Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mommy intuition not included

I could see it in the doctor's eyes as he wondered what symptoms had brought us in.

I was wasting his time.

No fever? No sore throat? No runny nose?

No. No. Um, no.

I was worried about the rash-y skin.

But up until the moment I decided I couldn't wait until Monday to call their regular doctor, I had been holding off, applying cream and hoping for spontaneous healing.

Winter skin. Chapped, dry, over-licked, eczema skin.

It's just a rash, I tell myself. The little voice in my head, though, the one that listens to pharmaceutical ads as if they were horror movies come to life, clucks at my rational self and starts tossing words around like streptococci and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus … more commonly known as MRSA.

Don't jump to conclusions, I tell myself. You always jump to the worst-possible-scenario.

It's just my natural response ever since pharmaceutical companies started to cast their nets for potential patients, turning every ache or pain into the the beginning of the end. Even if you would rather have the disease than the cure, you listen unblinkingly to the laundry list of potential side effects that have rarely, though sometimes, been associated with the unpronounceable chemical cure.

I tend to switch channels as fast as I can so I don't end up calling the doctor to see if I shouldn't be taking something for whatever dysfunction their selling.

But having lunch with parents from Ittybit's class, who casually noted this was the year of symptom-less streptococci infection, I started thinking. …

She's in their classes …

Been on play dates.

She had a fever when all their kids were coming down with strep.

She had a headache.

I worried about it a little at the time. But it went away.

And then I didn't worry about it. There had been no sore throat. No excessive coughing. No lethargy or listlessness. The kids were their usual selves.

98.6 degrees of normal.

I never said anything to my friends they recited a commercial-sized list of symptoms that can be overlooked, I just listened with wide eyes.

It's just unusual, they said. They don't always exhibit classic symptoms. They sometimes get rashes. Strange coloring on their faces. Sometimes nothing at all. …

Which lead me to obsessing …

Which then lead to Googling …

Which ultimately lead to a Sunday morning visit to an Urgent Care.

It's just a simple swab to put my mind at ease, I tell myself.


Funny, though It doesn't put my mind at ease.

It just proves the instincts I thought came with the job are nowhere to be found.

Worry for nothing, and the waste of a perfectly good afternoon. The kids are starving and tired, and look at me with faces that could have done so many other things beside play Angry Birds and wait.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Let's pretend ... to like each other

I wish we could all share in the true sentiment of primary school Valentines.

When we are in primary school the beauty of its simplicity is wasted on us. A little past primary and we get caught up in the emotion of romantic love … mostly the complexity of it … and in the confusion the whole thing tends to leave a bad taste in our mouths.

Somewhere between this angst-y state of desire and some version of mature fulfillment we decide Valentine's Day is just some ridiculous notion cooked up by marketers to relieve us of our hard-earned cash.

So, we dust our hands of it, happy to be rid of its fakery.

That is … until our kids reach the age when paper hearts and printed confections are as exciting as the sunrise on a brand new day. Then, like it or not, our hands become soiled again in glitter and glue.

I know a lot of folks would like to see the tiny hearts of this holiday shrivel up and blow away. I'm sure at one time or another I was one of them. No thing is the same for any one of us, after all. Some of us can't be bothered, others are bothered beyond belief.

But it wasn't until I helped Ittybit make a class-load of valentines that I understood what I'd been missing all those years.

She selected a project that seemed easy enough. She'd draw pictures of each of her classmates using the class picture as a reference. Taking some advice from the internet, I drew the chins, necks and ears to make the sizes similar. She drew the hair, faces and wrote in the names.

It took us two days and a slew of do-overs until she was satisfied with the results.

In those two days we talked about each of her friends. What made them unique. What made them special.

She didn't like Isaac's nose. So she erased it … made it better. More like the nose she was used to seeing on him.

Corrine's hair was all wrong. She wore it loose, not in pig tails. Erase, erase, erase. Sweep, sweep, sweep. Scratch, scratch, scratch. That's better.

She asked me how to spell "sweet" and "treat," and wondered if we could include some with the cards.

I nodded.

I could never have imagined this scene only a few years ago. I would have railed against the idea that children should be conduits-of trumped up emotion in all its lace-doily artifice. I would have wondered if maybe all this forced friendship wasn't the beginning of some soul-crushing lie.

We spend hours laboring over some sweet nothing that is destined to be tossed in the trash.

"What's the point?" We ask our selves. "It means nothing." Or maybe the opposite, it means too much.

We try to reason that we can't like everyone, so why should we pretend we can? Don't our problems as adults come from stuffing these feelings of discord so far down in our psyches that the pressure of it eventually threatens to blow a hole the size of a heart in our souls?

For whatever reason, we think this false holiday fosters the potential for dashed hopes and unrealistic dreams.

Wouldn't it be better to celebrate any one of the OTHER manufactured holidays that fall on February 14?

There would be no hard feelings over Clean Out Your Computer Day, League of Women Voters Day or Library Lovers Day. Who wouldn't go all in for National Ferris Wheel Day or Race Relations Day? Because, certainly, if there was no Valentine's Day no one would have to create a Quirky Alone Day, or National Call In Single Day.

Yet, instead of throwing Valentine's Day away, I find myself wishing we could boil it down to its purest form and bottle it.

Even if we have to pretend, liking each other seems so much better than the alternative.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just a little something to stuff in the suggestion box

There is nothing more loathsome than that note home from school ...

You know the one. It's sitting in your kid's bag just waiting to reveal your failure as a parent.

Oh sure, it's usually disguised as a suggestion ... an easy way to make learning fun and to reinforce all the hard work they're doing in school. You know, pretty much all the stuff you are undoing on weekends and over the spate of recent snow days by letting them watch TV and play video games until their eyes cross.

But when you read it you almost wish it was a bad grade or a notice of expulsion.
Anything is better than the three words that top the list of contributions we could be making to society via parenting: Family. Game. Night.

Now, I don't know what happens in your house, but you take one competitive and rules-obsessed dad, a fun-loving but slightly devious first-grader, a strong-willed and impishly sly preschooler, a mother who'd rather smooth the waters than ride a wave and mash them around a table to play a game of Monopoly Junior and you are just asking for the war to end all wars.

In fact the only reason I can even fathom why a teacher would suggest such a thing is if he or she had a couple of brothers named Parker, or the kids in their family skipped the ages of three through six.

"Well that's the point, really," you imagine them saying over your objections. "It helps children learn rules and sequences. It gives them practice reading, counting and taking turns," they'll explain. "Everyone can have fun together. And what a memory you'll be making."

All the happy well-adjusted people in the world add on that last one just rub your face in the fact that they're pretty sure your kids will spend their adulthood trying to blot out all their childhood recollections.

And you can't really disagree if the game of Dora the Explorer Chutes and Ladders you played in the falls, winters and springs of 2008, 2009 and 2010 were any indication.

They all kind of blur together in my memory, but the scenes have an uncanny similarity: The dad, sitting on the ground, legs all knotted in a pretzel, tries to keep an eye on his game piece (Boots the monkey) while objecting to the willful disregard of simple rules; The Champ takes every opportunity to move Boots around the board, knocking over his sister's Dora piece, who is screaming her objections until the room erupts into an irritating series of squawks. "Hey, dude. You are Diego. Where's Diego?"

The boy shrugs his shoulders.

"Great," I groan. "Now I'm going to get to scour the house looking for a two-inch plastic explorer or accept the fact that none of our games will ever be yard sale worthy."

The eyes upon me after that remark reveal that I have won the Bad Sport Award, and it doesn't matter that I took one for the team by selecting the cootie-filled Backpack as my game piece.

I know eventually it will be fun to play a game of Crazy 8s or Apples to Apples with the apples of my eye, but right now feels a little like tooth extraction: one kid makes up her own rules, which are designed to bring her a win while the other is putting the dice down his pants or trying to deal cards all over the living room. Add in a husband who using Parliamentary Procedure to interpret the game outcomes. They're all taking turns being sore losers and bad winners.

We'll spend a few more minutes trying to bring the game into earnest play, before we hurl the remaining pieces back in the box and trade it all in for Family Movie Night ... a choice that has yet to appear on any lists of scholarly suggestions.


If the makers of boardgames were legally bound to show a Your-Results-May-Vary representation of the gaming experience on the box top, Monopoly money would be everywhere, the families would be crying, whining, showing pouty faces (one parent would be screaming), and a tiny, besmudged little hand would be tossing the game pieces as far as their little arm could throw.

I'm guessing if that scene were plastered all over game boxes Family Movie Night would have a shot of getting into the teacher's suggestion box.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sometimes we miss the point until they've gone beyond it

She received an IllusStory for her birthday, which is the perfect gift for a kid who wants to write (and publish) her first book before she's forced to blow out an even 10 candles on her cake ...

No. ... Wait. ...

That was me ... (never mind).

Although she has told me she wants to be a writer, she hasn't revealed any timetable that's breathing down her neck. I envy her calm.

Where was I?


This is essentially a writing kit that helps kids formulate an outline and create a book in a series of pages you then mail off to some place that prints it, binds it and mails it back.

Amazing times, huh?


Ittybit unearths this creative gem from her pile of presents that she's been slowly savoring since December, and decides she'd like to make it a biography, which happens to be the first suggestion on the instruction sheet.

Being in the news business, I wonder aloud if she might want to interview one of her grandparents and write her book based on those interviews. First-person interviews, I think, will be easier to teach than footnotes, and wondering aloud makes it seem as if I'm not married to the idea. If I play it cool she just might take my suggestion as her own.

For a second, as I waited for her answer, I had this flash: She would ask all the questions people wish they'd asked a grandparent but never got the chance ...

She shook her head. And that second ended. Nope. She'd decided. She wanted to write her biography about Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, I can't say I wasn't surprised. I would have guessed she'd have chosen someone in pop culture -- a Justin Bieber or a Taylor Swift -- but I knew Martin Luther King Jr. had been a topic of study in preparation for the celebration of his birth in January and Black HIstory Month in February. She'd been asking questions about him, too.

So I asked her how I could help.

"You can help me find interesting facts about him," she said pointing to the computer as she sharpened a pencil.

As I Googled, she came and sat on my lap to look at the computer screen.

"When was he born?"

"Where was he born?"

"Who were his parents?"

"Where did he go to school?"

"What's his most important accomplishment?"

We talked about what we found. We looked at a map. She was interested that he was originally named Michael, and that his father changed it to honor Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation.

We discussed what the word assassinated means.

I don't know how to explain the courage it takes to stand up against a wrong that had been so widely accepted and so fervently protected.

But I try. His legacy, I say, is everwhere we look.

We were both silent for a while.

She uncapped her markers and went to work drawing his likeness for the cover.

She asked me to write the words so they'd be neat, and got to work on designing the first page, a picture of a family in a living room - a mother holding an infant and a father looking down at the child from his seat next to them on the sofa.

She took her time and drew carefully.

It wasn't until after I'd convinced her two pages was enough for the first day's work and was rummaging through her book bag for homework that I found the stapled booklet of coloring papers she'd brought home from school: "He Had a Dream."

I held it up: "Hey ... maybe we could use this to research your biography."

She looked at me in horror, like I'd lost my mind.

"No! That book doesn't say anything about Martin Luther King Jr. other than his name in the beginning, it's all about people he brought together.

"He needs his own book."