Monthly Archives: August 2008

We should have known we were in trouble when…

            When he was somewhere around 24 hours old, Benjamin got mad at me for the very first time.  He would see my bare nipple, latch on with a ferocity that was clearly a harbinger of Hoover moments to come, nurse for a few minutes, and then start screaming at me.  Here he was, working his little tail feathers off, and all he was getting was a trickle of colostrum.  He wanted milk, dammit, and he was pissed.

            When he was one week old, I put Benjamin on the floor for some tummy time.  Benjamin did not like tummy time.  He did not like the floor being so inconveniently close to his face.  He pushed the floor away as hard as he could.   He rolled onto his back.  Ahhh.  Much better.

            When he was four months old, we started him on solids.  (Yes, I know your pediatrician told you not to start solids till your child was six months old, but mine told me that the American Academy of Pediatrics said 4-6 months, and both our boys started waking up in the night hungry again at 4 months.  So shut up.)  While the solid foods had helped Zachary resume sleeping through the night at four months, they did little to help his brother, who kept waking up hungry.  We went to the health visitor, which is NHS’s substitute for a pediatrician doing developmental checkups.  “Try protein,” she said.  So, at five months old, we found that the only thing that got the child through the night was pureed chicken.  He started eating it every night, and we all were happy again.

            He did not get teeth until eleven months old.  That, however, did not stop him from consuming broccoli, cheese, and beef.

            When he was just over a year old, he began moving heavy skillets around the house.  A few months later, we would catch him wheeling out our suitcases from the closets.  His older brother sometimes couldn’t manage the heavy objects, but Benjamin was only too happy to help.

            When he was eighteen months old, I watched my toddler veraciously consume chicken tikka masala.  And it started to dawn on me: this kid would eat anything.  I was raising a pterodactyl. 

            At two years old, “want try that” is one of his favorite phrases.  While his brother turns up his nose at all unfamiliar foods, Benjamin sees someone eating something and instantly assumes we are holding out the goods on him.  If someone else is eating it, it must be good.

            To be sure, he has some peculiarities.  He once ate the carrots on his plate before the pizza.  His preferred breakfast is a large plate of my homemade macaroni and cheese.  Often, he likes to have the first of his morning snacks right after breakfast.  And he has been known to start throwing things in a restaurant with slow service, sobbing “My hungry!”

            But all that food is going somewhere, because he is built like an ox.  We have sometimes considered putting him to work rearranging the furniture, but we’re concerned he may try to eat it.

            But I am afraid.  I am very afraid, and not only because yesterday he headbutted me twice, leaving me with a fat lip and a very sore nose.  I am afraid because, someday, he will be a teenager.

Jacob worked another 7 years for Rachel

            When I met my husband, I was 21.  He was 19.  We were in college, with the four combined graduate degrees we would eventually earn just a glimmer in our eyes.  Neither of us was ready to move in together, let alone get married.

            We did not move in together when I was ready.  Besides being male, he is two years younger than I am, and he took his time.  But not as much time as he took getting ready to actually marry me.  By the time we married, we had been together almost seven years. 

            Maybe he wanted to be sure.

            The point here is that, when we were ready, we started planning a wedding.  We met with the rabbi, we chose flowers, I shopped for a dress, he registered for gifts, and we did premarital counseling.  A few weeks before the wedding, we went to the court building and got a license.  After the ceremony, we mailed it in with the rabbi’s signature to the proper authorities.

            The morning after we married, before we left for our honeymoon, we went to the bank to get a joint account.  When we returned from the honeymoon, I changed my name.  (I figured if I was going to have some man’s name, it might as well be a man I like, rather than my father.)  It took some phone calls, a trip to the DMV, and one surprisingly easy morning at the Social Security administration.

            It was all legal.  When we were ready to legally merge our lives, the government made it super-easy for us to do so.

            There is another story.  The story of a woman who waited 87 years to marry her sweetheart.  It’s not that they weren’t ready.  They were.  They tried several years ago to get married, but apparently the government was somewhat less supportive of their union than they were of mine with my husband.

            Other people, all around the country, were of the opinion that this marriage was a bad idea.  And, for some inexplicable reason, they got a say in the matter.  People who had never met them got to determine that they had no right to be married.

I had to wait for one man to be ready.  Del Martin had to wait for an entire state.  She died yesterday, leaving behind, at long-last, a spouse.  And a legacy of working to make sure other people would find it a little easier to get married.

We don’t get to keep the babies

            It is early in the morning and the boys have come tumbling out of their room.  Potty activities completed, Zachary wants to get into bed with me, so both boys hop up and I am able to steal a few more horizontal minutes.  Benjamin cuddles, his still-baby pudginess fitting perfectly into the crook of my arm.

            On my other side, Zachary is playing with the flashlight I keep by the side of the bed (for emergencies – dirty-minded people).  He is flashing circles on the ceiling and wall, conducting the classic childhood experiment of seeing what happens when the flashlight moves closer or further away from a surface.

            He has always been a stringbean, my eldest child.  So, there really was never any chubbiness to lose.  Yet, watching him, it is clear he has lost his metaphorical baby fat.  There is no more baby about him.  He thinks and moves and feels like a boy.  He has crossed through some imperceptible liminal space, leaving behind his babyhood forever when I wasn’t paying attention.

            I did not know when Benjamin was a newborn that they would ever stop being babies.  His older brother was a toddler, and they both qualified as babies.  But, now, as my second child is already more than halfway through to full-blown childhood, I look at his brother and realize that they only spend a moment in that round, affectionate stage.

            I am fortunate.  This accidental baby, the one growing in my womb, will come to me when I already know that she will grow up too soon.  In her infancy, I will know what we can only learn through experience: they don’t let us keep our babies.

            I wonder if it will make a difference.


To L and J, DZ, EC, and all the rest of the first-time parents out there.

Further evidence that a Ph.D. don’t mean I’m smart

            Los Angeles is not a particularly hilly city.  I mean, there are hills surrounding the basin that so famously captures and holds the heat, but it is one of the flatter places I have lived.  Chapel Hill, N.C., for example, is a place totally aptly named, as pretty much every part of that city is either up an incline or down one.

            Despite the abundance of flat locations to choose from, whomever first conceived of the Los Angeles Zoo decided to build it on a rather steep slope.  It is in Griffith Park, a lovely area surrounded by the hills that reportedly were used to film the opening sequence of M*A*S*H, which goes a long way towards explaining why every time we head out that way I feel like I am driving into Korea.  The zoo itself has a flat parking lot, but it is all uphill from there.  You have to trek about a half mile upwards, past innumerable concession carts, before you even get to see a single animal (other than the flamingos, which are positioned maybe a quarter mile from the front gates).

            Now, I knew this because we have been to the zoo before.  And I knew I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant.  And I went anyway on Sunday.  I even pooh-poohed the tram that could take us up because it wasn’t scheduled to leave for another ten minutes.  Benjamin wanted to see the tigers.  You know they put those damned things at the very top of the zoo.

            Consequently, I am currently very close to immobile.  I can only walk very short distances, due to some muscle or another I pulled or strained above the groin and below the belly button.  (It is much worse when I have to pee – anyone with better anatomical training that I have want to hazard a guess as to which it might be?)  Thank heaven we have a nanny to cover some of the hours when my husband isn’t around, because I am sure not showing my kids a good time right about now.

           Naturally, when we finally got there, all four of those tigers were sound asleep.

Because usually we deny him speaking privileges

            Sometimes, when we are all in the car, the boys actually talk to each other instead of to us.  This is a relief, and we try to encourage such behavior. 

            Most of the time, however, they talk to us.  Usually both at the same time.  This pisses off Zachary to no end, because his brother just keeps getting louder in an attempt to be heard above Zachary’s continual stream of chatter.  The other day, at his wit’s end, Zach shouted at Benjamin.

            “Stop saying that.  I need some talking time.”

            Now, it seems to us that pretty much all the time is Zachary’s talking time, but, nonetheless, I am considering changing the name of my blog.

Things a four-year-old doesn’t need to know

            First off, thank you to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post.  The comments are truly fantastic  If you haven’t given your input, please do.  And if you haven’t read the comments, they are worth it.  If you feel inspired to write a post about how you are taking advantage of the ecological opportunities presented by your locale, please link to me and send me the link so I can collect them.

            Second, I find it fascinating that another post I thought would just be an amusing little anecdote actually garnered a lot of interest and some controversy.  Some people seemed really hot and bothered that I did not tell my four-year-old the entire truth about how babies are made.

            I maintain that I did tell him the truth, and as much truth as he needs at his age.  It is a special hug between two people who love each other.  Of course, there is more to it than that.

            Perhaps I should have told him that, in his case, it involved a doctor, several nurses, inter-uterine insemination, self-administered shots in the thigh, and a very long needle filled with HCG.  Or is that too much information?  Should I go as far as to include the postcoital test after which my reproductive endocrinologist called my husband a “stud”?

            Or, maybe he needs to know that we didn’t plan on this latest baby.  Shall I go into detail about the shock of seeing that extra pink line on the pee stick?

            Maybe, while I am at it, I should mention that often the special hug is not between people who love each other.  Maybe I should explain that sometimes it is between people who barely know each other.  Should I tell him about sexual violence, too, in the name of complete disclosure?

            Or, perhaps I should be happy that I was able to provide him with a truthful answer that didn’t go too far.  Perhaps this morning when we discussed baby ducks coming from eggs, baby people coming from mommies’ bellies, and baby peanuts coming from the roots of plants, I covered all the ground he needs at four.

            He will have his lifetime to know explicit detail.  He will have decades to know about the ways people can love each other, hurt each other, and destroy each other.  Right now, he is four.  And it is perfectly OK to tell a four-year-old that there are some things he will learn when he is older. 

            I did not tell him the stork brings babies.  I did not tell him God puts the baby there because I do not believe in God, although I think that if you do, that is a perfectly truthful answer.  I did not tell him that babies grow on trees.  I told him the truth in words he could understand, without getting into explaining the temperature charts and cervical fluid checks one can do to determine ovulation.

            Hell, I didn’t know about that shit until I was thirty.  Let’s give him until grade school before we start in on Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

The weighing of the green

            As I have mentioned before, we only turn on the air conditioning when people are sleeping around here, as there are both security and a noise issues with having the windows open.  One of the perks of the west side of Los Angeles is that the weather is cool enough and certainly dry enough to make it feasible to take this step towards energy conservation.

            So, you can imagine my anxiety when I realized that the mother dropping her son off to play with Zachary would be arriving during Benjamin’s nap time.  When the air conditioning is on.  What would she think of me?  Would it be like the dirty looks people give to the other shoppers who fail to bring canvas bags to the grocery store?

            Don’t get me wrong.  I know plenty of people around here use their air conditioners.  But this particular mother is also the author of this book.  I kind of figured she probably was not cranking up the A/C on a regular basis.

            So, when she sat down on the couch and said, “Oh, that air conditioning feels nice,” I hung my head in shame.

            “I was so anxious about having you over,” I admitted.  “Really, we don’t usually use the air conditioner.”

            “But you’re pregnant,” she said, rather charitably.  “You need to be comfortable.”

            I rushed to explain about only using it when people are sleeping, sounding, I fear, a bit defensive.  She assured me she was just enjoying it because they don’t usually use theirs (huge shock), but I was mortified just the same.

            “We all do what we can,” she said, again being diplomatic in my 73 degree house.  Of course, that is untrue.  Some people do not do what they can.  There are people who drive giant vehicles they do not need; there are people who fly in private jets; there are people in certain large white houses on Pennsylvania Avenue who spit on the environment every day.

            But there are others of us.  Those of us who realize that our ecological footprint is not going to disappear in its entirety but try our best to minimize our negative impact on the planet.  People who think about purchases not just in terms of dollars but in terms of landfills.  Legions of Prius drivers out to lower greenhouse gases, one mile at a time.

            We strive to be better, but we also need to recognize that there are limits on how much we can accomplish.  Many of those limits are geographical.  Here in L.A., I hang out my laundry instead of using a drier.  This is not much of a hardship (beyond the time it takes to hang all those tiny socks) because I live in a desert.  Once upon a time, however, I lived in a swamp.

            I am here to tell you that hanging out laundry to dry in Washington, D.C. is pretty much an exercise in futility.  In fact, hanging laundry outside during the summer is more likely to result in considerably wetter clothing than just throwing them in a sopping wet heap into your drawer.  The nation’s capital does, however, have an excellent public transportation system.

            Each locale has its own compromises.  Here in L.A., I drive more than I have anywhere else (except when I commuted between two states – long story).  Yet, I can count on ocean breezes to cool my house, a desert sun to dry my clothes, and fresh, local produce to feed my family. 

In Philadelphia, I could walk to buy my groceries and train into work, but we used a hell of a lot of gas to heat our house each winter.

            The best we can do is accept the limitations of our geography and then try to avail ourselves of environmental advantages when we can.  Sure, I can try to limit how much I drive, but in L.A., my energies are much better spent hanging little socks in the sun.

            And then there are those whack jobs who bike all winter long in Madison, WI.  Bless their hearts – someone’s gotta get frostbite for the environment.


And, my question is this — what are the ecological pros and cons of where you live?  I’d like to invite all those who haven’t commented before to comment today (if you are so inclined).  I just don’t want anyone feeling unwelcome to comment here.

Having “the talk”

            As a good, liberated, twenty-first century parent, I am dedicated to being honest with my children.  I answer their questions fully, providing just as much information as necessary without telling them more than they need to know.

            “Mommy,” he asked again.  “How does the baby get in your belly?”  The fact that we were returning to this question indicated to me that I had not answered it adequately last month.

            “When a daddy and a mommy love each other very much, he puts the baby in her belly.”

            “But, Mommy.  How does he put the baby in there?”

            The answer to this one I am sure I had read in a magazine in some waiting room once upon a time.  “The daddy gives the mommy a very special hug,” because really, there is no need to discuss alternative positions with a child who is just turning four.

            A persistent child who is just turning four, it would seem.  “But, Mommy.  How do you do the special hug?”  Believe it or not, at this point I was getting a little too flustered to focus on wiping down the counters.

            “It’s a special hug only grown-ups know how to do.  When you are older, you’ll learn how to do it, too.”  Like when you are twenty-five.

            How much you wanna bet we’ll be returning to this line of questioning again?  Maybe next time he’ll ask his father.

To my student

            It was close to my bedtime, and I was just reading a few updates on Facebook.  A little window popped up.  I had no idea that one could chat on Facebook, but apparently she did.  It was almost one in the morning on the east coast, but she was still at work, and she decided to reach out and touch someone.

            I had not heard from her much in recent years.  She has grown older.  She has a life filled with work and graduate school and all around making a difference.  She organizes conferences and advocates for women.  She is in business school now, for what specific aim I am unsure.  Like I said, I have not heard from her all that frequently in recent years.

            But, once upon a time, we meant a lot to each other.  She was in my first ninth grade English class.  I was a 23-year-old teacher, sure of myself but in way over my head with five classes and thirty kids to a class.  She was smart and hard working and nowhere near as grown-up as the other ninth-grade girls seem to be these days.  Mature, yes.  Grown-up?  Not as much.

            We spent fifty minutes together each school day, but we also spent hours together after school.  You see, she was a talented actress, possessing a stage presence that belied her young face and pleasing demeanor.  I cast her as the lead.  She rose to the challenge.

            She never asked for an extension on a paper, even if it was due two days before the play in which I was directing her.  She rarely earned a grade below A-, and I was not an easy teacher to get an A from.  She knocked my socks off, but she also taught me a lot about being a teacher.

            She gave me confidence that I could positively influence a young person.  She taught me that the things I said in a classroom mattered.  She encouraged me to care about my students.

            Mine was a one-year appointment, and even though the school offered to extend, I followed J to D.C. when he graduated.  I lost touch with most of those students over the years.  She and I remained in contact.  We talked a lot through her high school and college years, visiting now and then when I was back in Philly.  She came to my wedding.  She went to an excellent college.  Something terrible happened while she was there, but she rose above it.  She graduated and went on to own her life in a way a little girl from modest means is not supposed to.

            She would probably tell you that I made a huge difference in her life.  She is generous like that.  I will tell you that she has made a huge difference in mine.  I am no longer a teacher; I may never be one again or I may go back.  But she taught me that a teacher can do a lot for a young person, and the young person can return the favor. 

            That’s why my kids’ teachers will never get a scented candle or a coffee mug from me.  They will always get the respect they deserve, even if I disagree with them.  And I will support them by teaching my kids to treat them right.

            She told me the other night as we chatted on Facebook that she reads this blog every day.  I didn’t know because she never comments, but it doesn’t surprise me.  That’s the kind of support we have always shown each other, even if nowadays she’s too busy changing the world and I am too busy raising kids for us to be in touch very often.

            So, leave her a comment, if you would.  Or, write a note to a teacher who rocked your world once upon a time.  Or, say thank you to your child’s teacher when you drop him off at school.  Because together teachers and students are a beautiful thing.

Down the rabbit hole

            Calcium is the bane of my existence.  For over two and a half years, I consoled myself about Zachary’s picky eating by saying, “At least he gets plenty of milk.”  All that matters, I told myself, is calcium, and he was a milkaholic.

            And then he went on the wagon.  It was sudden and it was complete.  One day, he just stopped drinking milk. 

            Sure, he’ll drink chocolate milk.  And he’ll eat Trix yogurt.  And chocolate pudding.  In other words, he’ll take milk products that are cleverly disguised with hills of sugar.

            Orange juice with calcium is not an option because he needs to get his iron supplement in his orange juice and calcium and iron inhibit one another’s absorption. 

            His brother is not much better.  He’ll drink a little milk, but for a two-year-old, he’s pretty unmotivated by dairy products.  He has only about eight things he does not like to eat, but included among them are yogurt and cream cheese.  He gets enough calcium through broccoli and tofu – if he were an adult.  For a toddler, he’s not doing such a great job on feeding those bones.

            Thank heaven at least Benjamin likes macaroni and cheese.  Zachary, on the other hand, will eat the cheese at school but informs us that the cheese at home is different.

            We are down to Kraft singles in grilled cheese about once a week.  We’ve been giving Zachary calcium supplements and praying to the cheese gods.

            Who apparently heard our prayers.

            In the last five minutes of our drive back from Family Camp, Zachary began to give me instructions.  Detailed instructions.

            “Mommy,” he said.  “You need to get me cheese like the cheese they have at school.”

            Dazed from five hours in the car, I responded, “OK, Zachary.”

            “It needs to be the square kind, not the flat kind.  You can get it at the grocery store near our apartment,” referring to the temporary housing we moved out of a few months ago.

            “Yes, sweetie.”

            “And you have to cut it in squares.”

            “What color would you like this cheese to be?” I enquired.

            “White.  No, orange.  No, can you please get the white cheese and the orange cheese?”

            Now, I have been fooled before.  I have gone to the store and I have purchased something I thought he wanted, only to find out it differed in some imperceptible way from the item that had been requested.  So, I suggested that perhaps he could join me for this shopping trip for the specific cheese he required.

            Big mistake.  For the rest of the afternoon, all he could talk about was going to the store to buy cheese.  Finally, the next morning, J made it to the store with him.  They bought the cheddar.  They brought it home.

            And the children ate it.  A lot of it.  Till we were almost out of cheese.  “I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” I told my husband.

            Yesterday, Zach ate more cheese.  So, I returned to the store.  I bought more of the exact same cheese.  I am skeptical about whether it will actually pass muster, but I figure I have to try.

            For the children.

I wrote this last week but didn’t get to post it for one reason or another.  No one will be shocked to hear that Zachary has ceased to express any interest in cheese.