Monthly Archives: November 2009

Help a girl out

Anyone want to take a guess what I have spent the last hour doing?  I have been searching for a recipe for cookies for Thanksgiving.  Cookies that Benjamin can eat, which means they cannot have any sugar.  At all.  I have checked out the research on agave, and I have concluded that it is basically high fructose corn syrup in a different and more expensive package.  I won’t use fake sugars like Splenda.  So, help a girl out here.  Do you have a recipe for chocolate chip (I’ll use dark chocolate for little sugar) cookies that are sweetened mostly with, say, bananas and pureed apples?  Maybe some honey thrown in?  Give me a recipe, please.  Because otherwise I will be spending the day searching for overripe bananas and baking tomorrow.

Where they have to take you in

The kids and I have been staying with my in-laws for eleven days now while J finished up at his Los Angeles job and a truck with all our worldly belongings traveled across the country.  J is now up in New Jersey, meeting with movers, registering for school, waiting for the cable guy, visiting the DMV, and generally being useful.  He will drive down to meet up with us either late today or early tomorrow, which means he’ll be traveling just before Thanksgiving along with 97% of the other vehicles on the West Coast.

All I can say about how staying with my in-laws is going is that we are damned lucky they haven’t thrown us out yet.  The house is filled with all sorts of exotic accents that are irresistible to my children.  Like stairs.  Lilah, not used to having stairs around, is obsessed with climbing yet not necessarily particularly skilled at the return route.  Fortunately, her grandfather took it upon himself to give her some tutelage on how to descend the steps, somewhat alleviating my anxiety.

Another fancy touch they have here is the toilet paper.  At child-level.  We don’t really keep toilet paper anyplace children can reach it in our house, so all three of my kids think it is some sort of newfangled toy.  At one point, Benjamin and Zachary removed all the paper from all three rolls of paper in the powder room and also emptied the box of tissues, while at the same time their sister was upstairs diligently unraveling another two rolls of paper in the hall bathroom.

Slightly more unusual is the laundry chute.  I, myself, think it is kind of cool.  The boys cannot get over it.  There is a lid they can lift plus a hole they can throw things in.  It’s basically begging for experimentation in the laws of gravity.  We have learned thus far that a box of diaper wipes does clog the chute while board books and sippy cups slide right on down.  Envelopes with paid bills in them only get stuck in the chute if inserted after the box of diaper wipes, whereupon my mother-in-law spends an hour-and-a-half trying to find the envelope she knows she left sitting on her bed.

Unfortunately, because we have so diligently enforced “yellow let mellow” in our own house, flushing the toilet is also a novelty.  So, Benjamin decided to test the mettle of the toilet by flushing down his toothbrush.  Plumbers are much more expensive on Saturdays, in case you were wondering.

He is lost, my Benjamin.  He cannot understand fully that he is going to a normal place with a normal school and lots of nice children.  He just does not have the cognitive ability to comprehend that the world is not flat, and we are not about to jump off the edge.  All he knows is he has been ripped out of one place, is only temporarily in this other place, and there is a big void in front of him into which he is about to be shoved with absolutely no warning.  So, while Zachary verbalizes his anxiety and Lilah suddenly learns how to talk and walk, Benjamin acts out.  We have swept up one glass and one bowl, loosened all the light bulbs in his bedroom, and – it goes without saying – revoked all unsupervised toothbrushing privileges.

This Thanksgiving, I will be grateful for many things.  We are back on the East Coast.  We will be heading up to our new home on Friday.  The kids will be starting school on Monday.  Our family is entering a new situation that could really improve our quality of life.

Mostly, however, I will be grateful that J’s parents haven’t thrown us out on our asses.


Let’s talk about breast cancer, shall we?  See, there’s a new set of guidelines put out by a U.S. government task force, and people are in a tizzy about it.  The new guidelines recommend that women between 40 and 49 should not get routine screening mammograms, as the procedures lead to too many unnecessary biopsies and other interventions.

Hold the phone.  I thought that forty was one of those big birthdays.  You know, along with twenty-five when the car insurance premiums drop and sixty-five when the AARP starts sending mail.  You know, the Big Four-Oh, the year we all start getting mammograms.  And now you tell me that most women don’t need them till fifty?

People are pretty pissed off about these guidelines, and I suspect it is because we are all so programmed to assume that the nefarious Medical Industrial Complex, whatever exactly that might be, is holding annual secret meetings at the Cincinnati Convention Center in order to plan new and devious ways to slaughter innocent women and children for the sake of a quick buck.

This is, I think, the downside of the internet.  Or, perhaps I should say a downside.  People have way too much access to information, and everyone becomes a medical expert.  Hey, I can Google drug names just as well as anyone out there, but that doesn’t mean I am qualified to evaluate the veracity of the 625,790 hits I get every time I do it.  It’s all well and good to educate myself, but I am still thrilled to pieces there are folks out there who went to medical school to get a slightly more in-depth education.  I like to trust my doctor, government and medical organization guidelines, and sometimes even (but don’t tell anyone) drug companies.

What can I say; I’m a throwback to a simpler time.

I have been trying to figure out why everyone is so mad about these new guidelines.  OK, I get that folks think that the Medical Industrial Complex is trying to save some dough by cutting out unnecessary mammograms.  Set aside for the moment the fact that there are health risks to a false positive and the fact that the money saved could go towards procedures that actually save lives.  What I want to know is what do people think those evil cancer advocates have to gain from advising us to stop teaching Breast Self Exams?

No one is saying women should stop feeling themselves up in the shower.  Hell, I think most people are in favor of that.  They are simply saying that it is dumb to pour money into printing up little plastic doohickies for the shower and teaching women the proper technique because teaching Breast Self Exams doesn’t seem to actually save lives.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

To be clear, the guidelines are talking about routine screening through mammograms.  Women with an elevated risk or with a suspicious lump ought to still be getting the test done.  And, the guidelines are about teaching BSE’s – the education programs do not seem to be effective.  Nonetheless, breast awareness is much encouraged.  If you are interested, here is a great site that covers the myths and truths of breast cancer.


Right after Thanksgiving 2007, we moved Zachary into Benjamin’s room, much to the delight of the children. They giggled and laughed and talked, each according to his own ability.

Well, it’s two years later and the party is over.  Zachary has had it up to here with a three-year-old jumping into his bed, talking, and generally making a nuisance of himself.  He is five, and he wants his own room.

Fortunately, there is another sibling standing in the on-deck circle, more than willing to step up to the plate and share a room with Benjamin.  So, two nights ago, for the first time, we moved Benjamin into Lilah’s room here at the grandparents’ house.  The first night went surprisingly smoothly, with neither saying or doing much.

But, now, it’s time to get this party started.

I did manage to get Benjamin out of Lilah’s crib, where they were jumping and laughing together.  But it took another 45 minutes to get them to settle down.  I know in a few days, they will be used to it and calm down a bit.  Maybe in two years, Benjamin will be asking for his own room.  For right now however, I’m just thrilled he’s stopped punching his sister for an entire hour.


We spent last week in an empty house, sleeping on borrowed air mattresses.  I say “we,” but my husband was away on business – the last such obligation for the old job – so it was me and the three kids in a house pretty much devoid of belongings, save a couple of sippy cups.  To make matters more complicated, there was no school on Wednesday.  Too much of a wimp to face an entire day alone with three kids in a completely empty house, I took all three to Day Out With Thomas.  We had a blast.  I looked around for the t-shirt that said “I survived Day Out With Thomas alone with three small kids,” but I couldn’t find one.  Apparently, I’m the first to make it out alive.

Lilah felt it the most.  She’s at that age when she is exploring things, but there were no Things to explore.  Plus, Benjamin was alleviating his boredom by punching and sitting on her.  I tried to give him time-outs, but where the hell was I supposed to sit him?  In the middle of the living room floor?  I tried the empty closet.

“Close the door,” he commanded as I turned to walk away.

“No.  I am not going to shut you in the closet.”

“Why not?” he wanted to know.

“Because it’s dark and scary in the closet with the door closed.”

“Close the door,” he repeated.  I stood outside the closet as he opened and shut the door from inside, turning the only possible method of discipline into a game.  I guess at least he found something to entertain himself.

The airport hotel Friday night was only marginally better, mostly because J was there.  We were awfully relieved to get to the airport on Saturday.  We rushed through security and made a potty break.  While J went to buy the water we’d need for the flight, I had the boys play a running game that we do before every flight to get the wiggles out.  They did fine with running and touching a sign down the hall.  Then I told them to run around a group of chairs three times.  I forgot to give Benjamin the crucial instruction to look ahead of him while he ran.  Which is how, on the second go-round, he ran straight into the corner of a public telephone.

Head wounds bleed a lot, as we have discovered on several previous occasions with this child.  But we had 20 minutes before our flight.  The flight we were taking to move a family of five across the country.  If the child wasn’t vomiting and there were no bones sticking out, we were getting on the damned plane.  We scored a Band-Aid from the woman at the gate and figured we’d deal with it when we landed.

Five hours later, he had definitely bled through the Band-Aid.  My father-in-law bought us a new Band-Aid as we made our way towards baggage claim, while my mother-in-law emailed a plastic surgeon she knows.  Two hours later, we were in the ER, getting Benjamin’s head sewn back together by a top-notch plastic surgeon.

So, here we are – bunking with relatives while our stuff travels across the country and waiting for Benjamin’s head to heal.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When moving sucks even more

Yesterday was one of those fucking days.  It actually started the night before when J vomited rather spectacularly.  Then, round about one in the morning, Benjamin proceeded to vomit all over his bed, which would not be so bad if that weren’t a mere seven hours before the movers were scheduled to arrive and pack our house up.  (Yes, I am aware that people who have someone else packing up their shit for them do not get to complain about moving, but please, read on.)

So, Benjamin was home from school yesterday while J staggered onto a plane for his business trip and Zachary – oh He of the Magnificent Immune System – sauntered off to preschool.  Our au pair, Cleo, came along to take Lilah to Gymboree, then promptly threw up in the Gymboree bathroom, which I guess makes it a good thing we’re not going back to that particular one.

The day unraveled from there.

Cleo took a long nap.  Given that Benjamin had lost about six hours of sleep the night before, I had him take an afternoon nap.  He woke up grumpy, which was not helped by the fact that I had to dump him into Cleo’s arms so I could go pick up Zachary.  When I came home, forty-five minutes later, he was still crying for me.  I had to carry all thirty-five pounds of him around the house with me while checking to make sure the movers got everything.  He finally let me put him down on his bed, only to start screaming again when Cleo came into the room.

Cleo took Lilah and Zachary to the library to get a few books to tide us over, as most of ours were by this time packed up.  I took Benjamin with me to rent the car I’ll need when my own car is loaded onto the moving van tomorrow.  As we walked, I told him, “When we get home, I’ll leave you with Cleo and take Lilah and Zachary to the grocery to get peanut butter, jam, diaper wipes, and Cheerios.”

“I want to go with you!”

“Benjamin, I need you to stay with Cleo.  I am not taking three children with me to the grocery store.”

“But, I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”  Suffice it to say I ended up taking three kids to the grocery store.

I know kids say things and misinterpret.  But Benjamin is not like that.  He has never accused an adult of hurting him.  He is very verbal and explained exactly what had happened.  When he was crying, Cleo, frustrated or vindictive or whatever, squeezed his arm hard.  And maybe that could happen accidentally.  Except we believed her when she told us it was accidental three weeks ago when she hurt Zachary.

We had suspected something was off about this girl shortly after she came to stay with us in mid-September.  By the time she grabbed Zachary so roughly that she left a mark, we knew that we would be moving in a few weeks.  Rather than fire her on the spot, we chose to believe her when she said he had been going crazy and was falling off the stool when she grabbed him.

We chose to believe her because it was convenient to us.

When I caught her on her cell phone, ignoring Lilah for forty-five minutes, we chose to believe it was an isolated incident, in part because the phone records supported that but also in part because it was convenient for us.  When, over the past week, she three times lied to us about what she was doing when out with Lilah, we figured that she’d be gone in a few days.

But, then.  “I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”

When I came back from the grocery, I emailed the agency that I wanted Cleo out by the next morning.  I then told her that the conditions under which she would be allowed to stay the night were that she was to stay in her room, which is detached from the rest of the house.  She could come in to use the facilities once the kids were in bed, although she decided not to do that.

I don’t think she was regularly beating the children.  I think she got frustrated and crossed a line far too frequently.  The scariest part is that she didn’t even know what the kids were talking about, putting on her most innocent fact when I confronted her.

Or maybe the scariest part was that we gave her the benefit of the doubt when she should have been out a month ago.

The next four days are going to be very, very hard.  All of our stuff is leaving tomorrow, but we are not flying out till Saturday.  We will be in an empty house with borrowed air mattresses.  I have borrowed a neighbor’s babysitter for a few hours this afternoon so I can get the boys from school and take Zachary to his final therapy session.  The kids are off school on Wednesday, and if I cannot find a babysitter to join us, it will be just me and all three kids at Day Out With Thomas down in OC.  So be it.

By Saturday night, we will be with the grandparents in D.C., and in a few weeks the move will be over.  We will be in a small rented house in New Jersey.  The kids will be in their new schools.  And we will not have a new au pair.  We will not have a new nanny.

“I think we need a better au pair,” Zachary said.

“We’re not getting another au pair,” I told him.  “I will be taking care of you guys all the time.  We’ll have a housekeeper who can help out by staying with Lilah during her nap, but I’ll be taking care of you.”

“Will you still be publishing books?” he asked, because bless the kid he actually believes I am a successful writer.

“Yes,” I told him.  “I’ll write when I get the time.”

It is late, and I feel nauseous.  Perhaps it is because I have not gotten enough sleep lately.  Or perhaps I am the next to get this stomach bug.  Or maybe it’s because I keep hearing my baby saying to me, “I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”

Yesterday was one of those fucking days.

Please disperse

I am obviously not making the rounds of blogs right now, due to the sudden move we are making.  And I may not be posting much.  But here are links to a few other things I’ve written lately.

An essay at Mamazina. Please check it out.  Once you click on the link, you need to then click on Table of Contents, then click on “Day Trip,” which is my essay.  Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to link directly to the essay.

A piece in my alma mater’s alumni magazine

Review of Omnivore’s Dilemma


For a very long time, my husband has been working too hard.  He travels every week.  He schedules vacations and then works right through them.  He doesn’t get to see his kids during the week.  He has no set schedule and no set location, so he cannot get on an exercise routine, sleep regular hours, or eat right.

Oh, sure, there was always a reason – he needed to sell work or he had sold work and now he needed to deliver on it.  I staged an intervention in March.  “Look,” I said, “if the job really requires this kind of life, then the job sucks.”  That’s the supportive wife in me talking there.

From that conversation came the realization that, hey, he could actually look for a new job.  One that would allow him to work, say, sixty hours a week and travel only 25% of the time.  It’s not like we were asking for a sinecure; we just thought that perhaps his body deserved a chance to figure out which time zone it is in.

He began looking for a job.  Two weeks ago he was offered a very good one.  So, we are moving.

This job will allow us to live someplace with a lower cost of living that is closer to family.  We will be leaving Los Angeles, which has been a completely unpleasant place to live.  And J will be home three weeks out of the month.  The children will *gasp* see their father on a daily basis.  The funny thing about it is that we had lived the other way for so long, we just didn’t realize how untenable the situation was until another way of doing things presented itself.

The truck comes on Monday to take our stuff away, and then I will spend a few lovely days in an empty house with the kids.  On Saturday, we’ll all fly east to stay with family until our stuff catches up with us around Thanksgiving.  The move is happening very quickly in part because the company would like my husband to start but also because Zachary has been quite unhappy in school this year.  We’re not sure what the problem is, but if we’re transitioning him out anyway, we may as well do it quickly.

There are a few really sad byproducts.  Zachary will need to start over as a white belt in a new karate studio.  Lilah will leave behind all that fresh fruit she so adores.  And poor Benjamin will leave the teachers who rock his world.  But there will be teachers in the next place, too.  And we will leave W, who is a remarkably good friend.  Leaving her is very sad, but I am grateful we got a chance to reconnect.

So, if you don’t hear from me over the next couple of weeks, do not worry.  I am on my way to a better place.

Oh, the places we’ll go

Once upon a time, I was certain of many things.  I knew that cheerleaders were vapid and soulless.  I knew that I did not need money to be happy.  I knew that meat was murder, Republicans were evil, and religion was the opiate of the masses.  I knew that I wanted to live in a funky urban area with a diverse population plus access to the opera and jazz clubs.

Tonight, I know much less than I did when I was young and unencumbered.  Having children throws my values into deep relief.  As we try to narrow down possible places to live in New Jersey, we stumble up against our beliefs.  I mean, sure, I still value intellectual pursuits and diverse populations.  But I also want good schools.  Now, of course, the measure of schools is completely subjective.  For some people, quality schools may be about learning to value folks of all hues while for others it is all about class size or test scores.

What I know is that we want to live among good people.  And what the fuck does that mean, exactly?  It means that we prefer not to reside in the state penitentiary, I guess, although I suspect there are lots of good folks there, too.

So, we want a town with good schools and good people.  Fantastic.  That clears everything right up.

“You may not want a small town,” a friend warned.  “People can be awfully provincial.”  You know what?  Most of the people we know in big cities are provincial, too.  A spit-shine doesn’t do much to hide the fact that snobbery is the flip side of hickness.

What we have learned with all this moving is that there are no simple answers about people or places.  There are smart cheerleaders who read Kafka, and even the ones who don’t have plenty to offer.  Money is not the root of all evil.  There are people who believe in God who are deeply thoughtful and reflective and intelligent and have just come to a different conclusion than I have.  People are people.  There are lots of trappings, but ultimately, everyone is pretty much ghettoized by life.  And they all have something to offer.

Where am I going with this ramble?  Well, the movers are probably coming next week, and we don’t know where we want to rent in New Jersey.  Do we want the interesting town close to New York with the diverse population and the larger class sizes?  Or do we want the small, almost rural town farther out that gives us plenty of space to garden but only has white people in it?  And if we pick the diverse town just for its diversity, are we in essence using the people of color for their ethnicity?  We just don’t know.

So, we’ll close our eyes and leap and if we don’t like where we land, we’ll make a change at the end of the school year when it comes time to buy a home.  If experience serves as a guide, we will find interesting, good people no matter where we go.  The people will be narrow in some way or another no matter where we go.  We will regret the loss of something no matter where we go.

Now excuse me while I go hyperventilate about the movers who are coming next week.

Food matters

It is not coincidental that, as my family has developed increasingly complicated food issues, I have taken more responsibility for preparing our food.  There must be some sort of intricate equation I could use to figure out how to balance Lilah’s possible honey allergy with Benjamin’s difficulty with refined sugar, my distrust of manufactured sugar substitutes, J’s embrace of fad diets, and Zachary’s refusal to eat any vegetable not disguised as a carbohydrate.  I am pretty sure the equation would include agave and walking backwards in a circle three times around a bubbling cauldron.

No, I will not make a separate portion for Lilah without nuts, eggs, garlic, onions, olive oil, or honey.  No, I will not prepare a different meal for Zachary.  No, I will not bake muffins Benjamin cannot eat.  I am not a short-order cook.  We need to be able to eat as a family.  So, I make a spinach soup short on flavor because I leave out the really good stuff – all of which Lilah is allergic to.  And I plop a loaf of bread on the table in hopes Zachary will eat that, despite the concern that the little bit of honey in it might pose a problem for little girl.

Food.  Oh, my God, food.  Food matters so fucking much.  That’s why my stepmother was so effective.  She knew how much food matters and she used it to control us.  It wasn’t the beatings or the belittling.  It was the rotten food and the starvation and the vomit-eating that destroyed us.  She denied us the very basic nurturing that food provides because she knew that food matters.

Food matters because a huge portion of our ecological footprint comes from the way we get, prepare, and consume our food.  Think about what you have eaten today.  How many pesticides went into the soil and waterways to grow it?  How many artificial chemicals and odors were manufactured?  How far did it travel to get to you?  And how much packaging did it require?

Food matters because it can build strong bodies and minds or it can rot people from the inside out.  Why are there so many more cancers and attention deficit disorders and spectrum disorders?  I don’t know, but I’ll bet a lot of it can be traced to food.  Why does my Benjamin sport skin the texture of newly whipped butter?  Because that kid puts a whole lot of good stuff into his body.  He is walking testimony of the benefits of antioxidants.

Food matters because we are nurturing our children with it.  Real food, grown from real plants matters.  Meats from animals who themselves ate good things.  I will not just throw something together because food matters.  It is not a waste of time to spend hours each day thinking about food and preparing food.  It is the business of life.

Do I wish I had a family without allergies or pickiness?  Sure.  But think about most traditional cultures.  If there are not food-shortage problems, several different foods are usually incorporated into every meal.  Because not everyone likes every kind of food, and if there are choices in the meal, people can pick and choose.  Baking my own bread has certainly eased my relationship with Zachary.  If the only thing he chooses from the family meal is the bread, at least it is freshly baked and packed with nutrition.  And if Benjamin is in the mood only for the cheese the night we make bean burritos, so be it.

There is a meal on the table.   Because food matters.