Sunday papers (don't ask no questions)
Charlie loves the Mini Page. Did you have that when you were a kid, the little half-page in the Sunday paper with news stories simplified for kids, a couple of puzzles, and line drawings of this little Raggedy Ann-like girl in, like, a Tutankhamen headdress or a football helmet or a rubber mask of Richard Nixon, depending on what was happening in the world? My local paper didn't carry it, but my grandparents' did, and Grandma would clip it and send it to me. I loved the Mini Page. (I did not love the thank-you notes my mother made me write and send. But I now love that she did.)
I was excited to see that our paper here carries it, along with the dumbest crossword in the world — "1. Da Vinci's Mona ____. 2. Da Vinci's ____ Lisa." — and I've been passing it along to Charlie each week, feeling pleasantly wholesome and nostalgic, along with the color comics. (He sometimes gets the weekday strips, too, but honestly that depends on how hateful Dear Abby is being that day in the inches right next to Garfield.)
Last weekend, though, I happened to glance at the Mini Page before I gave it to Charlie. It was about September 11, and although it was tastefully done...
We know these hijackers were angry at the United States and our way of life. But even adults don’t really understand why they did this horrible act.
...I decided not to pass it along. So far as I knew, he was unaware that something very bad had once happened, and I saw no reason to tell him. I briefly wondered if that qualified as shameful not-"Never Forget"-ting, but decided it must not. I remember it fine, God knows, and although I know his innocence won't last forever, why would I hasten its end?
So I memory holed the Mini Page. Comforted by the note that said, "Next week, The Mini Page is about school lunches," presumably with Raggedy Ann wearing a hair net and dishing out deep-fried Fanta, I thought that would be the end of it.
This week I handed over the Mini Page with confidence. ...Along with the color comics. ...Which were all about September 11.
I didn't notice, of course, until Charlie complained, "These aren't even funny." And while I privately feel they never are, he usually finds even the Family Circus hilarious. (I disagree. Screw you, Not Me.) But yesterday was different. They weren't supposed to be funny. (Though if you can look at some of them without laughing incredulously, you're a better person than I am, because a few are just downright weird.)
Paul brokered that conversation, explaining it all simply, just as the Mini Page had, and discreetly skirting some of the horror of it, eliding the fact that so many people died. (Overhearing this, I supplemented Charlie's burgeoning understanding by hollering down the stairwell, "And a lot of people died, so we're sad." I think I heard Paul whisper, "Just ignore your mother," before resuming his more nuanced approach. Good one, Julie. A+ smiley-face in super-mindful parenting.)
I draw a lot of lessons from this little incident. First, trust the Mini Page, and let mass media guide your child whenver you feel uncertain. Second, leave all difficult conversations to your better-spoken spouse. Third, Dagwood Bumstead has feelings, too, for other things than sandwiches, and despite the fact that we've always known Beetle Bailey as a dependable, tough-as-nails grunt who could carry our country through its darkest days with resoluteness and aplomb, well, even heroes weep. And Mark Trail can speak without opening his mouth, and thank God Cathy is dead so I don't have to see her cry, too.
Charlie has a new hobby. "What's your new hobby?" I asked him, ready to help or rustle up supplies. I'm always eager to support his interests, as long as they don't involve explosives, and sometimes even then:
He was kind enough to make me an apprentice, with my own ID card and everything.
I think I am quite photogenic.
My soul-sucking tally still stands at zero (unless you count Paul's, which was really just beginner's luck). I'm hoping Charlie will soon have time to train me properly, but first he's working with a new kid at school. "I really think," he said optimistically, "this guy is good soul-sucker material."
And that is how you make new friends when you are my son Charlie.
Yesterday we went for a hike in the woods. Long story short, Ben and his friend A. ran out in front of the group. A.'s mother and I were walking fast to catch up with them, lest they fall into quicksand or slip on some mossy rocks or accidentally be exposed to a drum circle or something. I was looking at Ben and not at the ground, and I tripped on a root. I wrenched my ankle badly. It didn't hurt much at the time, but later, halfway through the grocery store, it hurt so much that I practically had to call a tow truck to get that godforsaken firetruck grocery cart back to the front of the store. (The whole time Ben was squawking indignantly from the cab of the truck, "But we need to stop for gas!" Which is absurd. This is Vermont. The grocery cart was a hybrid.)
So my ankle is wrapped and elevated, and I stump around the house on crutches. Charlie made me a cast patched together from neon-pink index cards: "It utilizes CrossWeave Technology," he assured me, securing it with tape and staples. (The ™ was unsaid but understood.) And Ben? Ben gave my ankle a kiss and two careful hugs, then vaulted over me on the sofa whooping, "Leeeeeap!" And when I then yelped in pain, he went to get a monkey Band-Aid, introduced himself as the doctor, and read me five of his books.
Which was all well and good but I can't wait until three-year-olds can legally prescribe morphine.
How was your weekend? Good, I hope, despite that little suckup, Jeffy.
My other car is a reproductive endocrinologist's boat
Handy List of Useful Indicators of Female Fertility (If You Are Among an Infinitesimal Segment of the New York Times Fashion and Style Section's Readership, and Also Quite Sadly Deluded)
- Number of hours since your last salon blowout
- Distracting snaggly-looking lower left incisor, presence or absence of; see also: teenage orthodontics, presence or absence of; see also: parental love and concern, presence or absence of
- Current condition of your pedicure, on a scale of Sweet Pink Newborn Toesies to Scrofulous Pterodactyl Claw
- How politely that bartender pretended he needed to card you when you ordered that $19 Geritoltini
- AKC-registered breed most readily called to mind when you get into Downward Facing Dog
- Brand of eye cream you favor for night: the one made entirely from the vanishingly rare North American right whale, or the one with scraps from other junk whales mixed in
- What size sheath dress you can cram yourself into once you've doubled up on the Spanx
- Whether you just pluck those few weird chin hairs whenever they start to feel a little pokey, or whether you have that wiry-ass Jeff Goldblum Fly shit lasered off
Well, I'd Buy 'Em
(Hat tip: Today's xkcd.)
Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
We are all fine after Irene, and thank you for asking. The storm tore up the southern part of our state so badly it makes me cry to see the pictures, and nearby towns were inundated, made inaccessible by rising waters and washed-out roads, but my town suffered only flooded streets and basements.
I expected worse, and I say that not in an eye-rolling-major-metro-jerkwaddy way, but dodged-a-bullet-grateful style. I grew up in south Louisiana, where we took these things seriously enough to tape our windows and fill our bathtubs, and damned if it didn't stick, because there I was bottling up water and charging the emergency lights as if driven by instinct alone. But it has to be nurture, not nature, nothing genetic about it, because on Saturday evening, after we'd stowed the lawn furniture and picked up the toys from the yard, Charlie stayed outside...to water the plants.
The next day was glorious. If you ignored everything around you and just looked up to the sky, it was like nothing even happened. So that is what we did, on the Ferris wheel at the fair.
The pills continue to work, making everything absolutely perfect, or close enough, anyway, that I just now sacrificed Curious George to ward off the evil eye. (Actually, I plunged him into the washing machine to rid him of the funk of urine, but don't tell the vengeful gods that.) We don't know yet what will change for Charlie in the classroom, but a lot has changed at home. We now have to tell him only six times to go get his socks, instead of nineteen with a Taser, or at the very least a Sherpa. Entire meals pass by without our having to remind him that if he keeps hopping up and whirling around like that with utensils in his hand, someone is bound to geMotherFUCK there is a FORK in my EYE holy God JESUS the SRIRACHA the COCK SAUCE it BURRRRRNS. And although his impulse control is still sometimes wanting, he is less inclined to explode and more inclined to use words, spoken at more or less normal volume.
Or even in print. The other day I did something he didn't like — normal bullshit parental request, normal bullshit offspring objection — and he stomped off to his room, then returned five minutes later, stopped precisely three steps in front of me, and thrust a slip of paper at me, saying, "I am really mad at you. For more information, visit my web site or request it by e-mail. Here."
And he spun on his heel and marched out, no doubt on his way to lambaste me on Twitter for my crap-ass customer service.
Still thinking about the article I wrote about last time, and your comments on same. I think y'all know me by now, and how staunchly pro-choice I am. That's how I feel about policy, a position many of you share, but it's also my personal inclination; I think "I don't want to have a baby" is a plenty good reason not to, pretty much no matter what. Thanks to a transformative experience of my own, I can't support the notion that women come to such a decision lightly, and I feel compassion for anyone who faces it. I object to Jenny's contention that ART babies are somehow more of a product than, you know, real babies, but I can't think she was wrong in having her "half abortion."
A lot of you expressed disbelief that someone who'd wanted a baby badly enough to pursue ART could then intentionally rid herself of one. I keep coming back, though, to the idea that it's not just the baby some of us want. ("Just," "simply," "merely," "only" — none of those words quite work here; "just" will "simply" have to do.) If it were, would we go through all we do, to try to have exactly that baby in that particular way?
We each have this vision of what we want our life to be, right? And then we encounter infertility, and that idea gets jacked all to hell. Some of us then find we can be flexible in the particulars: Okay, well, shit, but there are always plans C, D, and E. Some of us find we can't: Adoption isn't for us, or Not with another man's sperm. But at least at first, to some degree, most of us try to hold to that original picture, as much as our circumstances allow.
That's what I think Jenny and the other women in the article are doing, "merely" clinging to their longed-for vision, however foolish it might seem to others. I may think they do so with more tenacity than wisdom; I may think the picture they cherish is distorted; I may find their determination a little sad and spooky. But I feel a great deal of sympathy for them, having done the same myself. To a lesser degree, perhaps — but then again, looking at my archives here, huh, maybe not.
Jenny is an asshole, and so, of course, am I
Ha, poor "Jenny" from Sunday's New York Times Magazine article on selective reduction in twin pregnancies after ART. I imagine her reading the opening paragraphs of the piece:
As Jenny lay on the obstetrician's examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn't want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny's abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.
As she reads, she feels her stomach sink, her breathing grow shallow, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She continues:
"Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure," she said later. "If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn't have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there's a natural order, then you don't want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control."
At this, she slowly lowers the paper and folds it, slowly, deliberately. Dazed, she wanders into the bathroom, where, under the harsh light of new awareness, she looks at her pallid face in the mirror and whispers, "Holy shit. I'm such an asshole."
I've now read the article three or four times, just to be sure I get the point of it, and I'm still not completely certain I do. I've read numerous reactions to it, though I haven't read the comments on the piece itself — do I look like an asshole? No, I mean that particular kind of asshole — and although I understand some of the outrage I've seen, I don't share the perspective that might reasonably give rise to it. A parent of twins, for example, or an ART patient who would welcome them, or someone willing to risk conceiving multiples to maximize her chance of success, necessarily has a different viewpoint than mine. (For the record, mine was No oh please God no, so much so that during the donor cycle that resulted in Ben, we transferred a single embryo.)
The reactions I've read are largely visceral; many people report that they couldn't finish reading the article, so distasteful was the proposition of terminating half of a twin pregnancy for what the author calls "social indications" — concerns about money, say, or "becoming a second-rate parent." (Jenny feared "twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children." Twins: the quicker picker-upper!) Some felt that by having taken on on the risk of multiples to begin with, Jenny and others like her should live with the consequences — a familiar hard-liner argument in the case of high-order multiples, but a startling one coming, in this case, from what I think of as "our side."
To me, though, that wasn't the most compelling point, how lamentable and/or monstrous and/or A-OK and/or Jenny-is-an-asshole we find such an action to be. In fact, those reactions were a good example of what struck me hardest about the article: how mutable, how situational, how conditional our feelings are about abortion.
How many times have you heard someone describe him or herself as opposed to abortion exceptincasesofrapeorincest? Compare the sympathy you might have felt for the young woman working her way through college who gets pregnant unexpectedly while on contraception to the indignation that arises when you hear of someone fresh from her fifth abortion. Or, to bring this back to ART and the story at hand, think about how differently we view a selective reduction from quadruplets to twins from a reduction from twins to a singleton — 50% in either case. What's interesting to me is not specifically what any of these women have done; it's that our reaction to their actions changes radically based on how "necessary" we believe them to have been.
It struck me pretty forcibly how reluctant the article's subjects were to call what they did abortion. When Jenny chooses to terminate one of her fetuses, it's characterized as "almost as if having half an abortion." Shelby, who conceived triplets after an IUI, couldn't find a local doctor who'd reduce her pregnancy past twins, and said, "I just wanted [the pregnancy] out, but because we tried for so long, abortion wasn't an option." (She later flew to New York for the reduction to a singleton.) Almost as if? Half an abortion? Abortion wasn't an option? Another illustration, I think, of the motive — intentionally becoming less pregnant rather than not at all pregnant — being more central to the way we think about these things than the nature of the act itself.
I was remembering a conversation I had with my doctor when we first started trying to conceive a second child. Charlie's birth was still a fresh horror, and I'd been told by my maternal/fetal medicine doctor that the very best way to avoid it was not to have another child, you big dope, but because I am equal parts brave, stubborn, and stupid, we decided to pursue merely the second-best way to avoid it. "I don't want twins," I told my doctor.
And he said a few unflattering things about my egg quality, like, Doctor, I am sitting right here, and how I'd be lucky to get two eggs out of a single cycle, much less two embryos, but that my chances would be diminished by transferring only one. And I hedged a bit, saying that I might be willing to transfer two, depending on quality, meaning maybe two if they were crappy.
"But then you might get pregnant with twins," he pointed out. "What would you do?"
"I'd reduce," I said.
"It's not an easy choice," he said.
"I'd do it, though," I told him simply, sounding either totally badass or totally unhinged, one. (Only later did I remember he had twins himself. My money's on unhinged, and dangerously cold. And a Jenny-grade asshole besides.)
And I would have, for medical reasons. And there are people who would look at that statement and say, Okay, well, but that's different. You'd have had a good reason. A twin pregnancy could have killed you. And that's exactly the point: how we feel about the act stems directly from how we feel about the reasons. Except for the staunchest absolutists, it seems we judge reproductive choices based on the motives behind them.
Mother's little helper
This morning at breakfast I referred to our kids as epsilons. Charlie, who can effectively tune out everything we say short of Charlie, the house is on fire and if you die Ben gets all your stuff, is by contrast exquisitely sensitive to anything he thinks he's not supposed to hear. So the code word piqued his interest. "What's an epsilon?" he asked.
So I started to explain about noted 20th century mathematician Paul Erdös, whose substantial legacy includes more than a thousand published papers, the so-called Erdös problems, and the amusing notion that mathematicians might be assigned an Erdös number, denoting their collaborative proximity to the blah blah blah blah Charlie, the smoke is overcoming me! Saaave the iPod Touuuuch. He tuned out, of course, long before I got to the relevant part, where I explained that Erdös, in his own distinctive vocabulary, referred to children as episilons, ε being used in mathematics to represent small quantities.
...Little math humor there.
He did pick up on the fact that epsilon is a letter in Greek, and interrupted my learned discourse — I read a book, she said icily — by saying, "Oh! I know Greek! It's the language where the letters go —" and then did an angular hand jive to illustrate.
"I think...yes," I said weakly.
"I can read Greek," he insisted, and I thought, Well, Jesus, I mean, why not?
And then he proved it by pointing to the plastic container on the counter, triumphantly crowing, "PLAIN GRΣΣ|< Y⃟GVRT."
You know what's helping? Ritalin. We don't have the right dosage yet, but we see some abatement. It's better. Not great yet, but better.
Paul and I came to this from opposite sides. From the start, my inclination was to try medication. If ADHD is a biochemical problem, I reasoned, why not try a biochemical solution? He was more cautious, as he tends to be, and expressed the concern that along with any good it did, a drug might mute the parts of Charlie's personality that we find so engaging.
But this is a fact: With all the static — the hyperactivity, the noise, the lack of focus, the poor impulse control — the condition created, it was getting hard to see those good parts sometimes. It shames me to know that, and I feel it as a weakness, that I don't have some magical X-ray parenting specs that make it possible for me to see effortlessly through several layers of bullshit down to the essential kid every time. I wish I could do better: hang on to my patience, keep my sense of humor, tap into kindness and tolerance more, and less into exasperation.
But wishing wasn't working, and although normally I would embrace the chance to make yet one more thing all about me, this isn't. It's about Charlie and his experience of the world. Nothing makes this clearer than something my friend E. told me, about someone she knows who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Her friend, E. told me, remembers her childhood primarily as a series of angry faces.
I don't want that for my kid. Even if Paul and I somehow managed to develop the most exquisite patience, tolerance, and humor — I could read a book, she said icily — there is still the rest of the world.
The drugs aren't the whole of it, not by a long shot, and maybe not even the most effective part. There's still a great deal to do, a lot of teaching, learning, accommodating, adapting. It's just that until we find a way to turn down the static a little, I don't think Charlie can receive much of it. And if medication helps us make him more ready to take it in — well, then, bring on the pills.
It seems the fish were biting, along with everything else
Hey, you know how I always talk about Tyler Place as if everyone there walked around in an unshakeable haze of smiles, relaxation, and goodwill? Well, this summer Ben proved me wrong:
I wasn't there when this photo was taken. I was probably doing something like cooking a meal or scrubbing a toilet or — ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa just kidding; more like kayaking with my spouse or lingering over coffee with new friends or reading a book on a chaise longue in the cool of the morning shade. Whatever I was doing, I certainly wasn't impaling worms, keeping a boat full of preschoolers from hooking each other, or, worst of all, touching fish. But Ben, I am told, had a fantastic time, and indeed he said so later. I can only suppose that in the moment, when the photographer said something friendly like, "Look upon what you have slain and rejoice!" — well, he got a little freaked out. And shrank from his trophy. And clutched at the nearest grown-up.
I'll confess it, because although I feel about Tyler Place like I do about TiVo and the Wacoal 85185, I am committed to a foundation of truth in my blogging: Ben had a tough time of it. Every dropoff with his group was as teary and fraught as if we were leaving him not at a bright, spacious facility packed with amusements, but at, I don't know, a venomous snake proving ground, or, in the evenings, maybe an exclusive poison tasting. ("Complex, mineral, with aromatic overtones of death, remorse, and parental abandonment.") He liked the activities a great deal and talked about them enthusiastically once he was back with us. But as soon as he figured out we were setting out again for the playhouse, the whimpering began: "I want to stay with my fami'y!" As if he thought we were doing something fun instead of cleaning bathrooms. And riding bikes. And taking sailing lessons. And laughing ourselves stupid on the low ropes course.
If we hadn't known from experience and observation that he was in a safe, welcoming place with staff who genuinely cared about kids, we might have been concerned. If the counselors hadn't greeted him each time by name, bringing him skillfully into activities, remembering what he particularly liked to do, we might have had reservations. Because according to Ben, the counselors weren't nice. "They are not nice," he told us solemnly on his second day after pickup.
"Oh?" I asked mildly, examining the backs of my thighs for hammock prints.
"No, they are bad people." Eyes wide with the import of what he was telling me.
"Hm," I murmured, looking forward to that evening's gin and tonics, plural, in the lounge, while aforementioned bad people cared for my second son. "What do they do that's bad?"
Ben paused to think, groping for any credible example of depravity. He finally seized on one, the worst thing he could think of: "They bite."
Nice try, kid, but I'm not buying it. To pry me out of my Adirondack chair overlooking Lake Champlain, you're gonna have to show me some marks.
Out of something like 66 families, that week there were eight sets of twins. Eight. My math isn't great, but I calculate that to be an incidence of roughly 382%, or about 950 twins per 1000. And although I won't speculate on any aspect of that fact, because for some reason everybody hates it when I jump to conclusions about the reproductive capabilities of strangers, as if such a thing were private or something, I will say we were among our people. And that is not an assumption.
When we arrived, Charlie and I went to the inn to check in. As we stood in line, someone behind me said my name. She had recognized Charlie, she said, from reading my blog, and quickly recited her history, which ended, happily, in one of those sets of twins.
It was the first time I've ever been recognized, so I got a little kick out of that, but more importantly, I felt known. I like meeting new people, but I sometimes find it hard to navigate those first few exchanges, when I haven't yet determined just how much myself I can be. Meeting C. instantly relieved that anxiety. It was a real gift, her reaching out to me like that, and I'm so grateful. Even if I'm still jealous that her kids smiled in every photo. (Maybe they had more fun than Ben did. Or maybe the ravenous counselors found them slightly less toothsome.)
Charlie had a blast, of course, and if I could figure out how to rotate my movie of him going down the zip line without asking you to pick up your monitor and cant it 90 degrees counterclockwise, I'd show you. But like with Ben, the photographic evidence of his pleasure is — oh, let us call it limited. The best picture of the week was this one, from pirate night:
...when his homicidal look of deadly murderous lethal killishness was at least thematically appropriate. I know he loved the trampoline, the bounce house, the karate class, the campfire, the pools both outdoor and in-. I just can't prove it. There is no way to show you the gladness I felt with his flashes of giddy joy.
I say this every year, but because there is no horse so dead that I scruple to flog it further — oh, Ben didn't like the pony rides, either, because "they wanted to bite me," which leads me to wonder if there was anything on the property that didn't want a chunk of tasty, tasty boychild. Jeez, kid, bicycles are herbivores — I really treasure the chance to enjoy my kids without the concomitant crap, to feel a whole uninterrupted week's worth of everything I love about being a parent.
It's been painful to come back, as always, and not just because there's no easing in, no halfway house where someone offers you only two entrees at dinner instead of three, and entertains your kids for merely half the day instead of three-quarters. The questions we have about Charlie still loom, and a large part of the rest of the summer will be devoted to devising some sort of plan, both for home and school. Ben, almost three now, has begun experiencing these sudden hopping fits of rage on the flimsiest provocation; that they are developmentally appropriate makes them no less tiresome. And I will just get on with it. Back to life as we know it, rather than life as we wish it could be.
It's been a long time since I posted here. It's so nice to be back on my blog. I have a lot to say but little time to say it, as Charlie is mostly home. But I miss this space, and I'm energized by Melissa's great post about blogging. See you here soon, I hope. Thank you for staying around.
Letters in the mail
A large envelope arrived in the mail, the first of two reports from Charlie's evaluation. Quickly: ADHD.
This particular report runs to almost 20 pages and breaks my fucking heart, not for the conclusion itself but for the details it contains. "Cannot work in a group." "Increasingly socially unengaged." "Did not attend or participate." "I hate all the work that I have to do; it's a bit too hard and I just don't want to do it." "Engages in a great deal of task refusal and expresses a disdain for school that is extraordinary for kindergarten students." "Verbally and physically aggressive." One classroom interaction in particular, as observed minutely by the evaluator, makes me cringe to consider. I'll just say this: I'm very sorry, S., for what Charlie did, and I hope you grow a new leg.
I joke because, oh, God, I don't know what else to do.
The report notes that Charlie is "currently functioning within the 'superior' range of cognitive abilities," but you wouldn't know it from his classroom performance, and that is precisely the problem: "Charlie's functional demonstration of his cognitive abilities in the form of academic performance is significantly lower than would be expected given his cognitive abilities...Classroom observations and teacher reports indicate that Charlie's poor academic performance is predominantly related to his behavior."
The report goes on to deliver a gentle pat of consolation, in case we were feeling guilty: "Charlie's premature birth cannot be overlooked as having a potential influence on his current presentation." The evaluator goes on to cite numerous possible consequences of prematurity; I will summarize this part of the report thus: Don't have your babies early. It can really fuck things up. (Now imagine me delivering this next part really fast, in a low voice, like the voice-over in a prescription drug commercial: Of course, not every child born early experiences these repercussions, and many full-term children experience nausea, anemia, disorientation, hallucinations, unexplained calf pain, irritability, scrofula, quinsy, worm fit, yellow jack, scrimshaw, aaaaand death.)
It's tempting to conclude that what we're dealing with now is the result of Charlie's early birth, thereby absolving ourselves of any part in it. It's also tempting to deliver a few punishing thumps to the chest and wail with the guilt and remorse of it: What have we dooooone to make him this way? I could go to either extreme, I guess, but I don't think there'd be any point. Where it comes from is not an urgent question. I am much more occupied just now with what to do about it.
What to do about it.
We have an upcoming meeting with the school at which I expect -- because they have warned us -- that they'll contend that Charlie is not eligible for special education. The question is one of adverse effect: Does his current condition have an adverse effect on his educational performance? And although the evaluator's report seems to say so in so many words -- "academic performance is significantly lower than would be expected given his cognitive abilities" -- the definition per state regulations is quite specific. He would have to be performing at the 15th percentile or lower in one of seven basic skill areas to qualify. And even given how little he attends or participates in class, that's just not the case. Regardless of how poorly he's performing in relation to his own cognitive ability or his potential, he's not doing badly enough in relation to grade norms.
And I've gone through the looking glass seven or eight times so far on this. Good? I...guess? That he's not doing that badly? Badly enough...to get the full range of assistance from professionals who specialize in this stuff? Which is...bad? Or...good?
I don't even know. I don't know what's next. I don't know what the school will propose, and I don't know what to counter with. I don't know what he's entitled to. I don't know what would help. I don't know what we should be fighting for, and that scares me most of all.
The great thing
The kids were riding their bikes in the driveway, a long, smooth stretch of asphalt that slopes down from the street. Charlie was riding down, and Ben was heading up. Charlie was coming down fast, but they were a safe distance apart, and it would have been fine if Ben hadn't suddenly leapt off his bike and started running directly toward Charlie, laughing.
I was down at the bottom of the driveway watching. I could see Charlie's face as he rode, watched him notice his brother, frantically trying to figure out what to do as Ben headed straight into his path. I called to Charlie, I called to Ben, and I ran.
I saw his face, and I watched him decide. Next to a bank of overgrown rugosa rosebushes, Charlie ditched his bike instead of hitting Ben. The bushes broke his fall, a good thing considering the three-foot drop on the other side. Charlie, scared and scratched, was crying.
I picked him up, 50 pounds of brave sweaty boy, and held him. I told him how sorry I was that he'd been hurt, but how proud I was that he'd done it. "You saw Ben coming and you kept him safe," I said.
"I didn't want to be a bad brother," he said. "But I got hurt." He was wailing and cradling his banged elbow.
"You did," I said, "but you did the right thing. You did a great thing." He didn't quite get it when I tried to explain that getting hurt made it mean more. And it wouldn't have been right to let him know that every moment like this is a huge relief: the empathy I've worried about is starting to emerge.
So I dropped the quest for meaning and fretted over his scrapes. Nothing serious, and I will only admit to feeling entirely glad. Because it would be wrong, I know, to wish for a scar, something to point to later, a physical mark of the moment I started to think things would be okay.
My aunt had a helper named Nora. Nora came weekly to clean the house, organize whatever she hadn't already encapsulated in a succession of Ziploc bags, and take care of the laundry. Like Jack Aubrey's Preserved Killick, she was absolutely steadfast and, although hilarious, also a little bit terrifying. When I visited my aunt I'd invariably find these weird agglomerations of stuff, all organized after a fashion, but in arrays that made no sense: a plastic bag containing three rubber bands; several used fabric softener sheets, each folded with naval precision; a plastic bag containing another several plastic bags, nested matryoshka-style; a handful of foreign change; a shower cap from a hotel; and several tiny tubs of non-dairy creamer, like: what? And I'd ask my aunt what those things had in common, what Nora could possibly have been thinking, and she would placidly answer, "Whatever Nora wants is perfectly fine with me." Well, okay, then. Back into the glove compartment it goes.
I only heard my aunt complain about Nora once. "She was sitting on the sofa folding laundry when R. came over," she said, speaking of a male friend of hers. "It was all socks and underwear, and she just kept...on...folding! Nora picked up a pair of my drawers," demonstrating by stretching out her arms to about four feet apart, as if her smallclothes had been gigantic, "and just kept...on...folding!" With that she shook out her imaginary underpants so extravagantly that you could imagine her taking flight, and continued, "Right in front of R.!"
And this has nothing to do with anything, except that I thought about it this weekend when we had houseguests. (God, they are lovely people; they made everything -- everything! -- easier and more fun, and I mean that beyond the carload of liquor they brought.) Specifically, I felt relieved that I'm honest here about our life, because nothing destroys your pretensions like having people in your home, seeing how you really live. It's like those clean-your-house-quick-for-company tips, that involve things like putting your unwashed dishes in the trunk of your car or someplace. That's fine for the duration of a quick cup of coffee, but any more than that and someone's bound to need a set of jumper cables, or possibly flap out your step-ins.
Because -- I am getting to the point, but slowly, as is my way, and excruciatingly, as is also my way -- Charlie lost his shit on Sunday. He and our friends' son had been playing pretty well up to that point, but there had been indications that Charlie was getting a little edgy, and I didn't pick up on them quickly enough. It wasn't that anything extraordinary happened; I think it was just the continuing fact of having another kid around, someone he was expected to play nicely with and defer to in some things, and being decidedly off routine...you know, just. And after dinner, when there was a dispute about a toy both boys wanted, Charlie simply exploded.
It was the kind of wobbly he hasn't pitched in months, but the sort of thing we've seen before. I didn't expect it, but its intensity didn't shock me, especially when I later considered the lead-up. I was embarrassed, not only because it happened but because I agonize over how to handle it even when no one else sees it. Mortified because I didn't see it coming, and by now I should have learned to do that, and to help Charlie by taking some of the pressure off when that happens. Even now I'm squirming a little bit to know we showed so badly. But if our friends hadn't known before, if I hadn't been honest here, how much worse it would have been. I'm grateful that our friends were so kind about it; I'm also glad, for many reasons, that I tell us like we are.
Here is the only thing I have to say about Rep. Anthony Weiner: He repeatedly introduced into Congress the Family Building Act, calling for insurance coverage for infertility treatment. Just thought I would point that out, lest his wang overshadow his work.
Charlie's evaluations continue. Yesterday, on a day that topped 90 degrees, one of the assessors sent him home with Silly Putty, which immediately melted into a runny, sticky web, instantly indivisible from everything it touched. Although Charlie said it was a reward for participating cheerfully in the process, I can only see it as an additional test: how long it takes your mother to give up, saying, "Screw it, it's just a ruined T-shirt. And a pair of shorts. And socks. And his hair. And duodenum."
Now let me see: card table house...
Yeah. Hey, good thing summer's nearly over, huh? Because I've pretty much shot my wad.
A few weeks ago a note came home from school, coolly informing us that current kindergarteners would be out of school for two days in May, to allow the upcoming class to visit and familiarize themselves with the school. Nowhere on the official calendar did this interlude appear, so I was surprised, and I confess it: I get a little squirrelly when the school starts throwing around official-sounding phrases like, "Jesus, would it kill you to care for your own kid for a couple of days, lady?" Therefore I did the obvious thing and overreacted. I planned a trip to Montreal.
A couple of years ago Charlie and I took a trip together, a quick flight over to Ohio to pick up some furniture from my parents' house and then a much longer slog home in a U-Haul. My time with Charlie was fantastic, but the 14' truck was frankly kind of a dick, so I remembered those 750 miles with ambivalence. But to Charlie, it turns out, it was all good: a hotel pool, carte blanche with the snacks, and my mostly undivided attention -- mostly, because I did occasionally break into his conversation with an expletive or two while I wrestled the truck through, like, one-lane mountain passes and rickety rope bridges and over roiling volcanoes and shit.
But we'd been thinking about how nice it had been to have a couple of days with each other, so we did it again. At the Biodome I watched Charlie vacillate between an assumed hauteur -- That for your frisky tamarins. I distinctly remember being promised there'd be unicorns -- and bursts of untrammeled enthusiasm. Seeing his incredulity when I spoke French, I showed off a bit and inevitably came a cropper one morning when I accidentally asked our serveuse for another cup of René Lévesque was the son of a whore, cream and sugar, ess vay pay. We basked in the history and immersed ourselves in the vibrant cultural life of one of North America's oldest cities. Haaaa, psych, no, as if: We swam in the hotel pool.
But the highlight for us both was a trip in a jet boat. The boat buzzes down the St. Lawrence River, plunges crazily through the Lachine Rapids for about 20 minutes -- crazily, as in GIANT WALL OF WATER HA HA HA HA OH GOD NOT THE FACE WHOOOOOOOO HA HA HA IT'S PROBABLY GOING TO KILL US ALL HEE HEE HEE HEEEEEEEE THERE ARE TROUT MATING IN MY SINUSES AGGGGGGGGGGH ohIhopewedothatagain -- and then buzzes back to the dock just as you start to notice exactly how wet your underpants have gotten. Luckily we'd been advised to bring a change of clothes, including underwear, because by the end we were indeed soaked to the skin, despite three layers of Polarfleece, a waterproof jumpsuit, a life vest, and a poncho. If you happen to find yourself in Montreal, and if you enjoy thrill rides and inhaling ice-cold quarts of river water -- wait, no, metric and French, I meant quelques kilomètres de Celine Dion thumping her chest as if the entire Parti Québecois were lodged in her windpipe frigide -- do check out Saute Moutons [noisy auto-loading video].
And that plug was unsolicited and uncompensated, unless you count the fact that after the ride, when I declined, with a squawk of laughter, to purchase this photo, they kindly gave it for free:
Every once in a while I get the opportunity to do this, to drop everything and appreciate my kid. Oh, on a busy day I can take five or ten minutes at a time, focus solely on Charlie or Ben, and sustain myself with it, sure. Tune out the inessential garbage of our everyday lives for just long enough to reaffirm the whole point of the inessential garbage, the chores, the discipline, the count-to-ten-to-keep-my-patience: to make what's precious possible. But to do it for a couple of days at a time, when my only jobs are to keep my child alive and to delight in him -- well, merci, Montréal, pour le Cirque du Soleil freaks me right the fuck out parfaitement merveilleux.
Okay. I have fifteen minutes to devote to the latest linkbaity sensation: the Canadian parents who have decided not to reveal their baby's sex, as a way to change the world a little when it comes to the way we think about gender.
And mostly I think it's just goofy, the kind of story where you double-check your browser's location bar to be sure you're not reading the Onion. Part of me, however, appreciates where the parents are coming from, if not the way they're getting there; yes, we are fucked up when it comes to our tendency to fall back lazily on gender norms, even -- maybe especially -- at our children's earliest age. But another part of me is irritated by what seems like the parents' eagerness to talk the talk, without a corresponding willingness to walk the walk.
The baby doesn't concern me much. Instead I keep thinking about five-year-old Jazz, one of the baby's older brothers, a kid who wears his long hair in braids and likes to wear a poofy pink dress.
Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. "When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender," says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.
That's mostly why he doesn't want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn't say more.
Now, I know we can't know the entirety of it, but it doesn't sound like anyone was truly harassing the kid; it sounds more like the kind of getting-to-know-you stuff children do. If this is true, why was the parents' response to keep him out of school rather than engaging the issue productively? Why not teach through these difficult moments, rather than absenting yourself from them?
I should say here that I disagree in principle with making a child a mouthpiece for any particular political or social agenda ("some people believe" notwithstanding). But assuming that Jazz's inclinations truly are pretty-princessy, well, don't you then owe it to your kid to show him how to broker these encounters? And if you're not willing to work actively to change the world in this most basic of ways -- by helping your kid learn how to be comfortable with himself in a society that's sometimes hostile, by helping other kids learn how not to perpetuate the problem -- well, don't you forfeit whatever moral high ground you're claiming by grandstanding about a baby's sex?
I guess I just mean that I'm all for changing the world, as imperfect as it is, but I'm also strongly opposed to refusing to equip kids to live in it. Forget what Storm's carrying around in (s)he(is)r(ie')s diaper; that is what bothers me about this story.
What do you think?