Saturday, December 27, 2008

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old: Bedtime

MOTHER: Okay, time to go to sleep. Can I give you a big hug before I go?

CHILD: Okay!

CHILD leaps out of bed, runs behind mother, and throws his arms around her back.

CHILD: I'll give you a monkey hug!

MOTHER: Okay, okay little monkey. That was a nice hug. Now it's time for all the cute little monkeys in the world to go to bed.

CHILD: No, it's not time for me to go to bed. I'm a nocturnal monkey.

MOTHER: Oh, well, nocturnal monkey, it just happens to be daytime! So it is time for you to go to bed!

CHILD: It's not daytime. There's just a lot of lights on in my room.

MOTHER: Well, all that light must be making you sleepy, right, nocturnal monkey?

CHILD: No. I'm a nocturnal and diurnal monkey.

MOTHER: When do you sleep, then?

CHILD: Um . . . I only sleep at . . . dusk.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old: From Picky Eater to Cheese Snob

MOTHER: I'm about to get started making lunch. What would you like to have for lunch today?

CHILD: I want a grilled cheese sandwich please.

MOTHER: Okay. One grilled cheese sandwich coming up!

CHILD: I want Havarti cheese on it.

MOTHER: Okay . . .

CHILD: Havarti not Cheddar or American. And I want a slice of Swiss cheese on the side. Not on the sandwich.

MOTHER: Okay, I'll put Havarti cheese on the sandwich.

CHILD: And a slice of Swiss cheese on the side. Cold.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree Ever

So, I was having a Twitter conversation with Gregg and Rebecca earlier today about Christmas trees. Gregg seems to be under the impression that the Christmas tree he just finished decorating tonight in his house is the Most Beautiful Christmas Tree Ever. I hated to tell him he was wrong. Then Rebecca informed me that her favorite Christmas tree, was, in fact, the Most Beautiful Ever. Well, you decide!

That year, my sister and I were living with our mother in a small rented house in a grittier part of the suburbs. My parents had divorced years earlier. My mother had gone back to school, to earn her degree. My father was not making child support payments.

One evening after dinner, several weeks before Christmas, my mother told my sister and me she had something important to talk to us about.

"I don't think we'll be able to have a tree this year. But we'll still have Christmas, and presents. If it's between a tree and presents, I'd rather be able to buy you presents. You'd rather have presents than a tree, right?" She didn't look us in the eyes when she said it.

"But, it's not Christmas without a tree," I said. "Can't we just cut one down somewhere? In a forest or something?"

"That's against the law, if it's not your land," my mother said.

"Santa will bring us a tree," my little sister chimed. "If we ask for one, he'll bring it." Her eyes shone with the confidence of a true believer. I was two years older. Disillusioned. But how could anyone with a beating heart stand to disappoint such hope?

"I'll get us a tree," I said, suddenly convinced it was possible.

"Do you have money hidden somewhere I don't know about?" My mother joked.

"No. But I'll get a tree anyway. I'll find a way." I straightened my shoulders under the weight of this new responsibility. Tree Bringer. Saver of Christmas. Why not? After all, I was nearly ten.

That night I lay awake in my bed, trying to think of a plan. Could I find a tree to cut down someplace, after all? Someplace where it wasn't illegal? My mother would almost certainly be angry that I'd done it. And I wasn't sure where I would get an axe.

I'd heard that sometimes tree lots would give away their leftover scraggly trees on Christmas Eve. Maybe we could convince one to give us one. But that didn't seem like the best plan— leaving it all 'till the last minute. What if I couldn't find a generous lot owner in time?

Could I get a job cutting down weeds or clearing snow somewhere in the neighborhood that would earn enough money to buy a tree? I didn't think I could make enough money in time. I didn't know my neighbors very well yet— we'd only just recently moved into the neighborhood— but my grandmother had once paid me 50 cents for a whole afternoon of weeding in her garden, and a family friend once had paid me a dollar to rake a whole yard. Minimum wage didn't apply to kids doing odd jobs for family and neighbors. But I'd need at least twenty dollars to buy a Christmas tree.

Perhaps I could find someone who was giving away trees to worthy families, and write an essay convincing them to give us one. I was good at writing essays to win things. I'd won several certificates in school. Though, I'd never been able to win my mother roses on Mother's Day in the Mother's Day essay contest. That was a black mark on my record, to be sure. What if I failed again this time?

The next morning, as I brushed my teeth and dressed to the sounds of our little radio, the answer materialized right before my ears. The local radio station I had tuned to was having a contest. Every couple of days, at a random time, I heard a deejay explain, the station would ask listeners to call in. The tenth caller each time would win a Christmas tree.

On the way in to school, before my mother could turn on her usual station, I grabbed the dial and twisted it. "We can't listen to NPR," I said. "I have to listen to Y-98. They're having a contest to win a Christmas tree, and I'm going to win it."

"How could you possibly call in to a radio station from a moving car?" My mother rolled her eyes. "Do you expect me to pull over somewhere and find you a payphone?" She turned the dial back to NPR.

"But I might miss some rules to the contest!" I said. "I'n not sure I heard everything right when they talked about it this morning. I was brushing my teeth during part of it."

"Jaelithe," my mother said, quite serious now, "You are almost certainly not going to win a radio contest. Even if you happen to be listening at the right time, when the deejay asks people to call, every time you try to call in, the line will be busy, because hundreds of other people who were listening will be calling in, too. Even if you do get through, it will be nearly impossible for you to be the tenth caller. I don't want you to get your hopes up over something that is nearly impossible."

"I will win it, if I try hard enough," I replied, and sat in stony silence during the rest of the short ride to school, scowling at Bob Edwards's polished NPR voice.

Every afternoon, the minute I came home from school, I turned on the radio and listened for call-in instructions for the contest. I kept the radio on while I ate, while I did my chores, while I did my homework. Every morning, I woke up early, before the rest of my family, and turned on the radio, keeping the volume as low as possible so as not to wake my mother, who often stayed up late studying and writing papers for class, and would be very annoyed if I ever woke her up early.

Watching me listen to the radio intently day and night, my mother frequently sighed and rolled her eyes. But she didn't ask me to turn it off.

Twice I heard an announcer ask listeners to call in for the contest, and leapt to the phone to dial the number which I had carefully memorized, but only got a busy signal, over and over again as I hung up the phone and pushed redial.

I was not discouraged. I would win that tree. It was necessary. I was the Tree Bringer.

Finally, one morning, before dawn, as the rest of the household slept, I heard the deejay announce another call-in. I scrambled to the kitchen as quickly as I could, and snatched the phone. I called the number.

The phone rang.

This was it.

I stretched the phone cord as far as it would reach, and knocked on my mother's bedroom door. "Mom!" I hissed. "Wake up! I'm on the phone for the contest! It's ringing! They might answer any second!" I knew that as a minor child, I could not actually give the radio station my own information as a contest winner. It would have to be my mother.

"What time is it?" my mother groaned. "Go back to bed!"

"But Mom, the contest! The tree!"

"Will you stop with the contest already? The contest! I'm going back to sleep!"

Painfully discouraged, I went back into the kitchen. I couldn't believe the phone had been ringing so long. It seemed like I'd been on the line for an eternity. Had I called the wrong number? Was the station already on the phone with the winner? Why wasn't anyone answering? Then,

"Hello! You're our tenth caller!"

I had done it.

Despite my days-held fervent belief that I would win the contest, I still somehow managed to be stunned.

My mother was still in her room.

"Hello? Caller?"

I had to come up with a new plan.


"Hi! Hi there! Sorry. Bad connection. I'm the tenth caller? I can't believe it! This is great! Did I win the tree?" I tried to make my voice sound as adult as possible.

"Yes! You've won the tree! Please turn your radio off."


I shut off the radio.

"So, what's your name?"

It was working! They believed me!

"I'm Diana," I said. It was my mother's name.

They asked for more information. My phone number. My address. I gave it flawlessly. They really thought I was a grown up! I had really won the tree! Without anyone's help! This was fantastic!

"So, Diana, we just need one more thing for you for tax purposes. What's your social security number?"

What was my what?

I certainly didn't know my mother's social security number.

"Uh, just a minute. Can you, uh, please hang on a minute? Someone is asking me something," I lied, and set the phone gently on the kitchen counter, and ran full tilt into my mother's room.

"Momwakeupwakeup OH WAKE UP NOW! It's an EMERGENCY I'vewonthecontestwiththetree the tree the tree I'VE WON THE TREE and because YOU WOULDN'T WAKE UP well you see I sort of pretended to be you and and I gave your name and everything and they thought I WAS you but now now now they want your social security number and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE NUMBER IS!"

How my mother deciphered this message in time while still being half-asleep, I will never know.

She picked up the phone in her room, and motioned to me to hang up the phone in the kitchen and shut the door.

When she came out, she said, "I had to tell them the truth, that it wasn't really me on the phone at first. You aren't so good at lying, you know."

"Oh," I said.

"But, I told them I'd given you permission to call on my behalf because you were really excited about it. They thought you were cute. They said we could still have the tree."

"Oh!" I said.

My mother drove to the station to pick up the prize. It wasn't a real live tree, like I thought it would be. It was a gift certificate to buy a tree from a local lot. I was disappointed, but my mother said, "It's better this way. We get to pick which one we want. Anyway, where on earth would they keep a bunch of Christmas trees at a radio station?"

The gift certificate was for $50. My mother told me that was more than she'd ever spent on a tree in her entire life.

We bought a fir tree.

It was the first time we had ever bought a fir tree, with long, slender, flexible needles that looked so much fancier than the stubby, pitchy ones on a spruce.

The moment it entered our house, the tree filled our house with a scent that smelled to me of winter, and mountains, and greenness, and richness, and clean things.

The branches were so lush with healthy, green needles you couldn't see the trunk. The tree was as perfectly conical and symmetrical as any I'd ever seen in a painting on a Christmas card. It barely fit through our front door. It seemed to take up half our shabby living room. The top brushed the ceiling. We didn't have enough lights or ornaments in our shoddy supply of Christmas decorations to even begin cover it. But it needed none of them.

It was the most beautiful Christmas tree I'd ever seen.

"Santa Claus works in mysterious ways," my sister said.

Do you have a story to tell about your Perfect Christmas Tree? Write a post about it before Christmas Day, email me the link or leave it in the comments, and I'll paste it here. It seems that Gregg, Rebecca and I have sort of accidentally started a holiday meme. Well, heck. It's December.

Rebecca's Perfect Tree Story

Kim's Perfect Tree Story

What? You Didn't Think I'd Quit, Did You?

It's just been me being inconstant, unsure of myself, and generally prone to fits of introversion, ennui and melodramatic melancholy again. I'm feeling bloggier now. Carry on.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Today is the last day before the U.S. presidential election.

Election officials in Missouri have witnessed record new voter registration, and record turnout during the primaries. They are predicting record turnout at the polls tomorrow. Many of those voting tomorrow will be voting for the first time.

Lines will be long. Confusion — about polling place locations, about ID requirements — will be common.

The polls are tied here in Missouri. The outcome in Missouri tomorrow will depend entirely on how many citizens choose to, and are allowed to, exercise their constitutional right to vote.

If you care about your candidate — if you care about democracy — if you have even an hour to spare — don't just vote tomorrow. Volunteer.

Take an elderly or disabled neighbor to the polls. Walk through your neighborhood reminding people that the polls close at 7 p.m.

Bring food and water to people in long lines.


If you're interested in helping the Obama campaign's efforts to make sure every registered voter gets the chance to vote in St. Louis County tomorrow, email me at I need you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Michelle Obama Guest Posted on MOMocrats

She did! For serious! Looky here:

Michelle Obama wants you to register to vote.

Missouri's deadline to register in order to be eligible to vote in this year's presidential election is October 8th.

Are you registered to vote under your current name at your current address? Are you currently listed on the rolls as an active voter?

Even if you currently think you are registered, you may not be. If you haven't voted in the last two local elections, your registration may have been listed as inactive.

If you're not sure whether your current voter registration is up to date, please contact your local Board of Elections to check before you miss the registration deadline.

St. Louis County Board of Elections

St. Louis City Board of Elections

Kansas City Board of Elections

Jackson County Board of Elections

Friday, September 19, 2008

InterPLAY St. Louis

I'll be moderating a panel on search engine optimization and traffic building for bloggers tonight at InterPLAY St. Louis in the University City Loop. Speaking on my panel will be two local SEO experts, Will Hanke and Ellen Gooch. The panel begins at 5 p.m. tonight, and will be held at Screenz on Delmar.

I would be ever so pleased if you could join me.

We'll be discussing the basics of SEO, explaining why bloggers need to care about SEO, giving tips on easy ways to optimize your own site, and teaching ways to protect yourself from content thieves who want to use your work to make ad revenue.

Tomorrow I'll also be speaking on panels about internet ethics and netroots politics. A list of panels is available here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ike Isn't Finished Yet

Flooding from Ike:

This is not Texas.

This is not Louisiana.

This is Florissant, Missouri, just north of St. Louis.

This is two miles from my house.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 12th

It was just as well that my morning class had been canceled; no one seemed to be paying much attention in their classes that day. In fact many students and a few professors had taken the day off, some, to participate in the campus blood drive; others, I imagine, were in shock.

I myself had felt it best to go to school. At that time, I was living on the 13th floor of a high rise apartment building in the heart of a major U.S. city. No one knew, on September 12th, whether there were plans to attack other buildings. The university campus felt safer than home.

At a loss for what to do with myself over the next few hours until my next class, I wandered toward the student center. I had a vague notion I might try to give blood. Back then I had very low blood pressure and I was also terrified of needles, so I was one of those people who passed out cold nearly every time I had my blood drawn. But being Type O, so I was always being asked to give blood. I resolved to do it this time.

It seemed the thing to do, that day. It seemed the only thing most people could think of to do.

I'd seen so many flags on my trip in to school that morning. Flags on houses. Flags on t-shirts. Flags taped up in gas station windows, and draped over restaurant awnings, and flapping from the antennas of cars. For the first time in my life I felt guilty for not owning any patriotic clothing. Normally I wasn't into that sort of thing. I thought people who wore flags all of the time were posers. I wore a lot of black, myself. I was twenty.

As soon as I got to the student center, I could tell the line for the blood drive was much too long for me to join. I'd never make to to my next class in time if I waited in it. I felt simultaneously guilty and relieved. It would have been sort of embarrassing to faint in front of so many people. But still. But still. I decided I would try to come back later, after class.

I wandered around the student center, looking for someone I knew, someone to talk to about something mind-numbingly ordinary, like today's menu at the cafeteria, so I could push from my mind endlessly looping miniature television images of people jumping purposefully to their deaths to escape the pain of flames.

I didn't see anyone I knew. So I wandered in circles, and tried not to think of burning people, and worried. And I didn't just worry about my high rise apartment.

I worried about my old high school friend Fahd, an American Muslim whose parents were immigrants. He had taken me to the prom senior year; I was the first girl he'd ever danced with. I worried about my friend Ayesha, whose mother had once smiled as she told me the children in her pediatric practice called her Mother Mary because she wore a scarf over her hair.

I worried about my Hindi teacher, an Indian Muslim woman with pale skin who loved to argue in a friendly way with the Hindu girls in my class over which religion had done more to advance feminism in India, Hinduism or Islam. I worried about my friend Hamenaz, a visiting college student from Iran, who liked to read Rumi's poetry with me.

Where were these friends of mine today? Were they safe? Were people harassing them? I had heard already that some mosques had received threats. I had heard that people who looked "Arab" were being racially profiled by the authorities, stopped by angry crowds on the street.

As I wandered in circles through the student center, trying to clear my head, a young woman standing behind a table reached out and took my arm without a word. I didn't know her.

I looked up at the sign above the table. It said Muslim Student Association.

"Here," she said. "Please take one."

Her eyes were earnest, searching. She pressed this into my hand:

The table was full of pins. How had they made these so quickly? Someone must have stayed up all night.

"We want peace," she said.

"I know. I know you do. I know." I meant it. It was all I could say.

I pinned PEACE to my backpack, and walked slowly off to class.

I keep the pin near my writing desk, now. I look at it almost every day. It helps me to remember that so many of us in this world wanted peace, on September 12th.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Big Boy

Today I took you to your first day of part-time preschool.

You were nervous before we went. You asked me if the teacher would get mad at you if you couldn't do some of the same things the other children there could. You asked me what would happen if you didn't make any friends.

The teacher will be nice, I said. She'll understand that you're young, and you're still learning things. No one will care that you can't do some things that most of the other kids in your class can do, because there are so many other things you can do better than most kids your age can. Everyone has different strengths. You're good at some things and not so good at others, just like everyone else.

And of course you'll make friends.

The truth you'll know one day, all too soon, is that I didn't know these things— that your teacher would be understanding when you had problems, that the children in school would not tease you for being different, that you would make new friends— for sure. My certainty was a lie. I'm sorry.

But my hope was true.

When we got to your classroom, you ran right in, without even hugging me goodbye.

And when you came home, you came bursting with stories of a kind, understanding teacher, and new friends.

Good job, Big Boy.

Happy first day of school.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Back from the Democratic National Convention

So, do you want to know what it's really like to be a blogger at the DNC?

Well, I certainly saw some inspiring speeches.

But I missed John Legend. Damn it.

On the bright side, I did not get caught in a riot like my friends did.

This guy from MySpace and MSNBC called me a MILFocrat in an interview. He did. I swear. If only he would actually post the video I could show you.

I did NOT get interviewed by Katie Couric. I found out from MOMocrat Debbie, who had found out from Jane from Firedoglake, who had found out from somebody else at The Big Tent that Katie Couric was, in fact, looking for, ahem, "The Mommybloggers," aka the MOMocrats, on Monday. Trouble is, we did not hear that she was looking for us until Tuesday.

You should have told me, Katie. I was right next to you on Monday night at the Pepsi Center.

I did see many excellent hats.

I'm not finished talking about the convention yet! So much happened that I didn't have time to write about it all while I was there. Coming soon on MOMocrats, my thoughts on:

The Mom Who Made 9,000 Obama Pins

Peta Pigs, Pot Proponents and Code Pink

Lunch with Hillary Clinton

Howard Dean's Message to Democratic Youth

An Interview with a Missouri Delegate

First Americans at the Convention

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A DNC '08 Postcard for Stephen Colbert

Hey, Stephen:

That's my husband eating a real Denver omelette while actually in Denver.

I have so many stories to tell about my trip. But I'm crazy busy writing for MOMocrats. Here are some highlights:

On our way to Denver, one of our tires blew out on the highway in rural Kansas outside a small town called Hays. It was Saturday evening at around 6:30. We do not have a full-sized spare.

As we were frantically trying to get some totally clueless people at our insurance company to give us a number for a tow company (they oh-so-helpfully offered a number to a tow company on the opposite side of the state), a Kansas state trooper stopped to help us. He pulled out a power ratchet and helped us put the donut on in half the time it might have taken us otherwise. His intervention got us to the only open tire store, the local Walmart Tire Center, just before they closed.

The Walmart people actually installed a new tire in less than an hour, and they did it correctly. (I attribute this miraculous moment of good service to the fact that this was a rural Walmart. You may not know this if you have never been to one, but rural Walmarts are usually actually staffed by competent people. So, thanks to the incredibly kind people of Hays for getting some city folk to Denver.

(Except for YOU, not-so-closet white supremacist dude. over at the next table at the pancake house we stopped at there for dinner. Upon noticing our Obama pins, you started talking to your companion accidentally-on-purpose-too-loudly about how "I know there are some people in the KKK who are not gonna let this happen, not that I want them to do anything of course, but you know that they will." Guess what, dude? You're not fooling anyone. Everyone knows you're a racist jerk. Dumbass.)

In Denver we are staying with an AWESOME hostess, Renee, who is a fan of the MOMocrats. Not only did this woman open her beautiful Craftsman home to a strange family she had never met in person, but she also stayed up until two in the morning to let us in after we were exceedingly delayed by the exploding tire incident. She has been granted permanent honorary MOMocrat status.

I have now run into Donna Brazile (as in, walked within a foot of her) five times. Yet none of those times have I been able to actually speak to her.

I was forced to decide on Wednesday between having lunch with Howard Dean, and having lunch with Hillary Clinton. (I chose Clinton.)

Isaac fell down a flight of concrete stairs right before the Clinton lunch, and really banged up his ear. The top of his ear immediately turned blue and swelled up to double it's size. I almost didn't go to the lunch, but John insisted he would take care of Isaac. The whole time I was at the lunch, I was worried about my son. Because of this, I didn't actually talk to Hillary Clinton at all.

When I saw Isaac after the lunch was over, the swelling was down and his ear barely looked scraped.

I went to the First Americans Caucus meeting today. I am fairly certain I was the only press person there not employed by a Native American advocacy group. This is not because the press do not go to caucus meetings. When I was at a Youth Caucus meeting earlier, there were tons of press there.

This pissed me off.

I am going to blog the hell out of that First Americans Caucus meeting on MOMocrats. Count on it.

Tomorrow I am going to see Barack Obama's speech at Invesco Field. I have no idea what to wear.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If You're Wondering Where I Am . . .

I'm losing my mind planning my trip to Denver.

Hope to be back soon, with reports from the Democratic National Convention!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old: The Circle of Life

CHILD: Mommy, are we meat?

MOTHER: What did you say?

CHILD: I said, are we meat?

MOTHER: Did you just ask if we were meat?


MOTHER: Do you mean, meat, like, for eating?

CHILD: Yeah.

MOTHER: Why would you ask that?

CHILD: Well, lions and tigers eat people sometimes, right?

MOTHER: Well, lions and tigers don't usually eat people. They usually eat zebras or antelopes or something.

CHILD: But they also eat people sometimes.

MOTHER: Well, yes, sometimes.

CHILD: So, are we meat?

MOTHER: Well, if you want to put it that way, yes. We're meat.

CHILD: So what is meat made of, exactly?

MOTHER: Meat is muscles. You know, those things that are attached to your bones, under your skin, that make your body move? Muscles? Well, animals have muscles too. And that's what people eat when they eat meat. It's animal muscles.

MOTHER: (VO, internal monologue) Please don't let him swear off chicken nuggets please don't let him swear off chicken nuggets God I know I'm a vegetarian but this kid is so damned picky if he swears off chicken nuggets I have no idea what I will feed him at restaurants PLEASE DON'T BE A HIPPIE LIKE MOM TODAY, OKAY, KID?!?!

CHILD: Animals have muscles? COOL!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Images of Breastfeeding Before the Taboo

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and I've been inspired by Catherine of Her Bad Mother's recent post about receiving disapproving looks while nursing her infant son in public to pull together several early 20th century images of women breastfeeding here in North America, before the rise of formula feeding largely pushed nursing mothers out of the public eye for two generations.

The seed of this project was actually planted in my mind several months ago, when I read an article about this famous photo:

Most everyone has seen this iconic image, taken by photographer Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression as part of her work for the federal Farm Security Administration. The woman in the photo, Florence Owens Thompson, stranded by a broken-down car she was using to travel between towns looking for work, cradles her infant while two of her older children cling to her. This photograph is featured in practically every elementary school U.S. History course in the country.

But it wasn't until I'd viewed the entire series of photos taken by Dorothea Lange that day that I realized the Migrant Mother's shirt is unbuttoned.

When I saw that Lange's series included three photos of Thompson nursing her baby, it occurred to me: Not only was Thompson nursing in public, in full view of her older children and fellow campers at the site, without a blanket over her baby's head or any sort of cover, but this activity was so ordinary to her that she was willing to let a perfect stranger take her photo while she fed her baby.

Nursing in public was so normal at the time that Dorothea Lange had no qualms about asking a nursing mother she'd never met before whether she could take her photo.

And such images were so acceptable at the time that Lange turned them right in to her government employer, and they were included in the federal archives without comment.

In fact, it wasn't the last time Lange would photograph a nursing mother for the FSA:

Indeed, during the 1930s, the United States government, much like today, was very much in the business of promoting breastfeeding. Take this beautiful Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project poster:

The Library of Congress online catalog contains many wonderful examples of even earlier photographs depicting nursing mothers. In this 1910 photograph, a woman nurses her infant out in the open while hulling berries with her older children:

And the mother in this photograph, taken by photographer F. Holland Day in 1906, chose to have her portrait made as she nursed her baby:

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Salad Days

"I'm surrounded by plants! It's like a whole family of plants, and this is their house. And I'm in the living room."

"I can't reach the beans at the top."

"I will pick the green beans, but you can eat them, Mommy."

"You don't want to try even just one? But you planted these bean plants, kid. The plant grew the green beans for you."

"No, I don't want to try one. Nope."

"Daddy can eat the green beans with holes in them."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Shameless Plug Alert: Top Ten Reasons to Enter the MOMocrats Raffle

10.) It's a cheap thrill. Only $6 for two tickets.

9.) You might win something cool.

8.) You'll earn good blogging karma for helping out some fellow bloggers.

7.) You're my friend and you know I'd enter your fundraising raffle if you had one.

6.) Did I mention it's cheap? $3 per ticket? That's less than a gallon of gas! That's less than a gallon of milk!

Heck, in a month or two, I'm pretty sure that will be less than an apple.

5.) You want to support Powerful Blogger Ladies.

4.) This is only the second year that the Democratic National Convention has admitted bloggers as press. We at want to prove to the DNCC that bloggers play a vital role in the public discourse, and deserve seats in the press box. To that end we want to send as many MOMocrats bloggers, and cover as many convention events, as possible. But to do that, we'll need your help with travel and lodging expenses.

3.) We want to bring the convention experience straight to your monitor, with fresh, first-person accounts of events as they happen. Liveblogging. Interactive chats. Live podcasts. Video interviews. We want our readers to feel like they're right there with us in Denver. But to do that, we'll need your help to purchase some new equipment: wireless cards that will allow us to blog from anywhere. Video cameras. Voice recorders. Etc.

2.) Of the 124 blogs offered official credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention, MOMocrats is the only credentialed blog specifically focused on engaging more mothers in the political process. Sure, we'll be asking the politicians we meet there about issues that affect everyone, and are big in the news, like the environment and the economy (see #6). But we'll also be asking the politicians we meet there about education. We will be asking about child product safety. We will be asking them about child safety on the internet. We will be asking them about family leave, and discrimination against mothers in the workplace, and health care for children with special needs.

Will CNN be asking all of those questions? Will NBC? Will Fox?

1.) If you help get us to Denver (or event if you don't), we'll help take your specific questions and concerns to some of our government's top movers and shakers. If there's something you've been wanting to ask Claire McCaskill, or Nancy Pelosi, or Howard Dean, send us an email or drop us a comment. We'll pay attention.

Visit the Help a Mama Swag-o-Rama if you'd like to purchase a raffle ticket.

Vote Today in the Missouri Primary

"I don't know who the candidates are," you say?

Now you do.

"I don't know where my polling place is," you say?

Now you do.

Now quitcher whinin' and vote.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Team Midwestern Mommy

Updated Update: Lisa got more testing done. The results say her initial diagnosis was wrong: it's NOT cancer! She is still very sick, and may eventually need surgery. For a full update on her condition from Lisa herself, check here.

Clearly the buttons worked ;) So you can take them down now! But please continue to offer Lisa your support, as she still likely has a rough recovery ahead.

Update: Lisa's had a second opinion from a doctor who said the mass in her abdomen may not be cancerous. But we still don't know for sure. She's awaiting more testing. I'll keep you posted.

I've made this button in support of Lisa from Midwestern Mommy, who has just been diagnosed with cancer:

Lisa is a mother, and a wife, and a sister, and a daughter, and an excellent writer, and a great friend, and a good person. She has helped many people, including me, get through dark days. In fact, the very first time she visited my blog, she commented, twice, on this post, to reassure me, after my son was first diagnosed with a sensory disorder, that everything was going to be all right, and she knew it, because her son had struggled with sensory issues too. She offered to talk to me, a complete stranger at the time, over the phone. And then she gave me an entire page's worth of kind and useful advice.

Because she's just that kind of awesome.

Please feel free to copy this button and put it up on your site to support Lisa. I'd appreciate it if you'd link the button back to this post, so other people can read about Lisa, copy the button, and go visit her site.

Then remind all of your readers to click through to Midwestern Mommy, and leave a kind comment or send an email showing support.

Here are some other posts in support of Lisa:

Mamalogues: With a little help from her friends

Little Bald Doctors: One of Us

Slacker-Moms-R-Us: Midwestern Mommy Needs Support of the Blogosphere

RebeccaGhost: Love and Support

A Bun's Life: Midwestern Mommy Needs Our Love and Support

Parachuting Without a Net: Prayer Request

Little Miss Sassy: Damn the C Word

IzzyMom: A Friend is in Need

Dawn's Diversions: Prayer for a Lady We Don't Know

It's All for the Best: My Heart is Breaking

The Karianna Spectrum: Woe is Not Me

Mamma Loves: Friends

Green Eyed Momster: One of Those Days

My Second Journal: Prayer - Good Wishes Request PLEASE

Stop Screaming I'm Driving: And Now

Stolen Moments: Lisa

Charming and Delightful: Send Some Bloggy Love

Sugared Harpy: OMG

Life's Little Adventures: (almost) Wordless Wednesday

One Dad's Life: Please Show "motherofbun" Your Support

WOBL in Training: Lisa

Chicky Chicky Baby: I May Be a Heathen, But I Know When Someone Needs My Prayers

Go Visit Lisa at Midwestern Mommy

Go there right now and offer her some support. She's just been diagnosed with cancer.

(And she's Twittering from her hospital bed. Because she is hard core.)

I have met Lisa in person and she is one of the nicest people around. No one ever deserves cancer. But Lisa especially doesn't.

Monday, July 28, 2008

On BlogHer: Part Two

BlogHer needs to be two weeks long. I am so serious.

While I was at BlogHer, I wasn't just playing. I was working, for two sites: and For MOMocrats, I was attending political blogging panels, helping to craft a position paper on health care to be sent to the Democratic Party for review in creating this year's party platform, meeting with other political bloggers who are planning to cover the Democratic National Convention to talk about potential cooperation, networking with other political bloggers and bloggers who are interested in politics, etc.

For Predictfy, I was coming up with a series of questions directly inspired by BlogHer events and panels I attended. (In case you'd like to go and make a prediction, I asked two questions about Twitter, one about the national debt, one about government-sponsored universal preschool, one about Clinton supporters voting for McCain, one about blogs at the Republican National Convention, and two about the Veepstakes.)

So I was busy while I was there. Like, super, crazy busy. I brought home a stack of business cards as thick as a Bible (which incidentally I am still going through, so if I haven't gotten back to you yet, do not despair— I'll get to you).

And I was so busy I only got to talk to some people I really, really love to read and had never met before, like you and you, and you for, like, five minutes. And I also only got to talk to some people I haven't really read much, but discovered at BlogHer I clearly need to be reading, for like, five minutes. And some people I have met before but really, desperately wanted to speak with again got the same five-minutes-from-Jaelithe treatment. Which, you know? Kind of sucked.

I barely got three hours total in crowded company with my girl Deb, who begged and pleaded and schemed for months trying to get me to go to BlogHer, who was the person who finally convinced me I should go, damn the consequences, and who was instrumental (along with the other MOMocrats) in getting me there.

I managed to spend about an hour and a half talking to Christina but it was pretty clear to me we actually needed to talk for five days.

And I did fit in some World Domination brainstorming, and a nice discussion about shoes, with a woman who really ought to be elected Queen of the World, because, seriously? If she were, the trains would run on time, and we'd all be given our inalienable human rights back.

The person I got to spend the most time with was my roommate, who took me to visit awesome folks in Oakland, helped me figure out how the heck to ride BART, taught me the history of the yo-yo in the United States, and also regaled me with incredible stories of her brief, accidental encounters with a very famous Hollywood actor I shall not name. Dude. Best. Roommate. Ever.

Anyway, my point is, next year, BlogHer needs to be two weeks long. And somehow magically cheap enough that I could actually afford to attend for two weeks. And also someone needs to make all of BlogHer a national holiday, so no one actually has to take off of work to be there. Because that is the only way I'll have time to go to fantastic panels with wonderful speakers, and witness amazing life-altering community keynote presentations, and also pretend I'm not really stalking my favorite famous bloggers, and hang out with every single one of my friends. And also get swag. And meet Sesame Street muppets.

(Oh, and also, next year? All high school drama needs to be checked at the door. Else I'll be forced to whip out The Mom Voice. And I am a master at The Mom Voice. Kthanxbye.)

(P.S. If I left you out of this post, it was so NOT INTENTIONAL. See above entire post for why my brain was frazzled. Thanks.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On BlogHer: Part One

The Community Keynote: Twenty-one women and one man, bloggers all (and therefore I imagine mostly introverts and probably mildly terrified) took the stage in front of hundreds of people to read some of the funniest, most revealing and most poignant pieces of writing I have ever encountered.

It reminded me that so many bloggers really are writers. Good writers. Many of the writers on that stage were absolutely as good as any I have seen on a printed page.

But even more than that, it reminded me how incredibly powerful what we do really is. Seeing women stand up on stage and talk about things like mental illness, body image struggles, pregnancy loss and suicide, and then seeing those women receive standing ovations from a supportive crowd, made me more aware than I have ever been that blogging matters. That even what I write here, in a little backwater corner of the vast and varied internet, matters.

Never before in the course of human history have so many ordinary people, particularly, so many ordinary women, been so empowered to share their life experiences through the written word. And it seems to me that, as more voices are amplified and preserved by this extraordinary medium, more people who are yet afraid to speak are discovering that someone else has already told, or is already telling, a story that echoes their own.

On the day when I wrote my very first post here, I was feeling so incredibly lonely. My first and only son, whom I loved more than anyone I had ever met in my life, was slowly starving himself. I didn't know why. I'd taken him to a dozen different doctors, and none of them seemed to know why, either. I felt like a terrible parent. I felt like a failure. Whenever I was around the few other parents of young children I knew in person, I was a terrible person to talk to, and I knew it. All I could think about was the fact that I was failing at the absolute most basic responsibility a mother has: to nourish her child. And so all I could talk about was failure. Failure to thrive. Not my son's failure, I thought. Mine.

No one I spoke with, none of the doctors, not even my own husband seemed to understand at the time how I felt about this failure. How it had not only taken over my thoughts, but possessed my soul.

I wrote about it because I had to. The words were already in my head unbidden and desperately needed a place to go.

I put the words where others might find them because leaving them in journal under my bed or in a file somewhere on my computer seemed almost like leaving them in my head. And I needed them out. I needed the possibility that someone else might read them.

But I didn't really expect anyone to.

And yet, here I am, years later, and several of those who read those first words are still here, reading these words, today.

(Thanks, by the way.)

On one of my darkest days, I shouted my sorrow into what seemed like an empty room.

But there were echoes.

I've been there, too.

I understand.

I can't understand what you're going through, but I'm a mom, too, and I do understand your love, so I still want to help.

It saved me.

There have been plenty of days, since then, when I've forgotten that, a little. When I've questioned the point of my spending all of this time writing here, in this particular forum, not gaining fame, not getting paid.

You see I sometimes think that maybe I don't need you all quite as much as I used to. My son's health is better. My life is better. I'm a more confident parent now.

But the keynote snapped me back to that first post. And suddenly I realized that not only did I still need you all as much as I always have needed you, even before I knew I needed you, but also, some people out there right now might still need me.

I'm not just telling my story. You're not just telling your story. We're telling our story. The more voices, the better.

I don't think I'll ever forget that again.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old: Bees

CHILD flutters one hand near MOTHER'S face.

CHILD : Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Bizzzzzzz. BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

MOTHER: Is that a bee?


MOTHER: Oh, my goodness. Is this a nice bee or a scary bee?

CHILD: It's a nice bee.

MOTHER: Oh, that's good. So I don't have to be scared? Does it give kisses instead of stinging people?

CHILD rolls eyes.

CHILD: No. It doesn't give kisses. It pollinates flowers.


CHILD: It just visited one flower, and now it's going to visit another flower. And now that flower will be pollinated. And then it grows other plants.

MOTHER: Right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I'm Going to BlogHer

And I just wanted to mention that I would not have been able to go this year, for the first time ever, if some of my fellow MOMocrats hadn't chipped in toward my flight.

Thanks, friends. You surpass awesome.

While I'm at BlogHer, I'll be making predictions on behalf of which is a totally cool site you should really check out, and I'm not just saying that because they paid my registration fee. Really, it's fun. Look for me under username MOMocratJaelithe.

And also I'll be looking for potential speakers ans sponsors for Inter:PLAY STL on behalf of the St. Louis Bloggers Guild. And I'll be brunching with the Silicon Valley Moms. And possibly stalking some people. Probably mostly Bossy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Those Parents

Those parents. You know the ones. The ones with the kid who is red-in-the-face screaming and thrashing and flat-out refusing to do what the adults around him are telling him to do. You think to yourself, that child is out of control— he is making a scene— he's upsetting the playgroup or disrupting the class or tormenting everyone in the store with a high-pitched keen— why don't those parents of his do something about it?

As a parent yourself, hey, you understand that every kid has a bad day now and again. But these parents, they don't seem to be disciplining the kid at all. In fact, instead of telling him in a stern voice that this behavior is unacceptable, they're cajoling him. They're pleading with him. Some of your fellow witnesses to this scene are rolling their eyes or shooting disapproving glares or maybe offering scornful, unsolicited advice.

They look weak and ridiculous, not at all in charge, those parents, and you conclude instantly that the reason this kid is acting out like this today is because his parents must not ever take a proper stand against this kind of behavior. And maybe you pat yourself on the back, just a little, because you know you're far from perfect, but, hey, at least you're pretty certain that you're better at this kid-raising gig than them. Those parents.

I know I've done it before. Felt a little smug.

But among the lucky consequences of being the mother of a child with a developmental disorder, I must count the fact that perspective whacks me in the face quite regularly.

You see, at Isaac's first swim class a few weeks ago, my husband and I looked a heck of a lot like Those Parents.

Our child, who is the darling of his music class teacher for his eagerness to share instruments with other children, and is beloved by the librarians at our local library for his ability to sit quietly during storytime. Our child who knows how to stay seated at restaurants, remembers to refrain from talking in a movie theater, and has never once broken a single item in a retail store.

That child?

Was the screaming-kicking-clawing-not-listening-trying-to-run-away-
to-Australia-child-who-must-be-possessed-by-demons at his first week of swim class.

And we were the pleading parents on the receiving end of other parents' dirty looks.

You see, children with sensory disorders don't always do well in enormous, cold, chlorine-scented pools surrounded by thirty strange kids who are squealing, laughing, kicking and splashing each other with water.

And child who is two years behind his age group in gross motor skills because of the balance issues caused by his sensory disorder can become very confused and disoriented when he suddenly feels like he weighs much less than he ordinarily does on land.

So Isaac was terrified of swim class.

It's very important to me that my son learn to swim. Knowing how to swim could save his life someday.

It's also very important to me to instill in him the belief that his sensory disorder should not hold him back from doing what other kids do. I often say to him, "If something is hard for you, that just means you have to work harder."

But as his mother, I feel his fear like a knife in my chest. It pains me to see him struggle so much harder at something that comes so easily for so many other children. And my heart aches all the more as I catch glimpses, here and there, of a dawning awareness on his part that he is different.

So on that first day of class, when he clawed his way up my chest like a cat in a bath when first I put him in the pool, I put him right back in. When he cried, I said, "I'm sorry, but you have to keep trying for a little while longer. You're staying in." When he got angry and screamed at me like I was trying to kill him cold blood, I stood firm.

He was out of control. He was making a scene. And both of his parents were sitting there at the edge of the pool, holding his hand. Coddling him. I could feel the disapproving glares of other parents, strangers, on my back. They were waiting for me to shout at him, put him in time-out— do something, anything, to quiet him. To put him in his place.

But damned if I was going to make him feel like he was doing something wrong when I knew he was trying harder than any other kid there.


Since the first few classes, he calmed down a lot. It helped that after the second class, his indifferent first teacher was replaced by a calm, gentle girl I'll call Lexi, obviously sent to us by some pitying Angel of Swimmers. All of sixteen years old and yet somehow as patient as a glacier. He still won't dunk his head under the water. All the other kids in his class are jumping off the diving board into the lifeguards' arms now, and he's still learning to blow bubbles.

But he smiles when he gets in the pool now. And that's a start.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Interview with Margaret Donnelly

Just wanted to give anyone who might be interested a heads up that I recently interviewed Margaret Donnelly, the first woman ever to run for Missouri Attorney General, over at MOMocrats. And today I also brought up the subject of politics over at The St. Louis Bloggers Guild.


Local readers, I have a question for you: which Missouri (or Iowan, Kansan, Nebraskan, or Illinoisan) politician would you like me to stalk interview next?

(Local politicians who may be reading this, if you'd like me to interview you, please feel free to chime in. Except for you, Shamed Dogan. I don't interview people I went to high school with.)

(It's for the greater good that I don't. Really.)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hoping in Circles

This makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

Kids who need help, kids like mine, kids like Karianna's, kids with OFFICIALLY DIAGNOSED medical issues that make it harder for them to learn in traditional schools, are falling through the cracks RIGHT NOW because of this kind of Byzantine bureaucratic nonsense. Educators who know kids will need help to succeed in the classroom are forced to turn children away knowing they need services, or lie about the kids' conditions to get them the help they need.

In the long run, refusing to provide early intervention to children who need it costs public schools— and taxpayers— more money than it would to provide services to every child with a serious motor skills, adaptive skills or social skills delay.

Because small children who have motor delays have trouble mastering skills like paper cutting, and writing. Small children who have adaptive delays have trouble unzipping their jackets, putting their things away in their lockers, or going to the bathroom by themselves. Small children who have social skills delays fail to understand directions, or get into arguments with other children and teachers. Small children facing these challenges who are not receiving any help in learning how to deal with such challenges can find a school environment baffling and frustrating.

And small children who find school baffling and frustrating because they are not getting any treatment for a disorder that is totally beyond their control often turn into pre-teens and teens who HATE school and skip it, or who test below grade level even though they have average or even above intelligence, or who behave disruptively and prevent other kids from learning. When a district refuses to pay for early intervention for a child who needs early intervention, a decade later that district often ends up paying for anti-truancy programs or tutoring programs or increased security at schools.

I seriously doubt Karianna's son Cat will wind up being a truant or a troublemaker. I doubt any such thing will happen with my own son, Isaac, either. Because both of these kids have mothers fighting tooth and nail to help them become successful learners by whatever means necessary, even if that help has to come from outside of the school system. But not every child has parents who have the time or resources to secure other services.

Health insurance companies often refuse to pay for occupational therapy, physical therapy, or psychiatric therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders or sensory integration problems, and if insurance companies do pay for these services, they often severely restrict the number of visits a child can have during a year.

Because of the reluctance of health insurance companies to pay for such services, many occupational therapists and physical therapists and development experts who specialize in working with children cannot find steady full-time employment anywhere EXCEPT within the public school system. So even if one has insurance that would pay for such services, it can be very difficult to find a qualified therapist with an opening.

I spent six months searching for a specialist who could treat Isaac. I spend hours each month hacking through red tape to get my insurance company to authorize and reauthorize and rereauthorize his treatment, and the only reason I don't spend DAYS each month doing this is because our family doctor goes out of his way to make a lot of the calls for me. And I consider myself lucky to be able to spend hours arguing with a balky insurance company, because families of kids with developmental disorders often find themselves much worse off.

I understand that public schools are nearly always strapped for cash and makng compromises. But investing in a little extra help early on for kids who need it is actually a proven way to economize in the long run.

So why aren't more schools doing it for more children?

First Fruits

Tomatoes, meet your new friend, Basil.

I gave one of these first two tomatoes to my next door neighbor. Who promptly ate it whole, in front of me.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008





(Alternate Title: Death to All Sunflower-Eating Rabbits. Except They Are So Fuzzy and Cute. Why Are Ruthless Engines of Destruction Fuzzy and Cute?)


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Even Though I Admitted to Frequent Whining and Complaining

I'm feeling ill today and I'm not sure I'm currently qualified to to post anything coherent, but I wanted to let you all know:


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Superior

Take the test!

I am not sure how such superiority is possible, given I walk around the house in stocking feet, I have been known to eat onions, radishes, or garlic before a date or going to bed, I've dared more than once to correct my husband's speech or actions before others, and I fail to write my husband's relatives regularly.

But maybe I make up for my deficiencies by reacting with delight to marital congress.

A Technical Note

I have recently gone and retagged a bunch of posts with the tag "Sensory Disorder." This includes some posts about Isaac that I wrote before I knew he had a sensory disorder. I've done this to make it easier for other parents whose kids are facing sensory issues to read a record of my family's journey, from the beginning.

So, if you've come here because you are interested in reading about one family's experience with Sensory Integration/Sensory Processing Disorder (BTW, would someone settle on a name, already? It would help with the doctors and schools and such, kthxbye), click on the Sensory Disorder tag.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Checking Out The Beacon

Last night I went to a little fundraising party at The Royale for The St. Louis Beacon, a new, locally owned and operated, non-profit news publication.

If you visit the site, you'll find that The Beacon follows the typical format of a traditional newspaper website. Only, without the newspaper. The Beacon is entirely online; there is no dead tree version. But many of the Beacon staff writers and editors are traditional journalists with a long history writing for various print publications.

It's an interesting old-meets-new sort of project: Traditional journalists, frustrated by what they see as a general deterioration in quality of a traditional print media struggling in the face of an ever-more-challenging, financially strapped market, turning to the internet in an attempt to provide their audience with the kind of in-depth, locally focused news coverage of a sort that they feel is no longer being offered by the traditional outlets that used to publish their work.

Ever since it launched, I've been curious about how The Beacon plans to interact with local bloggers and social media. I asked a few questions at the party, and I was pleased with the responses I got from Beacon staff.

I had an engaging chat with The Beacon's Presentation Editor, Brent Jones, who mentioned that he makes a point of manually inputting Beacon headlines into the Beacon Twitter account instead of using a program to update automatically, because he wants followers to know there's a real person behind the account.

We talked about the how the old media tradition of broadcasting information is giving way to a much more interactive news model, and we discussed the often conflicted relations between bloggers and traditional journalists, and the intellecual property dust-ups and territorial fights that have caused resentment on both sides.

Overall, The Beacon's staff seemed receptive to the idea of working with area bloggers to form a postive, mutually respectful relationship, which I think is very good news.

I hope The Beacon's effort to create a viable news publication succeeds. Most St. Louisans I know agree that decades without any serious competition has left our one major newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, far less than the vigorous source of thoughtful, investigative journalism it once was. St. Louis could certainly use a second major source of printed news. Even if it's only printed on a screen.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Shower Scene

So, I'm in the shower this morning, late, after my husband has already left for work, because I've spent my early morning furiously formatting an interview for MOMocrats, and in quite a hurry, because I've got got a busy day ahead. An old friend is coming over this afternoon who needs my help with publicity for a new project, I've got one or two posts to get up for the St. Louis Bloggers' Guild, I've got a house that looks pretty unkempt after a weekend spend staying out all day at various meetings end errands on Saturday and staying out all day celebrating Father's Day.

And in all this, I still need to get my kid fed, entertained, etc., for the day.

So I'm pretty stressed, actually, over all the things I have to do today, and this moment in the shower is my brief time to collect my thoughts, probably the only non-working moment I'll have to myself for the next several hours. I'm trying to enjoy it.

And suddenly, through the rush of water, I hear my son screaming, "MOMMY! MOOOOOMMMMMY!" loudly from the other room, not quite like he's hurt but like there's something really important happening in the living room that needs my immediate attention. Like maybe some stranger is knocking on the door. Or maybe the kid has spilled milk all over the couch. Or maybe the house is on fire.

So I leap out of the shower, still covered with soap, my hair slathered up in conditioner, toss a towel around myself, and dash out of the bathroom, dripping water on the hardwood in the hall, and say, "Isaac! Isaac! What is it? What's wrong?" He's sitting on the couch, with a book on his lap. PBS is on the TV. I can't see any obvious disaster.

"I need your help, Mommy!" His voice is serious, urgent.

"Yes? Yes? What do you need?"

"Mommy, I was reading this book, and I couldn't remember-- what does 'miniature' mean again?"

Clearly I need to work more with him to clarify the difference between an INTELLECTUAL emergency, and an ACTUAL emergency.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sometimes It's Worth It to Answer the Door

So, I'm cooking the family dinner-- ricotta-stuffed penne pasta in tomato-basil sauce with added fresh oregano, a side of roasted potatoes in olive oil and mixed Italian herbs, and garlic bread, if you must know-- when there comes a knock on the front door. John is busy playing a game with Isaac in Isaac's room, so I decide to go answer it.

I see a twenty-something white guy, about five feet four inches tall, musclebound, buzz-cut and tattooed in the way of short scrappy men who feel they have something to prove, wearing a white wifebeater (which can sort of be forgiven being it's 86 degrees outside) and a pair of cheap, torn jeans (for which there can be really no excuse).

Behind him is a much taller black man, looking much more respectable and friendlier in a pair of khaki pants and a smart fitted tee.

They have brochures and a spray bottle of some kind of cleaner. It's immediately clear they're selling something. I have a handwritten NO SOLICITORS sign clearly visible in the window right next to my front door.

And it's clear they've seen it, because the first thing scrappy white dude says when I crack open the door is, "I'm a fairy godmother!"

Which was pretty amusing, given the source.

So giggle a little, but I say, "Hey, I'm cooking dinner. I don't have time for any demonstrations."

To which Scrappy says, "That's what the people next door said, too," as he hands me a brochure.

But before I can reply, Well, perhaps that is because you are soliciting door-to-door during the dinner hour, dyathink? Scrappy pulls out a black permanent marker and starts scribbling furiously all over a white washcloth he's got with him. "You know how Michael Jackson turned himself white?" he asks.

Almost involuntarily I look straight at Sophisticated Black Man, who looks right back at me, shakes his head silently, and rolls his eyes to indicate that he does indeed find his companion's remark ridiculous.

And now my new friend in the wifebeater is spraying the cleaner he's carrying on the washcloth, and the permanent marker really is disappearing; in fact, the area he sprayed, within seconds, turns snow white, cleaner than the rest of the cloth. It's pretty amazing, actually.

I can hear my pasta starting to boil over in the kitchen.

"That works well," I say, "But I need to finish dinner."

"But wait!" exclaims Scrappy. "I can show you how it cleans this mildew off of your siding!" And he starts spraying my house with this miracle shit, without asking. I'm pretty ticked. I have vinyl siding, anyway. It doesn't mildew. He was spraying at a spot of sidewalk chalk leftover from some overzealous decorations gifted to me a few days ago by some of my son's friends in the neighborhood.

"Dude, I gotta go. My pasta is boiling over," I say. By which I really, of course, mean, Stop spraying unknown substances on my house, and step the hell off my property. And I send Scrappy a look that implies it.

At this point Scrappy steps back a bit and, for the first time, notices the Obama sign that is also in my window.

"You're gonna vote for Obama?" he says. "Why on earth would you do that?"

"Because it's the right choice." The Well-Dressed Black Man, speaking for the first time, asserts this calmly and confidently.

I wonder what the hell he's doing selling spray cleaner door-to-door. He clearly doesn't seem to be enjoying it.

"Shoot, naw. It's McCain all the way," says Scrappy, annoyed now. "Come on, let's go." He starts to walk off, but then turns and says, abruptly, "I need my brochure back."

What Does Gifted Plus Delayed Mean Again, Folks? Say It with Me Now:

Took Isaac for another school district assessment today, to see if he would qualify for occupational therapy and physical therapy services through the school district to help with his sensory disorder.

Motor skills score? 24th percentile. Totally qualifies him for services.

Verbal skills score? 98th percentile. Almost certainly totally DISqualifies him for services.


Because, you see, they average the scores.

And one very high score plus one very low score equals one incredibly non-descriptive average score.


Genius obscures disorder obscures genius.

While he was there he was sitting across from a poster that had different cartoon faces on it that were supposed to represent different emotions. And he asked the woman giving him his test, "Why does that poster say 'Guilty'?"

She looked at me, utterly stunned, and said, "He can read?" And then when I said yes, she gave me a sympathetic look that very clearly meant I'm really sorry, but you guys are totally screwed. What she actually said out loud was, "Looks like he may be another one of those kids who just falls through the cracks."

I say we need to seal these #@&$* #@% cracks.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

As I Watch Everyone Freak Out About Tomatoes

I kind of wish I had planted mine a little sooner this year. I had to plant practically everything later than I wanted to, because all that crazy rain we had in May interfered with expanding my garden plot and building a new fence in a timely fashion (and also temporarily turned my garden soil to sludge, and also encouraged fungal growth and insect infestation on the few plants I did plant on time).

But, at the same time, I do feel a certain sense of satisfaction that while most Americans will be eyeing their store-bought tomatoes warily all summer even after this recall is over with, in a month or so, I'll be happily munching organically-grown, salmonella-free tomatoes out of my backyard garden without a second thought.

And if last year's tomato harvest is any indication of the success this year will bring, so will several neighbors up and down the street.

(You're welcome.)

And to all those currently suffering from tomato phobia who do not yet have a backup plan: do note that tomato plants, stakes and cages are still on sale at hardware stores and garden centers. All a tomato plant needs is a patch of dirt, lots of sun, lots of water, and something to lean on. For about $5 and a few hours of your time over the next month or two, you can have two or three plants providing you with fresh produce, oxygen, a reduced carbon footprint, and a sense of accomplishment.

Plus peace of mind.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

If We All Tried a Little Harder

Could we make this happen?

Little Things

Yesterday, we took Isaac to a playground, and I watched as kids half his age blew past him on the equipment, giggling and running and leaping and climbing and swinging one-armed from bars and falling down and getting right back up again, all while my own son shuffled hesitantly up stairs and over bridges, clinging to railings, edging along walls, getting pushed aside as he failed repeatedly to move quickly enough to get out of someone else's way. Obviously overwhelmed by the heights, by the strange textures under his feet, by the bright colors and the rushing bodies and the noise. Afraid to climb the ladders there, afraid to go down the slide.

He was so determined to stay there, among the other children, despite his obvious fear and discomfort, despite his not fitting in. But finally after several minutes of halting exploration, he broke down and cried for me to come get him off a high ledge, because he was too scared to go back down the stairs he had climbed up to get there. I went up to the ledge, but I wouldn't carry him down. I made him walk down the stairs, holding my hand. He cried the whole way down, convinced he would fall.

I was feeling pretty beaten by Sensory Integration Disorder, yesterday.

But today, Isaac rode a pony for the first time. We've tried a number of times before now to get him to go on a pony ride, but he's always been absolutely terrified at the prospect.

Today I could tell he was scared, but he did it anyway. Under beating, bright sunlight, in a brisk, hot wind, surrounded by buzzing bugs and chattering children, he let a strange person put a strange, heavy helmet on his head.

"I won't fall, right, Mommy?" he asked.

"Of course not," I answered.

And he sat straight up in a saddle, and rode a wobbly little Shetland around a yard. Without a single complaint.

I was so proud of him.

Maybe we'll try the slide again on Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hey, Sorry I Haven't Been Around Much, Folks

But I've had a busy couple of weeks. Aside from my involvement in an epic arms race against fuzzy, adorable, rapacious baby rabbits with a taste for rosemary, sage, oregano, dead nettle, (poisonous!) tansy, and, hey, apparently, ANYTHING THAT GROWS, I've been working on a series of interviews with political candidates.

If you'd like to see what I've been up to, go read the first half of my MOMocrats interview with Nebraska Senate hopeful Scott Kleeb, a cattle rancher, duck hunter, and genuine cowboy who also happens to have a Master's in International Relations and a PhD in History.

I promise to be back here soon with the final post in my Victory Gardens series, as well as a meditation on the question of whether or not to have a second child.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old: Just Wait 'Til He Finds Out Where Chicken Nuggets Come From

At the library, MOTHER and CHILD read a book about insects together.

CHILD: Is that dragonfly eating a butterfly?

MOTHER: Actually, I think that dragonfly is eating a moth.

CHILD: But moths are like butterflies. I like moths and butterflies! That dragonfly should not eat butterflies. Why do dragonflies eat butterflies?

MOTHER: Well, lots of insects eat other insects. All sorts of animals eat other animals. That's just the way the world is. Besides, dragonflies eat lots of bugs we don't like, too. Like mosquitoes! Mosquitoes bite people, right? And dragonflies eat mosquitoes. So we should be happy when we see a dragonfly. More dragonflies means fewer mosquitoes.

CHILD: It still shouldn't eat butterflies.

Later, at home, CHILD watches as MOTHER scrubs toilet.

CHILD: Are you washing that toilet with water?

MOTHER: No. I'm cleaning it with a mixture of water and bleach.

CHILD: Why are you using bleach?

MOTHER: I am using bleach to clean the toilet because bleach kills germs.

CHILD: You mean, after you use bleach to clean the toilet, the germs will be dead?


CHILD (accusingly): What germs are you killing?!?

MOTHER: E. coli, for one.

CHILD: But I like E. coli!

MOTHER: No, you don't. Really. At least, not outside of your intestines you don't.

CHILD: Hmph. You should not kill so many things.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sentence of the Day

"Last week, there was a new kid at the library, and Rachel and I didn't know who nor what had brought her there."

Said my four-year-old.

Who apparently uses "nor" now. And the appropriate construction, "X and I."

(Yet still says things like "hadded" and "runned.")

Monday, May 19, 2008

To the People Who Are Still Concerned That I Have Yet to Enroll My Child in Full-Time Preschool:

I have great news! I've hired a nanny.

She has a humanities degree from one of the top twenty universities in the country. I checked out her college transcript, which she included with her resume. She has taken college-level course work in English, Spanish, biology, physics, calculus, anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, art history, American History, European History, Eastern religions, Western religions, and Greek mythology, which I think positions her to offer my son an excellent, well-rounded classical education.

She speaks three languages! She has already begun giving my child Spanish lessons. Admittedly, her Hindi is a little rusty, but she assures me she can teach my son proper pronunciation when she reads to him in that language.

She has a history of volunteer work and work with non-profit organizations, which I think bodes well for her ability to teach good ethics and an appreciation for the human struggle.

Organic gardening and baking are two of her favorite hobbies. She has already instructed my son on basic plant life cycles, pollination, and the value of beneficial insects, and taught him how to start several different varieties of edible plant from seed in biodegradable peat pots. In addition, she has shown him how to bake whole-grain bread from scratch, and she uses baking as an opportunity to teach fractions and basic nutrition.

When it comes to art, though her drawing skills are not the best, she assures me that her skills as an award-winning amateur film photographer and her coursework in art history will allow her to teach my son basic aesthetic principles. Once he masters the crayon line drawing, and his art skills begin to surpass her ability to teach, she plans to personally transport him to the local art museum once or twice a week for lessons in other media.

And though she has no musical background, she has promised to provide weekly lessons with a professional children's music instructor to counter her inadequacy.

When it comes to physical fitness, as a former distance runner, she understands the value of daily exercise and promises to make a point of engaging my son in frequent physical activity outside. She also plans to attend all of his occupational therapy sessions, and has pledged to learn as much as she can from his occupational therapist about how to help him meet the physical challenges presented by his sensory disorder.

And in order to make sure he receives adequate social contact with other children, she has enrolled him in a weekly storytime club at the library with several other children his age, has set up regular playdates with several neighbors' children, and has arranged weekly group swim lessons this summer.

This nanny I have hired has three years of prior experience working as a paid childcare professional, and four years of additional volunteer experience working with a special-needs child.

Best of all, she has offered her services, 24-7, FOR FREE.

I know. I know! Unbelievable, isn't it?

It must be his red hair.