Ethan e-mails me on the first day of Finn's swimming lessons at the Y: "I'd pictured a helpful teenage girl taking Finn and showing him how to kick, breathe, etc. No, not the case. Boom box blasting 'The Wheels on the Bus' and parents in the pool singing and bobbing with kids. I envision our childless friends standing on the side saying, 'See, that's why!' Finn starts to have fun, and so do I. After a half hour, my arm starts to hurt. This is what my doctor refers to as two-year-old arm. I take her advice: I switch arms."

I recall the days of two-year-old arm rather fondly myself. Franny lets me hold her now with the resigned air of a hostage, though that aloof nine-year-old routine seems like a pose, a rude T-shirt she's trying on. Some parents have told me that nine is the adolescence of elementary school. For girls, maybe. When Adam was nine, he acted like a nine-year-old boy, i.e., Bart Simpson. Maybe aloof is better.

My kids are in school, which opens up my day considerably. Or would. We have an old house, and we tapped ourselves out buying it five years ago. Now the floors are buckling because water is getting in from somewhere into the subfloor, warping the wood. Before I can get the floors fixed, I've got to find someone who can figure out where the leaks are. Before someone can figure out where the leaks are, he has to come look at the rear walls. In New York, getting somebody to come do anything, even haul away furniture you're donating, is a full-time job. I'm on the phone to the floor guy and the waterproofing guy trying to coordinate their visits, when my son calls. He's left his homework on his desk. Could I fax it to his school?

Ethan calls while I'm grocery shopping that afternoon; he's doing the same thing in San Francisco with Finn in the cart and Ali in tow. Over the phone I can hear Ali yelling. They are already in the Safeway parking lot, and I'm still at the Key Food deli counter, waiting. "Speed Racer!" she cries, audible a continent away. This, my brother later explains, is when he runs through the parking lot pushing the cart with Finn in the child seat and Ali hanging on the front, imperiling all of them and innocent bystanders to boot. Like to see Mom do that.

One day I decide to make chocolate chip cookies with Franny. Although it's a reward—she has finished her homework, practiced piano, and washed her hair—I have an ulterior motive: I really like chocolate chip cookies. But where our last experiment in cookie baking was a raging success, this time nothing goes right. The dough's lumpy. There's not enough sugar. And then, for reasons I can't fathom, the oven won't get hot enough to bake them. They just sit there, sweating in little warm lumps in this ancient Tappan oven that was new when I was still listening to the Sex Pistols. My daughter loses interest, and I put some water on for pasta (at least the range still works). Peggy said she'd be home about eight.

Next: "I think I'm becoming a feminist."


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