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I got a call from the nurse at Carla’s camp. I feel like school/camp nurses should be contractually obligated to begin ALL phone calls to a parent with “Your child is FINE, but this is the nurse and I am calling because…” I mean, unless the child is not fine, but we are fortunately not going down that path today. 

Apparently, Carla’s eye was bothering her. The nurse went through the steps she’d taken to relieve the pain: flushed the eye, applied a compress, looked at it. I didn’t have any other advice for her (am not a nurse) and we were about an hour out from the end of the camp day, so I said, “Okay, sounds like we should keep an eye on it. But I don’t think I should come get her early, do you?” The nurse said she didn’t think so.

I mean, things get into eyes, right? Dust and eyelashes and contact lens solution. And it can be irritating or painful, but you flush the eye and blink a lot and just… let it resolve. 

This was my attitude as I went to pick up Carla from camp. Her eye was still bothering her. She kept it half shut and it was red and a little puffy. Otherwise, she was cheerful. She had no idea what happened to the eye! All of sudden, it just started hurting! 

Just to be safe – you know, to consult An Actual Doctor instead of relying on my admittedly lacking Mom Skillz – I called the eye doctor on the way home. No answer at his office. The answering service said there was a Dr. C on call and took a message. 

Carla and I went home and she lay on the floor and I gave her a compress to put on her eye. Boy, she’s really milking this, I thought affectionately/exasperatedly. I took a photo of her and sent it to my parents along with my (near) daily report of Carla’s activities.  

Carla lay there for a long time. I looked at her eye. It was red, yes. But the pupil looked normal and she seemed otherwise fine. She’ll blink it out, I thought. She said, “I think I’m going to go swing,” and I agreed, feeling satisfied that she was Fine, and was done playing the Woe Is Me card. 

My father called. He doesn’t often call out of the blue – my parents are schedule-a-time-to-talk folk. He said that my mom had read my email, and told him immediately that something was wrong with Carla’s eye. OVERREACTING MUCH, MOTHER? I thought, exasperated. She’ll blink it out eventually!

But my dad had a bunch of concerned-sounding questions. And while we were talking, Carla came inside from swinging – after maybe two minutes, which is Very Unlike Her – and lay back down on the floor and asked for another cold compress. 

My husband was now texting me about Carla’s eye. He, like my dad, was asking a lot of questions in a way that made me nervous. Suddenly, my Wait Until You Blink It Out plan seemed foolish.

My dad said that I should call the on-call ophtho back if I hadn’t heard from him in 30 minutes. It had been… 45. So when I got off the phone – significantly chastened and now feeling kind of worried – I called him back. I waited around for a bit – 15 minutes, maybe? And then I texted my husband that we were going to pick him up on the way to the Emergency Room. 

We have been to the Emergency Room a handful of times. Once, my husband sliced open his thumb (if you drop a glass dish in the sink, do not try to catch it in your hand is my hot tip of the day). Once, I was holding Carla’s hand while we were in Target and she sat down and dislocated her elbow. Once, I was working on a project with a friend and she sliced open her finger. There were a couple of other times: Carla’s cheek met a dog’s tooth (it was not a bite, it was a collision); I drove an ATV through a barbed-wire fence neck first; my father-in-law had sudden onset chest pains. It is never pleasant and it always takes a million years. 

I had not even considered bringing something for Carla to look at/play with (see above re: Mom Skillz), so the three of us sat in the ER and my husband allowed Carla to play a video game on his phone. 

Of course, her eye was starting to look SO MUCH better. The redness had faded, and she was looking at the screen of the phone with both eyes rather than keeping the one squeezed shut. My husband and I exchanged Significant Looks.

We only waited an hour. (In addition to forgetting about entertainment, I also forgot about FOOD [Mom Skillz!] and so it was now seven p.m. and none of us had eaten.) A resident checked Carla and did a full physical exam, which is pretty rare among doctors these days and therefore notable. She wanted to a) flush the eye and b) check it with a special dye to see if there were any scratches. But she needed to consult with the attending physician first and see if they needed to call in the on-call ophtho (presumably the same guy who NEVER called me back harrumph). The attending physician came in. She was cheerful and friendly and agreed with the resident’s assessment. She left. After more time passed, a nurse came in with saline solution and a special syringe. Carla required A Lot of Discussion and several demonstrations before she would allow the nurse to flush her eye with the solution. And then she would only do it for several seconds at a time. It was very cold, apparently. She and the patient angel of a nurse would count to seven out loud together and then take a break. It took ten million years to get 100 ml of saline into my child’s eye. Then we waited for awhile until the attending came back. After a lot of coaxing, she got some of the bright yellow dye in Carla’s eye, turned off the lights, and examined her eye with a special light. She didn’t see any scratches, she said. 

Carla said her eye felt a little better! It was only when she looked straight ahead and blinked that it hurt. She was very cheerful. The attending was very cheerful. She said that someone would be in to flush Carla’s eye a second time, and then we could be on our way.

We waited another while. Carla watched a Disney show on Netflix. (There was a TV in the room, but it was off and no one had said we could watch TV. But… My husband just reached behind the bed and grabbed the remote and turned on the TV! I would never in a million years think to do that without explicit permission.) 

A fourth person came in. She was a EMT, she told us, and she was there to flush Carla’s eye! Carla was much more amenable to the flushing this time. 

After the EMT left, another nurse came in with our discharge papers and we left. 

As we walked out, Carla started complaining that her eye still hurt. 

The next morning when Carla woke up, her eye was still red and now it was all crusty. To be expected, after undergoing whatever trauma it had undergone. But she was still keeping the one eye closed and complaining of pain when she looked forward and blinked.

So I kept her home from camp and got her an appointment with her eye doctor. 

He came in, flushed her eye, put the special dye in… But he said that he could see a bunch of scratches on her eye where something was irritating it. And he LISTENED to her when she said that she was fine when she kept her eyes closed or when she looked to the side, but that it hurt when she looked forward and blinked. Also – and this is a skill I deeply admire – the ophtho managed to listen to Carla and be sympathetic to her fears about being touched/having Things Done to her, while moving things along at a good clip. He did not allow Carla to stall and delay, he did what he needed to do. And it was all over SO FAST! 

After MUCH (but efficient) COAXING, he flipped her eyelid inside out. And there it was, plain as day: a little speck of something, minuscule but visible even to my untrained eye. The ophtho used a swab to remove it. He and Carla speculated that it was a little piece of tree bark, although I have no idea how they came to that conclusion; it looked like dust to me. He gave her a prescription for an antibiotic (because of the scratches) and a special ointment and sent us on our way.

She was completely pain free by the time we reached the car.

The moral of the story is: ALWAYS HAVE THE DOCTOR FLIP THE EYELID. We could have saved SO MUCH time and money and trouble if we had asked the resident or the ER attending to just flip! the! eyelid! Or, even better, if we had thought to have my physician husband flip her eyelid himself at home!

Okay, okay. I am going to take a deep breath. This is why we have health insurance (thank goodness) and this is what money is for. Breathing. Breathing.

The secondary motto is DON’T UNDERESTIMATE EYE STUFF. Because even if you think it is just a dumb eyelash that will blink out eventually, maybe it is a piece of metal that could cause serious damage.

Meanwhile, the on-call ophtho never called us back. Never. I am still mad about it. My husband calls people back at 2:30 in the morning when he is on call. Because that is what it means to be on call. You take patient calls and you return them. The returning of the calls is a critical part. My husband suggested that maybe the ophtho wasn’t accustomed to getting emergency calls! And so he wasn’t paying attention to his phone! To which I say PAH. Even if my husband is delayed by doing a procedure or being with a patient, he calls patients back. Even if he gets a call from a patient that is frustrating in its non-urgency, he still calls that patient back. And I called this on-call ophtho TWICE! Still. Mad. About. It. 

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The other day, Carla had a very specific request for dinner: “May I please have a bowl of white [iceberg] lettuce and a separate bowl of [shredded] cheese and another bowl of tomatoes so that I can put them together and make a salad?” 

Sure, child. Why not. 

I mentioned a while back that we are trying to increase Carla’s calcium intake. And by “we” I mean “me” because my husband seems wholly unconcerned by the issue. Not in an “I’m a Physician and Am Unworried” way, but in a “this is not my problem” way ARGH. And a teeny bit in a Thwarting Efforts way. My father (ALSO a physician) suggested we simply give Carla some Tums (calcium carbonate) and so I suggested to my husband that he grab a roll of Tums next time he was at the grocery store. He said a) we already have Tums at home and when I brightened and said “Oh! We can give Carla those!” he said no, that those Tums were for acid reflux. Blink. Blink blink. 

All of this is to say that I am continually working on getting more calcium into Carla. 

Smoothies, as I think I mentioned before, seemed like the perfect vehicle. Especially considering that Carla likes smoothies, and dislikes most other things. 

But there have been two problems.

  1. She hasn’t been in the mood for smoothies. Almost every day I say, “You’re going to have a smoothie for breakfast!” and she says, “No.” And then I argue with her a little bit, and make pleading noises about calcium intake, and she remains firm, and I give up. Because I am not going to waste a smoothie on her when she is clearly going to Stand Firm. And I get it! I like… chili, but I don’t want to eat it every day. If you told me chili had specific life-extending properties, I would still have a hard time drumming up enough enthusiasm to eat it every day. So I get it. I do. But also: JUST DRINK A SMOOTHIE.
  2. Smoothies do not contain as much calcium as I think. I made one for her with 1/4 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup calcium-fortified orange juice, and 1 cup frozen mango chunks. That makes a LARGE cup of smoothie. And it contains about 40% of a person’s daily calcium. Sigh. It’s a big swoop forward on the calcium-intake-o-meter, but it’s not even halfway, and HOW do I get the rest of the way EVERY DAY?

I wonder if I could mix Carnation Instant Breakfast (200 mg calcium per packet) into her smoothies? 

I found a recipe for frozen yogurt treats that I might try. I broached the idea to Carla and she was a little suspicious, but it would be worth trying at least. Maybe I could mix some Carnation Instant Breakfast into some yogurt and pipe it onto cookie sheets and freeze it? I may give it a try.

I have been Googling like crazy, but the food sources of calcium seem to have so little (50 mg here, 125 mg there – and that’s for a FULL serving of foods she DOESN’T EAT), that it seems impossible to get them to add up to 1300 mg per day. And there is a lot of pooh-poohing of calcium supplements. I get it. I understand that most vitamins don’t have a whole lot of calcium anyway, and that you need to be taking Vitamin D as well so that you can properly absorb your calcium. But it would be really useful to just give Carla a chewable something and be done with it. There are Reasons that I don’t want to get the Viactiv chews (650 mg calcium per chew), but maybe I need to get past them. 

I know I tend to catastrophize. I know I do that. But I keep picturing Carla as an adult, with bones that shatter at the least provocation, and her wan little face asking the heavens, “Why, God, why did my mother not force me to get enough calcium when I was small? Why?” 

Now I understand why my parents were so adamant about me drinking a FULL GLASS of milk every day. (A cup of milk is only 300 mg!)

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One of the most difficult aspects of parenting (for a highly-anxious, prone-to-catastrophizing person like me) is that there is an endless number of potential issues to contend with, and that so many of them come up without warning or context, leaving you to wonder, Is this a normal variation that is just part of a typical childhood? Or is this pathological and requires intervention? 

I don’t even know what to give as an example, because the things seem to come entirely out of the blue and I have ZERO idea how to handle them. But things like lying or bed wetting or stuttering – all things that could be Just A Phase, or could be Signs Of A More Complex Problem, but you don’t know until you know, I guess? I hate that. I want to be able to ask my mom or go on Google and hear/read, “A small percentage (5 to 13%) of children DO tend to turn purple at some point, usually between the ages of 6 and 11, but sometimes as early as age 3. Sometimes the hue leans a bit more toward blue or a bit more toward magenta; it typically fades after six months, but can last for up to two years. Avoiding crucifers during this time can truncate the duration. If your child’s skin develops yellow polka dots during the purple phase, take them immediately to the doctor.” 

Like, just CLEAR and COMFORTING information that says, this is not super common, but it DOES happen, and here’s what to watch for if you are concerned it’s taking an atypical turn… Why can’t there be that for every possible variation of child behavior? WHY. 

(I know why.)

Anyway, what I am hoping to discuss currently is The Teenage Years. 

It seems that I have had MULTIPLE encounters lately with adults who like to say, “Just wait until she’s a teenager.” Sometimes, this is in response to Extreme Sassafras (why is there only one S on the end of this word??) on the part of my child, who sometimes turns up the sass factor because she has the mistaken impression that people find it charming/funny. Well. Some people do, in fact, find it charming and funny, which I find tiresome and irritating. But they don’t have to experience True Sass on a daily basis, so I suppose I should give them a break. Sometimes, this baffling warning comes in response to witnessing/discussing something lovely that my kid does – like how she still holds my hand (sometimes) when we’re walking, or how she’ll still sit on my lap while I read to her, or how she still loves to run up and fling herself at people she cares about for a big hug. “Just wait until she’s a teenager,” they’ll intone, this time with a tenor of pre-wistfulness or knowledgeable sadness.

I am familiar with the “cherish the moment” faction. And I am familiar with the “better sleep now, because you won’t sleep again once the baby’s born!” faction. And I am familiar with the concept of people who either forget how much they disliked being forewarned about things you can literally do nothing about or who feel in their heart of hearts that they have somehow encountered The One Person who has gone an entire lifetime without encountering the concept of a phase of life that literally all people go through. People are just… going to do this. From now until the end of time, probably. And yet, I still find this so irritating I want to scream. 

Probably it is because I am growing increasingly anxious/fearful of The Teenage Years with every passing day. 

And also, I am irritated because it feels inescapably gendered. I don’t think my friend who has sons gets “Just wait until he’s a teenager”ed every five minutes. Plus, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say things in knowing, faux-concerned voices about how a person (usually the father) is going to endure life with THREE TEENAGE DAUGHTERS, as if that is just the absolute worst thing that any human can live through. 

But mainly, I am irritated because I cannot do anything about it. Nothing. If we are very lucky, my daughter will grow and age and at some point become A Teenager. That is a thing that happens. I cannot prolong her not-a-teenager years any more than I can prolong my own youth. 

I am not discounting the very real effects of hormonal changes on young adults! I realize that teenagers CAN be moody and distant and disrespectful and all the terrible things! I get it! Puberty is an actual phenomenon that changes people’s behavior!  

But I am just super annoyed at the people who keep saying, “Just you wait.” WHAT am I supposed to do with that information? Cherish every non-teenage moment, I suppose. 

Today, I am going to make two lists. One list of things that I can look FORWARD to about the teenage years, and a list of things that I want to address when my daughter is a teen. Preferably, my husband and I would discuss and have a plan for these things well in advance, but to be honest, they seem both so horrifying and so far away that I am struggling to focus on them. 

Things About the Teenage Years to Look Forward To

  • Having a kid who can drive herself to / from places (I recognize that this is also a negative point, because I cannot fathom my precious baby a) operating an enormous motor vehicle or b) driving around in the world with so many oblivious idiots)
  • Being able to watch ALL (most) movies together
  • Prom
  • Having more time to myself / more silence (“Just you wait,” says the knowing post-teenage parent, “When she’s a teenager you’ll find yourself LONGING for the days when she talked nonstop for four straight hours.”)
  • Fewer toys cluttering up the house
  • Real conversations 
  • No need for a babysitter
  • Another cook in the house
  • No more playdates – or, at least, not being in charge of scheduling/organizing playdates and enduring the unbearable awkwardness of interacting with parents I don’t know 
  • No longer needing to be the communication bridge between my kid and her friends

Things I Want to Figure Out How to Address

  • Social media
  • Phone / screen time
  • Peer pressure around sex / drugs / alcohol / social media / appearance
  • Sexual assault
  • Driving, with and without friends
  • Spending the night at other kids’ houses
  • Romantic relationships

Well, these lists both seem too short. I did consult a few online lists along the lines of “Great Things About Having a Teen!” Some of them – like enjoying shopping together, or sharing clothing and makeup – seem difficult to predict; I don’t know if Carla will care about shopping or clothing or makeup. And I want to emphasize academics and career-planning, but I’m not sure how to do so in a way that prioritizes Carla’s personality/goals rather than emphasizing the values I grew up with, so I’m not putting it on the list currently. I will continue to think about these topics and add to the lists as I come up with new items. Let me know what you would include. (And if you have any good books about anticipating / raising teenagers, I would be interested in those!)

In the meantime, I ordered this book over the weekend: 

image from amazon.com

While Carla is not quite nine, we are knocking on nine’s door. I am really hoping that the heretofore kind, measured Louise Bates Ames doesn’t say anything akin to, “Just WAIT until she’s a teenager.”

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We have snow this morning, our second proper snow of the season. The check-up I thought was scheduled for today is, in fact, scheduled for tomorrow. Which means my grocery shopping is now also moved to tomorrow. Most significantly, my child is back in school. I am hoping that everything goes as well as possible and that the kids are all in school for a good long time. See how breezy I am? SO BREEZY.

Dinners for the Week of January 10-January 16

  • Sheet Pan Teriyaki Salmon and Green Beans: I wonder if I could substitute a chicken breast for my husband, who’s not wild about salmon? This was indeed good, and I indeed made a chicken breast for my husband.
  • Roasted Garlic Balsamic Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts: I am going to attempt to combine these two recipes into a sheet pan dinner. Do the recipes recommend different temperatures? Yes. Am I still going to do it? Yes, I am. P.S. I almost never pan-sear anything before I put it in the oven. An extra dish to wash? Grease splatter all over my stove? No thank you. Works out just fine. 
  • Spicy Fish Taco Bowls: My husband suggested fish tacos recently, and this is an old favorite that we haven’t eaten in awhile. Plus, as everyone knows, if you put a taco in a bowl it tastes just as good. I will obviously omit the cherry tomatoes from the mango pico.
  • Sesame Soy Chicken Bowls: Two bowls in one week?!?! Yes, folks, I am going there. This recipe is new to me, but it sounds yummy. 
  • Air Fryer Parmesan Chicken with Broccoli and Hasselback Sweet Potatoes: I really don’t think my air fryer is big enough to hold chicken and broccoli at the same time… but maybe I could roast the broccoli? Or maybe I will just steam it as I usually do? Let’s leave it for Future Me to sort out. I also reserve the right to forget completely about the Hasselback sweet potatoes. But they look so intriguing! 
  • Lentil Soup: This is an Ina Garten recipe and everything she touches is magic, so I kind of want to try it out. Our current weather is IDEAL lentil soup weather. Maybe I will make a loaf of miracle no-knead bread as well. Maybe not. I am breezy. This lentil soup was a disappointment. It required a LOT of chopping, even though I bought pre-chopped mirepoix from Trader Joe’s. And it just didn’t taste like anything. I tried some of the modifications suggested in the comments, like adding a parmesan rind for a long time and adding some paprika. Nothing really helped. It was warm and hearty though and it made one million bowls worth of soup, so I will be eating it for A While. The very best it tasted was when you slathered a slice of warm sourdough in butter and dipped it into the soup. Then it was very good.

That’s enough meals for the week. I’m going to try to wrap my mind around this “found time” I have today, and make a cup of tea and try to focus on revisions (which, so far, involve a lot of writing, not that I need ANY EXTRA WORDS). Maybe I’ll do some laundry. Look at me being so breezy.

How breezy are you today? Are you as breezy as I am?

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Apparently day four is the day when my careful less indulgent eating meal plan falls apart and I beg my husband to pick me up a frozen pizza from Target.

Listen, it’s possible that I could have made it longer if this were a typical year. But we are right back in the thick of Pandemic Living (worst idea for a magazine ever – headlines include “The Best KN95 Masks NO ONE Knows About (Yet)!” and “7 Best Ways to Ensure You and Your Loved Ones Won’t Need to Be Seen in the Emergency Room” and “Is Eyebrow Bling the New Lipstick?”) and I am not drinking alcohol during the week (for now) and so I prescribed myself some medicinal pizza for dinner last night. And some randomosity for today.

  • We continue to be very, very lucky. The family members who have had Covid have fully recovered. The rest of us have somehow avoided it so far. Everyone is vaxxed (with the possible exception of my vaccine eligible niece but I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW) and boosted. My part of the world is fairly pro-mask, so most people in the few public places I visit are masked. I have been able to get my hands on rapid test kits and masks. My daughter’s school continues to take Covid very seriously, and has a mask mandate for everyone and a vaccine mandate for the faculty and staff. We are so, so lucky.
  • I know it’s just luck. I mean, as with a lot of “luck,” some of it is privilege. Where we live and where we send Carla to school being two stark examples. But it also seems so easy to fall into the belief that we haven’t contracted Covid because we are careful. I’m sure that’s helped, but I also know that LOTS of very careful people have been hit by Omicrom. We have either avoided it so far because we are super lucky, or it’s possible (I think) that we’ve had an asymptomatic case without knowing it.
  • Despite being SO LUCKY, I have been filled with despair all week. Early Pandemic-level despair, which I have been fortunate to avoid for many months at a time over the past yearish. The news – which I have been trying, semi-successfully to avoid (except when my husband texts me a particularly upsetting news item THANKS HUSBAND) – is so full of doom and gloom that I feel like I can sense my blood pressure shoot up with every headline. And we have been remote all week, which is a nightmare for my particular brand of child and her particular brand of mother. Plus, there has been the possibility hanging over our heads of another week of virtual learning, which is giving me a stomachache. I mean, there are LOTS OF GOOD REASONS to have virtual learning! Lots and lots! And I am grateful that I am not the one who had to make the decision, that’s for damn sure. But there are also, obviously, MANY BENEFITS to having one’s children physically in school, learning from a human instead of a screen, doing actual math instead of a video game (seriously) and interacting with friends in person. (Not to mention the benefits of in-person learning for the many, many parents who do not have the ability to work from home, or the bandwidth to work while supervising a child during remote school.)
  • We don’t know whether we will have virtual learning next week, too. I have been refreshing my email constantly. I don’t know what to hope for. That we continue to stay home and help drive down the number of Covid infections? Not that our school’s numbers were ever that high. That we return to in-person school for the sake of the children and the working parents and my own sanity? I think I will rejoice/weep at either outcome. Right now, I just want to KNOW so I can PREPARE MYSELF.
  • Possibly due to an urge to soothe the pandemic angst, or possibly this is just my typical post-holiday M.O., I have ordered a few lovely things lately. I got this gorgeous sweater from Nordstrom with a gift card. It is SO SOFT. And it’s totally different from what I normally wear – which tends toward casual and butt-covering. I recently bought a pair of these high-waisted jeans and I think the sweater would look very cute with it. But also… I can’t tell if the sleeves are TOO balloon-y? They are MUCH more balloony in real life than they are on the model. Do they emphasize my arms in a stylish way, or a cartoonish one? Do I look like Popeye after pandemic stress and despair forced him to give up his weight-lifting habit? The jury is still out. We shall see. On the Stay-at-Home Clothes front, I purchased a zip up hoodie that I’m hoping will cover my buttular region. It looks like it will cover my buttular region, based on the photo. But I share nothing in common, body-shape-wise, with the person modeling the hoodie, and I suspect my region is vaster. The hoodie hasn’t arrived yet, but it has “amazing” right in the name, so I have high expectations.

  • Retail therapy is fun even when the purchases aren’t for me. I also ordered this napping kittens calendar for Carla. We’d scrolled through many, many options and this was her favorite and she was obviously correct. I also got my husband another Magic Puzzle puzzle; I’d given him one called The Happy Isles for Christmas, and he loved it. I don’t even LIKE or DO puzzles and I loved it. My husband wouldn’t even let me help (my version of helping with a puzzle is finding one piece and then leaving), and I loved it. It is seriously so adorable, with a million fun things to look at, and even a list of things to find, like in a Where’s Waldo? book. Plus, there’s the “magic” aspect of the puzzle, which was really cool (but I can’t reveal that part because it is magic). If you are a puzzle lover or know one, this MUST be on your puzzle purchase list.
  • Did I tell you about my new salt and pepper shakers? It’s not a new purchase, but looking for those links reminded me that I got them in early December. We had been using one of those Costco pepper grinders for all our peppering needs, but the Costco salt grinders have never worked well for us… so for the last Costco-sized-salt-container-amount-of-time, we’d been salting our food with a Costco-sized salt container. Ridiculous. My husband’s family aren’t a salt and pepper on the table family, but even so, when they were here so often this past fall, I kept feeling so awkward about not having a proper set of shakers for the table. And my family ARE big salt and pepper at the table people, so I was feeling really anxious about it in advance of their visit. My neuroses are many and varied. The result is that I finally persuaded my non-salt-or-pepperer husband that I NEEDED these and I love them. (He does not love them. He only ever uses salt, and the salt grinder grinds crystals of salt that are, to be fair, bigger than your average engagement ring diamond. But it does not seem that you can buy a matching set of pre-ground salt and grindable pepper shakers. And they always [right?] come in a set.)
  • My computer is driving me crazy. the keyboard is not working correctly, and when i try to capitalize things, it either doesn’t work or it WORKS TOO MUCH. As when i am trying to emphasize VIa CApitalization, when the shift key gets over-enthusiastic and capitalizes two letters in a row. I have left the capitalization in this bullet as my computer wants it, for an example. It is Very ANnoying. YOu wouldnt believe how often i have to delete and retype. BLARGH.
  • Speaking of calendars, which we were, a few bullet points ago: if you use a physical calendar, what kinds of things do you fill it with? I do NOT use a physical calendar, even though I love calendars. I have tried many times in the past, and somewhere around February I forget about it and then don’t look at it again until June, when I make a renewed effort to use it… and then forget about it completely until I see Swistle’s annual calendar post and start drooling over all the fun and beautiful options out there. If you think I could resolve this issue with a daily calendar rather than a monthly one, you would be incorrect because I forget about those too. If I didn’t know this about myself, I would own Benjamin Dreyer’s day-to-day grammar and style version. What was the point of this bullet? Oh, right.
  • Speaking of calendars, again, still, I want to populate Carla’s calendar with important things, but I’m not sure what those THINGS should be. Obviously, I will add the birthdays of family members. And I think I can safely add the first day of spring break, the last day of school, maybe even the first day of school for next year if the school has posted that information already. But… what else? Do I add weekly things, like swimming lessons (which we are resuming this month yay/eek)? I WANT to add upcoming trips, of which we have two planned. I WANT to add summer camp (which we had to register for in early December do NOT get me started). But in Year Three of the Covid-19 Pandemic (I started to type “of the Current Pandemic” but that sounded much too bleak), I am wary. So wary. Do I put them on the calendar anyway, as a nod to hope and optimism?

  • Ah, hope. I have an aerogarden in my dining room, and I have been growing a tomato plant for many months. It has been disappointing, to say the least. I think we have harvested maybe six tomatoes total. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Some of the leaves are yellow; I go in and trim, but branches keep dying. Even so, the plant keeps growing, and keeps putting out these little hopeful blossoms… and once in a while, a baby tomato emerges like a promise kept. I kneel on the floor every morning to inspect the plant, to remove dead leaves, to whisper words of encouragement to the blooms. Many of them spread their petals into a bright reassuring star, only to disappear during the night. It is so discouraging, and it all feels like a metaphor.

  • My husband and I just finished all the Succession there is to watch. It is SUCH a good show, and i spend every episode marveling at how I can be invested in so many people I find abhorrent. We are looking for our next TV show to watch together. I think the two we are deciding between are The OA and Sex Education. I feel like we have watched EVERYTHING, but of course that isn’t true. If you have suggestions, new or old, I am waiting eagerly to hear them.
  • My husband and I have started, but not completed, two satisfying projects. The first is, of course, the basement craft room makeover, which has been paused during the work week. The second, which we did on a whim, was to cull (most of) bookshelves. My husband and I are both avid readers and, perhaps more so, avid book buyers. We also both believe in owning books, which has its benefits and disadvantages. This means that we tend toward keeping every book we buy, when not every book is one we NEED to own. It makes me sad to get rid of books, but really: if I read a book and didn’t love it, and my husband isn’t going to read it, and it isn’t autographed, and it wasn’t a Special Gift from a dear friend or family member… then I think it would be better off going to the library, where they can sell it to someone who really wants to read it. I am very pleased by the stack of books we were able to cull (and the number of spaces we have opened up for NEW BOOKS). Now I just need the libraries to re-open so I can donate them and get them out of my office!
  • Our library system, by the way, is pretty awesome. Even though the branches are currently closed to visitors, you can still order books and pick them up at the drive-up window. Plus, they often give away free rapid test kits. Carla and I went to the library to drop off a stack of books the other day and there was a police car parked at one end next to a sign that said “enter only.” I kept driving to the other end, which is where I usually turn into the library parking lot, but it was blocked by another police car and a sign that said “exit only.” I had to turn around to get back to the new entrance, and then followed a winding path through the parking lot, demarcated by construction cones. At the other end of the parking lot were two people standing next to big stacks of boxes. They seemed to be stopping each car that drove through the lot, so I rolled down my window to find out what was going on. One of the people asked how many members are in my family, and when I said “three,” he handed me three Covid test kits. I took them, because you don’t look a test kit horse in the mouth, and then I dropped off our library books in the drive-through lane. Then I texted everyone I knew that the library had a supply of test kits to give away. One friend replied that she would head to the library immediately, and then she noted that her new supply of Kn95 masks had arrived. I cheered and told her I was excited for the new masks I’d ordered to arrive… and immediately felt a sense of dissociation. THIS is what we text each other about now? THIS is cause for excitement? Free Covid tests and mask delivery? Eeeesh. Welcome to the new world, I guess.

  • These are the masks I got for Carla, by the way. We got a small package, just to try. They are quite expensive, but I saw them listed on a bunch of “best masks for kids” articles and I have some friends who use them and like them. (I have a referral code that can get you $5 off, if you want to try them. It’s not much, but it covers shipping and a teensy bit extra.) They shipped very quickly, and should be here Monday. I hope they fit and that Carla likes them.
  • On the way home from the library, I asked Carla what she thought she would remember about this time, when she is a grown up. She said she thinks her kids will probably think we mean party masks when we talk about masks. (I think she is thinking of the kind of masks that people wear to masquerades.) I laughed and agreed, and oh how I hope that’s true. I hope that masks (and rapid tests and virtual school) aren’t a necessary and regular part of life from this moment on. I hope that she can look back on these pandemic years with a veil of fog, because it was such a small, insignificant part of her childhood. I hope the next pandemic isn’t worse. I hope she grows up. I hope she has kids.
This is the bleakest photo I have on my camera roll. But it’s hopeful too. Those black, empty branches are part of a living tree. Someday soon they will have buds, then blossoms, then leaves.
  • Life is so up and down. It’s always like that, always will be. But the downs – right now – seem so much deeper. I don’t know what I thought, back in 2020. That the pandemic would be temporary? That we’d wear masks for a year, deal with Covid for a year, then be done with it forever? I feel like I always knew it would be a longer-term thing. But thinking something, knowing something, are different than believing them. And maybe I didn’t believe that this would be our way of life for many years, possibly forever. It’s a hard thing, to come around to the truth.

  • We just got an email from Carla’s school. They are back in person as of Monday. Cue the relief. Cue the anxiety. I think I’ll go have some leftover medicinal pizza.

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It snowed last night! Our first Real Snow of the season! Woo hoo! So I’m feeling chatty.

I suppose this is just a regular old Friday randomosity, dressed up in slightly different clothes.

Being a Parent Sometimes Means Forcing Your Kid to Go to School Crying

Hoo boy we had a rough start to the day. Poor Carla woke up on the WRONG side of the bed. And, oh, how I empathize. That feeling of dozens of little angry crabs, skittering all over your skin and clamping their tiny sharp claws into your brain, is so familiar to me, and I have dealt with it hundreds of times over the years and STILL don’t know how to get through it without snapping at my husband and/or feeling wounded by any tiny slight and/or wanting nothing more than to climb back into bed and start over. But for Carla, it’s still a new experience. She just doesn’t GET cranky, and so it’s been a long time since she’s felt this way and she hasn’t yet figured out how to cope.

I tried to be empathetic – validating her feelings, lots of hugs, keeping my own frustration in check (we left the house TWENTY MINUTES LATE) – but matter-of-fact. Being cranky happens, and it feels rotten, and nonetheless we all have to go on with life and do the things we have to do. I tried to suggest some strategies for getting past the yucky feelings. (I tried not to sigh too loudly when she rejected them all.) And then I dropped her off at school, even though she was tearful and upset, and I am hoping hoping hoping that her day only goes up from here.

Okay, despite my anxiety about being That Mom, I sent an email to her teacher just to check on her. (Not sure what I will DO, if her teacher says she is still crying… go get her? That seems like both the Wrong Lesson and the Right Thing to Do.)

Cleaning Before the Cleaner Arrives, Helpful or Ridiculous?

One of the reasons Carla was cranky (I think) is because I gave her a Hard Choice this morning. She was supposed to tidy her bedroom and her bathroom last night, in preparation for the housecleaner. I reminded her twice. I asked her whether she’d done it, and she said yes. But then, well after she was asleep for the night, I had to go into her bathroom for something and discovered that she had NOT tidied the bathroom. The opposite, in fact: sodden Barbies lying facedown on the bath mat, a full Barbie swimming pool in the tub, toy catalog on the counter, hair ties and rocks (yes, rocks) on the floor, pajamas wadded up in the corner. I know that some people who have housecleaners believe that the housecleaner can handle stuff like this. And I’m sure our very capable housecleaner could. But it is my view that time spent tidying – especially tidying away toys and things whose homes you may not be aware of – takes precious time away from the CLEANING. For me, the value of the housecleaning is in the scrubbing of the toilet and the scouring of the bathtub and the mopping of the floor. Some people in our house may disagree but I FIRMLY AGREE with myself on this point. So Carla’s bathroom door has been shut tight and the housecleaner has been instructed to stay out, and Carla will be getting some hands-on experience with what I mean by TIDYING vs CLEANING because she will be doing both.

Okay, so I also gave the microwave a quick swipe (there was a Ham Incident the other day, which I mostly took care of at the time, but exploded ham bits are surprisingly evasive) and wiped down the stove top (I haven’t even MADE anything on the stove lately, WHY was it so FILTHY?) before our housecleaner arrived because I don’t want her to think we are total pigs.

Stepping Out on Your True Love: Will It Rekindle the Fire, or Cause the Relationship to Implode?

The thing I REALLY wanted to discuss with you, before all the morning’s crankiness and associated anxieties derailed me, is that I have had a Startling Revelation. I think I am growing weary of my one true love: tea.

I hope you took that paragraph break to allow the magnitude of this revelation to sink in. Because it has taken me a few weeks to come around to this understanding. Historically, I LOVE tea. Double Bergamot Earl Grey has been my faithful and delicious companion every weekday since I discovered it, with splurge days on the weekends when I drink my fancy Uncle Grey imported from Canada. Before that, I drank regular Earl Grey or English Breakfast. I can’t remember exactly when I started drinking tea, but I know that it has at LEAST been for eight years (one of my fondest memories from Carla’s first year of life is that my husband made me tea every single morning and brought it to me while I pumped), and probably for several years before that.

But these past few weeks, I’ve had waning enthusiasm for my tea. It doesn’t taste quite as good, I find myself dragging when I need to prepare it, I end up gulping it down to get it over with instead of savoring it. It’s just not giving me the joy that a warm morning cuppa should give a person.

I don’t think I can switch to other teas. I don’t really like most teas – the fruity kinds, no thank you. Rooibos and Chai are okay on occasion but not every day. I like green tea, but it doesn’t have the same comfort factor that Earl Grey does. Matcha is wonderful, but it requires so much milk and frothing and so on to make it the way I like it.

So NOW WHAT.

Today, I asked my husband to make a little extra coffee and so I am drinking that. It is… not good. It is too bitter, even with two packets of Sweet’n Low and my normal glug of half-and-half. When I am not drinking it, the inside of my mouth tastes metallic and sour, and I’m sure my breath is a delight. I made sure to eat a high-protein breakfast before I drank it, but I still feel like it’s making me jittery and a little queasy. How do people drink this every day?

I used to drink coffee. When I was eight, my mom brought home these beautiful bowls from France and she would make me café-au-lait for breakfast. When I went to her office after school, I would help myself to coffee and powdered creamer and many, many packets of sugar in the break room. During my first summer job during college, I would live for the few minutes when I could step away from filing and pour scalding coffee into a paper cup and doctor it until it was creamy and sweet. At some point in my life, I was a fan of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. So I have gone through multiple coffee drinking periods in the course of my life.

But I can’t say I ever really liked coffee. When I left it behind a decade or so ago, I intended never to return. Still, I don’t really want to get back into it, now. It would require too much sugar, for one thing. Too much half-and-half. Too much… amped-up quease. (I feel like the non-word “quease” evokes the feeling much better than the word-word “queasiness.”)

But what else IS there? I need a warm cup of something in the mornings! (PLEASE don’t say warm milk. Hork.)

Maybe I will drink coffee for a few days and then see if I have a newfound appreciation for tea. Or maybe I will find myself sucked into the coffee cult that has thoroughly brainwashed my husband and Lorelai Gilmore and so many others (maybe even you?).

Edited to add: It took me many hours to finish this post; distractions abound! So this is Future Me reporting back to you on today’s coffee sitch: I have still not finished my cup of coffee; my mug is still one-third full and the liquid is cold and my head feels powered by hummingbird wings and my stomach is a-sail on choppy seas. This is not a promising beginning.

A Strange and Unfamiliar Dilemma Arises!

This is not an actual problem.

We ordered our holiday cards on Sunday and they arrived ON WEDNESDAY. People, it is STILL NOVEMBER. This has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. I am absolutely delighted. (We ordered through Mpix.com – it was a great experience, through and through. The cards look great, even if adding a photo to a card and printing it didn’t make the awkward way I am holding my arm in said photo look any less awkward.)

But now I am facing a quandary: when do I send the cards? Part of me wants to send them NOW, get them off my desk (my office has become Holiday Storage Central, and is full of boxes that I can’t bear myself to throw away and gifts for people), and perhaps achieve the ever-elusive status of being someone’s First Holiday Card of the Season. (Our First Holiday Card of the Season usually arrives from one of the few high school friends I continue to talk to as an adult. I am anticipating it any day now.)

But the other part of me is resisting this. I don’t know why. Maybe because I am a firmly Wait Until After Thanksgiving holiday celebrant? Maybe because I don’t want to be first? Perhaps people will toss the card because it’s so early, or perhaps I am uncomfortable with the idea of MY awkwardly posed arm being on someone’s wall or mantel all alone for days or weeks? I don’t know. It seems too early!

Then again, Hanukkah is early this year, and begins the weekend after Thanksgiving. Part of the reason we send holiday cards instead of Christmas cards is because so many of our card recipients are Jewish. It would be nice for the holiday card to arrive DURING the holidays, rather than after them. (Although I doubt that any of our Jewish card recipients care all that much; Hanukkah isn’t really that big a deal, and they are likely inured to the tradition of getting “holiday” cards during Christmastime.)

All this to say: I am sort of leaning toward sending them out on December first. That puts them arriving solidly in December, and hopefully before Hanukkah ends.

You Can Bet I Filled Out the Customer Survey, and I Filled It Out GOOD

Yesterday saw me flitting about from store to store, running errands. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve done something so carefree. I was looking for three specific things: 1. Candles for the menorah, which I did not find. 2. Ideas for a “giant crate filled with crafting supplies,” which was the top item on Carla’s letter to Santa. 3. A tiny, not-terribly-expensive salt and pepper shaker set that I can use when my parents are here; I did not find this, either. I did manage to spend a lot more money than my lack of success would imply.

Oh! Brief deviation from the topic, which I haven’t even GOTTEN to yet: I thought it was so fascinating to see how differently stores are handling the pandemic. Many stores had signs on their entrances, but I don’t think any of them were the same. “Masks required” said one, with a sentence below in smaller print citing CDC recommendations. “Masks recommended for unvaccinated individuals” said another. “Masks optional” said a third, which is similar to the second, but conveys a very different vibe.

One of the stores I visited was Target. I haven’t been in Target in a long while, partly because I haven’t needed anything from Target in a long time and partly because I love, with my whole heart, the option to order my items online and have someone deliver them to my car. CURBSIDE 4EVA.

It was sort of pleasant and nostalgic to wander around Target for awhile. It wasn’t terribly busy, and I could see with my own eyes that they were, in fact, completely out of Carla’s size in fleece-lined leggings. (I don’t know why I keep buying them, because holes sprout in the knees practically immediately.) (I do know why: they are cheap.)

I narrowly avoided buying any of the cute Christmassy appetizer plates they had for $3 apiece. I am beginning to think that was a mistake.

I was not able to resist the miniature office supplies set, which will make its way into Carla’s stocking.

image from target.com

But when I checked out, I reconnected with one of my biggest peeves about Target. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve complained about it before. But my peeve has been so inflamed that I am going to complain about it again.

When you checkout, there is almost NO WAY to see whether you are being charged appropriately for each item. Long, long ago, so long ago that I am willing to admit it may be a figment of my wildest dreams, you could go up to the credit card reader, and it would show you what you were buying in real time, as the checker scanned your items. No more. Now, if you have even a small hope of glimpsing what the computer says you owe, you have to stand back at the conveyor belt – which makes it very awkward to fill your cart as the checker bags your items – and squint at the computer screen facing the checker. Facing the checker, not facing YOU. And the type is so small that you have very little hope of seeing the price of each item anyway. In larger type is the total of your purchase, but that requires instantaneous math, and I am not good at that in the best of times, less so when I am in public.

We all know that Target makes errors. It is OFTEN that an item will scan at a different price than is displayed on the shelf. And the placement of the computer makes it nearly impossible to know that this is happening.

Also, the only way to know the total you are about to pay is to listen carefully to the checker, who has to say it out loud to you. It does not even give a total on the card reader! This is madness!

HARUMPH.

I did get a customer survey in my email later that day, which I took great pleasure in filling out. Not that it will do a lick of good.

Suspected Shipping Snafu Turned Sweet Surprise!

A box from amazon arrived the other day, as is an all-too-frequent occurrence in these days leading up to the holidays. (I am trying to wean myself off of amazon, I AM, but it is difficult.)

The box was addressed to me; I was expecting some fleece-lined leggings I’d ordered for Carla, to replace her hole-y Target ones. So I opened it.

Inside was a smaller box, with a label that said “lidded casserole.”

This was something I had JUST THE DAY BEFORE put on a list of Christmas wishes that I had shared with my husband. My guess what that he had accidentally sent it to me because I am the intended recipient. So I sighed and put it back in the box, resolving to be So! Surprised! when it appeared under the tree on Christmas Day.

But when he came home, he swore he hadn’t ordered one for me.

Turns out it was a thank-you gift from his parents! When they were here, I’d mentioned that I was constantly on the lookout for a medium sized casserole dish… and my mother-in-law remembered and sent me TWO!

What a fun and thoughtful surprise!

That’s the note I’ll end on. Well, and this additional note, from Carla’s teacher, that she arrived to class her cheerful, happy self. PHEW.

Hope you have a lovely weekend, Internet!

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Carla is being so utterly charming these days that I figured I better write it down, for posterity. As my mother-in-law keeps reminding me when I am experiencing frustration/difficulty with my child, often frustration/difficulty precipitated by said child trying to entertain her grandparents rather than doing what I have asked her to do and aggravated by my reluctance to raise my voice in front of my in-laws, I will yearn for these days when she is a teenager and think longingly of these frustrations/difficulties because they will pale in comparison to the frustrations/difficulties of the teen years. 

BE THAT AS IT MAY, the current frustrations/difficulties are no less frustrating/difficult in comparison to a future I have not yet experienced.

I am getting off track. What I want to say is that just-shy-of-eight-and-a-half, while far from perfect, is in general a wonderful, charming, delightful age. 

The first thing that comes to mind is the clothing, possibly because Carla’s ensemble this morning is fresh on my mind. She was wearing a normal shirt and pants, but had rediscovered a leopard print hat with cat (leopard?) ears and was wearing that, to breakfast. She had also unearthed a pair of dangly black and red clip-on earrings and was wearing those. 

She has very distinct ideas about clothing, is what I’m saying. And I’m Here For It. All of it. Like how she recently learned about complementary colors in school and so prefers to wear complementary colors when possible. Purple pants and a yellow shirt. Green dress and red leggings. Maroon skirt and pale green shirt. It’s a whole look. 

Speaking of things Carla has learned in school: I guess they have been talking about homonyms? Or homophones? I don’t want to look up the difference between them. I know that homophones are words that sound the same, but may have different spelling/meaning (except/accept, write/right, ring/wring, etc.)… so maybe homonyms are words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciation (tear/tear, bass/bass, bow/bow, close/close )? When I was a kid, I learned that those were homographs, because they look identical, but someone told me homographs aren’t a thing anymore, and that stuck with me. Okay, I have looked it up: homonyms are words that can be spelled OR pronounced the same way, but have different meanings; it’s a blanket term that encompasses both homophone and homographs.

What I was TRYING to tell you, before I got all caught up in elementary school language specifications, was that Carla and I have been having a lot of fun lately thinking of homonyms together. I don’t know why I find this so delightful, but it is. Partly is that I love our language and its quirks and intricacies, and so I enjoy someone else actively enjoying those things. Partly is that it feels like a game, and there are so SO many examples to share. I was filling my car up with gas the other day and got back in, and Carla said, “Bear and bare, mommy!!!!” She’ll just announce a pair of homonyms randomly throughout the day and I’m loving it.

A less-but-not-UN-delightful thing about Carla is that she is Always Right. Now, this is not always true, technically. She is always confident, but occasionally her facts/reasoning will be wrong. But I swear, if you tell this child a fact even in passing, she will remember it for the rest of her days. Her grandmother showed her a video of a red-headed woodpecker on a tree in her backyard, and Carla said, “That’s not a red-headed woodpecker, that’s a pileated woodpecker.” And then she went to her room, retrieved her bird book, and proceeded to walk her poor grandmother through every single woodpecker in the book, and then compare the pileated example to the one from the video. (Carla was right, although, to be fair, a pileated woodpecker 100% looks like it would be called a red-headed woodpecker.) (That’ll teach her grandmother to try to share something interesting with her grandkid!) (Carla’s affection for facts comes across in a very didactic and “well, actually” kind of manner, but also I find it rather pleasing. We are working on the delivery of this kind of knowledge, but I appreciate the knowledge itself.) (While I am parenthesizing, I will say that the red-bellied woodpecker is very inaptly named. Whoever decided which woodpecker was which seems like they went about it in a very slap-dash and poorly thought way. “Eh? Another woodpecker with a red head? Let’s just pretend its pale white belly is red instead.”)

This is also the year when Carla is really starting to get into reading. I feel as though I have claimed that in the past, but it seems to be ramping up now. She’s certainly interested in books; whenever we go to the library, she will search through the shelves, peeking at tables of contents and flipping through the pages before handing me the book to add to a stack, and we will check out a dozen at a time. She has even discovered the joy of asking a librarian for help, and has marched up to the help desk for advice on a) books that feature animals (we got a HUGE stack that time) and b) a specific book she’d heard about in school. The thing was that she would check out this huge pile and then never read any of the books. Over the summer, my husband and I tried to bribe her to read: $15 per chapter book she finishes by herself. We paid her $0 over the summer, so I thought it was a wash. But NOW she has been bringing home library books from school and reading them in their entirety in an afternoon! This is unheard of! And I mentioned to her the other day that I wished she would READ the books she checked out from our local library, and she said she feels like she never has time to read, so I suggested that she devote fifteen minutes to reading right when she gets home from school and SHE HAS DONE THAT EVER SINCE. She finished a whole chapter book by herself and, of course, remembered that we’d once promised to pay her for reading, so I am out $15. Listen, when my husband and I came up with the bribe we were imagining her reading The Magic Treehouse books or Charlotte’s Web or something, and the book she read had more pictures interspersed throughout, but I don’t care. BEST $15 EVER SPENT. I will gladly reimburse her for reading. She still adores Shel Silverstein poetry, but she has also become fond of the Bad Kittybooks. Otherwise, she kind of dabbles in whatever appeals to her from the shelves. 

Nearly eight-and-a-half is an age of great independence and confidence. Carla still loves to ride her bike around our neighborhood, and has befriended all our neighbors – especially, as you can imagine, those with dogs. She is so friendly and cheerful to them all, and I love how outgoing she is despite her parents’ tendencies toward introversion. 

She is also at an age where she is beginning to like to discuss and analyze various topics. I remember Swistle writing about this, as her older kids moved out of the elementary school years, and I feel like we are just at the beginning of this phase and I already like it (even if I am not as thorough or patient a thinker as Swistle is). The other day, for instance, I mentioned to Carla that we might be driving a friend of hers to Girl Scouts, depending on a possible conflict the friend’s mother had. I stressed the might, because I didn’t want Carla to get her hopes too far up. She was very excited about the prospect of spending extra time with her friend (and in the car! for some reason being in the car together (masks on and/or windows wide open) is thrilling to the third grade set). After her initial delight, she asked, “Can’t we drive her ANYWAY? Even if her mom doesn’t have the conflict?” She persuaded me to text the friend’s mom, and I did so. But it was a long text. I said something like, “We’d love to drive your kid no matter what happens with your conflict” but then I went on to hedge a little bit, just in case: no pressure, if it doesn’t work out, we understand. (Maybe the mom really wants to attend Girl Scouts [in which case she can go in my place], or maybe they have a family commitment right afterward, or maybe she only wants her kid to ride in someone else’s car if it is truly unavoidable; I don’t know.) 

Carla read my text over my shoulder and said, “Send it!” when it was done. But then she wanted to know why I didn’t simply say, “Please let us drive the friend even if you have no conflict.” I explained to her that sometimes there is this invisible pressure that people feel to do what others request, even if they don’t want to. And she agreed, she understood; sometimes she will be playing in a small group of girls on the playground, and another friend will ask to join, and she will feel pressured to agree even if the game they were playing won’t accommodate another child. So we talked a little bit about how that may be a good type of pressure to feel, because you don’t want to exclude friends if you don’t have to, and you don’t want friends to feel left out. We talked about how to handle such a situation: you can be honest about how the current game won’t work with another person, but maybe you could play something else or maybe you could play together a different time. That was a nice conversation. 

Then I told Carla that sometimes with grown-ups, there is a slightly different kind of pressure – a pressure not to offend, a pressure to be easy-going, a pressure to make things happen even if it’s difficult or not exactly what you want – and that I am susceptible to that kind of pressure, and so I try not to make others feel that way. Plus, in this case, there was a potential additional sort of pressure that the mother might be feeling, to not be imposing on us to take her child. So I wanted to be CLEAR, in my text to the friend’s mom, that we wouldn’t be at all upset if it didn’t work out, but that we sincerely would love to take her child with us. Carla seemed to understand the nuances of this thought process, and I liked being able to discuss it with her. This makes me think that perhaps my sister-in-law was speaking directly to me when she mentioned recently that she has explored, in therapy, the effect of her mother’s anxiety on her, and how she can work to keep her own anxiety from affecting her own child.

She still occasionally breaks into an accent. Sometimes a really odd Cockney/British mashup, sometimes more of a pseudo-Australian sort of thing. 

Her vocabulary is enormous and delights me. It tickles me when she uses a word or phrase that strikes me as particularly grown-up. For instance, sometimes she will leave a room – a room still occupied by a person – and accidentally shut of the light. She invariably says, “Whoops! Force of habit.” I don’t know what it is about that phrasing that cracks me up, but it does. 

Carla is also getting to an age where she is REALLY interested in makeup. She is always pawing through my collection of eye shadows and lipsticks (I wear eyeshadow once or twice a year and lipstick never) and asking me what things are and what they do and wondering if she can try them or at least unscrew the lid to see them in greater detail. While I maintain that she cannot wear makeup until she is sixteen, I love this stage. I never in my life pictured having a daughter, and this is one of those overwhelmingly delightful aspects of having this particular daughter that feel so fun and exciting to share. She did, however, “borrow” my tweezers, which I did not love. I loved even less the possibility that she may or may not have been using the tweezers to remove dead skin from her feet. I think I will be gifting Carla with my tweezers and finding myself a new pair. 

She is constantly thinking of creative pursuits. She can turn anything into a project, and squirrels away dead glow sticks, cardboard boxes, sheets of bubble wrap, tiny plastic containers, beads, string, wire, pinecones, rocks. Anything and everything can be reused or repurposed to turn into something wonderful.

At nearly eight-and-a-half, Carla still wakes up singing. I love to hear her muted songs through the bedroom wall. It is such a happy morning sound. Will she still do it when she’s thirteen? I hope so. 

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Important note: Carla has recently discovered that she likes sourdough bread, and especially so if it is toasted and coated in butter. She refers to this as “sour toast” which is its name henceforth and forevermore.

This morning I helped myself to two (2) healthy slabs of sour toast, which was small compensation for a night that was not in the least bit restful. 

The troubles began at tennish when my husband and I were laughing heartily along to Derry Girls – if you, like me, are very behind on Good Shows, please note that so far this one is Very Good – and my daughter poked her head into the kitchen to inform us that she was (metaphorical ironic jazz hands) still! awake! 

First, we allowed her to come snuggle with us on the couch. We carried on a silent conversation with our eyes about whether we should turn the TV back on and see if she would simply fall asleep there; that has worked exactly once in the past. (We decided against it. Not only has it only ever worked once, but this show also uses curse words with great gusto and Carla is at an age where she loves to say, “Did that person say the f-word Mommy? Why did they say the f-word?” except she likes to USE the f-word because it is a Sanctioned Circumvention of the no-cursing rule.) In the end, we took her back to her room and did all the soothing, get-back-to-bed things – set up a lamp that shed more light than a nightlight but less light than the one on her bedside table, adjusted her covers for optimum temperature, played some spa music on her ipad, lots of hugs and kisses and reassurance that she could leave her room if she was still asleep in half an hour – and went back to Derry Girls

As a totally unnecessary aside, that I still feel I need to share as Important Background, the “you can come tell us in thirty minutes if you are still awake” directive stems from a night earlier this year. Carla woke up at midnight and then proceeded to try to get herself back to sleep – which I commend! – for TWO HOURS until she finally came to me for help. At that point, I didn’t think it was advisable to give her melatonin (why? because it was the middle of the night and my reasoning faculties were sleep-logged), PLUS she was already so awake that there was no getting back to sleep at all. I tried ALL my get-back-to-sleep techniques (including rubbing her back and singing her lullabies) for an hour before we finally gave up and went downstairs and turned on the TV. If she had come to me at midnight when she first woke up, or at 12:30 when she’d given getting back to sleep a good solid go, a) I would have been more likely to be awake and b) I would definitely have given her melatonin. Anyway. Now she has a thirty minute limit to how long she needs to lie awake by herself. 

She did indeed return after thirty minutes. It was by now eleven. 

This time, I gave her melatonin and crawled into bed with her and rubbed her back. She was very chatty for a child who should have been asleep for three hours at that point. It was upsetting to hear her have the same thoughts that I have when I can’t sleep: if I don’t sleep NOW, I will only get X hours of sleep! What if I never fall asleep? What if I am tired tomorrow? I tried to reassure her that it totally doesn’t matter if she doesn’t even sleep at ALL (no school), and that she will feel tired but that’s okay. We can have a low-key day and/or take a nap and/or go to bed early. That seemed to smooth out some of the rumply anxious feelings, so I went to bed and read and tried not to worry that every sound was Carla popping out of bed to tell me she was still awake (semi-frantic metaphorical jazz hands).

At around midnight, the thunder started, so of course Carla popped into our room, this time awake but also Scared Of Thunder and worrying about power outages and whether we would have to relocate to the basement. 

(Did you do this, growing up? Pretty much any time we had a thunderstorm when I was a kid, we’d load up armfuls of blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and flashlights and head into the basement to wait it out. This may be because of Tornado Concern, although my memory is fuzzy on the details. Anyway, it’s still my immediate response to a severe storm: get to the basement!) (My husband did not have the same childhood experience of storms, nor is he remotely concerned about weather, so we occasionally have Heated Discussions about whether we need to go to the basement or not. Carla has probably overheard those discussions, which is probably why she was so concerned about it.) (Our current, finished, carpeted-with-couches-and-a-TV basement is a MUCH nicer place to wait out a storm. My childhood basement was unfinished and we used to gather in the exercise room, which had a concrete floor, a Nordic Track, a stationary bike, and a set of weight lifting equipment. It did have a small, old-fashioned-even-for-the-time black-and-white-TV.) 

Carla set up a little nest of blankets on our bedroom floor and eventually we all fell asleep. But I was awakened throughout the night by very obnoxious wind. 

Possibly because of Tornado Fear, I really hate wind. And I know that some parts of the country experienced tornadoes last night, which is devastating, and my heart goes out to the people who lost their property and homes and loved one. I feel deeply grateful for (currently) being safe in my own home, with my family, and working electricity. But I also know that the whims of catastrophe could descend upon us at any time – it is purely luck that we haven’t encountered a devastating event yet.

So every time the wind shook the gate next to my bedroom, or sent a bucket of rain slamming into the window, I would jerk into wakefulness and lie there, shaking, desperately scrolling through the radar section of my weather app, trying to determine from the little moving blobs of color whether we were nearing the end of the storm or whether tornadoes were imminent, and wondering if we have a local tornado siren, and wondering if the neighbor’s tree – which scrapes shriekingly against their siding in even a gentle breeze – is going to snap off and pierce the wall beside my bed, and, if so, would it reach my husband and leave Carla an orphan or just impale me. 

Of course, today also happens to be Trash Day, so I would wake up at any sound of the trash bins flapping, alert to the possibility that the recycling bin would topple over and spill cans and bottles and cardboard boxes all over the street. Would I emerge from my house to find my neighbors judging the number of pickle jars and wine bottles and cans of tomato puree I use in a week? And just how many Target boxes does one person need, really? (Not as many as Target thinks I need, that’s for sure.) Would I be chasing down soda cans and peeling soggy medical journals off my driveway all morning? 

The arrhythmic crescendo and decrescendo of the wind – plus the addition of the normal slam and clang of the garbage trucks making their rounds – finally tore me away from any semblance of sleep at about six. I lay there worrying about things like power outages (mainly, the prospect of losing all the frozen meat and veggies in my freezer) and insurance coverage (based on previous snow/wind destruction, we are already pretty sure insurance doesn’t cover damage to our arborvitae, but would it pay to replace the swingset?) and the possibility of tornadoes and some additional really dark, upsetting things until seven when a particularly lusty gust sent the now-empty garbage bins tumbling down the street. Ours were in the middle of the road and had to be moved immediately, which gave me an excuse (as opposed to doing something healthy like getting up to write or exercise or ANYTHING else besides worry endlessly) to get out of bed and start the day. 

We have a huge oak in the backyard that is perfect roof-crushing size and distance from our house. Until recently, I had never considered that it posed a threat to our neighbors’ homes as well – I suppose it could do some damage, but I don’t think it would crush the entire roof right over the sleeping inhabitants’ heads as it would if it fell on our house. In any case, earlier this month, we had an arborist come out and prune it. We’d set this appointment up in August, although I don’t have the faintest idea whether that’s a reasonable timeframe for securing the services of an arborist.

On the long-awaited day, two giant trucks arrived, carrying at least four people. But only two people emerged from the trucks – one to talk to me about the plan, and the other to execute the plan. The plan executor used a series of ropes and pulleys to climb up our tree, seemingly on his own – the other three people were nowhere in sight during his ascent or descent or pretty much at all in between; I guess mainly they moved the cut branches from our backyard to the front yard – and somehow carrying a chainsaw, and it all made me deeply uncomfortable. The entire time he was here, I kept darting from window to window, taking photographs and marveling at how many branches he extracted and trying to keep him firmly in the tree with the power of my brain.

This is an objectively terrible photo but it DOES capture a) man in tree, b) CHAINSAW, c) DANGLING, d) no one around to offer any sort of support, moral or otherwise, e) all the branches. And it gives you some sense of how tall the tree is, with a good thirty percent of the tree missing from the top of the photo..

I sent one of the photos to my husband – a photo of the man in the tree – and made a dumb joke about how the squirrels were really out of control this spring, har har. But then later, when the human arborist told me that our backyard squirrel (Howard, we call the squirrel Howard) was quite irate with him (human) for tampering with HIS (squirrel) tree, and I passed that information along to my husband (human), he (husband) was very confused about which squirrels in which situations were real or human. I didn’t think it was that confusing, but I was the one relaying the story. And the one referring to a human person (arborist) as a squirrel.  

The arborist cut off a LOT of dead branches. That’s what one of the two giant trucks was for – turning the branches into woodchips and hauling them away. (I have no idea what the other truck was for. Medical supplies, in case the arborist fell out of the tree?) With the oak being so tall, the size of the branches is disguised by distance. But once they were on the ground, it was clear just how enormous and abundant they were. I wish I had taken better photographs of just how many branches there were. (I felt ridiculous, scurrying around from window to window, trying to get good shots without alerting the arborist to my paparazzing.) 

After he was done pruning, the arborist also “sounded” (?) the trunk and examined any wounds on the tree, and declared that the tree was healthy and not in danger of falling on my house and crushing me while I sleep. That was, as you might imagine, a relief. 

But it turns out that even a healthy, de-branched oak does not prevent me from hating the wind. 

I keep wanting to find out exactly how gusty these gusts are, and then find out what the typical gusts were during my childhood, and compare them. As though I could say, in a tone of slightly-exasperated reassurance, “Okay, Self, these are only 60-mile-per-hour gusts, when the typical gales you experienced in childhood were 75 miles per hour.” and that would completely soothe my galloping pulse and send me immediately into a deep, untroubled slumber. 

When, in fact, it’s just different. We live in a crowded suburb surrounded by lots of large trees and other potential projectiles (lawn furniture, standing umbrellas, garbage bins, mailboxes) while then I was in my lone house on top of a barren hill, with only a handful of immature pines nearby. Plus, then I was a child, and I had the luxury of parents who could offer comfort, who could also carry the burden of worrying whether we would lose power and two freezers full of food, and of hoping fervently that our insurance covers wind damage, and of listening to the weather station with an ear out for the portent of tornadoes, and of deciding whether it was time to gather in the basement. Now I am the adult, with all of those anxieties to shoulder, while still maintaining an outward expression of competent calm, for the sake of the child who is already beset by so many hand-me-down worries she can’t sleep even before the wind starts blowing.

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First of all, does my daughter have too many stuffed animals, Y/N?

Don’t breathe or the whole stack will collapse. Somehow I am only JUST NOW noticing what a hideous color the carpet is.

Are you sure?

Why is that narwhal so creepy? He’s the only one who looks cheerful — everyone else looks Deeply Concerned.

To be FAIR, they are normally divided between two spots, on top of her dresser like so and also on top of her bookcase. We squashed them all together so we could set up her little Christmas tree on the bookcase. When you have two large piles instead of one enormous pile, it still feels like an infestation, but it’s less alarming.

I wonder what the collective noun is for stuffies? A fluff? A cuddle? A suffocation? Yes, that last one seems most apt right now (for all I know, Carla could be under that pile somewhere): a suffocation of stuffies.

Okay, enough about the Stuffed Animal Addiction which I have fully enabled in my household.

What I ACTUALLY want to talk about today is a Very Great Experience that I just have to record for Future Me. 

Carla and I have been diligently reading through the books suggested on her reading countdown calendar. This week, we got to the one about reading a 12 Days of Christmas book.

In anticipation of this day, I had ordered this book from the library:

A very good book, with beautiful illustrations and, at the end, a nice tidy explanation of what the 12 days of Christmas means that also addresses whether or not someone would have REALLY given all these birds and people as gifts.

After school was done, and we’d each bathed (what? we are stuck at home and you expect me to shower in the MORNING?), we turned on the lamp in the living room to stave off the gathering shadows and sat down on the couch to read. Really cuddled up in there, because our couch makes an L shape and both Carla and I have a Strong Preference for the space where the strokes of the L join. Instead of taking turns or finding an alternative location, we simply squeeze in there together as tight as possible. I’ll be honest. Sometimes elbows are involved. Snuggling now also has a practical component, because our furnace is having Troubles. It is set for 71 degrees, which, when achieved, feels like being on the surface of the sun. But at all other times, the temperature of our house sinks into the mid-60s which doesn’t SOUND cold but somehow is Very Very Cold Indeed.

Back to the memories I WANT to preserve!

I opened the book and asked her if we should read the book or sing it. And I discovered that she had never heard the 12 Days of Christmas! So we sang it together. Which was just the most delightful experience.

She didn’t know the tune, but she gamely sang along until she picked it up. We stopped several times to discuss the oddness of the choices of gifts. So many birds! And then people?! We had to talk about whether the gold rings should be gold-en, because gold-en made much more sense with the rhythm. (This particular book says GOLD.) And we had a brief conflict of opinion when we came to eight maids a-milking, because she felt SURE that the gift was COWS. I mean, why not, right? Makes more sense than giving your true love MILKMAIDS. I mean, what if you didn’t even HAVE cows to milk and now you have eight unemployed women milling around awkwardly?

We also talked a lot about the rhythmic addition of “a” to so many of the lines: a-laying, a-swimming, a-leaping. Carla seemed to understand why it was there, but I think she’s still a little suspicious.

And then, finally, we reached the glorious last page, with alllllllll the gifts sung one after another. By then Carla had a good grasp of the tune and the rhythms and we sang it with gusto. 

It was just… wonderful. The holiday spirit swept me right up and made the gloomy near-dusk all golden at the edges. 

It’s not even a song I typically like! I mean, I enjoy belting out “five gold rings” as much as the next guy; I’m not made of stone. But this book and this reading experience may have changed that. And now I look forward to hearing it on the radio (that sounds so old-fashioned but I can’t bring myself to say “hearing it on the Apple music holiday playlist”) so that we can sing it together! And I hope every time I hear it, from this moment on, that the words are gilded with the joy of sitting with my daughter on a winter afternoon and singing at the top of our lungs. 

I want to remember it always.

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If you thought that we could return to fret-free normalcy now that the dinner party is over, you were WRONG.

Let’s move right along to the next fretworthy topic, shall we?

My husband and I are going on a trip. Just the two of us. We are not calling it a second honeymoon, although I suppose that’s what it is; it’s our tenth anniversary gift to one another.

We are going to Europe and we are both VERY EXCITED about it.

But.

We are leaving Carla behind.

She will remain in our house in the loving and capable hands of my parents. She will be continuing with her regular routine of school and extracurricular activities. But I am FREAKING OUT about leaving her.

Firstly, the longest I’ve ever been away from her is a week.

Secondly, the longest my husband and I have together been away from her is two days.

Thirdly, I am really worried my husband and I are going to die in a plane crash and leave her an orphan.

Fourthly, I am FREAKING OUT.

So I am hoping you have some advice for me as we prepare to leave our beloved baby behind.

We have mentioned the trip several times, with increasing frequency as we get closer to the trip. So Carla knows it’s coming. I don’t know if this is a good strategy or not; my concern is that we’re making her think/fret about it too much in advance. But I also don’t want to spring it on her. That would be awful and cruel (at least, for my particular kid), to wake up one day and say, “Bye! See you in ten days!”

I have been making a ridiculous number of lists for my parents, so they know everything from the foods she will and might eat to how to walk her into school each morning to what she needs to bring to ballet class.

I have talked things over with her teachers, who seem very unconcerned with the whole thing. (Bless Carla’s teacher: when I told her recently that I thought our being gone would be rough, she immediately said that I can email her or call her ANY TIME. When really I meant that things would be rough on Carla, not on me. She knows me to my CORE, apparently.)

What else can I do?

When my mom went to Russia for a week or two when I was… five? ten? she recorded herself reading Nancy Drew books, so I could play them on cassette tapes at bedtime. What a kind and loving thing for her to do! Maybe I need to do something similar?

When I was in California for a writing conference, and the time difference made phone calls difficult, I made little videos for Carla each morning that my mother-in-law could play for her after school. I think Carla liked those, but it seemed like they may also have made her upset and teary at bedtime? But maybe she would have been upset and teary anyway? I don’t know. I am wondering whether my husband and I should try to Facetime her every day, or if it would make her miss us more?

How else can I make Carla more comfortable about our leaving? How else can I make ME more comfortable about our leaving?

And how are we supposed to say goodbye to her, when she then has to go to school while we prance off to the airport? Do we drop her off and say goodbye in her classroom? That seems awful, but also her teachers would be Right There to distract her. Do we say goodbye at home and let my parents drop her off? DO WE CANCEL THE WHOLE TRIP?

Have you and your spouse ever left your child for a longish time? What were some things you did to prepare yourself/your child? Were there any things you wish you had/hadn’t done?

It’s going to be okay, right? RIGHT?

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