The Wolves at the Door (Boundaries, Part 1)

I think we can agree on a few things:

1. The Olympics don’t come all that often. I mean, every two years if you like both curling AND shot-put. And if you’re more of a trampoline fanatic, you have to wait the full four and that takes a lot of patience. We get how many summer olympics in our lives? 20? That’s not many if you’re a devout badminton enthusiast, that’s for sure.

2. Television reception and programming is a tricky thing. I mean, haven’t most of us waited for the cable guy at least once in our lives? And haven’t you also looked at the clock at 4:50 when he said he’d be by between noon and 5 and thought, well I could call, but I’m probably not getting to watch Game of Thrones tonight.

3. And isn’t it super hard to move? I mean you have to pack all of your things and say goodbye to all of your friends. Every day you wake up to new walls and different light. Things smell different. You don’t know the fastest way to the grocery store. You want things that are familiar, of course you do, even when you really wanted to do this, you still want something familiar.

3. Family is important. And sometimes they are also assholes.

Glad we’ve gotten all that straight. I feel like I’ve done you a disservice by not telling you more about my wife’s family, the wolves. There’s this Thanksgiving post, which offers up a glimpse. It doesn’t get to the heart though. The fact is, I was raised on an entirely different planet from these people. Her family would call mine (and have, no doubt) stiff, stuffy, and formal. Memorably, Debra’s mother referred to me as fancy. My family would say something shitty and self-congratulatory about grandfather’s good choices. Take mealtimes, for example. We used cloth napkins, silver, and place cards and not just on Sundays. One memorable Christmas, my mother once refused to allow a 2-liter bottle of soda in the kitchen and the aunt (married-in, of course) who brought it, drank it in the garage. If ketchup was served, it was transferred from the bottle to a charming bowl with miniature spoon before it was served. You’re getting the idea. Suffice to say, Debra’s family is about as far as you can get from my family.

Now, I recognize that, having just moved to town, Debra’s sister, niece, and nephew, are probably a little lonely and they certainly don’t have all of their stuff. The laundry in their complex is open odd hours and we have a washer and dryer just sitting in the basement. So it’s not so weird that they dropped by while we were at work to put the laundry in. But it IS weird when, at 9:30 at night, the basement door opens and the wolves come pouring in, make a ruckus in the hall (where your daughter sleeps with the door open), plop down on the couch and stay…until 11. Their cable isn’t hooked up, you see, and our TV sure is pretty. It was unsettling and worrying. Will this be a habit? I don’t WANT to have a boundaries conversation. But just coming in? At night? So loudly? So late? My wife cannot bring this up to her sister, because there’s only one way that would go: badly. Frankly, friends, I was thinking murderous thoughts.*

And so, because I can’t cry, I bring you this piece of humor which saved my evening via text from a friend and, if this goes on, my future co-parent.

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* Note to the police, this does not indicate a desire to kill my wife. If anything, it’s a desire to change the locks, draw the blinds, and hide from her family. I promise you, I’m a proper grieving widow.

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RR Hates Camp

Well, it had to end sometime. RR’s three weeks of bad-planning bliss have come to a close. You see, back in April (APRIL) when we had to sign up for camp, Debra and I were grappling with how to afford both school tuition and camp fees in July. June was okay, no tuition. But July and August are double months. Ouch. At the time, we were already on a shoestring (thank god for a raise) and so we made the decision to keep her home for two weeks. Turns out we didn’t schedule three weeks so Debra and I have passed RR like a hot potato since the fourth of July. Mostly that fluffy steaming pocket of goodness landed with my wife because work didn’t go the way it was supposed to go and not only could I not take her during the day, I missed several bedtimes as well.

This worked well for RR. This is a child who abhors organized fun. She loves the moment and is nonchalant about what’s next. She loves her mothers. She loves cool, quiet spaces. She loves drawing for hours on end. She loves to dance and run and hide and chase when she gets bitten by crazy. She connects with one person. She sometimes stutters when rushed by others who wish she’d spit it out already. She likes to take naps. She spends hours, happily, playing in her room. She wants to read, and add, and decode secret messages. She wants to play music and twirl.

She does not want your woven bracelet.
She does not want your bus songs.
She does not want your Boom Chika Boom.
She does not want your broken crayons or your markers on the high shelf.
She does not want your “time to go!”
She does not want your comfort, your chants, or your smiles.
She does not want your ball games.
She does not want to capture your flag.
She will not have your toilets. NOT A SINGLE ONE.

The rivers of urine, you guys. She came home soaked each day. She came home in tears, left in tears, and cried at bedtime. She sobbed that it was too loud. She sobbed that she couldn’t tell she had to pee. She held our hands and screamed at the bus stop. You can understand the agony we felt in sending her back.*

But send her we did. We sent her with headphones for the bus. Our miracle-worker physician prescribed a new medication and the accidents she had with us had almost stopped. Debra emailed the camp to describe the predicament. We bought a new backpack that matched the other kids’, replaced her water bottle so it didn’t leak, and got new shoes that didn’t reek of pee. We bribed the unbribeable child with a game of Crazy 8s, a lollipop, and dance classes. You’re six now, we said, you can do anything. You can do this.

Today is only Tuesday, which means we really only have Monday to go on. I’ll whisper this so there will be no karmic backlash**: She came home dry. She came home smiling. She didn’t cry herself to sleep. There were storm clouds this morning but no tears. Cross your fingers that when we pick her up today we’re on the same track. I’ll just take one of those things. Anything is a miracle.

*Nope. No other full day options that aren’t identical. No friendly neighbor or sister or grandmother. No way to manage another 4 weeks of having her at work. It has to be done.

**I know that karma doesn’t work this way, yes.

 

Xanax Bought Me These Pants

I am the worst at clothes shopping. My wife referred to me (not at all lovingly) as quasimodo on Sunday.

As in: You still look like quasimodo in the mirror with one shoulder hiked up and a grimace.

She’s right though, even when I buy clothes online and try them on in my mirrorless bedroom, I do some sort of weird clothing-related hunching maneuver that is likely a physical manifestation of the way I feel inside when I try on clothes.

I have never in my life put something on and thought, yes. yes this fits like a glove. I am so excited to wear this. I’ve had clothing that fits beautifully standing up but which turns into a shambles sitting down. I’d had things look terrific from behind and a monstrosity in the front. I’ve had an enormous number of Clown Pants and Strangulation Shirts. You see, my shoulders are broad, my arms are assertive, and I have a nice rack (all the better to carry my problems with, and heft my child, and carry bulky things, and shrug off disasters) which makes many, many shirts ride up around my neck while simultaneously gripping my upper arms for dear life. I also have my grandmother’s belly which is to say I am perfectly normal until you sink below the belly button and then holy fuck what is that even and then normal again. I remember looking at the smooth, sudden roundness of her belly as a child and wondering how on earth that happened while leaving her perfectly average everywhere else. This ensures that dress pants that fit my belly often tent out like I’m a circus clown in a hula hoop and suspenders.

I’m hot stuff, you guys.

Now, I could go on about how I’ve spent the last year miserably under compensated for a promotion, which is to say not compensated at all (and I have lots to say about that), but I’ll stick with the fact that I can’t afford new pants, or nice pants that won’t fade, and I desperately need them because jesus, having a dad with cancer and a mother who has a husband with cancer has really done a number on my eating habits (pretty much all cake). I’ve been wearing two pairs of pants – one faded twill and one pair of jeans – for the last eight weeks. My clothing in no ways says, hey I’m a Director of Important Shit. It more says, hey, I work here, maybe, if work means come here every day and sit in that corner office hoping you won’t look at my pants.

It’s not good when you find yourself taking a day off every other week so that you only have to wear each pair twice. On the odd weeks, I sub in a questionable dress and skirt, neither of which I have seasonally appropriate shoes for. I have also taken to canceling meetings or showing up early to sit down first so that people don’t notice my pants problem.

And so, on Sunday, my wife announced we were buying new pants. There was a lot of moaning and grousing and general whining, all of which sounded generally like but nothing ever fits! I’m always BETWEEN and remember the Clown Pants?! But because I’m a big girl, I took a newly-acquired-because-I-am-not-handling-this xanex and you know what? I didn’t cry. I even found three things that mostly fit. At the first store.

This has never happened. There were no casualties. And even though my wife still called me quasimodo (thanks for that). I didn’t even try to hide or hold my laptop in front of me when my boss walked past today. Progress and pants, brought to you by anti-anxiety medication. I’ll take it. Literally.

 

Books for 5 year olds

Well, those last two posts were kind of a downer. This whole operation is kind of a downer lately, what with the cancer and the crazy, and the general rockiness of life around here. So here’s a crowd-sourced young kids suggested reading list. Objective: find chapter books that my almost six-year-old (HOLY COW you guys) will dig. RR gives graphic novels a thumbs up and Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie a solid thumbs down. Me too. Seriously, do we need to haul out the axe and drowning dog within the first few chapters? Let’s build up to that shit.

My motivation to try anything is strong here. If I have to read Fairy Tale Comics again, I’ll…well, I’m sure there’s a funny fairy tale joke in here somewhere. So, because I thought you might also like to know what my friends think RR should try, here is the list: (annotated, because.)

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – we’ve read this one and I’d say that an imaginative five-year-old would really dig listening to it. It’s not something RR could have undertaken reading on her own. Also, it’s more dinosaurs and aliens and less fairies and mermaids so,  depending on your angle, it might be a winner.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by Eric Shanower, illustrated by Skottie Young – RR is a graphic novel aficionado and this read like a chapter book without relying too heavily on pictures alone. Lots of words to follow along with. There are others in the series and we’re taking on Ozma of Oz next.

Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke is another graphic novel. We opted to try it last night and while the story-line is great the words are few and far between. I tried sounding out her picture comprehension (did you get what just happened in those panels?) but she wasn’t really with me. I know she’s able to do that with the wordless Fairy Tale comics but perhaps space is just too…alien for her…

My friends are big fans of Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl (particularly James and the Giant Peach, the BFG, and Matilda), and Geronimo Stilton. For reasons known only to my mother, Ramona (Cleary) books were banned from my childhood but Dahl encouraged. Suffice to say I have no knowledge of Ramona except for a weird sort of apprehension.

Other series that got the thumbs up were:
Pippi Longstocking;
Noisy Village;
The Boxcar Children (with the caveat that this wasn’t too far from the Magic Treehouse series which I didn’t particularly care for);
Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants (both of which I’m a tad skeptical about with titles like “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus” and “Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People.” On the other hand, they are both huge series so if she loved them there would be plenty of content to devour;
The Mouse and the Motorcycle which has some big name children’s authors associated with it;
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle which was heavily recommended by parents of 7-year-olds as books their kids had been reading two years earlier;
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh;
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace which just sounds like something my mother would have axed; and,
Nancy Drew, which if she loved them, would keep her reading forever.

Graphic novels that were so special they got a call out by name were Summerland by Michael Chabon, Bone by Jeff Smith, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe illustrated by Robin Lawrie, and Princeless by Jeremy Whitley. The American Library Association also has a graphic novels reading list for K-2. I find it a little daunting, not because there are too many books (which is the case with some compilations) but because I’m not sure where to start. Speaking of huge compilations, A Mighty Girl also got a nod. My favorite Graphic Novels librarian recommends Toon Books, a publisher for getting The Youth These Days into graphic novels (also with reading lists).

Possibly the most awesome book in the children’s universe, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, got a recommendation but I’d been holding off because it seems a little old. Perhaps it’s time for another quick read through. Other single titles which I know very little about but obviously should are:

The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little by E.B. White, who I’m still trying to forgive for Charlotte’s Web;
Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice;
The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon;
Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater;
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston; and
Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

Outside of shouting congratulations for getting married, this is the most my friends have had to say about anything, ever. It helps that I know a lot of librarians, a lot of comic strip artists and illustrators, and a lot of parents. Furthermore, this doesn’t include the lists of picture books with a female focus I’ve got tucked into email folders.

So, if you got this far, feel free to add to my list. And let me know if you also have experience with these books. Are they too old for a five or six-year-old? Are there others? Where to start?

ETA (from comments):
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon
Ivy and Bean’s Secret TreasuresLumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, illustrated by Brooke A Allen
Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy

It HAPPENED.

You guys.

YOU GUYS.

Holy fucking shit.

My child hasn’t had an accident in almost two weeks. You guys. I can’t even.

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This is my new favorite. I work with a lot of college students.

Let me tell you, this is one of those times. Those times that you think, we are so. lucky. So incredibly lucky to have modern medicine. To not only have modern medicine but to have upbringings that have allowed my wife and I to not take no for an answer. To stand up to a doctor and say no. This is not working. Try something else.

I don’t take that lightly. My wife’s mother did something really excellent when she raised her. She helped build a strong person that isn’t afraid of authority and doctors’ cool competence, a person that can listen and then make a reasoned argument, a person that is able to push back firmly and politely and gets shit done.

I’m all over the place here. It’s shock.

The more we thought about our visit with the occupational therapist, the more convinced we became that this wasn’t the angle. At least, not at the outset. We did make RR a schedule with pictures and we considered the ultra expensive body harmonizing music and equipment she recommended. But our guts said this didn’t seem sensory. In fact, the OT said, “well, she could be mildly sensory-seeking but probably we aren’t seeing many signs because she’s so smart” Dude. No one has ever NOT said that. She’s smart. If this is flattery, we’re not having it. If it’s not, it’s still not helping.

A few days after that we were able to get in for an ultrasound of her essentials and a visit with a resident. As I sat in the sparkling new children’s hospital and watched her play, I felt that old tugging, the one that must run in my family blood (or at least that my mother ground in), the one I thought I’d therapied out, that we didn’t need to be there. There is nothing really wrong with her. Other kids need this time more. And then she peed her pants, oblivious.

The urology folks pumped her full of juice and she was not, I don’t think, scarred by the ultrasound. Everything was so perfectly normal, right down to the type and quality of flow she has. I had such a sinking feeling, sitting there, knowing that I was wishing there was something mildly, fixably wrong, and feeling absolutely horrible about it. For RR’s part, she held it together through the full two hours and Debra handled the end of the appointment when I had to run (unrelated to feeling absolutely horrible).

They tried to counsel good nutrition. I’m glad I wasn’t there. Yet another lecture from a doctor based strictly on what they think they should say and not at all based on fact would have put me in tears. She eats more vegetables than most people I know. She drinks water. It’s like prison over here. Fortunately for all of us, my wife chimed in with a thank you but also really, we have tried everything (though she said this in a much more articulate way). EVERYTHING. Is there nothing else?

And it turns out, there is. I’m sure there were lots of reasons why it took so long to get here. To a medication for incontinence. To bank on the chance that some spasms were making it so that she couldn’t hold it and hadn’t ever learned what it felt like to hold it. Couldn’t hear her own body telling her what needed to happen when. Not because she wasn’t listening or didn’t care or wasn’t smart enough or didn’t like the way it felt or liked it too much. No. There is actually a solution.

I’ll admit, after getting a last-ditch prescription, we were a little reluctant to take the plunge on a medicine not typically given to kids. We went into the weekend waiting for a call back from our super-but-where-the-hell-was-she doctor. And so we did it. We gave it to her. And one day bled into the other and then there I was, a week and a half later, realizing that I have a potty-trained child. No accidents during the day. She interrupts her work to go. She poops. She pees. She doesn’t leak.

I cannot tell you how amazing this is. She still wears a pull-up at night and you know what, she can do that until she’s 40 if she wants to. Accidents in the daytime were holding her back in so many ways. I’ve seen tears in her teachers eyes over this. This is a miracle.

Out of Office

I was in Kruger National Park sneaking up on a cheetah when my radio beeped loudly and I lost the moment. It wasn’t the first time I’d ignored my boss on that trip, though in retrospect, talking to her would have been preferable to listening to my ex complain about the early hour for elephant watching. Mind, she ranked right up there with my number one worst boss who, on my first day at work in my very first real job, asked me to crutch seven blocks and then berated me not only for being too slow but for having broken my ankle in the first place.


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At the time of the cheetah sighting I was on vacation and remained connected to civilization and the Embassy (we’re talking post-9/11, mid-Anthrax) by radio as required by the friendly neighborhood security officer. I was on vacation. I wasn’t working. I was vacationing.

I learned quickly that in the Foreign Service you need to be in between somewheres to not be working. Otherwise, the emails are piling up, the deadlines are shorter, the bosses shriller. Regardless, I placed a priority on work-life balance and took the shrillness and heat that came with it. There was heat, my friends. Some people don’t understand the meaning of the word vacation.

I am also very firmly in the don’t-check-your-email camp. It’s hard to avoid working when it’s so so easy to hit the mail icon on your phone. I don’t take calls or check my voicemail ever, much to my mother’s (and telemarketers) dismay. It’s vacation. Right? Turn it off and mentally rejuvenate.

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But it turns out that the work that piles up when you’re away starts to be more stressful than actually doing it. And when your mother calls and says, “By the way, we’re going out of town the week you needed us to watch RR AND we need you to dog sit Duncan*. Pity it’s when you planned your vacation.” and your wife says, “Oh but look! We can move it to the following week (profanity about your mother redacted).” then you’ll say, “Fair enough.”, completely forgetting that you are tied to the academic year and everyone else took their vacations LAST week and everything, everything, is happening the week you’ll be gone.

And you are trying very hard to get a promotion by being very awesome and it’s hard to be awesome when you aren’t actually there.

And so here I am. Feeling relieved that I’ll be working, at least a little, while I’m on vacation. I won’t be awesome, but I won’t be feeling overwhelmed when I get back. I think I’ve picked the lesser of the two evils. I hope so.

 

*Upon looking for a link to give you so that you could reacquaint yourselves with Duncan, I realized that I had not told you nearly enough about how overwhelming he is. Fortunately, my wife captured it here, here, and here. Since we’re dog sitting this week, I was up at the obscene hour of 6am to keep him from barking himself crazy. I sat in the recliner and watched Face Off. Don’t judge.

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