Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Lazy Mother’s Guide to Bathroom-water conservation

One in a whenever-the-heck-I-feel-like-it series. 


           “We’re not in a drought,” he tells me.  “What does it matter how much water I use?”  This is actually quite true.  If you live in an area with plenty of water, your water use has no effect on the environment.  Really.  None at all.  Of course that only is the case if you use solely rain water that you have collected in huge tubs in your backyard.  And if you use only cold water.  And if you hand-remove the sh*t from the toilet after use, carrying it out to your backyard as fertilizer, perhaps.

            If, however, you are lazy, like me, you prefer to get your water from turning on the tap, which means the water companies must use energy to carry the water to your house.  (Energy production creates waste.)  And, if you are a hedonist, like me, you prefer to shower and wash your hands in warm water, using energy to heat the water.  (Energy production creates waste.)  And, if you are living in a house with two little sh*t-producing machines, like my children, you might prefer to flush the toilet, which means the water companies must then use energy to clean the water that goes down the drain.  (Energy production creates waste.)

            Unfortunately, there is not some guy sitting outside your house watching the water flow out your sewer and deciding whether the water coming out is dirty and needs processing or is clean and can go right back into the supply (what a job that would be).  The water companies have to work under the assumption that all the water that goes down the drain has been sullied and requires processing.  So, even if you are in the next room clipping your toenails while the sink runs, the water is going to need to be cleaned, using energy.  (Energy production creates waste.)

            This, as I understand it, is the basic argument for conserving water, even if you live somewhere with 347 days of rain each year.  (Sometimes, I feel like I live somewhere like that.)  If I am wrong, please, one of the more scientific minds out there should feel free to correct me.  Or give me more details to make my argument stronger.  (Alina, maybe?)

            What I like about water conservation is how easy it is.  Mostly, it consists of not doing things.  This, as you know, is my area of expertise.  Take the toilets.  Now, there are people who visit the toilet three, maybe four, times a day.  These are not people who have given birth to children.   (To be fair, I had a tiny bladder before having children, but I like to blame as much on my kids as possible.)  I visit that little room about once an hour.  Zachary is only slightly more continent than I am, so he is in there pretty frequently, as well, and most of the time he actually hits his target, peeing in the toilet.  When you factor in a few visits from the big guy, that’s a lot of water down the toilet.  So, we just do not flush.  I mean, we flush, but not very often.  We wait till someone has made a solid contribution before pulling the handle. 

Nor is this the only way we help out the planet simply by being lazy.  We make group trips.  You see, Zach prefers an escort on most trips to the bathroom.  If I were to just take him and then wait to go myself, I’d be in there every twenty minutes.  So, when I have to go, he goes.  When he has to go, I go.  (I don’t recommend this for parents with twelve-year-olds.)  While we’re at it, we change Benjamin’s diaper.  We are in there already – let’s make the most of the hike up the steps.  This way, even if there is some flushing to be done, we have cut our flushing by half.

Much has been made lately of the two-minute Navy shower.  This is something I never could quite accomplish.  I spend at least a minute each shower having to adjust the constantly fluctuating water temperature, so maybe all those Navy-showerers have better plumbing systems.  I have, however, come up with a few ways to greatly reduce my time pouring water down the drain.

First of all – and men might want to look away for this paragraph – I have started waxing my legs.  Ideally, I would not put any time or resources into hair-removal at all, under the principle that the only reason I covet hairless legs is because I have bought into a patriarchal society that insists women have to spend hours each day grooming themselves.  Since we do not live in an ideal world and I have bought into a patriarchal society that requires me to spend at least 15 minutes each day grooming myself, I still do the hair-removal thing.  Shaving, however, is very time-consuming.  Not to mention water-consuming.  Since I need to wax monthly anyway due to certain unfortunate dark-haired tendencies to grow hair in socially unacceptable places, I started doing my legs, as well.  Shorter showers, less time spent balancing on one leg while dragging a sharp object across the other.

Men can look back now.

The other method I have devised for shortening my showers is, if I say so myself, pure genius.  It is so simple, so effective, and so utterly satisfying, I cannot imagine why I did not think of it before.  It appeals to the very core of my lazy soul.

I sleep in.

That’s it.  I sleep later.  Nowadays, I actually sleep until the kids wake up.  Then I tell Zachary to chat with Benjamin in his crib for a few minutes while I hop in the shower.  If knowing that your three-year-old is entertaining your one-year-old does not make you take a faster shower, I don’t know what will.

If you cannot wait until the children wake up, I suggest at least sleeping in so that you have only a few minutes before they wake up.  Nothing speeds up a shower like wondering if your kids have leapt out of bed and are rearranging the furniture while you stand there in the steam.

If you do not have children, just sleep in.  You have a train to catch?  A job to get to?  Fantastic.  Get ten extra minutes of shut-eye, then hop in the shower.  I guarantee you will use less water.  And – here’s the best part – you will get more sleep.  As far as I am concerned, the only respectable motive in life is more sleep.

I would start talking about turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, but if you are not doing that already, it seems pretty clear that the environment does not top your list of concerns. 

Desperately Seeking Emily

       Where, oh where, has Emily gone?  She is not posting much.  She is not commenting much.  Is she even reading?

        Emily, if you are wondering, is applying to preschools.  Zachary is three, and this is the third time I have had to research and apply to preschools.  The first time, I spent days and weeks researching and visiting schools in Philadelphia that he never attended because we moved to London.  The second time, I scrambled frantically to visit preschools in London while we were still getting over jetlag and I was 7 months pregnant.  I could not apply in advance because we did not know where we would be living until a few weeks before the move (that’s how the rental market here works).  I sighed a huge sigh of relief when a few of the schools still had spaces.

          Now, we are moving mid-school-year.  He will probably miss a few months of preschool this year, but I am sure we will find a summer camp (note to self: find summer camp).  Many of the preschools have already finished accepting applications for September 2008.  Yet, here I am, oceans and continents away, calling at nine AM Pacific (which is 5 PM GMT, so the kids are busy tearing the heads off chickens or mixing the trash and recycling together while I am on the phone), hoping to find people actually in the office in the week between Christmas and New Years.  Then, we fill out applications.  Last night found me writing essays at 11 o’clock at night.  Yes, I was writing essays for my three-year-old and my seventeen-month-old to get into preschool.

          Some of you have asked how long a move this one is.  Technically, it is a permanent move.  The move to London was only two years, and we have an expiring visa to prove it.  L.A. is permanent, which means we live there indefinitely.  In reality, we can probably count on at least five years.  Which means I need to take the schools seriously this time, because this will be Zachary’s last and Benjamin’s only preschool.

          So, where is Emily?  She is reading as much as she can, and she promises she will indeed get to all of your posts (both Ashers had great Christmases, the Poo is sick, Flutter is marrying into a very nice family, De has a broad-winged hawk in the oak tree — see, I am reading).  But, she is not commenting, because that would take time away from writing her application essays, a job she thought she had finished when she got into grad school the last time.

Lines composed in a Marriott a few miles from Tintern Abbey

I wrote this over the weekend but have just now gotten around to posting it… 



I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity

— William Wordsworth

             Here we are, American expatriates living in London, living the adventure, and I post for you my thoughts on mittens and chicken nuggets.  Where, you ask, are the castles?  Wherefore the museums and cathedrals?  The Tower of London?  And those double decker busses?  Where the hell is the adventure, the romance of our life here in London?

            Well, guys, it tends to be just like a life anywhere else.  School runs, swimming lessons, playgrounds, and laundry.  We change poopy diapers here in London pretty much the same way we did back home.  We just pay more for the clean ones.

            However, knowing that we would be here only for two years has given us incentive to see things.  Lots of things.  Our neighbors say to us “You know, we’ve actually never been to Brighton.”  And that’s fine for them, because Brighton will always be there, and, as far as they can tell, they will always be here, a short train ride away.  Not so for us.  We know we will only once be strangers in this particular strange land with two tiny people.  So, we take day trips.  We have what we call “adventures.” 

            We load the boys into the car, we drive places.  An hour in, Zachary starts complaining and Benjamin falls asleep.  Your typical day trip with children.  Most Americans are pretty familiar with this.  But, at the end of our day trips, there are castles.  There are historic estate homes where they filmed Jane Austen adaptations.  And, oftentimes, there are moats.

              Some weekends, we don’t take trips.  We take the boys to Covent Garden where they listen to string quartets or go to the newly reopened Transport Museum.  Or, we catch a bus down the road, take a quick trip, and end up at the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum.  In nice weather, we head up to the Peter Pan themed Princess Diana Memorial Garden in Kensington Gardens.

            “What shall we do this weekend?” I ask J.

            “I want to go to a castle,” Zachary opines.  Right.  Just what every three-year-old expects to do on Saturday morning.

            And now, we’re leaving.  In a few months, we will pack up.  I will not miss the noise.  I will not miss the pollution.  I will not miss the cold and unfriendly mothers at my son’s school.  And I sure as shootin’ won’t miss the rain.  I might, however, miss the castles.

            We will go to L.A.  There, the beach and the La Brea Tar Pits will be part of the boys’ everyday life.  Whereas once we visited monastic ruins in Scotland as a short vacation or the Royal Pavilion in Brighton as a day trip, now we will decide on a Saturday morning to throw on some flip flops and head to the beach.  Life will be very different.

            J and I are away for a few days.  We have left the boys with their visiting grandparents and headed out to Wales.  This morning, we tooled around Tintern Abbey, just as William Wordsworth did before us.  And, as we climbed around the rather impressive ruins, I realized this would probably be our last visit to a place like this.  Already, we are busy thinking about the next place, the next move.  Life will be very different.

            But we will still be doing school runs.  We will still be doing laundry.  We will still be changing poopy diapers.  Life will be very much the same.

I picked up an extra post card today for you, a blog friend.  The first person to post a comment asking for it will get a Tintern Abbey postcard, signed by me, in the mail.

Maybe it’s a dybbuk?

J’s parents do not get much time with their grandsons, given that there are five time zones and an ocean between them.  Our boys adore their grandparents, the grandparents adore their grandchildren, and everyone wishes they could see one another more often.  Because we are such accommodating parents, we decided to give them all the opportunity to spend a little quality time together without us around to interfere.  J’s parents are in London visiting, and – much as we really wanted to stay and help them care for the children – we decided to cash in on some hotel points and leave town for a few days so they could have some good, solid bonding time with their grandchildren.

Talk about sacrificing for your children.           

“Where will you go?” people asked.           

“It doesn’t matter,” we answered.  Frankly, we have spent very little time out of the hotel room.  If they catheterized me, I am not sure I would actually want to get out of bed.           

Our plan got a little wrench thrown in it the first night.  We went to sleep around 10:30, after a few frantic calls to L.A. preschools to determine whether they will have spots in early April so that Zachary is not out of school for six months.  (We do understand that he won’t fall behind academically if he misses a few months of preschool, but I do not think I will survive if he does not have someone else to talk to for six straight months.)  It was absolutely delicious getting into bed knowing no one would wake me up in the morning.           

What I did not count on was getting awakened long before morning light.  Around about 1:30, we were awakened by a click, strange music, and an eerie glow.  Disoriented, we both looked about, trying to figure out what was going on.  Finally, one or the other of us realized that the television, of its own accord, had switched on.  J stumbled out of bed, grabbed the remote, and turned the box off.  We went back to sleep.           

Three minutes later, a click, strange music, and an eerie glow.  The T.V. was back on.  J grabbed the remote.  “And stay off!”           

Two minutes later, another click.  “Are you kidding me?!”  When he could not find the plug through his sleep-fogged eyes, I called the front desk.             

“Um, I think we offended your T.V.  Maybe it’s because we didn’t watch it last night.”  Two people came up, and the switch to turn off the power socket was located.  We figured we could address the root problem at a more civilized hour.           

The next day, slightly grumpy, we woke up and proceeded with our plan to relax in the room all day.  I read blogs, J read the paper, and we ordered room service.  Every now and then, we heard a click, and one of us would reach for the remote, hoping to convince the television we just weren’t in the mood.


If you missed this request earlier this week: if you have a blog, please leave a comment today (whether you usually do or not), and link back to your blog.  Even if you know that I am already reading you, please leave a comment or send an email saying “Yo, I’m over here.” 

Zachary (3 years), as I have written elsewhere, likes accessories.  He likes clothes, he likes colors, he likes socks.  No, no, let me rephrase that: he raises sock-choosing and sock-wearing to an art form that rivals the work of Kandinsky.  We have, on occasion, struggled with outer-wear accessories, but now that I have purchased him mittens in “candyfloss pink” he gladly dons his mittens whenever the temperature dips below 73º.

            Benjamin (17 months), on the other hand, seems rather offended that we own several types of garments, the entire purpose of which is to cover his extremities.  Nothing gives him greater glee than removing his socks, for example.  Over the summer, I left him with his grandparents.  “Don’t put him down for a nap with his socks on,” I warned.

            My mother-in-law was perplexed.  “Why not?”

            “Because,” I explained, “he gets so excited about removing them that he forgets all about being tired.”

            Nowadays, in our cold and drafty house, we do need to put socks on at night, if only as a formality.  Last night, when J snuck in to check on the boys, Benjamin had again removed his socks.  “Did you put them back on him?” I asked.

            “Why bother?” he replied.

            “Oh, he’s asleep now.  They’ll stay on for the night.  It’s not so much that he minds socks as he likes taking them off.  It is the act of springing his toes from the joint that fills him with such pleasure.”  I went in and fished out the socks and a foot.  In his sleep, the child obligingly raised his foot and held it up until I had it covered.

            Unfortunately, Ben is less sanguine about mittens.  We have tried gloves, we have tried mitts, we have tried the green dinosaur mittens that he has seen his brother wearing and therefore consecrating as the height of coolness.  All to no avail.  Every time we cover up his hands, he wails piteously.  If he cannot and we will not remove them, the wail escalates to a tempestuous lament, tears streaming down his face, mouth wide open to reveal all seven of his teeth.  People stop and stare.

            We have cried “uncle.”  We let him go without.  Since we are having rather a cold snap here, this means that lately we are mostly staying within.  However, every now and then, we do like to see the light of day.  Benjamin is particularly forceful about his desire to hit the mean streets of Southwest London, loading his panda bear into the doll stroller, then banging it against the front door repeatedly while looking at me and saying “walk.” 

            He’s not having a whole lot of communication problems.

            So, I put on three coats, three hats (with some objection from one of the heads), three sets of shoes, and two pairs of mittens.  We waddle out the door.  Twenty seconds into the walk, Ben stops.  He looks at his hands.  He looks up at me.  He holds up his hands.

            “Cole,” he says in wonder.

            I offer to put on his mittens.  Emphatic head shaking, “no, no, no, no, no.”  We continue to walk.  Thirty seconds later, Ben stops.  He looks at his hands.  He looks up at me.  He holds up his hands.

            “Cole,” he says insistently.  I suggest mittens.  He tells me where I can shove my stinkin’ mittens.  We continue to walk.  Twelve seconds later, Ben stops.  He looks at his hands.  He looks up at me.  He holds up his hands.

            “Cole,” he says piteously.  Yes, sweetie.  That’s why the rest of us are wearing mittens. 

Photo again… and a little news

I posted earlier today.  Let’s try the photo again.


Oh, and I think we are moving to L.A.  Betcha didn’t see that one coming.

The one Emily hesitated to post

            In the comments awhile back, someone wrote that she likes my non-substantive posts because they make me seem “more human.”  Yikes.  I hadn’t meant to appear inhuman, I emailed her.  In response, she sent a very nice email saying that she felt my writing made me seem somehow unreachable.

            I’m here to tell you guys, I am mightily insecure sometimes.  I don’t like how I look since having children.  Not my body.  That’s fine.  When you have a metabolism like mine, most of the calories go in one end and then hitchhike to Guam for the weekend.  But, I look tired and drawn out.  My hair is unkempt.  I don’t even own contacts anymore because, should I ever get a chance for a nap, I want to be prepared to shut my eyes instantly.  I accessorize with things like oatmeal and urine that missed the toilet.

            While I do not post pictures of the boys to protect their privacy, I do not post my own picture for two reasons.  1) Too many pictures and links drag down load times.  2) Who the heck wants to see a picture of me looking like I do right now?  But, if Blog Antagonist can be brave enough to post her picture, darn it, I will post mine.


That’s me.  Well, actually, that’s me with Benjamin’s head while we admire waterfowl together.  I had to go all the way back to August to even find a picture of me that I could crop the boys out of. 

            Oh, and you don’t have to comment how lovely I am.  You are all really nice, and I know you will, but I won’t believe you anyway.  I told you I am insecure.

            Lately, however, I am not just insecure about my looks.  These days, I am mighty insecure about my writing.  Some days, I believe in myself.  I query agents, hoping to find someone who wants to help sell the book; I glow when they ask to see the manuscript based on my writing sample.  Then, the rejections come in.  And I take it hard.  Awfully hard.

            I try not to.  Who cares if I don’t sell the book in the long run?  My life is still pretty darned good.  But, now and then, self-absorption and insecurity come bopping along.  

Edited: Big chunk chopped out so I wouldn’t lose Chani’s respect

             Am I as insecure as I was when I was thirteen and the ugliest girl in my eighth grade class?  No.  (Could you imagine going through life like that?!)  Am I feeling a little less talented, less attractive, and less of an intellect than I would like?  You betcha.

            How’s that for making me seem human?

Lighter. Stay tuned for fluffy.

            “I think we should see other people.”

            “I promise.”

            “You’re invited!”

            “Count this as your final warning.”

            “I now declare you husband and wife.”

            Linguist J.L. Austin, in his famous book, How to do Things with Words, turned linguistic theory on its ass.  (Wait – before you click away at the mere sight of the words “linguistic theory” – I am going somewhere with this.  And PLEASE don’t tune out before you get to the request in the last three paragraphs.)  Words, he tells us, can actually do things, rather than just reflecting the “real” world. 

Take, for example, my college-friend I, who we are going to call Ian here to avoid confusion.  Some years ago (never mind how long precisely), we were at the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C.  This was a place we often gathered when 30 or so college friends converged on our nation’s capital, probably because it has over 1000 types of bottled beer.  We started doing a lot of celebrations there, branching out to include friends from work, high school buddies, and random people we met on the sidewalk.  So it was that, one evening, Ian was down one end of the table with some of my co-workers.  I was regaling them with the story of how — once upon a time — I fixed Ian up with a woman I had met for 20 minutes, a woman he had dated for almost a year before she had moved away.

“Of course,” Ian piped up, “I have since come out of the closet.”  Now, it was no surprise to anyone that Ian is gay.  The man worked in the theater, for heaven’s sake.  But, until that moment, he had not used those words.  By telling me he had come out of the closet, Ian actually was, at that very moment, coming out.  His words did the very real work of outing him.  (He then turned around and lobbed a hand grenade at the closet, blew it to tiny smithereens, and began sending us all email updates that included snarky comments about what everyone wore to the Golden Globes.)

Those words did something, just like saying “I do” does something very real and very legal at a wedding – although, in Ian’s case, it did not do anything legal when he said that at his wedding, but that’s a story for another time.  (For those of you who are still actually reading and have not wandered off to play internet poker, please note that I borrowed the example of coming out of the closet from some queer theorist or another, probably Eve K. Sedgwick.  But Ian really did come out to me at the Brickseller.)

So, while there are debates flying around just now about whether—here in the blogosphere—we are actually doing something or just talking out our asses, I would like to posit that the exchange of words it incredibly powerful.  This is why the framers of the constitution told Congress it was not allowed to make any laws restricting the freedom of expression.  This is why journalists go to prison to protect their sources.  This is why Amnesty International sends all those darned letters out to the governments that are putting people in prison for writing or saying what they think.  As I have said here before, words do real work.  This is also why English teachers get paid so well still exist.  ‘Cause we kinda know it is important to teach people how to express themselves. 

It is also important that people know how to respond to the words of others.  That free exchange of ideas is the only way words can accomplish anything.  For the last two decades, the journaling movement has been gaining speed in English curriculums.  Students write in their journals, and, in the best of the scenarios, they pass them along to another student who responds.  Free exchange of ideas, less work for the teacher.  Nifty.

Here, one the internet, we have one giant journal-passing session going on.  I read your blogs, you read mine, we post in response to each other.  This is why I focus almost all of my blog reading on people who are here reading me.  (You’ll notice I never respond to memes, but that’s just because I am lousy at coloring inside the lines; I love to read your memes but cannot stand the posts I try to write in response.  I’m sorry!)  I am absurdly, passionately interested in the way that words and ideas can bounce off of one another.  I guess I sort of have to believe in the power of language, otherwise why in tarnation am I trying to become a writer?

I have, however, hit a snag.  I don’t know who you all are.  I know who some of my readers are, but if my blog stats are not lying, there are more of you out there.  And that’s cool.  You do not have to comment if you do not want to.  It isn’t for everyone.  But, I sort of have to cut back on the blogs I am reading, because every now and then I need to carve out time to brush my teeth or acknowledge my children.  So, do me a favor, huh?  Leave me a comment today or email me and just say, “Dude, I’m over here.  Read my blog.”  Even if I already do read your blog, give a little holler today so that I know you and I are in the midst of a conversation.

And, if you still doubt the power of words, I have two examples for you.  One is Laura, who read my words about a very sick little girl and is now using her words to make Julie feel better.  Today, she emailed me a letter for little Julie, and she is sending along a card.  If you would like to join in and use your words to cheer up Julie, you know where to find me.  I’d be happy to give you her address if you shoot me an email or leave a comment.

The second example?  The House just passed a bill.  A bill the Senate already passed.  A bill that, believe it or not, George W. may actually sign.  Words, just words.  But they are going to require more fuel-efficient cars and greener appliances.

Now them’s some powerful words.

 My email address is emily(dot)r(dot)rosenbaum (in the vicinity of) gmail(dot)com.

How about tomorrow I post something light and fluffy?

Business (real post below): The Blogger’s Choice Awards tech people have been hard at work, and they promise me that now any votes for this blog will actually be counted.  That button over on my sidebar delivers you to their site where you can, in theory, now vote for this blog in “The Blogitzer” category for sublime writing that transcends the natural world, or some such.  If you do vote, please stick around to see if your vote actually got counted this time, because, as you may recall, most of your votes were NOT counted the last two times.


           There is a little French girl in Zachary’s class.  Big brown eyes, soft brown curls, the kind of little girl they write fairy tales about.  She is sweet, and she is kind.  She is one of those strikingly beautiful little girls whose loveliness you know the other children do not recognize.  

            Zachary certainly doesn’t.  He likes her well enough, but she is definitely not his first choice of a playmate.  No, he prefers children like Timmy, who periodically denigrate him and make him feel like a lower-level invertebrate.  Julie, who adores him, lights up in a luminous smile every time he enters the room.  She giggles with Benjamin, she shares nicely, and she has nothing but love on offer.  Zahcary?  He’s not buying.

            “I don’t want Julie to kiss me at school,” Zach tells me.  Apparently, it’s OK for her to kiss him at home, just not at school.  I sigh.  This girl’s mother and I have started to become friends, ex-patriots clinging together in a sea of hostile, English, new-money mums.  We live down the street from one another.  We arrange play-dates regularly.  Moreover, Julie is the kind of kid I want Zachary playing with. 

Guess what?  I actually do not get a say in who he decides to be friends with.  It is best I learn this early, I suppose.

            It is up to him who he wants to befriend, which is kind of a shame, because he is showing rather poor judgment.  Of course, choosing vile children to befriend is a rite of passage, and it takes some children years to get wise to the kinds of attributes they should probably be seeking in their playmates.  Hell, if choosing rotten friends had been a major offered at my undergraduate institution, I would have graduated summa cum laude.  This is one lesson he will have to learn on his own.

            While he does not have to be friends with her, he does have to be kind to her.  And, he actually is friends with her – out of school.  In late October, Julie’s mother gave birth to a baby.  So, we invited Julie and her six-year-old sister, Maria, to trick-or-treat with our family.  Two more enchanting little witches have never been seen.  Zach and Julie skipped and held hands as they went door-to-door. 

            Ours is the only house Julie has been to.  The other mothers have not reached out, and her family is operating in a foreign tongue.  In school, the only child she recognizes as a friend, Zachary, never goes out of his way to play with her.  If she were to approach him, he would certainly let her play (or feel the wrath of Irate Mommy when he got home).  But, she never does.  She seems to have accepted herself as an outsider in a cliquey class, and she plays by herself most of the time.  Sometimes, the one other French girl in the class plays with her.

            There is nothing more I can do.  I encourage Zachary to play with her, but I cannot force him.  They play nicely at our house, and he is kind to her at school.  If any of those boys had even the smallest of inklings how desperate they will be for the attentions of a girl just like her in twenty years…

            Two weeks ago, Julie got a bug and missed school play.  After she had been out for a few days, we dropped by.  Sandra, her mother, answered the door.  “Oh, she has been very sick,” she told me.  “But now she is better.  Except she is getting… bumps from eating.  We think it is an allergic.”

            “Hives?” I offer the English word.

            “Yes.  And today she cannot walk.”

            “She can’t walk?  That doesn’t sound good.”

            “We think it is from her medicines.  If she cannot walk tomorrow, we will see the doctor.”  At this point, the boys had burst in, and Julie was beaming on them from the couch.  “Zach.  Benjamin,” she cooed.  Since there were no classmates around, Zach returned the affection, although I thought it prudent that they not go too close.

            I tried to call two days later, but I got no answer.  The answer, when I did get it, was the second-worst thing I could imagine hearing.  She was still not walking.  She was in the hospital; actually, the second hospital, as the first had to transfer her somewhere with a pediatric ICU. 

            I stopped by with food for the family.  Maria, the six-year-old, let me in, excited to see an old friend.  Sandra, holding the newborn, ushered me into the kitchen.  “They think it is Guillain-Barre Syndrome, but they are trying to rule out other things.”

            “What other things?” I demanded.

            Sandra shrugged, either unable to say it in English or unwilling to think it in any language.  Maria had been crying at school, terrified about her sister.  Their father was at the bedside 24/7.  Sandra wanted to be there but had two other children to take care of.  She spent the time Maria was at school in the hospital, leaving Julie only to breastfeed the baby.  All of their support system was in another country.  Sandra looked strung out and exhausted, but she was holding it together.  That is, until she shared one little detail.

            “Yesterday, Julie was singing the songs from the play.”  And that made her start sobbing.  Dude, it almost made me start sobbing, and I only cry on election day.

            Julie does have Guillain-Barre.  She will eventually recover, but it could be months or even years.  Strange how months in a wheelchair and extensive PT suddenly sounds like good news around here.  Sandra’s mother-in-law came into town, and on Thursday she will take Maria back to France for Christmas so that Julie’s parents can focus on the sick child.  And Julie?  She will be spending Christmas in the hospital, although I am happy to report she ate half a yogurt yesterday.

            So, Christmas Day will find Zach and his mother on their way back to the hospital, this time to visit a very sick little girl.  We are Jewish; what else do we have to do on the 25th?  Maybe, since they are outside of school, he’ll give her a little kiss.  I suspect he won’t have to worry about her kissing him in school for quite some time to come.

Moral minority?

This one is for Catherine.


            Here in the UK, we get American television programs after a bit of lag time, so I must say the writers’ strike has had less of an effect on my television watching habits than it might have.  I am just now getting to watch the one and only season of Studio 60, and since I have enough energy for about 2 hours of TV watching a week, that one season seems to be sustaining me quite well.

            I can’t help it.  Bradley Whitford rocks my world.

            Despite the fact that the producers seemed determined to pack four season’s worth of developments into one season’s worth of shows, Studio 60 has some mighty fine, mighty smart writing.  Smart like The West Wing.  Smart like Sports Night.  Anyone notice a trend, here?

            I am a sucker for smart writing and good timing, which is why there is one line from the series that has stuck in my head.  Harriet, the devout Christian/late night comedienne, is arguing with her producer/ex-boyfriend, Matt, a more-or-less secular Jew.  These two characters are meant to represent the religious divide in America, yet, Harriet tells Matt, she does not even know who the two sides of that divide are and why they seem to hate each other so much.

            “Your side hates my side,” Matt tells her, “because you think we think you’re stupid.  Our side hates your side because we think you’re stupid.”

            That about sums it up, right?  The non-believer intellectuals think the believers are morons being led about by the nose.  The believing moral folk think the non-believers are soulless heathens standing on the edge of the precipice, about to fall into a pit in which they will burn in hell for eternity and into which they just might pull all of America if we’re not careful.  That is the divide, right? 

            Shit.  Yet again I did not get the memo until it was too late.  See, I do not fit into either camp.  I am definitely not a believer, but I like to think I am fairly moral.  And, while I like to think of myself as somewhat intellectual, I cannot seem to muster any enthusiasm for labeling people of faith as mindless sheep who cannot think for themselves.  Always the good sport, I tried.  Really I did.  Unfortunately, I have known a few too many real, in-the-flesh believers, and they totally blew the whole stereotype for me.

            To be fair, I used to espouse the notion that people believe in God (and angels and miracles and an afterlife) because they are not bright enough to question the “truths” they are taught in their youth.  I never would have expressed it just that way, but it seemed pretty evident to me that this whole God thing was a pretty big bunch of hoopla, so people who couldn’t see past it clearly had fairly limited vision.  I would hazard a guess I am not the only person ever to feel this way.

            But, as I have gotten older, it has occurred to me I, myself, take a lot on faith.  Global warming, for example.  I almost failed chemistry.  I know diddly about the process by which CO2 floats up into the sky, turns the planet warmer, melts polar ice, and is going to make our planet uninhabitable.  But, the scientists tell me it is so, and I believe them.  Why?  Because they are scientists and they said so.  How, please tell me, is that any different from believing what a priest says?

            I have chosen a system of belief because it makes the most sense to me.  But, because I am a bear of very little brain, I am not so sure I could argue for it in a room full of skeptics.  Put me in a room with George W., and I would fail miserably to convince him that global warming is for real and he has a moral responsibility to stop it.  Hell, I can’t even convince my husband to be worried, and I have a bit more air time with him.  I have taken a lot on faith, and I believe it fully, but I could never prove it.

            People are not stupid because they take God on faith any more than they are immoral because they do not believe.  We all take some things on faith, and just because you accept one system of beliefs and I another, I have no right to decide you are a lower order of thinker.  (Now, if you voted for George W. as the moral candidate, I take issue with your process of rational thought…)  By the same token, a lack of belief in God in no way makes me a less virtuous soul than regular church-going friends.  If we may, can we please save the label of “immoral” for the people who earn it: serial killers, animal abusers, and people who throw paper into the trash?

            So, much as I would like to belong to one clique or another, I am afraid I am going to have to sit this one out.  I just do not have the time to worry about whether someone else believes in angels and what that says about her IQ.  I am way too busy sorting my recycling.