Tuesday, June 29, 2010

my imaginary cards can beat your imaginary cards

Okay, so let's take the sibling rivalry thing for granted - and don't tell me if your kids don't have that going on, because I really just don't want to know.

(Note: saying my kids never fight is up there in the Things Most Likely to Get You Flattened on the Playground list. It trails oh, my baby slept through the night from day one! but not by much. Capisce?)

So, we have sibs. We have arguments. We have me, periodically debating the usefulness of work it out for yourselves (translation: Eldest, you have to work this out, because your little brother is too young to be reasonable at this moment/on this issue, and I'm not getting involved) and if you started it, then I think it was fair that he walloped you (translation: violence breeds violence, and you guys are clearly going to have to learn that the hard way) with a chaser of he might've hit you first, but that was not okay behavior. And the new twist, I don't care if you hit him in an uber-dramatic way that you use when you play pretend war. If he doesn't realize that you are playing/you hit him hard enough, then it's not a game.


To some degree, the fighting is wonderfully predictable: every day, between 5-6 pm, the boys decide to play a card game. They end up arguing over the rules (have you considered going over the rules before you start?) or over the general unfairness of Milady Luck, the game, the other kid's ability to draw a higher card, Pluto's demotion, and so on. Bitter voices rise, and someone flings cards with dramatic flair, someone else huffs off with admirable style.

A couple of months ago, I began playing Go Fish with the Toddles. By that point, he was persuaded that No Good could come of anything involving a deck of cards, but we turned Go Fish into a game of elaborate suggestions regarding the potential piscine population of lakes from Oregon to the Carolinas. Not to mention the occasional muddy puddle. The giggles eventually netted the Eldest, who began to play. And voila! I congratulated myself, the boys were playing games of manners and ritualized, cheerful jokes. I had rescued cards.

This is, of course, the turning point in the story - just as I'm feeling rather glossy and satisfied as a parent. Ready? Bladders empty? Okay, then.

Yesterday, driving home from various activities, both boys in tow, I heard one ask another for a dodo.

Do you have any dodos?
Why yes, I do! I have seven.
Oh, good - there are eight dodos in a kodak.*

Do you have any orange dump trucks?
Oh, no - I only have drawbridges.
Oh, but I fished my wish! Great. Mom? Mom? Do you have any orange dump trucks? We're playing imaginary Go Fish.

And then we were off and running. We fished for drawbridges, cassowaries, extraordinarily long words by absolutely fictitious people (like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), molybdenum and something igneous, but I couldn't tell you exactly what. Oh, and any number of bodily functions.

I was managing a tricky merge when, HEY! Give me back my cards!
Oh. Sorry. Here you go.
The Eldest exploded. Those are NOT my cards. Give me back my cards, you dimwit! MOM - make him give me back my cards!
I blinked.
He has your cards?
YES, I was told, emphatically. And he says that he gave them back, but these are NOT MY CARDS. My cards are much BETTER.

I couldn't eyeball the kid, to see if there was a twitch in his expression - but it didn't sound as if there was. Sorry, said the Toddles, still trying to play along. Here, these ones are yours.

There was a brief thoughtful moment in the back, and then an irate thwack, followed by an equal thwock. And to my astonishment, the Eldest began to wail.

He - he - MOM! he peeked! At my CARDS!

At which point, I did the sensible, loving thing, and laughed my ass off.

* kodak = set

Friday, June 25, 2010

practicing mooches

It's Friday afternoon, and I'm flinging food into pots. The boys, who earlier explained that they wereNOTtiredNOnottiredNOPE are asleep. And then asleep some more. Ultimately, the Eldest will sleep for roughly four hours, but the Toddles, our current nap champion, comes wandering down the stairs. Plops himself into a gigantic armchair and props his feet up on the ottoman.

He sits there, eyes nearly closed, a cloud of tousled red curls, pink cheeks and a few, faint freckles. I sit down on the ottoman. Hello, I say. He cracks an eyelid. Hello.

The eyelid drops back down as the kitchen begins offering up a fabulous caramelized onion smell. I kiss his cheek and head for the stovetop.

Hello, he murmurs, and I grin. Kiss him on the other cheek. He smiles, his eyes still closed, and it is then that the Kissing Monster pounces.

I'm so sorry, I said, but I've just got to mooch** you. He holds out an arm, so that I can kiss the inside of his elbow, and it's like we've dropped a pair of years, skipping back to the uber-cuddly days when he rode on my back, wrapped up like a toddler-taco.

But then he pauses, tilts his head and looks at me critically. Um. I say, what's up?

He's quiet, thinking about it. Then, I know that you haven't had much practice, Mum, but your mooches aren't very good.


I should note here that there's a lot of history to this moment, history that if I'm ever brave enough to hit 'publish' on a certain post, would become clear. But it might help to know that once, we were the house of Muchas Smoochas, the hunting grounds of the dread Kissing Monster. We still are, but less so - partly for age-appropriate reasons, and partly for oh, complicated ones. So take my word for it: ouch.

Okay, I say, maybe I need practice. Any advice?

Hm, says the Toddles, taking his role as advisor very seriously. Well, a good mooch is a kiss that has a tiny bit of love in it. He pauses, and thinks, while I try not to ask whether mine had love in it. And it has a sound.

I try again, this time with sound.

That could work, he tells me, thoughtfully.

***mooch = smooch = kiss

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Did I say whooooosh?

Right, then: whoosh.

So, two days ago the kid had a bronchospasm, an experience that I suspect he would neither recommend nor plan on repeating. Me, I'd just as soon not be a spectator for that again, neither - damned scary stuff. Can we all curl up in a ball and wait for the adrenaline to drop? Or did I say whoosh?

Yeah, might've done.

Last night, another tight chest, the kid pulling, shoving at the air. He didn't need Tuesday to leave him beautifully primed to panic, wanted to refuse to panic (I don't want to be afraid, he'd told me), and tried hard not to be. Muscle by muscle, relaxing when the inhaler worked. But he kept his arms spread that night, my son who likes to sleep curving, tucked into the nook of a body, a mass of pillows. Even while sleeping, something in him asked for that extra spread and arch of the chest, allowing a little extra air into squeezed bronchi.

It was quiet then in the house, with the kids' (congested) snores a low, gentle sound that wove itself into the quiet, comfortably co-existing. At odd moments, adrenaline would wash through me, and I'd force myself to walk slowly, like a relaxed, thoughtful person, rather than oh, me. Poke my head into the kids' room, lie down with the Eldest, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, the slack in his muscles - and relax myself.

Whoooosh, goes the air in his/my lungs, blowing the clouds of adrenaline away.

It's been an awful lot of medicine lately, between the peanut challenge, the asthma, yesterday's trip to the ER, and I don't have to tot up emotional accounts to know; fear, adrenaline, determination, grit, anxiety, trust, love, patience and adaptation all cost something.

It was a late night again last night. Took a while for me to burrow in to a timeless quiet moment, pause, and then haul myself out into the unchanged present. Downtime is a break, but not a transformative one. Can't fix, can go on, and can - no, will - indulge in the cook's version of buying some happy: today, the Eldest is food-challenging zucchini. More tension, more face-to-face with risk, more, more, more.

So I made dips. As if they'd cushion the food challenge, maybe by giving the kid choices, when he's hungry and ruled by protocol. Maybe by offering a grin when we open the box of dips, something extravagant that says love. And yes, admittedly, speaking to a moment when there is the energy/time/luxury to be able to make such extravagance - that wishfulness cost something, too. But possibly, possibly it was worthwhile.....

We settled in, eyeing the wee quarter of a slice. The kid was a touch skeptical, considering his empty belly and the portion. Dip? I suggested. He scoffed. Dip what? But we flipped open the box, admiring the guacamole, the basil-artichoke pesto, the ketchup and (tamari) soy sauce.

Yum, he told me, and chewed.

Behind him, a determined kiwi kicked a ball. Whooooooosh...


Please note: the kid had more success than the kiwis. While New Zealand bid a dignified farewell to the World Cup, to borrow a phrase, the kid kicked zucchini butt.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

pain and anticlimactic aftermath

The Toddles paused, throwing a sneaky grin over his shoulder. Maybe I'll use this bathroom. Or maybe this one? Oh, or maybe this one...
I declined to roll my eyes.
Or maybe this one? I think....hm....I think I'll use this one. Or maybe, hm, well.
Outside, the Eldest pounded on the door. Now! He roared. My jaw set, and I yanked the door open.

Some feet away, the kid was curving, half-folded around a fist pressed to his chest. It hurts, he spat. It hurts a lot. He dropped his hat, shoving the other balled hand into the planes of his torso. Sank to the ground, eerily quiet.

I consigned the Toddles and his toiletry to an impromptu exercise in causality, and dropped my bags in the doorway. The Eldest looked at me, perfectly white. Will power hauled air into his chest, stubbornness shoved it back out. It hurts, he murmured, his voice blurring - but the edge of anger was bright. Sharp.

Two puffs of albuterol under the fascinated gaze of the site manager, and the kid had only one fist to his chest, twisting his shirt, kneading the fabric and skin, muscle. He was sitting on the edge of his chair, unable yet to relax, but the haze of pain, fear maybe had faded, and now he could see me. He remembered to be angry, and, This is not good, he snarled. The medicine isn't working.

But twenty minutes later, he was less pale and the anger was fading to a nicely edged bitchiness. Can you walk to the car? I asked. He thought it over, and stood up. The lady-in-charge person tried to insert herself into the situation. Gosh, Mom, she said, do you have enough bags? I swung our various bags up onto my shoulder, her voice fading behind the Elddst, walking carefully, and the Toddles holding my hand. We walked, the Toddles bouncing, managing to drop his ball, scoop it up, wave his glove around, rinse and repeat. We drove off, the Toddles chattering, the Eldest quiet. Go straight 0.6 miles, the map suggested, then right, 2 miles, then - the Eldest blinked.

It still hurts, he said thoughtfully. I wish I didn't have to breathe.

I drove the car.

Oh, he said, surprised. Oh. Paused. Mum, I need a doctor.

I drove the car some more. In the back, the Eldest alternated between quiet and surprised, scared outbursts. I listened to him hauling in air, shoving out air, all of us waiting for the inhaler to take effect. Slowly, the kid's tone shifted towards a brittle cheerfulness.

You sound better, I suggested. I could feel his nod between my shoulder blades.
I refuse to be scared, he informed me. It's like what Dumbledore says, if you don't name it, you will fear it. I don't want to be afraid, so I'm doing this.
I am but a Muggle, I admitted, and could not possibly argue with the great Dumbledore.

Also, I was lost. Map?

Seven minutes later, the kid was bouncing, words pouring from his mouth, interrupting himself as he whisked us through triage. Comfortably wiggling on a chair, two chairs, my foot, he was humming to himself as he redesigned the Wong-Baker scale. This is what I mean when I say that I feel like a 3, he explained to the triage nurse. She nodded solemnly, rolling an amused eye in my direction. One more puff from that inhaler, I mused, and we'd be scraping him off the ceiling. She grinned, and followed the kid down the hall, offering suggestions as to where he might want to go.

A young doctor peeled the curtains open to our cubicle, and the kid pounced. Do you have a sense of humor? The doctor blinked. Um, sometimes I do, he admitted. The Eldest nodded, satisfied. Good. We will get along.

While the Eldest poured a stream of medical history, what he ate for dinner, his theories about the relationship between asthma and allergy, bounce wiggle and zing onto the poor man's head, I settled into a chair. It was going to be a long, dull night, I knew.

The kid, sizzling with albuterol, began to giggle. Hm. Long, maybe - but dull? Maybe not.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

clinging invaders

Driving home from the great Father's Day round-up (six fathers appreciated, no waiting!), we drove through the NY/CT corridor. It's usually a lovely drive, with banks of trees lining the road, green or red-and-gold-and-orange or starkly, elegantly bare. Today, the green nearly glowed, a wall of vibrancy that, as I admired it, slowly admitted to being a mass of vine.

The trees were enrobed in the stuff, and the odd bare branch attesting to the cost. So much for enjoying the scenery - this is frankly depressing.

The vine, by the way, is kudzu, and it's the best example of an invasive species going, called by this website, the plant that ate the south. Coming soon to a northern scene near you....

N.B. Wondering what's being done about the stuff? Take a look at this, from the Army Corps of Engineers. They estimate roughly ten years of intensive effort ought to bring the kudzu under control. Bloody unlikely to happen, outside of military bases, I suspect. Sigh.

Monday, June 14, 2010

ready, set - heyyyy!

With 1.5 days to go until the end of school, the Eldest pulled a stomach ache last night. By the 2 am run to the toilet (visit #5), I was persuaded. And the kid's home today, happily crashing the Toddles' special mama-time day. The Toddles had asked to go visit a yarn store, for yarn that I can play with. And make things with. But it has to be in our budget! (grin from the mama) Oh, and can we go to Starbucks?

Except, of course, that when you have a kid with the trots, not so much with the outings, right? Right. Not that he's had any trotting today.

By 10.45 am, the Eldest had played 'horsie' with the Toddles, helped him spread a few bins of teeny toys across the floor (and down the stairs, o joy), managed to require an icepack, and was asking about lunch. Having eaten, mind you, breakfast *and* a snack.


Feeling a strong urge to indulge in a round of the it's not faiiiiiiiir! wail, I've hidden myself upstairs to do something very mature: ogling chocolate. And just when I've discovered that the glorious, lovely Alpha Confectioners do not ship to the US, and I've managed to deal with/ignore (thereby allowing the sibs to build relationship problem solving skills, dont'cha know - it's what all the cool? sane? mamas are doing. no, really.) the umpteenth sib crisis, and I'm about to consign my two to offspring perdition, they go and do something like this:

Okay, says the Eldest, checking a book. We're going to need a potato, two metal forks and two plastic forks.
(I choose not to ask why. It feels safer.)
I'm ready! says the Toddles. I have a big pad of paper and a pencil! I'm ready! What do I write again?

The Eldest looks at me, fractionally hoping that I'll rescue him from dictating to his brother. I grin back, ruthlessly. He pauses, sets his shoulders, and turns to his brother, who is now bouncing alarmingly with a freshly sharpened pencil. (eeeeep?)

Okay, the Eldest begins. First, you write 'potato.' Then, 'two metal forks.' Then, 'two plastic forks.' Got that?
The Toddles looks game, but how does the potato word start? His brother explains.

One careful 'p' later, the Toddles grins proudly, and the Eldest applauds. But do you want to write the rest? asks the little. You're better at it - you've got more practice.
Oh, no, says the Eldest, earnestly. You are a great writer! You can do it - it's just going to be slow, because you are a new writer. But I'm very excited for you to do this writing.

Chocolate urge vanished, I trotted off for a nice, triumphant cackle. We might've been catapulted early into summer, but this? this I might be able to handle. Of course, it would help if my stomach stopped heaving about like that....


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

let's take this allergy thing from the top

There's been a ton of press lately on the great allergy hoax. Or possibly, the great allergy inflation. And I don't think they mean angioedema - they mean a swelling of numbers. 1% of allergic Americans? 10%? 30% or more? Bah, I say. And bah, again.

If there were better tests and more clinical evidence for interpreting those tests, and if those tests were conducted and interpreted by specialists, we'd have lower percentages of allergic Americans. A better sense of the realities of food allergy, and a healthier respect for the needs of the allergic person. And, with all due respect, a pediatrician is not an allergist, and should not be dipping toes into (what the Boston Globe calls) the "Byzantine and endlessly frustrating" mess that is food allergy. Even when the allergy is clear, I'd still schlep my kids to an allergist for confirmation. And evaluation, in case there's something we missed, or misunderstood. But I'd schlep 'em with my pedi's script for EpiPens, filled and tucked into my bag.

And then watch the specialists thread their way through that mess, and hope like heck they can figure whateveritis out. After 6+ years of watching allergists think, scratch their heads and admit ignorance, yeah, I can see that it's hard. They just don't know, oh, nearly enough. And I adore each one who admits it. And appreciate the dickens out of each allergist who tried.

Oh, I am so very very much looking forward to talking to allergists armed with better data - the gap between our hotshot allergy team at Big Famous Clinic and that at the local children's hospital is, well, noticeable. And I'm really, really looking forward to the next generation of tests, like the one being produced by Christopher Love and Dale Umetsu: instead of measuring antibodies to the allergen, this test looks for cytokines, a protein released by white blood cells in response to an allergen.

Our situation, however, is pretty simple: by and large, we've watched our boys react to their allergens. Dairy? watched the hives, heard the throat thicken and swell, the voice roughen, the coughing start. Sesame? watched the coughing, the vomiting, the hives, the unrecognizably swelling face, and the hoarsened, struggling breathing. Zucchini? I kid you not, on a brand new gas grill, we watched the - well, see above. And none of those come close to the time that he turned blue, then grey from an antibiotic. And so on. But I'd never consider him typical.

What percentage of Americans have food allergies? As opposed to stress, stomach aches, IBS, FPIES or EE? I have no idea. I just know someone who does.

Folks, allow me to introduce you to an allergic kid:
But hey, just because I spun you a harsh little tale up there, don't let me sit on that and pretend that it's the full truth of our reality. Byzantine, remember? We've been slogging away, watching the kid's dairy allergy decline to be tolerized, heads down, feet plodding. But the BFA docs had been considering our test results, and matched them with an array of arcane, Imperfect data, and had a thought: our particular Byzantine maze might have taken a twist or two, and we hadn't noticed. You don't, really, unless the avoidance protocol slips.

Which is how, in the middle of a big hoo-ha* about the great Food Allergy Hoax, there we were.
Um, said the Eldest, nibbling around the edges of a cracker. I'm not actually eating peanut butter yet, am I?
I peered at the teeny smear of stuff in the center of the cracker. Nope.
He blinked.
Oh, what the heck, he said, and bit down.

Nurses hovering, the kid next to him panicking, he did it again. And again - seven times in all. He grinned and bravadoed his way through, pausing together with the panicked seat-mate, to listen to a wailing, sobbing child. I won't, she cried, I don't want to. Don't make me.

The Eldest looked at me soberly. She's not having an easy time of it, is she? I nodded. The allergist looked at us sympathetically. 30-50% of the children fail their food challenges, she said. Some days, they all pass. Some days, none of them. It can be hard to watch. The Eldest's eyes widened, and he dipped his head, understanding. It was, indeed, hard to watch.

Carefully not watching, he took another bite. Shoved the fear aside, and swallowed.

That night, he fell apart, and was still a mass of boy-fragments, come morning. But when the sky failed to fall, he allowed himself to reassemble into a mere variant of his former self.

Does it go in the fridge? the Man asked. I shrugged. Dunno. What does the label say?

Cautiously, we put it in the pantry. Stood back, and admired the view. I can't believe it, the Man grinned. Shhhhh, I told the Man, you'll scare it.

* see here for a variety of hoo-has. I've chosen from the more sensible, avoiding the shrilly triumphant ones with the torches and buckets of pitch.
  • NYTimes meets NIH/NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), re: allergy hoo-ha. Please note that the article indicates that food allergic reactions are carried out by IgE, or immunoglobulin (antibody) E. IgG, however, is also associated with an immune response to an allergen, as is noted by Victor Sierpina in the following:
  • hoo-ha a la team of experts
  • a polite hoo-ha of a review, from ScienceDaily
  • a local boy makes good hoo-ha, a la Globe
  • and a rather pithy hoo-ha from the UK, via India
Disappointed by the lack of shrieking, triumphant parents of peanut butter eaters? Try the comments section. And don't forget to bring your own torch, or at least a bag of feathers. A rail, maybe?

It's a confusing mess, and makes me oddly glad that my kids staked their claims to their allergies with hives, GI pain, diarrhea, and the odd closing throat. We've still got grey, foggy areas in our allergy profile, but that makes sense - like the science, the kid is also a slippery target. Grows, changes, quirks, repeats process.

So you won't find me waving torches in the comments sections - I'm too busy making peanut butter pasta to get involved. And shaking slightly, because it was hard to watch.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

things my kids make me watch

Did I mention pink? Um. Well, pink is the color at Chez Imperfect, running a mere half-step (okay, half-box step) ahead of a bunch of librarians, who wear any color but.

I have just spent way too much time watching this on YouTube with my kids, and when I offered the children a bit of funky, Boolean-worthy spoofiness, they riposted by making me watch it with them. Seven times on Wednesday, six times since.

Note: when it comes to entertaining a kid during an asthma attack, librarians beat Jay Sean, hands (er, gloves?) down. But it is a little hard to groove along when a kid's gasping next to you. Ten minutes later, happily, he was no longer gasping and was arguing with me about whether he could choose a YouTube clip about Dennis Rodman, by himself.

Um, no. Why? Because the clips are about Dennis RODMAN, that's why. don't ask me to explain don't ask me to explain don't ask me to explain - cripes - well - um.

(breathe. Cue up standard talk about misusing medication and alcohol. Deliver. Watch child's eyes widen, face grow thoughtful for what is hopefully a crucial millisecond of thought before the eyes glaze over. Cast about for something to steer the kid back to the original topic.)

Look! David Beckham!! with an inhaler! Oh - but he's hiding from the reporters in that car, doesn't want to talk about it - no, asthma isn't something to keep secret - um - what about that Kurt Grote? He's cool, going to be a pediatrician and all. Or some of those other folk with asthma, like - like - oh, Woodrow Wilson? Martin van Buren? Pliny the Elder? and - and - Alice Cooper! See? See? Um. Okay. How about a really, really fast Olympic runner?


Do you want me to explain about Boolean limits?

Oddly enough, even my best puppydog eyes didn't get me a nod on that. But my time will come - o, it will come. The kid stopped gasping, we watched the librarians a few more times, and rocked the house ever so slightly. More, once the albuterol kicked in.

Thanks to a slightly frantic flinging of information, both the Toddles and the Eldest can now tell you all about the high percentage of Olympic athletes with asthma. They've watched the inimitable Beckham bend it, and
can I see someone from the Olympics talking about their asthma? On YouTube? I'm still looking...but in the meantime, hey, Sarah Wachter? A request from the Imperfects: iTunes! please!

No, really - think about it. My kids want to listen over and over and over and over and over to a song about librarians. Help me quirk their little brains, 'k? Please?

For this post, I used a list of famous folks with asthma, which can be found here. Use this information carefully, please - it may make your children roll their eyes at you. Possibly shortly before starting to imitate a bunch of librarians.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

read that color

Hey. Remember this kid? This is Toddles, type typical. It's also one of the few photos of the Toddles' stunning Mochi Plus yarn (Neptune, alas, o Neptune!) double-crocheted kipa. Taken shortly before I accidentally tossed the thing into the dryer and, um, felted it.

But that is not the point. The point is the kid. See? Kid? Okay. Now, watch kid evolve....

The Toddles seems to be the only one of my boys with opinions about his clothes. The Eldest has been my fashionista, but will wear anything in his drawers - paired with anything else. But the Toddles, possibly basing his philosophy on a general opposition to the beginnings of days, has opinions.

Sometimes, they are delaying tactics. Sometimes, they work. Sometimes, however, he offers a real opinion, and the difference is palpable.

Red is my absolute favorite color, he informed me. And held this position for over a year, staunchly, despite the inevitable battles between the sibs over who got the red napkin at dinnertime. Heaven help the child who was relegated to the orange napkin - yank out color wheels as I might, I couldn't persuade them that orange had red hiding inside. It's not red. And red is my absolute favorite color. (The Man and I began hiding the hellsbegotten red napkins, so that they'd appear only when both red napkins were clean and available.)

Right. Red.

Red underwear found its way into the kid's drawer, and a couple of pairs of red socks popped up. Two red shirts, and a quiet chat with the preschool teacher about how it's good for a child to learn to accept a compromise. The Toddles learned not to bulldoze the other kids, en route to HIS red chair, but I kept slipping red incentives into the Morning Pile o' Clothes o' Doom. Not that it helped much.

Three months ago, however, red and the Toddles had a parting of ways. There isn't enough beautifulness in my clothes, he mused. And solemnly chose a set of pink and pale blue, grey socks with hearts and flowers. The Eldest, holding a set of sport-themed socks in his hand, was shocked. But the Toddles was oblivious. These have beautifulness, he told me. I love the pink and purples.

And then summer came. I dug out the boxes of summer weight clothes from the basement, and started stuffing them into the boys' drawers. Blue. Red. Grey. Navy. Green. Orange. Denim-light, demin-dark, denim-yellowish blue. In the stores, hunting up a last pair of shorts or two, it was the same - plus camo. And very, very minus the beautifulness.

I glared at the racks, and stomped off to an outlet staffed by a couple of people who ignored other customers, and helped me hunt. In the uber-sales rack, we found a shirt, and a pair of beautifulness-spotted socks. Topped it with a recycled-silk kipa, and watched the boy glow.

Same boy. Same smile, but tilting towards mellow on the scale. Perhaps it was the warm day, the lazy day at home with a mama and sunshine pouring through the windows. Perhaps it was the glow of that beautifulness, worn with obvious pleasure. Couldn't tell you whether it was the clothes, the color or the day, but damn. Something suited that kid just fine.

Looking at him, I thought how well he wears pink. It's a color that I avoided for decades - too girly, you know - and still handle tentatively. Am I too girly in that color? Why does it echo concepts of frivolity, helplessness and uselessness for me? How absurd. But the Toddles doesn't hear those echoes, loud as they may be in my ears. Pastels suit him, contrasting and complementing the rich colors of his kipa - it's rainbow ore, he informed me, pointing to the Eldest's favorite raggedy blue-green kipa. Rainbow ore, he repeated. Just like my brother's.

He doesn't hear gender echoing at all. He just is, his beautifulness is, and he wears himself purely, uninterested in any handbooks on gender and color. Here, the Toddles' tendency to live inside his own skin serves him well, setting him free to search for his beautifulnesses. Years of dandelions, stroked over his skin can coexist with the cheerful menace of the Ant Stomper. Can share neural networks with the artist of fierce battles in outer space, a hurler of imaginary A-bombs, a waver of sparkling silver wands. A good touch from his dad's ancient shirt, shared with a stranger, confident in the pleasure of the experience. He is certain, thoughtful and obviously generous in sharing the wonders of his world.

Who are we to argue, I say, and then look skeptically in my own direction. I'm the product of aggressive gender-based training as to how to to dress, hold myself, make eye contact - or not -to position myself in our (patriarchal) religious community. Years of training in identifying the precise shade of gendered roles, where a gender-separate education didn't free the girls to explore, intellectually and religiously, but rather camouflaged how very different our teaching was to be.We memorized, the boys learned. Rote vs. scholarly tools, Aramaic vs. discussions about the appropriate lengths of our sleeves - and somehow I came to quietly twitch at the idea of a soft pink, or floral patterns, or lace. Who are we to argue? Ha. Years of accrued thought met my angled skepticism, and both sides froze, watching the Toddles. We should be paying attention here, I thought. But the thought got stuck. Attention to what, exactly?

On Monday, we bought sneakers - and again, rewarded the kids with socks. Tiredly, the Eldest surveyed his options, then reached past the packs of fire engine, skull-and-crossbones socks, for a striped oceanic pair. He weighed them in his hand, thoughtfully, and asked for more fun in my clothes? I added a note to my list, where it sat meagrely next to the Toddles' string of instructions. Pink, purple, flowers, hearts, beautifulness, no buttons, no snaps, many pockets, and a good touch, please, Mum. Comparatively, fun seemed easy. I nodded, the Eldest grinned, and offered to test-drive his new sneakers. He streaked through the aisles, dodging the other shoppers.

Whoops! sorry! flew by, and I layered a watch out for other people, hey? onto the kid-shaped blur.

The Toddles barely blinked when his brother whisked past. He'd somehow wrapped himself in a quiet hum, using that hum to lift himself into Toddles-space and away from the horrors of shoe-shopping. Trailing his hum, the Toddles walked over to the socks. He didn't discard the dinosaur socks, the fire-engine or sports socks - they were simply irrelevant. Insufficient, even. A salesperson helped him find a set of pale pink, lavender and white socks, trimmed in lace. Carefully, he stroked the lace over his cheek, and the moment of his beautifulness, this good touch, the Toddles glowed.

These ones, Mum, he told me, and held them up, offering to share his pleasure. I remembered the generosity and inexplicableness of this sharing, and a stranger's need for interpretation. These ones? I asked, but the Eldest didn't wait for either translation or explanation. He was suddenly, simply there, admiring his brother's treasures. And raising a private eyebrow, admitting that he didn't understand, nor did he need to. It was simple: beautifulness was sought, and happiness followed.

I'm jealous. More to the point, I'm in love.