Thursday, December 22, 2011

Santa Writes in Cursive

Isaac's mother always writes in print. Even in letters, even on envelopes, even on gift tags. She's left-handed, you see, and she had this handwriting teacher in fourth grade who reveled in squeezing students' hands into impossible contortions and marking points off for minute smudges in ink on the practice paper. This teacher declared on the first day of handwriting class that she had no idea how to teach a left-handed person to write proper cursive, (and wasn't, in fact, to be honest, sure it could be done -- such a shame that the early correction of wrong-handedness had gone out of style). So Isaac's mother swore that once she was allowed to stop writing in cursive she would never use cursive again. And she doesn't.

Santa writes gift tags and thank you notes for cookies in shimmering green ink and perfect Palmer script. (Without smudges.)

Isaac's father is one of those people who can write a complex computer program entirely in his head and save it in memory to type out later, but comes back from the grocery store without eggs, and accidentally puts his earbuds in the washing machine. It's understandable that Isaac's father sometimes forgets small things because Isaac's father has a Busy Job and a Mortgage and Many Important Things to Remember. More important things to remember than his earbuds in his pocket, or the toys featured in this month's Target catalog.

Santa will take notes on the precise model of Nerf dart gun mentioned in Isaac's letter (the Nerf N-Strike Nite Finder EX-3), systematically search three different toy stores for the correct item, and have it purchased and wrapped (with a cursive gift tag) three days before Christmas.

Isaac's mother and father worry about spoiling him on Christmas with too many gifts. They make a point of regularly reminding Isaac, in the middle of the toy aisle, that there are children without roofs over their heads in this world, and yet here he is with a room already overflowing with toys.

Santa goes ahead and buys the activity set Isaac didn't even ask for that goes with the book Isaac did. And then, for good measure, Santa goes and stuffs Isaac's stocking with more candy that a child his size could possibly eat in a month.

Isaac's mother cries, and curses loudly too, when the Christmas tree slips in the stand and falls over, after she's already put all the ornaments on it, and there are her broken glass memories all over the floor. Isaac's mother and father argue over whether Isaac's father listened to Isaac's mother about how to cut the bottom of the tree, and Isaac's mother finally declares that she won't put all the ornaments back on again, she just can't.

But then she vacuums up the last of the glass and broken branches and gets up early the next morning and puts every single surviving ornament back on anyway. Because, Isaac says, what would Santa think?

What would Santa think, indeed.

Santa cannot, obviously, provide this level of service to billions of children worldwide all by himself. So Santa recruits helpers (though sadly, Santa never does seem to have enough of them).

When Isaac's father is asked by Santa to find a present for a little boy in foster care, he doesn't just buy one present -- he buys three. Because that's what Santa would do.

When Isaac's mother wraps the presents Isaac's father bought, she decides that a plain red gift bag from the store just won't do, and this green one won't do either. Santa does not, Isaac's mother thinks, prefer to wrap presents in boring bags. Instead, finally, Isaac's mother goes to the closet and pulls out the beautiful, glittery, hand-painted gift bag that Santa brought Isaac's first Christmas present in, the one she's been saving ever since to give again to someone special.

And Isaac's mother breaks her own rule, and writes the gift tag in cursive.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the last slice of pumpkin pie
that was in 
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving for tomorrow's lunch 

Forgive me
I felt a little guilty when I took it actually, but
I cooked for eight hours straight on Thanksgiving 
by myself
while I had a migraine

in our outdated kitchen which is roughly the size of a walk-in closet
and feels like an oven itself when the oven is on
and I roasted a whole turkey for you even though I'm a vegetarian
while you mostly watched the Macy's Parade*

I'm pretty damned sure I was fully entitled to that last piece of pie

*(Because even though 
you're a self-styled feminist
your mother, a traditionalist
expecting you would one day expect a wife to cook for you
never taught you how to make anything more complicated than macaroni and cheese
and you've tried valiantly to learn since then
but frankly we both know 
that I'm the better chef

Don't feel too bad about it though
my dad never taught me how to change the brakes on the car
and I'm really glad you know how to do that)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When You Have to Be THAT Mom

I am that mom who bakes cupcakes, from scratch, for the entire class.

I am that mom who brings candy for every holiday party, and stays to walk the class through the holiday craft.

I am that mom who volunteers on every field trip. The one who volunteers at the school library two or three days a week. The one who goes to every school assembly. The one who shows up, early, to every parent-teacher conference meeting.

I am that mom that students greet as if she were a teacher. I am that mom who knows the name of every other parent. I am that mom who knows the name of every last staff member at the school.

I am that mom who goes along with my son to every single classmate's or neighbor kids's or friend's birthday party, and offers to help set up beforehand, and offers to bring food.

I am that mom who almost never takes her kid to fast-food restaurants, or orders takeout.

I am that mom who regularly cooks meals from scratch.

I am that mom who goes to every single doctor's appointment, asks questions, and takes notes.

I am that mom who brings to said appointments a binder full of medical records in color-coded archival sheaths.

I am that mom who plans elaborate playdates at my house.

I am that mom who never just drops my kid off at your house for a playdate, but sticks around, just at the margins, to keep an eye on things.

I am that mom who almost never uses a babysitter, and if I do leave my son in someone else's care, I am that mom who offers that person a printed list of phone numbers and instructions.

I am that mom who can count on one hand the times she has left her child with someone else overnight.

I am that mom and at least three times a day I find myself wishing I weren't.

I am that mom and it is exhausting.

I am that mom and I do work, actually -- I have three part-time jobs that I juggle, poorly, around school volunteer gigs and field trips and parties and doctors' visits and cooking. I am that mom and there are plenty of days when I stay up until 1 a.m. working and then get up at 6 a.m. to volunteer again for eight hours at my child's school.

I am that mom and I have a college degree I finished in four years while working two jobs. I have that degree, and some pleasant, fleeting memories of feeling just on the cusp of serious success as a writer, and some fading dreams of graduate school, and a thousands unfinished work projects and ambitions of a novel or five growing dusty together on a high shelf.

I am sick of seven years of strangers assuming, when I tell them I'm a work-from-home mother, that I must not be an educated or ambitious person.

My mother often worked full-time outside the home when I was a kid and I thought that once my kid was in school I would, too. I think it's good for kids to have time away from their parents, and good for parents to have time away from their kids. I swore when I was pregnant that I would go back to work after one year. I swore that I'd raise an self-sufficient adventurer. I swore I wouldn't hover.

But I am the mother of a child with a sensory disorder, a motor skills delay and an anaphylactic peanut allergy.

I am that mom of a seven-year-old who understands beginning algebra and reads college biology textbooks for fun and can add four digit numbers in his head but can barely zip a jacket or tie his own shoes and sometimes hums and mutters to himself strangely in public to drown out the world's constant noise.

I am that mom who tells her son to face the world proudly, anyway.

I am THAT mom of a child with a food allergy -- a mom who knows that every time her son walks out the door to go to school or to a birthday party or to a holiday dinner, he's risking his life.

I am that mom who lets him walk out the door anyway.

But I'm not the mom who is ready to stop following him (at a distance) just yet.

I'm just not.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Raise Your Hand

Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and critics of your work have called you a "slut" or a "harpy" or "whore" in public. (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and readers of your work who disagree with your thoughts have publicly attacked your looks. (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and you've been publicly told that your written words permanently disqualify you for the title of "lady." (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you're a grown woman and a male critic has opened his public critique of your work with "Little girl." (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you've actually, literally been told by one or more apparent lovers of outdated cliche to stop writing and get back to your kitchen. (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and you've been excited to see your work featured in a mainstream media article only to watch the comments on said article devolve into a discussion of your supposed physical attractiveness, or supposed lack thereof. (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and you've engaged in an educated intellectual, political, or philosophical debate with another woman blogger, and later found that debate described in public fora online as "mudwrestling" or "a catfight." (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and your abilities as a romantic partner or parent have been attacked by strangers who disagree with opinions of yours that have nothing to do with romantic relationships or parenting. (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you've been told that mothers should be seen and not heard. (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and someone who disagrees with your opinions (or disagrees with your hair color, or your choice in shoes, or your body type, or your disability, or your sexuality or your religion or your ethnicity or your age or the very idea of women writing things on the internet at all) has publicly expressed their desire that you be sexually assaulted in retaliation for daring to open your "pretty" (or "ugly") "little mouth." (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if your critics have said you deserve to be tortured. (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if they've said you should be dead. (I'm raising my hand.) Raise your hand if you're a mother who blogs and someone who disapproves of your words has said it would serve you right if your child were kidnapped. (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and some person who hates what you've done with your words or just hates you, personally, for daring to use words in public at all, has left a comment or sent you an email or a text message or a DM directly threatening to sexually assault you, or physically harm you, or kill you. (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if you're a woman blogger and you've wondered at times, in the midst of constant gendered insults and threats, whether you might be happier and saner if you just stopped writing. (I'm raising my hand.)

Raise your hand if you've kept writing anyway.

(Well, here I am.)

Good. Now all of you that just raised your hands -- take Naomi's example, and raise your voice.

(I just did.)

This sickness has to stop.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Conversations with a Seven-Year-Old

KID: I can't sleep by myself tonight. I'm scared.

MOTHER: Of what?

KID: I'm scared that a black hole will swallow the Earth before humans master interplanetary space flight. I'm scared that all the people living on Earth will die, and civilization will be destroyed, and maybe then there will be no intelligent life left anywhere in the universe. I'm scared that the universe itself will one day run out of energy and grow cold and dark and empty.

MOTHER: You've really missed your father while he's been out of town, haven't you?

KID: Yes.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Lucky Seven

Seven years ago today, on Mother's Day, I held you in my embrace for the first time, and my arms trembled just a little with the strangeness and the sweetness of the new weight they had to bear. I wondered that day just whom I was greeting. Now I know.

I was holding a boy who would one day know the names of 50 varieties of butterfly, who would run for a jar to put spiders back outside saying "Quick, before someone smashes it," who would befriend the garter snake in the backyard, who would sing to his pet fish, who would never, ever, not even once, pull a cat's tail.

Seven years ago today I was holding a child who would one day step between fighting friends and push them apart. Who would hear me crying in another room and draw me a picture of flowers and slide it under the door.

Seven years ago I was holding a boy who would fight, fight harder than a child so young should have to fight, through a a sensory disorder and a motor skills delay, and win, again and again, learning to climb a ladder and ride a bike and kick a soccer ball and frighten his mother by climbing too-high chainlink fences.

Seven years ago I thought I was already falling in love hard. I had no idea, then, how much harder I could fall.

I look at you, my once-and-only-baby, all unfolded into bottomless brown eyes and tangled flaming hair and a laughing gap-toothed grin and long gangly limbs running full tilt away from me into a future I can only imagine now, and will only ever get to see part of. And the trembling woman from seven years ago is still here, longing to fold you back into the arms you have made so much stronger.

But instead, I will just say, keep running. Run far.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Overheard in My Backyard: A Space Odyssey

EIGHT-YEAR-OLD NEIGHBOR:  My scout ship just landed on Mars. If you're landing behind me, watch out for this dust storm I just picked up on my radar.

SIX-YEAR-OLD:  It's okay. The dust storm won't affect me. My ship just landed on a planet far, far away from Mars, in a different universe. The planet has a name, but that name wouldn't make any sense here.

EIGHT-YEAR-OLD NEIGHBOR: Another planet? A far away planet? What, you mean Pluto?

SIX-YEAR-OLD (patiently): No, not Pluto. This planet is not in our solar system. My ship just landed on a planet in another universe.  Beyond our solar system. Beyond the Orion Nebula. Beyond the Crab Nebula. Beyond the farthest arm of the Milky Way. Beyond all known galaxies. Beyond the expanding edge of time.

EIGHT-YEAR-OLD NEIGHBOR: Oh. okay. Well, whenever you're done with that, could you help me out with this dust storm on Mars?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bye Bye Baby

For years now my son has been asking, with some trepidation, about losing his first baby tooth. "Will it happen soon? Will it hurt much? Will I bleed? Will I get sick? What if I swallow it by accident? Has anyone ever choked on their own tooth?" he worries. "What if the new tooth doesn't come in right? What if the place where my tooth was stays empty forever?"

I lost my first tooth at age five, biting into an apple. (I did swallow it, actually, much to my chagrin. I did not choke. I did not even notice the tooth was gone, in fact, until several minutes later, when a teacher pointed the fact out to me. It's a good thing my mother happened to know that the Tooth Fairy decorates her house with pictures of teeth drawn by those unfortunate children who have lost their lost tooth, or I would have considered the incident a much more serious injury to both piggy bank and pride.)

I assumed, in that casual way parents tend to assume that our children will be just like us, that my son would probably lose his first tooth at five, or thereabouts. But he didn't lose a tooth at five. He didn't at six and a half, either. My son is nearly seven, but all twenty of his original pearly whites still stand in neat rows.

At school, one after another his friends have lost teeth. Some have lost several, now bearing adorably jagged half-grown-in grins.

Witnessing in his classmates this repeated proof of his mother's assertion that baby tooth-deprivation is not, in fact, commonly deadly to children has, I think, made my son somewhat less anxious about the potential for some personal tooth-loss related disaster.

But he is now the only one in his class who has yet to lose a tooth. He sees himself missing some bloody badge of maturity. His difference irks him. When we last went to the dentist, he asked her, nervously, "Are you sure I really have grown-up teeth waiting in my gums? What if there aren't any?"

This drawn out drama of the teeth has made me wish hard, for months, that he would just lose a tooth already and get over it. So he can see it's not that big of a deal. So he can be like everyone else in his class. So the Tooth Fairy can leave him two quarters, or a dollar, or whatever the inflated price of first lost teeth is these days, and he can start calculating the value of his remaining teeth with a gleam in his eye.

When I help him floss I surreptitiously tap his front teeth, hoping for a wiggle. I've never felt one. Not even the slightest wobble. Until three days ago.

His right front bottom tooth budged. I tapped it again to be sure. It moved again, unmistakably.

The boy officially had a loose tooth.

Again and again, I've imagined how proudly and cheerfully I would tell him. I've imagined how I would stave off any frightened tears with visions of the respect of his peers, the admiration of younger children, and cash.

Instead, I found myself turning my head and furiously blinking against a sudden vivid vision: my first glimpse, more than six years ago, of the top of my baby's first tooth, pushing in a sharp gleaming white arc through the gum. His first tooth. This same tooth. The loose one.

"What is it Mommy?" he asked.

"Oh," I said. "Oh. Your tooth. Your tooth is loose! You finally have a loose tooth. See? It wiggles. I bet you'll lose it pretty soon. Your first tooth. Your very first one. That's good news! You're growing. You'll get grown-up teeth soon."

"Oh, that's cool," he said. "It won't hurt too much, when it comes out will it?"

"No. I've told you already," I said. "I mean it. It won't hurt much at all."

I lied. It won't hurt him.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Nearly three weeks ago I came down with a cold that I have been not at all hyperbolically referring to in public as The Cold From Hell. Despite a few days now of feeling finally able to breathe during daylight hours without the blessed aid of Saint Sudafed, certain symptoms have lingered. My ears still feel clogged. I still feel tired. And my voice keeps failing me unexpectedly mid-word, cutting out like a bad audio cassette tape. 

Last night I hypothesized that my failure to recover must be the result of not getting enough sleep at night. Because despite feeling better during the day, I keep waking up struggling to breathe through a nose that feels stuffed with wet cotton, or coughing the sort of chest rattling night cough ordinarily associated with elderly chainsmokers.

So in an attempt to get at least eight hours of decent rest, last night I abandoned my bed and my husband (who is certainly handsome to look upon as the last thing I see before I close my eyes each night, but, sadly, snores like a rusty chainsaw). And I bedded down on the sofa, propped diagonally atop a pile of scientifically arranged throw pillows.

I felt more comfortable than I had in days, and fell asleep almost instantly. 

So of course, at 2 a.m., the phone rang.

At first, in my first-good-sleep-in-three-weeks fog, I associated the harsh ringing sound with the tornado sirens that woke me up this past Sunday evening, announcing the storm that did this to my porch.

There's something wrong with the house, the small, awake part of my brain tried to explain to the rest of me. You have to get up.

Then as the ringing continued I awakened enough to realize that the sound was in fact the telephone and also that it was a ridiculous hour for anyone to be calling my house unless there was some sort of terrible emergency.

So I threw off the covers and popped out of bed, er, couch, only to hear the answering machine pick up. A deep, drawling drunken man's voice screamed, "WHAT?!?" so loudly my answering machine's speaker crackled. And then the line clicked off.

Wrong number.

(I hope. Because if that was some sort of prank, Mr. Drunk Dialer on a Cell Phone in 636, you need to go back to phone pranking class and learn how to block your number. Ahem.)

After that I had a hard time getting back to sleep. The streetlights outside my living room window were too bright. The furnace downstairs was too loud. I tossed and turned for about an hour and then I fell asleep and I dreamed two dreams. It feels like ages since I've had a dream I can clearly remember. And yet, whether thanks to my couch, The Cold From Hell, or Mr. Drunk Dialer, last night I had two: 

In the first dream, I was volunteering at my son's school on a field trip. It was lunch time and I was helping to prepare a set of boxed lunches that had been brought along for the kids but I realized that despite telling me otherwise no one at the school had contacted the catering company or read the ingredients on anything to see whether or not the lunches were peanut-safe. So I was reading the ingredients on every variety of lunch to see which one might be safe for my son to have. And people from the school in the dream (who weren't actually people in my son's real life school, just people with vague and anonymous faces) kept telling me, "You have to take care of this problem this yourself. We don't have time to help you." And then as I was sorting through the boxes one of the sandwiches fell out and it was peanut butter. And I tried to get to the sink to wash my hands but other parents (who again, weren't actual parents I know in real life but some sort of Platonic stand in) kept blocking me and saying "We were here first. There's no room."  And then one of the dream school's administrators said to me, in a smarmy voice, "Well it will be a shame if your son has nothing to eat today, and it would have been terrible if we had served him that peanut butter. But at least this is the first time we have made such a mistake." And as I stood there wringing my hands like Lady Macbeth trying to get the peanut butter off, I started screaming, again and again, to no one in particular, "THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!"

It was very melodramatic. And, I have to say, the first time I have ever had a nightmare with food as a villain.  Or for that matter a dream that in any way involved peanut butter. I get the feeling, however, that this anxiety dream might wind up as a permanent replacement to that recurring dream I used to have where I would spend all day on the first day of college trying to find my classes and yet somehow manage to miss all of them and then my advisor would scream at me and tell me I was kicked out of the program.


The second dream was much better. In my second dream I was at a BlogHer conference, sitting in the audience at a panel, and some political argument broke out among the audience members, and women were standing up and shouting and one well-dressed young woman even gestured a threat to splash another with a bottle of Fiji water.

(For people who have never been to BlogHer, allow me to note that this sort of bloggers-gone-wild wet t-shirt catfight thing would NEVER HAPPEN. Well, except for maybe at the MamaPop party but that would be totally acceptable.)

And then in my dream my friend Erin Kotecki Vest stood up, looking as healthy as she ever has, and walked across the entire large room to a microphone and made some sort of brilliant, unbelievably logical, earthshaking statement of the sort that makes sense beyond sense within a dream and seems to expose some important cog in the inner workings of the universe, even though you can never remember, after you wake up, exactly what was said. And everyone grew silent and then burst into applause. And everyone was hugging.

I don't believe in prophetic dreams. But a dream of mine ever deserved to come true I do think it would be my dream of Erin, healthy, walking, and kicking rhetorical ass.

Besides, if a politics-based water splashing fight ever broke out during a panel at BlogHer, I think it would be great publicity, don't you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

You Really Didn't Have To

Before we were married I made you cancel the layaway on the diamond engagement ring you had so carefully chosen, the one with the pretty leaf pattern in two-tone gold.

It made practical sense, under the circumstances. The non-profit you were working for had gone bankrupt and suddenly closed -- your last paycheck had bounced. After that we were both juggling part time jobs with no health insurance. And then we found out I was pregnant. Surprise!

A diamond ring didn't seem so important to me, under those circumstances.

So we were married in the courthouse, with no pomp, and no rings at all. And we carried on with none until a couple of months later, when I snuck into a store without you and I bought a matched set of plain wedding bands in silver as a surprise.

Through the years of our marriage since then, we haven't found much time to mark our romance with ceremony . The holidays and anniversaries I remember best are the ones we spent turned all upside-down -- the Christmas we spent unpacking boxes in our new house, the Mother's Day we spent repairing a storm-torn gutter. The birthday I spent at your grandmother's memorial service.

A few days ago I asked you what you wanted to do for Valentine's Day and you shrugged and looked guilty and said "I hadn't really thought about it much yet." And I wasn't surprised because -- let's face it -- I know and you know you buy gifts at the last minute, and you couldn't remember to make a restaurant reservation a week in advance if your life depended on it.

But the truth was, I hadn't really thought about what to do on Valentine's Day much yet, either.

There was a time when I would feel a slight pang of jealousy when I watched a bride walk down an aisle full of flowers in a beautiful gown. There was a time when I felt a little envy when some couple we knew told us about their romantic anniversary getaway. There was a time when I cared about flowers and fancy dinners on Valentine's Day. But I don't anymore.

Because Saturday you folded all the laundry while I read email, even though I hadn't asked you to.

Because you fold my clothes more neatly than I do.

Because Sunday when you were at the grocery store without me you bought me marinara sauce with portobello mushrooms and wine even though you don't really like portobellos or wine, either. And then you served it with dinner.

Because you bought me a box of chocolates that had only dark chocolate in it.

Because you gave our son his bath last night and read his story even though he really wanted me to read his story and we both knew he would whine about you doing it instead, so I could lay down on the sofa, because I was tired.

Because even though we said in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live, and believed it, by all stereotypes and cold hard statistics, this crazy, met-too-young, married-too-soon, stressed-too-often relationship of ours should never have lasted this long. Not through three homes and two cars and seven job changes and six birthdays of a decidedly not-neurotypical child.

And yet, here you are, still, remembering that I don't like milk chocolate. Folding my jeans.

Dinner out and roses would be a nice gift, one of these February 14ths. But a present like that would be a very little thing compared to the thousands of simpler, mundane, yet much more important everyday gifts you have given me over the years.

That diamond ring we wanted once might be nice to have, someday, too. But if you ever get around to getting me one, it had better look nice next to my old scratched and dented silver wedding band. Because I'm not taking that off.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Cookie Like My Heart

It has been over a year now since my son had a sudden and violent allergic reaction to a peanut butter cookie, after years of eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and peanut-flavored granola bars and Peanut M&Ms and french fries fried in peanut oil without a problem.

I've already cried over it; I've already ranted; I've already reorganized my pantry and sent lists to the school and compiled the careful, well-researched, incredibly short list of Restaurants That Are Mostly, Probably Safe. I've already dutifully, repeatedly reminded myself of the much longer and much more upsetting list of Childhood Diseases That Could Be Worse.  I've already adjusted to the constant mental presence of  this terrible knowledge, that the wrong bite of food could hurt or kill my son at any moment. I've made the syringe that contains the emergency medication that could save his life as essential an extension of my body as my glasses or my purse.

Out of life-and-death necessity I keep his allergy in mind every waking minute which after a while from an emotional standpoint is pretty much the same as not thinking about it at all.  There seems to be a part of my brain that just does it, now. Like the part that remembers how to walk. I read ingredients and thoroughly question and instruct teachers and party hosts and babysitters and waitresses on autopilot. Solving a safe path through the world for him has for the most part become an intellectual not an emotional enterprise.

If I weren't like this, now, I'd be constantly crazy with worry and guilt and regret over aspects of childhood that I never recognized as being all that important until they were lost to him. Which just wouldn't do. Anxious, guilty, regretful people make mistakes, and this is an area where I cannot bear allow myself room for serious error.

But there are still moments, once in a while when the fact of his allergy hits me like a kick in the chest, the way it did on the day I first learned of it, and I struggle for a minute to breathe.

Like today when I was at a fancy little boutique grocery store and walked past their bakery display, blooming with beautiful extravagantly decorated heart shaped Valentine's cookies in every flavor and size.

I used to make a point, when he was younger, of buying my son, on the spur of the moment, little surprise presents of candy or food. Ridiculous things, sometimes, like rainbow lollipops the size of his head (that I knew he would never finish). I'm quite a stickler for health food in general -- in my house, whole, natural foods rule the table and fruits or vegetables are required with every sit-down meal .  But I'm also a foodie, and a hobby baker, and I'm not ashamed to confess that I've never met an oversized artisan brownie I didn't like. And my son started out as a pathologically picky eater -- so resistant to eating, in fact, that for a frightening period of time he made himself  ill.

So once his palate began to expand it became a joy to me to surprise him on impulse with pretty and decadent foods. Once in a while, when I saw a giant, artistically frosted cookie or a beautiful piece of chocolate artifice at a store -- the sort that makes your heart skip a beat when you see it, that reminds you of pressing your childish face to the glass in sad longing while your mother said, "No, not that, the smaller one" -- the sort you aren't supposed to spoil a child with -- I would buy it and give it to him, trying to tell him without words, See, this is what I wanted to tell you about the fun of food. This what you have been missing.

But today I knew without looking -- I've shopped hear before -- that not one of the beautiful heart shaped cookies would be labeled PEANUT FREE. I couldn't just pick one without thinking and buy it and meet him with it at the door when he comes home from school. The cookies at the bakery are just another one of so many things -- like the cake at most birthday parties and the candy from most candy shops and the ice cream from ice cream parlors -- that are off limits for him now, and may be off limits for life.

Which is why this weekend I am fairly certain I will wind up baking more homemade heart-shaped cookies, in every hue,  than one child could possibly eat, and wishing I could make them as pretty as the ones at the store.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Yesterday afternoon I sat in a cafe with my son, tapping away at a blog post for work on my netbook while he calmly ate a bagel and read a book on animal habitats for homework. "That's a well-mannered young man you have there," a grey-haired man noted approvingly as he walked past our table toward the exit. It wasn't the first time I've received a compliment on my son's behavior from a stranger. On good days, which are most days, these days, he is uncannily proper in adult-centered places like libraries, churches and restaurants.

It was only twenty minutes or so later that another little boy, perhaps eight years old, sat down at, or rather bounced into, the table next to ours, as his mother waited in line to place an order. My own son had finished his bagel now, but was still reading intently, oblivious to the new arrival.

"Hello," the stranger boy said." At first I assumed he was speaking to my son, trying to get a potential playmate's attention, but when I turned to glance in the boy's direction I saw that he was staring straight at me, expectantly. "Hello," I said, and smiled, then turned back to my work.

"It's-very-nice-to-meet-you," he said in a very measured tone, even though I was no longer facing him, and I knew at once that he'd been taught to say that, and had practiced saying it, diligently, after "Hello." I turned around.

"It's very nice to meet you, too." I said. "Thank you."

"You are using a computer in a restaurant instead of eating," the boy said. It was a statement of fact, not a question.

"That's true," I said.

"But you are not in a computer lab." This the boy said a bit more loudly, in a tone that fell somewhere between mildly accusatory and utterly perplexed. My son looked up from his book at the boy quizzically for a second, smiled politely, then went back to his reading.

I glanced at the boy's mother, still in line.

"That's true," I said to the boy. "I'm not in a computer lab, but they do let you use computers here. I'm not breaking the rules."

"Oh.  Oh.  KAY!"

His volume was all out of sorts, whisper one minute, too loud the next.  I could see that the boy's mother, still stuck in the line, saw us talking now. Her forehead crumpled a bit, as her mouth fell into a pressed line. I smiled briefly and brightly at her, trying to convey that I was not bothered. NOT BOTHERED.

"Do you know where the restroom sign is?" The boy asked me. Not the restroom. The sign. But maybe he meant he needed the restroom, and wanted directions?

I pointed helpfully. "It's over there."

He bounded gently off toward the restrooms, then, to my surprise, came straight back to the table without going in, eyes shining.

"They're beautiful," he exclaimed. Seeing my confusion, he added, "The letters on the restroom sign on the door. They're gold. They're shiny. It's just what I wanted." Then he sat down, in his chair, blissful, as his mother hurried over, her order finally taken. She took hold of his arm and guided him quickly to an emptier corner of the room. Over the clamor of  the kitchen and the chatter of the diners, I couldn't hear all that she said, but I caught the words, "Inappropriate," "talking to people," and lastly, "Now we'll have to eat in the car." She looked exhausted.

I could hear the boy's words clearly. "I'm so sorry, Momma. I didn't mean to. I won't next time."

I stood. I walked over. I said to his mother, "Excuse me. I wanted to let you know. He wasn't bothering me. Not at all. I think he's sweet."

"Thank you," she said. "But you see, we're pressed for time anyway. It's been a long day. He just got out of a class . . ." While she said this, she looked not at me, but at my son, sitting so properly at the table.

I wanted to say, four years ago I hid with that boy you see there in a phone booth in a restaurant, unable even to make it out the exit, holding the booth door shut with one hand  and desperately trying to calm him with the other while his face flushed and his eyes bulged and he screamed a terrible wild pained scream, as if I were beating the life right out of him, because he had been overwhelmed by the noise of the crowd, and I was half-convinced that any moment someone would call the police.

I wanted to say, years ago on my birthday I was ushered out of  my favorite Indian place with the check and a box before I'd had five bites of food because my son was humming almost silently and rocking in his chair and biting his hands because he was terrified of the food and even though there were two other toddlers playing loudly and bumping into waiters in the very next booth while their parents ignored them, the people sitting next to us were disturbed by him, not them, and complained.  

I wanted to say, there but for the grace of God go I.

I wanted to say, your son is beautiful. I know you know it. Don't you see I can see it, too? He sees the beauty everywhere that others miss. He made my day just now, reminding me to look at the world instead of rushing and bumbling through it with my eyes ten steps ahead. He's a joy and he's welcome to sit next to me anytime.

But as I saw her looking wistfully at my son, a six-year-old sitting there reading a twelve-year-old's science book and sipping his juice like a perfect model of what is expected of a child in a cafe, the only words I could eke out were, "I understand. Please trust me. I do understand," and then she smiled a tight smile and nodded and left in a hurry.