Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Interloping Babydoll

The Baby discovered Princess Commando's lone Barbie doll (Astronaut Barbie) the other day. She was fascinated by the long silky hair and kept patting her own head to compare the texture and length. She produced a "word" which resembled "hair." And, it dawned on me that maybe having a doll would be a good opportunity to help her better relate to the parts of the body- to be able to show me where something hurt (for instance, when she had an earache) and to reinforce her growing vocabulary. And while she is a relatively gentle child, it would not be a bad idea to use the doll to help model how to be tender and compassionate toward others. I was telling my mother during a phone conversation about my excitement in being able to buy The Baby a babydoll, as Princess Commando never showed any interest in dolls. My mother told me that she still had in her possession a doll from her childhood and she would bring it over. 

The doll is 55 years old. It is about the size of a 6 month old baby. It has piercing blue eyes with thick dark lashes and lids that close when she is tipped backward. She also has a bright red, cupid's bow mouth. The Baby was terrified of the doll and hid behind a chair until my mother sweetly coaxed her out. My mother sat both babies on her lap and assured The Baby that Babydoll was harmless. But, The Baby wasn't buying it.

The Baby took a little time to warm up to Babydoll. But, eventually she extended her hand to examine Babydoll's body parts- shifting her limbs, manipulating the movable eyelids and assessing the whorls and grooves on her head which suggested hair.

I thought that maybe The Baby would be able to better relate to Babydoll if she was dressed in familiar clothing. I pulled an outfit that The Baby had outgrown from a storage bin and dressed Babydoll in it. It did not produce the desired result.  In fact, it freaked the older kids out when it appeared that The Baby was hanging off of the couch- when in reality it was Babydoll tipped on her side. I must admit, on a couple of occasions that evening, my eyes had been tricked into believing The Baby had escaped from her crib when I caught a glimpse of Babydoll sitting in the middle of the living room wearing The Baby's clothes.

The Baby did try to engage Babydoll in conversation. It was really quite sweet. The boys and I watched from the kitchen doorway as The Baby babbled to Babydoll in the living room. Upon realizing that she was not going to receive a response from Babydoll, she knocked her over and then dug her little fingers into her eyeballs and dragged her by the face across the floor. So much for tenderness. When The Baby realized we were watching her, she quickly flashed us a huge grin and shrugged her shoulders up and down in a little dance- as if to say, "I wasn't doing anything wrong. We were just dancing."

Maybe, with time, Babydoll will grow on The Baby. But for now, she has found a home in the fireplace with our flying monkey statue who is forever frozen in a "raise the roof" pose.

On a positive note, Babydoll has provided me with a new method of tormenting my children. If you really  want to spook someone, replace their afternoon snack from the cupboard with an eerie 55 year old babydoll.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

There is a Little Old Lady in My Mouth

Just what you wanted to see on a Wednesday morning- a close up of my mouth. Yes, my teeth are that crooked.

On Monday, I went for my second in a series of hydrogen breath tests which help determine whether my body is tolerating or absorbing certain sugars properly. Since the birth of The Baby, my body has been all out of balance. In addition to working through bouts of vertigo, I have, also, been dealing with bouts of intense abdominal pain. There may be a link between the two ailments and the answer will hopefully come from the results of the testing. Before the test, patients are required to cease taking certain medicines and supplements. And the day before the test we are required to follow a strict diet. Basically, you can only consume boiled chicken (or fish), rice, chicken broth, water and jello. The test is timed and you take it with other people; so it is important that everyone arrives on time. On Monday, there were only two other woman with me. One was about my age and the other was an elderly woman. The test procedure goes as follows: patients provide a baseline sample of their breath which is obtained by breathing into special collection bags which are attached to a hard plastic tube (resembling one of those noise maker party favors). The technician then injects the samples in the diagnostic machine. Then you consume 8 oz sugary liquid. The breath samples are repeated every 20 minutes for three hours. We all wear name tags so that the technician can match up the proper bags with the proper patient. With only three of us in the room, it was not an unruly number to handle. And her task seemed quite simple and straightforward. But, she made a nasty error which made me want to go home and rinse my mouth with Lysol All Purpose Cleaner.

The technician was one of those bitchy, know it all types. She was clearly distracted and agitated through out the test. Her exasperation began when a fourth patient arrived after the test commenced. The technician made us all very aware of the fact that this patient's name was mud before she even walked in the test room. So, it was even more uncomfortable for the rest of us, when Patient #4 arrived and admitted that she had not adhered to the strict preparation guidelines. Instead of calmly explaining to Patient #4 that she would have to reschedule because the test results would be invalid, she ripped her a new one and made it quite evident that this patient was an idiot in her estimation. I think we all sort of felt the same way. I mean, come on, we all read the preparations pamphlet and followed the guidelines. After Patient #4 was given the boot, the technician received a phone call from the front desk. Apparently there was some mix up in personnel scheduling and someone else had taken over the tech's duties of dealing with the doctors' phone service. We know this because our tech was talking in her outside voice and using some choice adjectives to describe the girl who had stolen her duties. It was a small room, there was barely any place to hide our heads to mask the uneasiness we all felt. So the three of us sat quietly, uncomfortably rolling our eyes in the solidarity of our disbelief at this technician's unprofessional behavior.

I mention the tech's agitation because it is the only excuse, if one should be warranted, for why she performed such a stupid error. Somewhere between the 2nd and 9th sample we provided (I blocked out the exact time), the tech had given me the wrong device to blow into. It was only after I had wrapped my mouth around it and provided my sample that the patient next to me shouted, "Oh, no! You gave her the wrong bag!" The tech looked back at the counter and confirmed that she had taken the bag out of order. She had given me the old lady's bag. I had my mouth on the bag of the Old Bag. I was struck into a state of numbness. And it's a good thing because if I had truly processed then what had happened I would have FREAKED OUT! I have no nice words to describe my technician, so from here on she is going to be called, Incompetent. Incompetent then proceeded to use the sample from the wrong bag to record my results. I wanted so badly to speak up; but, I did not want to offend the old woman by having her believe that I thought she might be diseased- which I did think because isn't that why we were all there-we were unwell? And if it was not bad enough that Incompetent made the mistake the first time, she did it again at the end of the testing. But, both the woman next to me and I spoke up before the device was in my mouth.

I didn't wig out until I went home and relayed the story to The Mr. and heard his reaction of, "Eww! Dude, what if she has herpes or some communicable disease. You need to call your doctor tomorrow and tell her what happened. From a scientific standpoint, your test results won't even count because of the contamination." And, then he told me he would not kiss me again. Because I have Old Lady in my mouth. I can't say that I blame him.

I couldn't sleep that night. I was anxious about making the phone call to my doctor. I had written a letter, a script, just in case I got nervous. And, when I called, the operator patched me through to my doctor's assistant who just so happened to be Incompetent. I wanted to cry. How do you leave a message with the person you have a complaint about? I was very vague and I could tell that she was annoyed. I didn't hear back from my doctor until this morning. I love her. She was very upset about the error and affirmed that this recklessness is unacceptable and she will be looking into it further. She, also, confirmed what The Mr. suggested, that the results would need to be interpreted differently and my not yield true answers. She thanked me for bringing this issue to her attention. And, she apologized profusely.

As patients, we agree to adhere to the preparation guidelines (which for some of us, leave us uncomfortable for weeks prior to testing); and, we agree to participate in time consuming tests because we are concerned about our health. When an error such as this occurs, my faith in medical personnel wavers. I realize in the scheme of major health issues or mistakes this may be viewed as a minor infraction; but, it is recklessness none the less. I shudder to think about the mistakes, the grave errors that occur on a daily basis through out our country in the field of health care- which forever change the course of one's life, of well being. Once again, I am reminded that I could be much worse off. But, still sucking on someone else's bag is just plain gross.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Promoting Malnutrition on a Friday Morning

For the record, she did have oatmeal, a banana and milk before I gave her the cookie. Always one to make healthy choices, she ended up just feeding it to the dog in the end. Happy Friday, Everyone! Go have a cookie.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Go Into Anaphylactic Shock When I Listen to Ignorant Parents Speak on National Television

This is an illustration I was commissioned to design a while back for a Tolerance and Diversity article.

This morning I woke up earlier than usual and left my house in the veil of darkness- well before my children departed for school- so that I could sit  through a boring three hour diagnostic test (a story for another time). I brought a book to pass the time; but, I was too distracted by the noise of the television in the room we were sequestered in to absorb anything I was reading   My interest, instead, was piqued by a story about parents in a school in Edgewater, Florida who are shunning a 7 year old girl  with a severe peanut allergy because her health issue requires their children to take extra precautions like washing their hands twice a day upon entering the classroom. These parents brazenly accuse that the school, in accommodating the girl's health issues,  is stripping away the rights of the other students. And they want the girl removed from the classroom and home schooled rather than bend to protect the health of one child. I do not normally use my writing as a way to promote a social or political agenda; but, listening to the utter ignorance and selfishness of the protesting parents makes me go into anaphylactic shock. This idea of Peanut Free Classrooms is not new to my family. Years ago, my children's early childhood center/ elementary school became a PEANUT FREE ZONE in order to protect the growing number of students who had severe peanut allergies. At the time, our compassionate principal (who also happens to be my beautiful, wonderful, talented Aunt Liz), faced the backlash of ill informed and unsympathetic parents. I wrote the following "editorial" on October 15, 2004; but, it still coveys how I feel today.

         Peanut butter and peanut products are not necessary for our continued existence, contrary to what many picker eaters will attest. But, for some children, the absence of peanut products is the key to their health and survival. Widespread and fatal peanut allergies are the reasons pediatricians recommend that peanuts be one of the last foods to be introduced to our babies’ vulnerable immune systems.  And this is also the reasoning behind the controversial decision by administrators at The Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence Early Childhood Center #54 in Buffalo, where 10 students suffer severe allergies to peanuts, to become a “Peanut Controlled” environment. This means that all lunches and snacks entering the school are subject to inspection and scrutiny for peanut products. If a food item is questionable, it is sent home, sealed.
As a parent of two children attending ECC#54, I am so grateful to the administration for proving once again that the best interest of all children is the school’s first priority. The pronouncement of a Peanut Controlled School has been met with very strong oppositional emotions. I am fortunate that my children do not have food allergies and I am sympathetic to the aggravation of parents who have children who will only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (in 1st and 2nd grade, my oldest son would only eat cereal and milk). But, I think that many are missing a great opportunity to introduce or redirect their children to more effective sources of protein such as milk, cheese, roasted beef or chicken (not processed). Peanut butter is a very cheap, incomplete source of protein and is often loaded with fat and sugar.
But there is a greater lesson to be learned here, a valuable experience in compassion. Our children are learning to take into account the safety and security of others before their own needs and wants. They are learning acceptance and inclusion. As parents it is our inherent desire and duty to insure and nurture the best interests of our children; that means applying that same concern to the classmates who share the same learning environment as our children. Our children are not as angry about the ban as we would like to believe. They are resilient. We are the ones who choose to allow this one decision to remain a burden in our daily lives. This imposition is minor compared to the daily plight of parents of children with life-threatening allergies, who must be constantly vigilant about the dangers that go unnoticed by many. I would rather spare my children and all of their classmates the upsetting image of a friend succumbing to anaphylactic shock than pine over the few minutes I spend creating a different lunch menu. I would rather my children develop into considerate adults, learning that small sacrifices have a breadth of positive impact on the people around them than have them wonder why a friend must eat away from the others because of the very real possibility that this young life might be in jeopardy. This is more than an issue over food preference or aversion; this is a matter of life or death.
When I pick up my kindergartener from school and all of the children come out to their moms and dads bursting joyfully with facts and experiences, leaving their teacher with a goodbye hug excited for tomorrow’s adventures, I know that my children’s school is doing an amazing job at planting the seeds for life long learning. At the end of the day, the subject of the absence of peanuts has not impeded their education at all.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oh, S'No!

It would have been nice to wake up to a little bit of this on my doorstep this morning:


But instead, I woke up to the collective groan of the good people of Buffalo, New York who had just discovered upon clearing the sleep from their eyes that it snowed. Again. It's old news. But, I'm not going to complain. I just wish that I had the jaunty optimism, the rosy outlook, the song in my heart to embrace it. I  wish I could be Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen on the train to Vermont in White Christmas nuzzling the images of snow with their song. 


Sadly for the lovely, little traveling quartet, there was nary a snowflake on the ground when they arrived in Vermont. If only their train had been diverted to Buffalo. In March.

Monday, March 21, 2011

lil advice

They were just chilling on the couch early Saturday morning. She was waiting for The Mr. to return with her antibiotic for her ear infection and he was waiting for The Mr. to return to take him to an "emergency" soccer game. Because his team had been doing so poorly in the past few scrimmages, the coach decided that an early morning practice game was necessary (unfortunately, they ended up losing that one, too). I love watching the two of them together. She is perfectly content to hang out with him and he is more than happy to hold her close. Sometimes I get to sneak in shots like this:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not Yo Mama's Little Golden Books

The Baby's little pointer finger, her "What's that?" finger- always extended while out on a walk.
Yesterday the weather was a glorious, balmy 50 degrees. I dressed The Baby in her little leather shoes and brought her out of the cave to test her walking skills on city sidewalks. We had been reading a collection of Eloise Wilkin's Golden Books stories before bedtime. And, I thought our first real walk would resemble something from the "What Does Baby See?" series- where a baby in a bonnet experiences sweet and tender bits of nature (crocuses blooming, fat robins hopping on spring green lawns) as he explores his world. The Baby of my world was sweet, for sure- toddling beside me, holding my hand, eyes wide with wonder, little pointer finger extended accompanied by the lovely chiming of "What's that?" (which really comes out as, "S'at? S'at?) But, we are in the transition between winter and spring-our Brown phase. The place where the leaves we neglected to collect before Thanksgiving sit soaking and rotten on our lawns; where there is more mud than grass; and, where the robins have not yet returned, but the vultures are out picking at dead things in the street.

In Little Golden Books, baby might see a fluffy chickadee light on a cherry blossom branch above her.
  What did The Baby see on our walk?


In Eloise Wilkin's darling illustrations, baby might tumble upon a  blanket of grass, feeling the soft blades between his bare toes. 
On our walk, what did The Baby feel?

In  Little Golden Books, baby might hear the croaking of a frog or the chirping of a cricket. 
What did The Baby hear while walking on the streets of Buffalo?

In the charming world of Eloise Wilkin's baby, the scent of honeysuckle and lavender permeates the air. 
 What did The Baby smell while on our walk?

I exaggerate (although we have, in years past, had the county police helicopter circle our hood for fugitives). Our outing wasn't that far off from a scene from Little Golden Books. We had sunshine. And, I had a charming, willing companion- who opened my eyes to all of the teaching I have yet to do. I forget that the United States Postal Service's blue mail boxes, fire hydrants, stop signs, lamp posts, pine cones, leaves; the sounds of: buses, car horns, sticks beneath our feet- are all new and exciting to her. We'll have the scent of lilac and lavender soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mothers Have the Strongest Arms

The Baby had been under the weather for what seemed like a long Buffalo winter. It was just a little upper respiratory bug; but it did not want to let go of her. And, she did not want to let go of me. I noticed that she was feeling better when I regained the use of my arms. I had been carrying her around for weeks as that is where she was most peaceful and quiet. It felt as if she might perch there forever. In a way, we do carry our babies forever. For instance, we hold them when they are grappling with the trials of third grade:

And, we give them a lift when middle school becomes overwhelming.

And, we still hoist them on our backs when the questions and concerns of high school swirl in their heads.

And, when they are adults, we carry them in our hearts and teach them how to be strong.

Friday, March 11, 2011

feeling fortunate on this friday morning

For all of my complaining about our winter weather in Buffalo, New York, today I am feeling very fortunate to live here where the waves merely ripple and bob toy boats in the bay. Keeping the people of Japan in my thoughts.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Perils of Daydreaming

At the end of winter, on the days when the rain floods the earth and spills into the basement, and I can count on two fingers how many times we've left the house in one week, we daydream earnestly about a more temperate time. Of balmy breezes. Of bare feet in sand. Of tanned skin. Of scavenging for beach glass. Of sunshine.

An old digital "painting" from a photograph of the kids at Hanford Bay, NY

But, sometimes I fall into my reverie a bit too hard and cause myself a migraine. The world turns gray and I land on the couch with  a case of the vapors. Those are the days when The Baby, who has for months fulfilled her promises of napping, decides to retract her guarantee of a few mind-free, hands-free moments. As the pressure swells in my brain so do her destructive tendencies. By the raucous clanging and thumping from upstairs, I can hear that she is dismantling her crib. And, I know that all hope has departed for a few minutes of recovery.  I bring her to the living room with me where I hope that she will "play." But, she does not. She, instead, perches on my stomach and incessantly pokes me in the face. And laughs. 

When I take to the floor to find a quiet way to amuse her, she whines to be brought back to the couch. She is cute. But, she is not cuddly. Or sympathetic. By the time my triptans finally kick in, she is as calm and as peaceful as a little lamb. She becomes a focused scholar- absorbed in stacks of board books, not wanting anything to do with me. Someone needs to tell the little brain that she has things all backwards. To which she will probably reply, "Are you certain that I am the one who has it wrong?"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Road Map of My Sweater

Because of the nature of my work ( I am a human snot rag, bib, food shield, sponge, what have you), I have little occasion to dress with an air of comeliness. But, every morning I awake at the same time (5:50 AM), shower and don clean, pressed clothes. I face myself in the mirror, smooth my hands over the wrinkle free surface of my clothing, and rally myself for a favorable day. That confidence, and cleanliness, lasts for about 20 minutes- at which point, the children wake for school and The Baby takes a handful of sliced bananas and decides she is going to go all simian and hurl them at my shirt. By the evening, my sweater bears the road map of my passage through the day.

This is why I do not spend much money on clothing. It is one less thing to cry over. It is not all dirty and gross, however. That spot where the drool soaks through to the skin of my shoulder, is the same place where each of my kids rests his or her freshly shampooed and conditioned head when they come to give me a hug good night.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Super Sacred Spiral Notebook

Henry used to compose his drawings out in the open at our dining room table. He filled notebook after marble composition notebook- pilfered from the stacks I purchased in bulk at the beginning of the school year- with his sketches. Eventually, he graduated to single subject spiral notebooks. I proffered many times to purchase  a true artist's sketch book for him. But, he declined. For a child who abhorred those notebooks for school writing because he had trouble staying within the lines and grids, he seemed to find great comfort in defying the confines of the page with his designs. It was almost a "f#@% you" to the academic world- who, at the time, punished him for not being neater in his chirography.

His lines were simple; yet, the stories he illustrated- fantasy scenes freely spilling forth from an active imagination- were epic. They were not masterpieces by any means; but, he had mastered a style that mirrored his personality- always to the point and always black and white. I valued that immensely. I loved that my boy loved to draw. I thought that we could bond over this creative outlet. I offered many times to sit with him and show him how to shade and add dimension to his characters. But, he was reticent. He humored me on a handful of occasions. And I could see in school projects, by his careful observance of shading, that he had taken a little something away from our lessons.  I thought I was helping to cultivate his talent, his style. I saw potential for wonderful things- a talent for story telling in its most primitive form. In hindsight, I understand this was a mistake. He interpreted my gesture as a suggestion that his work was not good enough- that it needed improvement. He was not drawing to reach a potential. He was merely drawing for pleasure. But, I did not recognize this then.

Over time he became more guarded of his work- less willing to share. His quiet nature seemed to become more brooding when he was drawing. As he became further haunched over his notebook when I walked in the room, I worried that he was hiding a secret message on the paper, an abstract rendering of a struggle with inner torment. Or, I thought,  he was scheming in some way. It is always the quiet ones who wire the family home with explosives and stand across the street to watch as it's blown to ashes- all because of some secret anguish. I asked if he would share his work with me and I was met with a brusque, "No." When I asked Why not?, he would reply, "Because they are mine and I don't want to share them."

When it reached the point where he was actively hiding his work and stealing off to his room late at night to draw, I became more worried and demanded that he show me his notebook. He was so young. If there was something that was bothering him- that he could not express verbally, I thought I might be able to help him through it. He refused and I wrestled the notebook from his hands as he protested wildly. It was a fatal move on my part- for our relationship. As I leafed through the pages, I was simultaneously flooded with relief and guilt. Robots, dragons, spaceships, a landscape of rocks and shrubs, unique and jagged creatures. Perhaps they represented more. But, he was only 9 years old. I apologized profusely, sincerely. I tried to explain that I had been concerned. That I did not want to miss any signs- any quiet warning cry for help. But, I had cracked his trust in me. Needless to say, he shunned me. And, placed the ban on me.

I have honestly, truthfully, faithfully kept my word and I have kept out of his notebooks. His notebooks are his journals. His release. His escape. His world where no one- even someone with the greatest understanding of his learning challenges (the ocular motor dysfunction, the struggle with written expression)- will tell him how he must do something or how he might do it better. If I kept a personal, sacred diary and shared my entries with someone I trusted, I certainly would not expect them to correct my grammar or give me pointers on how to improve my writing. I am certain there are times when the notebook is a way to deal with us- his parents, the authorities. If, much further down the road, he saw it fit to open his notebooks to me, I wouldn't be surprised if I found an illustration that looked something like this:

That is me, tied up, by the way.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy March

In like a lion...

...Out like a lamb

March, you had better be a lamb by the end of your run. You are a very long month.  As much as I wish that I were a drinker and could revel in the celebration of St. Patrick's day- it's really not my holiday (although I do love wearing green and pretending that it matters to me). There are not any other festivities to look forward to this month- except for the first day of spring which the calendar says is on March 20th (But, in Buffalo, it will not really arrive until the last week of June when the kids will swelter in their non-air conditioned classrooms counting down the minutes to summer vacation).  This is the first year in a long time that we have had a true, wearisome, snow sodden, Buffalo winter. I am ready to stop hibernating- ready to throw open the windows and dance with the first teases of warm air.  The Baby is ready to emerge from the cave running. I am really looking forward to the thaw and getting outside to clean up 4 months of built up dog poop. Tis the simple things that make me happy. 
Wishing you all a warm and prosperous March.