Sunday, March 30, 2008

I lost the address of The Real World

I am NOT ready to go back to school. I want to stay right here in THE REAL WORLD.

I was reminded of the many worlds we inhabit last weekend when I somehow stepped off a perfectly good spot against the wall at a cocktail party into a spiraling vortex of darkness of my own making: attempting small talk about schools.

The very thought of having to deal with teachers, administrators, No Child Left Behind and all the other complexities that come with herding; not to mention having to have six, sharpened pencils; three pens; four binders; two theme composition books; a scientific calculator; a package of markers; two Pink Pearl erasers AND a rectangular-shaped box of Kleenex gives me chills.

No, I am not ready to leave the REAL WORLD and return to a place where irrational numbers actually make sense to someone.

You know The Real World — that mythical place our parents and teachers warned us would be none-too hospitable if we didn’t know how do any number of menial tasks from reading to chewing with our mouths closed.

In the Real World a person would be doomed to living life under a bridge if they don't learn how to balance a checkbook, or memorize Pi to the tune of 17 numerical stops. In the Real World spell checkers may save your sorry illiterate soul but they won't make you Chaucer of the e-mail message. In the Real World it might be helpful to know who was the Ninth President off the cuff, but Google and your Blackberry have your back should the need to know who served the least amount of time in the Oval Office arises.

These conversations never start innocently. The topic of education is rife with potential pitfalls. Teachers don’t get paid enough. They get paid too much. Parents don't care about their kids. Parents are over protective of their kids. There aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. Everyone has too much free time on their hands.

When kids get into The Real World, the thought is, they will not be ready for the workplace. They are not prepared for life. And some one is to blame.




Nobody knows what the solutions are but everyone can point to a problem and person who bears responsibility.

So there I am, standing with my vacant stare (all mothers in some way or other can relate to that one I think) next to the cheese plate when someone shoots off their mouth about 'kids today' and the fog in my head evaporates.

"You know, I really don’t think there is a problem with kids today. I think the problem with education is really a red herring.

"We educate everyone. Most countries don’t. And let's face it, not everyone is a rocket scientist. Not everyone is going to Harvard or Yale.

"When we rail against the kid in class who is disruptive – That kid who ends up sitting outside the principal’s office four days out of five - we don't stop to think that that kid is talked about in the staff rooms, his record follows him and his behavior, in turn, becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Why don't we think of children as innocent and perfect after they are toilet trained?

"Why don't we call ourselves the problem?

"When a student is acting out, why do we rush to labels and intervention and medication?

"Why does that kid get labeled and tracked? Why do we not try different things to get that kid back?

"Why? Because the teachers have 30 students and just as many mandates.

"Why? Because it’s easier to get people to fit into a mold.

"Why? Because as a society we all have to follow rules.

"Why? Because IT’S NOT FAIR to someone who's really working hard.

"And I guess I say to that: Life isn't fair.

"Seriously, look around you. There's someone in your office slacking off, just like in school. There’s someone you detest. There's someone who someone else is always talking about: 'In A Real Office, so-and-so would NEVER get away with that. A Real Office would NEVER put up with …'"

I stopped ranting for a moment and looked around me. … "They'd all moved away from me on the bench, there, glary eyeball and all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly things. ... "

Then it occurred to me:

I never really did find The Real World all those people warned me about. Everything I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten, and for all else there's Google.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Getting at the root of the problem

I couldn't help but smile as I held the camera to my face and pressed down on the shutter. All I could picture were Willy Wonka's Oompa-Loompas twittering around Mike T.V. as the technician brought Ittybit into the closet-sized x-ray room and suited her up for her close-up.

It was going remarkably well. Even Ittybit was confident things were going to be better on this, her third official visit to the dentist: "Hey mom! I didn't even throw up in the car," she said as we pulled into a parking space in the dental office parking lot. "Well, that is an improvement," I admitted earnestly.

The first two x-rays went well, but the third one that was to show the back teeth was tricky. She had to bite on a stick, and the card flaps of the film dug into her gums. It was "ouchie."

I could feel the discomfort in my own mouth, just recalling the procedure. I put the camera back in my bag. No need to preserve the pain.

Still, though, Ittybit was willing to try. She even let the technician attempt five or six insertion variations before we all threw in the towel. She's got a tiny mouth like her mom.

Of course I became worried when the dentist came into the exam room carrying the film. This unexpected visit, I knew, trumped the usual procedure: FIRST the hygienist cleans and THEN the dentist examines.

Turns out the dentist wanted to know if she ever had a traumatic fall, perhaps when she was a toddler, because the roots of her top front baby teeth were fractured clean through.

I was stunned. How is it possible to have damage to the root and not to the teeth? The doctor kept talking and I kept trying to remember a fall that would cause such an injury?

I tried to extract the lost memory.


"Could it have been more recent?" I ask after not being able to dredge up one traumatic early fall.

"There was that time when she was two, we were visiting her grandmother in Maine, when she fell off a chair and onto the dog's water bowl. No, that injury was really along her chin line. ..."

Perhaps it happened at the babysitter's house.

"Do you remember falling at your babysitter's house? She said you 'took a header,' do you remember that," I ask Ittybit.

"NO! That wasn't it, mama," she chides. "I hurt my hand and chest that time."
I couldn't let it go.

"I vaguely recall her hitting her face on something recently and there being blood in her mouth ... I thought she'd bitten her tongue or her lip."

And I thought my inability to prevent cavities in her little mouth was going to make the "Somewhat-Marginal Parents’ Union" parental advisory board rescind my application for "Mother of the Year." Not noticing that she’d suffered a "traumatic" injury was likely to get me permanently barred from membership.

"Don’t beat yourself up; this isn't uncommon," said the dentist, noticing my alarm. "We just have to watch it to make sure it doesn't get infected and damage the permanent teeth."

Another thing the injury changes is the course of action for her two cavities that are smack dab in the middle of her front teeth. She's not going to have to get them filled now.

"But I want to get the cavity fixed today," she wailed, no doubt wanting her "perfect princess teeth" to indeed BE perfect.

"They will be fine," I try to reassure her later. "The cavities are in your baby teeth. Eventually they will fall out and be replaced by permanent teeth that don't have any cavities."

"When I am five or eight."

"What do you mean, five or eight?"

"Yeah. That's when my teeth will fall out — when I am five or eight."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Last stop, ‘Wonderland’

The saddest part about growing up is the fact that our sense of wonder changes so drastically.

When I was a kid and my parents told me we'd be going to the aquarium in Boston, I was predictably giddy. I knew there would be a sea lion waiting to greet us outside the place and countless fish swimming about inside. I wasn't afraid of the darkened inner chamber that made the multi-storied tank a standout.

As a parent, I may still be giddy at the thought of taking my kids to the places I remember fondly from my own childhood, but something always happens between the time the plan is dreamt up and the time it actually happens.

In our case the "something" was four inches of rain.

We were visiting relatives in the suburbs of Boston and had decided to take the kids to see the city's famous sea life. We took the subway instead of driving our car to save the headache of finding parking.

Since I was the only one without a raincoat I shouldn't have been surprised to find a line of people snaking its way past the ticket booth almost to the street, where trolley shills were trying to entice would be aquarium visitors out of the rain.
Not even an hour into the day and I was already feeling despair.

"We can't wait in this rain," I say to my husband, who cannot, as yet, admit defeat.

"WHAT!? NO AQUARIUM?!?" shouted Ittybit, tears welling up in her big green eyes as I try to explain that her brother and she are too little to wait in the icy damp.

My husband, with his eagle eyes, spots an ice cream shop across the street and suggests I take the kids there and get a cone. He'll wait on line.

We spend as much time in the two-seater shop as we can, sharing a double chocolate Oreo chip cone and being laughed at by the counter man, who, if his t-shirt was any indication, hadn't outgrown his fanaticism for '80s hair bands.

"Yeah, usually they set up a tent for the people in line when it rains," he says. "Too bad you didn't wear a raincoat."

I sent Ittybit up to the counter with a buck for his tip jar even though my ego wanted to send her up with a suggestion to ditch the threadbare Bad Company swag. But who was I to preach? I was just a middle-aged mom out in the rain without a coat.
So back I trudged, head down, to the ticket line, hoping the husband had inched his way under the overhang.

Not yet.

Of course at that very moment I hear: "I have to go potty."

I look around and notice a gaggle of people huddled underneath a movie theater marquis. We make our way over. As a seasoned parent who has witnessed a lion's share of "accidents" I effortlessly ignored the sign read: "Restrooms for patrons only" and marched right through a throng of people into the throne room.

By the time we found our way back outside, the husband was waiting near the aquarium door, drenched, with nearly $50 in tickets and motioning us inside.

There a photographer was waiting, armed with a squeaky toy shark and the promise of more soaking to come.

"When you leave, don't forget to stop and look at your pictures. The complete set is only $21."

By the time we got back on the subway — $100 lighter and four scary-looking commemorative photographs heavier — we really were headed to Wonderland. It was, after all, the last stop on the T.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Can you see me now?

Skype is the Devil.

For those of you living happily in the 20th century, let me explain: Skype is a little piece of software that allows computer users to make free "phone-like" calls over the internet to anywhere in the world.

Founded in 2003 by the people who created (and then sold) the demonized file sharing site KaZaA, Skype is really a kind of peer-to-peer networking system that allows for large file shares but is also billed as a computer to computer voice and image telephony service.

Got that? No? Just read on.

I first heard of Skype when I sold a photograph to a company that makes REALLY EXPENSIVE strollers in New Zealand, and they wanted me to send them a large file; too large for regular e-mail.

The lovely woman who made sure a tidy sum of U.S. money was wired to my bank account, also walked me through the downloading and uploading process of Skype.

For that little transaction the heavens opened.

But a few months later, my mother-in-law, who is spending a year in Europe, has discovered what I believe is the darker side of the free service: Video conferencing.

Oh, it sounded SOOOOOO perfect.

All we had to do was download the software and call each other online. We could bask in the glow of the computer's time-lapse imagery for the bargain price of free instead of paying gobs of money to have a few measly little minutes saying "hello, how's things, everyone's fine."

Of course there are glitches.

I'd already downloaded the software months ago, so I was feeling technically superior. The Napoleon complex wore off post haste, however, when I learned the squirrel that powers my laptop from its tiny little wheel in the hard drive carried off the little blue Skype icon and presumably fed it to its young.

Three hours later, I've downloaded the software twice and have found and lost all the screen names of all my newly membered Skype family members at least three times.

Eventually I get to the part where my computer was enabled to call the far-flung members of our family but the list tells me none of my people are online.

So I wait, staring at the computer screen, hoping one of the faint blue dots will darken.

Can you hear the drumming fingers? No?

Well believe me. I was drumming them to stubs.

"I can't believe we are going to have to CALL them to tell them to turn on their computers so we can CALL them," I complain to the husband.

So he does his best squirrel wrangling and e-mail slinging and in no time we're back online.

There we are, the four of us, sitting on top of each other in front of the laptop.
"Mom! Champ is pulling my hair!"

"That's nothing," I one-up her, "he just head-butted me."

Still no granny.

"She was here," my husband says, wondering if the squirrel, angered by our demands upon him, has turned into a harbinger of revenge.

But a few mouse clicks and several e-mails later and we really are ready to go.

Well almost. It seems grandma has trouble keeping her video feed on, and our computer keeps shutting off.

Ittybit - book in hand ready to read to her grandma all about the "Three Little Pigs" - is about to melt down.


The husband tries to save the day, walking his mom through the minefield of voice over internet protocol as I try to distract Ittybit from her tirade and juggle the Champ who's getting antsy for his midmorning snack. He swivels the computer in my direction just as I try to get the boy latched on ... "Ahem. Thanks for that."

He swings it back as Ittybit starts reciting her book with all the flair of a Shakespearian actor.

" ... And I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down. ... and then he gobbled up the pig."

"Oh, dear. You have one of the OLD books, where the pig gets eaten?" Granny says in mild shock.

And it occurs to me that while getting to see her grand kids hop about on the couch from "across the pond" is one thing, getting to see the clownshow behind the scenes - including me with my sweatshirt ever-so-fashionably tucked into my bra - is quite another.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

There are a lot of boobs in the world, but the law is on the side of the lactating ones


What time is it?

Two Thousand Eight you say?

Oh. ... Really? 'Cause after the hoopla at the New York State Museum recently, I could have sworn it was half past 1600. You know, when the Puritans started putting roots down in New England. And yet, as details trickled out, it also felt a little like the Twilight Zone.

A woman breastfeeding an infant alleges someone wearing a badge and acting as an authority figure told her to move her baby's snack into the loo, and further threatened that she'd better hop to it since another employee had already gone to report the incident.

When the woman and her husband complained about the treatment to museum authorities, they said instead of receiving an apology they were told simply that the admonition wasn't leveled by a museum employee.

Can't you just see the collective shrugging of shoulders?

Museum officials contend that if the mother was approached by anyone it could have been one of the many state employees with ID tags who regularly walk through the museum as part of their daily walking route. The incident — as reported — they explain does not reflect the policy of the museum or the actions of its staff.

To paraphrase broadcast and written accounts the official stance seems to have been: we're not saying it didn't happen, but we're saying it wasn't one of our people. And we can't control the unwashed public. We have always welcomed breastfeeding mothers.
The results were somewhat predictable.

Outraged mothers assembled grass-roots style — prompted by posts in online forums and bulletin boards — to participate in a nurse-in to either protest the museum's handling of the incident or the fact that a woman was made to feel bad for something the law protects.

As a nursing mother I may get drummed out of the corp for suggesting nurse-ins seem a little silly to me, especially in light of the potential that some random state employee threw some weight around they shouldn't have. I understand the sentiment, but I think it's time for knee-jerk reaction to go in a forward-moving direction.
I think, at some point, we have to get past the indignant outrage and the desire to have everyone accept the laws with unfettered joy. Especially when you KNOW the law is on your side.

In a case like this one, I’d have no qualms about telling the offender: "YOU with the pointy finger! Bring me to your leader! Let's settle this here and now, because you are so wrong the light from right is going to take 50 million years to get to the place where we are currently standing."

I say this because I know that I can nurse my child in any public place because our state specifically says I can.

I don't have to change anyone's mind.

I don't have to admonish the puritanical mother who doesn't want her prepubescent son to see that kind of thing. I don't need to tell her to "Grow Up!" or let her know I think she could better educate the video-game obsessed fruit of her loins if she accepted the notion that breasts — outside of Playboy magazine — aren't always that titilating.

I don't have to nurse in a toilet.

I don't have to plan my errands better.

I don't have to pack a folding tent in my diaper bag for camouflage.

I don't have to express milk and bottle feed.

I don't have to feed my son formula.

I don't have to stay home until he's weaned.

I don't have to do any of that because the laws already say I have the right to nurse in public.

The law doesn't even say I must practice discretion. If I want I can show more than Janet Jackson at halftime.

The museum might have been able to stem the tide of outrage with a quick and profuse apology, but I think the outrage about acceptance is really what's in play, here.

I believe people who stare do so just because they know what's happening whether they can see anything or not.

It may very well have been someone outside of the museum's employ who took it upon themselves to admonish a fellow patron. The surest way to combat that, however, is stand up to it immediately and without malice.

Even most shopping malls – which are essentially private places that invite the public to spend its money – have policies that allow open nursing as well as offer "family rooms" for mothers who wish to nurse in privacy.

Since the battle has been fought and won already, it's time for individual women to take advantage of the victory and stop beating this dead horse.

There are a lot of boobs out there, but the law is on the side of the lactating ones.