 8 was the first day of kindergarten.

And now, Natalie has a new addiction. It's more intense than her love for princesses. And harder for me to understand. (You see, my success has come despite my work ethic, not because of it.)

It's homework.
Yes, homework in kindergarten. I cursed it. I railed against it. But then I saw how much Natalie liked it and how much she was blossoming. It was just another part of this amazing burst of confidence. And now, I use it to my advantage.

Last night, she wouldn't undress for her bath. And I had to ask her three times to clear the table. She just couldn't tear herself away from her homework.

Then I had what Oprah calls the "Aha Moment."

"Natalie, if you don't get into the bath right now, there's no homework tonight!"

She was in that bath in two minutes flat.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mama Wear Yellow Dress, I Wear Yellow Dress

I was worried about telling Natalie that I was getting married.

It actually produced quite a lot of anxiety for me.

That is because, before agreeing to marry Tony, I had promised to marry Natalie. She had the wedding all planned out. She would wear Mama's White Dress, a traditional gown that I wore to marry Daddy that now resides in a box in her closet. And I would wear my blue Cinderella dress, which was a great hit with the pre-schoolers at the Halloween carnival last year.

Whenever she talked about it, she'd remind me: "I wear Mama's white dress; Mama wear Mama's blue Cinderella dress."

I took off my ring when I first saw her, waiting for the right moment to break the news. When I'd found the moment, buckling her into the car after school, I showed her the ring. She grasped my hand, drawing it close to her smudged glasses.

Then she looked at my other hand and asked why Tony had only given me one ring. I told her what the ring meant, that Tony asked me to marry him and I said I would. She studied the ring, and then looked up.

"I wear Mama's White Dress and Mama wear Mama's blue Cinderella dress."

"Yes, baby. That's right."

Nothing would change that, I told her. And then I told her what marrying Tony meant. That we'd pick out a new house and paint her room lavender and that we'd have a party to celebrate. Which meant that we'd dress up.

Natalie thought about that as I drove us home from school. And then she told me her new plans.

"I know, Mama! Mama wear yellow dress, I wear yellow dress!"

She has one in particular in mind.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


It's the universally flattering nail polish shade preferred by three generations of Fitzsimons women.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Natalie's World

Mornings around here can be a little hectic.

We get up early enough: 5:40 in order for Natalie to be at school and me at my desk by 8.

Nevertheless, we are often running behind. We lie in bed cuddling. We swaddle Baby Miss Ann and talk about our dreams. We plan our outfits. We make coffee and chocolate milk and smoothies and sausage and oatmeal.

And then about 25 minutes before we're supposed to leave, I get into the shower. And while I'm doing my makeup, Natalie brings her tea set into the bathroom. While I'm drying my hair, she stands at the door, her little lips moving, but I can't hear a thing. This is all very stressful for Mama.

Enter the camera. Lately, Natalie will disappear for five minutes, returning to ask: "Mama, I take peek-peek my babies?" She has arranged her babies just so and now she wants to photograph them.

So I give her the camera, grateful for a moment's peace. And later, I look at what she's shot, and as I click from one frame to the next I see Baby Miss Ann - lots of Baby Miss Ann - and her other babies, and me, and Elmo, and the apartment.

I see what Natalie sees. I see her sweet little life.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A New Member of the Family

The other day when I picked up Natalie at school, she ran through the playground gate without kissing me hello and straight to her classroom cubby.

"Look, Mama! My pet rock!"

We took the rock home and in the morning, Natalie went to check on her new pet. Natalie painted her blue, green and purple.

She has eyes.

And a tail.

And you'll never guess her name.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Is a Drill. This Is Not a Drill.

Part of my job is practicing for disaster. Any kind of catastrophe that you can imagine, except for tornadoes, we are prepared for. It's a lot of pretending so that when the real disaster comes - an earthquake, a fire, an outbreak of a deadly virus - we know what to do.

Yesterday, I was in Irvine, part of a dress rehearsal for a drill scheduled for September, during which we will pretend there's been some kind of calamity at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station - which we call SONGS. All the while, serious representatives from FEMA will be standing over our shoulders, making notes on a clipboard. We get downgraded if we slip up. Like not giving the correct address of the evacuation center, or not saying "This is a drill" at the start and finish of every conversation.

"Good morning. This is a drill. My name is Elizabeth Fitzsimons and I'm representing the County of San Diego. The County has declared a local emergency and established an evacuation and decontamination center at Carlsbad High School...This is a drill."

Even when I called our County's Emergency Operations Center to ask a question.

"EOC. This is Yvette. This is a drill."

"Hi, Yvette. This is Elizabeth. This is a drill."

You get the idea.

Around noon as we were giving our third pretend news conference to the pretend news media, a SONGS representative stepped up to the microphone.

"This is not a drill," he said gravely.


No, we just stood there and waited.

Turns out, someone at SONGS, who was simply to pretend sounding the sirens that tells residents of the seaside town of San Clemente to run for their lives, actually sounded them.

So we had to suspend the drill to allow the the public information officers from San Clemente and SONGS to put together a news release telling the residents of San Clemente that, no, they did not need to evacuate. I imagined the release's headline: NEVERMIND; OUR BAD.

Not sure what the FEMA man with the clipboard thought of this, but it certainly made the day more interesting. And now we are prepared for the event of the nuclear power plant's alarm going off when it's not supposed to.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Meow Small Now

Last night Smokey came home from Daddy Waas and on the way he peed in his carrier in Daddy's New Car. Daddy was mad.

But not as mad as Smokey when Mama put him in the bath to wash off all the pee.

Natalie watched from the doorway, handing me the baby shampoo - No More Tears! - and then the camera. Her lip was quivering.

"What's wrong, honey?"

She shook her head. Her eyes welled.

"My meow small now," she said.

"Yes, but he isn't hurt," I told her. "He just doesn't like the water."

I toweled off Smokey and he ran into the dining room, where he hid under a chair.

He then spent the next four hours licking himself.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Being Here

Too often my head is down. Dinner, dishes, bath, bed. Breakfast, dishes, school and work. I check my watch. I tell Natalie to hurry.

"Quickly, please!" I say, keys in hand, shifting from one foot to the other as she stops to inspect a leaf, or search the trees and power lines for the bird whose singing she hears.

This movie, made by Natalie's dad, made me stop.

And now I remember what I often forget. That no chores, no routine, is more important than what's right in front of me, if I'd only look up.