The Maps of My Cities

I’ve been feeling a generally sense of ennui about San Francisco lately.

And not really for all the headline reasons, even though, yes, the housing is astronomically expensive, and there are way too many homeless people and there is poop everywhere and the public transit isn’t great.

But that’s not the reason for my discontent.

In fact, I’m not even sure I can pinpoint the source of my malaise.

Other than it started with a trip to LA. Which is honestly the source of most of my ennui about San Francisco.

Pretty much every time I go to LA, I have this feeling. This feeling that LA is my home and every other place is Just. Not.

Even though I have lived in San Francisco for almost ten years and I only lived in LA for 7.

Even though I last lived in LA 11 years ago.

Even though I don’t know if I could live in a city where I had to drive every day anymore.

And yet.

Every time I go to LA, I have this sense of knowing. Of knowing this city, MY CITY, better than any other city. I have so many maps of LA in my head. As my friend and I drove through the city a few weeks ago, I found myself remembering all the random bars, the coffee shops, the restaurants, the paper stores, the malls, the beaches, the studio lots, the yoga studios, the casting offices, the bagel shops, and my old friends the 101 and the 405.

And then it hit me.

I don’t know where the playgrounds are.

Surely that can’t be, I thought furiously. I must have been to A Playground in LA.

I struggled. WERE there playgrounds in LA? There MUST be playgrounds in LA.

Finally, triumphantly, I pulled up two from the recesses of my brain. One in Silverlake and one near Redondo Beach, though don’t actually ask me to navigate to it. I just know it exists.

By contrast, my map of San Francisco contains copious numbers of playgrounds. No matter the neighborhood in San Francisco, I can probably direct you to one nearby.

And for some reason, knowing that there was a way that I knew San Francisco better than LA?

It made me feel a little better about my life in San Francisco.

Because maybe my San Francisco mental map collection will never grow to rival my LA collection.

But I’ve got a pretty badass map of SF playgrounds in my brain.

And that’s got to count for something.

Even Though the Sound of it is Something Quite Atrocious

“Actually, I have an idea,” P said slowly. We were driving home and she was deep in thought. “I don’t want to be a teacher when I grow up. I want to be an actor!”

Oh boy.

In retrospect, maybe I should have seen it coming. Because you see, I was a drama kid. And a drama adult. I actually majored in drama, and spent two years pounding the pavement in LA as a wannabe actor. For a good decade of my life, I lived and breathed the theatre.

But … I didn’t really see it coming. See, P is different. She’s not … she’s not like me really. She likes LEGO. A lot. She follows each page of instructions carefully, building several hundred piece, intricate sets. She’s built houses, swimming pools, castles, police stations, ski lifts. Then, when she’s done … she sets her LEGOs on a table for display purposes and moves on.

That’s like the opposite of me as a kid. I was ALL about the pretend play. I had imaginary friends and went to an imaginary boarding school and turned just about anything into a doll so I could tell elaborate stories. I remember playing with my dad’s screwdrivers and having the small ones be the babies and the large ones be the mommy and daddy. I was born an actor and I never missed a chance to perform.

P is shy. She sits quietly. She spent years of Music Together classes just staring at all the other children as they sang and danced and ate the egg shakers.

But there were some glimpses that an inner drama kid existed in her. The way she smiled so hard when she had a dance performance at school. How she’s always loved music.

So when I went to her school auction a couple months ago and found a great deal on a musical theatre summer camp no one had bid on, I figured, why not.

The first day was hard. She threw a temper tantrum at home because she couldn’t remember her lines. Then she woke up the next morning and said she didn’t want to go back. But we gently prodded her, and she came back the second day with a big grin saying she was good. We practiced her solo, “Feed the birds,” over the next couple days.

And soon it was Friday, the day of her performance. She could barely contain her joy on stage. She remembered all the words to her song. And as soon as it was over, she begged me to do the drama teacher’s fall show.

I guess she is a little like me after all.

And honestly? It’s a little weird. Especially knowing the disappointment and heartache it brought me. I texted a friend of mine, someone who was in my acting class in college about P, and he laughed.

“The garden path to hell is paved with summer arts programming,” he texted me back.

Even though I loved theatre, maybe especially because I loved theatre, I am hesitant for her to walk this path. I want to keep her from the inevitable rejections that are part and parcel of being an actor.

But then I think about everything I gained from the theatre. Almost all of my friends. My self-confidence. My ability with public speaking. My project management skills. And my solid mom book reading skills.

And I think maybe it’ll be ok for her to be a drama kid.

It Gets Better

Tonight, at bedtime, P pulled a book off the shelf that we hadn’t read before.

“Always Anjali,” I read. This seems promising. When I was a kid, I would have killed to read a book about an Indian girl.

I start the book. Anjali is a seven year old girl who gets a bike for her birthday. She goes out with her friends and they decide to buy personalized license plates for their bikes. But while Courtney and Mary easily find the license plates with their names, Anjali can’t find a license plate that says Anjali.

Boy can I relate! This was one of my greatest struggles as a kid. I look at P, wondering if she related as well. “Why don’t you think they had her name,” I ask.

P looks stumped. “Maybe because she just got her bike and they didn’t know she had a bike?”

“No…” I say. Hmm, I think, P has probably never seen a rack full of personalized license plates in her life. Also, now thanks to ordering online, she has a million items personalized with her name, so she probably wouldn’t even care.

I continue reading. The kids make fun of Anjali, calling her “peanut butter an-jelly,” so Anjali decides she wants to change her name to Angie.

I look at P. “Do you ever get made fun of for your name,” I ask?

P looks at me like I have two heads. “No?” she says.

“Do you ever wish you had an American name?”

“Mama,” P says flatly. “Can you please keep READING and STOP asking me QUESTIONS?”

I finish the book. In the end, Anjali gains pride in her name and her Indian identity and makes her own super cool personalized license plate decorated with bindis.

I may have teared up.

This book would have meant SO MUCH to six year old me. Six year old me would have felt so validated by this book.

My six year old daughter? Not so much.

Because, really, she can’t relate. Half the kids in her class wouldn’t be able to find their names on a license plate. “Non-American” names aren’t weird to her and her friends. They are just … names.

Ever since P was born, I’ve wondered how she, and her generation of mixed kids, would identify. Would she feel Indian? American? Jewish? Would she feel as conflicted and confused as I did?

So far, six year old P is blissfully unaware of the struggles that my six year old self faced. She lives in a world where a guy named Barack Obama was elected president. Where half her friends are also multi-racial. Where Holi is celebrated in city parks. She lives in a world where having a unique name is just cool and not cause for teasing.

So she gets to be proud of her name and proud of her Indian heritage without any of the ugly baggage.

We finish the book and P tosses it aside and gets into her pajamas. A book, that for me, would have been a revelation, is for P, just another night of bedtime reading.

And for that, I am thankful.

Riding a Bicycle (Yadda Yadda Edition)

I saw a friend the other day, and he looked at my hand in horror.

“What happened to you?” he exclaimed.

“Oh, you know how I started riding a bike again,” I said nonchalantly. “I fell.”

“But I read your blog post!! You didn’t mention that.”

“Well it was already a long post. I have to edit some stuff out.”

He looked at me like I had yadda yaddaed out the sexy part. “You can’t just EDIT THAT OUT!”

Ok, reader. I fell off my bike.

So last you read, your heroine (that would be me because this is my blog) was riding her bike off into the sunset. But we had actually rented bikes for a ride the next day around the reservoir.

We loaded up kids, bikes, scooters, and headed a few miles away to a beautiful trail. It was the first really nice day of the summer and the trail was absolutely crawling with people.

I had been looking forward to practicing my newly remembered biking skills on a dedicated path, but I was less excited about trying to navigate around the myriad of pedestrians, joggers, stroller pushers, and bikers.

“Mama!” P shouted. “Try biking down this hill!” she demanded right at the start of the trail. “You need to learn to ride on hills!”

I looked terrified at all the people I could mow down in my wake. “Um, P, I think I’m going to just walk down this hill with the bike because there are too many people.”

Nervously, I got on my bike. My sister instructed me to go first, followed by P, and then herself at the end.

Slowly, I wobbled around the hordes, holding the handle bars with my death grip.

The first mile or so was a slog, as I tried to find my balance, avoid the crowds, and keep moving. But after a couple miles, I felt myself get the hang of it, and I told my sister and P that they could go ahead while I rode slowly by myself.

I was moving slowly and stopping and starting, which was annoying, because it meant that I would pass the same pedestrian and jogger, and then I’d stop and they’d pass me, and then I’d have to go through all the work of maneuvering into the left lane to pass them again. I was getting frustrated and trying to at least keep P and my sister in earshot, so I was pushing myself.

And so, as I tried to maneuver past the jogger, I turned a bend just as the path was sloping, lost my balance, and tore my hands and elbows up on the loose gravel.

“Are you okay?” the jogger asked quickly coming to my rescue.

I sat dazed on the ground, unable to get up. Which seemed silly. It wasn’t like I hit my head or anything. Really, all I had done was scraped some skin off of my hands and elbows.

And yet, here I was, unable to pull myself off of the gravel, bloodied and dirty.

After a few seconds, I felt more stable, and she helped me and the poor bicycle up. And we realized it was somehow twisted and we couldn’t get it turned around.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said lamely. “I don’t want to ruin your jog or anything.”

“No, no!” she said. “Here, you wait, and I’ll go try and catch up to the people you were with,” and she sped off to go find my sister.

I waited for her, my hands still bleeding, and feeling increasingly frustrated and teary. I didn’t have my cell phone so I couldn’t call anyone. I was stuck with a bike that wasn’t working and hands that were bleeding and who knew if she would be able flag down my sister. Why had she left? I thought indignantly even though I had told her to go on ahead.

But it wasn’t long until both my sister and husband found me. Between the two of them, they were able to fix the bike and help me clean up my hands with wet wipes. “Do you want me to ride the bike now?” my husband asked.

“No, I’m going to keep going!” I said.

“Really??” he asked. “Are you sure? You’re still bleeding!”

“No, I want to keep riding!” I insisted. I got back on, and closed my mind to the fact that my hands were still bleeding and hurting. I wanted to keep trying.

And you know what?

I managed to ride four more miles, mostly without incident. For a total of six miles.

When I ended, I felt pretty proud of myself. Sure, I had fallen and sure the bike handlebars were now covered in blood, but I had fallen and then GOTTEN BACK ON.

Surely that counted for something in the biking Olympics right?

“How did I do today, P?” I asked.

“You did okay,” she said, “but I can’t cross off hills or turns because they’re weren’t any, but I think I can cross off faster.”

“But what about how I fell off my bike and got back on? Doesn’t that mean I did good?” I asked.

“Yeah, but you’re still level 1,” my level-obsessed child said.

“Wait, what? I did all that, and I’m still level 1? What level are you?”

“Twelve,” she said. “If you want to get to level 2, you have to do turns, Mama.”

40

After starting this blog, I started getting kind of nostalgic, so I reread some of my old blog posts that I haven’t read in years.

And what was interesting was that it was such a weird time capsule into my life on the cusp of 30.

Ten years ago, I was living in London, preparing for exams, and wondering where in the world I would live next. The possibilities seemed infinite.

Ten years later, as I write this, my husband is watching tv downstairs, and my two kids are sleeping screaming upstairs. I have a mortgage, a job, and a place on multiple school committees. Moving across the street would involve huge amounts of work, never mind moving across the country.

I entered my thirties with a million different possibilities for how my life could go.

And I spent the decade gradually winnowing them down.

It sounds sad, doesn’t it. There’s something so romantic about millions of possible lives. About being 30 and so unencumbered that you could move to India, Washington DC, or San Francisco.

But there’s also something romantic about charting a path for yourself. For taking possibilities off the table. After all, there’s nothing like marriage to take 7.5 billion possibilities off the table.

My twenties were about growing up. About dating and having my heart broken. Getting my first real job. Buying my first car on my own. Doing my taxes without help. Grieving the loss of my father. My twenties are when I moved to LA and then to London.

My thirties were about building my life. Meeting my husband. Moving in together. Planning a wedding.

Getting pregnant. Giving birth. Breastfeeding around the clock. Never sleeping. (I don’t miss that AT ALL.)

Building my career. Becoming a manager. Developing and honing my skill set.

When you look at it that way, my thirties were a LOT of work.

Maybe that’s why when friends ask “How are you feeling about turning 40?” that I, with no hesitation say, “Awesome!”

Because I’m actually looking forward to moving on.

I’m proud of my past decade. I’m proud of the foundations I built.

And now, I hope this decade? That I get to spend a little more time on myself.

More time sleeping and zero time nursing.

More time having interesting conversations with my kids and less time cleaning up dirty diapers.

More time for dinners with friends. More time for dates with my husband. Less time feeling like I’m struggling to keep my head above water.

Getting old, it turns out, can be a blessing. I loved my twenties and thirties, but I have high hopes that my forties will be my favorite decade yet.

A Defiantly Old Timey Blog

When I first started blogging for real, it was back in 2007 when it was a thing to blog under an adorable pseudonym. Most people, unless they were blog famous, did not publish under their actual name. Any pics were likely stock images.

And yet, behind that cloak of anonymity, people were real. Blogging was a place to be honest about your struggles and your successes. A place to be brave.

Things have changed. Now, when people blog, if they even blog, it’s with a focus on imagery and style. Real names are in. Brutal honesty is out.

I don’t know what blogging is like anymore in 2019. I don’t know (tap, tap) if anyone is even here to read this. What I do know is that I need an outlet. But I don’t need an outlet to take perfect pictures.

So. Basically anyone who reads this probably knows who I am, because well, you’re probably here from my Facebook page.

But for now, I’m keeping things here simple.

Super ugly layout.

No pictures.

Just words.

Little Kids in the City

One of the things I am inordinately proud of my kids about is their city-kidness.

One time my husband and I were discussing the kids and he was somewhat lamenting our older daughter’s lack of savvy. “What would she do if she was dropped in the middle of the city?”

Of course, that’s actually the one thing our six-year-old is extremely savvy about.

“Uh, she’d be totally fine, and would immediately figure out which bus she could take home,” I said.

I was the opposite of a city kid. Of course, I grew up in the suburbs, but I also had an absent-minded personality and zero sense of direction.

P on the other hand is some sort of directional savant. One time, when she was three, as we were walking in our neighborhood she started pointing saying, “The doctor! The doctor!”

I frowned wondering what on earth she meant when I remembered that several months back Dave had dropped me at this exact corner because I had a doctor’s appointment. She had been in the car that morning and remembered.

We live in a city and have taken our kids on public transit from a young age. Some of my favorite memories from the summer R was born was of jumping on a bus with my wee newborn to a free guided walking tour of the city. But until last fall, we had a nanny who drove, and the kids were mostly transported via car to their school, their activities, or the park.

But last year, we hired an au pair who couldn’t drive, so our kids have been exclusively traveling to and from school and after-school activities by bus for the entire school year.

My younger daughter, R, has always been happy to ride the bus. “The 19! The 19!” she will yell as she sees a bus coming up the street. She often hams it up on the bus, I think, knowing that people enjoy watching the cute two-year old. She loves to see people in Warriors gear and shout, “Warriors” to get the entire bus amped up. Once she sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” loudly on a relatively quiet commute Muni, and everyone applauded her at the end.

But initially my older daughter, P, resisted the bus. It’s slow. It means more walking. The bus is sometimes unbearably crowded. Or smelly. Or both.

But lately she’s been coming round to the romance of SF Muni, such that it is.

The other day she told me excitedly that on her first week of summer vacation, she and our au pair were going to Ocean Beach. “And do you know what, Mama? We’re going to take the 48 ALL THE WAY TO THE END OF THE LINE.”

The 48 is the bus that she takes every day to go to school.

“How bout we take the N instead?” our au pair interjected.

“No!!!!!” P cried. “I really want to take the 48!”

“But the N is faster,” our au pair said reasonably.

“No. The 48.”

Maybe P was unreasonable. But I get it. There is something magical about taking your regular bus all the way to the end of the line. And if the end of the line drops you right to the Pacific Ocean? That’s some extra magic right there.