More or Less

In honor of Little A's first birthday, I am digging back in the archives and sharing a piece I wrote before she was born. I wrote it in 2010. It's a little different from what I usually post and a unique window into my life before I became a mother--before I even knew if I intended to become a mother. Most importantly, it intensifies my appreciation for the direction my life has taken and the love I have for this wonderful and amazing little person.
It also serves as a eulogy to all of the houseplants that have died under my care over the years.
And before we begin, I would like to issue a formal apology to my childhood friend, Christine. The confession about your hermit crab may not come as a shock to you, but it is long overdue. I hope you can forgive me.
More or Less

It’s happening again.  My dracaena, the hardiest plant to survive my care, is committing slow suicide in the corner of my living room.  
I spied the telltale signs this morning as I brewed my tea: the once-emerald leaves singed with lifeless brown, drooping from the stalk like rotten banana petals.  A small bottom leaf lost its battle with gravity and drifted to the floor right before my widened eyes, a Kevorkian-esque ballet with more pathos than The Black Swan.  
How could this be?  It looked perfect yesterday!  
Didn’t it?
Well, I’m not one hundred percent sure, since I can’t precisely recall the last time I paid close attention to it, but I felt that we had a closer relationship than this.  To be completely honest, however, our home often functions as an end of life care facility for dead and dying plants.  Watching four basil plants wither into oblivion on our patio table one summer was like keeping vigil over a constant herbal wake.  I killed a cactus.  I lost a battle with a flowering ground plant that could purportedly thrive anywhere under any conditions.  
I had chosen this dracaena after our bamboo palm begin drifting toward the light, shedding corn husk yellow remnants of itself with such melodramatic regularity it seemed it was making a statement.  When I saw the potted dracaenas in Home Depot weeks later, their vivid plumes of thick leaves and scaly stalks reminded me of the trees in a favorite childhood book—Where the Wild Things Are—and I had to have one.  I shoved our indoor bamboo palm into a painfully sunny corner of our upstairs balcony to hasten its exit and gave the dracaena its former place of honor.  
“You know, you can’t do that with children,” my co-worker told me later over lunch in a voice that suggested she sincerely believed this was news to me.  “That’s why Not Everyone should have children.”  I was clearly starring in the role of Not Everyone.
I spring into action.  Mason jar of tap water in hand, I head to the plant and conduct a cursory forensics examination.  The soil looks dry, but the directions I left hanging from a bottom frond say to water the dracaena rarely.  The pot does look a bit undersized for the plant, but my attempt to transplant it would surely be a final death blow.  Bugs, no.  Fertilizer, yes.  I pour the water in circles around the inside perimeter of the pot.  I grab a mister from the kitchen counter and mist the dusty leaves for good measure.  Water dribbles down a drooping leaf like spittle on an invalid’s chin.
Thus begins phase one of Plant Grief.  Similar to the stages of the human grieving process, I have identified three stages through which I pass as a plant dies under my watch:  
Phase one: I become a frantic plant triage attendant.  I water it until there are standing puddles on the top of the pot.  I whisk it across the living room floor and shove it in a sunny window.  I dust it.  
Phase two: I wheedle, plead, beg, and bargain with the plant.  I assume that at the very least, the carbon dioxide I am emitting is good for it.  
Phase three: When the plant fails to respond to phases one and two, I spitefully turn my back on it.  I refuse it water, sunlight, and whispered encouragement.  I wait for it to die.  Or shove it on the upstairs balcony like the bamboo palm.  Both paths end in the parking lot dumpster.  Hell hath no fury like an armchair horticulturalist scorned.
I don't have a photograph of the dracaena--it's long-since died--but this current withering plant on our balcony will do just fine.

I burst into our dark bedroom and hiss in my slumbering husband’s ear, “The dracaena is dying!”  
“Mumph,” he mumbles from beneath a pillow.  How someone sleeps with a pillow smashed onto his face is beyond me.  How suffocating.
“We did everything the directions said to do.  Everything.”
Out of respect for the fact that he is sleeping because it is 5:50 in the morning and he does not need to wake up for another hour and a half, I whisper.  But it’s one of those stage whispers that you can hear from the other side of the house.  It begs for attention.
“Mumph,” the Zen Master repeats.  
“If we take it out to the dumpster, maybe one of the neighbors will rescue it.” I think of Nancy two units over with her hanging creepers swaying from a rafter, and her window boxes of immaculate geraniums.  Geraniums.  Humph.  I’m sure I could grow equally hardy blooms if I wanted to devote my time to such a common plant.  “We’ll have to take it to the inconvenient dumpster, though,” I think aloud.  “I left two diseased potted annuals by the front dumpster last week.  I’m worried about what the neighbors will think.  Although, if we take it out in the middle of the night—”
“We can just take it back and get a new one,” my husband says, pillow still over his face.
“This isn’t about getting a new one.  This is about making sure this one lives.  We took this plant from its happy home at Home Depot and brought it to Auschwitz for succulents.  We are its parents.  Surely we can do this?”  The stage whisper is gone.  We will figure this out.  Right here.  Right now.  I care about this little tree/shrub/cactus/whatever it is, and I will do right by it.  Even if that means shoving it in the neighborhood foster system.  My co-worker had no idea what she was talking about.  
A huge sigh escapes from beneath the pillow.  I do feel bad.  It was only a few days ago that I found a cockroach on our downstairs bathroom floor at 6:00 in the morning.  We keep a fairly clean house and had never seen a cockroach indoors before—nor have we since.  I don’t know what this one thought he was doing.  I screamed, charged upstairs, and demanded it be removed immediately.  Not killed, because I am considerate.  So Z rolled out of bed and shuffled downstairs, chasing the offending pest with a water glass and a paper plate, walking outside in his pajama pants in the dark to deposit it in a bush at my behest.  “Not a great way to wake up,” he muttered as he swept past me and went back to bed.  
What I am thinking is, I suppose it isn’t necessary for us to figure this out right now.  You need to sleep.  What comes out of my mouth is, “Although, the dracaena really does spruce up the living room, and it brings out the green in those Frida Khalo paintings.  I really don’t want to see it go, but I suppose we would need to replace it with something…”  
He pulls the pillow down and looks at me.  “There’s a year warranty on the plant.  The receipt is taped to the bottom of the pot.”  
“Sort of shows a lack of faith, doesn’t it?”  
His look says the conversation is over.  The pillow goes back.  I go downstairs.
You never really stood a chance, I think, as I drag the dracaena to the nearest window and mash its leaves against what will later be sunny glass.  I mean, how can anything thrive when so little faith is attached to its efforts to live?  Taping a Home Depot warranty to the bottom of the pot was like taking out a life insurance policy on a sick patient.  We were betting against it.  You knew your days were numbered, fella.    
I sneak a peek to make sure the receipt is still there and a year hasn’t gone by.  Good.

After researching dracaenas on the Internet, I discover the plant is poisonous to our dog.  
My co-worker’s words echo in my head.  Will I ever be responsible and selfless enough to raise a child?  Like plants, there are millions of websites designed to help people raise healthy children, but children don’t come with one year warranties.  
As I eat a bowl of cereal, I recall my friend Christine’s hermit crab.  The summer between fifth and sixth grades, I was asked to care for the pet crab while Christine vacationed in Europe with her parents, both professors.  I couldn’t appreciate the cultural depth of such a trip at the time, as my family’s biggest cultural tour de force was pointing out the old Greek man who wore speedos to the public pool.  
At first a novelty, the crab probably suffered too much attention upon arrival.  We let it crawl around on our arms, on the floor.  We made it houses with sticks and moss in the back yard.  A hermit crab compound.  He spent the rest of his time in a plastic terrarium on my dad’s work bench in the basement.  My mom did not find him endearing.
cute hermit crab.png
This image was originally found at

That summer was especially busy.  My family was moving to a new house.  We were packing every day.  When my mom asked me if I had packed up Christine’s hermit crab, I recall thinking I couldn’t precisely recall the last time I had seen the hermit crab.  I went downstairs and found his limp corpse spilling out of his shell in the terrarium.  His food and water dishes were completely empty.  
Christine was supposed to meet me at my new house that afternoon to pick him up.  Too embarrassed to admit what I had done, I threw the terrarium in the back of the moving truck without a word.  Extended family occupied all of the corners of our new house when we arrived.  Aunts and uncles helped unload the truck, move boxes upstairs, and arrange furniture.  My Aunt Lynne got to the terrarium before I did.  Her eyes narrowed as she peered at the very obviously lifeless crustacean within.  Shaking her head, she set the plastic container on the kitchen counter.  
When no one was looking, I filled the hermit crab’s food and water dishes to overflowing.  
Christine showed up a few hours later with her dad and a thank you gift: a beautiful Italian fountain pen and a picture post card from the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, an ossuary filled with the skulls and bones of thousands of dead monks.  It was eerily appropriate.  
“He just didn’t survive the move,” I told her, shaking my head and looking at her dead pet in its plexiglass coffin.  “He had everything he needed.  I don’t know what else I could have done for him.”  Anyone with half a brain could tell this crab had been dead for considerably more than twelve hours.  Christine graciously exited with her dead crab and her questions.  
“I don’t remember there being food and water in there before,” my Aunt Lynne said after the door shut, looking me dead in the eye.  

Oh. Dear.  Am I utterly incapable of nurturing things?  Am I parentally inept?  Dependably poisonous?  Has the state of California made a horrific mistake in entrusting me with the safety and education of hundreds of teenagers every year?  
I sit back on my sofa and consider this.  I mean really consider it.  My dog jumps up next to me and stares me in the eyes.  At first I feel we are sharing a profound moment of connection--one of those Animal Planet type scenarios where the dog has a sixth sense about something significant. She is trying to tell me she loves me, she believes in me, I think.  I reach down and scratch her head right behind each ear, her favorite spot.  I see myself reflected in those big, brown, dewy eyes of hers—and realize I forgot to feed her.  

As I head into the kitchen with her food bowl, Scout trots along behind me.  I add a treat to her pile of kibble and set the bowl on the floor.  She snatches it eagerly and runs into the living room to chew it on the carpet.  I am so easily forgiven.  Despite sharing the living room with a plant that could apparently kill her, Scout is six years old, well-nourished, and happy.  We weren’t sure if we could handle the responsibility of a dog when we got her, but now life without her is unimaginable.
I think of the things in my life I have sustained.  Z sleeps peacefully upstairs.  For fifteen years we have kept each other happy and healthy and warm.  I try to remember the last time we had a significant argument—something that made us stop speaking to each other for a while.  A few weeks back we argued about the fact that he likes to keep his credit card and driver’s license floating loose in his back pocket when we go out, and I can’t stand that.  We got annoyed with each other. We stopped talking for a few minutes…and then it was over.  It was nothing.  In fifteen years, no warranties have expired; neither of us has ever tried to make an exchange for another model.  We have cared for each other through good times and bad.  We have never given up.  
Maybe, I consider as I sip my tea, there is a mother in me somewhere.  Maybe one day I will find out.  
After all, so long as I am able to be selfless and dependable where it counts, what’s one plant or hermit crab more or less?


Misha and the Samurai Sword: A Craigslist Tale

Not too long ago, Z was selling an item on Craigslist.  The guy who said he was going to buy it lived about forty-five minutes away.  We sent him an address for where we would meet him (a nearby parking lot--don't worry; we've heard about the Craigslist Killer) and commenced to wait for him to call upon arrival.   

An hour went by.  

We got a text saying traffic was rough.  We live in Southern California, so that was believable.  He expected it would take another forty-five minutes.  

Thirty minutes later, we got a text saying he was still on his way, but the 405 was a nightmare.  

Another thirty minutes later, he called to say he should arrive in fifteen minutes.  

"I heard cars in the background.  He was definitely on the road," Z noted when I looked skeptical.

He never showed up.  

No phone call.  No text.  He either changed his mind and went home or drove into that black hole on the 405.  Both are possible.

And you know what?  It really wasn't much of  a surprise.  We have the worst luck with Craigslist commerce.  

I know, I know.  You are thinking, Of course you have the worst luck with Craigslist, you idiot!  Everyone knows Craigslist is the where all of the people who don't know how to use ebay go.  How hard is it to use ebay?  

It's not hard to use ebay, but it can be expensive and annoying.  After ebay takes it's 10% cut of your profits and PayPal takes its 3% cut of your profits, 13% of what you made has gone out the window.  And you have to mail things, which requires going to the post office, which for us is like suggesting we fly to Croatia for the weekend.  So we are cheap and lazy and sometimes resort to Craigslist because we can keep all of the profits and demand that the buyer drive to us.  When it works out, it's great.  Craigslist once helped us get rid of a futon in six hours in exchange for a pepperoni pizza.  But we have had quite a few debacles, this most recent incident of our buyer getting swallowed by a tear in the fabric of space and time being one of them.  

But it isn't the most memorable.  

Speculation about what happened to this poor guy led to memories of all of the other weirdos we have encountered via Craigslist...which led to Misha.  Misha who wanted Z's laptop.

Please indulge me as I go back in time to February.  As diaper bills and baby bottles and powdered formula and tiny clothes started to add up, we decided to shed some excess belongings in exchange for cash.  Z put his laptop up for sale on Craigslist.  

A week later, we received this communication:

On Jan 30, 2014 3:05 PM, "Misha [******]"
<> wrote:

would you consider $125 and these items for your laptop, I really need a decent laptop as I'm building my new business and working on a tight budget. thank you
Misha :) 562-XXX-XXXX

~All in new condition~

*samurai sword
*woman's Al gin crystal heart watch *Never worn
*Win 7 AIO *32 bit and 64 bit  Every 7 ISO from home to Enterprise CD can be used on more than one computer with a lifetime key.
*Microsoft Office 2013 Pro Plus CD

When Z showed me the email, I scoffed.  Yet another Craigslist buyer trying to acquire objects with things other than money.  I suggested the following reply:

Dear Misha,

Thank you for your interest in our laptop.  It does an excellent job of capitalizing letters, using punctuation, and writing grammatically correct sentences, so I think it would be an excellent addition to your business venture.

I also work within the confines of a tight budget, so I understand your decision to pretend that we are bartering at an Egyptian street market.  

Our first sword is getting worn, so another one in "new condition" would really be a nice household addition.  The crystal heart watch is a nice touch, too.  My husband has been looking of one of those.  With the number of devices that can tell the time growing slimmer by the day, it certainly sounds more unique than cash, which is so boring and nonspecific in that we could spend it on anything.  

Since we are just negotiating with anything and everything right now, we have a counter offer.  In exchange for the items you listed and $125, we can offer you the following:

* The laptop cord
* A box of Twinkies 
* A men's tie (Never worn!)
* A Nerf pistol
* My husband's collection of Bad Religion cds

Here is my husband's actual reply:

On Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 12:33 AM, craigslist 4312139577

<> wrote:

> Hi Misha.  I would take the sword and $150.

> Z

"You would?!?" I said, incredulous.  

"Sure.  You never know when a sword might come in handy," Z replied. 

That woman is the luckiest Craigslist customer ever! you may be thinking to yourself.  A fairly new laptop for $150 and a samurai sword...that's more than fair.  Thankfully, she did recognize her good fortune in running across a seller with a penchant for martial arts weaponry, as she got back to us the very next day:

On Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 1:19 AM, Misha wrote:

hi Z, thank you for responding with a more than fair deal, I would do it in a heartbeat but I'm embarrassed to say I only have the $125 cash  and that is my monthly mad money/food for the month. But maybe in the morning ill see what I can do to get up the rest.and make the deal..

thank you

Misha  :)

Naturally, this response raised several questions on my end.  Let's start with Misha's original declaration that this laptop was for the new business she was building.

1.)  She clearly did not have much start-up capital.  What kind of business was she starting in which the only expense she was struggling to cover was $150.00 for a laptop?  I would like to get in on that business.  Unless it involved taking off your clothes.  Then I would rather not.

2.)  Considering she sent her email on the last day in January, I assume that Misha meant that $125.00 was all that she had for fun and food for the entirety of February.  What was Misha going to eat for the month of February after dropping it all on a new-ish used laptop?  I kept picturing her panhandling in a dark alley in between blood and organ donations, which was the more ethical small business with low start-up costs I imagined, although it was dismal in terms of longevity.  

Misha selling organs in skid row.  I really was not sure which organs were least essential aside from the appendix (properly valued at ten dollars), and they are all shaped like pickles.  Upon further reflection, I'm pretty sure the liver should have been worth more than the kidney.

3.)  Perhaps most benign or disturbing (depending upon where your imagination takes you), what was she going to do in the morning to "get up the rest and make the deal"???  Did we need to warn her neighbors?

"Are you certain you want to conduct business with this woman?" I asked Z.  "She seems a little unstable.  And maybe a meth addict.  There is a very real chance she is a meth addict."

He shrugged.  "If it works out, I'd love to get that sword."

Okay.  I began to brainstorm a secret response to Misha.

Dear Misha,

Please just promise us that whatever you decide to do in the morning to get the extra $25 does not involve the samurai sword.  It's not worth it.



Misha shaking down a small child for his lunch, which I imagine she will later sell to some other kid whose mom packed hummus and carrot sticks.  Again.

Z said he never really expected to hear from her again, but lo and behold, in the morning we received this communication from her:

On Feb 1, 2014 9:25 AM, "Misha [*****]"
<> wrote:

hi z,
i have the $150 and sword do you still want to sell laptop to me?  I am in la habra where are you located?
when can we meet...
thank you

"What do you think she did to get the extra $25?" I asked.

"Beats me," Z shrugged.  

Unfortunately, Misha's luck seemed to turn as the day wore on.  Early in the afternoon, we received an email informing us that her car needed a jump start.  Several hours later, her situation had not improved:

On Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 3:32 PM, Misha [******] <*****************> wrote:

Im sorry im still waiting on a jump for the car . I am serious about buying
it so hoping withinthe hour

I wanted so badly to offer Misha my copy of Strunk and White when she showed up "withinthe hour" to purchase the laptop.

"I can just wrap it in a brown paper bag and slip it under the monitor," I suggested to Z.  "It's like the lady behind the reception desk at Planned Parenthood who slips you a brown lunch bag full of condoms before you leave.  Very discrete"

"I think we should just let her get what she came for and leave without surreptitiously commenting on her grammar," Z replied.  "I really want this sale."

A little over two hours later, those dreams were dashed.

On Feb 1, 2014 5:40 PM, "Misha [*****]" <> wrote:

I must have been a bad girl in past llife or something , husband took keys to check if i really knew how to start the car???? and decided to go to store and lallygagged along the way hours later after my friend came and gone he comes back. so I'm waiting on her to come back, along with that his sons ex shows up with cops in toe, take her for a warrant and I'm now smiling at two children I don't even know.. and its looking like they have no where to go. but yeah waiting on a friend should be within the hour :)

Needless to say, Misha's latest update only deepened my intrigue.  She was beginning to give "The Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials a run for his money.  Once again, allow me to itemize my questions:

1.  Her husband took the keys to check if Misha"really knew how to start the car"-- a disturbing vote of no confidence from someone who married her.  But--it gets better--it turns out he must have been right because he then started the car and drove away.  And stayed away for hours.  

2.  She doesn't know how to use any form of punctuation correctly, how to separate the words "withinthe," or (apparently) how to start her own car...but Misha can appropriately use the word "lollygagging" in a sentence?  The incorrect spelling is definitely outweighed by the surprise factor.  

3.  If Misha's husband had already returned with her car (which apparently worked), why did she still need a ride?  I'm confused.

4.  When did Misha's friend suddenly become a character in this mini series, and why did Misha need to wait for her to return?  At first, I thought she was waiting for her friend to show up and give her a ride, but upon rereading, I realized her friend had already been there for hours while Misha's husband was gallivanting about town in her car, and her friend didn't offer her a ride.  Better question: what kind of crappy friend is that?   

5.  And now we arrive at the pinnacle point of her email, when Misha's husband's son's ex "shows up with cops in toe."  I--like you--assumed she meant "cops in tow," as in "Misha's husband's son's ex brought the cops to Misha's house."  It sounds like a pretty festive residence, so it is not outside of the realm of reasoning that someone in Misha's home has wronged this young lady to the point of legal grievance.  However, the cops summarily turn around and issue a warrant for arrest on the very woman who brought them to the house.  So now I am imagining she arrived at the conclusion of an elaborate chase, the cops right at her heels as they pursued on...toe.  What kind of sanctuary did Misha's husband's son's ex expect to find when she arrived at the house?  They obviously didn't even have a laptop where she could do a quick Google search for a reasonably priced lawyer.

"Cops in toe."

6.  The cops left Misha's husband's son's ex's children with people they had never met when after hauling their mother off to jail?  That's messed up.

7.  Always the optimist, Misha concludes that she is "waiting on a friend" and "should be [leaving to purchase her laptop?] within the hour."  Smiley face.  You've gotta love that about her.  A missing and temporarily stolen car she apparently didn't know how to start; a husband who times his shopping trips very poorly; an unexpected visit from the law; the sudden responsibility for several helpless, unfamiliar children; and Misha still plans to make it out to our house in the evening to purchase a laptop and begin her business venture.  As long as she can get a ride.

Despite my admiration for Misha's surprising grit, I was pretty sure I didn't want to conduct business with her any longer.  

I figured my husband would feel similarly, but I was mistaken.

From: Z******** <Z**********>
Date: Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 7:14 PM
Subject: Re: Lenovo S10-3t convertible tablet win7 1.83ghz 2gb
To: Misha [*******] <>

Ok.   Let me know when.   I'm taking the baby for a walk.

"You told her we have a baby?" I gasped when I read Z's response.

"Yeah," he shrugged.  "What's wrong with that?"

"What if she is going to use the laptop to begin a black market child trafficking operation?"

Z looked at me until I grew uncomfortable.  "Where do you get this stuff?" he questioned.  "First of all, to say 'black market child trafficking' is redundant because there is no legitimate market for child trafficking.  Secondly, I doubt that Misha is looking for a laptop to begin a child trafficking business."   

"Oh really?" I fired back.  "Is that because you know her?"

"No," Z said slowly.  "It's because I am a rational person."

Our laptop in the hands of Misha: Peddler of Small Children.

"We'll see who was right.  Just wait," I said over my shoulder as I began packing Little A into her stroller and heading out the door.  

"Will we?  Will we ever see?" Z asked my back as it disappeared into the evening.  "Where are you going?"

"I'm taking the baby to Target so Misha can't steal her when she shows up with the samurai sword."

It probably goes without saying that Misha never actually showed up.  We never sold the laptop or acquired her gently used samurai sword.  She was a promising customer; thus, it was truly a disappointment.  

If you are in the market for a laptop, please let us know.  We would really like to send it to a stable home in exchange for real, American money.  

Just email me.  We are trying to avoid posting it on Craigslist again.


Little A Versus the Most Expensive Chicken in the World

"You're dead meat," she said.  And she meant it. 
        In a desire to expand Little A's food repertoire, Z and I recently decided to add chicken to her diet.  A combination of factors including Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, guilt over my inability to breastfeed, an episode of Oprah I saw years ago, and our continuing quest to treat Little A like she's the kid in The Golden Child contributed to our decision that the chicken we fed her had to be blessed by the Dalai Lama or--in the event that he was unavailable--be purchased from the Mount Zion of healthy eating:

Image borrowed from

        I am not sure how widespread Whole Foods is.  I could check, but I just don't feel like it.  If you do not have this grocery store near you, it is the love child an organic farm and a yoga studio would make if that child was a store.  It makes Trader Joe's look like the Wal-Mart of conscious consumerism.  It is basically everything pretentious about food that you can possibly gather under one roof.  For just three monthly installments of a gazillion dollars and the price of your first-born child, you can purchase vegan banana muffins, locally grown kale, stainless steel baby bottles, and two days' worth of groceries.   

        Don't get me wrong: I love the products and mission of Whole foods.  I admire the hand-lettered signs and the fact that the produce department utilizes better interior decorating than my entire house.  During my pre-baby glory days when I had a steady income, a sense of style, and the time to read up on what parabens are, I stopped in on occasion and bought a half pound of organic, gluten-free, quinoa and lentil something-or-other from the deli and savored every last lentil.

        These days, however, Z and I feel like homeless people in a Chanel store whenever we walk through the doors of our local Whole Foods.  This is because five out of seven days of the week we eat frozen food for dinner.  Frozen chicken breasts, frozen pasta, frozen vegetables, frozen rice...anything that fits into my three-step meal preparation strategy will do:

           Step One: Open box or bag of pre-prepared food.

        Step Two: Heat pre-prepared food.

        Step Three: Serve.

The other two days of the week are a.) Chipotle and b.) leftovers from Chipotle.  Chipotle may actually be the closest we get to Whole Foods caliber these days because they are a somewhat socially conscious fast food restaurant.

        "If you are willing to eat flash-frozen food despite its sodium and plastic packaging and ingredients with more than fifteen letters, why does the baby get Whole Foods chicken?" you may wonder.  Because there is still hope for her.  We may be addicted to carcinogenic entrees, but the baby has a fighting chance at a diet intended for human beings, and we would like to nurture that.

       So back to this chicken.

       We planned our Saturday afternoon around a trip to Whole Foods, which I had determined to be the Holy Grail of poultry.  Of course, the instant we parked the car in front of the store, Little A wanted to be fed.  That poses a sticky situation for me because she is a bottle-fed baby.  For reasons outlined in a previous post, I am always timid about feeding Little A in public.  There is a lot of judgement out there when it comes to what and how you feed your baby. Combine that with a store that sells thirty dollar organic cotton onesies and customers who stroll around with babies snuggled in flowing wrap-around slings like the ones women in remote Andes villages wear but actually cost more than a semester at a community college...and you have a very uncomfortable experience.

Image borrowed from

        I suggested we feed the baby in the car and then go inside.  "Feeding her a bottle of formula in that store is like sitting on a stationary bike in a 24 Hour Fitness and smoking a cigar," I explained.  "There is bound to be at least one woman in there who would argue it's worse."

        "How do they know what's in that bottle?  For all they know, it's breast milk," my husband pointed out.

        "They don't just judge the food; they judge the delivery system."

        "Pull your shirt over her head and feed her a bottle underneath," he countered.  We both paused to consider the logistics of doing that.  "Or," he continued, "how about we feed our baby however we damn well please, and if anyone says anything, we --"

        "--tell them to go to Hell?" I interjected, eyebrow raised.  This was pretty aggressive for Z.  I was impressed.

        "--tell them it is breast milk we purchased from a temple of lactating mothers on top of a mountain somewhere far away.  It can only be obtained by a sherpa who makes the trek up the mountain daily and then Fed Exes it to families overnight."

        "That's even better," I nodded.  "And the baby is adopted.  If you drop that one on them, it just messes with their entire mainframe.  They don't know what to do.  She's far better looking than either of us, so it's believable."


        We shook on it, mixed up a bottle, and headed inside.

        The meat department was in the back of the store.  Standing before the gleaming refrigerated glass, we studied an array of meats laid out like diamond rings at Tiffany's.  As customers contemplated engagements with slabs of beef and poultry, the butcher behind the glass moved patiently between them, answering their questions, gathering intimate details about their culinary habits, and wrapping their packages with care.

        "Where did this chicken come from?" a woman wearing what can best be described as a bathing suit cover-up and a large, floppy sun hat asked while pointing to a breast of chicken that looked remarkably similar to every other breast of chicken in the refrigerated case.  "This one, here," she elaborated, tapping a manicured fingernail on the glass.

        And this was where we were completely blown away: The butcher had an answer.  And it wasn't like a "That is a Foster Farms chicken, Ma'am.  It comes from Foster Farms.  Have you seen the commercials?"  It was more like "That chicken comes from a small organic farm in Modesto, California, population 203,547.  He was fed mixed greens salad, sunflower seeds, lentils, and fairy dust every day.  On Sundays he liked to play shuffleboard.  He lived a happy life."  Okay, maybe that's taking it a little far, but I swear it was close.  It reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from the show Portlandia.  Except it was really happening in front of me.

        "Which one should we get?" Z asked me, scanning the glass case.

        Whole Foods uses a 1-5 rating system for its meat.  It's all a blur for me now, but it went something like this:

Chicken Chart

        Those of you who have a child or at least a prized pet will probably understand the thinking that follows.  For any baby product imaginable, there are always at least five different brands/versions available on the market.  I remember the day Z and I went to the store to register for our baby shower and spent a half an hour just standing in the diaper aisle of Babies R Us, mouths agape, completely incapable of making a decision on which box of diapers to scan.  A nice man shopping with his toddler came over, gently removed the scanner from my hand, and zapped a few boxes for us.

         What we learned that day was the Goldilocks Rule for Baby Products.  You will want to buy the cheapest version of a baby product with all of your soul, but you will not buy it because you are afraid that it may kill your baby or at the least get you reported for child neglect.  However, you also never buy the most expensive version of a baby product because that's just ostentatious and will likely cause your baby to lose friends.  The best choice always lies somewhere in between. 

        So we bought three breasts of number three.

        We figured after all of the effort, everyone deserved to eat some of this miraculous poultry.  I won't tell you what we paid for it because it is just plain embarrassing.

        When we got home, I referred to my baby cookbook to determine the best way to prepare chicken puree for Little A.  I'll spare you the details.  Let's just say it exceeded my three-step program by a notch or two.  And just ask me what Little A did with her chicken.  Just ask.

       While I was typing this, the baby ate a ball of lint and a chunk of styrofoam with relish.        

         Instead of taking this personally, I will close with a visual that best explains what I have surmised about Little A's eating preferences.  My data reveals that our best course of action is to get Chipotle and drop parts of it on the floor for the baby.  Everybody wins.  

Want to watch that hilarious clip from Portlandia I referenced?  Here it is.  :)

Z and I are actually very impressed with the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards Whole Foods uses in its meat department.  You can read the details about this healthy and humane program here:

Finally, if you are interested in the directions for making your own chicken puree so that your baby can gag out of disgust and spit it all out, here is an excellent source.  To be fair, this blog has fantastic recipes for all sorts of ingredients.


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