Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Place for Ribs

When the signs of puberty first made themselves glaringly obvious, I asked Em whether she wanted me to "make a big deal" when she eventually got her first period.

"What do you mean by 'make a big deal'?" she asked, somewhat warily.

"I mean, do you want me to just give you the stuff you'll need and then pretend like nothing happened, or would you like it if I took you out for a special 'woman's night' or something like that?"

"Could we go to Tony Roma's?" she asked. My daughter is nothing if not a baby-back-rib fanatic.

"We sure could," I answered.

"Then, yes. I want you to make a big deal," she said with a grin.

That was more than a year ago, maybe even two. I've rechecked her feelings on the matter now and again, and they stayed steady. And so, tonight, my daughter and I shared half an onion loaf and a spinach-and-artichoke dip, and then each had a half rack of baby backs followed by an apple tart (for her) and velvet cake (for me). She asked questions; I answered them. We walked around the neighborhood near the restaurant, stopped at a drugstore for supplies, then browsed at a bookstore just because.

When I laid down with her at bedtime, which I do every other night--her brother gets the odd-numbered dates, she gets the even-numbered ones--she put her arms around my middle. "That was really fun," she said, with a yawn. "Thank you so much for making this so special for me."

"Thank you," I answered, "for letting me."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Apple is Still ON the Tree

To say that I'm known for my tendency to dispense medical advice and wisdom as if I actually have a medical degree...or have spent even a single day in medical school, for that a grotesque understatement. It is as much a part of me as my name. In fact, it's become part of my name. After all, they don't call me Dr. TC for nothing.

What they didn't teach me in not-medical-school, however, is that practicing medicine without a license is a genetic trait.

A couple of weeks ago, Baroy walked into a glass door (don't ask), cutting open the skin above his eye. It was a nasty cut that probably could have used a couple of stitches, but because it was days before we were to learn my fate at work and he was worried about affording even the co-payment--and because Someone Who Shall Remain Nameless But Whose Pseudonym Rhymes with Tadoy has just the teensiest bit of a martyr complex--he chose to treat it at home with some butterfly bandages.

Later that evening, we were all sitting down at the dinner table and I was fussing over Baroy a bit.

"It looks like it's still bleeding," I said, examining the cut. "Does it hurt?"

"A little," Baroy admitted. "Mostly, my head hurts. After dinner I'll probably go take something for the pain."

"Don't take ibuprofen, though," I said. "Take Tylenol. Because ibuprofen..."

I wasn't able to finish that thought, however. Because my 11-year-old daughter interrupted me.

"Yeah, Dad," she said. "You shouldn't take ibuprofen, because it will interfere with your ability to form a clot, and so your cut will just keep bleeding."

Baroy and I just stared at her, open-mouthed.

"Where did she..." I began.

"How did she..." Baroy began.

We both stopped and continued to stare.

"What?" she asked, looking from one of us to the other. "What did I say wrong?"

"Nothing," I said, starting to laugh. "I'm just...I'm so proud! That's exactly what I was about to say!"

Baroy just hung his head. "Oh, god," he said. "Not two of you. What did I do to deserve TWO of you?"

I was reminded of this story--which I'd meant to blog about back when it happened--as I drove the kids home from Hebrew School this evening. N and a boy in his class had bumped into each other, with Jay's head hitting N's lip, splitting it a bit on the inside and causing a not-inconsiderable amount of blood, from what I was told by the various teachers (and by Em and N as well). While we drove, N complained that his lip was still hurting.

"Yeah, I know," I sympathized. "It'll hurt for a little while, sweetie."

"But the good news is that it won't hurt for too long," Em noted. "Because your saliva actually makes cuts heal more quickly."

"That's true," I said, my immediate flash of that's-my-girl pride soon tramped into the ground by my annoyance at the fact that she'd dug that little biological nugget up before it had even occurred to me. "But do you know WHY saliva heals cuts more quickly?"

"No," she admitted.

"Because there are proteins and enzymes in saliva that have healing properties. Saliva is more than just water," I noted with undisguised smugness in my voice.

Show ME up, would she? We'll, I'd shown HER. Yessiree. I'd one-upped my 11-year-old and shown her who's the chief attending at THIS make-believe hospital.

Dear god. Really, I should be ashamed of myself. I'm not...but I really should be.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Like Talking to an Argumentative Wall

N took a couple of benchmark-type tests over the past couple of weeks, and he did poorly on them (though much better when the teacher retested him on the math under non-test 'going from failing to one percentage point below proficient' better).

Baroy took out the reading benchmark after they'd finished homework today, and asked N about some of the questions, only to hear from N that he doesn't bother reading the comprehension passages after the first sentence or two; he just answers the questions. "Sometimes I get them right," he said, matter-of-factly. "And sometimes not."

Assuming that he was indeed telling the truth (which is not actually an assumption it's safe to make with N and the recounting of this sort of thing, but let's say it is, just for the sake of argument), I decided to have a 'talk' with him about how that's not a good way to conduct yourself during tests.

"You know, N, when you don't bother reading the passages, you don't get the questions right a lot of the time. And when you don't get the questions right, it makes the people who look at the test think you're not very smart."

"But I do get them right."

"Some of them, yes. But not a lot of them. And if you read the passages, I bet you'd get a lot of them right, and then your teachers and people like that would know how smart you really are."

"But what if they looked at it and said, 'He gets answers wrong, but he's still smart.'"

I should have stopped there and then. Once N gets going with the "but what if"s, it's all over.

"Well, that would be nice, but people looking at how you do on your tests won't say that. They'll think you don't know how to read, when you do."

"But what if they listen to me read and they know that I can read 'American Indian.' Then they'll know I can read."

"But they won't, because they'll be looking at the...Never mind. How about this: You really want to be a fireman when you grow up, right? Well, if you don't do your best on tests and read all the instructions and reading passages and questions and stuff like that, the fire chief is going to tell you that you can't be a fireman, because firemen need to know how to read and do math and follow instructions, and by looking at your tests, the fire chief will think you don't know how to do any of those things very well."

[I know. Shut up. I was trying to get him to give a crap, which is about the hardest thing to do in N's world; all bets were off.]

"But what if I read The Fire Cat to them or my dragon book, and then they said, 'Oh, N's a great reader of books to us.'"

"But they won't know that you're a great reader, because they'll see from your tests that you don't bother reading the passages, so they'll think you can't read, so they won't even ask you to read to them in the first place!"

This actually got him to stop for a second. Baroy, who was filling up the dishwasher while I talked to N, looked over at me with a look that said, "Is it possible that he's going to take what you said seriously? Is it possible that you got through?"

No. No, it was not possible.

N took a deep breath, raised his eyebrows, and went in for his version of the kill. "BUT, what if they said that I couldn't be a fireman and then they said, 'Oh, but he's already the fire CHIEF,' and so I said, 'So I can be a fireman if I want to,' and then they said 'Hooray for N the fire chief,' and..." What was already fairly nonsensical devolved further, and I stopped listening.

"Maybe you're right, N," I said, interrupting. "Maybe that will happen. But I think you'd have a much better chance at doing what you want to do if you'd just take your tests a little more seriously."

He barely took a breath. "But what if I didn't ever have to take another test, and..."


Saturday, February 14, 2009


Let's just say that there was a transgression on the part of my 11-year-old daughter. Let's say it was a minor transgression, as transgressions go, but that there were some untruths told in the performance of said transgression. And if there's one thing I do NOT take well, it is being lied to.

[Also, for the record, let's just say that I am well aware that this was neither the first nor the last time such a thing will occur. I also imagine it's not the last time I'll hear myself saying, "But, no. But, seriously. WHAT were you THINKING?" Because, what with puberty being more than just a theoretical "one day" around here, the thought processes of my darling daughter are more and more frequently making little logical sense. How any of this is evolutionarily advantageous, I'll never know. But I digress.]

Anyway, let's just say there were phone calls between myself and Baroy, and a punishment handed down while I was still in the office, hours before I was to get home. And let's just say that Em then spent those hours in her room, because she was afraid that showing her face to her father would only make things worse. I never said she wasn't a SMART child.

She's also a very--and often unintentionally--funny child. During that time in her room, Em wrote a note to the two of us. An apology note. An apology note with lines like this ("I am upset that I couldn't go to girl scouts and that I can't have a sleepover with anyone, but I guess I just have to take it like a man") and like this ("I just want to say sorry one more time and I love you. I know that might sound like I'm trying to suck up to you, but I'm not").

Damn it's hard to come down like a ton of bricks on child who makes you laugh that hard.

Her punishment, as her note made somewhat clear, involved being grounded. She lost a field trip with her Girl Scout troop to an animal shelter, and she lost an already-planned sleepover with a friend. And she also lost any other social events for the weekend. Which seems like it would be a clear-cut sort of thing, right? And it is.

Except when it came to last night at temple. Because last night was a special shabbat service--a dinner held annually in memory of one of the key members of the congregation in days not-so-long gone by. The kids had been practicing for weeks to help lead the service; Em is one of the oldest and most vocal children in the religious school--one of the leaders in a school which has a TOTAL of fewer than 25 kids--and her not being there would have made the evening less successful.

All of which inclined me to bring her. After all, when you ground a kid, you don't keep them home from school, right?

But there was the other side...the fact that there is nothing so exciting and fun and looked-forward-to by Em as a social event at the synagogue. How exactly do you say "You're grounded young lady...except for tomorrow night, when you'll get to go hang out with all your friends for four hours in the evening and laugh and play and run around"?

There are worse things, I suppose, than having a synagogue be a place your kids look forward to going, a place they consider to be a treat. And so, after talking it over with Baroy, I took her. I told her that she needed to take time during the silent amidah to look inside herself and think about the choices she had made. And then I told her that while we were going to stay the whole time--I could have taken her home after services and/or after dinner, but *I* didn't lie to me, so I don't think *I* should have to be punished by not being able to have an evning *I* was also looking forward to a great deal--she wasn't allowed to have any fun.

It only took her a milisecond to realize I was joking...and then to make sure, every time she passed me all evening, to slow down, push out her lower lip, and say, "I'm having a very bad time, Mommy. OK?"

Frankly, what with all the planned events that were cancelled, with having to turn down every friends who's called since to ask whether she could come out and play, and with the what-must-have-seemed-interminable lecturing she got from both Baroy and myself that first night, the point is already made. Whether she gets it--whether her increasingly hormone-soaked brain is capable of getting it--remains to be seen.

Parenting. Feh.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


"We worked him pretty hard today," his therapist told me when I went to pick him up from his second social-skills group session.

Working hard, for N, meant that they had played "Duck, Duck, Goose," and the prospect of being in a circle of peers, of having them touch his head--and, worse, of not knowing if they would say 'duck' or 'goose' and thus not being able to prepare--was apparently more than he could handle.

He had, the therapist said, initially refused to play at all, until she got him to agree to be the 'example' of how the game is played. That way, he knew she was going to pick him. Negotiations almost broke down, she said, when he wanted to leave the circle after he'd done his part as the example. No, she told him, you need to be part of the group. Then he said he didn't want anyone touching his head. No, she told him, that's part of being in the group. But how about if I promise nobody will pick you? That way, you know that when they touch your head, they're only going to say 'duck' and not 'goose' and you don't have to worry.

She told me all this very seriously, with pride at the way he'd been able to get past at least some of his fears to be at least a nominal part of the group. But here's where I reveal myself to be a horrible person. Because, while she was telling me all this? I have to admit that I maybe rolled my eyes a little. Only internally, I swear. But they definitely rolled. They did that because sometimes I am not the world's best special-needs parent. Maybe even most times. And, at those times, having to consider with due gravity a game of "Duck, Duck, Goose," and to think of it as hard, serious work is more than I am capable of.

The fact that he threw three huge tantrums in a row beginning almost immediately upon arriving home...the fact that I ended up putting him into bed an hour early while he shrieked at the top of his lungs, begging me to let him watch TV instead...the fact that he needed to lie on top of me for 15 minutes before he could catch his breath...Well, that should have clued me in that 'work' means different things to different people.

I'm ashamed to say that, caught up in the fever-pitched hysteria that was my son that night, I couldn't see that particular forest for the tantrumming trees.

"N's having a difficult time today," the director of the religious school told me last night, when I went to pick him and Em up at the end of the day. "He's been needing me to hold him a lot; he's been coming over and putting his head on my knee, and asking me to rub his forehead and his hair. I totally don't mind, but I thought you should know."

I nodded. "It's not that surprising," I confided to her, without even hesitating. "He's started this new OT program, and they told me yesterday that they worked him pretty hard. I think he'll probably just need a little 'extra' for a day or two after his sessions, until he starts to get acclimated."

I'm ashamed to say that it was only then, as the words came out of my mouth, that I realized what I'd missed the night before. Because I am an idiot.

On an oddly related note: Earlier today, Kristen sent out a Twitter link to a post from a teenager who has Asperger's Syndrome. It describes, I imagine, exactly what N was going through on Monday. Except he can't yet explain what that feels like to me, and so I don't always get just how hard stuff like that can be, and just how hard he's working--yes, working--to get past it.

If I hadn't finally gotten it yesterday, this would have been the lightbulb moment for me.

But I get it. I get it now.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Settling In

When you find out you're in danger of being laid off, it's no surprise when you start to feel stressed, snappish, anxious, even depressed. At least, it didn't surprise me when I started feeling all of those things. What got me was the creeping mental paralysis...the way I became unable to sort through my options regarding any decision that had anything to do with my continued employment.

Some of the indecision made sense. Should I bother putting in the paperwork to lower my deductions if I wasn't going to be getting a paycheck much longer? It would make sense to take more of my paycheck home with me, on the one hand; on the other hand, just imagine the potential for screwups during the cutting of my final, all-important severance check! Better to let things lie. Maybe. Or not.

Did I want to open a savings account with the credit union, only to end up closing it out a month later? Was it really worth my time?

So it would go. Endless back and forth with myself. A complete inability to make a final decision.

And then it started creeping into the smallest, stupidest corners of my life. I'd eat something for lunch that was a little garlicky, say, and think to myself, "I should really get a toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste to keep in my desk." But then I'd think, "Except I'm not going to go out and spend money on an extra tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush I'll then have to take home and have sitting on my bathroom counter, taunting me."

I'd go into the bathroom and realize my hair was sticking up in a weird way, and I'd think to myself, "I should really get an extra hairbush to keep in my desk." See above for the way the rest of that internal conversation went.

It went on and on and on.

To which library should I direct my interlibrary loans...the one near my house, or the one near my office? The office one is much more convenient, but it would totally suck to have to drive out here to pick up books if I got laid off.

I acquired enough points from one of those survey sites to redeem them for a $25 gift card to a book store...but which book store should I choose? The one nearest my office is a Borders, whereas the ones nearest my home and the synagogue are both Barnes & Noble. I hardly ever have the time to get to B&N while I'm working, but if I order the Borders card and then I'm no longer working around here, I'd have to drive out of my way to use it.

My hair is getting long, and my bangs are hanging in my face. Should I get a haircut? If I'm going back to working from home, it's not worth the money, since I can just put on a headband to pull it back. But if I'm coming into an office every day, it should look a little more professional than that.

I could go on and on and on and on like this. My days turned into a series of unanswerable (and unutterably stupid) questions: Do I need a new pair of black flats for work, or a new pair of walking shoes for home? Should I start picking up the Walgreens circular, or stick with the one from the Rite Aid near me? Should I buy a pint of half-and-half to keep in the office fridge, or a longer-lasting quart?

All of that ended last Wednesday, when I heard that my job is safe, at least for the time being. The Borders gift card is now ordered; I have three audiobooks on order for the near-my-office branch of the library; the Walgreens circular is on my desk; and the pint of half-and-half has been transfered to the office fridge. Plus, there is a new toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in my desk drawer, alongside a hairbrush, some hand cream, and a metal fork and spoon from the 99 Cent Store.

I am ready to work.

Except...I really do still need a hair cut.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Safety in Numbers

For those of you who haven't already heard the news via Facebook or Twitter or group email or personal email (dear god, could we invent any MORE ways for me to self-absorbedly trumpet my every move?), Baroy's wish has come true: We will not be losing the house (yet), not moving (yet), not freefalling into financial ruin (yet), because I have not lost my job (yet).

That sound you just heard was a sigh so deep and so truly appreciative that it made the trees bend.

And yet...nothing feels safe. For one thing (and duh on this one), it's not like the danger has passed. The economy (NEWSFLASH!) still sucks. There are people from the division I work in who are very, very sad and scared tonight, and there but for the grace of god go I, as they say. After watching the faces and the tears that this day wrought, there's no way to just sit back and say, "Whew. Glad that's over. Won't ever have to worry about that again!" What used to feel like a stable environment in which to work--It's an ivory TOWER for crying out loud! Aren't towers made of brick? Or something equally able to withstand whatever economic seismic activity comes their way?--no longer feels that way. Plus, I am taking a small but significant pay cut. And while, hey, I'll take it, especially if my other choice is a complete pay cut, there's still the fact that we weren't quite making it on my salary before this. So now we've got even more distance to cover before we're really living within our means.

But again, like I said, it could be worse. It could be so much worse. So I'll live with insecurity and a budgetary shortfall, and I'll do what I can to ameliorate them, and if I can't, I'll still be grateful. I survived, after all. That's huge.

As I mentioned last month, we haven't been especially good about keeping the stress of all the might-be-comings to ourselves. We've tried, Baroy and I. But, to be honest, not all that hard. Because while part of me thinks it's important to shield kids from too much pain and heartache, the other part of me thinks it's important for them to be fully a part of our lives, and sometimes our lives include pain and heartache. And so Em, especially, knew that today was an important day. Which is why, after I'd called Baroy to tell him he could once again breathe, I emailed Em's teacher, apologizing for involving him in my personal business, but asking him to let Em know it was going to be OK. "I know she has a social studies test today," I wrote, "and I think it would make it much easier for her to concentrate if you would pass along the message that everything's fine, and I didn't get laid off, and she can relax."

Unfortunately, he didn't see my email until she was already taking the test (which her social studies teacher--another sixth-grade teacher--marked in front of her...and since she got a 98, I can rest assured that the worry didn't derail her too badly), but once they got back to his classroom, he called her to his desk and let her read it. Recounting the story to me later, she said, "And when I walked away from his desk, Mommy, I swear I felt like something had been lifted off my chest, and I could breath so much easier, and I felt stronger and not like there was something on top of me."

You and me both, baby. You and me both.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Drunk Blogging

I'm a little bit drunk, because my husband is breaking my heart.

(Yes, I do realize that probably made no sense. Hang on. It will...or maybe it will. But there will be a few non-sequiturs before we get there. Be patient with me. Did I mention I'm a tad tipsy?)

There are layoffs coming at work. I'm likely to be one of them, though hoping against hope not to be, and thinking that there's a vague, minute chance that I'll dodge the axe for now. But the chances that I will be among the fallen? Bigger than the chances that I won't. (I know better than to blog about work, however, so I'll leave it at that.)

Several agonizing, intensely painful weeks ago, when it was first announced that layoffs were coming (Note to all you HR professionals: making people wait weeks and weeks and weeks to hear about their future? May seem like it's a good, cards-on-the-table thing to do, but is actually--however unintentionally--sadistic), Baroy and I sat down and talked about what we'd cash out and when to get through the coming months (we want Em to be able to graduate with her sixth-grade class), and at what point we'd have to give up, put the house on the market, and decamp to New York to try our luck there before the bank would take the house from us without our permission. (My sister THINKS I was kidding when I asked her if we could move in for a while if necessary...)

I'm not looking for sympathy (yet) or ideas or options...I'm telling you this because, as I said above, my husband is breaking my heart. (I'm getting to it! Hold on.)

This afternoon, I took a walk down to Ralph's to pick up some stuff for dinner. It was a gorgeous day. Perfect SoCal weather for a cold-hater like me. Not hot, but not even a little bit cold. Short sleeves and cotton workout pants. I love Southern California. As I turned onto our block on my way back, I noticed a large group of people down at the end of the street; as I got closer, I realized there were too many bodies for it to be the usual kids-from-the-block gathering (which is, in itself, somewhere around 10 kids). Then, right when I realized there were a bunch of Big Kids out there, too, and began wondering what was going on, Baroy caught sight of me and yelled down, "Go get N; he's in the house. Tell him to come out and play with us!"

It was a kids-and-parents, spontaneous Superbowl-halftime block-party/football game.

I went inside, grabbed N (who wasn't willing to play--not surprising considering the size of most of the team members--but who sat on the sidelines with me) and watched as my 53-year-old husband outran our 13-year-old neighbor kid to score four out of his team's five ultimate touchdowns. (Em was on the other--losing--team; we cheered equally for both.)

There was screaming and laughing and trash talking and the realization--after Em caught a pass and then tried to thow it forward to one her teammates--that we need to teach our daughter the RULES of football. And when the game was over, there was an invite for everyone to converge on one of the houses and watch the second half all together. Em headed off with her friends to the house, while Baroy, N, and I came back here for Baroy to grab a soda before he and N went to join them.

Laughing and telling me about the parts of the game I'd missed, we walked into the house and into the kitchen. As he opened the fridge, Baroy voice dropped and said, "I have to figure out a way to keep this house. We can't lose this. We just can't."

Then, as N called from the front door, "C'mon, Daddy, I don't want to miss the game, and our friends are waiting" Baroy kissed me and ran out the front door. And I took out a half-finished bottle of Barefoot Pinot, poured as much of it as possible into my martini glass, and downed it in about three gulps in a pretty ineffectual attempt to keep my heart from shattering.

We can't lose this. But we may not have a choice.

Damn economy.