Tuesday, May 30, 2006

a reluctant evolution (revolution?)

This week's challenge: making Shavuot, aka the Great Cheesecake Holiday, without eggs, dairy and wheat. (Or nuts, sesame, beans, etc etc etc - I bore even myself here.)

These are some of the recipes I'm kicking around for the holiday menu:

picadillo with rice (turkey picadillo instead of beef...)
garlicky lime corn salad
spice cookies with barley flour (my partner made a bunch, we inhaled, he baked more...)
curried tofu in coconut milk
persian rice cookies, rose-flavored (my thanks to spicehut for this one)
potato salad with roasted artichokes
and of course, spelt bread!!

Still searching for:

a main course fish dish I can make on the stovetop with a rich flavor. Test-drove a citrus-dill salmon today. Mneh. I'd love one with Indian flavors - I have a great mediterranean bay-olive-tomato-garlicky fish that I make on the stovetop, but I've maxed out on it for the time being.

A good rice and chicken salad, kid-friendly and can be served room temperature. (This would be a good time to admit that I can only manage boil-in-the bag rice. Somehow I burn all other kinds.) I think there's a wild rice, pineapple and chicken recipe out there somewhere...maybe my partner can be persuaded to handle the rice cooking part.

So. Only mild floundering in the mama's culinary world, with some shock at the cost of non-wheat flours. (2.49 for a wee bag of spelt flour? Ya gotta be kidding me. At this rate it'll be wheat-free or pay the kids' tutitions.) And a sinking feeling that, for the next little while, I will indeed become Mrs. Homemaker, as my available topics of conversations narrow down to:

  • my family
  • feeding my family
  • my kids (raising, keeping healthy, loving thereof)
  • gardening (see 'kids, raising' and 'family, feeding')
  • insurance (see 'kids, paying for')
  • my blog (see all of the above)
  • the weather (and possibly how it relates to gardening and feeding)
Sigh. I suspect that at some point most mothers feel locked into their role as parent, even limited by it - and I'm certainly feeling the walls close in a bit right now. Time to refocus away from the limits and more on the neat stuff, like the baby walking by holding on to our hands, or our eldest having written an honest to goodness letter to my grandmother a couple of weeks ago. With punctuation and everything! (And yes of course i helped - he's four and a half, for heaven's sakes.) Or my suddenly fitting into two pairs of pre-baby pants.

The refocussing, though, will only come with time and getting the adjustment to the new regime's demands. Still, I know this pattern: give me a week and I'll be less Eliza Dolittle pre-big party and fabulous dress (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman at the races) and more Eliza post-departure, when she tells off her hapless sweetie and stomps around (in perfect upper crust English, mind you). Translation: this will settle down.

In the meantime, anybody got a good recipe to recommend?

Monday, May 29, 2006

et tu...ah, screw it

I had a playdate some time ago with a friend, whom I met while her eldest was fighting leukemia at our hospital. She'd since had another baby, who was fascinated by our wee one. While the children did their best to chew on each other, we talked about parenting the second, undiagosed child.

Near the end of the visit, she leaned in and admitted that after a while, a diagnosis gets to be comforting. At least you know what's going on with the kid, and there are medical whomevers to help you work with that. But this healthy thing? Feels like you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop, with nobody but a well-meaning general pediatrician to help you do it. I agreed: it's unnerving. And we laughed at ourselves and our inability to let go, to relax fully into the gift that is ordinariness.

Two weeks ago, I fed my child a teething biscuit while on a playdate. He gnawed happily, covering himself in a fine layer of brown goo. (Can you see where this is going? Hmmn?) Eventually, he dropped the biscuit in apparent satisfaction, and after I had disposed of the slimy object, I turned my gaze and a wet cloth on the filthy child. Under the brown goo I found pink bumps (hives), however, and I cheerily announced to the other mother that perhaps I'd better dunk him in a tub to clean him up. An allergy veteran herself, she ran the water for me while the baby, impatient with our speed, decided to enable matters by vomiting.

I popped him in the tub, said cheerful nonsense things to everybody as I scrabbled in my bag for the cell phone. Two major symptoms, involving two separate body systems in an allergic reaction qualify as anaphylaxis. I watched the baby happily splash in the tub and dialled the allergist. Give him the EpiPen Jr and call 911, the allergy fellow urged me. I bargained: 'I don't see any signs of respiratory distress and I've got the Epi-Pens right here. How about 911, ambulance to the hospital and we'll use the Epi if he shows any signs of respiratory affects?' Reluctantly, they agreed.

En route to the hospital, the baby's eyes swelled and the rash swiftly covered his entire body. He would spend the next week with an appearing and disappearing itchy rash, truly ugly eczema and open, weeping split skin around his ears and thighs - but that was the worst of it. My child was safe despite the other shoe hitting the ground.

I was impressed by all of us: our eldest's calm and cooperation, despite a bleed he had going in his knee (we treated him in the ER room, to the immense confusion of the ER staff), my husband's aplomb, the baby's cheerfulness and the playdate mom's bravery in inviting us to come back again sometime. But there we were, with over a month to wait until we could find out what had triggered that reaction, and the leaden knowledge that the next reaction would be worse. To misquote the Princess Bride, 'I khait vaiting.'

After much debate and a SIL's honest incredulity, we finally admitted that, once again, a diagnosis (or lack thereof) was going to dictate our life. We canceled a much anticipated trip and prepared to yank wheat (the most likely culprit) out of our diets. I fell apart on schedule, but once I'd scraped myself off the floor I discovered that my eldest and I were suddenly communicating in the way we'd had before the baby was born. I had rediscovered a crucial element of emotional self-control and was parenting once more in a way that made me proud. Sometimes.

So with all of that marvel coming out of the sturm and drang, my head fairly spun when, in response to our decision to stay home, my parter was subjected to a guilt trip. But my kids were looking forward to playing with your kids, Nameless told him. But my wife will be disappointed, Nameless argued. But we're willing to do whatever it takes to make you comfortable - why are you so inflexible? Nameless pressed. In vain my partner tried to explain that one cannot take safety measures against the unknown, making flexibility irrelevant. Nameless sent a few parting shots about destroying the relationship between the families and retired to brood over his wounds.

Now I ask you, what grown person dumps on the family that's just had a major crisis? Suck it up, Nameless. You may have a set of valid points, but you've lost my friendship in lacking the maturity to realize that, right now, you do not take precedence. And given the appalling self-centeredness you've displayed (and as a blogger, I do appreciate the desire to have the world seem to revolve around one's self), well, I do feel that I am playing Galileo to your Pope.

Si muove, man. And not around either of us.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

slings and arrows

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this about parenting and how different parenting situations can seem foreign to each other. One anonymous (wisely so?) commentator pushed me on it, saying this:

are you saying that you are a superior parent because your kid's sick?

First of all, I would never call my kid "sick." To have a diagnosis is not necessarily to be defined by it. If he were, well that would make the diagnosis a handicap and a real illness. Trust me - the kid who hiked three hours with me on Sunday is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sick. Biologically quirky, sure - but not sick. (I reserve the right to change my mind five years from now when he makes farting sounds with his armpits.)

I can see why you'd think I was just on a rampaging ego trip about my parenting, but let me ask you this: if I'm purportedly a superior parent to my sibling, then are parents of say, kids with cancer, better parents than me? Or are these the degrees of parenting, in which any ordinary person just does what needs to be done, with love and care?

I can't be an ordinary parent, even if I wanted. I don't even really understand *how* to be an ordinary parent. Or how to be a cancer mom, living in the hospital for months with a frighteningly sick kid and no promised happy endings. But I bet that if I had to, I could. And that if my brother had to, well, I'm hopeful that he could, too. He just doesn't want to think about it.

The thing is that it's very easy to promote your parenting style above someone else's, irrespective of your kid's medical needs. Just take the great sleep debate. There are Ferber families, Jay Gordon families, Sears families and all stripes in between. And any one of those adherents will happily offer to introduce you to the gospel that is their methodology for getting their kid to sleep. Will your sleep method work for me? Maybe, maybe not - my kid might have different sleep patterns, and so be less malleable by your method. Who knows?

My eldest was a happy sleeper, though for years he refused to sleep longer than 2 hours, 45 minutes. It was as if a little timer would go off in his head, and he'd wake up. Yes, we could get him back to sleep, and no, we couldn't talk him out of the pattern. And yes, I have a shelf-ful of sleep books. Annotated. He fnally grew out of it somewhere around his third birthday.

The child's sleep habits were a topic of some interest to those trying to Fix The Tragedy that was our life back then. (eh? whatever.) One day, one brother came to me and explained what he did to put his child to sleep. You should try it, he urged. For once, I managed to smile and thank him for the suggestion. Yes, schedules and rituals are nice, I knew, but what I needed was a sleep method that could handle IV pumps beeping in the middle of the night, the sound of the PA system at the nurses' station and God help us, the 2-3 checks of the kiddo's vitals by the clinical assistants. Oh, there was ritual there - just not the kind my brother meant.

My sib and I parented in vastly different worlds back then...although these days, not so far removed. Tonight we embarked on a crusade to gently teach our eight month old to sleep in his crib. And you just know I'll be pulling one of those books off the shelf, because for this child and this parenting style it is relevant.

So no, not better. Different. Harder sometimes, more joyous other times (think of a sine wave, then multiply it per parenting type - higher highs, lower lows). What would distinguish the better parent from the lesser is whether you can adapt what you expected to what is and what is needed of you. What you actually do, well, that's the details, no?

Friday, May 12, 2006

erev shabbat thoughts

Since I seem to blog on Fridays (how?), here are my pre-shabbat thoughts of the week.

Thought One:
It can't be coincidence that babies learn to crawl right around when they have separation anxiety. I'm guessing the two feed on each other. Here's how I think it plays out, and I apologize for the unsubtle phrasings and aggressive punctuation in the following scene, but heckfire - babies are like that.

Small person, watching his mama move away from him: Hey! That's mine! I need that. (incoherent growl) I'm gonna go get that!

Small person moves towards maternal heels, one hand outstretched to grab the maternal skirt as it swishes by. Misses. Small body regroups, mutters to itself in thankfully incomprehensible irritated baby babble, and tries again.

Scene concludes either with success or the deployment of that most fierce weapon in the infant arsenal: the wail of rage and despair.

Thought Two: My first son liked toys. Colored wood, plain wood, the odd bit of plastic. This one likes nontoys. Drawstrings on my pants, paper in the garbage can. cardboard in the recycling bin, ants from the (sigh) floor.

Both of them, however, like to play with the height adjuster on my chair, and especially liked chewing on wires. Whoops! There goes my mouse - ergh.

Challenge of the Month: To teach my parents that you don't need to indicate that you qualify as a concerned loving parent by asking about my PhD. Or whatever the newest variant of the question may be. To teach myself to not bang my head against things (especially in public) when my parents ask this question. Also, to find a response other than an inarticulate, infuriated roar.

Chances of either happening: slim. But this particular routine's getting old, people. Worse, it's out of date. With so many other wonderful things happening in my life there's rich pickings for the 'what's going on' question. Ah, the heck with it. I'll just go find a nice wall for the next time they call.

Shabbat shalom, all. May this weekend bring rest to your homes and not too much guilt as you celebrate the mamas in your life. I'm offering up here a special thought for the joyous, nearly-done gestating one, who will likely spend this weekend suspended between impending motherhood and an awareness that her parenting has already begun. And also for my friend and her daughter with leukemia, who are home with their family for Mother's Day. I can only begin to imagine the cascade of emotion that they are all going to be feeling this weekend. Mother's Day for me, when my eldest was more medically unstable, was a specific mixture of joy, sadness and hope. Now it's a simpler thing, as indicated by the cards my partner has on his bedside table (nice job being subtle, man!), possibly with the pedi I suggested as the Thoughtful Gift.

And that's all, folks! The newly crawling, anxious/determined baby is pulling on my shirt. As good a cue as any...

Upcoming: a post on maternal linguistics

Monday, May 08, 2006

two vignettes


How Not to Win an Argument:

by bleeding on the other guy. (Any Python fans out there?)

A couple of days ago, my partner and I were sniping at each other about the great basement project (okay, I lie - it's all marital bliss and roses over here. Um, right. Moving on), when I felt a telltale tickle in my nose. I ducked into the bathroom, only to see that I was having a nosebleed.

Background: as a carrier of the hemophilia gene, I clot a bit less than most people. Any hematologist will tell you that I'm in the range of normal, but let me ask ya: how many people do you know who get nosebleeds just from stress? My dissertation committee finds this immensely disturbing.

Tempted to go back out there and point at the bloody object, I sat on myself until the moment passed. It's just too easy to win an argument from pity, and besides, the kid might be watching.

Coda: the basement shelves got built and I'm happy. The nose, however, is still determinedly oozing. Sigh. Why?

What Evil Lurks in the Brain of the Four Year Old Boy

We're in Cafe Zing, a wonderful if tiny Cambridge cafe, when my eldest turned to me and says: 'Mummy, I have a bad question.'
'What kind of question is bad,' quip I.
'Well,' he says, 'what if I got up early - I got up first - and drove here and put a spoon in the fork jar and a fork in the spoon place? Could we do that?'

I looked at him carefully, noting well the gleam of mischief in his eye. I considered the surroundings and then got up and walked over to the counter. 'Don't look,' I murmured, and slid the spoon jar towards the counter's edge, and within reach of a small person's arm. Moments later, an excited small person got up and took a spoon from the spoon jar. He then snuck past our table to place the spoon in (gasp) the fork holder, simultaneously extracting a fork. Finally, he slunk back towards the counter, where he quietly inserted the fork into what had been the spoons' personal preserve. And giggled.

My compliments to the general manager of Cafe Zing, who has chosen her serfs wisely and well. The folks behind the counter held themselves together for a crucial half-minute or so, before we all dissolved into laughter. Ah, the evil genius of the child. But that laughter turned into almost painful roars when he, supremely pleased with his act and its effect, put it all back.

I think I'm in love.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

why I am unpaid

Who could afford me? The estimated earned value of a stay at home mother (SAHM) is roughly $130,000 US. And that's not including my roles as landscape designer/gardener, nurse, patient advocate and human milch-cow. I am woman, see me nourish.

So what would that add to my pricetag? 50, 60 thousand? I'm taking estimates here, folks...

It's a bit of food for thought, and I offer that phrase deliberately and as someone who knows all too well the way that food can be the coin in which love is measured. And yes, this is all too appropriately timed for Mother's Day, day of the women who feed you (in some gender-hidebound homes like mine, weep, weep o Judith Shapiro! yes, I understand), that artificial moment in which the greeting card people force us to pause and appreciate the various mothers in our life. It's emotionally forced and ruthlessly exploited as a way to use maternal/filial guilt to separate cash from wallet, but hey, would we manage to really celebrate motherhood without it? Irrespective of my value, my (actual) take-home pay says nope, not-so-very-much.

This link is courtesy of magid, whose jobs include chief navigational expert, link-spotter and scourge of the day lily that infests my community garden plot.

What's the SAHM worth?

P.S. and for those of you who are wondering, today my front (sunny) garden is ablaze with color: red, yellow, purple. It looks like Alexander McQueen gone mad and I love it. The hostas are unfurling between the spiky tulips, while around the edges my climbing roses are sending out green and red-edged leaves. Joy is mine...and the back garden, in all of its shady promise, still awaits my tender-ish mercies. It's looking a bit iffy back there, with the old rhododendrons dying while my bleeding hearts, ferns and hostas and especially my beloved violets are slowly spreading their quiet selves. There's much, much yet to do. My grandfather knew this well: gardening is much like raising children. It takes years of care and in the end it never quite looks like what you expect. But amidst the dirt and drudge and sweat there's pleasure to be found.

If I can shake my kids long enough to go find that dirt and drudge, that is.

You can't afford me, but there's a battle on around here as to who can try to buy me and for what purpose. Shall I be an advertisement for the maternity ward where I delivered and the big business of over-medicalized birth in the US, or shall I deliver up my child's body to a big corporation who will feed it - but more importantly, nourish their bottom line? Hmm. The choices abound. How about I buy my own frigging diaper bag?

Friday, May 05, 2006

the runner's report

Our thanks to all of you who contributed to Children's Hospital and supported our runner, Jenn, in the Boston Marathon. Your kindness will be measured out in smiles on little faces, in renewed determination and courage among both patients and caregivers.

Here is Jenn's report on the race:

The RUN was AMAZING! I finished the marathon in 3:17:48 and was the 259th woman to cross the finish line! The race was unreal. The fans were great and the Children's Hospital cheering sections were amazing. The entire marathon experience is one which I will never forget; crossing the finish line was the greatest feeling!!

Congratulations, Jenn! You worked hard for this triumph, and we're proud and grateful for your efforts. And, admittedly, there's a certain snarky pleasue in having a runner who is way more hare than tortoise...whee!

quote of the day

Enter Child, holding a tissue. He pauses to look at the ant scurrying across the floor, then pounces with the tissue.

Child: (thoughtfully, to himself) This ant is missing a leg.

(looks up at parent)

Child: Mummy, ants are positional.*

Looking at the ant, unable to move without his foreleg, I was inclined to agree. But then


Child: what's positional mean?

*positional is something we say about accessing a vein. Sometimes the needle is in proper position only if the hand/arm are held in just the right position, with pressure in just the right place. You could say this also about a port-a-cath or other venous access device (IVs in particular), as some of them work only if the kid holds his arm up, turns his head to one side, pours a libation to Zeus (or Hephaestus) etc. Yup, modern medicine is a science, technology is precision, but you tell that to the little colony of gremlins who run my computer, okay? Because I know better than to piss them off.

Shabbat shalom, all!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

passages and protections

Passover was a moveable feast this year, replete with family. Our seders were no more engaging than they've been previously, but were remarkable in that this was the first year that not only was my eldest able to recite the four questions, he actually did. With a certain gusto, no less. More, his little brother was so excited that he joined our (usually crowd-shy) eldest in singing the four questions at the community seder. It was a sweet, sweet moment, if somewhat cacophonous.

After the seder, we joined yet more family in Israel. This tends to produce a rather mixed reaction from the Mama, as my head tries to first implode from the family politics and then relax into warm gooey happiness from the wonder and marvel that are my cousins.

There is a certain cost-benefit ratio that is engaged when a person does not live in the same city, nay state, as her family. On the one hand, there is a lot of breathing space between grown progeny and parent, sibling and sibling. On the other hand, distance can cause the relationship to stall rather than evolve, leading issues to be difficult to resolve. (Which is probably why one of my brothers still pokes me in the ribs, something he's been doing to irritate since we were both pre-adolescent. Sigh.) Cessation of negotiations is more likely, for example, than a resolution.

Living at a distance is an emotional calculus that is highly personal. For me, this works. Sometimes. Face to face with my family on this trip, I was finally able to shut out the usual recitation of how much we miss by living hours away, and to actually see. However protective of my sanity, our brief visits are deceptive in that they offer me only snapshots of my family's life. This leaves me, of course, sadly equipped for understanding them - and of course, my favority activity: judging them. But it works both ways, and I'm not certain that they understand that.

Reliably, with each visit a certain set of topics are raised. First, the question of my rather nebulous future. Will I be a brain or a womb? Second, the matter of our lifestyle - specifically, the location thereof. A new Target has opened in the familial neighborhood, I am informed. Ah. Third, the question of our parenting style. This question is often offered with some sort of disclaimer ('not wishing to offend, but...'), and the poor schlub asking the question may vary, but it's always asked. This year's variant was an old favorite: do we consider ourselves to be overprotective?

The implication, of course, is that the questioner thinks that we are overprotective. Ah, well, he'd not be the first to ask. The second implication, however, is that the questioner understands the kind of parenting we do or might choose to do, and it is from this understanding that he poses the question. And that, I think, is where we run into difficulty.

The answer is, sadly, that some members of our family have a rather good idea of the kind of parenting that we do, while others, well, not. It's a parenting that is more watchful (don't touch the nutshells in the sandbox, honey!), a bit more careful (really, I'd rather that you didn't slide down the slide head-first...), but for all of that, as nuanced and thoughtful as we can make it. It comes with certain social risks, as my partner and I are usually the adult watching the random assembled children in an area - largely because we would be there anyway, keeping a quiet eye on our own kid. (Okay, so it's usually my partner.) And with that sometimes comes the occasional bit of funky backlash, as another parent sometimes feels guilty or even uncomfortable that we are keeping a parental eye cocked while they are elsewhere. Are we commenting on their parenting style by providing this parental presence? Nope. (Not where they can hear us, anyway.)

The simple truth is that a child's needs should shape a parent's approach. A child who has certain risks and medical needs comes with more supervision until he grows in comprehension and personal responsibility. I trust my son not to jump down the stairs - he's tried it and knows what the results will be. I don't trust him not to pick up nutshells out of curiosity, and I'm not willing to let him learn that lesson the hard way. And I'm honest with myself about the effects of peer pressure. If the other kids choose to do something that will get them hurt, he will probably do it to. When (not if) that happens, I need to be on hand to decide whether he can afford that particular lesson. Nor do I trust the children around him to have the presence of mind to realize when he needs help. Nor, mind you, should the children be burdened with that responsibility - a responsibility that adults have sensibly refused, from time to time.

So, are we overprotective? I think my partner's answer was perfect: what do you consider protective? It's not a question that this person is equipped to answer, frankly - he knows far too little of what the issues are, and, as the parent of two healthy children, he simply doesn't know what's at stake. (Nor, mind you, does he read this blog. Harrumph.) There are honest difficulties that attend a healthy child. There are real terrors, true traumas. I understand and relate to these issues - but they are separate from the issues that attend the raising and loving of a child with a chronic illness. Not lesser, mind you, just separate. The anxiety I felt about listening to our baby's croupy wheezing is not in the same category as the experience of managing a possible brain bleed for his elder brother. Or to keep the comparison in the same in the same bodily system, it's not the same as managing anaphylaxis for his elder brother. They are simply separate, different. Not comparable.

As the parent of first a medically complex child, I find myself grappling with the effort of learning to parent a far simpler one. It is a suprisingly different skill set. With a chronic diagnosis comes an on-going source of concern and watchfulness. Is the cough an allergic issue? a hematological one? The risks are greater, but the answers are often more easily come by. A 'normal' child comes with fewer medical textbooks, but more open questions. Why is he running a 104 F temperature? I dunno. What's that rash? That wheeze? Probably nothing. It'll pass. Just wait it out, while the nervous anxiey burns cute little patterns in your stomach lining. Our hematologist told us that until she had children, she didn't appreciate just how hard it was to wait through the 7-10 day viral rampage. As a medical professional, she knew that a kid with a minor illness would be just fine in the end. As a parent, she came to realize just how worrying and stressful that illness could be. It's tough.

Baby got a fever? Oh, I do know how it is. A sick child is a miserable bundle of pathos who will spread their misery around to their exhausted parents. It sucks. Kid blue and unresponsive? I know the bone-deep chill of that fear. And the loss of a child? That is an unthinkable sorrow I've only seen. There are categories for parenting: the simple (but never easy), the complex and the not-supposed-to-happen. I know two of those categories, and have tried to relate to someone who has parented in the third. These are gaps that can only be bridged by love, time, effort. By respect for the other person and their experiences, their choices. By a real willingness to listen.

But not with snapshots.