Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shop Talk

When I am in Boston, I shop. It is not that I am lacking for the exact same stores at home, but I am usually in Boston during holiday sales and there is no sales tax on clothing. So even though I end up purchasing additional luggage to lug the items back across the country, in my mind the thrill of acquiring masses of clothes in a short period makes the new luggage (which rarely seems to be on sale at the same time as the clothing) seem like a savvy investment, rather than an economic anomaly.

Of course, shopping while on vacation is a bad idea for so many reasons, most obviously because time away from my real life means I am not experiencing my real life. Halter tops, sequined headbands, platform wedges, all things I would never be caught dead in back home look charmingly exotic. Yes, I think, looking at the people around me at leisure in their leisure garb, maybe I am a hat person. Why not an embellished top? Look how cute that woman looks with that flower barrette. Maybe I have an inner Rachel Zoe clamoring to express herself.

Another challenge is that my real life is in a completely different culture and climate as my leisure shopping outings. The Boston sale racks in late December boast amazing deals on wool jackets and wool sweaters and wool dresses and wool scarves and wool coats. Not only do I live in a place where it rarely dips below 70 degrees farenheit, but I am exceedingly warm blooded. I don't need much of a prompt to share the story of how I spent an entire New York winter with just a cotton cardigan. Of course, I had a closet full of coats and cashmere sweaters and scarves--I was a sale hoarder back then, too--but buying clothes and wearing clothes are two completely different issues. In fact, one of my few memories of college involves buying a Claude Montana taffeta wrap top at John Wanamaker in Philadelphia because it was marked down more than $1250 dollars! I don't know what business I had as an 18-year-old freshman spending $150 on a couture top that I literally never took the tags off of, but I think many of my thrifty sisters out there might understand the excitement of that score.

This past week, the urge to splurge was back, but in a modified "I have kids and a mortgage" way. I was sifting through the sales racks at Saks and found a Tory Burch dress that was in a decidedly un-Tory-like print (a good thing) and made in my favorite indestructible silk fabric, the type that looks and feels like 1970s double-knit polyester, but really is pure silk. It was a size too small, and, truthfully, I never wear dresses (although I had bought two the day before). But it was more than $200 off and maybe I could wear a Spanx and start rotating silk dresses into my wardrobe for work. In the old days, I would have grabbed it and bought it without even trying it on--what a deal!--but now that I am an adult with an occasional handle on my impulse-control issues, I used a self-talk strategy that I vaguely recall hearing about at a continuing-education seminar, and reminded myself that if I suddenly wore a silk dress to work, rumors would fly that I am job-hunting (which I am not), which would make me anxious and cause me to overeat, resulting in me having even less of a chance of squeezing into the Tory. The dress stayed on the rack. 

Earlier in the day, I was shopping at one of my favorite stores, Anthropologie. My husband recently read me a passage from an hysterically snarky book about my demographic sisters and brothers describing Anthropologie's offerings as looking vintage but being brand-spanking new; looking handmade, but being mass produced; and, best of all, giving the shopper the feeling that has searched through an estate sale, but without the annoyance of not having one's size in stock. People like me apparently love this aesthetic and I have to say the writer totally nailed me on this one.   

Anyway, I was busy pulling all sorts of delicate asymmetrical cardigans and funky patterned A-line skirts off the shelf when a salesperson introduced herself as the personal shopper and began advising me on how to wear a dress I was studying backwards for a chic-er effect. Typically, salespeople avoid me like the plague because, despite having a lovely engagement ring and a relatively significant purse, I also tend to be texting with one hand while attempting to balance a cup of coffee with my other hand. I think salespeople don't want to be responsible for cleaning up the mess they fear I will inevitably make. And I can't say I blame them. I still cringe at the memory of adjusting an enormous Coach purse on my shoulder at a Crate and Barrel and accidentally knocking over a display of wine glasses.  

So, this very thin and effortlessly accessorized woman continued to offer me advice, even after I shuffled into the dressing room. Anthropologie has the annoying practice of writing the shopper's own name on the fitting room door in dry marker. I will admit to giving false names in the past and then not being able to figure out which room was mine. This stunt also backfires for me at Starbucks, and at Radio Shack, when I make up a random zip code when they ask to input one into their system. Now, if the personal shopper had gotten any read at all on my aesthetic by the way I was dressed and groomed that day, she would have known that any suggestion of adding a shrug or belt to a potential outfit would be enough for me to put a kibosh on the purchase. Of course, if I were to imagine myself as a shrug person or someone with belts hanging on the back of my closet door, I very well might have scooped up the cream-colored wool dress that I would never wear because it is not dark, it is wool, and it is a dress. But I can be a contrarian at times, especially if in order to try anything on I have to first peel of various layers of cardigans and jackets and heavy leather boots. My rule is I have to have at least three items to try on to make it worth disrobing. I had at least a half a dozen items, all utterly incompatible with my real life and, even on sale, not exactly free. So I have to thank the personal shopper for her words of wisdom; she saved me from myself.  

Sleep Over (Threesome)

When my husband is out of town, or I travel alone with my children, they both sleep with me. Actually, they don't sleep with me as much as sleep on me.

I don't have any statistical proof to support this claim, but I would venture to say that my children are the most active sleepers who have ever existed. It is as though they view the mattress as a trampoline, and this is when they are asleep. My son is a flipper, who systematically rolls from one side of the bed to the other, leaving me with at least two appendages hanging off the side of the bed, My daughter's feet and head spend equal time on the pillow, but not as much time as they do on my pelvis. When I try to roll her bowling ball of a head off me, she instinctively holds on to my leg for dear life. And for a kid who has a precarious hold on her crayons, she manages to have a Vulcan death grip on my leg.

Part of the problem may be that both children has their own queen size mattress in their bedrooms, so they are used to being able to stretch and be free at night. This is not from any sort of parenting or sleep-training philosophy. Rather, it is a byproduct of our "Craig's List Concept." Having moved not only cross-country but within the same city seven times since we were married, including four times in a recent two-year stretch, we have become well-acquainted with the demographic who buy and sell used furniture on Craig's List. When making a long-distance move, time is of the essence, and we are not the types to pre-plan and make diagrams of where things will go in the new residence, so a mattress has to be flexible enough to work in an room of the house. In fact, when we moved back to LA from NY, we rebought essentially the same furniture we had sold on Craig's List just the year before. And this included three queen size mattresses. I know one is not supposed to buy used mattresses, but remember this was before the bedbug trend that is now sweeping the nation. And I swear we never removed the "Do Not Remove" tag on any of the mattresses.

My husband is taking a long trip this summer and we decided that we will bite the bullet and buy a king size mattress so that I will not have to suffer the trauma and injury of getting squished, pushed and pummeled in queen-sized quarters with my children. Not that I really think a bigger bed will solve the problem, because I have come to the conclusion that I am a maternal magnet and my children's cold limbs (did I mention my daughter's freezing feet??), nose-tickling hair, and heavy heads will still be dead weight in the dead of night.

Friday, December 24, 2010

ET: Skype Home

Not too long ago, my son asked me if we had electricity when I was young. Yes, I assured him, why was he asking? Well, he explained, I know you didn't have a cell phone or Wii, so I thought maybe you didn't have electricity.

Although I may not be a spring chicken, I am not such a miracle of nature that I waited almost 100 years until I began having children. But he had a point. It is hard to imagine what life was like before all the technology we have today. Sure, Atari and Pong were awesome in their day (and still rule!), but it is truly hard to imagine how my children would stay abreast of the latest baseball statistics or hone their hand-eye coordination without the advances of the last few decades.

We are decidedly backward in some basic ways--our largest television is 21 inches and I have to plug my Ipod into the casette deck of my car to play it while driving. However, generally I embrace gadgets, some years going through two or three Blackberries, and happy to remote control pretty much anything. And I will admit that a perfect day would be one holed up in a room with food and a TV and only communicate with the world through texting.

One of our favorite technological advances is Skype. Love Skype. The only drawback is the fact that there may be an expectation that one be groomed and presentable before clicking on the "video" icon. Our family has been known to Skype each other from different rooms in the house and, trust me, our home isn't that big. This practice caused confusion when my husband actually Skyped from China and my daughter thought daddy was calling from the next room and wasn't interested in talking. And it sure beats having to dial long series of numbers and attempt to communicate with hotel desk staff in foreign tongues. And my husband, who travels to Asia semi-frequently, has a name that is especially hard to communicate in Asian cultures.

But, I have moments when I long for the clunky electronics of my youth, especially the telephone. I distinctly remember the first time I discovered how cool it was to talk to someone on the phone. It was third grade and my friend Debbie and I exchanged phone numbers (only five digits in those days) and as soon as we got home from school, I went into our home office, closed the door, and called her. We talked for probably about an hour, recapping the day that we had experienced only minutes before. Actually, the entire time wasn't spent talking; I put the handset down on the desk for long periods of time: to go to the bathroom, get a snack, and to remind my family several times not to bother me because I was on the phone (everyone was busy doing their own things and no one cared).

This was in the day of the rotary phone, where you had to stick your finger in the hole of the number and drag it around until you were blocked by a little metal doodad. There was a lot of strength and precision required, because if you didn't rotate the dial all the way, the wrong number would register. And to do this five, eight or 11 times without error was quite a feat. You also had to actually have the phone number memorized, or neatly written down, since there was no re-dial or stored phone numbers at that time. I remember once trying to dial during a blackout and counting each hole to complete the phone number, as if I were reading Braille. 

As I became telephonically more sophisticated, I reveled in the possibilities of dialing "O" or 411 for information. The excitement of being able to talk to someone on demand was mind-boggling. My summer friend Michelle and I spent hours trying to call Donny Osmond by attemptng to outsmart the information operator. We would call 411 and sound like we were in a great hurry, explaining that Donny asked us to call him, but we had misplaced his phone number. He would be annoyed if the operator did not pass along his information. It never worked, of course. After discovering 411, when I went to visit my grandparents in another state, the first thing I did was run to the phone to see if 411 worked there too. It did. Cool. Really cool. 

In high school, my friend Sara and I took the Donny ruse a step farther. We were devotees of another bygone bit of telephonic machinery: the pay phone. We were (and still are) big baseball fans, and during Red Sox home games, we would sneak into the pay phone at school and call the hotel where the visiting team would stay. In our most official-sounding teenage voices, we would ask the hotel receptionist to put us through to players on the visiting team. Unbelievably, it worked almost every time. One time I said I was Reggie Jackson's agent and needed to be connected to him; the front desk clerk may have wondered why Jackson's agent sounded like she was 14, but didn't question it. Jackson probably would have been hip to us, except as soon as we got connected, we both dissolved into giggles and had to hang up.

Sadly, those days are long behind us. But on the balance, I have to say I prefer having the ability to immediately spring thoughts on an unsuspecting person with a text, or wait until I have time to thoughtfully respond to an email. I have a very old friend (from rotary phone days) who is sophisticated in all ways except communication technology. She communicates by calling--imagine that!--but is in a different timezone, with a different work schedule, and kids with different sleep habits. So we play phone-email tag: I email, she returns the email with a call, I return her call with an email. Between her voicemails and my emails, I suppose we piece together the details of each other's lives. Hopefully a new old-school/new-school gadget will come along soon so we can really catch up with each other.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Social Work

I have liked almost every job I have ever had. I've scooped ice cream, worked at a movie theatre, toiled in a newsroom, did triage in a hospital. Spending a structured day with people with whom you have things in common, your own computer, business cards, a lunch room with a microwave... and they pay you for this too? It's like kindergarten with a 401(k).

I have felt genuine sadness upon leaving almost every job and have only left places of employment when relocating out of state. By choice, not because the company's legal counsel suggested I do so.... Although I easily grow weary of the inevitable technological and bureaucratic quirks of a workplace--such as calls that must routed through a Tetris-playing receptionist, or computer passwords that expire with no warning--for the most part, I love the quasi-social environment of the workplace.

The mental health field, my chosen line of work, is a profession where we frown upon so-called "dual-relationships," meaning that it is an ethical faux pas for your stockbroker or spouse to also be your patient. While this does not really apply to office interactions, since it would be more than a little awkward to set up a Victorian fainting couch in a cubicle to provide psychoanalysis during lunchbreak. But how cool would one of those Oriental-rug-draped sofas look amidst my government-issued simulated woodgrain filing cabinets?

This separation of church and state aspect of the workplace is easy and, frankly, part of what makes the office such an interesting place to be around. When I was just out of college, my coworkers were my demographic clones, and it was obvious that we would work together, spend lunch break talking about people at work who were not our demographic doppelgangers, and finish the day be emailing each other from our adjoining cubicles to plan what we would do after work. The hours where we were not physically inside of the office, we were meeting and greeting our college friends at trendy bistros (lunch) and bars (after work).

However, once I was no longer at the bottom of the barrel paying career dues with my prep school peers, I was pleased to see that I had passed the grown-up test and was deemed capable of mixing with people with a large variety of ages, interests, training, background, tastes, styles--everything from Type A to Z. In addition to hearing their points of view at office meetings, trainings, or elevators, I also learned about gallbladder operations, Quinceanera parties, IRS audits, and grandchildren's stints in rehab. When I asked other coworkers if they were aware of various disclosures that had been shared with me, they usually were not, even those who had worked in the office for many more years. The reason for the sharing of these coffee-machine confidences with me? My theory is I have a perpetually perky facade, honed at an all-girls' school, or perhaps I reek of the scent of being a captive audience--the smell of my palpable fear of being rude by cutting off their stories. I usually have no personal reference point for many of the anecdotes that are shared with me. I often feel like an imposter, trying not to be identified as an elitist interloper, or a clueless coworker. But I like to ask questions, can nod on cue and have a natural un-Botoxed furrowed brow that can convey an intense interest in the topic at hand. I appreciate that the security guard at work and the woman in the chart room have deemed me worthy to share their secrets. But the beauty of a workplace is there is no expectation that the relationship will expand beyond these extended pleasantries.

Come to think of it, there has only been one job that had an office vibe that was so inhospitable, even I was not able to make the best of it. Doors were slammed shut. Sarcasm reigned at meetings. And, for a reason I still cannot fathom, there was a timeclock to punch in and out, even though we were all on salary and often were at morning and evening meetings off-site. This workplace was so toxic that approximately 12 of my colleagues left within a six-month window of my departure. Although I consider myself to be a model coworker and team member, my ego is not so inflated that I assume their leaving was contingent upon my departure. I remember the day I knew it was time to shop the old resume around. The CEO, who interestingly was married to the COO (it was that kind of company), apparently was not happy with me, and pinpointed his displeasure with my performance thusly: "You smile too much. Why do you smile so much?" True story. Left the company. And lived happily ever after.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I have always lived in old homes. Even when faced with the opportunity to live in a new dwelling, I have always opted for the space that has hosted many occupants before me and, presumably, will continue this pattern until the property is condemned or turned into a Starbucks.

In addition to the intrigue of living in the same place that a mysterious person once inhabited, there always seems to be something magical to discover about an old home. One house we lived in when I was young, a foreboding brick Victorian house that was equally unapproachable during the day as it was at night. Daytime guests' cars routinely took ominous plunges down our moutainous front lawn, and a skittish alarm system tested even the most seasoned deliverypeople; in the years we lived there, I don't believe we ever had a trick-or-treater. But it seemed the home's previous owners, an elderly couple who had lived there for half a century, were some sort of amateur inventors who left a series of pulleys and gadgets in the garage. Also, an antique Oriental rug with a deep red medallion--a rug that made such an impression on me that I swear someday I will decorate a room around such a carpet, if I ever find one that does the long-since-discarded original justice.

I remember being early school-age and going with my parents to look at a summer home they had just bought. The house itself didn't make an impression at the time, but to this day I can recall the thrill of finding a handful of dimes and quarters in the basement. This bounty also came with tremendous guilt, wondering if the homesellers were aware the money was there, and would they want the house back if they knew about the riches hidden in its basement?

In my adult life, my residences have also proven to be serendipitous. After college, a roommate and I sublet a pre-War-era Manhattan apartment from a staid divinity school professor. His professional reputation was such that his name was known even in those pre-google and wikipedia days. Well, no sooner did we move in that we discovered his decidedly unstodgy side, thanks to the heavily smoke-stained walls that were revealed as soon as his artwork was removed, some paraphernalia on the private roofdeck, and the interesting array of magazines that continued to be delivered for months after his departure.

The first apartment my husband and I rented after we got married, a renovated historic building near the National Zoo, provided us with some confusion because the previous tenant's name was an extremely unusual combination of my husband's and my last names put together. And the first name was Angel, making it seem as if our union was being spiritually sanctioned on the fifth floor in Woodley Park during the Clinton administration.

Several years ago, while on sabbatical, we rented a Brownstone in Brooklyn from a family who were on leave in Europe. This enormous 19th-century home was filled with legacies left for us by the traveling owners: a mold-filled shower and flea-infested sofa. Thanks!

More recently, we moved to our current house which we purchased from a family (with children the exact same age) who decided to move across the street. And our next-door neighbors turned out to include a mother-son dyad whom I had met at my very first Mommy-and-Me class eight years earlier--when we both lived in completely different places. My daughter asks me on a regular basis to tell her about the person who built our house back in the 1920s. I am as intrigued as she is to see what I may find.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Harry Notter

Shortly after my son was born, I was in a thrift store rummaging through the book section. We are one of those families that donates a lot of our old stuff to thrift stores at the end of December for a tax write-off... but I am one of those people who immediately longs for the lost items and buys more than we donated at the very same store. One time at a yard sale to benefit my son's school, I inadvertently bought back several of the exact things we had donated for the sale.

Well, that day I was looking for children's books. This is more of a challenge than one would think if you are someone like me who begins to sneeze at the first unceremonious appearance of dust or dank. Browsing for semi-intact Golden Books at an urban Goodwill can really only be done with the Claritin handy.

As I was squelching the urge to categorize and alphabetize the haphazardly arranged tomes, I came upon a pristine hardcover copy of one of the Harry Potter books. This was a number of years ago, just as Harry Potter was beginning to be the big sensation it became, and I remembered seeing a news story with hoards of pre-teen kids--including many bespectacled boys--camped out at midnight at Barnes and Noble to get the newest HP book. Hmmm, I thought, I guess this is a book that my son will like when he is older. I envisioned myself sitting by a fireplace reading chapter after chapter of Harry Potter to my enthralled son. I pictured how the flickering of the flames would distort my shadow on the wall to make it resemble the ghostly characters that I imagined lurked in the pages of the book. The volume was $2. The price on the book jacket was $25. Wow, this was not only an investment, but a deal....

My Harry Potter prophesy proved to be as prescient as my dinosaur, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Lego predictions: Despite an absolute certainty that my son would take to each of these with an enthusiasm worthy of my hoarding of these items, my son had no interest in any of these. But, unlike my disappointment with his blase attitude toward a full train table and brightly colored vehicles bought at the most progressive of toy stores, when I finally got around to reading the first page of the Harry Potter book, I realized I had dodged a major, seven-volume, bullet.

First of all, I'll let you in on a little secret. When I purchase books for my pre-literate children, I review them for ease of reading aloud. That is code for short and sweet. I once made the mistake of buying a perfectly lovely book chronicling a Thai woman's attempt to protect her baby from the native animals. The damned book went through the exact same saga of the mother shooing away monkeys, water buffalo, gray mice, finishing each verse with the same rhyme... fine for the first two or three animals, but by the time the elephant came stomping by 35 pages later... well, you see the problem. So books get the yea or nay based on the syllable:picture ratio. The fewer words, the more pictures, the better. 

So when I picked up the Harry volume several years later and was already baffled by the first paragraph, I knew my fantasy of gathering the family for  Dickensian book-reading night was not gonna happen.  I confess to having been an English major at an East Coast college where liberal arts were deadly serious, and writing an appropriately verbose thesis on Samuel Richardson's use of the epistolary conceit in Clarissa, and an intricate deconstruction of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. However, in the years since the reality of family life, politics, fluctuating economies, and planes crashing into buildings, my interest in all things fictional has vanished. My patience for make-believe is limited to playing dolls with my daughter or being silly with my son. 

Speaking of my son, whose well-being I had in mind when purchasing the fantasy novel years ago, he seems to have inherited the practical academic approach that his parents embody. While some of his peers gravitate to the other-worldly stories of Harry and his friends, my son seeks out the very grounded  world of sports and the facts that are part of the territory. He roots for some teams that have had their share of hard knocks, similar to the unlikely heros of a Harry Potter book. Yes, even the practical, fantasy-averse suspend their disbelief from time to time. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Portion Control

For the past few months, I have had the good fortune to have my weekday take-out lunch assembled by a particularly heavy-handed worker at the assembly-line style restaurant, Chipotle. This has meant my daily salad has included more than the average dollops of roasted chili-corn salsa, shredded vegetable-based rennet cheese, and sustainably raised chicken. A coworker who frequents a different Chipotle branch (and, hence, has never experienced the topping-overload from my unselfish server), informed that her location normally charges extra for especially hearty helpings. I’ve hit the jackpot with this plastic-gloved altruist who the manager has entrusted with doling out the cubes of pepper adobo steak, naturally raised pork carnitas, slowly braised barbacoa (no idea what that is), and fajita vegetable toppings. Too bad he doesn’t wear his Chipotle-issued nametag so I could properly credit him for his largesse.

I actually didn’t pay too much attention to the heft of my salad toppings until a few weeks back, when I opened my salad at my desk to find it to be limp and concave, as though its very soul of chicken chunks had been extracted and replaced with a mere spattering of foul morsels. I had grown accustomed to mounds of marinated chicken, smoky pinto beans, and tomatillo-green chili salsa; now, a sad pothole of romaine lettuce mocked me from the take-out container.

Last week, my salad savior was still not at his station, causing me great pains, hungerwise. One day he was at the cashier station, which did me no good at all. Later in the week, not anywhere to be seen. I considered specifically requesting his ingredient-scooping services, to see if maybe he had been relegated to pork-chopping or lettuce-shredding duty. But not only was I intimidated by the fast assembly-line pace of the environmentally sensitive fastfood chain, I couldn’t quite figure out what to ask and whom to ask. I rehearsed various scenarios in my head: “Excuse me,” I would ask the tortilla warmer/rice scooper (first in the assembly line), “Is the guy who sometimes works the chicken/cheese/salsa shift available to service my order?” The Chipotle I habituate has workers from all over the world, so my internal rehearsals usually involve me repeating the same request several times, getting louder and making more dramatic hand-gestures with each attempt, while the restaurant goes silent, E.F Hutton-style.

Probably if I had never experienced the glory of a salad that weighs more than a newborn, I wouldn’t have thought the more recent version of my $6.42 salad to be deficient in any way. But, knowing that it has indeed been possible to make virtuous salad-eating into an extreme sport, I just wish I could experience that roughage high just one more time…..

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Meet the New Shirt... Same as the Old Shirt

I wear black. Black shirts, black sweaters, black shoes, black watch. I have so many black tops that I feel compelled to explain to my coworkers that each day's shirt, despite appearing to be identical to the one worn the day before, is in fact a different and (usually) recently laundered piece of clothing.

I also own many black skirts that vary slightly in cut and fabric, but I have to give myself props for usually wearing a pattered or colored bottom with the black shirts. OK, to be entirely truthful, I will only buy patterned bottoms if black appears somewhere in the actual pattern itself to assure indisputable coordination. Some say everything goes with black.. I say nothing goes better with black than more black. I also buy in bulk. If a pair of faux croc leather kitten heels are in my size and on sale, I'll buy three pairs. My clothing is so interchangeable that one day this summer I actually went to work wearing two different shoes. Granted, only a trained connoisseur of Banana Republic pointy-toed flats would have known the difference--one had a patent flower, and the other a patent curlicue affixed to it.

To my credit, I have ventured into the blue territory, taken a turn into grays, and even dabbled in browns. I remember in my 20s wearing an ensemble of a J Crew chocolate brown linen button down and J Crew chocolate brown linen pencil skirt. I looked like a preppy UPS delivery person. And this was in the days before UPS went public and the employees became overnight millionaires. I was ahead of my time. Just last week I was all ready to finish off an ensemble of brown top, and brown and pink spotted silk skirt (cuter in person) with some adorable brown woven Mary Janes from Anthropologie. Love those shoes. Or rather, loved those shoes. I had one shoe on, ready to run out the door when I realized I couldn't find the other. My theory is that my husband--in his annual end-of-year sweep of the closet in search of items to donate for a tax write-off--scooped the other Italian leather marvel into a Goodwill-bound bag. Hopefully a one-legged (preferably left) person who wears a size 9 1/2 B shoe will enjoy my footwear.

When my son was born, I attempted to live on the wild side by dressing him in little patterned sweaters or multicolored shoes (again, cuter in person). I had brightly colored blankets, colorful crib sheets. If I was the dark, monochromatic minimalist, my son was the bold, lively fauvist.

So imagine my confusion when he announced he only wanted to have "blue things," in honor of the blue Power Ranger (his favorite at the time). Blue dishes, blue blanket, blue toys and, alas, blue clothing. In fact, for four or five years, I can only recall him not being dressed in blue one time:  I was away and my husband took my son to sit on Santa's lap and dressed him in an old (i.e. pre-blue fixation) outfit consisting of a solid red shirt and solid red pants; the picture consisted of a child's head and puffy white beard as the only relief from the sea of red.  For years, I had to study every prospective purchase to ensure that its blue-to-other-color ratio was correct, lest the item be rejected. This was not a battle I was going to pick, or else I would be waving the blue... I mean white... flag within hours. Children and their preferences are just not forces with which to be reckoned.

My daughter gravitated toward pink with even more of a vengeance than my son's obsession with blue. Being very detail-oriented, she specified that she prefers "light pink" over the hue's darker counterpart. Unfortunately, this preference was voiced after tags were removed and receipts lost for a stash of new magenta- and fuchsia-colored clothing. To make matters worse, she would only wear dresses. Not skirts, not culottes, not tunics, just dresses. For a few years, only Hanna Andersson striped "It's a Play Dress, It's a Day Dress" dresses. And only ones with pink stripes, or pink with a coordinating stripe. I became so accustomed to hoarding these dresses (which can only be ordered online), that I had stockpiled them in sizes for years to come, only to have her abruptly announce she no longer liked stripes, and only wanted to wear flower or heart clothing. And to go with these patterned dresses, red sequined ruby slippers (just like Dorothy!); yes, she owns so many pairs that she occasionally literally follows in the footsteps of her mother and wears an unmatching pair. Two lefts are her favorite combination.

A few weeks ago, I mixed it up by wearing a striped shirt (yes, with black stripes mixed among the other colors), with a black skirt and black shoes. I went to pick my son up at his after-school program. I saw him way across the playground and waved, as I do every day. But this time it took more energetic motioning, along with bellowing his name several times. When he finally stopped what he was doing and came to me, I asked what took so long. He told me that he hadn't recognized me wearing so much color.