oh you pretty things

1.

I have one-year-old twin sons who enjoy my sister Erin’s company because she gargles for their entertainment and juggles toys for all of four seconds before they fly from her hands. My son Xavier finds the latter feat enchanting; he’ll collect the toys and press them back into her fingers, urging her to do it again. This was one of the reasons I hired her to help Dinora (the best damn nanny in the world) and me with the kids all through August. Erin has a special-education teaching contract with a Los Angeles school district but hasn’t been placed in a school yet. She’s holding out for elementary, and so far she’s interviewed at schools in Brentwood and South Central: from one extreme to the other. She didn’t get either position and is hoping (a little more anxiously now as we move into August) to find a middle ground.

“Your kids are very cute,” our friend Scott told my husband E and me during a barbecue dinner on his newly renovated backyard terrace. There was something else he wanted to say, and I could tell he was debating whether or not he should keep it to himself. I had a feeling I knew what it was. “They’re…” He paused again. I smiled encouragingly. “…pretty,” he said. “I didn’t want to say it…but they are!”

“I know this,” I announced, “and I am not ashamed.”

Despite their healthy husky size and Dinora’s tendency to dress them in identical macho outfits (I myself favor a more metrosexual look), I’ve lost count of the number of times a stranger will see my boys on the street or in the park or in Whole Foods and follow up the “Are they twins?” question with, “Boy and girl?” Xavier started out being the girl, with the white-blonde hair and huge blue almond-shaped eyes that sent nurses clucking over him right after my C-section; he’s also full-lipped and pale as milk, like he dropped out of something by Hans Christian Anderson. But then Xavier filled out and developed a convincing cowboy swagger. His brother Griffin lost the dark hair he was born with and grew himself some ash-blond curls. So now he’s the girl. I suppose I could cut them out if I wanted, but I doubt he’s being too traumatized. (He loves the petting-zoo song and the other performances on his Kidsongs DVDs, but he really comes alive when he hears either ‘Blue Orchid’ or ‘My Doorbell’ by the White Stripes, and tomorrow I plan to introduce him to ‘Seven Nation Army’. That baby is too cool for words.)

It’s fun to tell E that if the next one, when we have a next one, isn’t a girl, I’m still going to dress him up in tiny little Juicy Couture outfits and enroll him in ballet.

2.

The new novel progresses. I wish I could come up with a decent working title. I would love to call it either A GAME OF YOU or THE SECRET HISTORY but Neil Gaiman and Donna Tartt got there first, respectively, and so a pox on them.

Today’s progress wasn’t much — 500 words hustled out during the kids’ late-morning nap, since Dinora was off today — but it felt good. I finished the first chapter, and although the basic storyline is the same, it just feels so much richer than the earlier version from about a year ago, when I completed a first draft and then set the whole project aside with the plan to return to it after I wrote the YA novel. Today I was grateful that I trusted my instincts and made that decision, because I can see the ways I wasn’t ready, the things I still needed, to write the book I want. But — not to quote from a Britney Spears song or anything — I think I’m ready now.

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