Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boo 2007 (Or, Next Time, Set Your Watch Fast)

My own little pumpkins had a great day. Except perhaps for a tiny mishap this afternoon.

Sean's school held its annual Halloween parade today. Since Sean is in the morning kindergarten class, he was invited to come back to school for the parade.

The parade was to begin at 1:30. I will admit that we were running a little late, but we still arrived at 1:30. To find THAT THE PARADE WAS ALREADY OVER.

Sean recovered, but he was heartbroken.

It's hard to explain to a weeping 5-year-old that "start at 1:30" apparently means "start at some undisclosed earlier time, so best to arrive super early."

Thank goodness trick or treating, not to mention his general enthusiasm and flair for drama, helped soothe the sting.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Absolve Myself of Any Responsibility

I waited to buy Halloween candy until yesterday. I bought candy that I am not overly fond of. These were deliberate choices because I know that I have little willpower when faced with a bag of candy bars of any kind.

I also know, however, that I can wait until tomorrow to open the bag. I'm not that lacking in fortitude.

The three Nestle Crunch bar wrappers in the trash can are almost certainly part of a right-wing plot to besmirch my abstemious reputation. Yes, that must be it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Book Plea

Okay, I need help.

I am fresh out of book ideas at the moment. I'm midway through The Keep by Jennifer Egan, and after that I have nothing lined up. Well, far down the line is Richard Russo's new book, Bridge of Sighs. But the long library queue ensures that I won't have my hands on that book for several weeks.

I can't wait that long. Even though I read slowly these days, I can't be without a book. Which brings me to you, my well-read readers. What would you suggest for me? And to make this just a little more interesting, what book would you have me avoid like the plague?

Just so this isn't completely one-sided, I'll recommend one of my favorites, Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. To avoid? Don't fret if you never read The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. (It pains me to say that because I loved her first book, Three Junes. But the second one? Bleahh.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Future TV News Reporter

Sean had a friend from his class come over to play on Thursday. It's a boy we knew only limitedly before school started even though he lived on our street -- "lived" because his house was destroyed by a fire last spring. He and his family are living with his grandparents (fortunately still close to the school) until the house is gutted and rebuilt.

I fear that Sean, excited to have a friend over and apparently eager to prove himself an affable host, overwhelmed the poor boy within the first 20 minutes. A sampling:

So, do you like our house?
What are you going to be for Halloween?
So, do you like my costume?
Have you ever been Superman before?
Do you like our new refrigerator? It has the freezer on the BOTTOM!
So, do you play basketball? baseball? soccer? golf? kickball?
So, how many pieces to you like your grilled cheese cut into? My mom cuts mine into three pieces. What about you? Do you like just one piece?
Do you like Cars? What's your favorite car? Mine's Lightning McQueen! Here's our movie Cars! Do you want to play Cars? Which car do you want to be?

And then, graciousness was supplanted by the innocent insensitivity of a 5-year-old:

So, how come your house got blown on fire?
So, why did your dog die?
Why did the police car come to your house?
So, why are there boards still on your house?
So, where is your grandmother's house?
So, where do you sleep?

Fortunately, Sean's friend took all of these questions in stride. He didn't seem to be ruffled by them -- perhaps the events have receded so much that they are no longer as painful. Still, do you think it might be a good time to introduce Sean to the concepts of tact and sensitivity?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

(Very, Very) Cautiously Optimistic

This is not the post I thought I'd be writing today. In a good way.

Last week, we found out that my mother-in-law has a malignant form of skin cancer. She's already been treated for basal cell carcinoma, and apparently the new lesion she noticed back in June did not prompt the dermatologist to take any course of action but watchful waiting.

The diagnosis he initially offered early last week was Merkel carcinoma, a rare, aggressive, often fatal cancer. At the time, he had not yet heard from the pathologist at the local cancer hospital. My in-laws entered an anxiety- and sleepless night-filled limbo. Later in the week, the pathologist report negated that diagnosis: She actually has spindle cell melanoma. Still bad, just not as horrific as the first impression.

The dermatologist strongly implied that the depth of the lesion imparted a very negative prognosis: the deeper the tumor, the greater the chance for metastasis to the nearest lymph node and other organs. He scheduled appointments with a surgeon and an oncologist for this week.

My in-laws live 6 hours from us and the rest of their family. Only one of their children currently lives with them (Jeff has two sisters who are considerably younger than him and his older brother). They felt isolated, and scared to death. I think they both were absolutely convinced that my mother-in-law was dying. In the face of that fear, what they needed more than anything else was to be with their children and grandchildren and other family -- and so they drove to our house over the weekend. We may have largely ignored the elephant in the room, but the laughter and warmth and love that suffused our house as all the relatives visited were the best tonic possible.

It was hard to watch them drive away on Sunday, to know what was awaiting them.

Which brings us to yesterday. The surgeon told them that although the lesion was deep and needed to be removed right away, it had not yet reached the depth that would worry him. She'll have the closest lymph node removed and biopsied, and then she'll undergo surgery to completely remove the tumor. What follows depends on the biopsy results -- the oncologist will have one strategy if the result is negative, another if the biopsy indicates that the cancer has spread.

It's all still very scary, but we feel a little better knowing that this may have been caught in time.

I hope that my optimism is not misplaced; too often I jump right off the cliff into the worst-case-scenario waters because it at least protects me from being blindsided. In this case, though, I can't embrace fatalism -- and I don't want to. There's too much uncertainty ahead for us to indulge too much in pessimism now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Shyness Gene

Thanks so much for all the supportive comments on my previous post. I am trying to keep my perspective about all this -- and my conversation with the teacher on Friday helped a bit. She acknowledged that one group of girls does ignore not just Allie but several other children as well, and said that, as I suspected, Allie is now making a very deliberate choice to play alone sometimes. Even if other children approach her, she often just keeps to herself rather than engaging with them. I witnessed that on Friday as I watched through the classroom window.

It was as if I were watching myself at that age. The little girl standing alone, not participating in any activities until cajoled by the teacher to do so, not even looking at the other children -- it really could have been me. Having battled those tendencies my entire life, I am not relishing the thought that it might be in this way that Allie might take after me. What struck me, and what gives me some hope, is that this is not the Allie I know at home, not the Allie who plays enthusiastically and easily with her brother and her friends in the neighborhood.

So I'm working on the playdate plan of attack. The teacher offered the names of a few kids who might be good candidates. Now I just have to work up the nerve to arrange them! At least at this age I am not so hobbled by my social insecurities. I hope it takes slightly less than 30-odd years to work on Allie's.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Adjustment Period

Allie's adjustment to preschool continues to be slower than I had expected. She seems to like it, but when I ask her who she has played with, she answers, "Nobody. I just played by myself."

She still pins her feet to the floor right outside the classroom each day, turning her body rigid. She clings to me once we cross the threshold. She reluctantly hangs her backpack up. She'll take the teacher's hand as the teacher guides her to an activity, and at that point I cross my fingers and leave the room. The other day, I looked in the window after leaving. There was Allie, standing on the edge of group of kids, not joining in, looking at the floor.

My heart broke, a little.

Her teacher asked me today how Allie liked school. I'm not sure if Allie seems unhappy during school itself, or if the teacher was trying to elicit what Allie had told me about her playing independently most of the time. The teacher said she knows that some girls have bonded right away, and seem to have formed little unbreakable duos. But other children are free radicals, so to speak -- friendly and open to making a buddy. The teacher is going to encourage Allie to play with one of those kids.

This conversation was rushed because I had to get back to Sean's school for a writing workshop.

(Picking up this post later in the day...)

We discussed this at greater length after I picked Allie up today. The teacher smoothed the way by telling me the good stuff first: Allie is well behaved, does well one-on-one with the teacher and aide, is cooperative and a good listener (MY child? Really? But whatever. Not the point right now.)

Then came the anvils. Allie really does seem to keep to herself, and she appears to be sad at school sometimes. Even when the teacher tried involving her with the other kids today, Allie pulled back. The teacher also mentioned that some of the girls are really cliquey (an unpleasant elaboration on the "bond" she mentioned earlier today). Seriously, in preschool? I never saw this with Sean and the boys in his preschool class, and I guess I thought that this "mean girl" nonsense wouldn't start till kindergarten.

When we got home I asked Allie about some of the other girls in her class.

"Are there any girls you want to play with but feel a little shy about approaching?"


"What happens when you try to play with them?"

"They walk away from me."

My heart broke, a lot this time.

It was all I could do to keep my own tears at bay. According to Allie, all the kids, boys and girls, walk away from her.

I wonder if that's completely accurate -- I have seen her playing with the children on the playground at school, and she has told me about some girls she's played with. What I can envision, though, is this: Allie might have been rebuffed, or excluded, by a group of girls, and decided that she wasn't going to try again. In addition to being a bit shy and reserved, she also possesses a steely will and strong stubborn streak.

I'm not sure what to do now. I don't know any of the other parents in the class; because I am always late dropping Allie off and picking her up, I don't get to mingle in the hallway with everyone else right before the class is dismissed. I might try finagling our schedule so that I can do that at least once a week. Perhaps that way I could get comfortable enough with a parent to arrange a playdate. Another tactic I was considering is organizing an informal class playdate at a park. That might give me a chance to get to know some of the other parents better and a chance to see Allie interact with the other kids.

Mostly, I want to fold her into my arms and tell her that everything will be okay, just by my saying so.

Has anyone else experienced a similar situation? Suggestions and advice are most welcome!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One Family's Trash

I am feeling spritely, bouyant even, tonight. Almost as light as air.

I feel as if in some way I have unloaded several pounds of baggage. Which is not surprising, I guess, since I kind of have.

We had a yard sale today!

Our goal was not so much to make money but to rid ourselves of the extraneous possessions accrued over 11 years of marriage, 8 years of home ownership, and 5 and a half years of parenting. All last week I went spelunking in the various closets and bins in our house. On Friday I went wild with the neon-colored stickers -- our selling tactic, we decided, should be beyond-bargain-basement, just-about-giving-it-away prices. I think it worked.

Jeff and I are almost giddy over how much we were able to sell. Double stroller? Gone within 10 minutes. Exersaucer, old bike, bouncy seat, car seat, baby gym, big plastic sliding board, ride-along tractor? Outta here, baby. Undesirable unused Christmas presents, dust-collecting unused wedding presents, random detritus of modern living? Adios.*

I think we sold about three-quarters of the stuff that we put out. And though I can't help but take it slightly personally that no one wanted to buy, say, my lovely nursing stool or crib bedding (Dialog in my head: "Hey! Why are you walking away? What's wrong with our stuff? It's nice stuff! Come back and buy something!"), I will soon get over it.

Definitely by next year. I've already started making a list of things we can sell at our next neighborhood yard sale.

*It goes without saying, right, that I feel terribly guilty that we owned all this stuff to begin with?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fixing a Hole

I am reading, with minimal enthusiasm, Little Children by Tom Perrotta. It hasn't entirely felt like a waste of time, but I suspect that this is yet another book that will slide from my memory fairly quickly.

Earlier today I read through the list of books I've read over the past five or six years, and I was not too surprised at how wispy my memories are. Too often I plow through a book, barely taking a moment for introspection. Once I've finished a book, I pick up another one right away. I've often thought that if I savored books more, I could remember, say, the names of the main characters 2 weeks later. As for the finer points, the intangibles like themes and symbolism? Unless I loved the book, the chances that I'll remember them are quite slim.

My little reverie was punctuated by moments of recognition: "Oh, that was about a woman and it was written in reverse chronological order" (In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez), or "Okay, that one had the two guys who killed each other (Amsterdam by Ian McEwan). Some memories are even skimpier: "Hmm. It's about a ... university student ... in London ... or England somewhere..." (An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel) and "Septuplets in ... Canada maybe?" (Feather Crowns by Bobbie Ann Mason).

More disconcerting are the books that I cannot remember having read at all. I don't doubt the veracity of my list -- I'm sure I did read these books, but I can tell you nothing about them (The Music Lesson by Katherine Weber, The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson [wait, maybe that one was about Jamaica?], Nearer Than the Sky by T? Greenwood). I spent chunks of time reading these books. Where they that dismissable that all I have left of them is a notation in my book log?

I could sugar-coat this memory lapse by attributing it to the many books I've read. Except that for the past few years I haven't read that many. Not like I used to before the kids were born, that is.

Is it me? Tell me it isn't just me. Other people have holes in their brains through which the salient details of books slip, right?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Sean's kindergarten homework is pretty simple. The main assignment each week is to read each day, draw one picture of something from a book he read, and write a sentence about the picture.

Throughout the year, the kids work toward being able to write the sentence themselves. Right now, Sean comes up with the sentence, and I guide him through the actual writing.

I think that homework would be a lot easier for him, or at least less disruptive, if he didn't have a homework overlord.

My newly minted four-year-old likes to sit at the table with Sean as he does his homework. I give her some "homework" of her own to do -- and per her demands it must be actual academic work, not just coloring or drawing. Mostly she practices writing her name. Focus lasts only so long, however, until her alternate persona, Queen Busybody, emerges.

"Sean," she says sharply, glancing at the picture Sean is drawing. "WHAT is that?"

"It's a swing," he replies. "See? Here are the ropes and there's the part you sit on."

"You CAN'T use a rope for a swing!"

"Yes, I can."

"No, rope isn't strong enough to support the weight! You need a CHAIN, Sean! All swings have chains!" She is in a righteous furor over what she considers the shoddy engineering of Sean's swing.

"It's hanging from a tree, Allie, so it can have a rope!"

"No, it can't!"

My reminder that their aunt has a tree swing made of rope seems to end the dispute.

A few moments later:

"THAT is not how a house is supposed to look, Sean. Why is it brown? Why do the windows look like that?"

Sean doesn't even deign her with a reply.

Allie picks up her blue crayon and draws her version of a house -- a sort-of rectangle base with a sort-of triangle floating a few inches above it. "There. THAT'S what a house should look like."

And then:

"Sean, what letter is that supposed to be?" she says, pointing at a lowercase "t."

"It's a T".

"No, it's not! That's not how a T goes!" She carefully, ponderously even, writes a capital T on her paper. "See! This is a T."

This time, my attempt to mediate goes nowhere -- apparently Allie finds the explanation of the difference between a lowercase T and a capital T not the least bit persuasive.

Finally, somehow, Sean finishes his homework. Next time I hope there will be less audience participation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Her New Set of Wheels

For Allie's birthday, we got her a bike. Now, it is entirely possible that with additional planning or research or cash, I could have avoided purchasing this particular bike.

I was seeking something relatively plain: pink would be okay (she loves pink), a few flowers or decorations also would have been acceptable.*

Never in a million years would I have envisioned our buying a purple princess bike.

I have a thing against things with characters on them. For the most part I've toed my own party line: if it's a visible item of clothing, or a shoe, no characters. I acquiesced on the underpants front because the characters were an enticement during potty training. And pajamas, bought by other people -- at least sleepwear doesn't leave the house.

I picked plain backpacks and lunchbags for the kids. Sean was puzzled by this because he is one of two kids in his class without a character on his backpack. I explained that I wanted his backpack to last several years, and chances are that his second-grade self would not care for the character he swooned over in kindergarten. Fortunately, he seemed to accept that explanation.

I guess that my problem with the character-emblazoned explosion is that it turns kids into walking billboards. For the same reason, I've never understood logos -- why is it that people actually PAY companies to advertise for them?

And yet here were are with a bike dripping with images of Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora. Hear that? PFFFTT! That's the sound of my principles flying out the window.

This bike is first runner-up in the Gaudiest Bike Ever contest. (First place goes to the pink princess bike, with its mix of hot pink and gold trimmings.) Of the places we searched for bikes, only one or two plain bikes were available, and they were either too heavy or too big. So, it pains me to say, we went with the bike we knew Allie would like best. Princesses. Purple streamers. Butterflies.

We were right. She LOVES this bike. The look on her face when she first saw it was priceless. In exchange for the further erosion of some beliefs that may or may not have been so important in the first place, we have one very happy little girl.

What's your opinion of characters? Hate them on clothes but not other things? Think they are the ultimate instrument of corporate devilry? Think that there are far bigger fish to fry and that this is nothing to worry about? Do tell!

*Note that I have chosen not to examine too closely the gender-based differences between boys and girls bike. I am certainly aware of them, but trust me when I say that Allie would not have liked a brightly colored boys bike.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Four Years

Today my little girl turns 4.

If I were a more reflective, thoughtful mother I'd have a beautiful birthday letter for her. Instead, I am still trying to get the birthday girl to stay in her bed instead of popping up every 2 minutes. And I am still tending to the saddest batch of cupcakes I've ever made. I'm glad that they are intended for a preschool audience and not anyone with aesthetic standards for their baked goods. Did you know that those ruffly little paper cups actually serve a purpose other than generating needless trash? And that proceeding with the cupcake baking even after realizing that you don't have any more little cups is ill advised? Because removing cupcakes from even a nonstick pan coated with nonstick cooking spray results in cupcakes that look like they've been pecked to death by seagulls?

Of course you did.

Happy Birthday, my sweet girl, my indomitable force to be reckoned with. I have no doubt that you will take the world by storm.