Monthly Archives: November 2007

About brothers

You may have noticed I do not write as much about Benjamin as I do about his brother.  This is because the type of mental punishment that Zach inflicts upon us is more conducive to written expression.  Make no mistake about it, his brother is getting more and more adept at physical types of tribulation. 

I noticed the other day that, in fact, we all spend most of our time trying to avoid some sort of physical damage at the hands of our sixteen-month-old.  Whenever he gets his hands on an object – any object – we all instinctively recoil, grabbing all breakable items as we retreat.  We also tell him “no” quite a bit.  We try to reserve “no” for more serious transgressions.  Unfortunately, these are every three or four minutes with Benjamin in the house. 

“No hitting me, Benjamin.”

“No banging your brother on the head with a fire truck, Benjamin.”

“No grabbing eyeglasses and testing their flexibility, Benjamin.”

And, most importantly, “No stealing your brother’s Taggie, Benjamin.”

When Zach was a toddler, he took “no” seriously.  He never wanted to let us down.  Ben, on the other hand, thinks it is hysterical to find new and creative ways to get us to look him in the eye and admonish.  Nothing throws him into a fit of cackling faster than smacking Zach with a helicopter, stealing his Taggie, and taking off with a parent running behind him.

Something must be done.  It just is not fair for Zachary to live in terror of his baby brother.  And Zach usually does not hit back.  Why?  Because we told him not to, of course.  It is our job, then, to defend him.  The only thing that actually seems to upset Ben is to take away all toys-doubling-as-weapons and then remove him to another room, leaving him alone in the playpen to ponder the error of his ways.  This we have begun to do, and let me tell you, it is working.  Boy does that kid dislike time-out.

The biggest worry with Benjamin is that he is going to land himself in the hospital.  The other day we were in a store and he found a big box of those metal rods they use to attach merchandise to peg board.  It was several minutes before the threat even registered with me.  I am just getting way too used to all measure of potential physical harm.

Yesterday, I actually let him fall down the steps intentionally.  He was two steps from the bottom and it was clear, from the completely reckless way he was approaching the descent, that he was going to topple down those last two steps.  I could have saved him, but I wanted to let him get a little hurt.  I knew it would be just a minor bump.  Maybe if he falls down two steps more often, he’ll be less likely to try to throw himself down 13 all at once.  (Note: I do not actually encourage him to hurt himself, so don’t go getting all anxious.  I just sometimes let himself inflict his own minor injuries upon himself.  Like when he climbs on the furniture.)

Sometimes Benjamin seems intent upon even greater risk.  These are the moments we are grateful Zachary came first.  Like a few weeks ago, when I was loading the dishwasher.  Ben was across the room, but Zachary was right next to me, awaiting his big chance to close the door.  I turned away to pick up a dish, and suddenly I heard Zach shouting “NO!”  I turned quickly, only to find that Benjamin had somehow magically transported across the room, grabbed a steak knife out of the dishwasher, and was brandishing it about.  Good thing my little three-year-old alarm system was on the job.

The next day, Zach kept his brother from perishing all over again.  “Mommy,” he said, “I think Benjamin is going to choke on those stones.”  Oh, right.  Must keep one-year-old from eating pebbles. 

If Zachary were not here, I am pretty sure Benjamin would have little chance of making it to kindergarten.  He is quite lucky to have such an older brother (and, believe me, I know from difficult older siblings).  Much as Ben feels perpetually left behind by his older brother, Zachary seems invested in keeping his little brother alive.

But, it was not till last week that I saw how much Zach must love the little guy.  He was sitting in front of the television, a privilege he gets for only 20 minutes a day.  He chooses to spend his television allotment on Thomas and Friends, as any wise pre-schooler would.  When Thomas is on, he brooks no disturbance, entering a trance-like state during which I really believe he is transported to the Island of Sodor.

Benjamin, who finds television entirely too safe and passive, was in the room with me, playing a brand-new game in which he took all the plastic kids’ plates off the shelf – one by one – and scattered them about the floor.  Eventually, as he always does, he hurt himself, this time by slipping on one of the plates, falling backwards, and banging his head on the floor.  It was Three Stooges goes toddler.

As I gathered him up for a cuddle, I heard the thump of Zachary’s feet hitting the floor, then patter, patter, patter.  Zachary came bursting into the room, ran over, kissed Benjamin on the head, then spun on his heel and ran back out.  Patter, patter, patter.

No sense in missing more of Thomas and Friends than is absolutely necessary.

Together at last

Folks, I would love some comments on this topic.  Anything you have to chime in on any aspect of this post would interest me greatly.  I am thinking of writing an article on this, and I would love to gain some other perspectives.


Zachary has been having sleeping problems of late.  I’m not talking about the nightmares, which happen every now and then and send me stumbling to his room to comfort him.

Nor am I talking about the five AM trips to the toilet.  These began a few months ago because his brain is ready to nighttime train but his body and his courage are not quite there yet.  So, a year after he gave up daytime diapers, he still insists upon nighttime protection, despite the fact that he rarely wets and he wakes up when he needs to pee.  Unfortunately, that is all too often.  We have started lifting him to the potty a couple of hours after he falls asleep, in the hope that he will not then need to go again two hours before morning has officially been declared in the Rosenbaum house.  Sometimes this works, sometimes he wakes up to go again seven hours later.

This is OK.  Neither J nor I really care if he potty trains completely, other than the obvious hassle and environmental impact of unnecessary diapers.  (Those things can only be reused for so long, you know.)  We aren’t big fans of getting up to help him to the toilet, but it’s not too bad if he goes right back to sleep.

If he goes right back to sleep.

But he does not.  After four in the morning, if he wakes up, he dutifully gets back in bed, but every half hour to forty-five minutes, he re-emerges from his room.  He does not seem frightened, he is just out of his room.  He sits in the hallway at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to come out to him.  If we ignore him, he starts to whimper.  I suck at ignoring whimpering three-year-olds sitting in the dark.

We tried everything.  We tried sternness.  We tried gentleness.  We tried lights on.  We tried lights off.  We even tried reason (yes, yes, I know).

Because we are both incredibly intelligent people, it only took about three months of this before something dawned on me.  “Are you lonely in there?” I asked him.

“Yes.  I don’t like being alone in there.”  And why would he?  Benjamin gets to sleep in the room right next to ours.  Zachary is all the way down the hall.  His room may be bigger, it may be quieter, but it is lonely.

“Would you like to share a room with Benjamin?”

We did not grow up in households where the children shared rooms.  In suburban, middle-class homes in the 1980s, it was de rigueur to provide each child with his or her own room, provided one had the necessary child to bedroom ratio.  Since almost everyone we knew lived in a four or five bedroom house and had only two or three children, almost everyone we knew also had his or her own room.

“I never thought about having the boys share a room,” mused J.  He was not opposed; it just never occurred to him.  That, I suspect, has to do with the fact that we only know the family model in which we were raised – even me.  I obviously got that some things did not work right in my households of origin, but there are some ways of doing things that we never really think about when everyone we know does them.

Of course, sharing a bedroom with a sibling is actually a more common experience than not sharing one.  It is an absurd luxury to be able to afford enough space for each member of the family to have an entire room to himself.  Throughout the world, people share rooms and beds with siblings, grandparents, and cousins.  Until not that long ago (OK, a few centuries), people in Scotland voluntarily shared their homes with the livestock, under the theory that sheep are sort of like an organic heating system.

This is partly a class and geographical phenomenon, but even children of well-to-do architects bunked together in the 1960s.  Alice, you will recall, was the only person in the Brady household to have her own room.

It is not that we thought children are better off with their own room.  Emily Dickinson had her own room, and, while I will admit she penned some mighty fine poetry while holed up there for a few decades, that’s really not the life we want for our boys.  We just never thought about doing it any other way than one child/one bedroom.

Sometimes, we consciously reject the things with which we grew up.  After learning about the benefits of whole wheat bread, for example, I have a brown breadricepasta household.  However, most habits are benign, and there seems to be little purpose to seeing beyond them unless someone challenges them.  But, we get very easily closed into a box in which we do not understand the myriad options for living a life.

One Sunday, back when Melissa and I were still on speaking terms, I was up visiting her in Boston.  “I wonder why the streets are so empty,” she said.

“Church hasn’t gotten out yet,” I suggested.

“No one goes to church anymore,” she laughed.  She thought I was kidding.  I was living in North Carolina and Virginia.  Trust me – people still go to church and the roads really are emptier on Sunday until a bit before noon.

It is in raising children, more than any other aspect of our lives, that we find ourselves unconsciously adopting the norms of our childhoods unless we consciously think about changing them.  So, while we thought about the pros and cons of co-sleeping before (quickly) determining that it was not right for us, we never really thought about whether the boys would share a room when they got older.

Here in London, I have few English friends.  It would be awfully lonely if it weren’t for the French people all over the neighborhood.  French people who, like us, never thought of doing things differently until they got here.  “It is a good idea,” one mother said to me, “this bathing children after supper.”  In France, they do it before.  That’s just what they do.  Never occurred to them to try it another way; never occurred to them people might bathe their children after they finished covering themselves in cheese sauce, rather than before.

It did, however, occur to them that young children might like to share a room with one another.  This is why it finally occurred to me.  So, on Thanksgiving day, we combined two bedrooms into one.  The tiny one next to our room.

The kids are sleeping less, not more.  They spend a lot of time talking to each other, although how Zachary understands what Benjamin is telling him is beyond me.  I am hoping that this calms down, because are they ever happier this way.

Last night, J asked Zach if he likes sharing a room with his brother.  “Yes,” answered my pre-schooler.  “It is much better than the big, hairy monkey in my room.”

Well, I guess that explains why he kept running out.

Instead of learning to dance


J and I thought about taking dance lessons before our wedding.  We were living in different states most of the week, but we figured we could squeeze in an hour during the three days we did spend together.  We are, after all, rather ungainly dancers. 


We decided, however, to forgo dancing lessons and make fools of ourselves on our wedding night.  If we had one hour a week to devote to preparing for our wedding, we were going to spend it in pre-marital counseling, not in learning the cha-cha.  I do not mean the meetings we had with the rabbi, during which we mostly discussed how to avoid offending my side of the family at the ceremony.  Nor do I mean the type of counseling friends have gotten from their clergy people, advising them on the sanctity of the union they were about to enter.  I mean honest-to-goodness, every-week-for-four-months, warts-and-all counseling.  With a trained therapist. 

“Why bother?” an older friend asked me.  “Your arguments will all be about two things throughout your marriage.  You’ll argue about the kids, but mostly you’ll argue about money.”

Well, here we are, seven years in, and I can tell you, we rarely argue about money.  We’re way too tired.  If we’re going to argue, it’s going to be about something far more basic.

We argue about sleep. 

J travels a lot, and his internal clock is so whacked out he’s never quite sure what time zone he’s in.  I, on the other hand, have become a much lighter sleeper since having kids.  This is a recipe for a lot of disrupted slumbers.

It is true – there are fortunate souls out there who can function on very little sleep.  I have always envied people who are fresh as a daisy after six hours.  How much more they must accomplish each day with those extra hours on the vertical.  I am not one of those people.  I need nine hours a night.

I can get by on eight, but if you really want me to be my charming, sweet-as-pie self, leave me uninterrupted from 9:30 till 6:30, at which time I will leap out of bed, ready to jog five miles or deconstruct Victorian sentences.  Needless to say, night after night of only six or seven core hours leaves me twisted in funny shapes.

I suspect we are not the only couple with slumber-related disputes.  While some folks may need less sleep or may be more able to doze right on through one another’s tossing and turning, I do think there must be other couples out there who every now and then find themselves arguing because of sleep.  Stumbling languidly into the kitchen on Thursday mornings, there must be others who, while arguing over the coffee maker or the phone bill know that, deep down, they are snipping at each other because they are just plain tired.

“The baby kept me up for two hours last night, but he slept right through it.”

She got in an hour after I went to bed and turned on the hall light.”

“I can never sleep after eating his lamb and curried cous cous.”

You cannot get angry at the baby, you cannot admonish the hall light, and you cannot take back the extra serving of cous cous.  The only thing to do is turn on the other adult in the house.  It will not make you less tired, but at least you’ll have someone to blame.

I have to say, I think nothing will solve our sleep-deprivation until the boys are adolescents who actually want to sleep later than we do.  We will probably continue to have the grumpy mornings and exhausted evenings that lead to spats over emptying the dishwasher.  But, we learned something in those four months of counseling.  We may not have learned how not to disagree (and, if you’ve figured that one out, shoot me a quick email, please), but we have learned how to sit down together and search for solutions.

We have come across a few, not the least of which is ensuring each of us gets a good nap at least once a weekend.  Another is occasionally sleeping in separate rooms when too many sleepless nights have piled on top of one another, making a stack in peril of toppling over and burying us in our own exhaustion.  A futon for a living room chair may not be elegant, but it can be a very practical way to create a spare room.  These things help.

What helps even more – from my side at least – is a little monologue I have in my head.  “He’s just as tired as you are.  You are both being grumpy because you are exhausted.  And the boys are learning to treat people disrespectfully whenever they aren’t feeling up to snuff.”  This speech only blocks about half the snippy things on their way out of my mouth, but at least it stops some of them.  And we both keep working on it.

If there’s one thing we learned in pre-marital counseling, it is that a good relationship is a continual process, not a state of being.

The soundtrack of my life


Two weeks ago, when J was out of town, our neighbors invited the boys and me over for dinner.  This was very kind of them.  We were on our last night without Daddy, and the thought of looking after the boys alone for yet another evening gave me split ends.  When we go to our neighbors’ house, I don’t really have to look after the boys, because they have a little boy who is 6 months younger than Zachary.  We’ll call him James because he goes around telling people he is James Bond.  James tends to entertain my children for me, except when they are all fighting over fire trucks.


After supper, the parents did have other plans.  They were off to a Sex Pistols show.  Anna was worried about what she should wear so she would not look frumpy.  Her husband, Michael, laughed.  “Everyone’s going to look exactly like you.”

I had to agree.  All the Sex Pistols fans got middle-aged at the same time, you know.

The next morning, I asked Michael how it went.  He said it was the best behaved concert he’d ever been to.  People queued at the bar.  Some folks did get a little antsy about the show starting, however, because they all had to get home to babysitters. 

Going to a Sex Pistols concert ain’t what it used to be.

The music doesn’t always get older along with us.  Some of the music of my youth is frozen, crystallized in a moment and twined up with colors and smells and emotions. 

…The playground at M@rks Me@dow Elementary school.  The jungle gym off to the right, the giant expanse of grass, children running about in coats but no snow on the ground.   

Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

…My father and step-mother arguing, Dennis storming out of the house.  Coming back hours later, having been to see a movie.  Kate later driving the children to see Urban Cowboy on the premise that she should get to see the same movie he had been to.

Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces. 

…My freshman year crush, striking blue eyes, green sweater, glancing about the hallways, wondering if this is one of the days he’ll be cruel or kind. 

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches

…J and I watching Casablanca on our second date. 

It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by

But, some of the music of my youth has grown up with me.  It takes on memories, but it also grows and changes.  As I age, it ages with me, even as it carries with it all the times we’ve been through before.  We got middle-aged together.   Because I am considerably less hip than my neighbors (my kids have no idea who James Bond is), the soundtrack of my youth is Simon and Garfunkel.  It was slightly less uncool when they were so last-generation.  Now they are so two-generations-ago.  Yet, their music and their lyrics are so intense, so powerful that they stretch and grow to absorb and contain ever more meaning. 

…JamieLA driving a car of friends, sometime around midnight.  We’d been to N@hant to drop off some of the kids, and now we were headed towards home.  Accelerating on the stretch of road bridging N@hant and the mainland, four teenagers singing at the top of their lungs. 

Making love in the afternoon
With Cecilia, up in my bedroom
I got up to wash my face
When I came back to bed
Someone’s taken my place. 

My junior year in college, my best friend, Sara, and I took the train to New York from Philadelphia.  We had dinner with my sister, then we went to Madison Square Garden, the smaller hall.  We were the youngest in the venue by 15 years, except for the kids who had been dragged along by their parents.  It didn’t matter. 

The last NJ Transit train left at 10:30, but at 10:10 we both looked at each other and shook our heads.  There was no way we were leaving before the last song, even if it meant we’d have to spend a whole shift’s worth of tips to buy Amtrak tickets home.  How often, after all, do Simon and Garfunkel reunite? 

Time it was
And what a time it was it was,
A time of innocence
A time of confidences. 

Later, we would end up living in separate cities.  I was in Philadelphia, Sara was in Boston.  Well, usually she was in Boston.  Except when she was monitoring elections in Azerbaijan for six weeks.  One day, avoiding dissertation work, I clicked on entertainment news. It was ten years later, and they were reuniting again.  I emailed her in Azerbaijan, but she was too busy protecting the democratic process to really notice. 

It was not to be passed up.  I emailed her husband.  We concocted a plan. 

Fast forward – a month later she returned.  Shot me a mock-frustrated email that she had heard they were doing a tour and she had been counting on me to hold down the fort while she was gone and now the tickets were all gone.  Feigning stupidity, I responded by forwarding the email I had sent her while she was abroad.  Sorry, I told her, I’m going with J’s mother. 

Then, the next day, she called.  She was annoyed with her husband.  They had made a pact not to get each other much for their birthdays because cash was tight, yet he indicated he had a gift for her and couldn’t wait to give it. It was almost too much for me to bear.  I suck at keeping secrets. 

His present to her was the tickets.  Mine was traveling up for the concert. 

Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears.

Last Thursday, making the boys’ breakfast, I turned on my soundtrack.  We had lost the CD, so we hadn’t listened to Simon and Garfunkel in quite some time.  (We’d been relying on Dan Zanes and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert soundtrack.)  So, when I turned to Zachary to sing a few lines I love, he was unfamiliar with the lyrics. 

I’m sitting in the railway station,
Got a ticket for my destination. 

“A train song!” he exclaimed.  Another generation brainwashed. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door.  I opened it and accepted a parcel.  From Boston.  Birthday presents for both of the boys. And what was playing in the background? 

Sail on silver girl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind. 

It may not be “Anarchy in the U.K.,” but it works for us.


This is part of Julie’s Hump Day Hmmm.  Head on over to read the others.

Various and sundry


You are seated at breakfast.  The entrée is pancakes.  You may choose either:

A)    A warm, fresh, intact pancake straight off the griddle, with a side of syrup

B)     The outer circumference of a cold, leftover pancake, all that is left after someone else has eaten out the center portion.

Which do you choose?  Your choice, in our house at least, is largely dependent upon whether you are an older or a younger sibling.


The funny, thoughtful, and apparently genius-level Magpie has awarded me this lovely bling:


My cup runneth over.  There are a lot of people to whom I’d like to pass it along, but I have to choose one, so I will send it along to Ally, who I wish would post more often because her posts are always well-written and socially aware.  She always manages to retain her humility while also advising her readers on how to better the world.  That takes a great deal of skillful writing.


Thanks to Google Reader (sorry, Snos), I am now reading a wider range of blogs more efficiently.  This is good, as one of the things I love about blogging is the communication between diverse groups of people.  There is a sense of community in knowing you read me and I read you.  I do think there are lots of you out there reading me without leaving a calling card.  That’s totally cool; no one should be pressured to comment.  However, if you are a regular reader who never or rarely comments, I hope you do comment in the next few days and leave me a link to your blog.  I’d like to check you out because – for me at least – reading each other is part of what blogging is all about.

This attitude, however, has gotten me into a bit of a pickle.  I always comment the first few times I read a blog because I want you to know I am there and paying attention to your words.  Then, I feel like I need to keep commenting so you won’t think I have disappeared.  This would be fine if it weren’t for things like load times and the kids wanting to see their mother now and then.  I find my self reading less attentively because I feel the pressure of wanting to form a comment.

Now that I am reading more blogs, I am going to need to cut back somewhat on my commenting.  If I have been a regular reader of your blog, rest assured I am still reading everything, and probably in a more timely and thoughtful manner than I have in the past.  I am there, I am reading, and I am interested.  But, I may not be commenting as often. 

That’s probably for the best, because how many of my snarky comments do you really want to read in a week?


Thank you for the kind comments on my new banner.  That is Benjamin’s mouth up there.  It was taken a month ago, but he still has only six teeth.  For the uninitiated, let me explain.  He had no teeth till he was 11 months old.  Then, he got four teeth in one month.  Since his first birthday, he has cut two more teeth.  This leaves him 16 months old with very little to aid his continual quest for more calories and more varieties of flavor. 

Kidney beans, pea pods, salmon, hamburger, broccoli, apples, carrot sticks, cheese wheels, dal, pad thai – yep, he can manage those.  It is harder to eat beef satay with six teeth, and this morning I had to tell him that walnuts were probably out of the realm of possibility.

Come on, baby, just imagine what you could do with a couple of mashers.


I’ve given in to the temptation.  I’ve been here.  But, I have put a cap on it.  Three wrong answers and I have to stop for the day.  Otherwise, I’ll spend all day at it.

Charity begins abroad


Dear family,


This time of year, it is easy to get caught up in the trappings of the holiday season.  Even when we can retain perspective and remember that Christmas is a time for family togetherness, we sometimes become so focused on our own families that we forget there are others who will wake up on December 25 without stockings, trees or family feasts. 

That is why I am writing to you today.  At Samaritan’s Purse, we are organizing a Christmas appeal that will spread Christmas cheer to children around the world who find themselves with little to celebrate.  Operation Christmas Child, otherwise known as the “Shoebox Appeal,” is your family’s chance to make a difference.

The concept is simple.  We ask that you decorate an old shoe box and then fill it with gifts for a little boy or girl, marking it with the appropriate label.  When your shoebox is ready, you can bring it to one of our many drop-off points or any participating church or school, along with a small donation to cover our overhead.  Samaritan’s Purse will then ship these boxes around the world to children in dire need.

In these days of climate change, more and more worldwide communities are finding themselves faced with grim poverty.  Air pollution and dramatic natural disasters are shaking these nations, and their children are some of the worst victims.  This is why your participation this year is more vital than ever.

We do ask that you choose your gifts carefully and consult the list of approved items.  Since gender stereotypes are universal, please only include toy vehicles if your box is for a boy.  If your box is for a girl, consider items such as makeup or hairclips, as these will allow her to look especially pretty while she sits about hungry for most of January.  Please do not include anything practical like clothing or food, as we only wish to provide these children with the same frivolous gifts your own children will be enjoying this holiday season.

We also ask that you check the origin of the items you are buying.  We prefer toys or trinkets manufactured at least 1000 miles from wherever you live.  When we ship them to Mozambique, we will be adding another 5,095 miles to their total distance traveled, but if you purchase imported goods, you can ensure the highest possible CO2 emissions for your little box of Christmas surprises.  Please do your part to help support the oil companies this holiday season.

Last year, over one million shoe boxes were distributed worldwide.  We need your help to ensure that this year’s campaign reaches all those in need and that no child is left empty-handed on Christmas morning.  They may not have shoes, but please help us make sure they all have shoe boxes.


Randolph Q. Jones, President Samaritan’s Purse International



This is part of the Monday Mission over at Painted Maypole.  Today’s mission is to write a post in the form of a charitable appeal.  Please note that Samaritan’s Purse states its mission as “Meeting critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, disease, and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ,” so presumably they sometimes send things somewhat more useful than stuffed animals.

Lunch conversation between friends

As I mentioned before, I am trying to work on my dialogue-writing skills.  I asked for suggested scenarios.  Painted Maypole suggested a lunch conversation between friends. 


“We try to minimize the time our kids spend in the stroller.”

“Really,” Clarabelle said.  “Why is that?”

Annie took a generous sip of her Diet Coke.  “Oh, that’s just something we’re committed to as parents.”

Clarabelle glanced at her friend for a moment.  She had two choices here.  She could smile halfway, hand Walter a roll, and change the subject.  Or, she could take the bait.  She took the bait.  She almost couldn’t help herself.

“But, why?  Why would you want to limit their time in the stroller?”

“It’s just how we’ve decided to raise them,” Annie replied.  “Our values.”

Clarabelle and her husband owned three strollers at this point.  There was the little umbrella stroller, which they kept folded in the trunk of the car for visits to relatives or occasional trips to the mall.  It didn’t get much use because proximity to the mall made Clarabelle start itching all around her neck.  They had originally planned on using only this one stroller, but it had certain significant drawbacks.  The wheels were small, catching on the broken neighborhood sidewalks, and there was no tray, so Walter, who preferred his vegetable al fresco, had no place to put his broccoli as they made their way through town.  And—by far the biggest drawback—the basket was tiny.  Really, you could fit just the rain cover and a few diapers.  There was no space for groceries.

Hence, the second stroller.  This one had larger wheels and a giant basket underneath.  It suited their lifestyle perfectly.  It was heavy as the dickens, but since they spent so little time in the car, it never got folded or taken anywhere.  Clarabelle would load Walter into the stroller after breakfast, tucking cups and various forms of produce into the handlebar area, and head out for the morning.  Throughout the morning, she would scatter slices of apple or chunks of sweet potato on the tray in front of him; in his preoccupation with the passing cars and approaching dogs, he never noticed he was consuming foods he usually tossed onto the kitchen floor.  They would go to the playground, stop to pet various forms of canine, and return books to the library.  Along the way, Clarabelle would get muffins at the bakery, pop into the post office, and load up on groceries.  By the time they got home for lunch, the basket had put in a good morning’s work.

The third stroller, a second hand jogger they had bought from the neighbor for $10, was pretty much useless in terms of dropping off the dry cleaning because it had no basket, but it came in handy during heavy snows.  Even inclement weather did nothing to break their stroller habit.  So, Clarabelle was really confused.  Why would someone intentionally limit such a benign activity?

“But why?” she asked.  “What’s wrong with the stroller?”

“Nothing,” her friend reassured her.  Annie was half talking to Clarabelle, half trying to keep Kimmy from dipping her fingers into the remains of her Caesar salad.  “If that’s how you choose to raise your children.”  Annie began wiping butter out of her daughter’s hair.  “It’s just not what we want for our kids.”

Clarabelle was approaching somewhere between defensive and panicked.  Was there something really wrong with the stroller?  Had she missed some crucial piece of medical research explaining that more then 20 minutes a day of stroller time would lead to dandruff and halitosis in later life?  Should Walter be walking everywhere on his own?  This would really present a problem, as he couldn’t even walk across the kitchen on his own yet.

“But WHY?” Clarabelle asked, in exasperation.

Annie looked at her friend kindly, clearly hesitant to break the news to someone so naïve to the subtleties of proper child rearing.  “Strollers create a gap between parent and child,” she told her friend.  “They break the bond and stymie attachment.  We try to wear our children wherever we go.”

“Doesn’t that hurt after while?” Clarabelle asked.

“Oh, not for us.  We’re used to it.”  Annie fished through her wallet, pulling out a few bills and handing them to the waiter.

As the friends said goodbye at the curb, Annie turned to unlock her mini-van door.  “Do you want a ride?” she asked, as she strapped Kimmy into her car seat. Clarabelle had Bulky Stroller number two with her, but there was plenty of room in the back for it. 

“Oh, I prefer to walk,” replied Clarabelle.  “It’s just something I’m committed to as a parent.”



I sent the lovely Julie an email, suggesting a topic for an upcoming Hump Day Hmmm.  I did this not out of the goodness of my heart but out of laziness.  You see, I had just written a post on the topic.  I suggested to Julie that we write about the impact music has had on our lives.


“Cool,” Julie replied.  “Except I can’t use the word impact unless describing the crash of an asteroid.”

Leave it to an editor…

She’s right, you know.  Of course, she is.  “Impact” is indeed used to describe the act of collision.  Over the years, however, it has taken on a more metaphorical meaning.  People now use it not just to describe the actual collision but to describe the effect something has upon them.  In other words, if I use the word “impact,” I am calling on your mental image of a collision and asking you to apply the effect of a collision to the present situation.  I am trusting you to translate that metaphor.

It has become such common parlance that we do not even think about the metaphorical connection to a physical state (much like how I just used the word “connection”).  The word “impact,” in other words, carries with it all the times it has been used previously, and listeners apply all the past meanings to the present use.

We rely on these metaphors all the time in language.  No one actually “weaves” a tale, but we sort of figure people know that.  When you hear someone speak of weaving a tale, you may not even think about actual weaving anymore, but the metaphor is hard at work, and your busy little mind is applying the physical act of weaving to the tale-telling at hand.

I like metaphors.  They are comfortable to me.  I like words that work hard to describe exactly what they are saying.  “Impact” works for me because it is a specific reference and it is precise.

What is dislike are cheap metaphors.  Especially cheap, imprecise metaphors.  Ones that rely on hyperbole.

“I was robbed.”  Well, you weren’t, really.  In this case, the word “robbed” only works if you apply it with a conscious acknowledgement that you are using inappropriate hyperbole.  In other words, you might get away with it if you get rejected by Mensa because you are applying a certain amount of self-mocking acknowledgement that the metaphor is inappropriate.  If you claim to have been robbed when you pay too much for something, the two things you are comparing are pretty similar.  You’re just exaggerating.

Where’s the grace in that?

There’s no crime in being imprecise.  There are no language police who will hunt you down if you claim to be “starving” three hours after eating a large cheese pizza, although it does reflect a certain disregard for the fact that real people are actually starving.  It is, however, undignified to continually ratchet up the English language.  It is much like giving antibiotics all the time.  Sooner or later, they lose their efficacy.  Every now and then, let’s understate things a little.

There are times when our use of words can reflect a tremendous insensitivity.  An undershirt with no sleeves is not a “wife beater.”  It is an undershirt with no sleeves.  Perhaps you do believe that a certain economic and geographic demographic is filled with fat men sitting around in sleeveless undershirts calling “B-tch, bring me another beer.”  I, however, do not.  And to call an undershirt a “wife beater” is to take the real power away from those words.

We need those words to have power because they describe something terrible.  They describe something that traumatizes families (across economic and geographic lines, by the way).  Leave those words alone.  Find another inaccurate and inappropriate metaphor.

And, if you want to use the word “r@pe” to describe anything short of horrific sexu@l violence, go read Flutter’s post.

Words do real work.  I try hard to respect the work they do because I know they can hurt people.  When we taught Zachary to say “I don’t like that” instead of “I don’t like you,” we were teaching him more than a pronoun swap.  We were teaching him to be sensitive to other people’s feelings.  Flutter’s co-worker could use a little help in that department.

It is not about political correctness.  WORDS DO REAL WORK.  Words are beautiful and strong and precise.  You can really use words to hurt someone else.

But it says a lot more about you if you try not to.

A sign you might care too much about grammar

The other day, three-year-old Zachary said to me: “My Taggie needs to be picked up.”

It was all I could do to restrain myself from including the words “passive voice” in my response.


Slouching Mom (a woman I really wish lived next door to me) gave me this:

Isn’t it cute?  Here are the rules on this one:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to five blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;
3. (Optional) Proudly display the “Thinking Blogger Award” with a link to the post that you wrote.

I pass this along to

Stephanie, who is a thoughtful thinker (yes, I just modified a noun with its adjectival form)

Melody, because those photographs show such depth of thought

Kevin, with whom I do not always agree, but whose dialogue is always thought-provoking

Liz, who wrote an incredibly intelligent comment on yesterday’s post that inspired me to check out her fantastic blog

and Catherine, who probably thinks too much.

Now, if I can figure out how, I’ll work on displaying the bling.  Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I demonstrate that I might also care a bit too much about word choice…

Songs that voices never share


Being a lawyer is the hardest job to have when you have children.

This is true.  I know it is an indisputable fact.  I know this because Helen told me so.  I’m a younger sister.  If Helen told me so, it is true.

Now, those of you who do not have Helen for an older sister might disagree with her assessment of “attorney” as the most difficult job to hold down when one is a mother.  I, myself, have sometimes – in my darkest, most private moments – wondered whether, just maybe, it could be possible that Helen could be wrong.  About this only, of course.

As Helen explained to me, lawyers are at the mercy of judges.  When the judge tells her to be in court, she has to be in court, and there are few judges out there who really care whether Marc is still recovering from the chicken pox or has a t-ball game that afternoon.  Still, I cannot help wondering if perhaps there are a few other lines of work that are slightly more difficult. 

Take, for example, law enforcement.  Police officers, after all, have those nuisance shifts that require them to be away from home at 2 in the morning.  And people shoot at them, by the by. 

Or, perhaps strippers.  (I know some people might consider strippers an extreme example, but I think we weren’t put on this earth to judge what other people have to do to put sandwiches in their kids’ lunch boxes.)  Stripping, I think, would be a very hard job to do with children.  After all, it does not tend to be a 9 to 5 job.  Strippers mostly miss out on bath and book time, not to mention the fact that their job is sometimes a bit demeaning.  On the bright side, they’re usually there for the t-ball games.

Only slightly less frustrating is waiting tables.  Those of you who’ve done it know of what I speak.  One of the things I found most frustrating about waitressing was that it was completely unpredictable.  Some schmuck could decide to sit at table 39 all shift long with a cup of coffee and a basket of tortilla chips, tying up ¼ of my tables, and then leave me 19 cents for a tip.  Even worse were the people who sat there, oblivious to the fact that my entire station had cleared out an hour before, discussing important-looking flow charts while I stood in the kitchen, fuming over the fact that I could not leave the restaurant till I’d emptied out my station. 

How much harder would it be, I wonder, to stand there, knowing you are missing your child’s bedtime and he’ll be put to bed by grandma again because you’re stuck waiting to clean out table 27?  And not even knowing whether they plan on leaving a tip.

Perhaps, though, Helen wasn’t considering these professions.  Perhaps they were not white-collar enough for her.

Well, I still think you could imagine one or two lines of white-collar work that are harder on a parent than being a lawyer.  Flight attendant or pilot, for example.  Yes, I’ll admit, it’s hard missing baby Spanish class because you have a court date, but I’m still thinking it just might be a little harder missing Gymboree because you’re on a transcontinental flight.  I’m just sayin’…

And then there are consultants.  I married one of those, you know.  He spends so much time in different time zones that his body no longer has an internal clock.  He is perpetually jet-lagged.  (FYI, they plant a lot of forests to offset his travel.  It mattered to me to know that, so I thought it might matter to some of you.  I still don’t like the environmental impact of his travel, but the forests do help.  Please don’t comment on it, as it bothers me enough as it is and there’s nothing I can do about it.)  Moving to London helped; he travels only about half the time now.  When we were in the U.S., it was closer to 80%. 

Once, when Zachary was about 18 months old, I thought I heard J coming home from a trip while I was bathing the little guy.  So did Zach.  So, he tried to swing his scrawny little leg over the side of the tub, scramble out of the bath, and fling his wet and naked body over the banister to where Daddy was.  I convinced him to wait.

That’s how much Zachary misses his father when he travels.  As he’s gotten older, you’d think he’d be getting used to it, but he’s really not.  Now, he is just more sophisticated in his reactions.  Usually, he punishes me for the first twenty-four hours of J’s absence and then punishes J for the first 12 hours upon his return.  I think I’m getting the raw end of the deal, here.

Benjamin is no more accepting of the status quo than is his brother.  When J returned this time, he wanted to get out of his high chair to be hugged.  Out of his high chair.  During breakfast.  While eating pancakes.  This is a child who is under the impression breakfast should last till 20 minutes before morning snack, which should last till 45 minutes before lunch.  Usually, we just pick an arbitrary moment when his pace of consumption has slowed and declare that mealtime is over.

So, you can imagine how much he missed his Daddy if he was willing to call off breakfast of his own volition.

I miss their Daddy, too.  To be frank, I never bother to miss him on trips that are shorter than four days.  If I did, I’d spend my whole life whining about his absence.  But, on longer trips, it gets kind of lonesome only getting adult conversation during school drop off.  This last trip was nine days.  That’s a long time, especially since he got to be back in the U.S., working but also seeing old friends and family, while I was stuck here in London dealing with the Timmy situation and spending a good half an hour a day discussing the day of the week with Zachary.

“What day is today?”  Zachary would ask.

“Today is Wednesday,” I would answer.

“How many days until Sunday?” he wanted to know.  So, we’d count the days till Daddy’s return.  He would nod, satisfied, and then begin the conversation all over again three hours later.  I tried to see it as a teaching moment.  At least he was learning the days of the week.

I was pretty eagerly awaiting Sunday morning, when J would be back.  Tired and jet-lagged, but available to be climbed upon while passed out on the living room floor.  So, you can imagine how I felt when he called me Saturday night at 9:30, just about when he was supposed to be driving to Dulles.

“I’m not going to be home for at least another day,” he informed me.  My first thought, as it always is when he travels internationally, was that there had been some sort of terrorist attack I hadn’t heard about and all the flights had been cancelled.  No, no terrorist attacks.  Just a lost passport.  “Stolen,” he told me.

Just to clarify.  We are Americans living in London on a two-year visa.  A visa that is glued into my husband’s passport.  It must be in his passport when he enters the country.  So, the boys and I were here, he was there, and the passport with the visa was missing.  You will all be very proud of me when I tell you that, not only did I refrain from threatening to remove his earlobes with a buzz saw if he did not make it home, I actually remained calm and supportive.

Yeah, it surprised me, too.

Then, half an hour later, he called again.  He was on the way to the airport.  His father had retained some presence of mind and found the passport tucked away in some obscure part of the luggage.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)  This time, I just couldn’t be mature about it.  I had to make fun of him, just a little.

The fact is, I don’t just worry when he travels internationally.  Even when he stays here in London, if he is twenty minutes late getting home, I start worrying that there was an attack on the Tube.  Even while I try to cajole Zachary to take three more bites and try to convince Benjamin that ketchup is a condiment, not a hair product, I start imagining their father trapped underground.  Irrational though it is, I worry.

I worry partly the same way I’ve always worried.  I worry about losing my best friend, my partner, the only person who still, after all these years, can make me laugh.  I worry for me and I worry for him.  But, for the past three years, I’ve worried on another level.

If I lost J, I just don’t know how I’d raise the boys on my own.  As you are aware, I have somewhat limited models for parenting.  I’m also a bit at a handicap when it comes to raising men, being, you know, female and all.

In her Hump Day Hmm, Julie asked about losing it all.  Well, the truth of it is, losing material possessions does not scare me all that much.  If there were a fire in the house, I’d sort of hope I could grab the passports and the boys’ blankies, but really all that would matter would be getting the family out of the house.  And, since the boys sleep with the blankies, I pretty much figure the passports would be the only challenge.

But losing J or one of my boys?  That would be losing it all.  So, I worry.  I worry whenever he travels, whenever he’s late, whenever I am alone too long with my own imagination.  And I’ll tell you, folks, I really have less to worry about than others.

Because there are, out there, plenty of people whose partners are gone for longer than nine days at a time.  In places considerably less safe than the District of Columbia or the London Underground.  Who are left to raise their kids for months, even years, without the other parent, not ever knowing if that other parent is going to come back.

You know who I am talking about.

When I think about losing it all, I think about the mothers and fathers who are half a world away from their families, fighting in a war that none of us can pinpoint a reason for.  (I also think about the families in the middle of the war, but that’s a whole other can of worms.  Just don’t think I’ve forgotten them.)  I think about mothers whose children are graduating from t-ball to baseball without them seeing a single game.  I think about fathers who aren’t even their when their daughters are born.  I think about everyone who just won’t come back.

This is not an anti-war post.  I wish, I wish, I wish I were wise enough to understand all the complexities of international politics and clever enough to untwist them and devise a solution to end the war.  I am not.  I haven’t even been following the news much lately because I despair at my total inability to change a damned thing.  (A situation I am working to remedy.)

But I am sad.  I am sad that we have created a society so complicated that we need airplanes and terrorism and wars.  I understand, I really do, that our intricate minds have created things of tremendous beauty and use – vaccines, the Sistine Chapel, guitars, Snickers bars, Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.  But, I am also sad that our society is so intricate we need to take parents and put them someplace far away from their children.  And I am angry, because I don’t really understand how to get the good complexities without the bad.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.

 All I know is that there are careers that are a lot tougher on parents than being a lawyer.

Hump Day HmmThis week’s Hump Day Hmmm is to write about loss.  Head on over to Julie’s place to see them all.