Saturday, January 26, 2008

I think I can, I think I can - I know I can

This is in response to a challenge from AidelMaidel, and my thanks to the MIL who called to warn me that I was tagged:

The Rules are simple:
You have 15 minutes and 15 minutes only. Time yourself.
No making changes once the list is completed beyond correcting spelling mistakes.
Be Honest. It's okay if it's silly or strange or weird or disconcerting.
Resist the urge to explain yourself. Wait and see what other people will ask you to explain after they read your list.

Right, then, here we go.

I can...
* bake things my kids will – and can – eat
* crochet a kipa
* read a map
* tell a story
* give a detailed medical history
* be aware of the person in front of me
* empower
* give great big enveloping hugs
* sit and wait for a child who needs a moment
* give gentle, as-you-need-it-to-be hugs
* be a fierce, loving mother
* be a fierce, loving wife
* hold grudges
* be spiteful
* be strong
* collapse
* make a Shabbat meal that feeds the body and the spirit
* make a home
* make things grow. Most of the time.
* teach children to taste things, smell things, look at things and to think about what they learn this way
* fascinate small children
* make small children laugh. Sometimes from across the room
* be calm in scary situations, and spread that calm around
* erupt
* fold a lotus blossom out of paper
* multitask
* get lost in a book
* plan complexly
* accept my realities – sometimes
* advocate
* write a column that I’m proud of
* be generous, but I can also be selfish
* organize. Anything.
* effect change
* be stubborn
* be determined
* be opinionated
* keep my mouth shut. Sometimes.
* be honest.
* shove aside a phobia to needles
* delight in my friends, but I can also need solitude
* talk to my children about difficult topics
* read medieval English
* read a medieval manuscript
* share what I know
* share my values
* make a decent latte
* make a safe haven for my children
* make the Toddles’ hurts better with a kiss
* help the Eldest heal with a hug and a listening ear (and occasionally, a needle)
* learn to make a needle a way to show love
* make a needle-stick a time for fun and companionship
* recognize an emergency and act
* help my children trust me, no matter how scary the situation
* trust my children to work with me when it counts
* run a decent committee, but I’d really rather not.
* be content in my own skin
* worry about the ways that others see me. But I try not to.
* be content with my religious practice
* want to learn more, to be more actively learning about my faith
* see my limits, but usually because they’ve smacked me in the nose
* always try.

Friday, January 25, 2008

with seconds to go until shabbat

In one room, the Toddles looks thoughtfully at his mama.

I do the pooping and you do the wiping, he informed her. Wrist deep in hot soapy water, she realized that more than a mandate was being offered here. What do you do? The Toddles looked faintly impatient. I do the POOPING and you do the WIPING. The mama glanced at the clock, dried her hands, and set off to put the plan into action.

In another room, a Man was vacuuming while the Eldest was sorting number flashcards.

Dad, I got to seventy-one! Over the roar of the vacuum, the Man smiled at his son. Sensing that the smile was more vague than informed, the Eldest explained. Dad, I got to seventy-one! I'm ahead of schedule!

Off in a fragrant room, the mama looked up from her tushie cleaning, distracted by a roar of paternal laughter. Not a bad way to start a sabbath...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

steady, steady me lads: pulling as a team

It's been a needle-filled few days, and we're not done yet.

Below, the Eldest is practicing his infusions on a doll who can demonstrate to children a port-a-cath, PICC line, or venous access. When needles abound, I say, make sure everybody gets to play, hmm?

The Eldest hobbled gingerly off to school today, and I watched him go with some misgivings. Swelling had not reduced much, and he had trouble getting his snowboot on this morning. Should he walk on the foot formerly known as OozeN'Swell? Could he?

The hematologist in charge - the head coagulation guy at the local shop, to be precise, a role that puts him slightly lower than the archangels, but high enough to have slings and arrows fall short - said activity as tolerated. Cranky from a series of lousy communications, I decided to take him up on it. If he was wrong, then I'd have another arrow in my quiver to use (or just rattle) against him. Not that I'd ever use it.

It's easy to paint our situation as an 'us vs. them' sort of thing. Brave mama vs the foolish doctors is a much stronger picture, a much more psychologically maintainable picture than mama and boy taking the punches thrown by life with diagnosis. It's not the hematology fellow's fault that she doesn't understand how to dose the Eldest - he's a rare duck and doesn't fit the dosing protocols that she has. And it's not her fault that the Man is nervous about trusting our experience, or fears that without official MD sign-off on treatment for each bleed, our insurance will some day yank coverage from out underneath our feet. Her problem is that she should be omniscient, able to interpret an apparently tricky bleed in a distinctly tricky kid, when the parents are edging away from doing it themselves. And even the head coag man can't do it via email, despite my precise descriptions. In the end, it's a partnership - and a necessarily flawed one.

Getting to blame medical-type folks for the Eldest's pain, irritation or my own frustration is just a bonus that came with the diagnosis. Someday, it will only be justice served if I grow up and decide to be a doc myself. Then folks can blame me.

By the end of school today, the Eldest had been in a snowball fight (a good sign - boys in trouble are healthy-ish) and been beaned by an iceball, thrown by a bigger kid (whoops). His ear was reddened, his spirits lifted...and his foot hurt. Normal life had been too much, too soon - and had I not been caught up in a wave of righteous indignation, I'd have made the call myself and kept him off his feet for another day.

I've been having a small exchange with one of my favorite ob/gyns about how people use their medical resources. A thoughtful, lovely doctor, she's spent time considering her patients. Do they want to be faced with a grumpy mama hen, who is going to chew them out? Or do they want a teammate, learning alongside them? I suspect she switches gears gracefully. But she's only half of the equation.

I've just finished rereading Atul Gawande's book, Complications. It's a fine, fine book and a fascinating one. In it, Gawande talks a bit about the challenges of medical decision-making. Specifically, the ethics of handing the power to make medical decisions to the patient. Do they want that power? Are they able to understand the choices they make? Are they able to make the choice that will best serve their own desires?

Tonight, when I pulled out another 750 units for the Eldest (his second such dose today), I looked at the tangible price of our teamwork. It's a flawed team, but I'm coming to see that my slide from frustrated advocacy to (okay, passive-aggressive) contention hasn't helped us. Exhausted, late night conversations with the Man have laid the groundwork for change here at home, and we're developing an incident report system to help us track incidents, treatment and ultimately push change in the Eldest's care. But what we really need here is a clarification of our own desires: what do we want, the best-tailored care for our child, or to avoid taking more responsibility for it?

As parents who do the IV pokes, who analyze and report bleeds, log incidents and track treatments, bleeding patterns, we have a lot of knowledge, and a lot of responsibility. Our HTC offers us more, and is willing to let us be independant enough to treat typical bleeds on our own, calling in only for support or if a bleed fails to respond to treatment that's worked in the past. They'd check in with us annually, or more often if we need too many refills on our prescription.

Independance with backup, less drama, controversy and more day-to-day living. And exquisitely tailored care, thanks to a shift in the structure of our medical team, moving a good deal of the power from the them with their targets painted on, to us. My brother likes to point out that I don't want to be part of a medical team, I just want to have the doctors agree with me. He might be right, and that's a little humbling in the hubris implied. But we could neutralize me, we could stop bullying, resenting and arguing, and just take the responsibility we're being offered.

Do we want to? I do (though I'm a little scared), but does the Man?

Monday, January 21, 2008

the ghost with one leg

You know, I might just be proud of us.

The Eldest's toe is starting to turn a patchwork of colors, and there's four separate areas of swelling - the pad of the toe, the joints in the middle and at the base of the toe, plus the ball of the foot. Didn't look like he'd bopped it hard, but dang. You can hardly argue with results, can you?

Last night, when I gave the kid a second dose of factor before bed (yep, I did talk to the doc on call, and I did rather bully her into approving the dose, but still, we did this pretty much by the rulebook), he tried to smile and joke with me. But it was empty, fragile humor, and he soon gave it up. Finally he admitted, my foot really hurts, Mum. And it's tingling. I considered the hefty dose of Tylenol that was already in his system, looked at a foot that was indeed bigger than it had been earlier that day, and hoped like hell that this latest dose would help the kid turn a corner. That night, I listened to him crying in his sleep. I considered the function of righteous indignation should the Eldest be awakened, Tylenol buffered with codeine, irritated emails to the attending's private email account, raining down fire and brimstone on someone, something - surely there's a guilty somewhat somewhere, no? But the Eldest never truly woke up from the pain, and by 3 am we were both deeply asleep.

The next morning showed that the foot had swelled yet further overnight, but the Eldest was not in pain. It looked like the bleed had progressed, but the second dose of factor had done the trick, stopping the bleed and giving the Eldest's body some time to heal. With additional doses and rest (plus more ice and elevation), the Eldest spent a comfortable - if somewhat hampered - day.

Tonight, I gave the Eldest a dose of factor (again, as per the doc-on-call sanctioned plan). It's a surprisingly enjoyable thing to do, with the two of us relaxed and comfortable with the process, and taking pride in getting the job done, in our teamwork. Afterwards, the Eldest asked if he could poke me with a needle, and I hestitated. Needles make me nauseated and dizzy, and the sight of my own blood being drawn can make me topple right over. Still, I knew that this was a good way for the Eldest to regain some sense of control, of power, and if needles aren't supposed to be a big deal, then why would his mama be hesitating?

Sure, kid. You can poke me - here, use this. I yanked out a 27 gauge needle, of the sort used on preemies. The kid's grin nearly split him ear to ear.

Slowly, we laid out the supplies. Though the veteran of a thousand needles, the Eldest was so excited that he forgot to wipe my skin with alcohol, forgot to pull out a syringe, forgot to take off the tourniquet. But he carefully kept my skin taut, marked his spot well and slipped the needle in so smoothly that I barely felt the bite and pop of the poke. I high-fived the best hands in the East (howdy pardner), who was so thrilled that he forgot to hold pressure on my arm.

As we sat holding pressure on the spot, I teased him. He laughed.

Me feel guilty about poking you? (Oh, right. Of course not - why would you feel guilty about sticking a needle in someone? Um) No, I feel like fun!

I tried to look wounded, but the kid was not buying it. Are you kidding me? That was a tiny needle, it was two inches shorter than one of mine. He laughed. Come on, Mum, I'm the ghost with one leg, and I need to be carried up the stairs. Whooo, hoooo.

And up the stairs floated my happy little ghost. Tomorrow he floats to school, and back (with care) to the rest of his life. As for me, I might float a little, too. Pride's pretty buoyant, you know..

Sunday, January 20, 2008

the ethics of a bleed

The Eldest has a bleed in the joint of his big toe. This is annoying, since his big toe is the first toe to hit the ground (try it), and the one built to carry most of his weight. So, off his feet is our lad, and he's trying hard not to grouse about the ice pack while he exercises his new skills as a reader. The Toddles, surprised and delighted by this change in affairs, is literally running rings around his big brother.

The Eldest has a bleed in the joint of his big toe. This is painful, because joint bleeds hurt like the very dickens, but he's trying to smile and joke where he can. At this point, the bleed is new enough that he hasn't learned to be afraid of the pain, and that fear can be as much of a burden as the actual pain.

This is painful also because a bleed of this level of severity and inconvenience presses on the stress lines in my marriage, as the Man looks at me, hoping that somehow we won't need to treat for the next 7+ days, and I refuse to meet his eyes, instead looking determined, thinking about treating twice a day for x days, then once for y, and how long off his feet, and how to manage at brain is buzzing, and I am unsympathetic to the Man's hopes. Tempers flare - the Eldest's because he's uncomfortable and worried about the bleed, the Man's because his spouse is being unsympathetic as he worries, and mine as I grimly forge ahead, wrestling a treatment plan out of the docs, compliance out of my spouse, and cooperation (if not peace) out of my offspring.

The Eldest has a bleed in the joint of his big toe. This is complicated, and it opens the maw of a series of careful ethical choices. You'd think this would be science, medicine, but it's not - it's ethics. What do I tell the doctors? Assuming that mothers panic and exaggerate, they tend to underrate the Eldest's bleeds. The less experienced the doc on call, the more likely we are to get someone who underprescribes. I could exaggerate to the level that I know will get me the care that I need, but the Eldest must not hear me, must not see past my calm-ish exterior, and the Man would feel validated in seeing me over-report the bleed. (See? It's really not as bad as you say, we really don't need to do this.) He's not trying to avoid the work, mind you, just trying to hope that there's a different reality.

Should I call at all? I know the basic protocol for bleeds, and the hemophilia team has repeatedly hinted that we are ready to manage standard bleeding without them. This is standard, I suspect, and I know that my learned protocols are more aggressive than the on-call doc's. What if I get it wrong?

If I overdose the kid it does no harm, and I can wait until I get the specialist we know, rather than the weekend-and-evening crew. Still, for all of my hard-won competency I have to call, because only a doctor's orders will persuade the Man that we really do need to treat for x days, y times per day. Depending, of course, on a range of findings (additional swelling? additional pain? response to clotting meds? reduction in swelling/pain/irritation?), so decision trees, here we come. And telephone, here I come. It wasn't until the visiting nurse (there by coincidence) named the bleed as such, that the Man gave in and admitted that it was so.

She apologized to me, saying, I saw his face, hon, and he looked like he was hoping I'd tell him it wasn't a bleed. But when the child flinched every time I so much as breathed on the foot, well, what else could it be?

What else, indeed. Having named, planned and labelled this bleed, what do we do about the ancillary issues? Inevitably, the doc-on-call doesn't offer a plan for pain. I can give the child acetaminophen, but it masks the body's reminder to avoid using the foot. With the acetaminophen, he's pain-free. Without it, he's less likely to use the foot early and cause a rebleed. But - the trump card - with the acetaminophen, he's calmer, less emotionally effected by the event, and will sleep better.

The Eldest has a bleed in his big toe. Yes, this is so. There will be days of clotting meds, needles hither, thither and yon, me carrying the kid up to the bathroom, and a lot of everybody's more irritating habits becoming suddenly insupportable. (Tonight, for example, I had to flee the table when the collective Y-chromosomal chewing reached a deafening, nauseating roar. Um.) It is, as someone said to me once, just stuff. Stuff happens, and it's happening now.

Even so, in all of this there is one happy point: Mum, you make the best scones in the world! Considering that tonight he spat my cod into his napkin (took too long to chew, he said), I think I'll take my laurels where I can find them today.
The Eldest's Best Scones

1/2 c tapioca starch
1/4 c teff flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1 1/2 tsp guar gum
1 Tb baking powder (corn-free for us)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 c plain sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp powdered vanilla
shake of nutmeg
2/3 c milk (I used rice milk, Whole Foods' 365 brand)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used alcohol-free, grain-free from Trader Joes')
1/3rd c. shortening (I used virgin coconut oil, solid at room temp)
demerara (large crystal brown) sugar, for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl, then dump in wet ingredients. Mix until fully blended - batter will be thick and sticky. Spray/grease a pie tin, and pour in batter. Spread batter around pie tin, and sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, then turn up oven to 400 F and let bake for 10 minutes. Serve with jam!

Note: my apologies for the lack of photo - I made a second batch and fed the guys the first. When I went to photograph the second dish of scones, most of it was already gone...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

preparing for six

Q. What would Super Mama do?

A. sent this out before the kid actually had his birthday. Whoops. Also, maybe managed to do those new year's cards, hmmm?
Today, the Eldest is six years old.

He woke up this morning, hair sticking up and grumpy, and promptly promised to get dressed and do the a minute. Ten minutes later, he was propped up by his equally groggy father, promising something about doing taxes and a little civil engineering - I'm unclear on the details, as I was in the kitchen muttering about needing to buy more coffee.

All in all, it was an ordinary morning, an ordinary kid, and some really lousy coffee. Barring the coffee, how very, very wonderful.

We've had a tempestuous year with the Eldest, concluding with an ADHD scare courtesy of a careless neurologist, but it's settling down into something really lovely. Here are some highlights:
* the Eldest is king of the projects. Over winter break (the first, apparently, of two), he began drawing, cutting and pasting dinosaurs. QG helped, and when he ran out of moulded plastic dinosaurs to draw, his father stepped in, and printing pictures from the internet. The Man also helped the Eldest construct the board that holds the dino-shapes, and the Eldest proudly carried his work to the hospital, where he showed it to his (now largely defunct) psychologist.

We have almost all of the dinosaurs, he explained. Almost. And he held it high as he walked, turning the board so that other pedestrians could see it, too. They grinned. More have been added since, and the dinosaurs are now populating the back of the board.

* While dino-mania was brewing, some quiet neurons were reshaping themselves. One day, I walked into the living room (living zone?) to find the Eldest reading to the Toddles. They do this from time to time, the Eldest reciting or explaining narrative to a delighted Toddles. I smiled, and walked back to making dinner, musing. The rhythms of the narrative sounded a bit different, more hesitant than usual. Pots a-bubbling, I filed that away for later, when I returned to find this:
The Eldest was sounding out words, practicing the sound combinations with a patience we had not yet seen in him. For over a year, he's had the basic skills he needed to read, but had neither the zitsfleish to sit and work through the words, nor the real interest in doing so. But here we are in Hop on Pop what changed?

Maybe the kid's more mature - certainly he's long since had the focus to conceive and pursue a project for months. Whatever changed, you can see the marks of it outside of the revered Dr. Seuss. There's the 20-30 step origami shapes that he's been making for months now. The chapter books that he loves. The FIL had great fun in offering the Eldest games such as this one, and we watched the child spend over two hours working his way through the various puzzles. Then, there was this:

In between dinosaurs, the Eldest spent winter break playing chess. When nobody could play with him, he took his father's enormous chess book, and set up chess puzzles. He taught the Toddles (sort of), his friends and tried to teach his cousin. If the houseplants could nod at him encouragingly, I suspect he'd try and teach them, too.

He's now trading his bedtime stories for time to play chess with a parent, and talks about it so much that the Toddles is having chess dreams. I was dere, anna knight came and went, whoosh, bump! An I was the QUEEN, an you were the king, Mummy. Ah. Good to know, kidlet. Oh, it's a happy, happy fascinated Eldest, learning and thinking and planning. (Dad, don't you want to take my bishop? I think you'd really want to do that, says the oh-so innocent face.) Unfortunately, his brain is leaving his emotional development in the dust, as the Eldest loses game after gentle game (we do throw the occasional game, but still), and struggles with losing.

Chess might be king, but he's got one cranky high minister.

* Me, I find all of this intellectual activity reassuring, partly because any kid who plays chess, makes zillions of drawn and cut dinosaurs, origami and reads at this age, is highly unlikely to have ADHD. Or so says the psychologist, and I'm not hurrying to argue.

Nope, I find this comforting because the Eldest is the class clown. He is, he explains, a jokester, which is why he can't sit at one of the group tables. Instead, he tells me proudly, he sits in a jokester chair, just like his hero, Other Kid Inna Chair (henceforth to be known as OKIC). Oh, boy.

The chairs aren't punitive, and I know of a girl in the first grade who sat separately, so as to get a break from the social whirl of the class. More to the point, the Eldest does not feel punished by the chair. Fine. And the Eldest isn't the only jokester, just one of the more aggressively interfering ones, so fine. I sat down with the school dean and ask her to think this through with me.

Item 1. We are an intelligentsia family, and our type tends to panic if Tommy isn't reading by age three. (But if he isn't reading, how will he ever be able to fulfill my dream and turn Harvard down?) No, really. I was reading by age three, and when the Eldest didn't - and seemed actively disinclined to do so - I had to sit on myself. That was a readiness thing, and this is a social thing. The Eldest has chosen this path to navigate the social aspects of class, and we need to make this distinction. And sit on ourselves a bit.

Item 2. We use humor to manage anxiety-provoking situations. Thus, jokester Eldest. Duh.

Item 3. The Eldest, having found a way to win peer approval, now needs a sense of social occasion. He needs, in other words, the skills to understand when jokestering is okay and when it's not.

Item 4. The Eldest doesn't metamorphose until he enters the classroom, and then he's almost unrecognizeable in his behavior. (The Eldest does prat falls? Who knew? And yikes.) Since he doesn't act like this around me, we're unlikely to be able to really intervene. A number of talks with the Eldest on the subject have proven ineffective. Is this something the teachers need to take point on?

Item 5. When I sat next to him in class one morning, we spent a very quiet 15 minutes working on the class assignment. He did his and I did mine, and I watch him switch the jokester off. It can be done, in the right environment. The dean opined that the shift was because he knows that I don't respond positively to jokestering, and that he doesn't need to do it around me - I'm safe.

Item 6. The number of jokesters grows daily, and their behavior reinforces each other. Last week was the week when the jokesters' ranks crossed gender lines...hoo, boy.

Yep, six is going to be interesting. A class clown and a chess fanatic, all in one. Didn't see either one coming, and I'm fascinated by both. I find myself relaxing my usual, slightly edgy approach to my sturm-and-drang Eldest, and marvelling. What a fascinating kid, and what a privilege to be able to watch him grow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I have decided that the time has come to create a new character at chez Imperfect: Super Mama.

Speculate amongst yourselves as to whether Super Mama wears spandex and as to the state of her abs (to stretch mark or not? verisimilitude is everything, you know), but the significant thing is to ask yourself: what would Super Mama do?

WWSMD is a crucial question here just now. For example, right now Super Mama would probably ignore that both children wailed all the way through dinner (sunchoke soup, seared tuna for the Man and the Eldest, braised cod for me and the Toddles, with fennel-ginger toppings, and curried chickpeas on the side - honestly, they really do love these dishes- but not tonight), and rush to the side of her beleaguered spouse as he juggled a wailing Toddles and an exhausted, post-martial arts club Eldest. She would have ignored her currently impressive lack of sleep and smiled through the Eldest ripping random bits of paper off her dissertation files.

When her loving family rushed in to her sanctuary, she probably wouldn't chew out the Eldest for failing to respect her privacy (incoming! *** not just now, hon. Wait please. ***here we ARE!), and smile and hug the miserable Toddles. Yep, and she'd go ahead and cook a whole new dinner, too. Just the way the kids like it.

Thank heavens for Super Mama. That saint of saints, that marvel of motherhood, I'm delighted to introduce her to the blog. Welcome, SM. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Editor's note: from the perspective of the editorial and Mama-maintenance staff, we're delighted to welcome the newcomer. SM serves a crucial purpose. In performing the impossible, she takes the burden off the non-SM maternal types, thereby allowing them to perform the merely unlikely, like failing to put their children up on eBay before bedtime. So the next time dinner is flung at your head while your beloved spouse slumps in his chair like post-corporate mush, stop and ask yourself (preferably pre-shriek), WWSMD? Then, assign that task to SM and move on. Delegation be a wonderful thing...and yes, the pun is deliberate.

looking ahead

How have I never seen this? Recommended and gurgled over delightedly by mamas from the local babywearing group, this is a lovely, lovely hybrid carrier. Note the buckles - this is a quick one to put on, and reviewers rave about comfort. Me, I just think it's purty. But I'm not biting.

We made our New Year's wishes the other night over dinner, and the Toddles had a surprise for us. Apparently, his wish for 2008 is for babies. Grateful the Man wasn't home yet, I plastered a big smile on my face, and nodded at him. That night, I had a chance to learn a little more.

At 3 am, post-soy trial , I was giving the Toddles some Benadryl. He grinned, and before he drank, started saying a bracha (blessing) over the wee cup. But what bracha do you say over medicine? We settled on shehakol , which seemed rather appropriate to me: a nod in the direction of the Big Guy, saying that all things happen under his guidance, seemed rather comforting on a night when human error was rampant, and my little fellow was feeling yucky as a result. (Not to mention that, having read the recent reports on the problems with giving kids cold medications, I was a little nervous about the Benadryl. Still, bottoms up!)

But I ramble. The Toddles recited the bracha solemnly, and drank his Benadryl. I hugged him.

Please G-d, little love, you will grow to be a big boy, and then a young man, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the kind of person that you will be.

the Toddles grinned at his sentimental mama.

I will grow and then I will have a baby. He nodded, firmly. Yes, that is what happens.

Given earlier discussions about gender, I hugged him and forebore to review specifics.

Monday, January 14, 2008


It's a touch blustery today, but this nice man didn't mind.

Me, I trudged through the snow to WFM, which carries flash frozen fish at decent prices. My bag stuffed with fish, rice and a brown rice pizza (supervised kosher and safe for all Imperfects!), I trudged home. As I walked, I thought about warmer climes...

My grandmother is starting to fade. And, she's bethought herself of her more and less imperfect American grandchildren, great-grandchildren and various onlookers. She's offering to send airplane tickets, so that we can come for what is most likely a final visit.

Now, with the Man in a new job (no saved up vacation days) and with short notice (no saved vacation days/vacation funds), this becomes tricky. I can haul the Man along for about 7 days (7 days = 5 days work time + 2 days weekend - 3 days travel time = 4 very jet lagged days) and return with him when his time's up, or I can find a way to stretch the time out. (5 Man days, incl. airplane time + 7-8 days with ??? helping person = approx 2 weeks of children in Australia time) My family will be inevitably caught up with their own offspring/aged parents/agendas, and that is as it oughter be. So, how?

QG, who trudged determinedly to rescue me from my offspring (snow day!!) this morning, joked that she'd come for the price of airfare. I, thoughtful, was not laughing. Hmmm.

All in all, it made for a nice walk today. There's something to be said for snow days, after all. Especially the ones with ideas in them.


Quoted from the local babywearing group:

For those who are thinking about coming to the meeting on Wednesday, please note:
We are asking that ONLY FRUIT be brought to this meeting. Milk, water and juice are okay for drinks.
We are restricting snacks for this meeting in order to accommodate a member whose son is highly allergic to gluten-containing grains, plus corn, soy, eggs and some fish.
Although she is a longtime member of the group, she has been unable to attend our regular meetings because of her son's allergies, so I hope everyone will be understanding as we work to make the environment safe for her and her family.

Oh, the size of the smile on my face...

Coming soon (with apologies to AA Milne), the Eldest has a birthday.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

a passing moment of gravitas

Eldest: Dad, you know what I hate about gravity?
The Man: what?
Eldest, seriously: It drags me down.
The Man, having a Simpson's moment: stupid gravity. Yeah, I hate that, too.

Or, as another parent and child demonstrate, it depends on who is asking. Or answering.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

things that rise

Here's something that sparks my attention: I'm not on JOFA's list of blogs. This shouldn't be so surprising, but I wrote to them, politely suggesting that they add this and a number of other blogs to their list. The others were included, but mine was not. Wonder what happened there? Intriguing.

Judiac affiliations have been at the top of the conversational roster, as we bumped through the past few weeks. And, as per my usual methodology, I'm now going to take the slowest possible route to explaining this. Sorry.

It's been a busy time for us, kickstarted by a bleed in the Eldest. He slipped on some snow en route to the local kosher butcher (early closure, snow day), and twisted the muscle in his calf. It swelled, pain developed, and he spent the next ten days getting friendly with ice packs, the futon and super high doses of his clotting factor, sometimes once, sometimes twice per day.

One re-bleed and a lot of chorused 'get offa that leg!' later, he had a day off from factor. And was irritating to his brother for the nth time. The Toddles thought it over, and promptly socked the kid in the eye. Hard. In the kitchen, I tried not to cheer and reached for an ice pack.

That night, the Eldest and his socked eye and his recovered leg went to bed, noting that he thought he might have a paper cut - his finger was a little sore. (This is where we see it hindsight, at least.) The next morning, the finger and part of the palm were Michelin-man swollen, and we were back to 2x/day factor.

Explanation: there's not a lot of room in the finger for blood, and if there's enough pressure, it can do nerve damage. So you don't mess around too much, though you can treat it at home.

But here's the interesting bit: come Monday, two blessed days before the end of the leg bleed, I realized I was absolutely fed up. It took until 9 am to get everybody dressed, breakfasted, and poked with needles, and then I realized something very simple: the Eldest could go to school. Truly.

At that point, he was recovered enough to hop carefully, and certainly to crawl, so all that would be needed would be some way to get him through the halls, from classroom to lunchroom, to gym (oy, gym). Feeling my blood pressure rising at the very thought of another day with the kid at home, I suggested the stroller. The Eldest suggested that perhaps he was in too much pain to go to school. Especially in the stroller.

By 11 am, the Eldest, the Toddles and I were standing grimly (excepting the Toddles, who was investigating the neat new toys) in the lower school dean's office. I'd called and warned them, and we were going to find non-stroller options. She suggested a winner: a red office chair. the Eldest climbed in, sulked, and she spun him gaily through the halls towards his class. Several middle schoolers caught their cues and spent some effort admiring the child in his chair. The Eldest refused to be moved, and sank down in his seat, scowling. Feeling guilty and under-a-rock-ish, I scooped up the Toddles and left.

That night, I asked the Eldest about his day and (what I was privately calling) the Red Chair of Humiliation. He didn't want to talk about it, so I pulled out my ace: Let's call L., I said.

L. is a big guy in the small boy-with-hemo world: he's all of 14 yrs. More importantly, he's a sweet, thoughtful kid who really enjoys making time for his younger blood brothers. Truly, the kid's a gem - and he was home when we called.

You talk, Mum, the Eldest whispered, shyly. So I did, with the Eldest feeding me my lines. I explained the situation, described the Red Chair of Humiliation, and was told to ask L this:
do you ever feel shy, or embarrassed or different because of your wheelchair? or crutches?

I caught my breath. There it was, the big question of being different. L considered this, and said,
Yeah, sure. At first I was worried about coming to school with the chair, or my crutches, but then I realized that my friends thought it was cool. And they were happy to help me out with things, so that was okay, too.

The Eldest thought this over, and whispered 'thanks.' His face looked like it was considering a smile.

In my exasperation, I had missed an important point in classroom politics: now that the first few months were over, the kids had gotten past the initial stages of adjusting to each other and to the classroom atmosphere. Now, they were testing the limits of the rules, and relaxing, but they were still fairly focussed on conformity and categorization. The limit-testers were, by and large, working in groups, and the children were dividing and redividing their social groupings by shared interests and temperament. Having aggressively pigeonholed each other (he's the fastest runner, he climbs on the furniture with me, she's the one who the teachers always like), it was clear: same was good, known was good, but was different? It remained to be seen.

The next day, I found the Eldest outside his classroom, laughing and bouncing in the R.C.H. It had been renamed, he informed me, to the Throne, and he had been decreed King of the World. Difference, apparently, is good.

Things That Rise Bread

I've been working on this bread for some months now, and am delighted. One batch makes two generous loaves (or 1 loaf, 12 muffins.dinner rolls), and I often pour a little extra into a loaf pan for a small flatbread. That's my going-home snack for the boys on Friday, when everyone else has left class with a hunk of wheat and egg challah. Best of all, it really rises!

dry ingredients
2 cups rice flour
1.25 cups potato flour
.5 cup tapioca flour
.75 cup teff flour
3 tsp guar gum
1 tsp salt
2 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer (check box for warning re:potential nut contamination. Ener-G had the Egg Replacer under conditions with the potential for cross-contamination for a while)
2/3 (.66?) cup plain sugar
.5 tsp baking soda
2.25 tsp yeast (really don't fudge this - too much yeast and your bread will explode upwards, then cave in)

mix dry ingredients together, set aside.

Note: dry ingredients can be assembled the night before, in an airtight container/bag. I recommend it, actually. If adding the yeast the night before, keep flour mix in fridge, but bring to room temp before using. Cold yeast is sluggish, so the fridge keeps it from spending precious energy too soon, but if used when cold it won't respond as well.

wet ingredients
6 flaxgels (6 Tb ground flaxseed/flaxmeal plus 12 Tb hot water, let cool) or 6 eggs
2 Tb honey
1 tsp vinegar
10-10.5 Tb margarine, room temperature (we use Mother's kosher for Passover marg, and heaven help us when it runs out.)
4 tsp potato flakes
2 cups hot water

Assemble wet ingredients in the bowl of a cake mixer. Mix gently with cake mixer, then add dry ingredients. Mix gently until all dry ingredients are in, then turn up the power. Mix on high for 3 or so minutes (more, not less), while you grease your chosen loaf/muffin tins. The mixture will look like thick cake batter. Dumpa carelessly into tins, leaving about 1/3rd to 1/4 of the tin empty. Put in a warm place (I like the warm spot on my stovetop). Pre-rise, mine look like this:

Let rise for about 35 minutes. Then, my loaves look like this:
See how the lumpiness is smoothing out?

Hopefully, by now you've cleverly pre-heated your oven to 380F. Bake for about 40 minutes, and then cool on a rack. When they come out of the oven, my loaves look like this (only not quite so yellow - sorry!):


Oh, and what did all of this have to do with Judaic affiliation? In turning to a pluralist school, we were moving away from a type of religious schooling whose strength - and weakness - is conformity. Between L and his classmates, we saw acceptance and empowerment in action. And we liked it so much that we're considering it for the Toddles...

Friday, January 04, 2008

choice and reckoning

Our home-grown test has failed: the Toddles is stuffy nosed, unable to sleep, itchy and dark circles, known as allergy shiners, curve under his poor eyes.

He is still allergic to soy, and I'm furious with myself for testing the matter, for listening to a careless doctor. I want to roar. I want to find that doctor and yell at him for being dismissive - and I want to be able to shift the blame for this choice off my shoulders and on to his.

Gently, politely confused, one of the Eldest's medical team asked me, why was chickpea tested in the hospital, while soy is being tested at home? I had no good answer. But the truth is that I was frustrated, the child had had hives from some turkey salami, and I wanted to believe that maybe, maybe I was being overcautious. Maybe I had overly restricted our world, our diet. The Man, balking at the idea of pulling the cold cuts from our diet (however temporarily), threw his hands up in confusion. Why don't you want to give him the meats? Maybe it was just the one bad batch? Surprised, he watched me practice my customary caution in one, and throw away caution for hope with another area.

I have learned a hard lesson, and I rarely dislike being right quite so much as I do tonight.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

puppet, meet clown. clown, meet puppet.

Today's blog post has been brought to you by QG.

Blessed QG, who turned up unexpectedly, having returned from her holiday vacation exactly when she said she would. Somehow, I'd assumed she'd be back at the end of the week, but hey! I never turn down an extra pair of hands in the house.

In her honor, I give you the following two QG-related post-lets
During winter break, the Eldest, the Toddles and I did our moderate best to keep out of trouble. Near the end of it, we tried puppets.

At $10/ticket, the cost was on the high end for us, but it was a food and drink-free establishment, and winter break was looong this year. Or just felt that way. Even so, we walked in with some trepidation: a few weeks previous, the Toddles and QG had gone to a show meant for preschoolers, and the Toddles had been frightened by a large school group and fled.

We went to the feater, he told me emphatically, an I was scared an I cried. Oh, dear.

Luckily, there's a play theatre-front in the lobby, and a generous box of puppets, QG told me, so the exile from the room of loud kids wasn't too bad. I figured it was worth a shot, paid up (tip: order your tickets in advance! they do sell out), and off we went.

We're going to the feater, the feater, the feater, sang the children en route. And, we're here in the feater, the feater, the feater, sang the children as they settled into their seats. Paul Vincent Davis, nice elderly man with a positively hilarious goatee came out and explained about puppets and clowns and clowns that look like puppets. That's a puppet! said the Toddles, entranced. Shhhh, said his big brother.

The lights went down, and the puppeteer went to work. The Toddles considered briefly and then very clearly said, I want to go out! I want to leave dis place! And so we did, with a nice grandmother offering to keep an eye on the Eldest.

With a curtain between us and the scary dark room with the stage, the Toddles relaxed. We played puppet theatre, and he made his puppets dance. Eventually, armed with a puppy-puppet, he agreed to go back in briefly, To check on my brovver, he informed me. Once in, he was distracted - fear - fascination - fear - silly puppet on a horse - fear - oh, different puppet, and now that one's sweeping up? and this one is...

One round of applause later, the boys went dancing out into the streets with clown noses, courtesy of Brookline's Puppet Showplace Theatre and Mr. Davis.

The grins alone might just have been worth the price of admission.

The Toddles, bereft of QG (who is after all, far more inclined to play with him than his ever busy mama), spent some time explaining her to me. In this case, I offer a transcript taken down at 2.45 a.m.

(irritating little monster. Doesn't he know that most people like to sleep at this hour?)


considering possibilities: (politely) You give me milk, please?

later, when handed a tissue: the rubbing [of my nose] makes me sick. And then there's a gesudeit [gesundheit/bless you].

pause. I fall down on the stairs. I fall down because I am sad. It was not a good moment. You and Daddy picked me up and I was sad. Fall down on the stairs first me, then you. I go first and you go last. Two guys falled down and then free [three] guys falled down.

pause. Me and QG go to a place where there are big guys. And the big guys are grinding coffee and making coffee and having zids [lids?] on their coffee. Me and QG had to coffee dere. The coffee store is (considers) grab a zid [lid] for the coffee, because that's always really fing.

Note to reader: I think 'fing,' or 'thing' has an insert-word-here function.

...fing fell down and QG tell me it's not safe. QG's coffee was QG's, but coffee is bad - coffee is for QG and for big guys. Milks was good for me. QG has one or two coffees (considers) because QG has not two, just one bcause QG choose the one.

QG and me walk, me and QG saw the coffee shop where are big kids. [this last seems to have been the summary of the outing.]

Translation? The Toddles doesn't like having his diaper changed in the middle of the night, and he understands causality - but he's thinking it over. Note the spots where he directly reverses causality. And clearly, in the middle of the night there's two experiences on his mind. First, the time when he and I fell down the stairs. This was a very alarming experience for us all, and much discussed for the implications and outcome (although the Man wasn't present, so ya got me there). The next thing on his mind, however, was visiting a coffee shop known and frequented by QG. She and I had discussed the outing, and not only did her friends enjoy meeting the Toddles, he was much taken by meeting the 'big guys,' and the experience of having drinks there.

What was the 'fing' that fell down? I assume something allergenic for the kidlet, and goodness only knows why the lids were so exciting...


You read this far? Well, o intrepid one, here's a tidbit for your valor: we're trialling the Toddles on soy. Yesterday, he had 6 ounces of soymilk. Today, he had 4 ounces of tofu. He is arguably just fine, but we await the morrow. Imagine: an Imperfect world with soy in it. I can practically hear the budgetary wizard collapsing with relief.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

music and practice: a review

My latest article is in, and in the thirty seconds between getting paid and seeing the money disappear into much-needed practical things, look what I found!

Oooh, ooh, ooh.

It's a good thing that I don't really have enough time on my hands to e-browse, let alone e-shop (or, alas, enough time to really e-blog) because our budget just couldn't take it. Still. Check out the tent by Haba - I love the Haba approach to children's toys, their colors and materials and shapes, and the tent is a winner. Unless, of course, you don't have over $100 to spend on such a thing, in which case you might try the Imperfect approach: buy a few yards of gauzy, lightweight stuff at your local discount fabric store, cut it up and get a friend to serge the edges, and drape that over things. Voila! tent. Or, redrape and voila! a cape. Or voila! a ballgown for the local Cinderella. You should, of course, explain that Cinderellas have to wash floors before they become princessly. Me, I have a nice, dirty floor you can use for the purpose.

And even so, oooh oooh oooh.

Before the Chanuka shopping fest started, my children were deep in a compare-and-contrast also known as the Battle of the Jewcapella CDs. We have a certain fondness for a capella music (known to the Toddles as 'rockapella music!' for the first a'capella group he heard, Rockapella . One trip to Canada later, the boys were imitating the percussion in BOJAC, a.k.a. the best of Jewish a capella. The Toddles became firmly attached to 'Peanut Butter Shalom' (also known as Hiney Ba Ha-Shalom - wikipedia, where art thou?), and the Eldest was fascinated by Beat'achon's competitive singing in their L'cha Dodi.. Zina's other half laughed over 'Good Night Sweetheart,' yiddishe style. All good.

There's a particular void being filled here, as it happens. The Eldest, as an attendee of a Jewish school and as a happy shul-goer, gets a range of the sights and sounds of Judiasm outside of the house. The Toddles, as an attendee of Mummy-school, and as a non-shul goer (consider what children snack on. Now, shudder with me), has not this advantage. And yes, he sees the Eldest and the man wearing kippot (keeping kosher is invisible to him - he's too young to understand the choices being made in his feeding), and yes, I sing parts of the davening (services) on friday nights and shabbat or yom tov (holiday) mornings with him, but he hasn't got an awareness that singing these songs, or doing those things can be a communal, or group affair. His Judaism is in a bubble, and Judaism - as we practice it - is a tripartite business: personal, familial and communal. So a CD of this sort is great, as is the little book of Jewish holidays that we have (etc, etc, etc), to help crack the Toddles' world a little farther open.

I say this and worry about it, but when asked to show what makes shabbat special, I must admit that the Eldest drew a set table, lit candles and his family eating "yummy fish, rice, rice bread and salad." So maybe I shouldn't be so quick to discount the in-home aspects. Still.

Regardless, encouraged (and facing a long drive to Super Happy Fun Camp), we branched out to this.

Listening, immediately it is clear that you've wandered into a different corner of Yiddishkeit. Instead of 'shabbat,' you have the more yiddish-style 'shabbos.' Anglo or modern Hebraic-crisp 'o' sounds are now more yiddish 'oy's, and there's a greater tendency to inject soulful whining into the melody. (We were especially fascinated by the greater tendency for the singers to use nasal tones, and couldn't quite figure out why.) Still, the recording has some gems.

Beat'achon's Kah Ribon was a favorite, and "fun! I like dis!" said the Toddles of Kol Zimra's rendition of blue fringe's Vayivarech. The Eldest was taken with the strong beat of Jordan & Adam's Uray Vanim, and I grew fond of the two versions of Havdalah by Noah Solomon & Sean Altman.

Still, 'it's boychicks in the hood,' said the Man dismissively, and walked off humming Yehuda!'s Aishes Chayil.

Mama's Humming in the Kitchen: a fish in three parts
This super-quick, sweet and tangy fish was a huge hit with my boys, even during a grumpy dinnertime. Serves 3.

3 fillets tilapia or other mild, white-fleshed fish
.25 cup cherry jam (warning: most jams have corn in there somewhere! Look for added sugars, citric acid, etc. I stock up on jams during Pesach, but some of the pricier jams are pure fruit.)
2 Tb ginger jam (see above warning)
1 tsp vegetable oil

Spray a baking pan, and set the oven to 350F.

Lay fillets in the pan. In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients, then spread on top of fish. Bake until white in center and gently flaking - about 6-8 minutes.

Optional: our jam had whole, pitted cherries in it, and they were soft and delicious. You could try soaking dried cherries in hot water for 5 minutes, then adding them to the jam mixture for a similar effect.
Haven't got cherry jam? Try pomegranate jam - you are balancing the spark of the ginger jam with a sweet, full bodied flavor, so avoid the acidity of raspberry or strawberry, and try something else. Another option is to use a sweet marmalade, and have a ginger orange fish. If you do that, consider adding orange slices to the fish before cooking!