Archive | October, 2012

Brand New Nemesis

25 Oct

Nothing like having the dental hygienist loudly announce that you haven’t brought your eight year old in for a cleaning since 2010 to make you feel like a responsible parent. It’s a fun way to start an appointment off on a positive note, her smiling a tight little smile of judgment and all but waggling a finger, me smiling a tight little smile of, “Yeah, well, we just had lice, too, so.”

My favorable first impression of this dental professional was compounded by her chair-side manner. While wielding the hook ‘o pain so enthusiastically I could see her tricep bulging, she kept up a running commentary of hygiene shaming and germaphobic terror.

Hygienist (talking to my daughter in a tone I would reserve for a dog who’d just piddled on the rug): “Ooo, the inside of these teeth are just COATED with germy plaque. See how hard I’m having to scrape here? Notice how long I’ve been working on them? That’s because of the built-up coating of germs and dirty, icky plaque. Do you know what plaque can cause? GINGIVITIS.”

And here I thought gingivitis was something they concocted for toothpaste commercials. It just sounds so fake. And don’t you hate it when people ask questions while they’re using a pointy object next to your tongue?

“Do you know what gingivitis leads to?”

A visit from the equally fictional tooth fairy?

“PERIODONTAL DISEASE.”

The kid’s eight, so I’m sure that was on the tip of her tongue. That you’re practically lancing right now.

“You really need to get in here on the inside of these teeth and give them a good, thorough brushing twice a day. And are you making sure to floss?”

Me: (Cringing.) Daughter: (Shaking head.)

“OH! WELL! You have to floss. It’s so important. Mom, you have to be sure she flosses. (Throws me dirty look.) Honey, I’ll give you a flossing demonstration after I finish scraping these teeth. Which could take a while! They sure are DIRTY!”

My blood is at this point, if not boiling, bubbling enthusiastically. Like it’s the eight year old’s fault she hasn’t been to the dentist in a while. Like I might not be qualified to teach my kid to floss. Like she can just tell by looking at me that I am a non-flosser, just like my elementary-school aged child. (I AM AN OCCASIONAL FLOSSER, LADY.)

It’s possible I could have laughed all this off, if not for the fact that I was actually struggling to hear her little remarks over the right wing hate radio she was blaring in the exam room. Even if it WASN’T diametrically opposed to my political persuasion, I don’t think that’s an appropriate broadcasting choice for a place you are trapping people for thirty minutes. My daughter actually asked me in the car afterward, “So Mitt Romney is against PBS? If he gets elected, will we not be able to watch ‘Electric Company’ anymore?” Grrr.

But the piece de resistance came a few minutes of vigorous scraping later, when she turned to me and said, “Are congratulations in order, by the way? Are you going to have another baby?”

Me (icy pause): “Excuse me?”

Her: “I thought I saw a bump on your way in. Are you pregnant again?”

Me (rejecting the 3 hurtful retorts that immediately sprang to mind): “…No.”

Her: “Oh. Whoops. I’m sorry!”

LITTLE TIP FOR YOU, LADY. WHEN SOMEONE SAYS, “EXCUSE ME” IN THAT TONE  OF VOICE, IT ISN’T BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T HEAR YOU THE FIRST TIME.

At this point I am keeping my cool only by reminding myself that brawling in front of my kid will set a bad example. And gleefully plotting the content of the phone call to the dentist’s office letting them know they’ve lost a patient. And planning out a STRONGLY WORDED BLOG POST.

So, just, let this post be a lesson to you, Lady Who Does Not Read My Blog.

Liiiii-iiiii-iiiiice!!!

21 Oct

If we are friends IRL, (cool internet acronym), or even just FB friends, (which doesn’t preclude us being friends in real life, of course, but might mean you don’t like me in real life, although I really tried to pare all those people away from my friends list, oh, whoops, this is an open blog, what I mean is, I unfriended some people due to my own insecurities and totally not because they made snarky comments to me/posted political bullshit I could not abide/never posted at all and were therefore SO BORING OMG) (crap, what the hell was I talking about) (ANYWAY, ok), then you will have heard that we had a little incident with lice on our summer helltrip, oops, vacation. Yep, rocked up to this cute inn on Martha’s Vineyard that cost very much too much and got all settled only to find on the first night that the kids’ heads were INFESTED with lice. Like, it looked like my son’s head was covered in crawling fruit flies. DEEPLY not ok.

I had a theory about how the kids were immune to lice because they don’t get a lot of mosquito bites and they don’t get poison ivy and they’d never had them before even though lice had swept through their respective schools multiple times? But, yeah, I was not right about that. Which was a real shame to find out at bedtime on vacation when we didn’t have access to a car and the nearest grocery store was a two mile walk and we were very afraid the innkeeper would kick us out, or worse, not let us use the washing machine.

So it was trial by hellacious lice fire as we sweet-talked our way into the inn laundry room and spent the next two days just DEALING–load after load of laundry, Rid, hours of combing, three trips back and forth on foot to the grocery store, one of which was to buy clippers and hair-cut scissors because the local barber turned down our plea for assistance. I gave my first bob and my husband his first buzz! They weren’t perfect, but they made the hours of combing slightly less painful. And then we finally reached lice stasis and betook ourselves to the bike rental place where we spent ungodly sums procuring family bikes and rode to the beach for THREE HOURS and then it rained the fucking rest of the time we were there. The rest. Of the time. Helltrip.

Anyway. I am, understandably I think, a little coconuts on the subject of lice, so when my daughter said the other night AT BEDTIME (GOD IT’S ALWAYS AT BEDTIME) that her head was “really itchy” I braced for the worst. And boy howdy, did she have lice. Second case in three months! Damn you, helltrip gateway lice! And my son had a very mild beginner’s case as well. Did I mention my husband was out of town? And I was suddenly itching uncontrollably?

But then, when it was least looked for or expected, an eery calm set in. Lice, I’ve battled you before. Lice, last time I was victorious. Lice, from what I hear you are all over the elementary school and I can expect you as a frequent and unwelcome visitor to our home. It’s time to get really real.

Without even consciously drafting one, I found I had a Super Plan of Lice Action.

1. Do a shit-ton of laundry.

But I did not freak out about it. I did jackets, bedding, PJs, towels, the bath mat, clothes. I put bed-buddy stuffies in plastic bags to suffocate for two weeks. In the ensuing, post-treatment days I did pillowcases, PJs, and towels every night. But no, like, steam cleaning of carpets or buying of new mattresses or attempting to cram the couch pillows into the washing machine. Lice can’t fly or jump–they’re crawlers. And the nits are sticky. They’re not, say, bedbugs. (Oh heavenly spirits, please, please, PLEASE… I can’t even finish that thought.)

2. Invent non-toxic tincture.

So, something I have read from multiple reliable internet sources is that Rid is only approximately 50% effective at killing lice and nits. It is a pesticide, though, that is 100% true. If we’re going to have lice more often around here, I don’t want to be dousing my kids all the time in pesticide that doesn’t even necessarily work. A homeopathic remedy I was turned on to by a Friend Who Knows Everything, (do you have one of these? They’re awfully handy), is Cetaphil foaming face cleanser. You coat the hair with it, the kids sleep with it in overnight, in the morning you comb, and then they rinse it all out. My innovation this time around was to add 3 or 4 drops of tea tree oil to each handful of Cetaphil before applying. If the lice hate the smell as much as my kids do, it’s bound to help.  And while on morning one of combing after treatment I was still getting a few live bugs out of my daughter’s hair, on morning two, it was nothing but carcasses. I am now officially an inventor and a doctor. It’s very exciting.

3. The combing is the key.

All internet sources agree on this. The combing sucks, and it is crucial. So you get you one of those combs with metal tines so close together you can hardly see daylight through them and you get to work and you repeat every morning for a week to ten days. Your children scream and cry and beg for mercy, (at least mine do), but you are brutal and unmerciful. And/or you think of bribes and diversions sufficiently amazing that you don’t have to spend the whole combing session repeating, “I’m sorry I know it hurts hold still I’m sorry I know it hurts hold STILL.”

4. Cross your fingers, toes, and lice-ridden hairs, and keep checking and treating until you feel clean and calm.

The nice thing about my miracle tincture is that it won’t hurt anybody, so you can use it as many times as needed/wanted. And on yourself. Because even if you don’t have lice, (and I didn’t, during either infestation), you will FEEL LIKE YOU DO ALL THE TIME.

Down with buggy varmints! Wish me luck with my Super Plan of Lice Action, (and follow it at your own risk.) If you need me, I’ll be combing–just follow the screams.

Mamas Who Lunch

18 Oct

My favorite present I ever got from my husband is a big, glossy coffee table book called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluiso. It’s the compendium of a worldwide photographic study, featuring pictures of families with one week’s worth of their groceries, plus a short essay about their life circumstances and typical meals. I am super snoopy about what other people eat, and this book fascinates on a voyeuristic level, plus engages the family shopper/meal preparer in me. (And in case you’re wondering–well, take a look at the book and judge for yourself, but–in my estimation, the pictures of the US families with their oodles of packaged products and prepared foods are among the most horrifying. That’s probably just the self-hating liberal in me, though.)

What the World Eats is on my mind lately as I’ve taken to eating lunch with both kids at school every Friday. This is a great way to embarrass my eight year old by kissing her, (“Not in front of the BOYS, Mom!”), and delight my five year old by kissing him, (“Just one more kiss, Mommy!” “Eat your lunch, dear, you only have 20 minutes.”) And, of course, it’s a great way to get a look at what everyone’s bringing for lunch.

Back in the olden days of yore when I went to elementary school, I used to bring one of my dad’s brown bag specials. This was made the night before, in an assembly line with the other lunches he was packing–four for me and my siblings, one for him. These lunches typically included the following: 1. A grape jelly and crunchy peanut butter sandwich on very dry whole wheat bread (dry save for the wet, sticky spot where the jelly had soaked through.) 2. A small, hard Red “Delicious” apple with a tough skin and greenish inside. 3. A handful of generic gingersnaps, crunchy yet stale, with a metallic tang. The cookies were my favorite part of the lunch. Oh! Except for the 4. Quarter, which I used to buy a cold carton of chocolate milk, all the more delicious because I suspected I was supposed to buy plain. Every once in a while my dad would err and include the baggie of leftover steamed broccoli or asparagus that he’d meant to put in his own lunch. So it’s not like he wasn’t eating the same stuff we were, only grosser.

He liked to tell tales about the kids from his era who brought Wonder Bread sandwiches with butter and brown sugar, and a bag of chips. I knew we were supposed to be scandalized by these stories and grateful we had a parent who knew enough to pack us nutritious food, but I was always secretly jealous.

Because so much of my parenting is, intentionally or not, a reaction to my own upbringing, I pack for my kids a lunch I consider to be healthy, i.e. not butter and sugar sandwiches, (every time I type that I think “Yum”), but I have given all the components an upgrade from what I was packed. My kids’ lunches include: 1. A sandwich on the lightest, moistest wheat bread around that I buy especially for their lunches from the bakery. (I was really scarred by the gross dry bread.) I try to change up the sandwich fillings two or three times a week–I generally rotate through ham and cheese, hummus and cheese, and the sandwich of champions, Nutella and crunchy peanut butter. (I do have some guilt about sending cake frosting and PB sandwiches, but I struggle to suppress it, because delicious.) I also bought Thermoses so I’d have the option to send leftover pasta, or, their favorite, Chinese take-out. 2. A tube of yogurt, for the calcium and because it’s filling and quick to eat. 3. A portion of seasonal fresh fruit. I spend more money than I can conscience on fruit. Fruit is so GOOD when it’s good, and so utterly uninspiring and dire when it isn’t. I want my kids to think of fruit as a treat, and I flatter myself that they do, so far. 4. Some kind of crunchiness–granola bar, nuts, crackers. 5. A low sugar juice box, and I don’t feel good about it, either. But when I send water they don’t drink it, and when I send milk money they buy chocolate milk, and I, unlike, my parents, am not ok with that because it has over 20g of sugar in that one little carton. Thus, a low-sugar hydration option.

Clearly I have put a fair amount of thought into what I pack (did you ever read so many defensive justifying asides?), and for that reason and because I am, as I mentioned above, just plain nosey, I love to see what other people send.

One thing I’ve noticed overall is what a large proportion of parents choose reusable containers. Seems like I’m always admiring someone’s nifty little Bento box or stacking lunch pail. There’s also a lot of fresh food–vegetables, fruit, nice sandwiches. This is not necessarily impacted by the socio-economic class of the lunch packer, although there is certainly a comedic tinge to the little girl with the daintily sliced organic bell peppers and cunning container of hummus seated next to the little girl who pulls out a granola bar, a package of crackers, and a processed fruit twist–the lunches probably cost the same to put together, so what you’re really looking at is the amount of time someone spent on the packing.

And then there are the lunches that just pierce me. Last Friday the little girl sitting across from my son plunked a full plastic grocery bag on the table. As soon as the teacher saw it, she came over and hovered around. The girl very seriously applied herself to the knot in the bag’s straps, and then pulled out two packages of crackers with processed cheese, two bags of barbeque potato chips, two packages of Twinkies, two containers of Kool-Aid, and two Slim Jims. She started pulling open a bag of chips, and the teacher leaned over her and said softly, “Now, don’t eat all of that. That’s probably supposed to last you two days. Just eat some, and put the rest back in the bag, and you can leave it in your cubby for tomorrow, ok?” The girl nodded and went on eating while I sat across from her fretting about a five year old who already needed to think about portioning out food, who might not have someone at home who noticed whether she had money for lunch, or something in her backpack to eat that day at school.

How would my life be different if that was the way I’d always thought about lunch? How would my kids’ lives be different if that was their reality? You can learn a lot about people at lunch.

Kids These Days

15 Oct

This is what it’s like to be 8. Half loudly asserting your independence and personhood, half investing in your belief in fairies. And leaving them a little something to show you care.

Laying Down the Law(s)

13 Oct

I got an email from my 8 year old’s teacher yesterday afternoon; she’d been caught passing a note to a friend. The teacher specified that the note “went so far as to suggest they meet in the bathroom.” Duhn duhn duhnnn.

While this offense seemed relatively minor, it’s one of the few times in my daughter’s school career that I’ve heard about her behavior from a teacher, and as such it felt like a good opportunity to try to nip badness in the bud. I prepped myself for a talk when she got off the school bus; I expected her to be embarrassed and in full defensive-finger-pointing mode. I counseled myself to be firm, but not too serious or angry, and give her a chance to tell her side of the story before, you know, telling her off.

Also, since her behavior is generally worse at home than it is at school, and this school infraction came after two low-key home days, I thought I might ask her to please get her badness out at home as per usual so I could be the one writing about her instead of her teacher.

The bus pulled up. My daughter stepped off to meet me, her eyes downcast, face solemn. I arranged my features to look dignified and parenty.

“I got an email from your teacher,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “She let me read it before she sent it to you.”

“Oh. Well. We should talk about it.”

“OK. Can we do it at the house and not in front of all these kids at the bus stop?”

“Oh. Well. Sure.”

We walked home in silence, my five year old between us whipping his head back and forth scanning our faces like he was watching a ping pong match.

I got everyone set up with some granola bars and cider and we settled around the dining room table.

Me: “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

Her: “Well, you know how I love to talk. So, I’d already gotten in trouble for talking? So, I thought that instead of talking more I would just write what I wanted to say to my friend down on a note.”

Me (grudgingly admiring this logic): “Mmhmm.”

Her: “And then the thing I wanted to say was there’s this place in the bathroom on the bathroom wall where someone wrote that Becky loves Sam or something except I can’t read the first name very well and I wanted my friend to look at it, too, and tell me what she thought it said.”

Me: “I see.”

Her: “So I told her to meet me in the bathroom only the other time I passed a note to her I had just asked her a yes or no question so all she had to do was nod her head yes so we didn’t get caught that time and really that was probably a better idea than writing something she had to write back to because when she passed the note back to me that’s when we got caught.”

Me: “Ah ha.”

Her: “So then we were both, like, really upset that the teacher was mad at us so we wrote her an apology letter saying it was really bad that we had disrupted the class, even though we really didn’t disrupt it? Because no one even saw the note being passed or anything? But anyway, we wrote a letter saying we had learned our lesson and we’d never participate in such disruptions in class again and we were very sorry. And we gave it to her and she read it and said it was fine and Monday was a fresh start and she didn’t seem mad anymore and I’m still hungry can I have some crackers?”

Me: “OK, well. Sure. And. Well. Anyway, don’t do it again.”

Her: “OK, I won’t. Thanks.”

Five year old: “Mommy, I want to tell you something too!”

Me: “Yes?”

5yo: “I jumped off the swings today at recess when the teacher wasn’t looking.”

Me: “Well, that’s no good. You shouldn’t break rules even if no one is watching you.”

5yo: “Well, it isn’t a rule. She never said not to.”

Me: “Oh. Well. Uh.”

5yo: “Can I have some crackers, too?”

And thus ended another fine session of Excellent Parental Talk by me. I am so good at this parenting stuff, and I’d like to say that I really hope my example is just teaching you guys a lot of important things but not, like, intimidating you too much.

More Than Just a Memory

6 Oct

How to make an apple pie with your children:

1. Go to apple orchard on field trip with your child, his/her classmates, a manic teacher, a handful of grimly enthusiastic parents, and a pair of shoes with treads because it is inevitably slippery with all the mushy rotten apples stomped into the grass. Endure hayride and associated coccyx bruising. Bring home 2 bags of freshly picked apples that your 5 year old dropped at least 4 times.

2. Realize you now have 11 bruised apples in your house. Decide to make pie, and Wonderful Memory with Kids. Two birds, one stone, winning.

3. Head to grocery store. Stand in the refrigerator aisle staring at the pre-made pie crust. Attempt to talk yourself into making a pie crust because it isn’t that hard and you want your kids to remember you as a mother who made her own pie crust. Stand in refrigerator aisle for 5 long minutes, chewing thumbnail.

4. Buy pie crust.

5. Set up two apple-prep stations because god forbid your kids have to share anything ever at any time. Congratulate yourself for heading the bickering off at the pass. Feel smug.

6. Oversee round one of hand-washing, get everyone seated at their little spots, and continue feeling smug until your daughter grates off the tip of her pinky with her apple peeler.

7. Rinse blood off of apples, cutting board, daughter, apple peeler, self. Bind daughter’s finger.

8. After 10 minutes of sobbing, keening, and recriminations, get just a little bit tired of the dramatics. Stay calm because goddammit we are making memories. Grit teeth until jaw throbs.

9. Get all apples peeled through sheer force of will. Set kids up with the peeled apples and 2 [two] matching apple corers. Watch them happily crush the peeled apples with the corers. Allow self to feel creeping sense of smugness until son slips sideways off of his corer and bangs his funny bone on the edge of the kitchen table.

10. Hold squirming, screaming son while he writhes and inadvertently stomps on your bare foot.

11. Send children outside so you can finish slicing the apples for the pie filling. Daughter calls, “We’re going to make a bow and arrow, ok?” Feel so desperate for 5 minutes alone in a quiet kitchen that you hear yourself yell back, “Ok! Have fun!”

12. Finish slicing apples, put them in a bowl, put bottom pie crust into pie dish, and head outside to respond to son’s screams of pain.

13. Flush son’s eye out with water as he cries that a bit of tree bark was flicked into it. Look accusingly at daughter. Daughter will look back with saucer eyes of innocence and concern.

14. Bring everyone back in for another round of hand washing and to prep the filling. Helpfully point out to daughter that if she juices the fresh lemon she might get some of the acid in her wound from the apple peeler, in which case it will sting.

15. Time out while daughter throws self on sofa and wails about the unfairness of not getting to juice the lemon.

16. Allow daughter to juice the lemon and get the acid in her wound from the apple peeler.

17. Time out while daughter throws self on sofa and wails about pain of lemon juice in wound.

18. Add 2 [two] Tbsp of sugar, 2 [two] tsp of cinnamon, and 2 [two] pinches of nutmeg to filling. Stir. Send everyone back outside to play with the bow and arrow.

19. Wrestle pie into oven.

20. Spend the next 90 minutes fending off barbarians of all ages as the pie cooks and cools, emitting the most delicious smell known to family kind.

21. Slice generous portions of warm pie for everyone. Give self double portion, plus two times the homemade whipped cream, plus a large second [two] glass of white wine. You’ve made a memory, and you deserve your just desserts.

Work at Home

2 Oct

Stepping into your daughter’s room to find her huddled on her bed, un-dressed, brushed, or washed, and weeping bitterly, is, I think we can agree, a fantastic start to a school day.

Me (looks at clock): “Is… Something wrong?”
Her: “I FORGOT TO DO MY READING HOMEWORK!” (Sobs.)
Me (looks at clock, does quick calculation, looks at daughter, amends calculation): “Oh. Darn.”

My daughter and I are similar in many ways, too similar in some key ways, but one thing we differ on, (for now, at least), is our philosophy about homework. I am lazy. I am lazy on, like, a cellular level. In my school years I expended much more effort trying to get maximum gain out of minimum work than I expended on the actual WORK. Much of my adult “work” life boils down to a half-assed battle against the forces of sloth. I have largely avoided traditional workplaces because of those slave-driver bosses breathing down your neck and expecting “deliverables” and “results.” When I’m my own boss I take a lot of, uh, mental health days. I count getting my eyebrows waxed as a work appointment. I don’t always wait until the stroke of 5 to have a post-work cocktail.

My daughter, however, clearly operating under the auspices of a filtered genetic inheritance, comes home from school, gets herself a snack, and sits right down to do her homework. Never, ever, not once in my life, did I ever do this. She follows instructions to the letter and takes pride in ticking off each item on her homework to do list. If there is confusion about an assignment, she chooses to do extra work, just to be safe. Her frustration and fury when she doesn’t understand directions or runs out of time to work are formidable.

So, because she’s a kid, and because one of our similarities is falling helpless victim to sweeping emotional shitstorms, there’s a lot of drama around homework, and I am finding it hard to manage. On the one hand, I want to encourage and support her good work ethic. On the other, my default solution is SKIP THE CRYING AND JUST DON’T DO IT.

So back to this morning and the 20 minutes of required reading she didn’t do last night. The kid reads all the time! She normally reads for more than 20 minutes a day! It all averages out! So my first suggestion is that we just kind of fudge–have her read for 12-ish minutes and round up.

Her (shocked, SHOCKED): “That’s lying! I can’t do that!!!”

Ugh, right. Don’t coerce your kid into lying about homework, Stupid McBadparent. So then I offer to write a note to her teacher explaining that she worked on her math homework for an hour instead of the 15 required minutes, and just ran out of time to read. (All true! SHE WORKED ON MATH FOR 45 EXTRA MINUTES VOLUNTARILY IT’S LIKE MOTHERING AN ALIEN.)

Her (crying again): “But I was only supposed to work on math for 15 minutes! That was my fault! I’m going to get in trouble!”

And no matter how I gently tried to explain that she would never get in trouble for doing extra work she full-on panicked about not being able to finish everything before school and meanwhile had not eaten breakfast and bus arrival time was getting nigher and nigher and LORD we needed to just GET THE SHOW on the ROAD so I started hurrying her and barking at her to JUST GET DRESSED WE WILL WORK IT OUT which only made her cry harder which was so simultaneously pitiful and annoying I hardly knew what to do with myself.

All this before 8 am. I would be so much better at parenting if the crises did not so often happen at bedtime, in the middle of the night, or first thing in the motherscratching morning.

Yeah. See, so, my problems are mostly just issues of TIMING. No need to read parenting books for advice, lord no, that sounds like homework, and what kind of grind does THAT?!