Sunday, November 16, 2014


So this past summer we had an incedent where we woke up in the morning to find beer bottles strewn around our back yard. Like all around the yard. And we have a pretty big yard. And that's not counting our two-story barn.

Anyway, we hadn't had a party in weeks, and we don't have any beer-soaked bashes that would result in bottles discarded like party favors all over our property. Casually I asked our neighbors to the north   (not Canada, but the Pena's) if they had seen any bottles flying into our yard and they shook their heads, "No, we didn't, but if the bottles are Rolling Rock, it's Jim, a renter in the house behind you. He and his buddies live on that beer."

Well, we reported it to the police because if Jim and his buddies are lobbing green glass projectiles over our fence -- where our children play -- then Jim needs a visit from The Long Arm of the Law. Turns out, the whole neighborhood has complained about Jim's dangerous and threatening behavior so recently he'd been served eviction papers by his landlord. A court date was set and he'd have been gone by now, but a temp employee at the landlord's management company accidentally cashed Jim's rent check and nullified the proceedings. Apparently you can't evict someone from a building while still collecting rent from them.

Fast forward to the action in our back yard last Wednesday. Our barn is being renovated and while Ken, our contractor was sawing and hammering, grapefruits started flying over our back fence. By the time I came out, there were about 20 and they were all the way up to the house and over the barn onto our back driveway. Some hurled so hard that they were splattered into chunks. We reported the latest projectiles and gave photos to the police.

So today, I was cleaning up the dishes from lunch when our doorbell rang. I opened the door to an anxious young woman standing on my front porch, "Hello?"

AYW: Is Hudson home?

ME: No. Can I help you?

AYW: (reading from an official-looking document) Do you know anything about someone reporting grapefruits being thrown?

ME: Oh, sure. Come on back into our yard. You can talk to Ken who was back there at the time.

I took her to our back yard and Ken told her that idea on Wednesday he'd been pelted with grapefruits until he'd moved to the safety of the barn interior.

AYW: (Turning to me) Well, we got served eviction papers, and it's not my brother.

ME: You don't say?

AYW: He's in Mexico and we don't even have a grapefruit tree.

I look over the back fence and stared at a large portion of a grapefruit tree from another neighbor's yard that not only dips into her backyard, but was heavy with grapefruits.

ME: Let's be real here. I can see where the grapefruits came from and so can you. (pointing)

AYW: Well, you need to stop construction here. My baby can't nap. I told my landlord today to make you stop.

ME: Our construction is fully permitted and going to continue for a few more weeks, but doesn't the construction over there (I point to our neighbors to the South) bother you more? They're jack-hammering and sand-blasting.

AYW: Oh yeah! They are but your work is too! You're a mother, I know you know that kids need to be able to nap.

ME: So, now that we're being real with each other, I need you to assure me that nothing else is going to be thrown over my fence and into my yard in the future.

AYW: I don't know what you're talking about since my brother's in Mexico.

ME: Maybe you know of someone else who might be responsible. Oh, say, gosh, a person who is angry about nap time noise, and resorting to violence which could result in legal issues for her...

AYW: What?! Me? No! What?! No way!?'re wouldn't think...I need to talk to your husband and tell him not to report anything else, he should come to me and I'll make sure things stop.

ME: (Peering at her closely) You could make it stop, or perhaps stop doing it, because if your brother is in Mexico...well just who are you offering as a possible culprit of the bottle-slinging and grapefruit-hurling, other than painting me a picture of postpartum citrus hysteria?

AYW: What?!

ME: You know I've got CHILDREN who play back here and to think that BOTTLES and whatever else YOU can lay your hands on have been THROWN at them is EXTREMELY SERIOUS! What did you say your name was?

AYW: What time does your husband come home?

ME: Seven.

AYW: I have to go now, but I'll come see him later.

She didn't come back. But I can just imagine that the loud music emitting from her little back apartment across the fence that I'm hearing as I type this is her brother and his Rolling Rock posse and there's no chance that her baby's getting any rest. Maybe she's threatened him with, "Jim! Don't you dare throw anything else over that fence. That woman over there thinks it's me doing it and that I'm trying to kill her kids!"

Side not: As she was leaving our other neighbor was passing by and asked what AYW was doing at our house. I told him. He replied, "Oh, well, she's a piece of work. You'll never meet anyone who feels they're more entitled -- but has never worked a day in her life. Oh, she's also dumb as dirt."

Hmmm. I've never actually heard a person described as 'dumb as dirt' but even someone that dumb has a bit of self-preservation. Perhaps nothing else will come over the fence. One can hope.


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Friday, May 17, 2013


In the year that I've had  Socrates with me as my daughter (no, I'm not counting the excruciating period of time that she was ours but still in foster care in Taiwan) I have had the deep pleasure of getting to know her. Sure, there is so much that I can't even imagine about her that is yet to be revealed, but one of the things I admire about her most is her strong spirit.

I've thought of her as my Little Lion ever since the first afternoon we had custody of her we were playing with Socks in a pool in Kaohsiung. In the pool she'd gotten splashed by her sister Ducky and had puffed up her chest and roared, "Wo shuo bu yao!" Which basically means something along the lines of, "I said I don't like that!" And she'd made her point perfectly clear to not only her sister, but every single person within earshot of the serene pool in which we paddled. Even the seemingly deaf old man dozing on the chaise lounge over by the solarium windows.

Well good for her. Socks' infancy and early childhood is murky to me. She isn't very forthcoming and doesn't seem to think about her experiences one way or the other right now. However, if she had to speak up, it was a lesson she's learned well.

Socks is a very social little 10-year-old in a 6 year-old's body. All the more surprising to hear her stand up for herself verbally. She begins most interactions with an invitation, "Would you like to ...?" and if she can't figure out what activity is preferred, she is happy to fall back on "What would you like to do?" Then she does what you want to do.

A nicely well-rounded couple of personality traits: Amenable but no push-over.

I think about my suburban upbringing and have no idea who is to blame for the fact that I wasn't taught to stand up for myself. I had wished I could be more like the black girls my age who had no problem raising their voices and telling you exactly how they expected to be treated, or specifically how they were displeased by your actions or remarks.

Well, as the little lion's mother, I can tell you that you'll know if you're pissing her off because even though she speaks English now, she's liable to drop a "bu yao" on your ass.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2013


(written for Cowbird Daily)

The process of adopting our daughters, two sisters from Taiwan, went smoothly.  Their situation in Taiwan was far from optimal, and they were separated frequently for long periods of time in foster care before we reunited them. Upon meeting our girls, their differences were stark: Socrates was a pocket-sized dynamo of energy, strength and opinions. Ducky was frail, listless and sullen. If displeased, the Socrates would make herself heard, while Ducky would silently tear up.

They've been home with us in Los Angeles for 9 months now. And while Socrates, our 9-year-old is eating up her new country with a great appetite; 11-year-old Ducky is less hungry for America. We are a global-minded household without any ‘US vs. Them’ politics, so no “You must love America the best!” messages are being considered, let alone voiced to our daughters.

In the wake of her adoption, it is natural that Ducks would feel a lot of complex emotions. And while she voices her relief to have her sister with her forever, and to have cool things like her very own iPad, as her mother, I see her deeper longing clearly. To others it’s so subtle.

Ask Ducky if she likes what she’s eating, and she will generally nod. But if given the opportunity, she will tell me that food in Taiwan is superior. While she loves music and we listen to the radio all the time, she will only cut loose and sing songs by herself in Mandarin. You’d think that may be a comfort level with English, but her English is doing just great and she has all the current the top 40 songs memorized. I believe she feels it would be cheating on her birth country if she sang American songs.

In preparation for last Thanksgiving we discussed what the holiday commemorates to Americans. Then throughout the day, she corrected people who wished her a happy 1st Thanksgiving. She'd tell them that in Taiwan, they have a Day of Thanks so this was not a 1st for her. In fact, Thanksgiving was just about Ducky’s limit with everyone commenting on her American-ness that by 8:30 p.m., when a neighbor appeared at our front door with two little apple pies she’d made for the sisters, I was a bit tense watching the exchange. Kate's hearty, “Now that you’re AMERICAN here are two apple pies on your first AMERICAN Thanksgiving. Do you know how lucky you are? You are so lucky!”  Ducky smiled wanly and replied as she reached for her pie, “We have Apple pie in Kaohsiung and Days of Thanks.” She glanced at me knowing that I completely understood her. “Do I have to eat this now?”

I don’t know how or when she'll separate from her painful attachment to everything she knew in Taiwan and come to see her memories as simply the foundation of her childhood. Right now she feels that by loving her new country she is disloyal to her old one.

Taking her to a doctor’s appointment and shopping in Beverly Hills she commented, “In Kaohsiung we have better doctors, and shopping, and food.” I barked out a laugh and squeezed her hand. “Yes Honey. Taiwan has some of the best heath care in the world; even President Obama is reviewing Taiwan’s heath care system. And we don’t have anything in Beverly Hills like you did in Kaohsiung for shopping and food.” Pleased to have my agreement she grinned, “This food is good, but they really should have a night market.” And walking hand in hand with my beautiful daughter who is getting stronger and more mature by the minute, we talked about the wonders of Taiwan’s night markets as we strolled past Fendi. She gushed, “They have best rice and soup in Kaohsiung night markets! And milk tea and softer boba!” and I giggled, “The live snakes freak me out though!”

I see her longing so clearly but I can’t erase it. As her mother, I can only witness and honor it. Then fill in all of the little spaces with love.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

THE BIG 11 and 10

Yesterday we celebrated Ducks' 11th birthday. Plus we celebrated her 10th. Last year in foster care they didn't celebrate birthdays so we sang to her twice and had 2 small cakes. She got 2 cards from lots of people and while not overdoing it, she got the feeling that even though we couldn't make up for her disappointment last year -- we acknowledged that last birthday now.

As for me, I haven't planned many parties in my life -- what with my underdeveloped social skills and all -- so jumping right in with an 11th birthday party was daunting. Kids are tough critics. And after attending only 1 birthday party as a mother, (I did reconnoissance at one for Ducky's school chum recently), I learned that most 11-year-olds are awkward socially.  So I completely 'got them'.

That school friend's party consisted of an unnecesarily  long night at Chuck E. Cheese. As far as I could tell, the plan was simple: Lone girls running from game to game, clutching sweaty fistfuls of tokens only to wander off bored moments later with one or two prize tickets and chase the birthday girl around half-heartedly in a I want to have fun, but running like a hellion no longer feels right because I want to look cool, but I've had too much Pepsi and cake... sort of way.

The birthday girl's divorced parents sat at separate tables each swaddled in sad tension. The birthday girl got to choose who she wanted to talk to at a given moment while all of the rest of her invitees just sat around picking at their tasteless pizza. The evening culminating in the tickets being cashed in for keychain sized doo-dads for any girl who was still wandering around the establishment hours after the party should have ended. So I took notes on what not to do for a child's party.

My first baby steps toward Martha Stewarting Ducky's party was to decide the venue. I consulted Hudson who declared, "Our house of course!" Whew! That was easy. Next I asked Ducky who she wanted to invite. She wanted 1 friend from school and the 5 little girls of close family friends. Whew! OK, 6 kids. Totally doable. Ducky also wanted to have a tea party with the milk tea she loved in Taiwan. She also had seen a piƱata and wanted one. Check! Totally cool since, hey, we live in LA and right down on Pico Blvd is Pinata's R Us.

After finding and testing a milk tea recipe from the web, I was left with the conundrum of providing an atmosphere of FUN. We have a terra cotta tiled back yard patio so anything like a trampoline was off limits. I had visions of a child bouncing exuberantly out of the protective netting onto their head and the party music being drown out by the Cedar-Sainai ambulance's wail.

I hit upon the idea of games that the kids could play, but that adults could jump in if the kids were acting all, well, young girlish and shy or too cool to play. Luckily for us, our adult friends consist of alumni from New York's original High School of Performing Arts (that's Hudson), Julliard (That's Stacey), Saturday Night Live, Second City and various and sundry TV shows, plays, movies so all of the adults could be counted on for FUN.

The party theme was built around the Mad Hatter's Tea Party (read Taiwanese Milk Tea), we ran a relay race that included swinging each other around and chortling "Well hello there!" before you could continue, spooning sugar into bowls, balancing tea bags on your head, and doing a crazy vaudeville move with your knees. Next they all got a chance to be a blindfolded princess and kiss a big frog on the lips which Hudson really got into so he could pay special attention to our niece who was not playing and blindfolded while wearing a crown he pretended to mistake her for a frog and kiss the dickens out of her as she squirmed on his sister's lap.

We played The Frog Detective and smacked a big Angry Bird pinata and it was a success. The 2 small cakes choked us all up and Ducky was happy that she got both a chocolate one and a strawberry ice-cream one (courtesy of Socrates who made it).

Best of all, Hudson talked me off the ledge every time I wanted to plan a little more. When I was seized by an irresistible urge to do everything. Both he and my therapist declared, "If you do too much, you'll be miserable and it will backfire." Boy were they right. I was reeled in, and we all enjoyed a truly blessed day.

Hudson asked that our friends give gifts of their time so that they could help shape Ducky into the woman she will be come. For the next year, happily, she will be redeeming everything from dinner downtown with uncle Rob, to weekly LACMA jaunts with auntie Julia, to designing her own website with auntie Liz.

Hudson showed his sweet appreciation for me by hiring a masseuse to come to our home and give me a soothing massage while he took Ducky and Socrates out for Pho dinner. Now I just might be ready to start planning Socrates' 10th birthday party this Spring.

Wish me luck.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2012


After school on Mondays and Wednesdays Ducky, Socs and I head straight to the Chinatown Branch of the LA Public Library. We wrestle their English, Math and Mandarin homework and pin it to the proverbial education mat. Next we cruise the grade school aisles for reading enjoyment, and then log-on to the computers to play games before heading across the street to their Shaolin Jin Wu Kung Fu classes.

I don't think I'll ever tire of seizing every opportunity to learn about my daughters. And a trip to the library is fertile ground for Ducky and Socs revelations. At other library branches we've literally had to step over men who've passed out drunk across the sidewalk. Last week Ducky was getting out of the car as a man stopped walking, just even with her on the sidewalk, and lost his liquid lunch in a stream onto his shoes.

Today, this is the patron we sat next to in the children's reading section of the library. He was about 6 feet 5  and this image was snapped by laying my iPhone on my thigh at our study table. Behind me - or to his immediate left is a children's read-along in progress with about 20 children in attendance.

My girls studiously completed math expressions and copied vocabulary words nearby as our tall sleepy neighbor reached his hand with impressively long talons, sharpened to ominous points and tugged his hood further down over his face. Then he hid his hands back inside the sleeves of his sweatshirt.

His movement caught our eyes.

Me: That man is very sleepy.
Socs: Me too. Sleepy I am.
Ducky: UuUHmuhhuh

Ducky has recently taken to confusing the affirmative expression "Uh-huh" with the also affirmative "Mm-hmm"and combining them into a rising and falling sound of positive agreement.

Me: What do you think about that man?
Socs: Sleepy he is and big too.
Ducky: UuUHmuhhuh Taiwan too we have these man.

Every little bit that I can learn about the girls is another piece in the puzzle of their experience before their lives with Hudson and I. And apart from learning that they're not scared of bums collapsed in and around public buildings - I am happy to report that my daughters have arrived at the Yoda-speak period of their conversational English.

Ivy am I

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Friday, September 21, 2012


Kids find anything related to the potty hilarious. It's a universal child fact. Ask any parent, they'll tell you. It's vaguely off-putting to be having a pleasantly mature conversation with your child (OK, for me it's a mature mishmash of Chinglish) and be speaking to them as an adult when all of a sudden Ducky blurts "Wait! I poo poo!" and jumps up to fart away from me. Giggling she gleefully sprint-dances to her chosen spot and loudly passes gas. Then she practically has to hold herself up against the nearest wall as she manages to say, "Excuse me" around her giggles.

Yes, we've explained that poo poo is different than farting, but neither of our girls is interested in changing their use of the words "poo poo".

Oh, they don't miss an opportunity to tell on each other for passing gas and stinking up the bathroom before the other one has to take a bath. "Fah-dah! Jieh Jieh go poo poo (giggle) when I bend down for my brush on the floor and poo poo on my head! Fah-dah!" Fah-dah is how they say "Father".

Honestly, in this tough economy, it would be a gold mine to be a clown at kids parties. All you have to do is bring a prop toilet and a Whoopee cushion. Seriously, all the other birthday clowns on the kids backyard circuit would end up on unemployment as your bookings soared. Just turn on a recording of a toilet flushing and you'd have all the little partygoer's attention. Then open a curtain to reveal you sitting on a toilet and that would be good for like 3+ minutes of roll-on-the-floor hysteria. Then tell a knock knock joke to the birthday boy that ends with the sound of a fart, and then ask for volunteers to sit on your toilet and you've got a classic routine that will last until the little ones have to go home.

So after school today, while working on two sets of homework with Socs and Ducky I hear them continually using the Mandarin words for 'taking a dump' (not really used by adults) and I finally quirk up an eyebrow, "Way shenma niman shuo da bien zintien?" They slap the table soundly and kick their legs and cackle, "Ma ma, you say da bien! Say again!" I refuse and they hand me their Science class assignment for next week: Review of the Excretory System.

Ugh. I seriously can't get a break. Makes a girl miss Rodney Dangerfield.


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Thursday, September 20, 2012


I'm scarred from my morning drive!
And I'm sensing a disturbing trend on morning radio. Yesterday while driving my daughters to school a DJ was interviewing the writer of the book SHITTY MOM. The author and callers bantered back and forth about all of the ways that most of us are bad mothers.

I casually glanced in the rear-view mirror at Ducky and Socrates, and felt relatively comfortable with the content because, hey, their English is coming along, but their comprehension isn't 'witty banter' quick yet so it's cool for me to stay tuned in.

As I drove I eagerly awaited the author's voice to come over the airwaves into my car and give me crucial knowledge of behavior that I must avoid lest I be judged a shitty mom. Listening intently I made mental notes: Don't yell, lose my temper, ridicule or physically abuse my kids. Check. Gotcha.  I'm happy to say that I'm not a yeller, I don't hit the girls and I'm a firm believer in building up their dignity, not tearing it down.

Driving home yesterday I felt all shiny and virtuous in my mothering practices* -- however, that was not the case THIS morning. After dropping the girls off at school the DJ tossed out the topic of what witnessing your parents having sex can do to a kid. Then callers flood the lines with some pretty fucked up experiences of walking in on their folks inflagrante dilecto.

OMG! I'm a shitty mom! I realized that when Hudson and I have sex, I am mentally not a mom so I've not given the possibility of being caught by the kids much thought. When they're in bed for the night and we're feeling frisky, we just use discretion.

What the hey people?! I don't want to think about parents having, sex. I certainly don't want to think of us as being parents and being sexual. I don't want to be thinking about intimacy and our parental responsibility to not scar our 9 and 10-year-old with the accidental viewing of us "loving each other very very much". Uck!

What have I learned from the radio in the past week? First, I should lock the door to wherever I am planning to have sex -- like not just when they live at home but forever because some of the radio callers were older when they saw their parents. Second, don't be a shitty mom. and Third lesson learned is that local LA morning radio seriously needs to get some interesting content. And finally I learned that as a child Slash (the guitarist for Guns and Roses) walked in on his mom having sex with David Bowie. I think if I was in Slash's shoes, I could have overlooked the fact that I'd walked in on my mom when she was having one off with David Bowie and maybe just kept the image of a naked David Bowie burned into my memory. That is if my brain works the way I think it does. I mean there isn't much higher on the cool scale than Bowie. Am I right?


*Of course except for almost killing little Socrates on Revolution at Magic Mountain.

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