"This has been the perfect summer!" I've said more than once to the girls when some coincidence, like their day camp bus breaking down and bringing them home just five minutes after I rushed in late from the store, worked in our favor. I know full well my perception is skewed to the good this year, thanks to a confluence of chemicals (Mommy's) and maturation (the girls' and, well, Mommy's) and positive imagery (more about that later), but what's the harm in a little private hyperbole?
But really, could you design a more perfect couple of days than the first two we spent as a family in San Fran?
Like most mornings in this unfamiliar time zone, I woke Thursday before Randy and the girls and like most mornings in these beautiful and unfamiliar places, I tied on running shoes as quietly as I could and snuck out the door to go throw myself at a sprint into the newness.
One mile from Ghiradelli Square to the art deco Coit Tower wreathed in fog. Tai chi octogenarians kicking their legs up in the air to waist height made me vow to pick up their practice and be as lively in my retirement.
(Which brings up the question of the strange problem of the stay-at-home-mom's vacation. "The beach is beautiful and all," I told Randy a few Friday nights ago, "but that's where I go on a work day with the kids. You know what I find really relaxing? Meeting my friend Kerry at the gym and talking about teaching and books as fast as we can in the couple of hours we've got, rar-rar-rar-rar," my hands making chatting motions at each other, "and then rushing home and I'm all ahhh."
(And dear husband, who works with grown-ups all day, and who would be the recipient of all my rar-rar-rar Relaxation on this trip, said the equivalent of "Hm."
(Actually, he wasn't the sole recipient - we've had great visits with old friends in Cali: Jim Rodney and Greg Grubbs in LA, Scott Cotner the daredevil skier and Coachella fire-statue constructor and his fiancée Kendra last night at the Top of the Mark, along with dear Young Koo, who apparently had my husband singing "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls" at karaoke after I took the girls home - haven't heard the whole story yet. And there was a beautiful afternoon and evening in Carmel Valley with dear old friends Nadene and Jim Dermody and their whipsmart sixth-grader Declan. Jim's mad for Steinbeck and during the five years he was my department head at Gordon Tech in Chicago, he'd spend every summer in Monterey and come back lamenting Illinois's miserable winters. We all had a bit of a crush on him, he was such a kind, funny, soft-spoken but fiercely loyal boss. I thought he was entrenched at GT after thirty-something years of dutiful service, but he fell in love with his new hire Nadene the band director and they ran off to Salinas to make their dreams come true. Now Nadene is the principal and superintendent at the Lagunita School that Steinbeck wrote of in The Red Pony. Jim's going to celebrate 45 years in teaching soon, Declan is a charmer and my heart's about to bust with happiness for them all.
(Over dinner I told Jim and Nadene I had renewed my teaching certificate and started applying for substitute jobs in our district. Nadene offered me a job on the spot. Now all I need is the eleven years before our youngest graduates New Trier and to get Randy on board and California! Here we come again! For good this time.)
Back to my walk. The path down off Telegraph Hill is down twisty and steep flights of wooden and rock and then concrete steps, past sweet and neat cottages and wild gardens. A starbursty type of purplish-blue allium is in flower right now. An impossible cliff face to my right as the steps cease near the Levi's offices.
A waterfront run past piers and the Alcatraz ferry that we will not take because two mere weeks out was insufficient planning. Giant sculptures, the Ferry building, antique restored electric streetcars from Boston and Illinois and Italy remind me of the one named Desire.
Back at the hotel, a quick shower, I cannot cannot dress myself in the warm brown cords I brought, just cannot share the tourist look, so one of my recycled dresses from Santa Monica and tights and we hop in a cab. The sun is out.
"MOMA," I tell the cab driver and he drops us off at a street corner with a line of young and pretty people waiting to get their names on the list for brunch. I'm looking around for the museum while Randy is realizing the diner is called "Momma's." So the rest of the day we're making up misheard cabbie instructions, "Sir, I said The Fairmont, not The Bare Mount!"
Cindy Sherman has a fabulous show at our realized destination. The girls are into it. Their favorite photo subject has been themselves since Dad got them the little digital cameras the day before we left. There's a collection on the theme of theatricality with odd set pieces and short films the girls like - two men dressed in a rat and a panda bear costume traipsing around Swiss landscapes and a woman with an empty laundry detergent bottle taped to her face throwing paint at herself.
"My next Halloween costume," I whisper to the girls.
"Mom, no, that's so embarrassing!" My seven year old is growing up.
Fortifying snacks at the museum cafe (what a city! vegan soup everywhere!) Another cab ride across town to the Exploritorium in the magnificent Palace of Fine Arts, whose design is from the Pan-Pacific Exposition, but whose concrete construction out of molds from the original dates only from the sixties. Inside, hundreds of hands-on exhibits on physics and chemistry and optics and astronomy and chaos systems keep the girls and Randy and me enthralled. Fantastic. My favorite? Watching a minutely calibrated scale measure the fading weight of a tiny beaker of water as evaporation occurs! Whoa!
We just scratched the surface when hunger hit so on to the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building, a mall for foodies, where Acme Bread Company, Cowgirl Creamery and lots of other yum yum vendors tempt us. We have lunch at the Market Bar, then I buy some stone fruit and at Miette, some candy, macarons and two six-inch cake pans, one with a rounded top, another with a dropout bottom, for family birthday cakes.
We take one of the antique streetcars home, crowded and less pretty inside than on the outside, but I am entertained by the kid next to me on his cell phone and his story about meeting a Spanish girl and going to prayer meeting with her, not understanding a word, but sharing "the feeling of it."
I need to get out of the squish on the streetcar so we get off at Pier 39 and do touristy stuff for a couple of hours - oogle sea lions and a sword juggler, giggle our way through a mirror maze, play antique games at the Musee Mechanique.
We have dinner at Bistro Boudin after I quiz one of the bakers about their original starter (yes, it's only water, flour and salt; the naturally occurring yeast comes from the unique wet and cold conditions of the region; no, they don't use additional yeast; and yes, the starter is from the original - that was saved in a bucket from the 1906 post-earthquake fire!)
The next day we would cross the Golden Gate Bridge, have a retro lunch at the waterfront institution The Spinnaker in Sausalito, Ooo and Aah at the neighborhoods of house boats, cavort on beautiful Muir Beach, and explore WW2 era bunkers on a cliff. Mia will spy a woodpecker. A perfect couple of days? Just about.