Wednesday, February 27, 2008

put in your place: a shabbat story

Shabbat morning.

Inevitably, I'm doing my best to be asleep, while the Man does his best to practice the Torah reading he'll be doing that day in the synagogue (he is that rare creature, the reliable leiner, a person who performs - cantillates? - the Torah portion while the congregation reads along with him. I love to just sit and listen to the sound and texture of the words, but that's me). He's also trying to feed the children, pack a snack for the Eldest, get the children dressed, toothbrushed, clotting, and clean up any leftover dishes from the night before.

I think. Like I said, I'm doing my best to sleep in.

Eventually, the Man will wake me up and hand over the Toddles. The Toddles is allergic to nearly every snack the other children eat at our shul (synagogue), and so stays home with me on shabbat. This is in the process of changing, as our little synagogue has burgeoning children's programming (the Toddles was one of 10 babies born in a single year), and the programming committee decided that going Imperfect-friendly was entirely manageable.

No, really. They called me and politely asked if I would be interested in coming to shul with the Toddles, and if so, to the children's programs? I nearly burst into tears on the spot. Of course, I said, but I really, really don't want to put you to any trouble. Our syngagogue is tiny and poor, and allergy friendly snacks - Toddles-friendly, especially - are expensive. I pointed this out, and was told to hush up. The children's programs are about learning ritual and building community, I was told. You are part of that community. I sniffled a bit, and agreed.

And so the Toddles stays home - every other shabbat. Feeling a new freedom, he's asserting himself. So, one shabbat when the Man dropped him off at my bedside, the Toddles rebelled.

I go to shul with you! No, I GO TO SHUL WITH YOU!
No, sweets, the Man soothed, I'm leining today, and I can't keep an eye on you properly when I lein. The Man grinned. You're such a little imp!
The Toddles was the picture of offended smallness. I'm not an imp, he informed his erring father. I'm a little boy!
The Man, slightly stumped, finally realized that there was nothing but to run for it. And he did.

By this time, he and the Eldest were late for shul - and with the Man a crucial part of the service, this was a problem. They walked half-way, and then the Man was struck with a sudden thought. he felt around in his knapsack, and couldn't find the EpiPen Jrs for the Eldest.

I don't have the Epis, he told the Eldest, grinding his teeth. And we're late already!
The Eldest regarded him calmly. Daddy, what's more important, that we get to shul on time or that I'm safe?

The Man, put in his place by his offspring again, knew exactly what to do this time: he advised the Eldest to run for it, and they did. They ran all the way home, where the Man shoved two Epis in to his bag. When they didn't fit, he realized that in fact there were already two Epi Jrs in the bag... Although I rather felt it was my turn to take a run at the poor guy, I held my peace.

After all, I do want to sleep in next shabbat morning, as well.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

making it better (with breaded fish and chicken nuggets)

We have a rule in our house: whether you are directly or indirectly responsible for another family member's discomfort, you have to make it better. (Note the 'indirectly' bit - this is my out for determining clear guilt. Neat, no?) With the Toddles currently deep into the strike-and-run phase (clarification: only where his brother and I are concerned, oddly), we're doing a lot of this.

On Friday, the Eldest and the Toddles were doing a highly modified sort of tango. With one, larger sib steering the other, banged elbows and bits were bound to happen. Still, I had one pot bubbling and three loaves of bread coming out of the oven, so I figured it was their lookout. Five bouncy, happy minutes into the dance, there was wailing.

[one sibling holding an ear and wailing incoherently]
Eldest: I didn't do it!
mama: Doesn't matter if you did - you two were playing a game and now he's hurt. So, you help make it better.
Eldest, assessing his chances of a quick getaway to Rio: Oh. [to sib] I'm sorry. How can I help make you feel better?
Toddles, snuffling: You can make me un-sad.
Eldest thinks briefly, then picks up one Toddle foot. Kisses it.
Eldest: Did that help? [kisses the other foot] How about that?

By then, both kids were grinning, and I left them to it.
Making it better is the current Imperfect family theme. The faucet breaks? We make it better. The oven breaks? Mama is ruthlessly polite at people until it is better. The mattresses are teeming with dust mites? We'll make it better. Your eyes are itchy and infected? We'll make it better - if you hold still long enough.

So, let's see how we're doing.
lice: done. There's a Miltonesque hell for lice, although I feel badly about slapping Milton with this. Maybe a limerickish hell? But then, that's rude to the Irish. Anyway, they're toasting over there. (And no, Jews don't quite believe in that sort of hell, but I'm absolutely willing to make an exception for lice.)
conjunctivitis: banished (although I do worry every time I rub an eye). The Eldest and I are now experts in the squirting of goop into eye. Huzzah.
nasty cold: gone. Took hacking cough with it. Am now able to actually laugh at jokes without clutching chest and wheezing. Took 11 days to recover.
faucet: replaced and repaired. Only took 16 days.
oven: door replaced, oven available for use. Took 10 days.
dust mites: attacked and permanently on-going. To date, we have made lists, three-stage plans, discovered the lack of wood under the carpets, quailed, panicked, had grandmaternal riding to the rescue, replaced the mattresses (11.6 years old), covered all mattresses, boxsprings, pillows, washed innumerable blankets and sheets, reduced clutter, vaccumed more than should be legally allowed, washed drapes/stuffed animals/throw pillows in extra, extra hot water. Took 15 days. Identified couch as instant snot-maker, washed throw pillows and cover to seat cushions, watched in horror as orange crumbly stuff poured out of seat cushion covers, Toddles immediately rubbed snot into his eye. Called disposal company and held memorial service for couch.
The Eldest responded by having his long-standing, itchy, revoltingly bloody and scabby, alligatorish eczema nearly disappear. Certainly, he is not scratching in his sleep any more, nor is he waking himself up when he draws blood. The Toddles, not to be left out, riposted by eliminating his perennially stuffy nose. Satisfied by the maternal applause, he graciously provided an encore, and slept through the night.


He slept through the night. The whole night.

To clarify: neither child sleeps through the night. The Eldest wakes up at least once, and the Toddles wakes up 3+ times per night. Sleep training is useless, I was informed by the illustrious Elizabeth Pantley, when a child is ill. If the boys have been having allergic reactions to their beds (beds!), well, that would explain our various (and half-hearted) failures. Well, well, well. The Man and I are walking around in a kind of awe.

Irked by our state of affairs, the universe riposted by having me lose something I've had and loved for years. I growled, and plowed forward. Weakly, the universe tried again - but when the back of my ancient desk chair fell off, well, what's a mama to do but laugh? The universe can do as it wishes - we are deep in the ramifications of better, such as we have not seen in lo these many nights...
Save Daddy Firsts; A Breaded Fish/Chicken

we made the fish variant on the day that things indeed did start to get better. This was a very fast and delicious fish, which satisfied all of my cravings for something quick and breaded. It disappeared so fast that I was forced to sternly require my children (and myself) to save the Man firsts. Although I was inclined to think that, as he was late for dinner, perhaps he'd foregone his seconds? He didn't think so.
  • fillets of tilapia or another mild fish like flounder (I used fresh - if you use frozen, fully thaw and then pat the fish dry)
  • chickpea flour
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • various chopped herbs (I used rosemary and thyme) OR spices (garlic, paprika and chili powder are nice together) OR both! Have fun.
  • olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Mix herbs, salt, pepper and chickpea flour together. Dredge fish in the flour mixture, coating well.

In the pan (I used a nonstick pan, and therefore needed about 2 Tb oil per batch), heat oil. Lay fish in the pan, taking care not to overlap pieces. Fry fish until browning, then flip. Fish should take about 5 minutes on the first side, and about 4 minutes on the second, but this time is highly dependant on the size of your flame.

Chicken version:
this is essentially the same recipe, except that you slice boneless chicken breasts into strips or nuggets, and will need more oil and a higher sided pan (the oil foams a bit). The cooking time will take a bit longer as well, as the chicken is usually thicker than the fish.

Dredge the chicken in the flour/spice/herb? mixture, and heat oil in a wok or other high-sided pan. Slide floured chicken into hot oil. Be careful! Allow to brown on each side, then remove and let drain on a paper towel-covered plate.

Suggested accompaniment: we had plain rice, a dish of green beans and a bright, lovely salad, for which I tried soaking thinly sliced lemons in water and kosher salt. (Note: as suggested by the Boston Globe.) Ten minutes of soaking later, the lemon slices were mild and edible. Tossed with redleaf lettuce, watercress, radicchio, red onion and olive oil, they made a wonderful, colorful salad.

Got leftover spiced flour? Try adding baking powder, some flaxmeal and rice/soy milk. Stir together into a rather thick batter and drop a quarter cupfuls (or less) into the frying oil to make pancakes. I sprinkled ground cumin and ground coriander into my pancakes, and called them felafel. Hmmm. Add some fresh parsley and it could almost be so!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eldest, meet St. Valentine

We don't really celebrate Valentine's Day around here. But we do. But we don't.

It's a tricky one (note the 'St.' in the title) for we Jewish types. Do we shun St. Valentine's for having the nod to a Christian saint? Do we laugh at the faux Christian angle and focus on the luuurrve bit? Do we wave the whole thing off as a trumped up excuse for women to recieve expensive gifts and men to sweat about their potential inadequacy as romancers? Or do we accept that especially we staid married folks could use a nudge to remember to appreciate and be loving to our partners?

My approach is to accept the nudge, and laugh at the rest. We hung red paper hearts over the Man's bedside table, and I left a wee decorated tin of his favorite Necco heart candies. And a note. The Man came home apologetically, with a bunch of lilies, explaining that there weren't good quality roses to be had, and did I mind? Of course not, you silly man. Right now, I'd rather spend our disposable (and some not so disposable) cash on repairmen. So I hugged the Man and thanked him, and he found the decorated nightstand and came and kissed me, and the children watched and learned a lesson for the marital future. And I shan't say more.

The Eldest, however, took a different approach.

Coincidentally, the Eldest had arranged to teach his class about blood and hemophilia on Feb 14th, and so off to school we went, armed with red, white and purple balloons (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets), a giant cardboard tube that we'd all painted red (big enough for children to crawl through!) and a big red four piece puzzle, that I'd cut and the Eldest had decorated with different cells and clotting proteins.

We began by teaching the kids about blood. Where it is, how it moves through the body. Here is the Eldest, using a flashlight to show a classmate the blood in his fingers (the light shines through redly).

Then we asked the kids what blood was. Uniformly, they told us that blood was a red liquid, like water. The Eldest had seen blood under a microscope, courtesy of the head hematologist at our Hemophilia Treatment Center. He responded handily to his classmates, using our red blood puzzle to show them that this 'red water' was in fact made of different parts. Below, the Eldest explains about platelets.

The blood puzzle was lots of fun, and the kids tried putting it together repeatedly. But when we pulled out our giant tube (blood vessel) and asked them to repair a hole with our red, white cells and platelets (mylar balloons), they found themselves unable to make a strong clot.

Hm. Maybe a net would help?

I pulled out a net, and we tried wrapping it around the balloon-cells. Yes, this worked better. But how to create a net? Well, said the Eldest delightedly, for this you need factor. And we demonstrated the domino-style factor-to-fibrin net process, and showed them how one missing factor could bring it all to an ominous halt.

Wide eyed, the kids took it in. They tried out the domino-process over and over, and peppered us with questions. The idea that blood parts work as a team, that factor proteins work as a team, was all very clear to them. Of course! said the kindergartners. Sometimes it takes a group to get a job done.

But when you are missing one of the group members? What then? The children stopped, and thought hard. This was worrying. This was disturbing. They looked to the Eldest for answers, and he showed them what we do. Pausing first, of course, while I lectured them on why nobody but experts should poke people with needles. I pointed at the beloved home care nurse who'd trained me (and held my hand, listened to me wail, hugged me and, and, and), and sternly informed the children that she had to say that you were ready to use a needle. And then I used one.
Nobody but the wriggling Eldest cared that I blew the vein, they were too busy asking questions.
  • Is that why you always have those bandaids on your arms?

  • Why does your body know how to make all of the other factors, but not this one?

  • Does it hurt when you get the medicine?

  • I got a needle poked in me by the doctor when I had my checkup! Why is your mom doing this to you?

  • How many factors are there in the world? There's six billion people...said the wee mathematician.
And on and on. The Eldest shone with delight, wriggled with glee and happily answered questions. At one point, he solemnly paused, informed the questioner that 'you've asked a very good question. I don't know the answer, though,' he admitted calmly. 'Mum, d'you know....?' As it happened, I did. Questions came from all sides, excepting one. The Eldest, noting that nobody had asked, informed them regardless. You can't catch it, he said, you have to be born with hemophilia. His classmates, awed, nodded solemnly.

We left the blood puzzle for the children to use, and I took my leave. By the end of the day, requests had filtered in for the Eldest to repeat his performance for some of the upper grades. He kindly agreed.

My take on this? Well, where hemophilia was concerned, I'd had hopes that the Eldest would be able to fly under the radar. And had his prophylaxis been more effective, he would have. But it didn't work out that way, and so here we are. My father was strongly opposed to letting the Eldest teach his friends about hemophilia, worrying that it will mark him as different. Will the children accept this difference? Will they have empathy? I thought so, but wondered whether the hemo/blood presentation would highlight this difference in a good way.

This is fascinating.
Found through Cameron, who has this to say on the subject of empathy. I'm of the opinion that empathy is modeled and innate. Children are by nature self-centred, but not necessarily exclusively so. And when difference is presented (and modeled) as non-threatening, a culture of acceptance is one in which even the most ordinary kid can thrive.

But maybe I have to think that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

first wave's done, ready for the second

Okay, the lice are dealt with, although I should know better than to say so. Combing and recombing the Eldest's hair, we found it reliable that should I say, 'right. I think we're done,' on that stroke of the comb something eggish or wriggly should turn up.

But I do think we are done. Nothing eggish, wrigglish or nittish has turned up on lo these many days. Which allows me to turn my attention to:

* the nasty cold with hacking cough bonus that I picked up on Day Two of the Lice Saga. Grimly, it has held on, awaiting it's moment in the spotlight. It will, however, have to compete with

* the broken oven door. Ma'am, that'll be [x hundreds of dollars]. I'll be back with the part on the 22nd. Until then, don't use the oven - it's for your own safety. My horrified face spoke for itself, I like to think, and may have had somewhat to do with why he disappeared so quickly thereafter.

* the broken faucet. Not content with leaking quietly, the faucet cleverly disconnected itself from the pipe under the sink, spraying water everywhere. One plumber's visit later, the pipe was grumpy but reconnected, and the kind plumber cleaned the inside of the head for us, to help improve flow. The faucet retaliated by leaking furiously and at an increasing rate. The part, I am assured, will arrive early next week. One can only hope that my incoherent roaring managed to drown out the snickering faucet.

* the conjunctivitis. Yep, the Eldest had crusty yellowish-greenish stuff on his eyelashes, which I kindly cleaned off for him last night. He didn't appreciate it, but the bacteria in the gunk did, and promptly took advantage. Now we are both oozy and itchy-eyed, I've roared at him (and felt guilty, of course) and the Man is on his way home, erev Shabbat [sabbath eve], with much antibiotic eye creams. Mindful of the holiday weekend, and considering the eye-rubbing of the Eldest, I asked the pediatrician to prescribe some ointment for the Toddles...just in case. Meanwhile, I set grimly about the business of conjuring up dinner for an oven-less family, who scant hours before Shabbat realized that they weren't going out for dinner.

Which makes me wonder. When the lice hit, the Man escaped the plague, but shaved his head regardless. Now that pink-eye has come to play, I wonder if he'll take a nail scissors to his eyelashes?

Shabbat shalom, all. May the sabbath bring us peace, quiet amongst the modern conveniences (there's a Flanders and Swann song about such mod cons that's too appropriate just now), and liquid comfort for the oozing and itching of eye.


Oh, and feeling a little paranoid about the comforts of your life? Sitting in my sanctum, with the blinds closed tightly in front of the broken window, I am. And then I popped in here: and read his post on backing up.

My first thought was, oh no! Backing up my computer? And then I remembered the hideous day when I discovered that I'd lost three months of notes and draftwork for a major article, and had a deadline AND Rosh Hashana breathing down my neck...maybe it's time to go set up a backup service. Because, um, I always mean to back up, but, um, you know.

Friday, February 08, 2008

crawling creature, shuddering mama

Things are crawling at my house.

Yep, the reason that the Eldest's hair is standing on end (not to mention mine) is that he thoughtfully brought home lice. Lots and lots of lice. His father, veteran of many a buggy menagerie, kissed his loving wife and went off to get his head shaved. Meanwhile, a horrified mama tried to get the Eldest to stop scratching long enough to get shampooed and combed. Hours later, she was still combing and he was still scratching. When asked by his exasperated mama why, oh WHY didn't he mention it if his head was itchy, he simply said, but Mum, I'm always itchy.

Which, alas, is true.

On the other hand, as we learned at Whatsisname's clinic, there may be a simple reason for that itchiness: things that crawl. In this case, dust mites. Both boys are, apparently, quite allergic to dust mites - allergic to an extent that startled our famous doctorish person, and offered us a key that may unravel a couple of puzzles:

* the Toddles' reaction to fish has been...runny nose, allergy shiners, eczema.

* the Eldest's endless eczema is caused by...??? Hm.

* the Toddles' reaction to soy has been...runny nose, allergy shiners, eczema.

* the Toddles reaction to other people's homes, some group gatherings (but not all) has been...runny nose, allergy shiners, eczema. Oh, and have I mentioned that eczema is hell on sleep? Yep.

Which leads us to wonder. If we can control the dust mites, will the Toddles be able to eat trout and tuna? soy? Will the Eldest stop his endless scratching? Will both boys sleep at night? The allergist had a range of suggestions for us, from foods we could challenge (oats!! poppy! green peas, lima beans) to foods we should skin test (tree nuts - the Toddles, lentil, mango, zucchini, pumpkin) and if negative, challenge. It's quite a list of possibilities, and we're freely committing the sin of hope.

But not in front of the children.

In the meantime, it turns out that the initial cleaning for dust mites is remarkably similar to lice, and the washing machine hums (and occasionally whines) endlessly. Much, I must admit, like our buzzing parental brains.

Oh my, oh my.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

foot dragging

Two hours from now, we leave for New York. Tomorrow morning, we will see an allergist at the clinic run by Big Famous Innovative Pediatric Allergist Guy, known henceforth as Whatsisname. I booked the appointment with Whatsisname back in June, after the Grandpere pulled strings to get us in.

Standing outside the classroom today with the Eldest, in the midst of coat, boot and lunchbag gathering, a friendly parent tapped me on the shoulder and asked. Apparently, the Eldest had told the parent's son that we were going on a trip. I explained why, and suddenly, nearly burst into tears. Are you okay? asked the parent, and patted me gently. Is there something I can do? Some way I can help?

Oh, thanks, I lied. but I'm fine. I'm just realizing now that I was hoping that Whatsisname would have a magic wand to wave over the boys...and of course, he won't.

Oh, silly me, whining in the face of this good fortune, afraid of what it will bring. Okay, let's try and turn this blog post right around: how wonderful to be able to go and see this specialist, and to work with the fruits of his wisdom. How awful it will be to hear him say that he cannot cure, or even materially correct the boys' allergies.

Hope is a terrible thing, sometimes, and I hadn't realized that I was daring to let myself feel it.