The Unfinished Sympho-Me

There is no domestic carnage like that wrought by a stir-crazy stay-at-home Mom who has decided to “fix X for once and for all.”

I should know that undertaking any plan that could be described as a “final solution” is a bad idea, and yet, I keep doing it. Worse, I keep beginning new such projects in cascading fashion, leaving an erratic, tornadic trail of devastation in my wake. (Newscaster voice: “Residents tonight are asking themselves, why did she dump out both sock drawers, but leave the underwear drawer untouched? And worse–will she be back?”)

I am fully aware of my tendencies, and yet I tend them anyway. I tend SO HARD. I can be making fun of myself in my head for doing something ridiculous and I still do it! Because I want to! Yesterday, I found my little paws sorting my jewelry, none of which I ever wear, into things to sell, give away, or keep never wearing. Why? Because in the fist few pages of the new issue of Real Simple, the cover of which is this:

Real Simple cover

Ahem, li’l judgy…


I saw an anecdote about a woman who was happy she’d done just this–sort, sell, give away. Now, did I read any more of this magazine? Have I read any of the other magazines I subscribed to a few weeks ago when I was in a weird mood and missing work and thought I would do a neat “investigation” of Mom Culture that included reading such magazines and writing about them? Have I mounted the pretty gold magazine holder rack I found a few months ago and leaned against the garage wall sort of obstructing the door so that the inconvenience would remind me to hang it every time I did laundry, aka several times a day?

No. No to everything. No to all.

And how did the jewelry thing go?


Why yes, that is the Adult ADHD Tool Kit.


Toby sez, “Even for you, man…”


“…Even for you.”

So yeah. Failing to finish what I start is a pretty strong trait. Amateurs might need denial to keep performing their sub-optimal behaviors, but us old pros. We can look that flaw right in the face and say, “YUP! That’s me. You nailed it. Nailed… I shouldlearn woodworking!”

It’s important to note that I do not like disorder. It brings me a lot of discomfort, actually. I’m a homebody, and my environment both influences and reflects my state of mind. So I can become calmer and saner by cleaning up, but I can also be deranged a bit by being sunk into a chaotic environment. Chicken and egg are symbiotic. Which means that when I go around tossing my three rooms like a warden at Shawshank, I am both making things worse for my brain and, probably, reflecting a level of disorder already happening upstairs, so to speak.

The madness if not without method. The alternative to chaotic upheaval is an acceptance of the million papercuttish Wrong Things that my eye registers day after day as I wander my three rooms. The magazine rack for example, is a papercut–a little mental wince each time I see it. It’s the home equivalent of a coworker who regularly sighs when you do something, but when you ask what’s wrong, she says, “Nothing….” Imagine your house saying that.

(The flip side of this is that the answer to “what’s wrong?” in this case really is “nothing.” No one else cares if the bathroom remain painted a fleshy pink, dimpled like cellulite and glossy like a cafeteria wall–no one but me. In fact, no one cares that I have repainted the bathroom a deep, luminous blue only as high as I can reach. Blue for a good while and then beige again. This matters to no one. Nothing I do to the house matters. That fact good for my angst over unfinished projects but bad for my general sense of purpose.)

Oh hey, I have to stop now. Maybe I can finish this later. Ha! So thematic!



One of the most damaging ideas I ever internalized, and that still has roots so deep and strong that it makes me feel like I’m trying to deny reality when I fight to uproot them, is that there is a life I’m “supposed” to be living, a me I’m “supposed” to be, and I am constantly succeeding or failing at having that life. I obsess about forks big and small: I should have sold that book proposal in 2007 (no, I shouldn’t have; that wasn’t a book I needed to write, just one I could have written, but I want my career to reflect things I really care about) (yes, obviously you should have sold it, there’s nothing about having published one kind of book that makes it impossible to do another kind, no matter what’s “optimal” for the “marketplace,” and besides, what does your book list reflect now? nothing, because no book has been perfect enough, you jag); I should be typing something different with these unknown number of minutes I have during which Benji is satisfied by lying alone in his crib looking at his mobile (make the most of this–which of the million entries you’ve started writing in the last week do you want actually to commit?) (indecision is the stupidest way you could use this time) and so on. I have spent years not doing things because I was sure there was a Right way to do them and I was sure if I just thought about it and worried about it hard enough, I could do them the Right way and, I don’t know, avert disaster, embarrassment, mistakes? Please the gods? You may be saying to yourself, well, everyone does that. No but guys my shit is pathological. I am sitting here hoping the baby will cry so I don’t have to tell you this embarrassing story from college illustrating how pathological.

Omigod he just started whining. That’s hilarious. I can control all things with my mind.

(My mind right now: Why are you writing about your indecision? Why don’t you use this time to go work on one of the two books you’ve done so much research for and will someday look back and say, “Man, I should have just written those”? God you’re dumb.

Me, to my mind: You are a _terrible_ steward of your omnipotence.)

Okay, he chilled out, so long story short, when I was in college, I got obsessed with this young (white) British man who’d grown up in Kenya and become a photographer and kept these very elaborate, beautiful, detailed collage diaries of his travels. Well he and his friends were just dicking around through Africa in a jeep one of the many times they did this and they ran across the victims of the Somali famine which European media hadn’t begun covering yet. He was horrified of course and started working for Reuters and his diaries got much darker, like you’d expect, and then one day some European military force of some kind bombed a house that held a beloved local leader and Dan–that was his name, Dan Eldon–was present and white and, understandably, the horrified and grieving townsfolk stoned him to death. He was almost 22. His mother then compiled his diaries into an art book and published it and I found it when I was home for my Christmas break in December 1998 and folks, I just weren’t the same after that.


Oh hey Benji isn’t messing around now. I’ll have to continue this later. But since I promised myself I had to publish whatever I wrote when I wrote it, uh… sorry! To be continued!

Chanel No. 2

Someone made this room smell terrible.

It might have been the baby, the husband, or the cat, but it definitely wasn’t me. And yet I, the only sure innocent, am also the only victim.

Everyone else is sleeping. Some part of their brains must be conscious of this olfactory assault, but, rightly or wrongly, it has been deemed less than life-threatening. So they snooze on, as this rich, full-bodied aroma settles heavily around us like a dewy morning fog. This biotic perfume. This intestinal memory. It’s layered and complex, with a deep, loamy base, sharp, sparkling top notes, and an unsettling tendril of sweetness running through the middle. For a few minutes, it’s all I can smell–or hear, or see, for that matter. A fart so vivid that gives you mild synesthesia. A fart unto itself. A fart for the ages.

Just to be safe, I’m blaming Jeffrey.


First Words

I’ve never understood why a baby’s first word is assumed to be “mama” or “dada.” I get that it’s a repeating syllable, but those aren’t even close to being the words he hears most often, and Benji’s babble, which is elaborate in pitch, syllabic diversity and dynamic range, rarely repeats. He doesn’t go “ba ba ba.” He goes, “BeeeeYOOOOOvvvvvvvvvvvv(gutteral monster growl.) BAV! Err, namunbawn-bunnbrrrrrrrrrrr….. GEOWA!”

It’s quite cute. Sometimes it even sounds like he’s said a phrase appropriate to the circumstances, like when he asked the other night, “How’re you?” Which is of course something we ask him a lot. Jeffrey and I looked at each other and back at the baby and I said, “….Fine?” But I’m sure it was accidental. Probably.

I do wonder though if his first word or phrase will be something he’s heard often. If that’s the case, here are some likely candidates.


  1. Awww.
  2. I love you.
  3. C’mere, you.
  4. Bless you! (he sneezes a lot)
  5. Who’s my little guy?
  6. That’s okay, I can wash it.
  7. Where’s Benji? (peek-a-boo edition)
  8. Where’s Benji???? (panicked edition)
  9. I’ll be right back. Don’t freak.
  10. I said I’d be right back!
  11. Somebody’s sleepy.
  12. Somebody’s cranky.
  13. Somebody needs to snuggle down.
  14. Somebody needs to come home right this minute.
  15. Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?
  16. No seriously where is your father.
  17. I love you.
  18. Good fart, babe.