Monthly Archives: April 2008

Really, I posted this morning

You know what’s way annoying?  When you have a new post up, and Google Reader ignores it.  Maybe it will acknowledge this post and you can all click over to my real post.

Cheese with that?

Thank you for all the amazing comments on yesterday’s post.  I am trying to reply to each of you in turn, but it may not happen.  You are wonderful. 

Also, congratulations to J and L with their new baby, E.  The only reason I wish I were in London right now is that I would get to see her.  If you have a moment, please go send your congratulations.


            Things are not any better.  I am grateful to all those who left kind comments last week or sent emails with their numbers, offering to talk.  Unfortunately, one of the signs that I might be getting a wee bit depressed is that I honestly don’t want to talk on the phone.  I avoid calling people back because the effort required by politeness is too much to muster.

            I am frustrated because we are in temporary housing and cannot find a place to live.  It is a buyer’s market, the experts tell us.  What they don’t add is that sellers can choose not to enter a buyer’s market.  The only folks selling right now are those who absolutely have to.  So, the stock is low, keeping prices artificially high and making it hard to find the right house.  Banks, however, are not keeping their appraisals artificially high, so even if we actually win a bid on a house (which we did), it falls through on bank appraisal (which it did).

            And did I mention I am doing the house hunting with the boys in tow?  Zachary has started to all-out mutiny.  “No!  I will not go!” he shouts.  Thank heaven an old college friend lives nearby and goes with us.

            So what?  Temporary housing is no big deal.  We have a place to live.  And I know I ought to be grateful.  But it is not a home and certainly not a place set up for children.  It is difficult for the boys to spend much time here, a problem because Zachary is the kind of kid who needs a lot of down time puttering about his house.  Which he does not have.  So, we take them out of the house all the time, and it is taking a big toll on our little man.

            Of course, he enjoys the outings, as does his brother, but they add up to too much time away from home base.  Now, I will say he is getting some pretty cool outings.  We recently bought season tickets to the home of the giant mouse, only a 40 minute drive away. We got Zach a guide book to Disneyland, and he sits there looking at the pictures, planning his next trip.  I sit next to him with the Unofficial Guide, planning our next trip.  Sometimes, our commonalities are frightening.

             We have been twice already, and although they were both terrified of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a little Dumbo time made up for it.  The first time we were there, we visited Minnie’s house right off the bat.  I wondered whether they might be frightened, but Zach was delighted.  Benjamin, for his part, ran straight up and gave her a hug, even though he had no idea who she was.

            And, on the car ride home, before he falls asleep, Benjamin sits in the back reliving his day.  “Minnie Mouse, hugandkiss.”   “Dumbo going up, Dumbo going down.”  Beside him sits his brother, resplendent in the pink mouse ears he refuses to take off even in the car seat.

            So, there are sweet times and lovely moments, but you cannot stay on vacation forever.  Sometimes, the best part of a vacation is coming back to your life.  And right now, there is no life to come back to.


            There is a pain inherent in being Zachary’s mother.  A pain that comes from knowing the world is a difficult and confusing place for him and also knowing that I cannot make so many parts of his life easier.  A pain born of my understanding that his remarkable intellectual gifts do not come with the emotional tools he needs to navigate the complexities of his own rare mind.

            It is a cliché at this point: the mother who thinks her child is gifted and tormented because he is misunderstood.  I am not going to get into proving what I already know about my son.  So, you can either take me at my word on this one and listen to the worries that I have, or you can click away to a more humble mommy blog.  Because today I am going to be completely honest about who he is, without worrying that people will read this and think I am just a competitive mother trying to get my kid into the gifted class.

            Another cliché is the person who says, “I hope my child is not gay.  I don’t care, of course, but I would like his life to be easier than that.”  We scoff at those people, calling them camouflaged homophobes.  Shouldn’t they just celebrate the things that make their children who they are?

            Well, for the first time in my life I think I get what they are saying.  Not that this has anything to do with sexual orientation, because I am (thanks be to heaven) years away from the point where either of my children thinks about sex.  (Is there any way I can postpone that for a few more years – like till I am ninety?)  But, I finally get why someone would want to take away a difference from her child, a difference that is beautiful and rich and rewarding, but that also can carry with it confusion and pain in a world unprepared for it.

            Watching Zachary navigate his social world, watching him try to deal with the sensory overload that comes from taking in so much more than other people, watching him do math that makes children twice his age sweat without even thinking about it, watching him think that he doesn’t measure up because he is not as comfortable as his peers, it makes me want to sob on my pillow.  It makes me want to hold him close and keep him out of the world with all the pain it will have for him.

            But I can’t.  Because I cannot stimulate him the way he needs.  He wants to be at school, in the structure, drinking in all it offers him.  But, when we added afternoons this week, the more unstructured time bombarded him, and he was miserable. 

            And so, we are right back where we were almost three years ago, when we pulled him out of daycare because he could not handle the stimulation all day long.  He will stay in the afternoons just for the first hour, which is a class, and then I will pick him up before the free play.  I will lose some much-needed alone/work time, which I could get if he were at school while Benjamin slept.  His brother will have to adjust his nap schedule, which will make him a little cranky but otherwise not affect him much.  Fairness is not about everyone getting the same thing; it is about everyone getting what he needs.

            It will help a little.  But Zachary’s world is a place we can only enter so far, and there is only so much I can do to help him find his way.  I worry that I am not up to the task, that, frankly, he would have done better with a mother a bit less like himself.  I know a lot about the place where he lives, because I have been to its suburbs.  I am not even close to the mind I suspect he is, but I wonder if a mother who had spent her life feeling rather than thinking wouldn’t actually be a better match for his needs.

            And some days, some days like yesterday, if I could, I would make my baby a little less talented, a little less special, if only it could ease his road.

Our whole family failed health class

            We had fertility issues.  Of this I have made no secret.  We actually know three other couples who had fertility issues and met with success using precisely the same drug that is responsible for the medical miracle known as Zachary.

            One of those couples is a cousin and his wife.  Feeling some sort of cousinly rivalry, they couldn’t just conceive a child on the same drug we used. No, they conceived twins just a few months after I got pregnant with Benjamin.  Twin boys (who, I might add, were successfully breastfed for a very long time.  I add this because every time I think of it, I gasp in awe of their mother.  I think I would have needed to be catheterized had I breastfed two children at the same time.)

            Well, it seems we are once again in lockstep, because these fools were using the same damned birth control that we were.  With the same results.  When are people going to learn?  A PAST HISTORY OF INFERTILITY IS A LOUSY METHOD OF BIRTH CONTROL.  Write it down, OK?

            So, to our cousins, congratulations.  To the other two couples we know who conceived children on the same drug as we did?  I hope you people are paying attention.

Family rule

            Zachary has been potty trained for more than a year.  During the day, that is.  At night, he still wears a pull-up.  And I suspect he will for a long time to come.

            The fact is that he needs to drink water from a straw cup to fall asleep.  He gave up thumb-sucking at one year old, much to my chagrin, but a year later he started substituting drinking water from a straw.  We eventually had to limit the times he could have the straw cup, because he would use it so much for comfort that he would fill up on water and eat no food.  Now, he gets his straw cup in bed, during books, and during television time. 

            On nights he does not fall asleep quickly, he keeps sucking away, and that pull-up is pretty necessary when he has had 20 ounces of water right before bed.  Even when we lift him to the toilet twice, he wets.  If we don’t lift him, he wakes up an hour or two before he should, needing to go to the bathroom.  We have been known to get up in the night just to lift him, so dedicated are we to late mornings.

            So, though he shows the signs of a child ready to nighttime train – waking early to pee, for example – his water habit is holding him back.  We have, as we see it, two choices: break him of the cup or keep putting a three-and-a-half-year-old in pull-ups.

            We do not want to break him of the cup.  If he really needs it for comfort, we do not want to take it away.  Though he is too old to need diapers, he is clearly still a very little person who does need the comfort of his cup.  Childhood is brief enough without Mommy and Daddy cutting it short.

            On days he naps, he wears a pull-up, even though he never wets in the afternoon.  He just isn’t comfortable sleeping in underpants.  And so, on the way back from Fresno, knowing he would sleep in the car after lunch, I took him to the bathroom at Denny’s to change him into a pull-up.

            “Mommy,” he began.  “We came to this restaurant before.”

            “Not this one, Zachary.  We went to the Denny’s in Santa Monica.  There are lots of Denny’s out there.  They’re ubiquitous.”  Suddenly, we were in a teaching moment, because I had used a word he did not know.  And this is how I found myself in the bathroom at Denny’s, putting a three-and-a-half-year-old into a pull-up, and defining the word “ubiquitous.”  And that is how I found myself, the next day, being informed that people, elephants, and hair are ubiquitous.

            “Silly!  Elephants aren’t ubiquitous.  Do you see elephants anywhere?”

            “Elephants are abiquitous on TV,” he corrected me, which is quite true when you consider that we have been watching Dumbo.

            And that is how, two days later, J found himself on the phone at work while Zachary was eating breakfast.  “I’m having a muffin.  The blueberries are abiquitous.”

            And, that is also how our family came to have the following new rule, unenforceable with Zachary but applicable to the following two children: No one will be considered ready to learn the word “ubiquitous” until he or she is out of training pants.


Because you asked

            I am moorless.  I am floating without any place to tie me down.  I go on, day to day, and the kids are fed and bathed, but I am empty of definition.

            When I first married, I changed my name, on the principle that if I was going to have the same last name as a man, it may as well be one I actually liked.  After a few months, my maiden name no longer felt like it belonged to me, but my married name still felt like clothes with the tags on. 

            That is sort of how I feel right now.  I think Zachary feels the same way, because he is acting out and playing food games, trying to claim control in at least one corner of his life.  But, for once, this will be a post about me, not my kids, and about how I am adjusting. 

            And the answer is: not well.  It has nothing to do with Los Angeles or California.  It has to do with too much uprooting and not enough time in one spot.  When we were in London, we were still tied to Philadelphia.  That was where we had left and, although London was temporary, Philly was a home base.

            But now, I am not from Philadelphia.  I did not grow up there, I have no family there, and my friendships there have weakened with time and distance.  I am not from London, which was always a temporary home.  I am not from Los Angeles, that is certain.

            Nor is there anything here that is mine.  People tell me that my kids define me or I am meeting people through them.  Great.  But that is theirs.  It is not me and it is not mine.  My husband has his work, and he is trying to get his sea legs, which means late hours and a lot of stress.  I need to support him as he integrates himself into this office.  I need to support the kids as they find their lives here.

            “Support,” however, is not my strong suit.

            So, I sit here in a temporary apartment with a temporary phone and no permanent friends and temporary childcare.  And I try to solidify Jello.  

On this night (part two)

Part two of a two-part post.  Click here for part one.

        There were three little girls at the Seder.  Well, not so little, really.  Lovely, tall, talented sisters, ages 12, 10, and 8.  The boys adored them.  The two younger girls, especially, reached out and played with my little men, cuddling them and tickling them and including them in all the games.  Poor Benjamin was reduced to tears by a particularly intense tickling session from the eight-year-old.  I came over to pick him up, but he screamed.  “No!  Again!”

        I put him down and he ran over to his distant cousin, lay down in front of her, and assumed the position.  The adults threw up their hands.  There was only so much we could do, and he is a hearty twenty-one-month-old.  It takes a lot to overstimulate him, and even when it happens, he comes back for more.

        The twelve-year-old, Jane, is as tall as I am and much more beautiful than I have ever had a claim to be.  She is in that horrible place, the place where she wants desperately to be an adult even though all those around her know she is still a child.  She wants coffee and high heels and all the trappings of adulthood. 

        When the adults recruited the two elder girls to sing to the crowd, they ran off to prepare a show.  Benjamin ran off behind them, shouting “running!”  Soon, all five children were ensconced in a back room, plotting.  The girls made our boys feel welcome, dancing with them and showing them the motions.  Adults, however, were strictly forbidden.

        And then it was time for the show.  Jane and her ten-year-old sister really put the show on themselves, singing songs from their upcoming music-class recital.  The middle girl is brassy and confident, and there are actors the world over who would sell their souls to have just a portion of her stage presence, which was clear even in the small family living room.  Jane, however, was nervous and sang quietly, and it was hard to hear her really pretty singing voice from just across the room.

        I watched and I saw us.  I saw me, perhaps not always confident but certainly always outgoing and ready to seek the applause of the next available audience.  And I saw Helen, five years older, the one who could actually carry a tune, stooping over and hoping to disappear before too many people would notice her.  She may yell and argue and fight, but my sister makes noise to cover for her desire to disappear.

        When it was over, Jane sat down next to her older cousin, a college student who majors in theater and knows a thing or two about performance, and they started whispering.  The younger children all got up to dance.  Actually, three of them did.  While Ben began boogying with the two younger girls, Zachary refused.  Now, I have seen that little man swing his hips around my kitchen, and while he is not channeling Elvis, he does like to twist and shout.

        Yet, he shrunk smaller at the very suggestion of dancing.  I came and picked him up, offered to dance with him privately where no one could see.  “All those people shouldn’t be sitting there,” he told me, indicating the audience.  He wanted to dance with the other children; he just did not want anyone to know.

        I pulled aside his lovely older cousin and we went into the next room.  “Jane, Zach is nervous about dancing in front of other people.  He doesn’t know that other people feel that way.  Can you please tell him how you feel?”  As she stood there and gently explained about not raising her hand in class and her anxiety about the upcoming performance, I was grateful to this teenager for opening herself up to help my little man understand about himself.  I was grateful that she was showing him that his feelings were normal, that it is OK to find audiences overwhelming, that we all just have different personalities.

        I also wanted to weep for them both.  The world is organized to reward us, the bold and the brash.  Teachers hear our voices and clients buy our products.  The shy, the highly sensitive, the people who are secretly funny and silly and talented, they are not heard unless we can help them find channels that suit their temperaments.  Their paths will be harder as they work doubly hard to make sure their heads poke up every now and then from the crowd.

        Meanwhile, Benjamin will be throwing himself in the path of the action, always ready for more tickling.

On this night (part one)

Part one of a two-part post.  Part two will post tomorrow.

            No matter how lapsed, no matter how agnostic, no matter how many Christmas trees and Easter egg hunts, there is one chant that every adult Jew knows.  There is a sentence that brings back a flood of childhood memories.  All we need to hear are those first few opening words, sung to the same tune no matter which branch of Judaism we fall from, and we are transported back to sitting on stacks of telephone books on a folding chair in someone’s living room, not quite tall enough to reach the kids’ table, unsure what to do with the empty plate in front of us, wondering when the next cup of grape juice will shoot down the pike.

            “Mah nishta nah…”

            “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  The preview question that leads into the Four Questions.  Four questions about the Passover Seder, the foods we eat and the way we sit.  Four questions traditionally asked by the youngest capable child.

            This year, Benjamin was still too young, and although Zach probably could have memorized them all in Hebrew, the cousin hosting our Passover Seder wisely suggested he just do the opening and the first question in English.  He cannot yet read, but he can sure memorize.  This is the child who has hundreds of children’s books memorized, presumably because he is not wasting energy trying to figure out the health care crisis.   We practiced regularly, and he knew his lines perfectly.

            “Why is this night different from all other nights?  On all other nights, we eat bread and matzah.  On this night, we eat only matzah.”  (Technically, not a question, but the inquiry is implied.)  We rehearsed this at the table and in the car, and he was confident in his ability to recite the lines.

            When the time came, J’s cousin turned to Zachary.  He was not ready.  He needed more advance warning.  There were twelve strange adults in the room.  And he wanted to know why he couldn’t have more grape juice.  But, instead of turning quiet or refusing to ask his question, which we would have handled by reassigning it up the line to the eight-year-old across the table, Zachary got hysterical.

            He wanted to ask that question.  He wanted to perform his lines.  He just couldn’t.  And he was furious.  Furious with me for being unable to arrange things to his liking, but mostly furious with himself for his stage fright.  He did not want the Seder to continue till he asked his question, but he could not find a way to ask it.  While his father frantically searched for the beloved Taggie, I offered to say it with him or to skip over it, but that just drove him into a frenzy of screaming.

            “You do not have to ask the question,” I told him, “but you do have to behave yourself at the table.”  Removing him only made matters worse, because he desperately wanted to be a part of the action, to play his role.  If only he could do it without people stopping to listen to him.

            Taggie finally arrived, and Zach calmed down enough to hear my voice.  “I’ll say it with you, OK?”  I figured I would stop before the last word of the first sentence, giving him a chance to fill in “nights.”

            “Why is this night different from all other…”

            Zachary remained silent, trying to compose himself and not able to process the agitation he was feeling.  Benjamin, however, had heard the lines rehearsed time and again.  He knew what came next.  From behind his grape juice stained lips came “NIGHTS!”

            Everyone laughed and clapped, which just made me feel worse for my older son.  His brother was the cute one, the performer, while he was the one who knew the answer but just could not get the words out of his mouth.  When the adults quieted down, I asked Zach a question.

            “On other nights, what do we eat?”  This he could handle.  It was not a recitation; it was just a question.

            “Bread and matzah.”

            “But what do we eat tonight?”

            “Only matzah.” 

             As the Seder continued and drowned out our voices, I hugged him, feeling that familiar racing heartbeat that was beginning to slow.  “You did it, Zach.  You said it.”  I wanted him to know we hadn’t moved forward at our speed; that we had given him space and he had done a good job.

            But we hadn’t really.  The world moves on past our sensitive child.  He is not shy, and he will talk to almost any stranger.  But groups overwhelm him by their very nature, and anytime he feels put on the spot, he recoils into himself.  And there is precious little I can do to help him.

Toto baby, guess what

            I was prepared to move to Los Angeles.  It is, after all, just another city.  I have lived in cities up and down the East Coast.  I have lived in London.  In many ways, Los Angeles is simply another major metropolis, with wealthy people eating in the hot new restaurant, homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks, and a whole lot of people in between shopping at Target. 

            What I was not prepared for was moving to California.  I never really thought about it until we got here.  I would become a West Coaster, three hours behind my friends in Washington, D.C. and twenty degrees warmer than my friends in Massachusetts.  My frame of reference would change, and there would be no more talk about the 95 corridor or jokes about exits off the Jersey Turnpike.

            This weekend, we drove to Fresno for the first night of Passover.  It is about a four hour drive, although with J driving it does go a little faster.  J’s cousin and aunt live up there, in a part of California referred to as the Central Valley.  Angelinos tend to scoff at it, but Fresno is a quiet city with people just like any other.  I have come to find that most cities are that way, with the most important variation being the noise level.

            Not so with states.  Regions of the country, parts of the world, I have found, have widely varying rhythms, landscapes, and economies.  These last are what most fascinate us.  We love to ponder major industries and how areas sustain themselves.  Not that there was any mystery at all on the way up to Fresno.

            California is a farming state.  Not a farming state like other places I have lived.  Virginia and North Carolina will call themselves farming states, and I have driven past my fair share of cows in those places.  But, there is a difference between spending twenty minutes passing small farms with grazing cattle and spending three hours driving past factory farms of cows packed into giant pens and eating hay through the bars of a gate.  There is a difference between hills of tobacco fields taking up space between Richmond and Charlottesville and the flat, endless fields of grapes, awaiting their moment to become raisins.

            The landscape is different.  The economy is different.  The air is different.  I go about my day to day business, but I feel like I am making a wrong turn at every corner.

Man at work

            “I’m going in here,” he announced.  “I am working.”  Zach has never been in a Montessori classroom, so I was a little curious as to exactly what working entails for a three-and-a-half-year-old.

            “I’m making a book,” he went on.  Since he cannot yet write, he explained, he would be making his book out of stickers. 

            This kind of ambition, I decided, warranted a bit of encouragement, if only because we could use another income around here.  So, we hit Staples and picked up some supplies.  Now, he has gone multi-media, with glitter sticks, construction paper, glue, and scissors.  And, I must say, the book is looking mighty pretty.

            Unfortunately, I am finding that somehow his book project is leaving me even less time for mine.