Oh oh oh okay so I'll tell it like this: Once upon a time there was this kid who wanted, of all things, a fish. This kid — let's just call him Charlie, no relation — had been finding it tough to bring all his stuff home at the end of the school day, despite his parents trying everything, evvverything, to make it easy for him to remember. Finally his mother — we'll call her Cher — look, who's telling this story, you or me? — hit on something that motivated Charlie. If he could remember to bring home his backpack, school folder, notebook, and coat every school day for three weeks running, she would get him a fish.
Here I am abridging many lectures about responsibility and being dependable and Who's going to feed the fish and clean his tank and see that he gets neutered and make sure he gets plenty of exercise by taking him out in the yard to play Frisbee? because this is the Internet and there are only so many pixels to go around. Assume they took place in plenty.
Anyway, Charlie applied himself to this goal with a diligence that surprised JulI mean Cher — hey, no, wait, can I change that? Because I've always sort of wished my parents had named me Boutros Boutros-Ghali and that is the God's honest truth. Anyway, this mother was surprised and impressed by Charlie's commitment, so duly followed through on her promise. The fifth day of the third week found the two of them at the pet store, selecting an inky-blue half-moon betta to be Charlie's forever fish. "I think he likes me," Charlie said. And although His Excellency the Secretary General privately thought that the fish was at best indifferent, it was sloshed into a bag, purchased, and duly taken home.
Not him, but close enough
After an afternoon of intense deliberation, Charlie christened his new pal Shredder.
And so the fish did thrive, with daily feedings and weekly water changes, and many a bubble nest did he build in his obvious contentment. (It's kind of the fish equivalent of painting the nursery, only finished off with milt instead of Etsy wall clings.)
And then came Charlie's spring break, and the trip we'd planned to Washington. Charlie and I called — whoops, you got me, the majestic pop icon cum illustrious diplomat was actually me all the time — our nice next-door neighbor and asked if she'd care for the fish in our absence. She agreed, but asked, in some trepidation, "What if it dies while it's here?"
I reassured her cheerfully, having seen Shredder merrily dipping and bubbling just that very morni...Huh, wait, when was the last time I really looked at him? Paul and Charlie fed him nightly, and Charlie and I changed his water weekly, and I usually glanced at him absently as I made the bed in the morning, but... As soon as we hung up, I caaaasually went down the hall to check on the fish just to make sure he was fit to travel the 30 long yards up the driveway.
Shredder was lying on his side on the bottom of his tank, looking what you would call bloated but alive-ish. He could swim to the top of his tank, but would sink again almost immediately. A quick perusal of the available literature — a Google search of "betta sinking oh my hell why is this happening NOW" — revealed two likely causes. The more desirable scenario was a swim bladder problem, for which the preferred treatment is to relieve your fish's constipation. (Now Googling "constipated betta I can't believe I'm Googling 'constipated betta'.")
The more troubling possibility was dropsy, in which a fish's organ's fail, causing full-body swelling. A meticulous differential diagnosis — Google "betta swollen scales standing out looks like a tiny blue pinecone that's a good sign right" — revealed that that was the most likely case for poor bottom-dwelling Shredder, who was, by this time, not looking quite so alive-ish. And dropsy is nearly always fatal.
This came to a head the day before leaving, so a few dilemmas unfolded. Do we call Charlie's attention to the fish, whose hours are obviously numbered? Do we say goodbye and euthanize him a scant eight hours before vacation, to let the neighbor off the hook? Do we take him over to the neighbor's house, knowing he's going to die? (No. I like my neighbor far too much to make her take the fall.) Or do we act like everything's normal, wait for a brief break in the weekend's busy schedule, sneak off to the pet store, buy a replacement fish that looks only somewhat like the original because, shit, they're out of half-moons, creep up to Charlie's room while he's briefly distracted, scoop up the sick fish in a yogurt container, nonchalantly take my "yogurt" outside on the deck to "enjoy" despite the 45º drizzle, fling the poor doomed bastard out into the woods with a whispered plea for forgiveness, and hurriedly decant the unsuspecting Shredder II into the now-vacant tank and act like nothing's happened?
Charlie has yet to notice. Nearly a month has passed. I wonder what would happen if I'd replaced Shredder with a blobfish.
I don't know, I wouldn't have minded the opportunity to talk with Charlie about the natural order of things, the sad fact that we generally outlive our pets, the certainty that Shredder Classic had gone to a better place. (Okay, maybe not that; I can't really say that a nest of bracken is actually better, if you're a fish, than a clean, roomy tank filled with sparkly rocks, a hammock, and, you know, water.) The timing was simply ruinous: the fish was going to die while we were gone and there was just no good way to handle it.
Still, I feel bad about killing the fish, bad enough — and cowardly enough — that I have no plans to tell him, although the Internet being what it is, I suppose I can count on a future employer to bring it up in a job interview. It turns out I'm mom enough to do what had to be done, just not so awesomely extreme as to own up after the fact.
Grandma goes to Washington
We spent last week in Washington, DC and it was, like a lot of things we do as a family these days, about 80% wonderful and 15% how-come-the-human-race-didn't-die-out-long-ago? (The other 5%? Cortisol, trace elements, and mechanically-separated chicken.) I find it very easy to travel with Charlie; he rises to the occasion beautifully, given liberal access to electronics on the long car ride — check! — and strict adherence to his pharmacological regimen — check! Oh, believe me, check. Ben, on the other hand, is tough these days. I lost count of the number of times we had to yank him away from this attraction or that: Ben, please don't put your hands on the glass display case. Ben, see that sign? It says, "Don't touch." Ben, there's no touching here. Ben. Hands in your pockets, please! Ben, if you touch the glass again we'll have to go out.
Repeated reminders because it was all so stimulating that I could see how he'd forget, and because I really didn't want to leave. But then invariably he'd touch again, with a sly look: You mean like this?
Here he is touching the picture of a mother monkey yelling at her children, immediately prior to my yelling at him, and if that's not recursive, I don't know what is. Yeah, Mr. Darwin! Yeah, evolution!
Now, I'd thought we were past this exasperating toddler bullshit where he tests us to see if we mean what we're saying, but apparently not. Since nothing rockets me across the room faster than a child intentionally defying me, I spent a lot of time chugging across public spaces, clean-and-jerking him from the scene of the offense, and then hustling him to wherever his howls of outrage would echo the loudest and disturb the greatest number of appalled tourists. (Wherever we go, be assured we're Ambassadors of Awesome.) At the Museum of Natural History I halfway expected an opportunistic team of curators to leap out from behind the leathern scrotum of the elephant in the atrium. They'd seize my preschooler and whisk him away to the taxidermy room, where he'd be summarily stuffed, mounted, and encased in glass, to be showcased in an upcoming exhibit: Why Humans Should Eat Their Young.
Tell me he wouldn't be tasty.
Okay, yeah, I'd miss him. But I did buy a membership to the Smithsonian, so I'd get 10% off at the gift shop plus discounts on IMAX tickets plus the monthly magazine, so, you know, there's that.
While we were in Washington, I attended RESOLVE's Advocacy Day. This year we asked Congress to support the Family Act of 2011, which would institute a tax credit for out-of-pocket costs associated with IVF. I met with staff of my state's three members of Congress and told my story — briefly, with no swearing, and I was wearing a slip. The other advocates and I outlined the provisions of the bill, and asked that they support it.
What a simple idea, to ask that our elected representatives do their job and...represent us.
This year I was taken, as I was in the past, by how empowering it can be to do just that. This time I felt more strongly than ever that one person really can make a difference, just by showing up and asking. During a meeting with one of the aides to my House member, she said that even if my rep fully supports a measure, he won't co-sponsor unless he hears from a constituent. Oh, hey: that's me. Or you.
If it's important to you that people have affordable access to the most appropriate treatment for the disease of infertility — Well! When you put it like that... — you can help make it happen. It takes 90 seconds to customize and send an e-mail message to your senators and representatives — 45 if all you add to personalize it is baby baby please please please I just want a chance to try. It takes 15 minutes to follow up with a phone call. Or, even better, schedule a meeting with your rep in your district; RESOLVE will help you do it.
Anyone who's been through the social isolation of infertility already understands that no one's going to do this for us. I could say RESOLVE will, but in fact they are us — us as a collective, us at our most forceful. At the event last week I watched the staff of RESOLVE manage it all so smoothly, and with such perfectly channeled passion, that it would have been easy to feel complacent; us is in good hands, and I'm grateful for all they do. But the framework's just that, a scaffold. Now it's our job to build on it.
One essential part of the story I told the staffers is that we started trying to conceive when I was 29. See, these aides are all so young, no more than 25 or so. While their competence is impressive, and frankly a little shaming considering how I spent my 20s (glug-glug gesture, energetic pelvic thrusts, slide whistle SFX re: my credit score), their life experience probably hasn't given them much exposure to infertility or its repercussions. It sometimes feels tough to connect, so I tried to emphasize that infertility affects even young, powerful, well-educated cute people. To say without saying outright, "This could be you in five years."
And in ten years? Why, you, too could have the unequalled pleasure of having a complete stranger ask you if you are your three-year-old's grandmother.
I shoved my walker up her ass, tennis-ball feet and all.
Whoa. My truss must have cut off the blood flow to my brain, because I can't think of a clever segue. Loosening it now with my button hook and taking a deep whiff of sal volatile. Ah, that's better. Now I remember the Hoover administration.
Charlie's ADHD meds work okay to curb his problems with impulse control and keep him on task when necessary, but we still work a lot on behavior modification. The latest innovation is the bonus video as reward: when he gets ready in the morning in a timely fashion — visual timer with abrasive audio cues, reinforced by hoarse-voiced maternal haranguing — he gets to watch a quick video on my phone. This is kind of genius, if I do say so myself; it's quick, it's finite, and it happens right at the table without stepping out of routine.
Right now we're working through Simon's Cat, but we're about to run out of those. I wonder if you have suggestions for similar: short, gentle, funny, and appropriate for kids. Ben would be happy to watch the same clips over and over again — "The one where the cat gets a baseball bat haaaaaaahahahahaaaa!" [Lusty sigh.] — but novelty motivates Charlie, so we're ready to move on. Do you have any ideas?
Comes with the territory
Ohhh, I just had a day. Two incidents of note:
- We'd been out in the car, and Ben's window was down because I make him open it while he smokes. When we got home I pulled into the garage; before I stopped the car, he asked me to roll up his window. That's how things are done when you're Ben: What was open must now be closed; what was askew cannot go unstraightened; and we have to do it the other waaaaaaaaaay or his little brain explodes. (Earlier on the ride, he'd happily chirped, "Wouldn't it be nice if all the cars lined up? The red cars would all go in the red line! Then the green cars would all go in the green line! Then" — chortling now at the wicked delicious fun of it — "the gray cars would all go in the gray line! That would be great, right, Mama?" I dared to offer a variation on his pattern by suggesting that the bicycles could make a line, too, and he was suddenly silent, as if struck mute by my heresy. "The bicycles don't go in these lines," he said carefully, as if explaining something very simple to someone very stupid. You know, "as if.")
Anyway, he wanted the window back up. Sure, I said; I turned off the ignition, and pushed the button for his window. Now, in our car, even though the power is off, the driver can still operate the windows unless someone opens a door. Paul opened his door, so Ben's window stopped a few inches short of closed.
As soon as Paul's door winged open I knew what the problem would be, and, sure enough, Ben immediately protested. I told him I would fix it, and turned on the car. I closed Ben's window. Riiiight on his fingers.
- Twice this afternoon we'd given Charlie some sort of treat or privilege, which resulted in him complaining about it. I don't even remember what the issue was, except that whatever we'd done wasn't treat-y or privilege-y enough, like, this housebroken turbotronic robotastic Pegasus unicorn only shits vanilla ice cream, "and besides, I wanted a liger." The third time it happened, I had pretty much had it. I really lit into the poor kid; although I didn't raise my voice, let us just say that I offered a frank and forthright disquisition on just how insufferably entitled he'd been sounding, and how I was I-didn't-quite-say-goddamned if I was going to let that continue. I gave him to understand that at that point I'd sooner hunt, slaughter, butcher, cook badly, and make him eat that liger he so admired than listen to another complaint about the nice things we give and do for him. So effectively did I develop my theme, in fact, that the poor kid was crying when I'd finished. And I thought, well, you know, good.
And both of those things were kind of awful. Ben's little fingers! Charlie's tears. But coming off each event, I examined my conscience and decided…it was pretty much fine.
Several times a day I let my kids down because of specific flaws unique to my personality. (Several times a day I am awesome ditto ditto.) But other times these things happen that are, I don't know, not about me but the job. So normal. So that-could-happen-to-anyone. Things that any mother might do — and either blame herself for, even while thinking, Jesus, kid, you knew I was going to roll up the window, or not, when I have had it up to my musky magickal beasthole with your snotty complaining, child.
What I am basically saying is that I had this day of feeling really connected to other mothers, aware of what comes with the territory, beleaguered but not especially, just ordinarily wrung out at the end of a long day's failures. And hungry — starving! — for liger, so Charlie? Yeah, don't push it.
I'm back in the ski lodge this snowy Saturday, somehow managing to collect my thoughts over the sound of young femurs snapping. (It sounds like bamboo windchimes. Relaxing in its way.)
First, my thanks for the support and ideas you shared on my last post. It feels so good to be understood. And if I say much more than that about how grateful I am, about how much your kindness moves me, I'll start crying — again, as I did more than once as your comments came in — and there's already enough wailing going on in this one cement-floored room. I must not join the toddlers in it. Jesus, kids, it's only a hip cast.
I have to keep reminding myself that I don't tell you everything here, nor can I expect everyone to remember everything I do say, especially when I've made no more than the briefest mention of this or that. So the short scorecard version is this: Charlie has been assessed, not by the school but by outside evaluators, and was found to have combined-type ADHD — you know, inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive, also known as the completely sucky kind (as opposed to the...other also completely sucky kinds).
He was found not to have autism, either Asperger's or other, although his assessment scores in certain areas were close enough to the clinical cutoff to indicate that we should stay aware, as he grows, of the possibility. In other areas, the ones that spring immediately to mind when we broadly consider autism — repetitive motion, obsession with particular objects, a lack of interest in other people — his scores indicated no involvement whatsoever. (That last in particular is notable: Charlie is interested in other people, in forming relationships. He just doesn't know how to go about it, nor can he read faces or tones of voice and adjust his behavior responsively.) Reading the report from the evaluator reminded me of nothing so much as the Magic 8-Ball: Answer unclear. Ask again later.
Oh, and this is just an aside, but when I met the evaluator she said, at the end of our meeting, "I should tell you I've seen your blog."
What could I say? I just told her, "Ah. I Googled you, too."
Another aside: To determine whether a kid can read facial expressions, the evaluation includes — get this — Norman Rockwell paintings. Yes, Doctor, I agree that that picture of the boy discovering the Santa suit in his father's dresser drawer admirably shows the quintessence of disappointment, chagrin, and innocence lost. Aaaaaand thank you for ruining Christmas and shattering my son's childhood. I'd rather Rockwell painted that child finding porn, if you really want to know.
So to continue the scorecarding, Charlie attends a social skills group at lunch, is working through the Superflex social thinking curriculum, and has had his meds adjusted several times. Although we have concerns that it's not being fully implemented — a meeting about that is on the calendar — he has a 504 plan that includes accommodations like being allowed to chew gum in the classroom, getting frequent sensory breaks, OT and the opportunity to use a computer for his work to address his dysgraphia, and a...oh, I don't know what you'd call it, a smile chart to give him incremental feedback on his behavior during the day.
Whoa. I started to type this all out because I wanted to get us all on the same footing, so that no one need waste her keystrokes asking me if I'd considered talking to a lactation consultant, because although it doesn't bother me when you suggest things we're already trying, I don't know how to say, "Yeah, thanks, waaaay ahead of you on that," without feeling like an ungrateful asshole — like, if I'd only been more forthcoming, I needn't have caused you to waste your concern. But laying it out here turns out to have an additional benefit: I guess we are sort of doing a lot, and it helps some to see that objectively.
What helps even more, of course, are your stories and encouragement. One of you said it sounds lonely, and indeed that is true. I feel so much less so when I talk to you here. Thank you for helping me through.
I have to step outside now to see if I can get video of Charlie skiing. I have a new iPhone — welcome to 2007, Julie! — which Paul insisted on jovially calling my Jesus phone until I told him frostily that I'd thank him not to mock my belief system. And then I had him crushed between two large stones as the wages of his heresy. (He whispered, "More weight," at the end, and then Shazam kicked up The Band.) Will share some video later if my shiny new god wills it.
It's kind of fucked up how people say, "You're the expert on your child," when they want to be reassuring. You know, don't ignore your intuition. Let your knowledge of your child be your guide. Trust your instincts. Mother knows best. You're the expert!
I am not reassured by that phrase. In fact, it makes me panic. These days I don't know what to do with Charlie. And if I'm the expert, shit — does anyone?
Rough times. I don't even know how to talk about it. I walk around feeling so embarrassed — not by his behavior, his lack of impulse control, or his utter lack of insight into his own feelings or motivations, although God knows there's that, but by my own helplessness. By the way I'm stumped by my child.
He hit a girl who screamed in his ear. He shouted bad words, which made his friends laugh. He bopped a kid on the head in the telling of a joke. Knowing him as well as I do — being, ha, the expert — I can see, sometimes, why he does what he does. Sensory overload. Carried away. Can't read social cues.
But thinking I know why he does it doesn't help me know how to stop it. Patient conversations are all well and good; he knows the rules, can recite them with an eyeroll so advanced, I think he might be gifted, but they don't hold sway when he's in the moment. Incentives don't interest him; he's unimpressed by small rewards for incremental good behavior, and longer-term efforts to earn bigger prizes frustrate and confound him. Punishment? Sure, I guess: That works okay if the object is to make him feel bad for as long as the inconvenience lasts. But it doesn't teach him how to manage the urges that overtake him. It hasn't helped him change.
The impulsiveness, the active Id, not knowing when enough is enough: I know that most of this is the ADHD talking. (I smile when I see people sniffing and saying, "I don't believe in ADHD." That matters not at all, my friend, if it believes in you.) But that makes the quandary worse: How much of an allowance can you make before you're making excuses?
How can I penalize him for what he can't control? But also, how can I not, when that feels like letting it slide?
This, by the way, is on meds, which help, but not enough.
Lately I spend most of my time as a parent feeling like a failure. Shouldn't I know how to help him? I'm sad and shamed and mystified as to what to do for my kid. I see so clearly what might lie ahead, and it scares the bejesus out of me. I think, if I'm the expert, we're all in a lot of trouble.
Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way...turn.
I just opened my TypePad dashboard and I swear to God a cloud of bats flew out. In fact, I'm being swarmed even as we speak, so if this post contains more than the usual ration of guano, that is the reason why. Not because I'm out of practice blogging, or because I'm in a hurry, or because I'm the lone still point among a roiling crowd of toddlers clattering around in ski boots. More on that in a minute, if rabies doesn't claim me first.
Hello! Hi! It's been a while. Here is what I have to report: Nothing out of the ordinary. Business as usual. Walk in the park. Bowl of cherries. Piece of cake. No, wait: cheese. No! Pie!
Huh, I guess I can do better than that, or at least longer. To bring us up to date, more or less:
I took a picture on January 4 of our Advent activity calendar. I'd painstakingly written up 24 beautiful handmade cards promising 24 thrilling holiday-themed activities, and tucked each one into its respective pocket. I was going to do Christmas right, I resolved, even if it killed us all. And it would have. By day 4 neither kid was interested in Make a special ornament and give it to a friend! or Use a big chunk of your carefully hoarded cash to buy a gift for someone less fortunate, probably a stranger! or String popcorn and cranberries on...a string...so that you end up with a...string! Full of...shit that has been strung! Frankly, neither was I. After my inexplicable fever of intensity abated, it was rather restorative to sit back, snooze through several repeated viewings of what Ben called The Grinch Who REALLY Hates Christmas — "Ben, why is every toy you own heaped at the playroom entrance?" "I was being the Grinch."
Aaaand now we search for the cat to make sure no one made him wear antlers — and enjoy the blessed respite of happy mediocrity. So half-assed was I, in fact, that I never posted that picture. Just imagine it instead. Long after Christmas, 3 slots empty, no one gave a good goddamn. And, man, did it feel fantastic.
What also feels fantastic just now is that Ben is finally, finally making some tentative moves toward toilet-training. He's to the point where he can perform, ahem, the urinary act unassisted, though he does so only on a whim; on occasion he's even managed -- oh, let's call it the laborious excretion of solid waste from his bowel -- where it is most desirably done. Of course, he brings to this business an impeccable sense of timing. He waits to ask for assistance until I'm in the middle of an uninterruptable task: applying a tourniquet to someone's severed limb, say, or just putting the last batch of ortolans in the deep-fryer riiiiight before we sit down to dinner. But I am happy to jump when he says dump, and am feeling semi-sanguine that this will mostly be sorted by the time he attains his majority.
And Charlie. God, y'all, Charlie. Apropos of the toddlers in ski boots, Charlie is taking lessons. There's an outfit not far from where I live where you can just...give them your child, and I'm pretty sure they give you back a three-time Olympic gold medalist. (I admit I'm not entirely clear on this, as I did not read the fine print. I was too busy calling our insurance company and making sure we're covered for Acts of Folly; i.e., me signing Charlie up for ski lessons.)
The thing is, he's not very good at all. That's what I expected, since his coordination is rather poor and his joints are awesomely flexible. (I mean "awesomely" in the formal sense: Jaw-dropping. Eye-widening. Listen-for-the-ambulancing. Let me put it this way: Have you ever seen a kid W-sit...on skis?)
But what I didn't expect is how it would move me to watch him. See, he's not very good, and it's possible he knows that. (It's also possible he doesn't. When it comes to self-esteem, low is not our problem.) And it's hard; I can tell just by watching, when I do. (Right now I am tucked safely in the lodge -- safely meaning Charlie's safe from my help. When I stand out there during lessons, it's nearly impossible to refrain from calling out my expert advice...I, who have never been on skis in my life and frankly never hope to. Come to think of it, if I stay in here it's safer for me, too; I'm so awful that an exasperated instructor would be completely justified in zhhhzhing right on over and ski-poling me in the throat.)
It's heartening to watch him try. To my great surprise, he's remained undaunted. I mean, he falls simply standing still. (That's my boy.)
But, y'all, he gets up and just keeps...okay, falling down, but also trying. And improving incrementally. Pico-incrementally, but it's something. It's one of the first times he's shown real determination in the face of his own incompetence, and it knocks me out.
He knocks me out. And I hope this all comes off more as celebrating him than mocking him, because I'm honestly not in a position to criticize. You see, I have started doing...Zumba.
(Charlie's ski lesson is over. I'll pick this up again tonight, which should give you ample time to see to the muscles you just ruptured laughing at the very idea of my uninhibited shimmy.)
I know, everyone else discovered and subsequently discarded Zumba three years ago, but I live in the second-least-likely place on Earth to embrace such an invention (the first, of course, being Brazil). So this is newish here. I've taken two classes now so I'm something of an expert, but the first time I went in I embarrassed myself mightily. Everyone else knew exactly which suburban Mamita the lyrics were addressing; dutifully shook whatever it was they had been commanded to shake — I don't know what it was, as I don't speak Spiraling Butt-Tasselese; and knew the routines well enough to anticipate when and how to make their rodizio undulate credibly.
I, on the other hand? Well, because I normally insist on being addressed as Dona in fitness classes, it might have seemed like I was ignoring Papi's gentle lyrical encouragement. (I go to the gym to escape people calling me Mami and demanding that I do things.) But I was honestly just befuddled by hypoxia; that same cardiovascular insufficiency made it impossible for me to squawk, "Zzzzuuuumbaaaah!" along with the class on cue. Frankly it was all I could do to gasp out where my survivors should look for my last will and testament.
And yet I'll go again. It's hard; I look stupid; I like it. Let's just say I feel a kinship with my awkward, determined son.
So that's some of what's new around here. Thank you for being concerned about my long hiatus. I feel pretty sheepish about it at the moment, considering that...nothing happened and everything's normal, which is to say mostly fine, except of course for the days when I stand in the shower crying, convinced that I'm failing at pretty much everything. (Ben — even Ben! He got in bed with me this morning, snuggled close, gazed up at me in presumed adoration, and then marveled, "There is a lot of fur inside your nose!" Et tu, goddammit, et tu?)
But more about that later this week. The inadequacy, not the nose fur. I'm saving that for special.
Imagine that most of this post is backed by intermittent screaming, the kind that jerks a parent awake at night and sends her running down the hall. That was Charlie, several times a night, from the start of this post almost to its end. Here, just shove these in as you're reading, whenever you get to a comma:
--------- ✁ --------- Clip 'n' Save! --------- ✁ ---------
AAAAAAAAAAGH EEEEEEEEEEEEEE NNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGHwhyohwhyohwhyyyyyyy
His ear hurt, you see. Since he's had several ear infections, we pretty much knew the drill. You give him Tylenol, you apply a warm compress, and you dully wish for the quiet of the grave as he wakes you yet again. We did what we've always done: we comforted him in the night, held him until he relaxed, then stumbled back to bed muttering, "Oh Christ Jesus please just sleep." And took him to the doctor, who peered into Charlie's ear and said, "You know, I can't see much. There's a big ball of wax in the way." So she brought out her irrigation rig and a lighted curette and attempted to dislodge it.
She dug. Charlie screamed. The giant wax boulder didn't come out. But she'd managed, she thought, to see far enough past it to tell that his eardrum was in fact inflamed and bulging. (Suddenly realizing I'd never asked to peer into the otoscope myself, I wondered what she had seen, so I consulted the Internet. Free tip: If you're ever curious about what something INHERENTLY DISGUSTING looks like, Google Images will show you, but be warned: It is INHERENTLY DISGUSTING, and so are the fifty other unrelated INHERENTLY DISGUSTING things Google cleverly assumes you're also in the mood to see. Lissen up, Google: If I'd wanted to know what shingles plus ringworm plus throat cancer plus an ear infection plus a Speedo look like, all heaped on some poor golden retriever, I'd have searched for exactly that. ...Then it would have shown me a McRib.)
So she prescribed an antibiotic. Now, we don't give Charlie amoxicillin, for reasons that are probably more superstitious than reality-based. (We're still scarred from the last time we did, when it had INHERENTLY DISGUSTING results; I cannot believe I wrote that, here, on the Internet, to be read by people I like. I cannot believe I'm linking to it now. Don't read that. Forget I was ever here. Lock up behind you when you go.)
But amoxicillin is the preferred antibiotic for ear infections, I guess, so when the pain hadn't abated by the end of the course of Zithromax, and was in fact made worse by the analgesic drops we'd been given, back we went to another doctor. Maybe it was time to give the more effective antibiotic another try.
This doctor didn't think so. Without seeing his eardrum, she said, she didn't want to hit him with another round of drugs. When she couldn't get the wax out, either — when Charlie's keening made her falter — she prescribed different drops to help dissolve it, warning us, "If it doesn't come out on its own, and if the pain continues, we'll need to consult an ENT." And almost as an afterthought, she asked, "Charlie, is there any chance something got in your ear? A bead, a pebble...?" And I laughed, because he knows better than that.
In went the drops, on went the screaming. No wax came out, so far as I could tell, and the pain was, if anything, worse. The ENT couldn't get it out, either. So they scheduled Charlie for surgery.
I am proud of the way my kid held up. He was worried, but he kept it together, and in fact stayed very much himself, struggling hard to see every single thing in the operating room. He was still in the middle of asking, "And what does that thing do?" as he sank under the anesthesia. (It replaces your blood with zombie juice. Breathe deep! Sweet dreams! We'll see you on the flip side!)
The operation was brief, as we'd expected. Afterward the earnosethroatician stalked out to the waiting room, still in his scrubs and booties. "He had something in his ear, and it wasn't wax," he said, all scowling and j'accuse-y.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I don't know," he answered irritably. "I didn't really look. It's disgusting. You can examine it if you want," he said, leaving unsaid, "...you gruesome freak." And handed me a jar.
And there...in the jar...was a bean.
"I know that bean," said Paul in affronted recognition. He explained that it had been used in a school science unit. On seeds. And germination.
We could pinpoint the date of insertion because Paul volunteered on bean day. This particular bean had somehow gotten into Charlie's ear — soooomehowwwww — two weeks prior. During that time, in the warm murk of our son's ear canal, the bean found a comfortable home. With every drop of moisture that entered, the bean began to do...what beans do...when given dark and warmth and water.
The craziest thing is that as Charlie's pain had increased, we'd been giving him ear drops — first to relieve the pain, then to dissolve the wax. We had been unwitting abettors. We were practically farmers, when you get right down to it. We had watered Charlie's ear bean. We lovingly tended his bean.
Two hours after the operation, Charlie was as good as new. "Is it possible," I asked him, sidling up to the obvious question, "that you put the bean in your ear...without noticing? And then forgot?"
"I suppose," he said doubtfully, looking at the floor. The thing about Charlie is that it is entirely possible; in fact, it's likely. I don't believe he consciously thought, "Hey, let's cram some produce on up in there." I think he was probably absentmindedly noodling around, maybe grooving on the sensation of it — because I guess shoving something in your ear hole feels...good? — and then got distracted. For two weeks. As something started growing in his head.
So the upshot is that we had about two weeks of shrieking hell here; everything's fine now; I've labeled the jar CHARLIE'S EAR BEAN and intend to show it to his children; and when the nurse called the next day to see how he was, I invited her for cassoulet.
Posted by Julie at 04:44 PM | Comments (20)
It's the monthly birthday breakfast in Charlie's class, and I've volunteered to take food. I get up early, bake a double batch of muffins, and swear only a little when they sink in the middle and refuse to come out of their pan. This is not ideal, but okay; on the way to school I swing by Dunkin' Donuts and get a box of Munchkins, which delights Charlie far more than home-baked goods ever could.
He asks to carry the box as we walk the two blocks to school. This kid is proud of his donuts, the unexpected windfall. He swaggers with those Munchkins. I am feeling good.
When we get to the classroom we put the box on the table and he slips into class routine. I stand over with the other mothers. You need to know they're not bitches, despite what I'm going to tell you. I like them and I like their kids. I think, in the main, they're normal.
One of them says, "Ohhh, Munchkins! M. will be excited — she never gets those."
Another says, "K. will love them. I don't give her sweets at home, so this'll be quite a treat."
A few other comments to that effect and I'm feeling this nagging urge to justify myself. I say I baked, but it didn't work out. ("Oh," says one mother, "I don't ever bake. It's easier not to have that kind of stuff around.") I make a joke of my incompetence, when I know I'm a very good baker. I say the donuts were our emergency fallback. And then I hear what I'm saying and want to punch myself in the face.
I look at Charlie, who is talking, laughing, and cramming a Munchkin into his mouth simultaneously. (He is also riding his desk chair as if it were an angry bull. He goes the full eight seconds, and no rodeo clowns are harmed.)
I look around at the other kids. I know them fairly well. I like something about every one of them. I know their parents love them every bit as much as I love mine. But I get a little weird this time of year. It's hard for me to shake the knowledge of how improbable Charlie is.
And I suddenly wish I'd said, "I give Charlie Munchkins at least three times a week." Joyless granola, my pasty white ass: I want to say I stuff him full of donuts till they ooze out of his ears. I make my kid this happy all the goddamn time. "If you lick his skin," I want to say, "he tastes like honey glaze."
At seven, Charlie is worldly enough to want to be a secret agent. Smart enough — terrifying enough — to debate the merits of various kinds of explosives. Child enough to be rendered speechless by the gift of a set of "night goggles" for surveillance. And dork enough to gambol around in Technicolor footie pajamas, saying, "These are great for a secret agent. I can shove things down the leg!"
It's a tough day for me, Charlie's birthday. We've told him about how it happened, but he gets the edited version, meaning I leave out most of the pain terror vomit fear WE'RE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIIIE. It makes for a pretty short story. Ate pie, got sick, happily ever after.
So he doesn't know — can't and shouldn't — that all day long I look at the clock and think, This is when I stood in the aisle at the supermarket, tearing into that box of Zantac with shaking hands, panting and sweating from the pain. I think, By now we were in triage; in a quiet room to wait for tests; in an urgent conversation I was too drugged up to follow. I think, This is when they told me the baby had to come and wheeled me, fast, into surgery.
To shift between that and candles on a cake — well, the dissonance is profound.
Would it be better, I wonder, to live only in the moment? As Charlie gets older, the circumstances of his birth matter less and less, and I can imagine a time when I think of it only in passing. When 10:22 PM is simply the time I step on a LEGO as I go in his room to check on him, instead of that plus I heard your first cry and I'd never been more scared. I don't know; I guess it would be less disorienting. Less painful, minus the LEGO. But would some of the sweetness be lost?
Posted by Julie at 07:40 AM | Comments (98)
God, it's been so long since I wrote here that I had to enter my TypePad login and password using cuneiform. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a bit. Actually it was hieroglyphs. It took me a while to get in, too. I kept typing Severed Arm-Severed Arm-Snake-Zigzag-Thing That Might Be a Pelican instead of Severed Arm-Severed Leg-Ditto. And in fact it was not a pelican, but a carrion bird of prey, and I was almost overcome by the majesty of it but managed to click "Log In" before it went for my eyes.
So here I am, many ages later, and I think I am best served by going in reverse chronological order, see how far I get. Here we go.
Yesterday Charlie came home with a note from his teacher saying he had written the F-word at school. No, wait, I'm going to give her credit: She didn't get prissy. She wrote that he had written "fuck." (You know you're through the looking glass when someone using unvarnished profanity in a professional communication increases your respect for her, but that, it seems, is parenting in a nutshell. Through the F-wording looking glass, six ways from Sunday, sideways. And also the horse you rode in on, wearing its underpants backwards.)
I always laugh a little, if weakly and self-consciously, when he does stuff like that. It's so normal. There's enough of his behavior that's...let's just say outlierly...to worry about without getting all freaked out about a swear word. Even if he did write it on his nametag, like, HELLO MY NAME IS MATTER OF FACT I DO KISS MY MOTHER WITH THIS MOUTH. I don't know, I guess I think it's a little bit funny, and even almost sort of sweet, this eager lurch toward big-and-badness. My goddamn baby is growing up. Sunrise, sunset, bitches: This shit is going too fast.
Halloween was pretty fantastic. Charlie wanted to be a pirate, and Ben wanted to be Charlie, so I bought — yes, bought — two flimsy pirate costumes and considered it $4,678.00 well spent. This isn't a good picture of Charlie, but it's the only one I have of the two of them in which he did not appear to be menacing his brother with his gimcrack plastic flintlock:
...I said appear. Sure, he might have been about to cold-cock Ben with the stock of the thing, but actually he probably wasn't. At first glance Ben might look a little Adam Ant, but I see a baby Jean Lafitte. Would you try to steal his candy?
I bought the costumes instead of making them because I had some travel planned and knew I wouldn't have time. Charlie and I went to Julia's to surprise her for her birthday. Because apparently I can't travel without the whole trip turning into some unholy mashup of The Amazing Race and The Most Dangerous Game, the six hours of padding I'd built into our schedule shrank, thanks to a Philadelphia snowstorm, to an uncomfortable 20 minutes, and we arrived at the restaurant with just enough time to knock back a glass of wine (me) and three cupcakes (Charlie) before Julia arrived.
I wish I could show you how she looked as she scanned the room to see who was there, and then noticed me. Watching the ...Wait, what? change into recognition was — well, it was just wonderful, and it made it worth the trouble we'd taken to be there, a thousand times over.
Okay, maybe nine hundred times over, because afterwards, as soon as I started driving — Charlie had gone with the babysitter earlier, and Julia rode with me — she started to look a little peaked. Later I would tell anyone who would listen, "I knew she wasn't drunk-sick, because she didn't have that much," not realizing quite how creepy that made me sound, as if I'd been counting from across the room. (I was much too busy making an ass of myself at my end of the table, where I complained loudly about the amount of friśée in the salad — "Frisée is nothing but bitter, curly bullshit" — without knowing that the restaurant was owned by a guest's parents. The moral is, never complain about anything, ever. Or, from the other end, have friends with better manners, because, damn, I am still embarrassed.)
Julia tried to make conversation, but we both gave it up rather quickly. I thought she must be carsick, an impression that was bolstered by her rolling down the window and tilting her head out like a coonhound, and as she barrelled out of the car and sprinted straight for her room, I assumed she'd be fine the next morning. She wasn't. All night Saturday and all day Sunday she was ill, and Edward along with her. She made a few heroic attempts to join the rest of us, but it never lasted long; no sooner would she settle on the couch — draped for vomitproofing with a quilt I made — than she was making a break for the easy-mop bathroom tile, or Edward was.
I talked with Steve and Julia's mother and brother; I admired Caroline; I thought appreciative thoughts about Patrick, who was entertaining Charlie handsomely. I folded some laundry. I washed some dishes. And I was grateful. No, I didn't actually get to see my friend, but I have her. I have a life that let me drop everything to go spend time with her, or at least her washing machine. It wasn't the weekend I'd hoped for — especially not at 4 AM Monday, leaving for the airport, searching for the rental car keys in the gravel of her driveway, thinking Shit shit SHIT, did I lock them in the trunk? — but I am glad I went, just for the look on her face.
So that was just Charlie and me; Ben stayed at home, and a very good thing that was. The week before, see, we'd gone to my mother's. This is a feat that can be accomplished in no fewer than three flights. Our closest airport is small, and so is the one on my mother's end, so you leave early, carefully plan your connections, and pray. (There are no atheists in the Atlanta airport. Satanists, perhaps.)
The trip down there is mercifully a blur now. I thought at the time about writing about it, but I knew the resulting screed would be incomprehensible: Noose-Knife-Angry Eye-Rearing Cobra-Chupacabra degenerating into Spittle Fleck-Tic-Tic-Seizure. I will just say that contrary to the plan, which had us arriving at my mother's at a very civilized 1 PM, our day — our first day— began at 4 AM and reached its nadir, though by no means its end, at midnight with me weeping in the lobby of the Dallas airport Grand Hyatt. (Its end didn't come until an hour later, after we'd called a taxi, gone to another hotel, checked in, undressed, and gotten into bed, when I yelled at Charlie in the loudest, most furious whisper I could muster, "STOP TALKING AND GO TO SLEEP. NOT ONE MORE WORD. NOT ONE.")
But that was just day one. The next morning began with Ben losing his mind in the hotel corridor at 6 AM because I had thoughtlessly pressed the elevator button instead of asking him to do it. Screaming. Thrashing. Throwing himself on the floor. So I did the sensible thing and gathered him up in my arms, leaving Charlie, six years old, to drag the suitcase and the car seat into the elevator. That all worked about as well as you'd think, plus I fell. On the marble floor. While holding my three-year-old child.
I...am remembering why I didn't think it was a good idea to talk about this. I'm not coming off so well.
Anyway, we eventually did arrive at my mother's, at a completely different airport than originally planned and with a stack of, no lie, two dozen different boarding passes — delayed missed cancelled rerouted cursed plaguey Noose-Noose-Noose — and had a wonderful time. Four generations carved pumpkins together, and my kids wore shorts in October.
The trip back — oh, God, the trip back — took four airplanes and a Xanax. Ben. Lovely, lovely Ben. As Sideways Guy in Tennis Skirt and Snake Hat is my witness, I am never again taking him any farther than the grocery store downtown, and only then if I can't find a sitter. Oh, I don't blame him personally; he was exhausted and anxious and three, and he had every reason to be. He had every right to be. But that didn't make it any easier when he decided to lie down keening in the middle of the line for Delta Airways' Special Services. (Translation: Please Stand By for a Full-Price, No-Frills Fucking Oh Wait Did We Accidentally Say Please?) Or when he went boneless during the mad sprint from Terminal A to Terminal Ω via a thundering corridor of taxis that did not stop for pedestrians, no, not even a little, and I am not exaggerating. Newark, or Laguardia, or JFK — I don't even remember which airport it was. I don't even know what city it was, actually. Does Mordor have an airport?
Nor did it make it easier during, oh, many of our 38 flights when he decided to kick the seat back in front of him. I don't mean he idly bumped it with the toe of his shoe; I mean he went totally Riverdance, usually because I'd made him stop slamming around the tray table or muscled him back into his seat belt for landing or asked him to put out his cigarette or something — legitimate airplane business, non-negotiable stuff. He was mad as hell, and some stranger's lower back and kidneys were gonna pay. Or, I was going to hold his legs to prevent it, which is pretty much what I did.
This may be the first trip when I've had to deal with that kind of onboard outburst. So far as I remember, my trips with Charlie, even during his most challenging phases, were always uneventful in that regard. I was less embarrassed than I'd have expected; I didn't care for the looks I was given, but my conscience was pretty clear. Seemed like an easy choice: Either you let the kid hammer the seat for everything he's worth, or you keep him from doing it and treat the entire plane to his enraged screaming. You consign a single passenger to extreme unpleasantness, teaching the kid nothing in the process, or you subject the entire plane to it, but you also impart a lesson. (You hope. Oh, God, you hope.)
To me, there wasn't even a choice. Still, I'm honestly curious about what you might have done in a similar situation. I've read enough online articles about travel to know that about 75% of the American childrephobic public would answer, "Jettison both parent and child after setting them on fire," but F-word that. Excuse me, Ankh-Ankh-Dung Beetle that. I don't care about them. I want to know what my fellow parents and "When I'm a parent"s think.
And I want to know how your Halloween was, and what you do about kids swearing, and the things you pick out of a salad, and, oh, you know, just everything. I've started a new job that's taking a lot of my time, so I'm around even less than before, but I miss you. And I Heart-Tear-Harmless Garter Snake you, and that's the fucking truth.