It’s mashed potatoes and peas she wants. And it’s mashed potatoes and peas she’ll get.
I picked up my daughter from school today. I was late. I laid down on my bed for what was supposed to be ten minutes, but turned into 33.
I bolted up, confirmed I was late, and fled out the door to collect my little Coo (who’s not so little anymore, who in fact towers over me) from her new school.
You see, it’s the second week of her new school, and everything is still fairly unsettled.
This is because her mother — that is, me — pulled the carpet out from under Little Coo in a big way. On the Thursday before her school was to begin, four days before the first day of school, in other words, Mother (me again) flipped the program.
It all started in Los Angeles, over 4th of July week. I invited my daughter and her friend from next door to Los Angeles to celebrate M’s (my daughter) 16th birthday.
This, because several months ago and I think several years ago as well, M asked me, “Mama,…” (she still calls me “Mama” which I cannot believe, and which I adore and thrill to each time it occurs) “Why have I never been to LA?”
Good question, Little Coo. Why have you never been to LA? Why have I never been to LA, furthermore? It’s not that I’ve never been to LA, of course. I grew up in the Bay Area and am more than halfway through my life. So, yes… I have been to LA. But, only sort of.
We used to travel through the area on the way to San Diego to visit my dad’s parents when I was very young. I remember haunting drives at night with my dad shrugging his shoulders repeatedly and dramatically and my mother screaming, “Gordon! You’re drunk! You’re falling asleep! Wake up!” Her voice cut like a lash.
I remember the fear.
Particularly, I remember luggage all over the highway. Bits of luggage, cardboard, plastic flying. Clothes scattered over the highway. The luggage must have been tied to the roof of the car. It must have slid off. The luggage must have broken on the asphalt. Clothes must have been strewn across the highway. Cars must have been swerving. Incredibly, we pulled over. In the left shoulder.
My mother shrieking, “The photos! Save the photos!” My dad, running out on the highway. I, peering in terror through the back window of what must have been the Buick… I couldn’t see very well. I was very young. Who knows what my young brain captured. Whether it was accurate. I seem to remember, I do remember, my father running around the highway picking up… I guess the photos. The God damn photos. As headlights flooded the scene and passed in a flash, over and over again. As the car shuddered with the wind of them.
But, I digress.
LA. I was in LA briefly almost twenty years ago. It counted. I was visiting my wonderful hip friend Gina who’d married a painter and lived a beautiful life in a beautiful Spanish-Moorish flat in Pasadena. She made me a frittata that was out of this world. She taught me the trick of turning the sauteed vegetables, onions, what have you into the beaten eggs in the bowl to set slightly, rather than pouring the eggs into the fry pan where they would cook too fast and change the tenor of the dish.
She served me outside, on a tiny patio. She told me about her food blog. I noted the paintings by her husband hanging in the house. We walked to the Hollywood sign. She took my picture. I remember being jealous, feeling that she felt safe (how would I know?). All I knew is that I felt safe in her pretty apartment, on her pretty street, below that very pretty Hollywood sign. And that I didn’t want to leave. And that I wanted her life. And that I was afraid of mine.
But, I digress.
LA. Even on that Pasadena trip, I never felt I’d really been to LA, don’t ask me why.
This time, I was determined to “do LA.”
So, we went.
I was stupefied by the drive down Highway 5. That is not even considered the pretty way to go. In fact, it’s considered the brutal way to go. Both Highways 1 and 1o1 are “more picturesque.” Yet, I loved this drive. I found it fascinating and beautiful, majestic, mysterious, and exciting. I couldn’t stop gushing about it to the girls. They got quite tired of me.
I couldn’t believe the soft folding hills, the buttery grasses waving on them, the signs beseeching politicians for water, for water policy, for fairness around water. I saw the future in those signs. I saw the ribbon of asphalt tumbling away before me, the big rigs, the streams of cars, the farm trucks. I saw the reservoirs, full of scintillating, luscious, silky blue water that looked out of place, iconoclastic in that desert environment. Encased in curving troughs of cement, it snaked down the spine of the state of California. I saw oil rigs, pumping hypnotically, as they had in my childhood memory, looking like prehistoric creatures seeking forgiveness from the earth.
I couldn’t believe how symbolic everything felt. Everything felt so loaded. So important. So iconic. I kept shrieking to my daughter to film it. “Film what,” she’d ask. They didn’t see it. Not in the same way, anyway. They listened to music. They fell asleep. They ignored me.
As I would have ignored me at 16.
We got to LA. I was determined to “do LA.” To do LA right. We did all the tourist things. We stayed at my friend Katy’s house in Santa Monica. We had very hip pasta in a very hip pasta place called Felix Trattoria in the swanky Abbot Kinney district of Venice on our first night.
We looked for movie stars. The girls got rather excited when they saw the signed credit card slip for the couple that was at the bar next to us as we awaited our table. Their bill was for something like $535.00. Yep. For the two of them. At the bar. God knows what they had.
We went to Paramount Pictures studios, driving around in a little cart beneath the arch that Charlie Chaplin used to saunter under, and many other greats.
We visited the handprints of the stars at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and then saw Book of Mormon at the stunning Pantages Theater.
We pedaled lazily to the beach, ate our meals out of doors, and marveled at avenues and lanes lined by dizzyingly tall and supremely elegant palm trees.
The day before the 4th of July holiday, on my daughter’s 16th birthday, I mentioned the Revolutionary War for some reason.
Both girls looked at me blankly and said, “What’s the Revolutionary War?”
I had the required hissy fit.
But, that was it. I did nothing to change the situation.
I knew my daughter’s education wasn’t serving her. But, she was in a highly prized arts charter school in our city of Oakland, CA. It was the best I could do, save some private school I can’t remotely afford. I had managed to spring her from the public school system, but this charter school, I felt in my heart of hearts, was sub-standard.
I’ve felt this for a while. To my credit, I forced her to tour Berkeley High School last year in preparation for a change. She dismissed the idea. In fairness to me, I did bring the subject up numerous times over the summer. But the answer was a flat no, and I felt at 16 I really needed her buy in. The truth is, I can’t make her do anything. She is 16 and bigger than I am. She would have to agree.
Just before school was to begin again, I took my daughter to see a seriously compelling Japanese anime movie about Hiroshima called In This Corner of the World. It was playing at the Elmwood Theatre not far from our home. I was concerned she was on her device too much, playing Sims, the video game where you build a family, and liking photos on Instagram.
I felt desperate. I’d tried to take her to a few museums over the summer, but her apparent dislike of the outings so upset me that I morphed into a sputtering, red-faced, apoplectic monster.
I wanted to do SOMETHING ANYTHING that was slightly cultured, artful, intellectual, unusual, honest, different… something before she went back to the school I’d lost trust in, where she was bored to tears, but from which she refused to budge.
So we saw this movie. At first, my daughter laughed sardonically. It was a “cartoon,” after all. And she’s too old for cartoons. But, it quickly pulled her in, as I felt and hoped it would do, and me too. I had a pretty good hunch I would love it as I adore graphic novels, and it occurred to me it would be like a graphic novel. But she didn’t expect to (love it).
The movie is extraordinary in many ways, and multi-layered, but it is in large part about the US dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. When the movie was over, I mentioned something, my daughter responded, and I realized she knew nothing about this. Nothing about World War II, Hiroshima, Japan, our involvement, or anything. I asked her if she knew we were the only country in the world that had dropped an atomic bomb on a populace. She did not.
The next day, I had lunch with my friend Jonathan in Berkeley. I told him about the Revolutionary War comment and the conversation of the preceding day. He nearly dropped his fork. He was annoyed with me. He said, “Look, you’ve expressed these concerns before. Yet, you do nothing. You’re the parent. If you don’t do something, no one will.”
When I got home, resolve building like a wave in my body, I walked up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom. I sat on the foot of her bed. Something new must have been in my voice because when I said, “Nina, we need to talk,” she looked at me startled. And when I said, “We’re driving to Berkeley Unified School District right now and registering you for tenth grade,” she barely protested at all. She got up and allowed me to lead her like a foal.
As she got into the car, I was pinching myself. I couldn’t believe she was getting into the car without a fight. I even doubted myself for an instant. Was this okay? Was this crazy? Was I about to disrupt her world something terrible? Would she hate it, me? Would she suffer? I hesitated. Luckily, she didn’t notice. Then, we forged ahead.
And there you have it. This week is Little Coo’s first full week in a brand new school. I know she had lunch alone at least twice last week. She’s tried to make friends and has been rebuffed. But, she came home starry-eyed one night over the chemistry lab that “looked like a real chemistry lab!” She loves one of her teachers. She is suddenly very serious about being in class on time. And she does homework at the dining room table every night. Not only that, but last night she taught me the capital of Honduras — a name I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard, to my knowledge, which is very strange. (It’s Tegucigalpa.)
So, yes. She asked for mashed potatoes and peas. And it’s mashed potatoes and peas she shall have.