Friday, February 25, 2011

dark spaces and quilter's flannel

So, I have this Google Reader thing, and it's about as effective as my inbox: you have 334 posts to read, it intones. Plus lots of Baby Blues cartoons. But nobody's listening, see, because I might have posts to read, but I don't have time - I'm too busy glaring at the 1352 emails in my inbox. (Although I make an exception for BB, because, you know.)

But I do miss my favorite blogs, like this (on bedrest) blog, the Toddles' and my new favorite this one (and had I known that she was a mere brisk walk away, well!), the blogger who SHOULD get a satellite for A's birthday (IMHO) and oh, oh, oh these ones that feed the heart and tum- the please don't be defunct this one, and that one - the one I just found, the two that break my heart, the queen of the allergy lunchbox, the lady who produced the maker of an absolutely superb box, the ones walking in our shoes, and oh, more, many of which are languishing on LiveJournal. I'd go on, for fear of missing any particularly beloved blog, but you'll notice by now that this is really an apologia to the inhabitants of my Reader list, and I'm starting to feel like a variant on Dickens: guilt paid for by the word.

Enough. The point is, I let my Reader moulder, collect curiously shaped dust bunnies, which then debate the benefits of libertarian politics. Meanwhile, I wrestle with my inbox, let the Man lecture me on the proper way to write emails (efficiently, apparently), and mutter. But tonight, the kids finally asleep after an overdose on Disney, the Man and I were talking about a dear, if neglected friend. Which lead me to this post.

Okay, so first of all, cripes. I had that virus, and I'm assuming that the rest of the Imperfects were at least introduced to it, given the horking up of stuff that I've done over the past three weeks. I'm so sorry to hear that R had it - G? ST? YS? and all of the other alphabeticals. And you know, that thing gets points for combining the timing with the nasties. Because pilgrimages suck.

Oh, sometimes they really, really don't. But they do. And yes, I've been holding out on you, because our last visit managed to do both.

I can't begin to explain what dairy means to the Eldest, or to us as a family. Aside, as the Man points out, from a $30 rise in our weekly food costs. (Can't explain it, but can quantify it? Bah.) The Eldest's kaput!ted dairy allergy means something for what we put in our mouths, yes, but an easing of a fraction or two in my now-famous, unknottable shoulder muscles. (Forget Rafael Nadal - you should string a racket with those suckers) The two work together, in a wonderful positive feedback cycle of the kid can -> look! this used not to be okay, but now it is -> less worry, more breathe -> I don't gotta persuade nobody of nothin' here -> ahhh, the kid can.

Now, try the other version.

No, don't. It sucks great green goblins. And the thing about a pilgrimage is that you don't always know which one you get. Even if you had a great year, a bad year, maybe you read the signs wrong? maybe the labs will show, oh, something else? The Eldest's heme pharmacokinetics this year showed that no, he isn't working as well with his clotting meds as he has in the past, and we went to the annual heme visit (at, yes, a still-funded HTC) waiting to discuss The Rise of the Inhibitor, or the Great Statistical Insignificance.

(Don't ask me which one it was, I still don't know. The medicos don't, either, but they made up for it by noticing something completely different to horrify and entertain us all, as I'll tell you some other time.)

This year, we got both. The Great Dairy Escape, and the great green gobs of screeching heebie jeebies. Or possibly, screeching me(s). Hi, is this Miz Imperfect? I'm calling with the Toddles' lab results - do you have a minute? I did. I was also in the office of a really lovely director of admissions for a local lovely school. And suddenly, awash in numbers. So, according to this, the Toddles' RAST tests are double - or more than double - the ones from 2009. She walked me through the relevant results, and I plopped into a conveniently placed chair. Oh. The phone was sympathetically silent. Yes. It's fairly concerning, and we were wondering if there's anything that's changed? a new product that you might have questions about, a new food?  ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod

deep breath. Come on, woman - say it - well, the only real change that I can think of is that for the past few months, the Toddles has been eating lunch with his friends. He stays for lunch. At preschool.

And Miriam was right. At moments like that, I know that the dark spaces have been there all along, discreet little hatches, bulkheads that open and yawn which is unfair because, simultaneously the room is getting smaller and the damned bulkheads are eating all of the space - but that's a major milestone for him. And I don't want to take it away, unless we absolutely must.

Silence roars from the other end of the phone. Then, no. I agree. Let's not touch that until we have to. For now, why don't you look at the foods he's eating, see if you can identify any risks that might be of concern, and let's talk about them?

I nod, idiotic with relief. Oh. Um, yes. I'll do that. Flip the phone closed (did I say goodbye?) and blink, looking up at my now-worried audience. Who doesn't quite sigh, doesn't quite wince, but lets me scrabble myself together and think.

Because, truly? for us, the dark spaces aren't really quite medical. They're the places where our ability to live a life - a valued, rich and happy-in-our-way life - drops away. I'll tell you some other time about reassessing whether the Toddles can eat lunch at school, with his class, and the new mold allergy and angst-r-us. But at the end of the post, I am glad that there's this post.

So, let me sidestep the angst and my psyche's bulkheads to say, hey, ladies! I'm writing this post while curled up under a quilt. Don't know if you made it, but someone did, and gave it to HitWGC, and they sent us home with it. Now, it's the quilt that I put over the Eldest last weekend, when he had a bleed in his ankle. And that the Toddles snuggles under, for a sleepy waking-up ritual, and that I curl up with for my daily cuppa.

Dark spaces and bits of soft, flannel comfort. Yeah, it can work. Especially if that director of admissions is a very, very level-headed and sensible person.

(looks up. essays smile. tries again. sighhhhhhh)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

we have secretly replaced your child with...

Some days, I'm herding cats. Cranky, laughing, irreverent cats. Some days, I'm herding barbarians, shouting some fairly well honed observations about my personal habits and character. Mostly, though, my efforts at herding are observed, mildly, by youngsters who are fairly certain that none of this has anything to do with them.

When you are finished with breakfast, please clear your bowl.

Have you finished breakfast? Great. Please put your bowl in the sink.

Hey, kid - don't forget your bowl! It goes in the sink when you are done.

Pooh! say the cats, and stalk off. But their mother is less feline and more bulldoggerly, and lo! the inevitable frogmarch back to the table, the nice little demonstration as to what happens to oatmeal when it is left to ripen into a cement. clunk.  The cats stare, awed. Oh, they say. And walk off, thoughtfully leaving their bowls behind.

Get me? Now, add in the usual litany from mothers-of-boys: toilet seats, dried pee on the floor, tiny Legos underfoot (curse you, tiny Lego!), the wadded, soft mass of former Pokemon cards in the dryer, the ensuing horror at discovering said former - and essential to life - Pokemon cards, used tissue decorating habits, the domestication of the chewing mouth, and any variety of entertainingly flying objects. Oh, and landing ones, too.

Etcetera. Except, yesterday.

Yesterday, having discovered that the grandparents were going to be visiting for an extra morning, friends offered to let me drop off the boys, each for a playdate at different ends of town. (Lessee. From Playdate House A to Playdate House B is 12 minutes. If I drop off at A, and then book it to B, can I return to meeting place C within 30 minutes? Factoring in the speed of light, and the probability of traffic cops in Town X at that time of the morning - no. Oh.) I slung the Toddles at one family, the Eldest at the next, and ran off to meet the grandparents. A wonderful 40 minutes later, the grandparents drove off - and I was calculating again.

Back to playdate A, where a lovely human being fed lunch to the Toddles and his mama. One of our favorite lunches, actually: rice, black beans, sour cream, shredded cheese and (for the mamas) hot sauce. Yay! said the Toddles. Rice and beans! Ignoring his disdain of this very meal when found in his lunch box, the kid proceeded to eat two helpings. Company adds an essential spice, you know.

Um, said the Toddles, eyeing the serving bowl. Is there more beans and rice?
The other mama thought it over. There is more rice, but that's the last of the black beans. She cast an experienced eye around the table. But I'm not going to want any more, and neither is your friend. 
I shook my head. I'm also done, I told the kid.
So, said our hostess, you can go ahead and help yourself.
Thank you for the information, he replied. And filled his plate.

We watched him add the toppings, listened to him chatter. I hadn't considered that, he said at one point. That is useful to know, he said at another. The structure of his language was unreal, and the topics did not include anything exploding, Jedi or clones. I hadn't herded this kid - had I? Had he been reading How To Be A Guest under the covers at night? Or this, in the bathroom? (no, wait. he's still preliterate.)

(I think)
(also, David Lowry probably wouldn't approve of toilet media)

I stared, he chewed. Swallowed. Where should I put my plate? he asked. I started choking, but the other mum took it in stride. You can leave your plate there, but your spoon goes into the sink. He nodded, and trotted off - WITH THE SPOON.

Who the hell is this kid, anyway? Twelve minutes later, he'd persuaded his friend to join him in a pillow fight, and the two of them trashed the kid's bedroom - and then broke house law, by carrying the battle into the parents' bedroom.

Okay, so that kid? him, I recognize. And in case I had any doubts, there was the oatmeal this morning, quietly hardening in the bowl, on the tablecloth, on the floor...whew.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

visuals count!

She lives somewhere around here, and I want to find her. Sara Hendren, a local artist and mother of two, has been quietly upgrading handicapped stickers. And now, thanks to the Boston Globe, not so quietly. The current symbol for handicapped access bears no resemblance to my college professor, pulling on his leather gloves before rolling down the ramp. The guy moved. The current image, though, is appallingly passive.

So, woot! for Sara Hendren and her sticker campaign. Want to help her? You can get stickers here, while they last. Just include your mailing address, and she'll send 5 to you, free! For the Imperfects, she's offering us the perfect follow-up to a conversation that the Eldest was roped into, oh, last winter.

MOOOOOM, we're late! Why are you driving past those spots - we're ALways LATE and you never get a spot and those are empty and WHY?  Things degenerated a little at that point, and there was a certain amount of shrieking. I'm not too proud to admit that some of the shrieking was mine. But, mid-screech, I did note the opening I'd been given.

Later that night, I slid into the Eldest's room. What does 'handicapped' mean?

The kid glared. He did a lot of glaring that winter, so it just washed over me. I smiled, angelically, having discovered that this defused the glare - or possibly distilled it to a cranky but functional eye-roll.
It means you can't park there. He paused, mid-roll, and added, and that people can't walk.

If I told you that I leaned back, casually, at this point, you should assume that I was not grinning. But I might've looked like a happy geeking mama, who has spotted the metaphorical podium.

Insert the usual spiel about cap-in-hand, disabled people begging, etc. It's dead wrong, as I later discovered, but hey, made a great entry point into the discussion. The kid looked thoughtful. Frowned.

Okay, so what's a better way to say 'handicapped?'

The Eldest played along, only rolling his eyes the barest minimum of times needed to indicate his extreme level of patience.
can't walk 
got hurt 
born that way
can't catch it 
has a challenge 
can't do some things? 
can't do some things easily 
has medical stuff

We stared at the last word. Disabled, I said, grimly, and remembered the last time I'd used that word, and the stiff, defensive faces of the people who didn't - quite - hear it.  Yeah, said the Eldest. So what? Well, you and I and the IEP know that the Eldest should know exactly what. But lucky kid, he doesn't. So, I diagrammed it for him.


Remember "medical?"
The Eldest blinked. Yeah.
Dude, some people think that's YOU.
The Eldest bristled. What? That's absurd!  I just have to take care of things, and be prepared - and yeah, i can't head the ball in soccer, but I can play - and you know, I make a great goalie and -  the kid's eyerolling vanished in a flare of indignation, and bam! game on, mama.

Hey, I'm not arguing. I waved my hands as evidence of good will, good-guy status, and general on-your-sideness. That list has an awful lot of 'no,' or 'can't' hiding in it. So, what is a better way of saying this?

Right. The kid squared his shoulders, and went so far as to lean forward.

has to be prepared 
limits (but I can still play! the Eldest protested. Hm, I said. True.)
might take longer 
go a different way
uses tools (doesn't everybody? the Eldest asked, and I grinned)
has fine print on the contract

Are we done? we thought it over. Almost: 


The Eldest nodded. That one is right. It has less - can't - in it. It has fun.
I gave up, and grinned. Kid, it has YOU in it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

the cross-examination

Describe your child, his/her personality, strengths, challenges, hobbies, traits and characteristics. 

[what? did the kid need a resume, too?]

Dear people with the power to admit my child to your wonderful school: he is perfect.

[strangled yeeping sounds. scrabble. ahem.]

Dear admissions demigods, please wait while we select just the right spin for your answer. Your application is valued by us, and we appreciate your patience. A properly honed and polished response will be with you shortly. Thank you.

[wild hooting and chortles.]

My child - [no, wait, that sounds like only one of the two of us is invested in this school. FIND ALL: my REPLACE ALL: our.]

Our child is a bundle of joy and curiosity. He can solve complex mathematical challenges, unlock elaborately sealed containers or cabinets, julienne zucchini with the knife he's not supposed to be able to reach - [er. Not helping?]

Our child is curious, creative and innovative in his pursuit of a goal.  [oh, good grief.]

He can do anything, as long as he's tall enough to reach the buttons. He can remember everything he's ever heard, except the inconvenient bits, like "it's time to go." And he could probably save the world, so long as he gets the job wrapped up by nap time.  [whew.]

Explain why you think that our school is right for your child.

Because otherwise, we wouldn't write a check for the privilege of applying? [gah! No! check the snark at the door, people!]

He's currently undergoing extensive retrofitting in order to ensure compatibility. Child 3.1 will be available shortly, and coming (we hope) to a classroom near you!
[or not.]

inhale. exhale.

Oh, dear gah. The Toddles is going to kindergarten. But where? And how? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

an app and a thump!

Oh, dear galoshes, I want that app. Bump! goes the Imperfectmobile. Ow, wails a child, unless they go for the it spIIIIlllled variant, or the elegantly simple MOOOOOOOmmmm!

Oh, no. With this app, every time I hit a pothole, we Imperfects - and our hapless carpoolians - will cheer. Gotcha! we will shout, and now, minions: fix! This is going to beat the heck out of the virtual paint-ball cannon that we've installed on the roof of our car, for use on egregious drivers, or possibly just to amuse ourselves during traffic. (Note: the paint is always translucent, and beads up instantly on windshields, thereby avoiding a driving hazard. Mostly.)

Except, of course, if we do get the app, then I might feel obliged to use it on the two craters within a few blocks of our home - oh, and that gigantic crevasse a few minutes farther out - and - oh. Um. Bad for the rims, anyone?

Still, this has been the most absurd winter for having things dumped on our heads. (And yes, that is a photo of someone plowing their parking lot. ) Which makes me wonder: maybe the newer, resulting battle against the pits opening up under our feet is - um - providing a sort of balance?

Or not.

Hurrah for civic duty. Maybe next year, I'll start mine earlier in the winter. Before the cracks begin their mysterious tectonic migrations.

(hat tip to the Precise One for information about the app)

okay, we got scooped

Well, sort of.

For those of you who read the New Yorker, there's an article in this week's magazine by the thoughtful and wise Jerome Groopman. "The Peanut Puzzle" is a calmly written alternative to the shrieking headlines offering fear, or skepticism. And wry apology.

In case anyone is wondering, the baked milk study mentioned in the article is yes, the one that the Eldest just finished. Oh - did I mention  that he finished it? He did. Two tries at the 6 month version of the protocol, a possible false positive at a food challenge (turns out the ewwww, of a coated throat from full-fat dairy? not easily distinguished from an ewwww of the stomach urp, plus general ickies for a kid expecting anaphylaxis to start. Any time now. Now? Now? Maybe now?).

Then done. Then not done - hahahaha - because you have to avoid all dairy for a month, just in case the allergy comes back.

What happens if it comes back? asked the Eldest. A borough away, the mama nodded. The kid's skin tests were still positive, dammit. So, what happens?

then you'll be the first, said the allergist, and the Man says that she offered a wry smile. And you know what? For once, the kid was not unique. But he also couldn't believe it. Still, he was cool. He knew the score - go, test, schlep home, eat more stuff.

bah, said the Eldest. Done this before.

And oh, he was cool. He was sly, working his moment, enjoying Diego's fries (made in a special fry-pan! special oil! and how on earth does he make them so good? The nurse shrugged. The kid ate his sixty-first, and grinned.)

Ooo, said the Eldest. A foooooooood chALLenge. Oh, that's scary.

He tossed back a slug of chocolate milk, then another, another, and oh - a bunch more. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, he informed us. And mugged, to prove it.

That's it, said the same, wry, lovely allergist. You are done! Thank you for helping us learn about what we can do to help other children like you, with their allergies.

The kid swept a grand bow. The allergist cocked an eyebrow, appreciated the gesture, and left.

You're done,  I told him. He paused.

No - really?

I nodded. He shrugged. I put a hand on his shoulder. No, really. Go ask her.

The Eldest caught up with Dr. Wry-and-Gracious by the elevators. I watched as he talked to her. She looked puzzled, but replied. He looked at her, searching her face. And then, turned and walked away.

He doesn't really believe that it's over, I explained. Watch. It's about to hit him. 

Two-thirds of the way down the hall, the kid stopped. Tilted his head, then froze. Now, I told her.  And we watched the kid gallop down the hall, laughing. 

Monday, February 07, 2011

a pattern's tale

So, I might have mentioned that I have this kid, and he's oh, himself. Except when he's in training to be the class clown, and then he's a caricature of That Kid. But mostly, he's himself. See?

Hm. Maybe if you got closer. Try this:

Better? Okay, then. Let's take it from the top: I have this kid. And he is...himself.

Hm. Still not right. How about if we back up narratively?

Every year, 'round about the winter holidays, I frog-march the boys over to the idea of their teachers. And saying 'thank-you.' Happily, the kids have needed little explanation as to why the first should go with the second, although the degree and quality of the thanks has needed some guidance. And, the 'say a really nice thank-you, because your teacher works her educator's tush off extra hard for you' is not a line that I can use. It may be true, but that's not a weight the kid can carry.  Which, as I say to the teachers each year, is why I intend to smile very very quietly, when my kids complain to me about their children. And carefully not say anything at all.

But back to the photos. Right, so there's this kid. Or possibly, kids. And each year, they say thanks. In our house, we do it with our time and hands, and sometimes, with our oven. Last year, the boys made sparklies, and a dry mix for By the Bay's fabulous cholent. Another year, they made a still-talked about ooh, yum granola bar, which the Toddles delivered in what was an act of ruthless appreciation (on my part, perhaps, more than on his). This year? This year, we went for fuzzy.

After watching me curl up with a creation of soft yumminess by the Space Cadet, the boys began to show glimmers of interest in the bags that I (occasionally - only very occasionally! honest!) bring into the house. I let them choose the yarn for their next kipa, and then, I brought them to the yarn store. For the Toddles, it was heaven: he could touch anything (gently). He could take anything off the shelf (one at a time). And everyone in the store wanted to hear what he thought. (no, really. everyone.)  The Eldest came to the store with more skepticism, and was seduced by the yarn - and oh, Mummy the colors! and why is this one softer than the other one? and why does the yarn change colors like that - how do they make it change - and why is this one twirled around itself? and then it's thicker here, and stringy like that - there?

Oh, said the Eldest. Yes, I would like to pick out a skein. For me? For a kipa? We spent over an hour at the yarn store, that day, and he finally chose a dark navy, generously flecked with orange, red, green and yellow. It made a lovely, stretchy kipa, with a curving trim of red sari silk yarn, and both of us were surprisingly accepting when his father accidentally felted it in the dryer. After all, we knew where it came from.

So, the fuzzies. And so, the boys.  I'll do a row if you do a row, I promised them, and the Toddles leaped right in. He chose a ball of yarn, and happily finger-stitched a row of chain stitches. Chose a second ball, did five finger-stitches, wandered off, and refused to be lured back. Ever.

The Eldest watched this burst of enthusiasm with a degree of fairly accurate skepticism. I dangled the offer. Any yarn you like, love. And watched him think it over. Remember. Crumble. And grin.

He started with a chain stitch, done with his fingers. It was loose, then too tight, and I hovered - then got smart, and shut up. You don't have to stitch in each spot unless you want to, a wise friend reminded me. And I didn't. Without my dangling over him, the kid looped, pulled, and let the yarn teach him how it worked. His stitches grew tighter - too tight - and he asked for a crochet hook. Then a smaller one. Then, a different stitch.

And so it went. His row, my row, his row, my row. We told stories of the teachers, as he looped yarn into their gift. She's really funny, but sometimes? sometimes she puts her head like this, and then you know that she's thinking about whether she's mad. He paused. I grinned. What do you do then? I asked. The kid wound some more yarn around his hand, and looked up. I keep going, he said. Which is probably how I get into trouble.

I nodded.

A skein for each teacher - and sometimes, a skein and a stripe. It took hours. And hours. A lot of it was rich with a quiet mellowness, and with stories.  Some of it wasn't, like the day when I sent him - spitting mad - to his room. He went, still hissing, then came down the hall to mine. Curled up on the bed, and watched me crochet. May I? Just a few stitches? I passed the yarn over, and let the rhythms of his stitches sink into his bones. It makes quiet in my head, he told me. And smiled. Thanks, Mummy. 

And then there were the days of the bitching and moaning. NOW??? But I'm in the middle of - but I'm about to - but I really want to -  and, of course, I can't do twenty stitches! It takes FORE-EV-AH!  And then, inevitably, there was this:
I'm done? Oh my gosh that was the last stitch - right, Mum? - thatwasitthatwasitthatwasitIDIDIT!

And he began to dance. The next day, I took photos, wrapped and wrote out washing instructions, while the kid made cards:   thank you for being my teacher.

The tough-as-nails teacher looked up from her card - at me. Thanks, Mom! she said. I laughed. Oh, no,  I said. I didn't do it. He did.  And I pointed. She looked. Really? you did this? she asked, and the Eldest nodded, earnestly. You knitted me - this?  He shook his head. No, he explained, I crocheted it.  And he began to point, to show her stitches - and she began to understand. Really? another teacher said, carefully quietShe pulled photos from her envelope, and saw the Eldest, wielding his hook - she looked up, over the edge of the photos, and saw the Eldest, explaining his stitches to his still-fearsome teacher. Oh, she said. And laughed. Oh, oh, oh.

The tough-as-nails teacher melted into a puddle, and the others laughed from sheer pleasure. My scarf is prettier than yours, you know, said one, later that day. And I can't prove it, but I'm positive that she grinned. The other one probably tossed her head. No way, she retorted. Mine is. And wore it again the next day, just to prove the point.

As for me? Well, you know how I love those visual metaphors. The first, raggedly steps, the rebellions, the learning and the carelessness. The enthusiasm of the too-tight stitches, and the fat reliable stitches of the learned skill. But hey, the learning curve in yarn is pretty damned nice - and fuzzy - but it was beaten all hollow by the things I didn't catch on film. Like his teachers' faces, when they saw in their gifts the hours of patient work. Like the kid's face, when he was hugged, melted upon and given the gift of giving something that was joyfully received.