Sunday, February 26, 2006

Oxymoron: Don’t worry, mom


I am an anxiety-riddled worry wart who thinks every ache and pain — every pimple, bruise or rash — is the beginning of the end. If I were to go to the doctor every time I worried about my health I’d be charged rent for taking up space in the waiting room.

There, I've said it. It’s out in the open; the elephant in the living room that I’ve been dusting around for decades.
Somehow, I don’t feel relieved.

Instead, I find myself working my way through the medical profession as if the potential of being awarded an honorary doctorate were the end goal. Unfortunately, the only thing I’m learning is that there’s something infinitely worse than NO information at all: a little bit of knowledge is the absolute pits. (Thank you, Internet).

Becoming a parent only seemed to heighten my anxiety and make the eventuality of my demise seem that much more frightening. As has become my custom of late, with each new symptom, fleeting or otherwise, I scour the Web for the worst-case scenario. When I find it I topple off the edge of the world.

People call folks like me “hypochondriacs,” but I don’t think the word is an accurate description.

We are the people who go to doctors because there IS something wrong. They just don’t know exactly what … yet.

When I turned 30 the doctor said … “well, this is when you start getting stuff.” Before that moment I don’t really think I ever gave much thought to the kind of stuff I’d be getting. When she mentioned it, however, I had no choice. And really, I didn’t have much time. Turns out that in a few days, my blood told her I had a thyroid condition — thyroiditis. Not serious, actually pretty common, she said. Pills were the answer.

Next came sinusitis, dermatitis, allergies, headaches, stomach upset, aches and pains, more weird blood tests and specialists. New people in white coats hired on to track the niggling, borderline results the lab sends back. If there’s an “itis” in its ending I’m pretty sure it’s going to find me. I have friends who patently REFUSE to see doctors because “they always find something.”

My husband tries to calm my already fragile nerves, but I am not comforted by the notion that stress may be getting the better of me. “If it were all in my head,” I tell him, “why would I have a borderline test result?” I used to joke about my fears. I’d tell people I was pretty sure I had malaria or tuberculosis when I came down with the sniffles. It was somewhat comforting to get my worst thoughts out in the open.

Now I have trouble even considering such possibilities.

I tell myself there are other causes besides avian flu when my nose starts to run and my eyes get itchy. I search the Internet to find the least scary among the reasons why my right foot might have fallen asleep as I was sitting on it.
"Must calm down," has become my mantra.

“I can live with eczema,” I think in the doctor's office as he examines the red spots on my finger tips. But after I leave I wonder what was really said in that little room. Did he say there were no symptoms of serious concern BEFORE or AFTER he listened to my lungs … why then did he make a return appointment for three months? What is he NOT telling me? Spin, spin, spin for the next 90 days.

All this spinning is like a bad theme park ride — "peecups" careening out of control. Great! Now I'm nauseous. Of course, I still have to remind myself that I’m not a doctor … I don’t even play one on TV.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Trying to extinguish Elmo's fire

late night with Elmo and A's Mocs

My husband believes that Aussie quartet “The Wiggles” rise in popularity with the preschool set is directly related to boredom level of Gen-X mommies who are sick of purple dinosaurs and want a little “eye candy” with their morning coffee.

I’d like to indulge him in this way of thinking merely because I desperately want to believe that I have some influence over our Ittybit’s preferences, but experience tells me it’s just not true.

In the ways of children’s entertainment I had figured I would be a natural: I loved both versions of Pixar’s “Toy Story;” I couldn’t wait to collect all of the toys from the McDonald’s Happy Meals (way back in 1995); and I’ve anxiously waited in line, regardless of the weather, for every major Walt Disney release since “The Rescuers.”

So I ask you? Who better to select the soundtrack for the car?

I choose hip bands from my college days that are now adding children’s music to their discographies — They Might Be Giants, Bare Naked Ladies’— as our travel soundtrack. I bop along to “La, La, La, Lemon” and try to get her hooked on anthems of my early youth, Schoolhouse Rock!, but few of my selections have ever caught her fancy.

She listens for a while, as if to humor me, and then calls for the Wiggles and their dreadfully addictive song, “Big Red Car.” The melody will haunt me all day.

I don’t even know where the CD came from or who put it in my car. This mystery has replaced the single-sock disappearances from the clothes dryer phenomenon that had served as my proof that aliens surely exist.

I had hoped that she would be a kid that bucks the trends, but in addition to her ineffable love of peas on ice cream, she is also an Elmo and Ernie groupie, destined to be the president of the Barney fan club and a staunch supporter of Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky. This is just more evidence, in my mind, that Barbie is an inescapable part of our future.

The trend to make children’s entertainment more hip for moms and dads who are missing their mosh pit days is something of which I wholly approve, especially when it’s done well. Any songs that use the words “Akimbo” and “Gavotte” or make me think of all the words I know that begin with the letter “L” are just my blend of tea.

Even though I love PBS and think it does a fine job with most of its programming, I can’t help but get riled on the instances when Elmo uses words incorrectly. The argument that Baby Bear’s lisp teaches tolerance drives me over the edge. “For what? Incorrect pronunciation?” I growl at the television .

One rainy Saturday I happened to catch a particularly interesting installment of Sesame Street, where Elmo had turned into the Muppet version of David Letterman. (For the record: both a leaf and an apple float but a rock does not).

For a brief moment, I could overlook his cloying voice and insistence on referring to himself in the third person. And suspending disbelief for even a few minutes means that somewhere down the road there is hope for Stupid Monster Tricks and a Top Ten List from the home office in Oscar’s trashcan.

Now that might even be worth sending The Wiggles back Down Under.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Virtual reality ... mixrs on flickr!

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your mom is?

If she’s anything like my husband’s wife she’s catching up with her friends on “flickr,” an online photo sharing Web site where folks can post photographs, join groups and generally pat each other on the back for the images they make of their cute kids, lovely landscapes and self-possessed cats.

Where my 1970s counterpart may have joined playgroups and mixed with other moms in the shade of the playground, it seems the moms of the new millennium are meeting online. It is a virtual recreational area where only the digital likenesses of our children mix and mingle.

With most real-life playgroups hosted during the workday, it’s really just simple logic that brings these parents together: Full-time employment, weekends filled with mundane chores and a large percentage of other would-be moms and dads operating under the same conditions. Until someone comes up with a group that meets after Ittybit’s bedtime (which is usually 8 but can stretch until 9 p.m.), on my couch in front of Soprano’s re-runs, I’m sticking with commiserating about constipation, skin rashes and tantrums with moms and dads from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Masterson, New Zealand.

I joined flickr initially so I could easily post photographs to a blog I had devised for the seven people who were interested in viewing the 4,329 pictures of Ittybit’s first two years. It took only 14 minutes for the flickr addiction to take hold.
After I uploaded my first six pictures — which took up the maximum size allotment available per month on a free account — “ro ber ta,” from Itu, Brazil, posted a note to a photograph of the 12-month-old Ittybit, in silhouette, toddling town the hall, dragging her baby doll behind her: “oowww my .. sooo beautiful!!” it read.

It was all down hill from there. Before I knew it, I’d purchased a “pro” account and was an uploading fool.


Through flickr I’ve made acquaintances, picked up contacts and even assigned some as “friends.” Before long, I had joined (and in some instances formed) virtual playgroups, where members can do everything from post pictures of their kidlets in action to participate in a virtual game of “snap.” In my favorite groups members play silly word games, offer critical reviews of photographs and even exalt the beauty of Canada Geese. I’ve been involved in online forums, participated in a hurricane fundraiser and even helped organize a photographic print exchange as a holiday offering to my virtual friends.

As my husband snores on the couch beside me, drained of all energy by the exploits of a toddler — the cherry atop a day of hard work — I tap away at the keyboard, checking recent activity on old photographs and uploading new ones.

At first, it was as much about escapism as it was about photography. It was a place where I never expected reality to touch.

But one day, as I was looking through recent uploads, an image jumped out at me. I clicked on it. It was a medical photograph of an aggressive lung cancer diagnosed that day. He was the fiancĂ© of one of my contacts. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do or say. I just followed his progress and prayed. On my daughter’s birthday, I learned, he died.

When another woman on my contact list, who is in her late 20s, was diagnosed with skin cancer she decided to let her virtual friends into her real-life drama. I suppose I did what any of her real friends would do: I sent her a care package.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Complex math + simple logic = chaos


Fourteen minutes and the clock is ticking.

Calculating a complex series of equations in my head — subtracting the two-hour nap she missed that afternoon from the protein content of the breakfast she ate that morning, and dividing it all by the number of Cheerios left behind in snap-top container rolling around on the floor of the car — I surmise I have less than a quarter of an hour to procure a week’s worth of groceries before storm clouds set in and we are washed away in a torrent of tears.

These days I’d rather scrape the remnants of spilled leftovers from the fridge and smear it on saltine crackers than take Ittybit shopping. A one-toddler, one-mother wiggling circus, I play the juggler as she empties the cart of what I put in it, clapping and smiling as if I were one of the brothers Ringling and she were a trained seal. And that’s a good trip. I have collected a series of photographs of the bad ones, which I’ve titled “Hates the Dairy Aisle.”

horror in the dairy aisle

I could kick myself for taking for granted her happy, amenable days when her fussiness could be calmed by the vibrations of the cart and a kind word from a cashier. I could also kick myself for leaving the provisions list at home.

I unbuckle her from the car seat, praying silently that the truck-shaped shopping cart hasn’t already been driven off by another toddler. I try not to picture myself pushing the cartoon-inspired cart, which I believe was purposefully designed to be about three centimeters smaller than the width of every aisle in the store just for the sake of amusing the single-serving shoppers in the world. Instead I have relinquished my “cool” status and accepted the inevitability that I will likely knock over the Pepsi pyramid one of these days because I know without this dastardly device I will have to shave off five minutes from my shopping time.

Relief. The cart is there, revved and ready to go. Zoom, we’re off. First stop: produce aisle. Ittybit stops honking long enough to yell out her desires. “Peppers. No! Red peppers … nanas … oooh, aaaaaples.” She samples the broccoli before I can get it away from her and wants to hold the box of clementines on her lap. I sneak in a bag of spinach and some tomatoes and soldier on.

I feel emboldened. We have vegetables and we’re heading off to get meat. Twelve minutes to go. (It would have been 13 but I struggled with the produce bags, trying unsuccessfully to open one by rubbing my thumb and first two fingers together on the bottom end for 45 seconds before I eventually turned it over.)

Scooting to the meat section I throw my selections into the basket and push on to the bread aisle. I see the first signs of agitation and I still have six aisles to go. When she stands up in the coffee aisle and pretends to be Rose on the bow of the Titanic through the front windshield of the cart, I consider taking a shortcut to the milk aisle and calling it quits.

“No,” I say aloud, “WE CAN DO THIS.”

Next stop: Frozen foods. To squeals of delight from the peanut gallery, I toss frozen vegetable from a three-foot distance into the basket. “YAY, peas!!!!; ”Hooray for corn, “Ooooree, COE!!!” And her beloved Ice cream gets an entire chorus, “Ipeem! Ipeeem! IIIIIIIIIpeeeeeem!”

Milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs … we’ve rounded third and are on our way home. Ittybit flirts with the checkout clerk a little as she helps empty the cart onto the conveyor. I am silently congratulating her by stroking her hair while the groceries are tallied and the clerk turns her attention back to me.

“That will be 135 dollars and 57 cents.”

Oh no, where’s my wallet?

Where else would it be but at home with shopping list!

Now it’s my turn to cry.